Fiction vs. Reality Discussion

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Related terms: Censorship; Representation, Real Person Fiction, Anti-Shipping, Anti-anti; Callout Culture; Fandom as a Safe Space
See also: RaceFail 09; Women and Slash; Minors in Fandom;Social Justice; Video games and violence; Fandom police
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The debate on how and if fiction affects reality is a complex issue, common in fandom around proshipping and antishipping debates.

Real-Person Fiction

this means they’re allowing explicit sexual content about real-life minors to remain. i’ve seen people try to get rape fiction about a 16-year-old minecraft youtuber get deleted and ao3’s team just brushed people’s concerns off. it’s immoral and dangerous to allow pedophilic fantasies about real children on their website and people have had ENOUGH. either they change their policies or their website deserves to die.[1]

Once all the “Muggles” learn about RPF about minors, incest fics involving minors, and all the other stuff that is sure to get ChurchLady’s panties in a wad, then your vanilla, slow-burn, friends-to-lovers, G-rated fic is going to be in danger too. Legislators always go too far. They won’t stop where you want them to.[2]

See, not too long ago, RPS was considered to be the spawn of all evil. Outing yourself as an RPS writer often resulted in insults or flames from FPS-ers, and if it weren't for the hard work of some people, it would still be that way. The fact that we can live a fairly quiet online life now is something we owe to them.

One of their principles, however, was that fiction had to be kept strictly separate from reality, and while this distinction works fairly well in most RPS fandoms, it seems to be a serious problem in Lotrips. Maybe it's because of the high percentage of complete newbies to slash, maybe it's because of the high percentage of very young people, maybe it's because of the high percentage of ignorant members who are trying to prove a point about themselves. (Personally, I favor one of the first two options.)

I do believe, though, that every single one of us has a certain responsibility. That responsibility is, that we shouldn't prove those right who see us RPS-ers as insane, ignorant and unable to tell fiction from reality. Not only do we owe it to those who made it somewhat acceptable to write RPS, but we also owe it to ourselves. For two reasons.

The first one is nothing but a moral question: In Real Life, you would be far more careful about spreading unconfirmed rumors, you'd be much more aware of what is gossip and what is fact. The same should go for online life.

The second reason is self-protection -- because if we prove all prejudices right, it won't be long until RPS will be seen as the devil's instrument again.


Underage Fanfiction

If the concern is “Boo hoo, this will lead to real life child abuse”, all I can say is that AO3′s rules were not written to accommodate fake science any more than they were written to accommodate fake law. Most of the anti-AO3 sentiment going around right now grossly misrepresents what we know of human sexuality, the relationship between fiction and reality, US law, and even the actual nature of the fic everyone’s being a drama queen about. If it actually were ~child rape~ fic, I would still defend it because that is part of AO3′s mission. In reality, like 99% of the time people have dramatics over a “literal child”, this person is a 16-year-old in the UK.[4]

Drawn or written NSF/W content of minors, on the other hand, does NOT have this immediate harm factor, and thus is not classified as CP/CSEM. The people involved aren’t real. Sure, it can evoke disgust! In fact, I’d stay that it does evoke that response from most people. But that’s not enough of a reason to criminalize something. And in the case of the argument above: It’s probably correct to assume that most people DO have a disgust reaction to this kind of content. I myself have a lot of words related to underage nsf/w art and fic blacklisted because it disgusts and squicks me out. BUT I cannot automatically tell why someone else may not be disgusted by that content. I don’t know the innermost thoughts of another person, and they could like that kind of content for any reason. Perhaps they’re fascinated by reading it because of past trauma. Or perhaps the dark nature of this sort of thing (like the entirety of the horror genre) appeals to their sense of visceral fear. Point is, drawn and written content (NOT cp) is allowable in the US (and therefore ao3) because A) nobody was harmed in the creation of that content and B) There’s no foolproof way to tell why someone is reading or writing it. Maybe it’s for shock value, maybe it’s because the author is writing about kids their own age (in which case. Please be safe, don’t tell people personal info, and don’t interact with anyone who makes you uncomfortable or seems to want to get too close) or maybe it’s to vent about and recontexualise something awful that happened to them.[5]

Would you want to read a fanfic depicting teenage Aang & Katara from "Avatar: The Last Airbender" getting it on? Well, some would. Aged up characters or not? Again, a hot-button issue. But again, A&K aren't real people. Z.T. Eisen and Mae Whitman are. I'm pretty sure that a fanfic about THEM would be inappropriate. The same with the actors from say, "Stranger Things." My opinion on that is just...NO. A solid NO. There is a huge difference in fantasizing about real kids, and fictional kids. I've always held the opinion that so long as someone is busy in their room reading, writing, or making animations in a 3D modeling program, then they're too busy to be out bothering someone in the real world. Yes, there are those who might take this to the "minor" genre, and that's disturbing. However, if it keeps them happy and off the street, more power to them. Just don't share it, on say, AO3. I'm sure there are sites out there dedicated to such, but then again, I don't want to see them, and I feel that such content is indeed inappropriate for such an easy to find and use site as AO3.[6]


Fictional representation matters, but it won’t have any effect on reality unless certain conditions are met. 1. Discourse about representation has to happen IRL. 2. People need to start changing their views. 3. A peace of fiction needs to be widespread or viewed by many people. 4. There has to be a lot of such fiction available to the public.

Fiction alone will never change opinions, but it can help change them by making certain topics more relatable.[7]

do you think that media and fiction hasnt allowed whites to view black people as ignorant and lazy thru cartoons and minstrel shows? like if you really think what youre seeing on tv doesnt affect reality and how people think then like. you must be fuckin stupid.[8]

Fiction reflects the imaginations of the people who create it, the taboos and the norms of their societies. And in doing so, fiction tacitly supports or challenges those norms and taboos, and tells people what’s acceptable and what’s not. This is why there’s such a huge goddamn push for representation in fiction. Because if fiction was completely seperate from reality, it wouldn’t matter. And if you have a problem with that, then maybe you should ask yourself why. Because if fiction isn’t reality and representation doesn’t matter, then you should take a long, hard look at why you’re so threatened by seeing people who don’t look and act exactly like you reflected in the fiction you consume.[9]

Intersectional theory typically proposes that marginalization is [...] far more complex, structural oppression written into our society that privileges certain groups (e.g. white, male, cis, het, etc.) over others and enables their individualistic prejudices to carry more far-reaching consequences (.e.g. a society that criminalizes Black people via Thuggification and other historical pseudo-sciences that would claim Black people are more violent and less civilized, which has historically promoted Black fear and more violence against Black citizens, or a society that has only recently begun to regard lgbtq+ relationships as valid and not endemic of slippery-slope depravities like bestiality, pedophilia, or sexual violence and so makes it easier for discriminatory policies against lgbtq+ couples to still be legalized via SCOTUS and lower courts and tolerated or even celebrated). In essence, the reality one person may perceive may differ from that of another person, as social constructs and other factors (e.g. race, culture, age, gender, etc.) and systemic oppressions or privileges can determine each of our experiences with reality.

Further, to deny the influencing power of fiction is also to deny a history that many marginalized groups have experienced first-hand, such as the harmful propaganda that has historically been incorporated into our fiction (i.e. as much as I adore Sir Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, I also cannot deny the harmful 19th-century examples of anti-Black, anti-Semitic, Imperialistic, misogynistic, and “Orientalist” elements of those stories), even into our cartoons and advertisements, that frame marginalized groups in inferior, dehumanized, or stereotypical ways that support an ideology of white supremacy or Manifest Destiny (just go back and review some of the stereotypical and damaging ways Native Americans have been and are often still portrayed in our stories, cartoons, programs, advertisements, sports, and Halloween costumes).[10]

Weisbuch et al. (2009) found that the more people watched a TV show which portrayed negative attitudes towards Black characters (using non-verbal racial cues), the more implicitly prejudiced the viewers became. This shows that we pick up what we see being modelled around us and we incorporate that into our own behaviour. Sometimes you aren’t even aware of it – hence the implicit part, but it still affects you anyways! Parasocial contact is rooted in the Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977). You don’t have to have contact yourself, but watching people behave serves as models for how we should behave. It normalizes things that shouldn’t be normalized.[11]

I have a post—it’s been in progress for like four years, because I know that the pushback is gonna be really really horrible. It’s called “Your kink is not OK and that’s OK,” because of the whole fandom thing of “your kink is not my kink but that’s OK.” It’s not how it works. Because fandom is the real world. So your desire to see a white guy held down and fucked brutally by a Black guy is tied into more than your size kink. It’s tied into societal expectations for Black masculinity. It’s the same way the few white guy/Asian guy ships you have tend to have the Asian guy framed as “submissive,” in air quotes, which didn’t come across very well! Because we expect certain things based on white supremacist society. And you don’t stop being in that society just because you’re in fandom. In fact, fandom kind of zooms in, because it’s so into it.[12]


Way back in the olden days of about 5 years ago, when POC!Harry and Hermione were first becoming a more common thing, particularly in art, there was a fair bit of of discussion about who it was for and what it meant.

There were plenty of people, including many people of color, who found it upsetting and hurtful. Some of the common themes there: that it assumed a sort of colorblindness that echoed their experiences of racism, that it sent the message that the actual BAME characters in the series aren’t valuable in fandom and aren’t prioritized as part of art or fic [...] that it sometimes glorified anglicized beauty norms by superimposing dark skin tones over faces with stereotypically white features, that it allowed readers to overlook the whiteness of the canonical texts, that it was the fandom doing the diversity and inclusion work that JKR should have done and was wrongly getting to take some credit for, and that it was often out of context and showed [...] ignorance and tone-deafness that left them feeling excluded, devalued, and hurt - as though people like them were good for woke points and reblogs, but not worth actually learning about or understanding, and as though it was a constant reminder that they were not understood in the communities they valued and where they wanted to feel comfortable.[13]

Online Abuse

I don’t think content from ships is the main material abusers employ. They definitely use an array of different tactics to groom minors. What comes to my mind as a parallel to this is blaming rape victims for wearing “inappropriate” clothing. And who knows, of all the rape cases maybe there were a couple where clothing was the main thing that caught the rapists’ attention. But is making women dress modestly a solution to rape prevention? If you googled motivation behind rape, I’m sure you’d find many articles proving otherwise.

Fiction only affects reality based on how that reality has been already shaped. In case of people’s opinions - there are many different factors behind how a certain individual will perceive a certain piece of fiction, which means that the same piece of fiction will affect everyone differently.[14]

There are people who are part of fandom communities who feel unwelcome and attacked by not only being surrounded by racist (etc) content (and it can’t be blocked because the kind of racism that we deal with is very rarely acknowledged by the creators), but also because we know that fandom will make every attempt to silence posts like this. We’re not talking about a kink here (no, really, degrading marginalized people is not a kink), we’re talking about racism and other things that hurt members of the community.[15]

Personal Effects

As someone who grew up in fanfic… recurring problematic things in fanfictions had way more of an influence on me than problematic things I encounter in isolation in mass media. Especially regarding things I, as a lonely preteen and later lonely teenager (right up until I wasn’t), had no experience with in the real world like social behaviours and norms portrayed in fanfic after fanfic.[16]

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