RPF: Actors, Characters, Writers, Readers

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Title: RPF: Actors, Characters, Writers, Readers
Date(s): September 19, 2008
Medium: Livejournal post
Fandom: The X-Files
External Links: wendelah1, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

RPF: Actors, Characters, Writers, Readers is a 2008 post by wendelah1.

wendelah1 wrote another post on X-Files and RPF a few months later: Real Person Friction.[1]

Topics Discussed

  • RPF, specifically X-Files RPF
  • the challenges and concerns of X-Files RPF in light of the recent news of David Duchovny's sex addiction admission
  • the ethics of publicly linking to stories using the Wayback Machine
  • keeping problematic fiction available

The Post

It is no secret that I have written RPF in The X-Files fandom. I like RPF: it's fun, it's naughty, both to read and to write, which makes it even hotter than regular porn. It is transgressive, without being kinky. (Not that I have any problem with kinky.)

Here is the thing. That story I wrote wasn't really about the porn, although there was some sex, of course. It was about a lost opportunity, a sad look at what might have been, had things gone a little bit differently. Of course, it was completely fabricated, because I know practically zip about the actors' real lives. Moreover, I don't want to know anything about their real lives, because then that makes them actual people in my eyes. I don't want to write about actual people. I want to create a character who seems real, using the public persona of the actor, which is a very different thing.

So what does a writer do when one of her characters makes it into the news? Finding out that David Duchovny is being treated for sex addiction didn't completely take me by surprise. I've been with and around a lot of men. I watched his TV appearances and read the articles about him. I knew there was something there between the lines, I just wasn't willing to put it all together, preferring the illusion to the truth.

Truthfully, I still do. But the act of using him as a character now feels invasive and wrong, in a way that it didn't before. I don't know that it is any more wrong, but it sure feels that way. The RPF story set in the same universe as my first has been completely derailed, for now. I can't even look at it without feeling-- shame.

This is really too bad, because he is a much more interesting character now than he was before. See, this is how writers think. And maybe it is-- kind of exploitative. The truth, though, is I am always looking at the lives of others and even my own life for the little details I can mine for the work. Because it is the work that matters to me, more than people or their feelings.

A week or so ago, there was some discussion at Haven about whether or not it's okay to post public links to stories that are no longer easily found online because their authors took them down. Many people, mostly writers I suspect, felt it was disrespectful to do this, as it went against the known wishes of the writers. I am going to quote what I wrote there, cutting out the part that was a response to a specific post.

I am going to go out on a big limb here and come out on the side of the reader, on the one hand, and the work itself, on the other.

It seems to me that once a piece of writing has been posted, it takes on a life of its own, apart from whatever the author's intentions may have been. It still exists, whether it is on someone's harddrive or merely in someone's memory. It is a part of our collective fan history, too.

I am one of those people who goes around hunting down stories that are no longer easily found. I spent hours and hours hunting for a working link to "God's Breath" by Jintian so that I could post it at crack_van at Live Journal. When Jintian let her site go down and posted everything except her XF fic at Live Journal, I did send her an email, twice, asking why. She never answered me. I don't feel guilty in the slightest for posting that link to a wonderful story that deserves to be read.

I admit it freely, it is ultimately the work that matters to me, more than anything else. The work. The story. Not the storyteller. Not their feelings or their "rights." If that makes me a crummy fangirl and an untrustworthy fan of your work, then so be it. I love the art, not the artist. My feelings about the series are quite parallel. I love Fox Mulder. I think DD is an okay guy. I love Dana Scully. I think GA is a lovely woman and a wonderful actress. But I love their work in The X-Files. I love fan fiction, I love reading it and writing it. I love writing about it. Still and all, I have to admit my allegiance is to the work itself, and I think it always will be.

So that is why I am not going to take down my story, even though I have thought seriously about doing so. Because even if I do, the story will still exist, if only on my hard drive, and in the memories of the people who read it. Besides that, despite everything, I still love writing RPF. I can't help myself, I just do.

As to whether I will ever get back to writing that follow-up to my earlier RPF fic, that remains to be seen. I will just have to wait and see how that story unfolds.

Comments by Fans: 2008

[ foxestacado ]: I recently just had an author contact me to have their story link be severed from my site. The story was not archived, so I did it. I do respect the wishes of authors. However, there is a part of me that thinks: there ARE copies out there. Just because my site will no longer link to a copy doesn't mean that other people don't have copies. And it's so good, it deserves to be read.

But I understand from the author's point of view too: they might have made a massive mistake posting a story. It takes a life of its own. They cease to have control over it. Is that right?

I don't know. But whenever I am contacted by the author, I just do whatever they want me to do. I don't want to argue about it. But I'll be sad that their story will no longer be available to people.
[wendelah1]: What is really funny is that most stuff can be found, if you really want to work at it. There isn't much that I haven't been able to track down, one way or another.
[ emily shore ]: Personally I don't have a problem with RPF. I think your story was a wonderful work of fiction (emphasis on fiction) and that you have no reason to feel guilty about it.

In a sense there's something exploitative about being a writer or about being a historian... at least in the sense that we're mining other people's lives for our work, whether directly or indirectly. But I've made my peace with that.

I only occasionally write RPF about people who are still alive, and I will admit that I lock the stories so that their subjects won't find them. But that is all.
[dasha kay]: You touched on this a little bit, but I wanted to expand on it somewhat shallowly (since I'm at work and can't really spend too much time on this): David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, as they exist in RPF, are not real people. They are characters. They are what the readers and the writers project as their personalities. We don't know them, can't possibly know or understand the real people they are and, thus, we can't write them. I wish I could feel some sort of moral outrage at those who choose to write DD RPF in the wake of his sex addiction disclosure, but I just can't. That man isn't who the RPF writers are writing about. I personally don't think you should feel ashamed about it, but I'm not you. And perhaps my feelings on the subject are one big ball of rationalization, anyhow.
[frey_at_last]: Then why not give them different names?

I think it lets us off too easy, to claim RPF characters are completely fictional. Unless RPF writers are so unoriginal, and readers so dull, that this is the only way they can think to write and read 'original' stories, then the Real Person of RPF is an integral part of why it is written (or at least read).

All of their actions may be fictional, and their particular thoughts. But if they show absolutely no resemblance to the real people we collectively "know," then what is the draw? I know people will disagree over whether it is disrespectful to use real people in certain ways (ways that, in fic, may often be exploitative), but it seems to me like this is as obvious as day....

A couple of years ago, some RPF was posted to Ephemeral. DD and Robert Patrick were the main characters, in a sexual relationship, with a few side mentions for Tea and Gillian. The story was removed because Ephemeral doesn't allow RPF, and the next day it was reposted - the only change being, the author had run a search-replace on all the character names. DD was Mulder, RP was Doggett, TL was Scully, and GA was, I think, Reyes. The dialogue still fit the RPF situation - DD/Mulder said something about not letting TL/Scully find out, and even referred to his having kids. But even despite those clues, it is so obvious that the RPF-fictional-world had a different meaning than the XF-canon-world, one that was rooted in actual reality. The story had completely changed - it had different tensions, histories, dynamics, and meanings, despite the fact that the author would have claimed that both were "fictional." So there's something very different going on, there.
[frey_at_last]: So I guess one division that can be made is that [your story] uses these real lives as general human material to make a story about human psychology. I don't think that's exploitative, really. Whereas if I wrote a story about David and Gillian (and I have thought about it, and wrestled over it), I think it would be exploitative not because they would have exciting sex, but because I would be capitalizing off the emotional investment I have (somehow!) made in the idea of their relationship. I know there's a lot of RPF done in other fandoms for reasons that are probably closer to yours, but I think RPF (in a fan context) probably *started* my way. I can't really see any other reason for it...

Then why not give them different names?

Essentially, this was the main point I was siding with. It's kind of like when I come across what I feel is seriously OOC fic. It can be well-plotted or well-written, but if I don't recognize the characters, I don't see any point in reading it; if I want well-written stories with characters that are new or strange to me... hell, I work in a bookstore, I'll buy a damn book. I can kind of apply that same logic to RPF fic. If I were that interested in applying fiction to the lives of real people, I'd buy gossip rags (and I don't).
[wendelah1]: My story is RPF, in the sense that it does use their names, and because it does use a few commonly know details about both of their lives, to add some realism and a sense of place. What is made up is the psychology, and the (non)relationship trajectory. It isn't disrespectful, or exploitative though, and the point of it isn't to get them into bed, far from it. I think the story is sweet and rather sad. I like it for that, and because I think it works as a piece of fiction.

But I don't expect that people who are opposed to RPF to like it or even read it. Not all RPF is the same, is what I am saying. I don't even think that the actors would be offended by this story. Although there is some sex, it isn't dirty or smutty. It doesn't portray them as doing anything wrong or hurtful. I am sure it doesn't at all fit with every detail of their real lives or feelings. How could it? That is what makes it fictional, in the way that fan fiction is, when it creates scenes that we didn't see, but that might have happened.

That is, by the way, the most boring type of fan fiction for me to read. I much prefer more ambitious projects to missing scenes. I want scope, I want adventure and danger, not domestic drama, or love scenes. To each his/her own, yes? The reason I want to read new stories about Mulder and Scully that seem like the series, is because I like them as characters, the way the were on the show. AUs are okay as long as I can recognize the characters. I think I have a more flexible conception of them than many fans.
[leucocrystal]: I think it definitely comes down to comfort level, since that directly effects whatever someone might get out of reading (or writing) RPF -- or anything else, for that matter. I think being a fan, as Frey sort of touched on below, also affects my aversion to the idea. I'm reminded of how much the severe "snoggers" out there scare me (and they seriously do); they love to theorize, if not outright claim, that Piper is David's daughter, or that horrible things ought to happen to Tea. It's sickening. Of course that, and what you (and others) do are on entirely different wavelengths; I can't stress that enough! But something in there remains familiar to me, probably only because the same people are involved.
[frey_at_last: It seems like I come at RPF from an opposite perspective. On the one hand, I get no enjoyment from reading fiction (or speculating about) really "fictional" real characters, unless there really is enough context (and for me that takes a lot more than a one-shot) for them to take on a life as fictional characters. On the other hand, I *do* guiltily enjoy reading fic about or speculating about the real people. The more realistic an RPF character is, the more closely it resembles what I know of the real person, the more enjoyable it is. I don't enjoy the majority of DD/GA RPF because it has them doing things - or doing things in ways - that feel unrealistic and out of character to me, based on what I know of the real people. I can understand *that* other people really only are interested in them as fictional characters, but I don't understand *why* they would be. There isn't even any context or "canon" for a really out of character fictional-David. Everything that I would potentially write about him would have to fit strictly within the bounds of what I know about him in reality.

[The question of what we CAN know about celebrities as real people is another question that I won't touch...]

Anyway, so maybe because I come at it in this way, I still have an aversion to RPF. I enjoy it for the reality, but I enjoy it despite my better inclinations. My better inclinations being: No matter what fictional veil I put between me and this person, the bald fact of the matter is that David is a real person, with actual human, personal space and dignity, and Mulder is a fictional person, and may have to act "in character," but is still not real.

It's weird, because it seems that death and time (distance) or personal intimacy can give someone the "right" to transgress on personal dignity. Quasi-fictional histories are written all over the place - or quasi-historical fictions. So, I don't know. I almost feel like the celebrity-fan dynamic has introduced something new to the world, and I don't know exactly where it fits. I wouldn't feel guilty (maybe) about writing fiction about a real person I don't care about, but because of whatever my "fan" status brings to the board, it feels illicit and disrespectful. It would probably never do actual harm to the subject, but I think it might do harm to me.

Maybe my Harriet [the Spy] icon is appropriate! She wrote about people without caring about them, because they were "interesting" (and eventually paid for it). I'm not sure something good comes of that division between (mental) "interest" and (personal) "interest."
[mushfromnewsies]: I hope you won't be offended, and I don't mean this as any kind of vindictive diatribe, just an interested discussion, but I do disagree about entire character of RPF.

I think it's disingenuous to claim that RPF is basically equivalent to any independently interesting "work in itself," which is merely concerned with fictional characters created by the author. In my understanding, the particular nature of fic in general is that it is always based on an outside work that writers and readers hold in common. Fic is a secondary work that, while I do believe attains something of its own existence and its own world, still relies on its respective canon. Even if (as so many writers do these days, sometimes interestingly, sometimes not) the writer chooses to take a few elements or aspects and twist or heighten them for the work's own purposes -- even so, the purpose of the author's writing within a fandom, and the purpose of readers reading it, is because it is based in something both ends are already interested in: canon. Fic forms a conversation between the writers and the readers about how canon is to be understood, at least in my mind, though I think there are a number of "levels" as far as the purpose of reading fic goes...


When it comes to RPF, (which btw, I do read some of in XF, I'm not trying to put myself on a pedestal) I think it's silly to claim that it's just like other fiction. The entire purpose for readers is that it is based on real people they know ("know") in common. The point of RPF is that it is invasive and titillating, that it exploits the situations of real people (moreover, people they have a vested interest in as fans) to entertain or amuse or satiate obsession. I'm not saying this is necessarily true for you, or others, as a writer. But if it was only about interesting situations and characters, why would the writer use the name "David Duchovny" and not devise some original character? Of course, within the work itself, a fictional character results. But only in the sense that any abstraction or incomplete picture of a person who exists in reality far more fully and complexly than we can capture, is a "fictional character."

I consider myself someone that does place a lot of emphasis on "the work" itself, don't get me wrong. But I don't think, as persons who live in reality, that we can so fully detach ourselves from our responsibilities towards treating other really-existant people as real persons. This is so important to training my own mind as an historian. There are fictional-historical books that focus on individuals and self-consciously depart from “objective history” as such in order to explore a theme or create something of literary interest. If the vast majority of RPF were this innocent, I would have much less of a problem with it. But the fact is that almost all RPF is based on a fan’s interest in sex and sexual and/or very personal relationships. This is plainly exploitative -- regardless of whether the real person(s) might be said to be “invaded” or hurt, it’s exploitative because the writer’s and readers’ interests are in gaining their own illicit excitement and entertainment. I read some DD/GA fic, and I usually get a good laugh from it, but my purpose when I do read it is to judge how well the author understands or explores the very strange reality of their relationship. 99% of the fic leads to sex and I lose all interest, because it shows me where the real purpose of the fic lies (not to mention I’m never convinced that it’s realistic ;)). I’m not attempting to justify my own (probably indecent) interest in David and Gillian as people together, but I do think it’s more innocent in that when it’s at it’s best, it’s a desire to understand, and not to manipulate for my own purposes. This is ultimately my philosophy when it comes to realism in fic, as well: I value an true interest in the reality of the canon or the real people as subjects, and less in whatever inherent value there might be in the fic as a story.

This is my own philosophy as far as fic and RPF goes. I realize there are other people, possibly yourself, who value the canon/real people less than the work itself, as far as fic writing and reading goes. In any case, even were that true, I find it a tenuous reasoning for RPF in particular; real people, in my estimation, in their integrity as persons and their right to be known as their own selves, trump whatever delight they might give as fictional entities.
[memento1]: I've had the same doubts, reading a lot of fic off of the Wayback Machine and reccing some of it. Of course the big and obvious one is Anne Haynes' work, which I know she purposefully took down yet cannot help reccing. And I do feel bad going against the authors wishes, but ultimately I think it will do more for the readers than it will for the writer at this point. Also, I've been thinking about posting some of my favorite fanvids lately, and hitting the same wall of perhaps posting vids that have been taken down/are no longer out there.
[wendelah1]: See, I don't feel bad. At all. If the work is good, it deserves an audience. I agree, reading good fic benefits readers far more than having it read harms the writers.

Comments by Fans: 2013

[kerithwyn]: *laughs softly* So five years after you posted this, I find myself contemplating my first-and-likely-only RPF fic. I've always been conflicted on the topic so I went searching for some commentary...and came up with your post. :) This: I know practically zip about the actors' real lives. Moreover, I don't want to know anything about their real lives, because then that makes them actual people in my eyes. I don't want to write about actual people. I want to create a character who seems real, using the public persona of the actor, which is a very different thing. -- is precisely what I wanted to express.
[wendelah1]: ... RPF is still a big deal in oldskool XF circles. And it's very important to maintain a certain ironic distance to make sure no one thinks you're a tinhat or a snogger, as we are called in Philedom, even if the legitimate news media is going bonkers over your ship.
[kerithwyn]: It isn't like I had some big ethical objection any longer -- fandom is great at wiping away your moral quandaries with great porn. (In my case, see: astolat's Adam Lambert fic.) It just isn't something I ever thought I'd write. But lo, there I am watching Haven cast interviews and Eric Balfour is RIDICULOUS and *flaily hands.* So bizarre! Never, ever had the slightest urge to write Fringe RPF or any other fandom.


  1. Real Person Friction, Archived version, January 14, 2009. Dreamwidth copy of a LiveJournal post.