Tag Archives: fandom

Assassins, Outlaws, and Narratives of Autonomy and Vulnerability

sad bucky

Sometimes emotional impact comes at you from sources you don’t expect. For example, did I ever tell you about how that cowboy game by the people who made GTA came out of nowhere and made me cry, introducing me to a protagonist who swiftly became one of my favourite characters? No? Okay, well, let’s talk about that.

Late last year, my housemate brought home Red Dead Redemption 2 (winning the local trivia contest in the process, but that’s an extremely powerful story for another day), and the game–and its player-character, gunslinger Arthur Morgan–quickly stole the hearts of everyone in the house. A natural response to a new interest in this digital age was to peek into social media’s fandom spaces to see what was there, and when I did, I was met with a wave of adoration for Arthur as a character. This took some different forms for different people, of course, but spending enough time following discussions about the game I soon recognised a recurring pattern: a lot of people were drawn to him on a personal level, and not only enjoyed him as a protagonist/thought he was cool/thought he was a bit hunky, people empathised with him in ways that many of them (myself included) found pleasantly surprising. And I thought “hey, this feels… a little familiar.”

It wasn’t until conversations about Bucky Barnes—alias The Winter Soldier—began to resurface in the wake of Avengers: Endgame that the neurons connected. Bucky was, and is, an immensely popular character, particularly after his appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the heyday of the fandom interest in that movie, a whole string of posts, tags, and conversations popped up observing that maybe so many people, especially people who weren’t (cis) dudes, were latching onto this character because something about his narrative, his construction of identity, and the things that happen to him, felt familiar on a strangely personal level. So what exactly was at the heart of this?

It would be easy enough to say this is another case of “fangirls like handsome gun man” (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with liking the handsome gun man, we’re all out here just trying to drag some enjoyment out of the media hellscape), but that feels in this case like a superficial take that misses a core part of the appeal of these characters. Women (and fans raised, socialised, and/or otherwise socially perceived as women/girls; a distinction I want to make because I know a lot of NB and trans folks who like these characters too) don’t just like these fictional men, they connected with them, on a level that I feel has a few similarities worth talking about. Again, “handsome gun man” is a superficial take: both Arthur and Bucky are presented on surface level as traditionally masculine images of cool-factor, but have personal narratives (and sometimes place in the narrative) about autonomy and vulnerability, themes that are usually associated with the feminine.

[There will be spoilers for both stories within, and, as a content warning, some discussion of abuse and violence] Continue reading

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Fun with “Canon AUs” in The Good Place

TheGoodPlace_NUP_178291_0324

The celestial, “afterlife bureaucracy” setting of The Good Place gives its storytelling a degree of elasticity you wouldn’t find in a non-fantasy series—as of the recently-completed third season, I’ve lost count of the number of times the story-world has been reset, rewound, rebooted, or generally bamboozled. And hey, if you’re writing in the realm of the ethereal, why wouldn’t you take every opportunity to play with spacetime? It turns out, you can get some very interesting character writing done within that cosmic framework and all the divergent paths and “what if?” narratives you can play with as you stretch and squish the Universe. So today let’s sit back with a tub of frozen yoghurt and look at how The Good Place, with all its timeline reboots, raises questions of nature and nurture, of fate and destiny, and even of soulmates, all while giving its writers a smart exercise in consistent characterisation and its audiences an endless parade of alternate versions of the same story—in many ways tapping into the methods, and the appeal, of the good ol’ Alternate Universe fanfiction. (Spoilers ahead!)

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Everything is Connected and Everything is Fanfiction: The Cauldron of Story Theory

conspiracy

Canon has been slow roasted at 225 and carved for juicy bits

Now-famous tags on an AO3 work

Once upon a time in his essay On Fairy Tales, fantasy’s grandpa J.R.R. Tolkien laid out the idea of the Cauldron of Story. The Cauldron of Story (or the less epic name Tolkien also gives it, the Pot of Soup) is the idea that the collective imagination is bubbling away in a hypothetical pot full of every major story that’s ever been told. If something captures people enough—be it a particular character, a historical event, a tale or an archetype–it is added to the Pot to be stirred around, taking on the flavours already in the Pot and adding its own new taste as well. When you ladle out a new bowl of soup to tell a new story, you’re scooping up elements, ingredients and flavours of things long-since added to the big Cauldron—whether you intend to or not. Continue reading

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Filed under Archetypes and Genre

Fandom and Death of the Author

J.K.-Rowling

“Mine, miiiine!”

Roland Barthes’ ‘Death of the Author’ theory, if you’ll allow me to get academic for a moment, is sort of a philosophy on reading and writing, and basically states that once a written work goes out to its readers, the creator loses all control over it. Not in a copyright sense, but in a more intangible and symbolic way: essentially, the human being who made up the story becomes totally irrelevant to the story itself because the power to bring that story to life lies with the reader. Whether or not you agree with that wholeheartedly, I think it’s an interesting thing to think on regarding fandom, especially in its modern incarnation, where we not only have fans speaking directly to and demanding more from authors, but fans gathering in greater communities to demand more from these works of fiction themselves.

Straight up, an excellent example of this is Harry Potter, always a good specimen to examine simply because its fanbase is so huge and so dedicated, and at this point in time, heavily consisted of people who read and loved the books as they were growing up and are now looking back at them with their new sense of maturity. And, as even I learnt, there’s a lot of thinking you can do about the Wizarding World even if you’re not super involved with it, which has naturally led to swathes of headcanons and theories that extend the story world from how it’s presented in the texts, whether that’s prodding into plot holes or extending the story, and doing so with far more varied perspectives than the original author’s. As this compilation post nicely puts it: “Thus the muses spake: ‘JK you dealt kinda shittily with Dumbledore and other diversity aspects, so we’re gonna go ahead and fix this ourselves’.”

I think this is a key aspect of fandom, and definitely translates nicely into fanfiction: readers enjoying something, but wanting more from it. A character is shafted by the narrative, so a reader who thought they could have had more potential will start musing on or writing about them to give them the development they were denied. A story presents a pair of characters they tease heavily as a possible romantic pairing, but won’t actually get them together for whatever reason, so a member of the audience will write about that romantic arc actually occurring. An audience member has trouble finding themselves represented in canon, so they tweak it in their own creative space to make it more inclusive and interesting to them personally. Viewers will wrangle headcanons or stories of sexuality, gender, background and all sorts of things onto characters you’d never have considered them for, mostly, in my experience, because the text itself would never go in that direction and is content with keeping its characters on a narrow, conventional path. And not all consumers are happy with that. Continue reading

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The Disservice of Fan Service

Scene from Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia: Irene Adler's nude back, and Sherlock Holmes looking very unimpressed

Sherlock Holmes is not impressed by this display of male gazery

Do you ever watch something and just think: “That was written just for the fans”?

Scenes that seem as though they were designed to be awesome more than anything else. Dialogue that seems made to be quoted. Moments of tension or comedy that are manufactured to titillate the audience. Sometimes fans of a show or book pick up on these things on their own and take them into their hearts, but sometimes it distinctly feels as though the creators put things in there just to appeal to their audience.

The most obvious of this is the root of the words “fan service”, defined as a random and mostly irrelevant action that plays directly to the audience’s (and chiefly the straight male audience’s) interests: a sudden gust of wind blows a skirt up! An event happens within the show that calls the female cast to dress in scanty or adorably provocative outfits! A sudden rainstorm thunders into existence just above the main characters’ location and everyone happens to be wearing white shirts!

Not to say that this exists solely for the male gaze; depending on the target audience, these instances will occur to males and females both. An important conversation just happens to take place while a toned male lead is working out! There is a bathhouse scene for little reason other than comedy and implicated nakedness! Characters wear second-skin spandex battle suits that may not be historically accurate!

Or, because writers do acknowledge that flashes of attractive people is not the only thing that humans get excited by, they could throw in some really cool mechas and fight scenes and explosions.

Gurren Lagann promo art

Or, if you’re Gurren Lagann, all of the above

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Art of the Ship Tease

Humans have a deep-set desire to watch people fall in love but a pathological upchuck reaction to watching couples. Thus, fictional love stories must traverse the middle ground for want of avoiding projectile fan-splurk and negative energy that could unbalance the universe, and this is where we find the ship tease.

For the uninitiated, “ship” is (supposedly) short for “relationship” and has become a verb of its own. To ship a pair of characters is to want to see them get together (the nature of this is not crucial; whether they are settling down to adorable domesticity or engaging in casual angry copulation is up to the individual).

In almost every piece of fiction you will find some semblance of a love story. There are whole genres for romance of course, be they comic or tragic, but it seeps into every genre and medium. Basically, we’re in love with love. I’m sure there are countless psychological papers laying out reasons for this. Maybe we want to instil hope in the world and receive warm fuzzies. Maybe we want to imagine that one half of the couple is us. Maybe we just like excuses to gush at our TV screens/books as we cry into our cats about how truly alone we are. Continue reading

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Fanfic: A Shady Area

Ooh Mister Darcy, comic by Kate Beaton

Credit to Kate Beaton

You know fanfiction. You’ve heard it in whispers from the grimier corners of the internet and you’ve heard that it’s poorly written, explicit sludge hatched together by greasy nerds and manic fangirls frothing at the mouth.

I humbly beg to differ.

Fanfiction is often shot down as being the uninspired work of slimy fangirls, but can we talk about the amazing fact that it even exists? No one is paid or asked to write it, it’s just created for the love of it as a tribute to the impact the original work had on its audience. Someone somewhere watches or reads something and it sticks in their brain and stirs into their imagination, switching on a light that was not there before and setting the creative process in motion.

It’s the ultimate compliment to the creator—one day, hopefully, I shall be published, and I’ll lie awake at night wondering of somewhere in the world my characters and story are rolling around in a reader’s mind, soon to come out again in a piece of creative expression. Continue reading

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