If You Want to Talk About Something Weird, Let's Talk About Geoducks, Not Fanfiction

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Title: If You Want to Talk About Something Weird, Let's Talk About Geoducks, Not Fanfiction
Creator: earlgreytea68
Date(s): March 13, 2015
Medium: online
Fandom: n/a
Topic: fanfiction, Attitudes Toward Fanfiction
External Links: If You Want to Talk About Something Weird, Let's Talk About Geoducks, Not Fanfiction, Archived version, March 13, 2015
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If You Want to Talk About Something Weird, Let's Talk About Geoducks, Not Fanfiction is a post on Tumblr by Earl Grey Tea. It was written in response to the article It's a Fanmade World.

As of 2 June 2015, the tumblr post had 384 notes.


So Vulture wrote up a “Guide to Fanfiction” that isn’t much of a guide at all and I read through it and got all righteously indignant at it. Like, I am so sick of these articles that are like, “Look at this weird thing people do on the Internet! Why would anyone write fanfiction? What’s up with that????”...

Seriously, though, you guys. What’s up with the confusion about why people write fanfiction? I mean, why do people write any sort of fiction? The reasons are as varied as the people and works of fiction themselves. Some people write for fun, some people write for catharsis, some people write to amuse themselves, some people write to amuse others, some people write to work their way through a personal problem that’s troubling them, some people write to work their way through a societal problem that’s troubling them, some people write for all or none of this. I am about to blow everyone’s mind by saying:

People write fanfiction for the same plethora of reasons.

I KNOW, RIGHT? Who can I call to share this great wisdom, and more importantly how much money can I charge?
Which, actually, is probably the one thing people don’t generally write fanfiction to do: make a lot of money. Which is not to say fanfic writers aren’t out there doing it, just to say that it might not be as high on fanfic writers’ lists as other people might think. But, then again, I think the idea that writers write for money is overstated, anyway. At least from a legal perspective. I spend a ton of time teaching my students all about how copyright protection incentivizes writers to write by compensating them for their work, but let me tell you, I write for free and I write for pay and the difference in monetary value isn’t really that enormous. Because I’m not J.K. Rowling. Or E.L. James. Apparently the savior of fanfiction, according to that article. We were all languishing in “the scullery” before she came along. I guess I should write her a thank-you note. But sometimes I wonder if at least part of the immense “mainstream culture” confusion over fanfiction (I put that in quotes because I’m not entirely sure what “mainstream culture” is and I still don’t understand how “mainstream culture” isn’t composed entirely of fans but that’s mostly because I don’t understand what people who are not fans do with their lives. Do they not stay up all night being emotional over fictional characters? What’s that like???) is because it isn’t done for money, by and large, and goshdarnit, who are these weird people who sometimes make decisions to do things THAT MIGHT NOT MAKE MONEY?
There is a lot of unpleasant judginess in the way people talk about fanfiction, as if they are offended entirely by the fact that it gives a voice to people who apparently aren’t supposed to have one. Like, the reader. This is a little remarkable, because I think everyone who holds an English degree would agree with me that most of what we read is influenced by us as readers: We see so much that the writer never intended. A writer never has the ability to control readers’ thoughts. We try, as much as we can, to get our point across, and then we have to mostly shut up. The quote from Annie Proulx at the beginning of the Vulture piece about how people not liking her ending and wanting to rewrite it “drives her wild” comes across a little bit like sour grapes. They didn’t bow down to you as Supreme Creator and dared to question your vision? Shame on the peasants!
My favorite condescending passage in the whole article:

“While fic labors under a (well-justified, it must be said) reputation for fostering an ocean of bad writing, it has also proved itself capable of producing accomplished and intelligent genre voices like Novik’s. It’s only a matter of time before a writer that the literary-fiction crowd acknowledges as one of its own emerges from such fertile ground.”

Wow, condescension. Let me count the ways.
So let’s talk about all the slash then, and why people continue to be bewildered by it. I don’t think there’s any one reason people write slash, just like there’s no one reason people write fanfiction, although I tend to think one of the main conscious reasons is “I like these two people together.” The Vulture article talks about the subversiveness of slash, but then points out that Twilight is male/female, as if these are two contradictory impulses that can never be reconciled. I think what people tend not to talk about as much as they should in this context is that we write so many male characters because the media we’re given is overpopulated by male characters. I mean, who are we supposed to write about? I guess the idea would be, hey, if we want female characters, we should write our own, and we do, and we gender-swap, etc. But I’ve written male/female and I’ve written male/male, and I made those decisions based on the characters I was given. Let’s look at Sherlock, a show I love but that is frequently criticized for the absence of female characters. How does that then become my problem? I’ve been writing a bunch of Inception, a movie that basically has one living female character. One. (The other one is dead in-story.) And people are like, “Gee, you couldn’t focus on that one female chick we gave you? Weird. IT MUST BE BECAUSE YOU LIKE MEN.” <– literal conclusion of the Vulture article. I blinked and blinked and blinked at that one. I mean, yeah, I happen to like men, but, like, what? That’s what you get from the fact that fanfic writers write a lot about men? Not the fact that men is what we’re given to work with?
It is just so much easier to mock something than to really engage in it. Like, how easy to point out the mpreg trope and be like, “Look at this crazy thing these crazy people are doing.” But mpreg is a really poignant commentary on how the biological fact that women carry children influences every aspect of female life in society. Tweak it so that men can get pregnant, too, and watch how things change: watch how the men are the ones now struggling with the questions that society so seldom demands of them. It breaks my heart, what so many mpreg fics reveal about how girls feel about their place in society. I mean, in Omegaverse, frequently the pregnancy-bearing gender is literally a prisoner of its reproductive function, lamenting the inability to ever lead a life with full freedom of choice, and, in fact, tasked with limiting exposure to the impregnating gender because, hey, they are not to blame if they’re tempted by the irresistible invitation of a baby-depository in their vicinity.
The point of fanfiction is it’s not meant to stand alone; it wouldn’t work as well as a standalone. It’s meant to be part of a context. And maybe some pieces of fanfiction transcend that context but they’re best within the context, they’re best as part of the larger community. This is why you seldom just read one fic in a fandom. Yes, there’s comfort in the same characters over and over, but really why you’re reading is because the more you read, the more you know the shared vocabulary and history of that fandom, the more you feel part of them, the more you belong, the more everything coalesces into crystalline brilliance. I have read really fantastic pieces of fanfiction but I am more inclined to say things like, “God, what the Sherlock fandom did with Mystrade was amazing.” It wasn’t any individual person, even if it was a particular fic that might stand out when I think back. It was that everybody together made this thing, and it was amazing, and for all that fanfiction is just like all fiction, it is also fundamentally different. Just not in the way people seem to talk about. It’s not different because it’s written by women, or because it’s pornographic, or because it’s got a lot of slash; it’s different because it overtly recommends that you buy into a larger identity, a culture of belonging, of finding a place. We need that sometimes. It’s literally as simple and straightforward as that: We all like to find the places where we belong.