The internet is for porn.
We all know the song (from the Broadway musical Avenue Q), and it’s funny because, in a way, it is true. And hose of us who have been around the internet for a while are familiar with the infamous Rule 34: if it exists, there’s porn of it. It’s nothing incredibly shocking but, if you listen to the media hubbub surrounding the bestselling novel 50 Shades of Grey, you would think otherwise.
For those of you unfamiliar with the novel, there’s already been a great recap post here on Club Jade. To sum up, it’s an erotic novel that started out as Twilight fan fiction. The entertainment media can’t seem to get enough of this story, churning out article after article about 50 Shades and author E L James. The media attention seems to focus either on the novel’s fanfic past or the crazy idea that women like to read erotica. I laughed about the latter slant (really? In 2012, it’s still surprising that women like to read about sex?), but was intrigued by the former, mainly because of my involvement in the Star Wars fan fiction community.
Disclaimer: I read and write a lot of fanfic. It’s relatively new hobby for me (and yes, I almost did just write Hobbie), but in the year and a half I’ve been involved in the community I’ve met a lot of great friends and read just as many great stories. Yes, some fanfic is bad, but other stuff is good (even better than profic). As a fan, I believe fanfic has merit right alongside profic. (Aaron Allston does, too.)
Until now, I’d couldn’t believe that the mainstream media hadn’t yet made the erroneous connection that fanfic = porn. So an article on CNN entitled “Fifty Shades of Grey shines light on erotic fan fiction”, I wasn’t that surprised. But I still facepalmed; especially when I saw the accompanying photograph of Kirk and Spock. The third sentence of the article states, “Welcome to the world of fan fiction, where fans tweak or add to existing series, novels and characters — oftentimes with a steamy twist” (emphasis mine).
It is the word “oftentimes” that bothers me about that statement. Yes, I know there is erotic fanfic on the internet (refer back to Rule 34). I’ve read it; heck, I’ve written it. I don’t think “smut” (as it’s called) is anything to ridicule or look down upon, and I’m not ashamed to read or write it. But that does not mean that the majority of fanfic is porn, and I hate that people will see novels like “50 Shades” and believe that is the case.
Fanfic serves many purposes for both readers and writers, but it comes down to this: we want to see things that we aren’t getting in canon. Do you want to know what happens to Harry Potter and his friends after the novels? J.K. Rowling isn’t going to write that, so other people have. Do you want to explore previous incarnations of the Hunger Games? You can write your own version or read others. Do you wish that Syal Antilles had a bigger role in the Star Wars Expanded Universe? She does in fanfic! Basically, fanfic helps fill a void that can’t be fulfilled by “profic”.
And yes, that means that smut will inevitably exist. Profic (thankfully) isn’t going to explore the intimate relationship between Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade, so fans create their own. But that doesn’t mean that fans don’t also write alternate universe stories in which Luke and Mara married much earlier than in the canon storyline, or in which Mara never died, or stories that don’t feature much of a romantic aspect at all. Those types of stories are what you will find if you look for Luke and Mara fanfic on the internet. In fact, websites like Fanfiction.net and TFN’s Jedi Council fan fiction forums do not allow higher-rated fanfic to be archived.
To be fair, the CNN article does clarify (much further down the page) that “not all fan fiction is erotic”, and then gives a paragraph-long quote explaining how fanfic is about seeing more of a character.
Well, I guess that’s better than nothing, right?
It’s inevitable that people will hear about 50 Shades of Grey and make broad generalizations about the nature of fanfic, but I wish that they wouldn’t. People will say that all fanfic is badly written or all fanfic is just about smut or that people who read and write fanfic are nuts. To but it bluntly, fanfic gets a bad rap, probably more so than any other area of fan participation. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “why don’t you write real stories?” when I tell people I write fanfic. I write fanfic because I want to. Other people think that reading fanfic is a waste of time, because it’s not the “real” story that Lucasfilm approves. Well, I read fanfic because I want to read more about the characters that I love, which is the same reason I read the EU.
To sum up, fanfic does not equal porn. It’s so much more than that. I’m glad to see conversations about fanfic in mainstream media, hoping that fanfic won’t be the redheaded stepchild of fandom anymore. I only wish all this attention surrounded a different novel, and can’t help but wonder what people would be saying about fanfic if something like the Son of Suns trilogy was turned into an original work instead of 50 Shades.
Nanci is one of the hosts of the Tosche Station Radio podcast