Celebrity gossip versus "Real Person Fiction"

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Title: Celebrity gossip versus "Real Person Fiction"
Creator: princessofgeeks
Date(s): June 8, 2008
Medium: journal post
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: Celebrity gossip versus "Real Person Fiction"; archive link
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Celebrity gossip versus "Real Person Fiction" is a 2008 essay by princessofgeeks.

In it, the author responds to this statement by fan named chasing tides whose journal had been linked to from Metafandom: "Celebrity gossip, it's everywhere. Frankly, I find it fairly creepy - these poor people don't have any privacy anymore. Paparazzi are trying to get crotch shots of 18 year olds and the country waits on tenterhooks for the next young celebrity to go into rehab. People feel that they should have a say in how many kids a total stranger ought to have. But that's not my point. My question is, how is this stuff not RPF? Angelina Jolie apparently didn't give birth to twins last week, like the tabloids claimed, and apparently, Brad Pitt didn't leave her. And yet, they're given a green light. I've seen people call them trash journalism, but I've never seen the stigma of RPF associated with celebrity gossip. Yet, it seems that RPF is, by and far, the more harmless of the two."

Some Topics Discussed

  • RPF, FPF, gossip publications, reality television
  • tinhatters
  • the long history of human curiosity regarding celebrities and their personal lives
  • fans asking actors about slash and shoving fanworks in their faces, violation of the fourth wall
  • the personal costs and responsibilities of celebrities
  • Disney's recent acquisition of FanLib, and the beginning of The Organization for Transformative Works
  • Lotrips, Stargate SG1
  • fandom and increased visibility
  • Band RPF fandom having more of a feedback loop with fans, Pete Wentz
  • fandom and profit
  • needing/wanting/forcing TPTB to endorse and validate fanworks and specific shipping;
  • "I've watched as certain movie fandoms and music fandoms have evolved over the last five years (I got here on LJ in 2003) as the actors/performers became more aware of fanfiction, and it's all very weird, how the audience interacts with the stars. Weird and fascinating and here we are. I just can't get over the fact that Disney just bought FanLib. So, the apocalypse has arrived....:D."

Excerpts from the Essay

I found myself nodding along to the comments for chasing tide's post.... it is true that the LEGAL basis, in the USA, for things presented in the media as FACT and things presented as FICTION, is totally different.

The areas of law that are involved here are copyright, public domain, fair use, privacy, and the First Amendment....and the area of libel makes a huge distinction about fact versus fiction, and a huge distinction between public figures and ordinary people. The invasion of privacy laws do make a distinction between public and private figures, but not so much about the fact versus fiction stuff.

Also, legally, things that can be considered JOURNALISM, aka NEWS, get a totally different set of rules in the USA than things considered fiction, and also different rule from things considered advertising, and other kinds of for-profit, technically NONFICTION, communications. although new definitions of "news" are stretching those rules pretty hard....

I guess people do feel a sense of safety when they are gossiping about something that is supposed to be true. A sense of safety that they don't have when it's copping to our fantasies? A sense that the responsibility for the dishing does not belong to them, because it's somehow TRUE? Plus, we're only responding to something the media have given us, which absolves us from responsibility for chewing the fat?

Maybe people who are uncomfortable with RPS don't like it in part because it confronts us very starkly with the fact that our fantasies about these movie stars are FANTASIES, as in, not true, when part of the fun of celebrity gossip and swooning over celebrities is suspending our disbelief and pretending we are somehow close to them. Basking in their glory, being in their group. Soaking in it. Noticing that our fantasies are fictional might kind of ruin all the fun, for some people, and that sense of wanting to be important, wanting to be close to the stars, to know things about them, might encourage those (small minority of?) fans to believe the stories, to continue to blur the line between reality and fantasy. I dunno.

And of course, the way the mass media are going, the line between fiction and fact is being blurred by the commercial producers of these media things we consume -- reality TV, for example. Survivor. Nanny 911.

It's also being blurred in things like the memoir scandal on Oprah. Was that book fiction or autobiography? Who cares? Well, I care.

I loved my Lotrips, but I do not like it at all when fans try to get approval from the celebrities for their fannish porny interests.

I think we are morally free to write what we want, but we are not morally free to shove our sexual fantasies in the celebrities' faces or try to get them to like/endorse/approve of, what we do. This is one of the few rules I have about fanfic.

For me, there is a wall there that should not be breached. Whenever I see convention clips of fans asking questions about slash, or asking actors about slashing the characters they play, it makes me very twitchy. I don't need or want approval from the PTB for what we do. I don't think that Michael Shanks should be expected to endorse my sexual fantasies about Daniel Jackson. This goes for FPF as well as RPF for me. (again: the legal rules about writing fiction about a fictional character and writing fiction about a real person are also very different, at least in the USA.) I would never have dreamed of asking Elijah Wood about RPS. I don't want him to take notice of it. I don't want to ban fanfic, either, but I don't want the celebrities to have to get in our gum.

But maybe the way things are going in society, with the publicness of sex and fantasy, the blurring of these lines, and fanfic going legit, my personal disapproval of getting the actors to know and love our sexual fantasies about them is irrelevant. Maybe they won't be offended after all. *head explodes*

(Disney just bought FanLib, did you guys catch that? FanLib is the commercial, for profit fanfic archive. Its creation was what finally caused that group of fans who formed the Organization for Transformative Works to say, okay. Fanfic is going legit, it's come out of the closet, and now it's about to get exploited. And they said, NO exploiting our community for capitalism! We're going to protect it and come out of the gray area and stand up. And that's a whole nother rant. I sent in my membership dues, mostly because, as someone said about it, I want fans to own the servers, so that we don't have to worry about getting kicked off them by the Gods of the Internet, who are, after all, all about making money. Which is fine. But fanfic has never been about the money. It's been about the community and the porn! And not all fanfic is porn, certainly. But I digress. )

And here you get into the whole issue of fans' relationship to the PTB, to the canon. Which transcends the whole FPF/RPF thing, as well. Fans want the PTB to do what we want them to. Fans criticize the PTB. Some fans want their actors to endorse their fanfic. I don't.

But there is a big difference that's worth preserving, I think, between presenting something as FACT and presenting it as FICTION. Not legally, but morally, whatever. Universally. Whether you are a fan writer or a historian or a journalist or a blogger or a memoir writer. I feel very strongly about this. Postmodernism can encourage us to notice that, as we learned from watching "Rashomon", that reality can be very malleable. That point of view matters. That history is written by the winners. All that is true.

Fan Comments

executrix:

But a lie (malicious or otherwise) is different from *fiction.*

[...]

It's not entirely impossible to libel someone in something described as "fiction"--just as it takes more than just crossing your fingers to avoid the consequences of a lie!. There's also a sliding scale for what you are or aren't allowed to publish about people based on whether they're public figures and if so what kind of public figures.

[...]

If the substance of the communication is defamatory, and in essence consists of verifiable facts, then calling it fiction or opinion isn't a defense. Milkovich v. Lorain Journal, 497 US 1 (1990) has a good discussion of the issue.

Let's say your town's mayor is named Zorch. Saying "In my opinion, Mayor Zorch embezzled public funds to pay for his Wednesday afternoon trysts at the No-Tell Motel with underaged crack-addicted hookers" won't get you off the hook. Now, if you can prove it's true, you have a defense, but not an opinion defense. Ditto if you publish "fiction" about Mayor Zorch's afternoon delight.

OTOH, if you write an editorial endorsing opponent Louella Blurg instead of Mayor Zorch, because "in my opinion, Blurg's successful record as a corporate CEO makes her more likely to balance the budget than free-spending Zorch"...well, that's an opinion.
zats-clear:

I think we are morally free to write what we want, but we are not morally free to shove our sexual fantasies in the celebrities' faces or try to get them to like/endorse/approve of, what we do. This is one of the few rules I have about fanfic.

oh god YES, a thousand times YES. It frightens me to think of what people who, for their own reasons (yes, to include ego, money, and their own need to create a fantasy life not their own) create/give life to characters we love have to go through when confronted by fans who do not understand where the line is drawn.

and good lord, if I ever was able to go to a convention, I am not sure I could, for example, look Michael Shanks in the eye without a meltdown of teenage girl proportions much less ask something that would tip my hand and show whatever personal fantasies may reside within! eeeekkkk!
princessofgeeks:

I met the lord of the rings actors, and it was an amazing experience.

but for whatever reason, my interest in stargate is entirely different. i have no desire to get as deeply into RPS in this fandom as I did in Lotrips, though I have read some Stargate RPS.

I think it's totally obvious that many stars are presented to us as sex symbols and we are invited to fantasize about them and lust over them as audience members.

we who write porny fanfic as just doing it here where everyone can see us! and sharing! and now that the internet is this huge everything and the kitchen sink place, where you can find stuff so easily -- like woah!

and i'm very conflicted over how and in what way the PTB should respond to that. Clearly they want the audience to ogle Seven of Nine, and now we also have men being presented to us as sexy and ogle-worthy.... and there is a whole other post here about PORN and SEX in USA culture, and that's a rant for another day.

of course not all fanfic is about the porn, but the part i'm chiefly interested in is, and there are some issues here for sure. i can enjoy my fantasies and my fellow fan writers fantasies just fine without asking for shoutouts from the ptb, thank you. i don't know what i think i want the PTB to do about that. *ponders*

but I've never wanted or needed the PTB to endorse either my ship (when I have one) or my slash. ever. and when i happened to like a canon pairing, i didn't care how popular it was or who liked it, either.
surreallis:

I so agree with not needing or wanting the actors to have to endorse our fantasies. Just... no, people. And the more frustrating thing about it is that the more fans force the actors and the PTB to acknowledge all of it, the more fans who want in on it. If one 'side' thinks they're being somehow legitimized by TPTB, the other 'sides' then go in en masse and try to change the tide. And I just wish the creative powers would tell their own stories and not listen to the fans so much.

With RPF, the only thing that bugs me are the people who feel the need to reply to every one of my RPF posts and tell me exactly why they won't be reading my fic. And yet... I sort of get the feeling they DO read it. So, I think they want to read it, but they also want to be able to publicly decry it and me so no one thinks they're guilty of the same thing. Or something. I do know that when I decided to flock all my RPF happenings, I got people telling me how awful RPF is, but also that I shouldn't bother locking the fic because it's 'too much trouble' and they'll just scroll past anything they don't want to read. Which... yeah, okay.
princessofgeeks:

the issues of canon endorsing your ship are so fraught. they create ship wars. and now that gay characters are slowly, slowly slowly getting more acceptable, that adds a whole new layer of interest to the debate. before, being against a slash pairing had a whole political bent to it, or was perceived as such.

there are all these interweaving questions: slash, het, porn, canon ships versus noncanon ships -- the whole ball of wax. and then when you mix in the Gen Only, No Ship people, and the need for some fans for canon to validate their ship.... fandom wank, here we come....

What you are saying about responses to your RPF is very familiar, as I was in the middle of some of the same stuff in Lotrips, but because I was only in one fandom at a time I might have gotten fewer comments than you. Plus my preferred pairing in Lotrips was a rare pairing, so I missed out on a lot of the controversy, which I think is good....

But I have never been comfortable with trying to get the actors or the PTB to endorse or like the porny fanfic.

Fanfic AS SUCH is clearly getting more and more okay as the years go on, in the eyes of the PTB, but my issues are more with the publicizing of our sexual fantasies, whether het or slash. I still don't know how I feel about that. Clearly what I've done with porny fanfic has been great for me, but just because it's been great for me doesn't mean I want the actors' endorsement. There are some lines here I'm trying to draw to my own satisfaction.

I watched, at a con, a fan bring a printout of her X rated slash for an actor to autograph. I just shivered. I don't understand that. Why someone would think that was a good idea. Not that I'm ashamed of what we do here in fanfic land, far from it. But I do think there's a line.

Would I have felt differently if it was G rated Slash? Maybe. Don't know. *ponders*

But see, even if I was the biggest Sam/Jack shipper or Daniel/Vala or Zoe/Wash shipper of all time I don't think I would be lobbying the PTB for more of my romance on screen.

*ponders*}}
surreallis:

I think one of the problems is that fans seem to think the actors see the show and the ships in the same way we do, and they just don't. Their POV is so very, very different from us, so by asking them to 'choose sides' or acknowledge our fantasies is just forcing them into a role they have no desire to fulfill, or that they even care about. I mean, I've heard that Michael has said that whatever fans want to draw, write, talk about or do with their time is fine with him... but just don't expect him to be a part of it in any way. And I think that's fair and reasonable and that most actors probably feel similarly.

It's interesting to say, but even though it's their work they aren't nearly as invested in all of it as most fandom-active fans are.

I guess for some fans, they just have to have that feeling of 'he knows who I am' and they're willing to get that through good or bad means. Any attention is good attention maybe? Yikes.
kuwdora:

If you run around in metafandom enough, or know enough bandslash girls by proxy, you might've heard about Pete Wentz (lead singer of... some bandom-related group) actually reading the RPS written about him on the Internet, with tons of theories abound about the singer having his own LJ account.

creepy dude.
princessofgeeks:

I am in no way an expert on band slash or any of the music fandoms, and I have to admit I don't know who Peter Wentz is. But it is my impression that the Band RPF fandom has more of a feedback loop going between the slashers and the musicians?

There was certainly knowledge among the Lotrips actors and producers of our actor slash, and the actors commented on it and reacted to it publicly. It made some fan writers squee and feel validated. It made me feel weird. I didn't want them to know about it. I think there's a line there for me.

But I do stress that very very few of the Lotrips fans believed that the FPF was true.

And there are issues here with the slash that are very fraught, I think, because society has been so homophobic. That is one thing I hope does change! As society gets more accepting of homosexuality, maybe all this freaking out about slash AS SLASH will go away, too.

But I still have a lot of pondering to do about the public-ness of our sexual fantasies, now that we have the net. We think we're hiding in plain sight, but that day is clearly over. That's one reason I decided to join the OTW, frankly. Slash fandom, which is my fandom, has a fascinating history, and it's clearly at a crossroads because of the publicness of the net.
chasing tides:

After reading your post, I feel the need to rehash my growing concern for people who can't - or won't - discern their fantasies (sexual or otherwise) from reality.

I don't need or want approval from the PTB for what we do. I don't think that Michael Shanks should be expected to endorse my sexual fantasies about Daniel Jackson.

Oh my god, yes. I'm a fanfiction writer, have been for most of my life. But this little problem here has caught me in something of a block - I started writing a fic, as per usual, and then got more involved in the fandoms it crosses. Then I learn that, lo, the actors go out and read fanfic. Well, I'm not writing for them - I'm writing for myself and the other fans. I'm actually more hesitant to write now that I know it might be read by them.
princessofgeeks:

I really think very few actors are reading the fanfic about them. They have more important things to do with their time. I think some fans get a real headrush to think that we, and our activities, are being noticed by the actors or the PTB.

I'm really content for the PTB to NOT notice us. Not that I'm ashamed of my porn. Far from it. But as you say -- I'm not writing it for THEM.

Also, I think the number of RPS or RPF fans who can't distinguish fantasy from the reality of the actors' lives is very very small. VERY small. And now that there is more RPF out there in more fandoms, fans are getting educated about it, too. They are less likely to be taken in than some of us were at the beginning of the Dom/Lij gossip in Lotrips.

I am no expert on the music fandoms, but I have the impression that that is an area of fandom where the musicians are more involved in fan response than, say, Peter Jackson was? Also in the music fandoms (I'm not sure of the correct terminology; bear with me), aren't there additional issues in terms of how the musicians interact physically on stage? So that's an area that I'm sure would be interesting to study. But I freely admit to my ignorance there.

I can talk about Lotrips, because I was in that fandom, but I haven't followed the music fandoms at all.
chasing tides:

I have no idea about music fandoms; I'm not involved in them.

The two fandoms I'm talking about are Supernatural and Torchwood. The Supernatural cast members have mentioned reading fanfic (for the show) and fans have asked them questions about it at cons. Gareth David Lloyd, who plays Ianto in Torchwood and is the main character of my fic, has been known to talk about reading fanfic in interviews and even use fan terms like the smush name Janto (Jack/Ianto).

I'm not ashamed of my fic at all and it's not porn (it's PG-13 for adult concepts and violence). I'm proud of the research I've put into it (medieval theology is not for the faint of heart) and the thought. However, for some reason, I get the heeby-jeebies when I think of the actors or, in Supernatural's case, the directors or producers reading it. It's just not for them. It's been pointed out to me that writing is only controlled until you write it down and then it's in the readers' hands, but.... still.

And I wasn't necessary referring to fen when I said, "I feel the need to rehash my growing concern for people who can't - or won't - discern their fantasies (sexual or otherwise) from reality." Perhaps I'm biased, but at least with the fen that I've met, it seems that they have a better grip by virtue of being fen. On the other hand, there are tinhats around.
cofax7:

So to me, if I were writing the rating of fanfic that you are, I would be totally fine with whatever.

I get that. Honestly, 90% of the stuff I've written I probably wouldn't be too upset about the cast or crew reading. It's just that 10% there... the OT3, the sex scenes, etc. I don't want to share that with them, because it's not written for them and it makes me weird to think of the people who own the bodies I'm thinking about when I write those bits, reading the descriptions of their bodies having sex.

That's all a bit too recursive for me.
cross-stitchery:

i'll try to keep this short, cause i'm tired :) hopefully, i'm not also incoherent.

i don't like or approve of RPF. i'm not likely to be leading a crusade against it any time soon, however. and i don't see it as worse than the tabloid/paparazzi thing, just different.

one thing that bothers me is that at least public figures have some comeback against sleazy journalism - libel laws, suing for damages, etc. however, anyone can write about them doing the most objectionable things and by labelling it fiction, can avoid any consequences. and yet the discomfort the person feels may be just as deep as in the case of libel.

i also can't help wondering how long this situation is going to last. and, should some public figure successfully bring a law suit against an RPFer, how will that affect other forms of fan fic?

also, i don't *care* that these people are public figures. i think there should be a limit to what they're subjected to. that these limits are routinely trashed doesn't make it right.

i don't, btw, read the gossip mags. i know 90% of the articles are speculation if not outright lies, and i'm just not interested in reading any of it. i'd rather spend my time reading fanfic.

i totally agree with the whole "pushing fanfic in their faces" comment. i mean, really... what *are* they thinking? but it's not as simple as that. anyone who has an internet connection can find fanfic and RPF. there *is* no way to keep it away from the actors. and their families, which brings me to another reason i have problems with RPF.

in my two major fandoms to date, the actors are well aware of slash and seem to find it amusing. one of the actors, at least, is aware of RPF because his nephews googled his name and found explicit RPF photomanips featuing their uncle. who then had to explain why he was doing things like that to someone who they also probably knew, since the other actor is a friend. he wasn't amused by that so much.

it wasn't anyone's fault. somebody posted the pictures onto the net and a couple of curious kids found them. it's that easy.

and while i probably wouldn't have a problem with RPF that's obviously AU, the stuff that's written based on the person's real life situations and experiences? that really creeps me out.
princessofgeeks:

thanks for weighing in -- I'm glad you know it's okay to disagree with me! :).

I got into an RPS fandom headlong, before I really looked at any of the issues involved. I don't know what I would have done had one of the actors publicly asked us to stop writing it, at the time.

But the privacy issues are real, and they are balanced against the freedom of expression issues in what we do as writers. and sometimes i think we justify RPF by comparing it to gossip columns -- saying it's no worse than that. Which is kind of a lame argument, really....

and for me the issue also is about the idea of this subculture sharing our sexual fantasies amongst ourselves, which I have found to be a wonderful thing, and yet here we are doing it on the net where it's accessible to anyone. As you pointed out. Which is why I had absolutely no problem globally labeling my LJ Adult Content. No problem at all. Because it is.

The only example I can think of where an actor publicly was opposed to the explicit fanfic was over FPF, not RPF [1], so even explicit fic about a character (because, after all, it's still the actor's body we're drooling over) can tweak the actor involved, if the tweaking is going to happen. They do present themselves to us as sex symbols, after all.

And the argument is made that RPF is only able to be about the constructed PR canon -- a very artificial public thing. We don't know, and can't know, the real people behind those personas.

And then we can get into the discussion of the value of porn, the value of sexual fantasies, which really is a separate post I want to make someday.

So yeah. The issues are real, but there is no way I can (and no way I would want to) renounce my history in Lotrips, but I think it's always good to think about what we're writing and the implications of it.

cross-stitchery:

sometimes i think we justify RPF by comparing it to gossip columns

i've also seen the argument 'we're no worse than the paparazzi', which always puzzled me. because to win an argument by comparing yourself to the scum of the earth? um.... that doesn't feel like winning to me.

not that i'm saying that RPFers are the scum of the earth. i don't like RPF, but i don't think it's *that* bad. in fact my dislike of it is very much an instinctual one. i've followed a few discussions and some of the arguments in favour of RPF work for me on an intellectual level, but they don't overcome the squick factor.

it's certainly a valid argument that RPF and FPF aren't so different and actors can get upset about that too (and i know some of them have), and that's a good point, because i wouldn't stop writing FPF because of an actor's objections. so why should RPFers stop? it's simply setting myself up as the arbiter of what an actor's "allowed" to be upset about.

all i can say is that it seems to me fundamentally different to be using the actor's real name rather than a character's name. after all, an actor who identifies so strongly with the character they play that they can't distinguish themselves from it is the equivalent of the tinhats who do the same from the other side of the equation.

And the argument is made that RPF is only able to be about the constructed PR canon -- a very artificial public thing.

while i agree about the artificiality - i've been to a few actor cons, and while i think the actors were generous with sharing themselves, i still see it as a public performance - there is something about using their real names that definitely bothers me. blame it on my background in anthropology and interest in mythology, but the naming = power concept is one that really resonates with me. and it's a good feminist principle too. :P

but i've also seen RPFers talking about an actor's family - their wife and even their kids - and talking about using them in fic, and that's not a constructed reality, and their families are not public figures.

And then we can get into the discussion of the value of porn, the value of sexual fantasies, which really is a separate post I want to make someday.

yeah, i really think that is a completely separate discussion. i hope to see it some day :)

The issues are real, but there is no way I can (and no way I would want to) renounce my history in Lotrips, but I think it's always good to think about what we're writing and the implications of it.

it's a *very* good thing. i'm a firm believer in the need to think about the ethics of what we're doing and the attitude i pick up sometimes, that the internet is an ethics free zone, disturbs me greatly. i'm not saying that any one code of ethics should be imposed over the entire internet, but that you can't just handwave the issues of stuff like FPF, RPF, underage fic, etc because the internet "isn't RL". it *is* RL, albeit in a slightly disconnected format. anything that people are involved in is RL.

katie-m:

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I dislike RPF because I think it's invasive and inappropriate to co-opt people's personal lives for masturbatory (whether in the literal or the metaphorical sense) fiction just because they're famous. But then I've never been one to fantasize about celebrities anyway--I never had crushes on musicians as teenagers, never imagined what it would be like to meet my favorite actors, etc.--so on some level I just don't get it, I guess.

There are pro-RPF arguments that I understand and can mostly accept, in the is-it-ethical-or-not arena, anyway. But I'm never going to like it, and it has nothing to do with either cognitive dissonance between feelings about fiction and feelings about celebrity gossip or, though you didn't mention this (THANK YOU, she said, affectionately) an inability on my part to distinguish between reality and fiction.

Honest to God, if I could never hear one more thing about the Pitt-Jolie clan that would be FANTASTIC. I mean, I can't avoid them, unless I want to start getting all my groceries delivered.
princessofgeeks:

I think it's good to continue to talk about the issues involved in explicit fic and with Real Person Fic, even when we're comfortable with writing it.

Of course nowadays many of the PTB know about fanfic, and about slash, partly because of the net, partly because of cons and fan questions, and partly because fanfiction has a long history.

I know that those involved with creating Stargate know about fanfic and about Jack/Daniel, because I've seen the con videos, but whether fans should push it on the actors or beg for their ships to be validated by the show is another issue entirely than writing it for circulation inside our community, IMHO.

All this gets talked about alot, as the years go by, among fans, and that's a good thing.

References

  1. Is this a reference to Paul Darrow and The Blake's 7 Wars?