FanFiction: Creative outlet or abhorrent behavior?
Since the dawn of the written word, people throughout the ages have sought to put their greatest ideas from pen and paper. Whether it be for the preservation of spoken-word familial histories, the embodiment of just deeds, just men, and just causes, the solidification and propagation of knowledge, or simply for documentation of errant dreams and fantasies, writing and the ability to write has distinguished the human race above all creatures both big and small. Writing empowers the world, allows even the meekest of us all to have a say in the world around us, and preserves our dreams, ideas, beliefs, fantasies, and even simplest of musings for all the world to see.
Even in times of great strife, where literature was the target for hate and fear, the tradition of writing has continued to endure and has seeped into every aspect of our lives. From grand manuscripts passed down through the ages and texts that have been the foundation of education for hundreds of years, to that simple billboard sign you saw on the side of the road on your way to work this morning or your latest email from your favorite fan forum, writing is everywhere. In a world where the written word is accepted as a literal truth, something that is forever constant and as natural as breathing, is has also become the cornerstone of one of the hottest debates in the fan world.
Whether it may be within the Harry Potter universe, the Star trek universe, the Lord of The Rings universe, or even the Kpop universe, fanfictions have become (and stayed) a hushed, taboo’d subject best left to discussions in back corners, away from prying eyes and disapproving ears, and never spoken in polite company. Looked down upon by those who believe that the entire idea of fan-fiction is morally and ethically wrong, writers and readers of the genre choose to keep their fascination and enjoyment of said activities a secret, lest they be ostracized and even shunned, living a life of ambiguity and anonymity for the sake of saving face.
Fans everywhere have a very strong conviction about fan-fictions and generally fall into three separate categories: those who read/write fan-fiction and approve of it, those who abhor fan-fictions in all their forms, and those who literally have no opinion. Quite often, those who have a dissenting opinion about the realm of fan-fictions usually attest their dislike based on antiquated stereotypes about the genre it self, citing generalized assumptions such as that they all are grammatical nightmares, full of plot holes and overly emotional drivel, centered around hyper-sensationalized and self-gratifying plot lines that ultimately sway towards masochistic and immoral thoughts and actions. In layman’s terms: they’re not only all smut, but they’re all bad smut.
Admittedly, though not as hardcore as some dissidents, I was once one of those naysayers; falling for the generalized stereotyping of the genre as a whole. Early in my Kpop life and career, I was one of those people who really just didn’t care about fan-fictions, but as time went on I started falling into the trap of believing in those unfavorable stereotypes without even giving the genre a chance. To me, fan-fictions simply weren’t a priority. I was too involved in the professional lives of Kpop artist to delve into the fantasy lives their fans had created for them.
After spending over eleven years basically ignoring the fan-fiction world, and after two years of poking, prodding, begging, and pleading from one of my dearest Kpop sisters, I apprehensively took my first real step into the fan-fiction world about three and half years ago. When I began, I honestly believed that I would find nothing but grammatical garbage, stories that would literally whip my inner grammar Nazi into a frenzy of hair pulling and itching editor’s fingers, and would make me roll my eyes in disbelief and disapproval. However what I found there was far more interesting than I’d thought possible.
While I won’t deny that there is some validity, depending on the sub-genre and the author, to a few of the stereotypes super-glued to the stigma of fan-fictions, those beliefs are far from the actual and factual truth in most cases. Yes, it is true that some fan-fictions are grammatical maelstroms of incomplete sentences, verb tense failures, errant comma placements, and misspellings gone horribly wrong. And yes, it is true that some fan-fictions ooze nothing but emotional drivel either too sweet, too dramatic, or too sensational, to stomach. But, those writing styles actually only make up a very small percentage of the total fan-fic world.
My first adventure into Kpop fan-fiction was at the behest of my dearest Kpop sister, who -most excitedly- kept recommending a “chaptered fic” by an apparently well-known and well-loved author. While, for the author’s privacy, I cannot outwardly name said fiction, I can tell you that it’s main characters were based on the members of the Kpop super-group DBSK and was set in a world several years after the group’s official split. The plot, filled with not only realistic situations and stirring romances but also entertaining comedic scenes and heartbreaking dialogue, was quite reminiscent of modern day Korean dramas and told the story of the main characters’ fight to reclaim what they once had together after being torn apart by outside forces.
After reading that particular story, I found myself flung into a moral and professional dilemma. I spend my real life working with entertainment companies and artists on a daily basis, to not only inform the fans about the latest news coming out of the Kpop world and helping to increase Kpop’s reach globally but also to promote Kpop as a viable and worthy source of entertainment and promote the groups/artists that have earned a place of recognition among their professional peers. So, for me, someone who had evolved from just a simple Kpop fan to a Kpop professional, the realization that I had come to enjoy something that has been shunned and detested by so many for so long, put me in a very precarious predicament. Was the fact that I was reading and enjoying Kpop fan-fictions truly morally wrong? Was I doing a disservice to the artists and companies that I had come to be respected and trusted by? Was I betraying the trust of those artists who had become my professional and personal friends? Was the act of fan-fiction reading, and enjoying, in-of-itself unprofessional?
Naysayers of the fan-fic world would unequivocally say yes, that I was doing something completely unprofessional, morally and ethically wrong, and just completely inappropriate. To them, on a moral level, the fan-fic world is place where the hard work, professionalism, respect, and morality of artists goes to die. Fans take it upon themselves to put these artists in situations that violate the very essence of who they are, often times setting them into alternative lifestyles and situations that under normal circumstances would never come to pass and making them do and say things that they would never do in a million years, while all the while the fans fall hook, line, and sinker for the “truth” they see buried between the lines; continuously propagating inter-gender romantic relationships and solidifying the beliefs of “shipping” more and more as time goes on.
Separating morality from professionalism, in their most basic of forms, is difficult for even the most self-confident individual. Throughout our lives we come across situations that not only test our beliefs but also put to the test our most basic human emotions and the fan-fiction world inherently does both. Dissidents of the fan-fic world argue that the act of writing Kpop artists or celebrities into fiction-based stories violates that person’s privacy rights and in some cases quite literally slanders their good name, therefore becoming immoral on the basis of perceived beliefs of right and wrong. While proponents of fan-fiction claim that being loved so much by fans, and being included in such stories, should be considered an honor -that it is, quite literally, a homage of respect to be idolized in such a way. But who is right? Should an artist feel offended by such portrayals or should they feel venerated?
With this question floating around in my mind, I (unofficially) reached out to a few of my professional Kpop artist and producer friends to gauge how they feel/felt about being written into a fan-fiction story. What I found was that their answers were just as varied as the fans’. Some truly didn’t care, citing their reason for lack of interest based on the opinion that “If that’s what the fans want to do, let them. It’s called ‘fiction’ for a reason.” Some weren’t as much offended as shocked -when presented a sample of work they had been made a character in- having never realized that they had been included in the fan-fic world to begin with. And some thought it interesting and, at times, quite funny. In truth, their reactions surprised me a bit. I had half expected for them to be quite irritated and offended by the mere mention of the possibility they had been written in to such stories, considering what most anti-fans of fan-fiction cite as proof that artists are appalled by the genre, but they really weren’t. Only one of the twelve artists I asked got upset about the whole subject, and his reasons why were completely understandable. Some people just don’t like to be portrayed as something they’re not.
One of the artists I questioned, for his professional privacy I will refer to him as Min, actually admitted to reading fan-fictions himself and wholeheartedly asserted that he personally knew several other Kpop artist that are, themselves, fans of fan-fiction. This revelation came as a shock to me. Up until that time, I had been operating on the assumption that the Kpop fan-fic world was a secluded universe for just the fans but, in truth, it seemed that fan-fiction had seeped its way into the artists’ lives as well. When I questioned him further on the matter, he revealed that he often times reads fan-fiction between his schedules or on long flights overseas when he has time for himself. While he wouldn’t specify which sub-genre or pairings he read the most, he did admit to enjoying a wide variety of story lines -romance and fantasy based being the most enjoyed. When I asked him how he felt about fan-fictions, in general, he replied simply with “It’s fiction. It’s fun and interesting.” However, when I asked him how he felt about fan-fictions where he was one of the main characters, his answer was something I didn’t expect.
“It’s always a laugh,” he said “to see what kind of stories the fans put me in and who they pair me with. It’s like looking into a window and getting a glimpse of what the fans think when they daydream. It’s cute and imaginative and I like seeing that side of them.”
While not the answer most Kpop artists would give, Min’s opinions on fan-fiction opened my eyes a bit to the argument that most proponents of Kpop fan-fiction assert: that writing fan-fiction is simply an outlet for creativity. Like painting or sculpting, fans take their Kpop muses and use their imaginations to contrive a myriad of fictional worlds, situations, character arcs, and plot lines and mold them into stories that can appeal to just about anyone. Enjoy medieval stories about a Prince going on a quest to save the world from a monstrous dragon, and like Super Junior? There’s a story for that. Love mysteries where the main character is the prime suspect of a murder only to find that he was set up by an Ex and ends up falling in love with the detective sent to arrest him, and a fan of SHINee? There is a story for that. Ever pondered what it would be like to see a single father of four girls trying to make his way in the world after the tragic loss of his wife, and adore G-Dragon? There’s a story for that. Crave a vampire story where the immortal lead has been searching for the reincarnation of his beloved for hundreds of years and finds them, and have a thing for JYJ‘s Kim Jaejoong? Yup, there’s a story for that too.
Just like other forms of written creativity, such as mangas, plays, television/movie scripts, and novels, fan-fictions have become an outlet for the imaginings of millions and a guilty pleasure for their readers. Just like any great novelist, writers in the fan-fic world find their muses where ever they can. If it happens to be a simple conversation with a friend, a scene from a movie they watched a few days ago, or even a clip of an artist doing an interview on a Korean variety show, and it sparks their creativity, it can easily become fodder for a well-written and well-rounded story that can engage and entertain the masses. The possibilities for stories are endless and that endlessness is the moon to their stars, the fuel to their fire, the light to their darkness, inspiring them to create art in their own way.
So that belief then begs the question: Are fan-fictions nothing but harmless art? Unfortunately there is no clear cut answer to that question. It truly depends on how you view art and how you view fan-fictions as a whole. If you are a proponent of the genre, then you would be more inclined to consider it as such. While, if you were antagonistic towards the whole idea, you would not. So, it ultimately boils down to you, what you think and feel. From a professional standpoint, I still have personal reservations about the fan-fic world, but those reservations are more inclined towards the belief systems behind certain story lines and not of the fan-fic world as a whole. In general, I am neither for or against fan-fictions and believe that as long as fans never forget that its fiction, there is nothing inherently wrong with the practice.
What do you think about fan-fictions? Do you feel that the very practice is wrong or do you believe that fan-ficions are completely harmless fun? Let us know!
Supplementary photo sources: Imgflip.com