What's Up With Fanfiction?

Fanfiction has been around for decades. Originally coined in 1939, fanfiction has become something of a taboo term, usually associated with silly teenage girls fulfilling their own fantasies through popular characters in fiction. The original Star Trek series popularized this aspect of fandom in the 1960s, with women dominating the literary category as they sent in their pieces to fanzines, who it turn published them for the general public.
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With the commercialization of the Internet, fanfiction became easier to access and didn’t require a subscription to read. Sites such as Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own give readers the option to narrow down their search to specific characters, genre, and even word count. Star Trek, Star Wars, and various other science fiction/fantasy franchises even have published works of fanfiction (I may or may not collect these).

Fanfiction has given amateur writers an outlet to change and elaborate the stories they love so much. Sites that host fanfiction provide a safe place for writers and readers to publish, consume, and review each other’s work. Even popular fiction has evolved from fanfiction. For example, E.L. James’ dreadful Fifty Shades series arose from Twilight fanfiction (and while I hate the series with an intense passion for various reasons, I can give the author credit for her success and use it as inspiration; if E.L. James can write trash like Fifty Shades and get a movie deal out of it, so can I).

So if fanfiction is so popular, why are those who participate in the reading or writing of it ridiculed for being “too obsessed?” I have a few theories.

First, the realm of fanfiction is predominantly run by women and girls. There are a few exceptions, especially in the published fan works department, but for the most part, ladies dominate this particular aspect of fandom. There is a strong aversion in society of anything related to femininity, particularly female sexuality. As fanfiction often delves into what women desire (deliciously and vividly so), it is held on par with those silly romance novels choking up the shelves of used bookstores.

Another theory I have is that fanfiction brings out the gay in you. Just kidding! But seriously, many fanfiction pieces focus on diversity in sexual orientation, race, and disabilities. The majority of popular movies, books, and TV shows focuses on the typical: straight, white, able-bodied people. There’s barely any representation of minorities in media and so amateur writers use fanfiction as a medium to express their individuality. And yet, that’s a big no-no to the “real world.” We’re all cookie cutter copies of each other, right? If you’re not, then there’s something wrong with you. Fanfiction explores the struggles Iron Man and Captain America would encounter if they were a part of a minority.

Finally, fans enjoy diving in to the nitty-gritty details. There’s a certain joy in picking apart every word uttered in a book, every gesture made in a movie, every look characters give each other in a TV show. Fans love to read into everything to find a deeper meaning, putting to use the critical thinking skills foisted on us in our many years at school. And yet some think that fans take it too far when it comes to analyzing details from popular fictional media. Surely the writers didn’t intend for it to be interpreted that way (even though we spent every moment in English class interpreting Shakespeare in as many ways as humanly possible). Again, the word “obsessed” crops up, putting fanfiction readers and writers in the ugly category of “weird.”

So, what’s so wrong with being passionate about fictional characters? I don’t think anything’s wrong with loving fiction so much that you want to expand on it. It’s the equivalent of being passionate about any hobby, whether it be sports or chess or knitting. Let’s stop making fun of teenage girls who love Harry Potter enough to produce works of art dedicated to the series. When’s the last time you committed to making something so unique?