FANFIC NATION: I Was a Teenage Bandslasher

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Title: FANFIC NATION: I Was a Teenage Bandslasher
Creator: Lady... [full name unclear]
Date(s): April 4, 2002
Medium: online
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FANFIC NATION: I Was a Teenage Bandslasher is an essay posted to alt.sex.stories.gay.moderated.

The essay is also a review of the fanfic site FanFiction.Net.

Topics Discussed

  • kids these days
  • Bandslash
  • RPF
  • many mentions and reviews of specific stories

Excerpts

As everyone who has read me in the past knows, I have a fascination with X-rated fanfic, and a fascination with slash. (NOTE: Slash is a type of fan fiction where two or more two media characters (TV, movies, books, etc.) are involved in a same-sex relationship. The stories are often rated G to R-17, with G being fairly innocuous and NC-17 pulling out all the stops, e.g. a steamy BDSM relationship... but to describe a story as "slashy" means it contains an angsty, explicit M/M relationship written, mostly, from the viewpoint of a straight woman.) I am continually astounded by slash's audacity, diversity, and constantly changing nature... and continually frustrated by its repetitiveness, naiveté, and lack of imagination. Try as I can, I can't stay away. That is why, after a hiatus of nearly two years from reviewing, I am drawn to it yet again to write a review of one of the largest archives in which it may be found, Fanfiction.net.

In the twenty months I've been away from the scene I've noticed a change of guard is occurring. There's a shift away from TV-based SF and fantasy fandoms (Star Trek, Xena/Herc, X-files) towards ones based on books and movies (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) and celebrities (RPS, or real person slash.) While this may be the affect of certain shows being canceled and certain media blockbusters being born -- as well as the pulping of modern celebrities between red-hot rollers into two-dimensional cartoons -- I also think it's due to the infusion of many, many computer-savvy tweens, teens, and young college-adult adults into the genre who have the time, energy, and bandwidth access to post their slashy and 'shippy (short for "relationship" -- fanfic where where two opposite-sex characters share a sexual relationship) fantasies to the net, fantasies that in other decades might have gone unwritten or languished in locked drawers. How many stories in the pre-net years were awkwardly and hesitantly shared, their authors aflame with the passionate rush of putting deep thoughts and emotions to paper? How many more stories were put to been put to the shameful torch by disposable lighters and flushed down toilet bowls?

These days, however, the secret writing life of teens is more visible, for we have Fanfiction.net, an excellent window into their dreams, wishes, and fantasies.

Well, I suppose by the success of the site Miss or Mr. Xing has gone on to bigger and better things, or corporate sponsorship, going by the number of pop-up ads for fright wigs and credit cards. If Fanfiction.net was an experiment, it was a damned successful one. There must be about at least a million stories on here, and it's growing daily. No mere after-hours consortium of fanfic writers, this.

The stories here are organized by Anime, Books, Cartoons, Comics, Crossovers, Games, Movies, Musical groups, Originals (Note: how can original creations be considered fanfic?), Poetry, TV shows, and Miscellaneous; the site also includes reposted news articles (of media developments and 'digital buzz') and columns solicited from site regulars, whose only stipulation is to be "writers of sufficient length and quality." In addition to English stories are accepted in Spanish, French, German, Portugese, Chinese, Japanese, and Dutch. The design is clean and businesslike, the interface easy and intuitive to use. Not surprisingly, its very accessibility has led to it being taken over by Generation-Y, who have hijacked the terms, storytelling conventions, and manifestos of the established fanfic community and made them their own.

The archive was too large for even a representational sample, so I decided to narrow my story reviews to one genre: musical group fanfic, and to narrow it further, bandslash.

Bandslash has been a longtime interest of mine, but for many years stories have been hard to find on the net. I've come across no more than two dozen sites that had featured it prominently, and those were of specialized fandoms (Duran Duran, Trent Reznor, The Cure.) After the release of the movie Velvet Goldmine in 1998 glamslash story sites and archives began to appear, then sites devoted to Beatle and Monkee stories; it's been accelerating ever since then, with most of the growth occurring in the boyband genre (though other artists like Eminem have developed slashy fandoms as well.) However, no other site I've seen boasts as much bandfic as Fanfiction. net. The Musical Groups section contained 140 different singers and bands, from oldies (Beatles) to rap-metal (Korn, System of a Down) to rap (Li'l Bow Wow, Sisquo) and pop (Britney, N'Sync, Aaron Carter) with many more uncategorized artists listed under Miscellaneous. It serves as a fascinating index of a particular artist's popularity.

It also raises some interesting questions. Why, for example, have young people written eighteen stories about Tori Amos, and none about Bjork? Both artists are around the same age and appeal to the same generation. Both have strong, distinctive personalities, and quirky, engaging musical styles. But there you have it. Tori gets the (key)strokes, and Bjork doesn't. And in the field of nu-metal, why do Blink182 (765) and Sum41(596) have such large fanfic fandoms, and not Creed (14) or Godsmack (95)? Is it because Blink182 and Sum41 are currently at the crest of their Gen-Y popularity, while the latter two missed the boat and are headed downwards?

And speaking strictly of slash, why hasn't Ricky Martin (4) been written more? He's young, attractive, sexually ambiguous, and has a rich history of past press that's available for research, Not only that, he has a longstanding relationship with fellow ex-Menudoite Chayanne. David Bowie (9) also looks pretty lonely, and I found no stories at all about Mick Jagger or cockrockers Led Zeppelin. On the other hand, there were almost 40 explicit fanfics about the Beatles.

Even more puzzling, fandoms present in the other bandslash sites I've seen are not comparatively well represented here. NiN has a mere 14 sex stories and the Spice Girls, once the queens of mindless celebrity sex, only 25. Other artists I'd think would be well represented are not on the site at all. Where are the X-rated fics about Shakira? The Dave Matthews Band? Kurt Cobain? Why does the sexually charged, porn star-loving Kid Rock rate only two stories? Why does Linkin Park (976) have four times more than Limp Bizkit (163) ? Who knows. I can only assume some artists have an aura of respectability, 'don't mess with me,' or even boringness that does not lend itself well to the freeform play that fanfic, especially sexual fanfic, involves. I also imagine the real-life sexual shenanigans of some leave no more to be said.

Each story had a one-sentence summary that was literate but not too helpful, containing in some cases admonitions like "it's my first try, so pleaz be gentle" and "LOL, you'll just have to read it" and "I wrote this back in 10th, I was really bored in History." (Yes, I am being cruel.) Some stories were short, under 500 words; others, multichapter epics that approached novel size. Off the bat I realized that most were not of high quality. A few were execrable; most were more or less readable, and probably entertaining if you're not too demanding. But there was little attempt to come up with believable plots or characterizations, or believable anything, in fact. Most read like shared visualizations rather than stories (some authors even called them 'visuals.') A common fault in fanfic, but one that, by sheer investiture of research and imagination in the material, writers can overcome. But many of the stories here read like they've been scribbled between math and soc studies class. Not a lot thought or logic seems to have gone into them, which, given the demographic, is understandable.

I also found several indications the site's creators are a little asleep at the wheel. For example, without too much searching I found a child pornography story which had nothing to do with fanfic and shouldn't have been there, and many of the explicit NC-17 stories which should have had ADULT WARNING popup windows, didn't. Then there's all that RPS (real person slash) which is currently at the center of a heated controversy in the fanfic world, not the least because it can engender lawsuits. Author Anne Rice chased a lot of her fanfic-writing fans off the net with that very threat. But, I guess a site as corporate as this one has deep pockets, or has the advice of some good lawyers, or something. (Shortly after this review was posted, the site's creators announced they would no longer accept real person stories.)
The amount of physical and emotional abuse some stories contained surprised me. It seems to be a growing trend in the fanfic world. Rape, brother-brother incest, child molestation, BDSM, snuff, you name it... pretty severe stuff that's come to be known as darkfic. (I'll wait until Fanfic Nation II to tell you about the Hanson disembowelment story I found.) Now anyone who's a teenager or is the parent of a teenager knows they like violent, emotionally wrenching stuff; I remember S.E. Hinton's Outsider series of books being very popular when I was 14, and Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series, which features all manners of child abuse, torture, rape, and suicide, remain perennial high school faves, as does the graphic novel "The Crow." But even I was unprepared for what George Harrison does to John Lennon in Kavie's "Alpha and Omega" -- he dominates, slaps, humiliates, duct-tapes, and rapes his bandmate, inciting in John flashbacks of past sexual abuse at the hands of his mother, and, to his horror, the realization that he enjoys being sexually abused. I consider myself squickproof as regards porn, but even I found it very hard to read... but to be honest, because I felt I knew these characters intimately from their media portrayals, there was a sick fascination in reading them act the way they did, even though it was out of character. It took me back to being 14 again and scribbling my own abusive bandfic in secret journals, and I suspect the defiance and sheer glee many bandslash authors take in their work comes from the knowledge they're doing something very, very bad and naughty on a number of levels (one writer's comment: "I find something deliciously subversive in slashing baby boomer idols.") This story was also one of the pieces of fanfic that could only work as fanfic; change the two main characters into imaginary ones, and most of the shocking impact is lost.

I was going to review a Rolling Stones fanfic novel from the same site, but after so much reading and skimming these past ten days, I couldn't. Burnt out on bandfics, sorry.

Why teens and YAs write these things? Well, for some it may be imitative; they've seen the work of established fanfic writers and want to try it for themselves. Certainly the sex scenes seem derived from the older fics. Other teens may like the sense of community that comes from posting their work and reading that of their friends. Almost all of the writers asked for feedback or reviews, which I realized was a touching plea to legitimize rather than critique. I can guess they just want to find someone who shares the same thoughts that they do. Writers of the more brutal fanfic may like the transgression, pushing the limits of what's acceptable in both writing and in one's fantasy life. Others, I suspect, use the artists they love and admire as proxies to endure their own pain (one writer noted her System of a Down kidnap/rape story enabled her to work out her feelings involving her own rape.) Most writers probably write for all of these reasons; fanfic, after all, offers a safe, distanced way for teens and YAs to acknowledge each others' sexual natures and become comfortable with them.