On RPF/RPS, and Why Real People Are Just Better

From Fanlore
Jump to: navigation, search
Meta
Title: On RPF/RPS, and Why Real People Are Just Better
Creator: phaballa
Date(s): August 24, 2006
Medium: online
Fandom: popslash, RPF, RPS
Topic:
External Links: On RPF/RPS, and Why Real People Are Just Better ; archive link
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

On RPF/RPS, and Why Real People Are Just Better is a 2006 essay by phaballa.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpt from the Essay

If the Brontes did it, it must be good, right?

It all started when one crazy, genius fan wondered, 'Wouldn't it be totally sweet if the cast of Star Trek were accidentally beamed aboard the Enterprise?' And thus history was made.

We all think we invented this idea, but in actuality it started out in fanzines in the 70s, with, yes, Star Trek (as always), but mostly bands. With the advent of MTV in the 80s, the bandfic exploded, paving the way for internet domination in the 1990s with, yes, popslash, but also... Hanson fic. Yes, you heard me. HANSON. But even before that, people were writing things like Led Zepplin fic, Duran Duran slash, and Star Wars RPF in 'zines [1]. This eventually gave way to the hugeness of popslash.

So, there's lots of debates over the morality of RPF. And in some ways I get it. Yes, it's invasive and sort of weird to write fiction about real people. But on the other hand, are we really writing about those specific individuals, or are we fictionalizing real people and turning them into completely different characters that can then be slotted into stories? For example, technically, Dirty Pop: The Worst-Case Scenario Guide to Surviving A Boy Band is RPS. You've got real people engaging in sexual activity with each other, and it totally never ever happened. On the other hand, Jensen and Jared were never (that I know of) in a boy band. It never could've happened, and the fact that the characters have their names is pretty much incidental. In that fic (as with a lot of RPF), I'm basically manipulating the readers by using characters and playing off of situations that we know vaguely occured in real life, or in some cases, fanon life. So in the end, that fic could really be about anyone. But using real people's names allows me to get away with not having to write background history or explain why these people are important to each other. We already know how they're connected because they ARE real people, so really what I'm basing the fic on (or the parody, in this case) is their assumed connection combined with fandom tropes.

For me, popslash is a lot like this as well. When I read popslash, I don't actually think of the characters as real people. The fic really isn't about their music and only vaguely resembles actual events. I forget that I'm reading about *nsync or whatever; it's much more like original fiction to me. I could pretty much plug anyone's name in and still love the story; this especially applies to AUs. What makes them interesting is that, in the back of my mind, I do know that there are real people out there with these names, who are in this band, who vaguely have some of these characteristics, so it's fascinating to imagine them in different scenarios. Justin Timberlake as a hacker? JC Chasez as an android? (wait, that's not TRUE?) Lance Bass as a CIA operative? It's crazy, and awesome, and in my opinion, I think Lance would be flattered that someone thinks he's that cool.

Where people tend to freak out is the sex, especially slash, although I have heard people say that RPF het between actual real life couples freaks them out. Because the idea of RPF (or when I write it, anyway, I can't talk for the rest of you freaks) is that you're putting people in situations that never happened, or sometimes that never COULD happen. It's all "what if" and "wouldn't it be cool," or "this is how it totally didn't go, but..." So yeah, Jensen and Jared probably never had wild monkey sex in all five of the Impalas on the Supernatural set. Chris never bought Justin in a celebrity auction and fucked him six ways from Sunday, and Ewan never blew Hayden in that back alley.

So the question is, if we understand that these things never happened, what makes RPF so different from fanfic? If I changed the names 'Chad' and 'Jared' to 'Draco' and 'Harry', would that make it okay?

Comments at the Essay

[th_esaurus]:

So the question is, if we understand that these things never happened, what makes RPF so different from fanfic? If I changed the names 'Chad' and 'Jared' to 'Draco' and 'Harry', would that make it okay?

THANK YOU YES. This is my exact view of RPF. It's that pivotal word 'fiction'. It really is no different from fanfic in my mind. (Also I don't quite get the whole real life couples/het pairings are 'worse' than slash RPF pairings, because it's still all fiction. That doesn't make it more real or even more likely.)

But um yes yay RPF and I go back to trying to think up new ideas for Doctor Who RPF that aren't crazy porn.
[topaz119]:

The line between historical fiction and RPF is very very blurry. I look at the movie Titanic and it's nothing but RPF. Every single person on that ship, other than Rose and the people immediately connected to her, were real. In several cases, things that Jack/Rose say/do, were said/done/witnessed by survivors. And let's not even get into the fictional "biographies" of Marilyn Monroe, written by literary powerhouses, not hack writers.

When I write RPF, the "real" people are ... slightly more individualized than archetypes on which I end up basing the characters in the story. I use or don't use "canon" events, depending on the mood of whatever it is that I'm writing, but sometimes, I'll go day by day through the chronologies, and use that structure to build the story, like using the constrictions of a sonnet to create a poem. Only, y'know, with lots more secks.
[saintawesome]:

I totally used to write Hanson fanfic.

And I've never understood the uproar over RPF/RPS. It's not hurting anybody. It's not "raping" or "violating" the person(s) in question. I'm not forcing them to read it or even know it exists!
[phaballa]:

I think (just to play Devil's advocate) the objection is that writing fiction about real people that may or may not be based on actual events is a violation of privacy. Sort of like, um, libel? Is that the written one? Only we can't be sued because we're not making money off it or claiming that it really happened. Especially, I guess, when sex is involved.

Although really to me, if the people the fic is being written about don't say anything about it or know it exists, then why does it matter? I mean, the fic is really only about them nominally; it's a made-up version of them who has their job or looks like them (sometimes not even that), it's not actually them.
[ screwthedaisies ]:
Here from metafandom. Libel suits (indeed any defamation suit) do not require a profit motive; their aim is to protect a person's reputation. So, if you libel someone, and give your libelous material away for free (whether on a napkin, in an email, an LJ entry, etc.), you are at risk for being sued. However, defamation is defined as "a false statement of fact". If your fiction doesn't have anything in it that you're representing as fact you've good a good chance of the courts finding in your favor.
[mf_luder_xf]:

I think it depends on how people take it. When it becomes real to them or they want it to be real (like insane kind of real) thats too far. Take the XF fans. There are so many fans out there--who dont even write it, they just want it to be--who are like oh why didn't Gillian and David ever hook up? Or Piper is totally David's kid. And on and on. That's...a little crazy.

Now me, I didn't like RPS at first because it did seem invasive. And then, after reading a few, I came around just for the reasons you state, the fact that it is fiction, just using the names and obviously, most of us anyway, don't claim its real. Do I think they're probably jerks? Yeah, because I know a lot of actors and it's the rarest thing in the world to find a truly decent one who doesn't talk shit out of their ass. But does that mean I'd only write negative stuff and pass it off as real? Nope.

I must say, though. Hanson fic. OMG. *face is lit with horror*
[nopseud]:

{cough}Shakespeare{cough} (And many others.)

RPF is everywhere, really. Oddly, I think it often gets a more shocked reaction inside fandom than outside, maybe because in some fandoms there's been a very strong tradition of Thou Shalt Not Slash The Actors. So RPS kicked up a *huge* shitstorm in fandom, whereas places like the Nifty archive have been merrily filling up with real person porn for years before it developed a big presence in fandom, and no one batted an eyelid.
[phaballa]:

I think technically Shakespeare counts as like... biographical fiction or something? Not that there's so much a difference, but yeah. It's Wikipedia, you can't expect too much accuracy :P I'm just amused at the idea of the Brontes sitting around making up stories about the Duke of Wellington. Heeee.

You know, in different fandoms I've been in, it's different. In HP, RPF/RPS is like the bastard child no one wants to acknowledge. In Supernatural it's almost MORE popular than regular fic, probably because we do want to slash them but some of us feel weird about incest. Haha. So, we'll slash real people, but writing an incestuous relationship about fictional people is weird? :P
[nopseud]:

Supernatural fandom amuses me greatly, because in terms of slash it's basically a flat-out choice between RPS and incest.

I started off in Blakes 7 fandom, where possibly-not-even-ever-really-written RPF was a small part of a huge kerfuffle which devastated the whole fandom. So the concept of RPF was complete anathema there. There were a couple of completely innocuous 'the actor goes into the show world' stories [2], and even they were regarded as a bit iffy. I don't think I've ever seen even a shadow of any RPS.
[kyuuketsukirui]:

Great post. In regards to changing the names to fictional characters, I know some people who would never read RPS of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, even if it's an AU where they're not actors, but they'll read and write primarily Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan AUs, in which the guys are porn stars or teacher and student or ancient Romans or whatever. In that case, how is it any different if they're called Ewan and Liam or Obi and Qui? I really don't see a difference myself.

For myself, most of the RPS I write is AU, simply because I'm really not interested in the lives of celebrities (much to the shock and dismay of anti-RPSers who just love to imagine me as a crazy stalker, I'm sure). Some of my stories I actually do change the names after posting, not to fanfic characters, but to original characters, because RPS AU is basically original fiction and thus something I can try to sell. But it's so weird to me that some people will hate on it and think it's horrible and wrong and invasive when all I have to do is search and replace to make it original fiction, which they would read with no problem.

I often think it's not the RPSers who have a problem separating fiction from reality (though sadly there are definitely some tinhats who do think their guys are really secretly shagging and PR is forcing them into the closet), but the anti-RPSers.
[screwthedaisies]:

I often think it's not the RPSers who have a problem separating fiction from reality, but the anti-RPSers.

I think so, too. They're the ones yelling "Libel! Invasion of privacy!"...without realizing that the two directly contradict each other. Libel is a false statement of fact; invasion of privacy involves the truth--public disclosure of private facts.

What they should be yelling is "False light!". A false light invasion of privacy occurs when information is published about a person that puts them in a false light--and it matters not whether the information was false, nor does it matter if the light the information puts the person in is good or bad. False light is not recognized by all states, and overall false light cases are not particularly favored by the courts. Which is not to say that you'll never be threatened with a false light suit; it's just to say that the courts will not necessarily nor automatically find in the favor of the plaintiff if you do wind up in court.
[lordsmerf]:

I admit in advance that this is something of a rhetorical dodge, but you said:

So the question is, if we understand that these things never happened, what makes RPF so different from fanfic? If I changed the names 'Chad' and 'Jared' to 'Draco' and 'Harry', would that make it okay?

Turn this argument back around: what is it that makes you want to write RPS as opposed to FPS? Any suggestion that they're basically equivalent should be carefully examined, since it's pretty clear that people have a preference for one or the other.

Now, personally, I think that from a purely theoretical point of view, they're pretty much identical. But that's because I, personally, have some really crazy ideas about personality construction and social perception. That said, I do recognize that there is a practical difference: the RPS/FPS distinction matters to almost everyone involved, no matter what side they come in on.

I think saying, 'It doesn't matter' is going about it the wrong way. I think, instead, we should be asking why it matters.

My own, extremely tentative, suggestion for why it matters is that names are powerful. Even if you have a totally new character, one with no (or almost no) relation to the real person you're basing him or her on, when you attach that name, you connect a real person to your fictional person. You, in some way, say that there is a valid connection between them.

Thus, when people read RPF, they are constantly wondering, 'Is this original characterization, or is this something the author feels is a characteristic of this real person?'
[phaballa]:

First: Turn this argument back around: what is it that makes you want to write RPS as opposed to FPS?

For me, (and maybe this was rhetorical, but I do have reasons) it's because I don't want to write incest, and the fandom I mainly write RPS in is Supernatural, so um. Yeah :P

My own, extremely tentative, suggestion for why it matters is that names are powerful. Even if you have a totally new character, one with no (or almost no) relation to the real person you're basing him or her on, when you attach that name, you connect a real person to your fictional person.

This is a really good point. And I think partly, actually, why I do write RPF/RPS. Because the connection is already there, background, history, general make-up of a person. To me, RPF is almost like lazy man's original fiction. I want to write a story but I don't feel like creating a whole character myself, so I use someone who already exists. It's the same with fanfic, really, only in this case I don't have to work within the constraints of someone else's universe--I can pretty much create my own from scratch, and people it with "people" you already know.
[lordsmerf]:

For me, (and maybe this was rhetorical, but I do have reasons) it's because I don't want to write incest, and the fandom I mainly write RPS in is Supernatural, so um. Yeah :P

This is actually an extremely good reason. And one I hadn't really thought of before. You gain the ability to draw on the fictional construct of the character without drawing on all of the elements involved. That is, you can treat the actor as if he/she is the character in a great many ways (since we tend to blur the lines between those separate identities), but you can erase and change some of the context of the character because 'that's the character, not the real person'.

To me, RPF is almost like lazy man's original fiction. I want to write a story but I don't feel like creating a whole character myself, so I use someone who already exists.

This is a powerful thing, and I think it applies just as powerfully to all fan-fiction (not just RPF). Of course I also think that 'lazy man's' is a misnomer. It's not about being lazy, it's about utilizing the shared context of existing fiction in your own work. That strikes me as cool rather than lazy (of course I figure you know that, I'm just sayin').

But if that's the case, then the only difference between RPF and FPF is that in one case you're basing your characters off of someone 'real' and in the other you're not. And somehow this matters, or at least it matters to some people. I tried to take a stab at why in my last comment, and I'm going to try it again here. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

I think that when we use characters in fiction, especially in fan-fiction where we're drawing on shared context with the audience, as bundles of meaning. So, drawing from a fandom I'm relatively well-versed in, the character of Batman can be used to represent a sort of father-figure, or he might be used to represent complete dedication to a cause. (Of course we rarely make it explicit that characters are bundles of themes, and this is only the case when we look at them in certain ways.)

Anyway, all this means that when we attach a real person's name to a character, we are suggesting that this real person, to some degree or another, embodies the themes that we are assigning them. I'm not really involved in any RPF communities, so I can't provide examples, but I bet you can. The problem with saying 'this person embodies these ideals' is that it skirts around being offensive in the same way slander is. It also skirts around being a misrepresentation of the person in question. You are ascribing traits and motivations to that person (however tentatively) that they may not have.

Or, at least, that's how it looks to outsiders. My guess is that people who actually do RPF (or most of them, at least) use a linguistic trick where referring to real people doesn't actually refer to real people. That is, real names refer to fictional characters that have been established by the community. The thing is that from the outside it looks like you're talking about real people, because you're using language in a way that appears identical to the way people talk about real people. You're just using it in a different context...
[madame_d]:

I forget that I'm reading about *nsync or whatever; it's much more like original fiction to me.

When I first got into popslash, I was completely unfamiliar with *NSync's music - well, beyond the singles. I sort of stumbled onto fic and the writer was awesome, so I persisted. I remember feeling completely baffled at any mention of singing - as you said, these were just random people to me, especially since I barely knew which was which - and it tended to completely escape my attention that, hello, real people/boyband/etc.

I'm basically manipulating the readers by using characters and playing off of situations that we know vaguely occured in real life, or in some cases, fanon life.

I find that to me one of the main appeals of fanfic, really. :)

what makes RPF so different from fanfic

Okay, see, I know that some people are against RPF but I'm not one of them so I don't really see the point. They say it's because they're real people but frankly, as you just said, since we can't possibly know the real people, only the image they project, anything we write is pure speculation. The use of real people is due to familiarity (again, paraphrasing you), not because we're tinhats (okay, maybe sometimes) trying to prove that the characters are in an actual relationship (what? Jared'n'Jensen4eva!!!11!!).

References

  1. Inaccurate: there was no early Star Wars RPF in zines.
  2. A reference to the series that begins with The Totally Imaginary Cheeseboard.