Skulking Around the Dark Side of Fandom

In the Harry Potter fandom, considering that the main characters are eleven years old when the books start, and that the corresponding actors were also ten or eleven when they started acting, it actually does constitute as contributing to child pornography and is a breeding ground for paedophilia. If there’s consensual sex between two adult characters, I definitely have no problem; I’m a big Harry/Draco fan myself, though truth be told, my “ships” are many. And yes, about two or three times a year, I’ll read fanfiction out of utter boredom, but there is a huge difference between reading graphic consensual sex in the middle of a story, and reading a story about rape, considering that the only link between the two is the act of penetration itself.Even that is less of a link and more of a common factor; sex is sexual gratification, rape is always, always about power and control. Defenders of fanfiction protest that the objections to fandom come from people with unhealthy attitudes about sex, or who are uncomfortable with the idea of sex being interesting and innovative, but I’ve read a fanfic about Harry Potter having sex with his dead father’s corpse, so accusations of being a prude cannot be applied if one protests at the nature of such fanfiction.

I pondered why young teens who indulged in cutting … didn’t just magic the scars away like Harry Potter did in most fanfiction; it took me a week to realize that … in real life, you lived with the consequences of your own depression, self-loathing and generally poor mental health.
Often, the nature of fanfiction is quite violent, with dubious consent or even rape, and this translates into another disturbing trend of fanfiction, referred to as “hurt/comfort,” which indicates putting your characters through terrible situations, most commonly rape and torture, before they are “rescued” and healed by another character. This is just downright disturbing. I’ve put my own characters in awful situations as well: my beloved original character, Aurora Black, was horrifically raped and tortured by Lucius Malfoy, and she was scarred for it, but you know what? As terrified as she was every time she saw Malfoy, she stood her ground, and was strong. Of course, that’s just my character, in an endless sea of them. Fanfiction characters normally tend to be weak, helpless, and unable to fight for themselves, and the need for indulging the writer’s savior complex through the characters that mirror their own personality, often result in a classic portrayal of rape culture in fanfiction. This includes, but is not limited to aspects such as victim-blaming, social ostracizing, victims committing suicide or becoming mentally ill. We can agree that a fanfic in which Captain Harkness rescues Gwen from a rapist and Gwen recovers from her traumatic experience and moves on with life might be dull for some, but why does Gwen have to be subjected to unimaginable horrors in the first place? And why are those horrors always physical? What about Captain Harkness helping Gwen through the death of a child? Why isn’t it an interesting story until the physical violation of a character’s body, and completely breaking mind, body, and spirit is achieved?

I pondered why young teens who indulged in cutting and other methods of self-harm, didn’t just magic the scars away like Harry Potter did in most fanfiction; it took me a week to realize that magic wasn’t real, and in real life, you lived with the consequences of your own depression, self-loathing and generally poor mental health. Moving beyond the murky waters of fanfiction, there lies an entire sub-culture of fandom. We could agree, perhaps, that it’s an interesting way of meeting people online, engaging with people around the world, and even possibly learning more about other cultures by befriending people from different countries in a way that you wouldn’t have without fandom. But there’s a very dark side of fandom too, which extends well beyond the realm of fanfiction. This transcends the boundaries of a sub-culture and crosses over into alarming levels of obsession. If you immerse yourself in fandom, keeping to yourself and just watching the Big Name Fans (BNFs) conduct their fandom business, you’ll see that this obsession even includes uploading personal photos and videos of celebrities from beloved franchises while claiming to have obtained them through legal means. One such example is a photo of the actor Jensen Ackles sitting at the dinner table with his family. Other photos of him with his family members were never made public outside of fandom, perhaps because celebrities know that to draw the ire of fans is to commit career suicide. Anne Rice has a bad reputation amongst many for sending cease and desist notices to anyone writing fanfiction, and even George R.R. Martin has disappointed fans by making his disapproval of fanfiction public.

Such is the obsession of these fans that they will actually sell fanfiction, by offering to write fanfiction on request, or to draw fan-art for money, money which they then use to attend various fan conventions and take their 56th photo with the celebrity they obsess over. We all want to meet our favorite actors and singers, but this kind of obsession crosses definite limits that are put in place for a good reason.

We return now, to the question of why. Why is fandom the way it is? Why does fanfiction become as warped as it does? Fandom demographics have a female majority, and for many young girls, it can seem no different than drawing hearts around the name of their crush during study hall. In an essay titled “Spellbound,” published in Fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century, Don Tresca writes about how sub-genres of fanfiction like ‘slash’ (fanfiction involving characters in often sexually explicit relationships) are less about homosexuality and more about ‘acting out’ male-female relationships on male bodies. While his opinion on how slash fanfiction allows women to reconstruct gender identity by challenging stereotypes of men and women through homosexual relationships may be debatable, he isn’t completely off-base when he writes, “slash allows women to experience a fantasy of authentic love which can only exist between equals, people who are strong and share adventures as well as emotions.” It is basic wish fulfilment, but the downside is it veers off into the dark corners of the Internet where there’s eleven-year-old Harry Potter having sex with Severus Snape, or Nathan Fillion raping Gina Torres, while in the real world, actress Emma Watson makes the news for being too scared of paedophilic stalkers to leave her home.