I recently listened to the Ninja Consultant podcast concerning the sexualization that occurs among fangirls, and the fact that this has become more prominent in recent times, with not only yaoi becoming a common sight at conventions but also modern works such as Dr. Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender being consciously aware of this fanbase. The topic of fanfiction comes up in the discussion, which is to be expected given that fanfiction and fangirls practically go hand in hand, but it reminded me of the fact that at the beginning of my own internet-based fandom I too was into fanfiction.
When I first began using the internet, my first fandom was a NiGHTS into dreams fanfiction site. I loved the Sega Saturn game to death (and still do), and I sought out other fans of NiGHTS. It was there that I found a site called “Nightopia on the Net” which would later change its name a few more times. It was here that I not only discovered other people with a passion for NiGHTS, but also stories that expanded upon the few plot details we were given as players of the game into a rich and vibrant (at least in my young eyes) universe. I’ve never read the Star Wars Extended Universe books, but I suspect the feeling was similar to anyone who is a fan of those, a feeling that the world given to us in these initial stories is so vast and unexplored that one can’t help but wonder what else is out there.
At some point, a few years down the line, I read fanfiction less and less. By this point I had been checking out fanfiction from various sources based on all sorts of series and would even actively seek out more unusual titles and concepts. Something in me began to sour, and I could no longer take fanfiction until I almost stopped reading it entirely. Back then, my reasoning was that I disliked the stories being produced for my fandoms, feeling that more than any sort of technical errors the problem was that the writers did not understand the characters. The characters’ actual personalities as displayed in their respective shows were nothing like the personalities displayed in fanfiction, and I asked (no one), “What’s the point of using these characters if you’re not going to actually use them?”
As mentioned in the Ninja Consultant discussion, it seems as if some works these days are simply there as fan fodder. Characters are given basic traits which appeal to the “shipping” side of fandom, and fans are free to ignore or cultivate any “evidence” as to whether or not their “One True Pair” could thrive. Setting aside any original creators’ desires to actively engage this line of thought, by all rights these are the people who are responsible for me leaving fanfiction in the first place.
But really was I, and am I, all that different?
Why do people enjoy pairing unreasonable characters together? To put it simply, it’s because they find the pairing to be hot. No big mysteries there. It’s what makes the Zutara pairing in Avatar so popular: a conflict of emotions, the fire/water dynamic, the idea that “if only they would get together, they would be great.” Of course, the conflict comes from actually getting them together.
Is there something wrong with this? Wanting to dive deeper into a world, to prove through fanfiction that there is so much more to a story, one can say that trying to find deeper subtext in the relationships presented is its own form of exploration. Hell, I can somewhat relate to making unreasonable pairings. I have a rather straight-laced friend who I would like to see date girls that would be all over him 24/7. Why? Because it would entertain me to no end.
Perhaps there is a threshold, and it is crossed when fans begin to believe that their opinions constitute the truth about a work, or even what should be true. This isn’t about creator’s vision vs spectator’s vision or anything of that sort, but rather to what extent people and groups begin to believe their own hype. Other than that, I think people are free to believe in whatever they want.
Even then, such a statement borders on the idea that there’s such a thing as a “right” fan and a “wrong” fan, and really, even if I find certain fans or their reasoning distasteful, I am just one person and I am not a judge of fanfiction. More importantly, I am not a judge of the heart.
After all, as Sasahara once said to Ogiue, no one can stop you from liking something.