Fanfiction and Fanart: The World Beyond Fifty Shades of Grey

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News Media Commentary
Title: Fanfiction and Fanart: The World Beyond Fifty Shades of Grey
Commentator: Rachel Crouch for The Mary Sue
Date(s): December 1, 2015
Venue: online
Fandom:
External Links: Fanfiction and Fanart: The World Beyond Fifty Shades of Grey; archive link
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Fanfiction and Fanart: The World Beyond Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2015 article in The Mary Sue by Rachel Crouch.

Several examples of fanart are included.

Topics Discussed

Excerpts

It’s not just fanfic that’s having a moment, though. Fanartists are starting to see their work bring in real money from outside the fandom world. Huge companies such as the BBC, Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Disney have all licensed popular fanworks in the last couple years, legitimizing fanart in completely new ways. Even with a modicum of acceptance, though, most fan creators find it hard to shake the eyerolls or even downright offensive commentary. With this new wave of legitimacy, I wanted to talk to leaders in the fanfic and fanart worlds to get a better sense of what inspired them to create, how they feel about the higher profile, and how they see their work being devalued—not just in the media but from within the assumed safe space of fandom.
Betty Days, an author in the Marvel and Supernatural fandoms, was one of the first to respond. She put the idea of community into perspective right away. She told me that, at a rough point in her life, she found herself without an outlet for all the feelings bottling up inside, so she decided to try her hand at Supernatural fanfic. “I woke up the next morning to dozens of kudos and a handful of comments. I had never before written something so voraciously consumed by an audience, and perhaps that’s the biggest benefit to fanfic: You will nearly always have an audience. In a world where attention is a precious commodity, fanfic is a thriving economy.”
[Dira] Sudis informed me that in librarianship—yes, another librarian—there are five laws. Number two and three are, “Every reader their book,” and, “Every book its reader.” It is a librarian’s responsibility to match the right book with every reader, regardless of her own opinion of the story.

“Good or bad don’t really enter into it; I don’t think I ever met a librarian who thought Fifty Shades was an objectively good book, but I also don’t think I ever met a librarian who didn’t do everything in their power to get copies of it into the hands of readers,” she told me.

Sudis went on to link the idea of bad fanfic with representation, saying that even the most cringe-worthy stories might have a deeper connection for some readers:

“Somewhere out there is a person who genuinely actually needs to read that badly punctuated story about two Transformers getting it on…Maybe because their gender identity or sexual orientation or abuse history or some other thing going on in their life makes them feel uncomfortable thinking about sex involving squishy vulnerable human bodies, and robots having sex helps them to express, or understand, something about their own identity or desire that they can’t get at any other way."
Unsurprisingly, all of the creators I spoke to were conscious of a certain devaluation of their work. They were, however, quick to point out that devaluation doesn’t just come in the form of overtly offensive comments from outsiders, but also from within fandoms themselves, where the idea of fan fiction and fan art are thrown out as synonymous with worthless filth.

Even on the con circuit—a place you’d think voracious fandom would be welcomed—Kiki Jenkins has seen a rising trend of “bad fanfic” readings. Sometimes, explicit erotica is forced upon talent to read aloud in order to elicit an embarrassed and negative reaction. [1][2]

“I get disappointed at people who treat us like zoo animals,” says Betty Days. “Who are interested in our culture and our words and the way we work, who study it under a lens and then show it to their peers like, ‘look at these weirdoes, what freaks.’”
Perhaps even more importantly, the fanfic and fanart communities are overwhelmingly female and without the need to please anyone but themselves and other fans (i.e. no studios, no networks, no publishers), they have the agency and freedom to create works that speak to that experience—to tell stories wholly through the female gaze. Where in any type of media can that be said?

References

  1. This is a reference to the 2013 Sherlock premiere, the moderator forced actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to read slash fanfic starring their characters aloud. Fans were outraged, and the author of the fanfic was very upset.
  2. Why fans are outraged at Sherlock and Watson reading sexy fanfic, Daily Dot, Aja Romano