This is a personal piece I submitted to another site, but was rejected due to "style" issues. So I thought "well that blows" but then realized I have my own blog where I publish stuff all the time, on which I'm the style nazi, and in which I can choose to publish what I choose. So I'm publishing it here.
The problem with fanfiction is that is a particular lens. Like any lens, it changes our perception of things. We accept it though, because the subject of our perception may be too difficult to face or too complex to comprehend. Sometimes we have to step back or break it down to make sense of it. It’s akin to using metaphors and analogies to describe new things and drawing parallels on ideas that we’re familiar with to contend with novelty.
I still have a problem with it, though. Granted, it’s an aversion to a particular type of fanfiction but I think it’s applicable to the entire “discipline”. Most fanfiction is just creativity: works of art are generally inspiring and rouse a desire to create something based upon it. The easiest path to creation in this case is outright copying. From here, one can work towards originality through considerable effort in reimagining and reshaping their inspiration into something uniquely personal.
That’s cool, though. It’s the creative process. Almost anyone who’s ever attempted to create something knows that it’s easier to start from somewhere, anywhere, than from nothing, no matter how derivative it feels (or is). It’s about drawing on the skill, passion, and creativity of the inspiring work and its author to drive one’s own ambition. And that’s cool, too. Obviously, this is not where my problem with it lies.
My problem lies in application. Fanfictions, like many things, are often applied as analogies to life: the fictional escapades of Gregory House, MD successfully diagnosing and treating enigmatic diseases all while fielding ignorant assumptions from inexperienced interns and manipulating his superiors sometimes mirrors our own feelings and desires so closely that we want to inhabit him. So we write as though we were. But this is a very different exercise than say, comparing the function of a battery to a tank of water.
Analogies often work as simplifications, allowing us to comprehend an idea piece by piece so we aren’t overwhelmed. In this sense, these analogies are meant to clarify: they act a crutch to help us towards a clearer understanding of an idea, and as such can be discarded once they are no longer useful. They carry with them little to no emotional or philosophical weight. Fanfiction is different.
Fanfiction, as a coping mechanism, still works to simplify, but it also invokes the power of iconography: the qualities (the emotion and philosophy) of the creation or character is brought to bear on the idea or situation. This isn’t just an exercise in clarification; it’s an exercise in amplification and transmutation. Like I said before it’s a particular lens. But more accurately, it’s like a perception-altering drug.
Analogies serve to clarify, but fanfictions (or derivations of any kind) invoke; they call upon the power of the icon; the emotion of an event, story, or personality and use it as a hammer upon the present situation. Unlike the standard analogy, this is a distortion. The weight and subsequent strike of this hammer upon the present situation smashes its honest and truthful face into a crazy mirrored funhouse, and any conclusions based off said crazy mirror funhouse are guaranteed to be deeply flawed.
We’ve all had this experience, too. We’ve done it to other people: I often distracted my parents by bringing up stories of my prodigal brother to draw the slightest of parallels to my own chronic disobedience in order to immediately conjure a fiery anger that can no longer be fairly directed at me. I’ve fabricated highly improbable (but altogether possible) consequences for attending an evening show of RENT as part of an effort to divert attention away from my laziness and distaste for downtown Los Angeles traffic. Essentially, what fanfics do (and what analogies don’t) is distort, divert, and destabilize the audience so that when the moral of a given story is presented, they accept it.
This is my problem with fanfiction. This is my problem with all derivative works, really. They are parasitic. They call upon emotions of greater things because they can’t conjure for themselves. And then apply these emotions (or divert them) to personal gain. It’s a dishonesty of form, and it’s one that videogame culture is especially susceptible to.
In games our role is often the assumption of a fictional character. Through this assumption there is an investment made and as a result a payoff expected. Even in games where the payoff is not obvious (or even nonexistent), the investment is so complete that the payoff is just generated by the player himself: he decides what the game meant based on what he played through.
Now, I realize that this isn’t a phenomenon unique to games. But what I would ask you to realize is that it is the strongest of this type across all media. As a direct result of this investment of time, emotion, and imagination, the conclusions and morals generated by a game are quite nearly unshakeable (and this is even more true for popular games). And when a creation comes along that taps into them, no matter how subtly, it unleashes their full force upon the subject. But it is a lie.
This is why I hate fanfiction. I hate fanfiction because it’s a trick, it’s a leech, and it’s a gimmick. And when it’s attached to a meaningful message with a positive conclusion it makes me cringe, because it cheapens it. It cheapens the impact of the moral and it admits that the idea wasn’t good enough on its own. It’s a good old-fashioned hamburger with a soy patty in the middle. It’s a twinkie inside your corn dog. It’s a guy trying to sell you a picture of a dog with one of his boogers stuck on the back, because he was actually trying to sell you his boogers all along.
If you like fanfiction, or even if you make it, I don’t mind. But don’t use it to further an end. In the same sense, don’t use games to do so either. If your message or your idea is good, it will be heard. And if it has merit it will see its time on the stage of sociocultural importance. Most of all, don’t commandeer other people’s works of art for your own ends. It just tells me that you’re too afraid to be true to yourself.