Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet New Essays

Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet New Essays

McFarland &. Company, Inc., Publishers Jeff ersun, North Carolina, and London


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stories.php?ForAuthorlD=IOl&Year=2004 (accessed June I, 2006) Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual poaclrers: Tele1•isio11 fans and participatory culture. New

York: Routledge. Lamb, Patricia Frazer, and Diane Veith. 1986. Romantic myth, transcendence, and Star

Trek zines. In Erotic 1111il•erse: Sexuality and fantastic literature, ed. Donald Palumbo, 236-55. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

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10. Writing Bodies in Space Media Fan Fiction

as Theatrical Performance Francesca Coppa

ABS:RACT.-_ I argue that that fan fiction develops in response to dra- matic, not literary, modes of storytelling and therefore can be seen to ~ulfill performative rather than literary criteria. By recognizing drama ‘.n~tead of pr~se as the antecedent medium for fan fiction, and by exam- mmg fan ~ctton through th~ lens of performance studies, three highly debated thmgs about fan fiction become explicable: (I) fan fiction’s focus o~ b~dies; (2) fan fiction’s repetition; and (3) fan fiction’s production w1thm the context of media fandom. Fan fiction, whether written in te!eplay form or not, directs bodies in space: readers come to fan fiction with extratextual knowledge, mostly of characters’ bodies and voices, and the writer uses this to direct her work. In theatre, there’s a value to revis- it!ng the same text in order to explore different aspects and play out different scenarios; in television, we don’t mind tuning in week after week to see the same characters in entirely different stories. Similarly fan fiction retells stories, but also changes them. If traditional theatr~ takes a script and makes it three-dimensional in a potentially infinite n~mbe: of productions, modern fandom takes something thrce- ?1m_ens1onal and then produces an infinite number of scripts. This activ- ity IS not authoring texts, but making productions- relying on the audience’s shared extratextual knowledge of sets and wardrobes, of the actors’ bodies, smiles, and movements to direct a living theatre in the mind.




I explore a relatively simple proposition: that fan fiction develops in response to dramatic rather than literary modes of storytelling and can therefore be seen to fulfill performative rather than literary criteria. This may seem obvious, as the writing of fan fiction is most strongly and specifically associated with the nearly forty-yea’r-old phenomenon of media fandom, 1 which is to say, the organized subculture that celebrates, analyzes, and negotiates with stories told through the mass ( mainly televisual) media, and whose crossroads has long been the annual Media West convention held since 1981 in Lansing, Michigan. But the importance of media fan fiction being written in response to dramatic rather than literary storytelling has been overlooked for at least two reasons: first, that fan fiction is itself a tex- tual enterprise, made of letters and words and sentences written on a page (or, more likely these days, a screen), and it therefore seems sensible to treat it as a literary rather than an essentially dramatic form; and second, that media fandom has its origins in science fiction fandom, which is a heavily textual genre. Media fandom spun off from science fiction fandom as a direct result of the original Stnr Trek television series (1966-1969),2 and although fans and scholars have catalogued many similarities (in fan – nish organization, jargon, and interests; even today, most media fans main- tain a strong interest in science fiction and fantasy) and differences (most strikingly in terms of gender, but also in attitudes toward profit and pro- fessionalization) between the two fannish cultures, the impact of the switch in genre from prose to drama is rarely discussed or even noticed. But whereas fans of literary science fiction often take to writing “original” sci- ence fiction themselves, fans of mass media write fan fiction – which, I sub- mit, is more a kind of theatre than a kind of prose.

In making this claim, I should note that I am definingfn11 fiction narrowly as creative material featuring characters that have previously appeared in works whose copyright is held by others . Although the creative expansion of extant fictional worlds is an age-old practice, by restricting the term fn11 fictio11 to reworkings of currently copyrighted material, I effectively limit the definition not just to the modern era of copyright, but to the even more recent era of active intellectual property rights enforcement. Although fans themselves often seek continuities between their art-making practices and those with a much longer history (Laura M. Hale starts her History of Fan Fie timeline with “0220 The Chinese invent paper”), 3 this conflation of folk and fan cul- tures may blur important distinctions between them, not least of which is the relatively recent legal idea that stories can be owned. It is only when storytelling becomes industrialized-or, to draw upon Richard Ohmann’s definition of

10. Writing Bodies in Space (Coppa) 227

mass culture, produced at a distance b I . ists- that fan fiction begin t k ya re at1vely small number of special- “”- ,, . . s O ma e sense as a categorv b I ians d1stmguished fron1 Ohn1a ‘ d’ ” ,, ecause on y then are

nn s 1stant spe · )’ ” · differentiated from professionals (1996 14· d c1aG1sts, Just as amateurs are

Th · , , an see arber 2001). e hne between amateur and professional writing is both sharply

de~ne~ an~ frequently crossed in science fiction fandom, because science fiction 1s a literature itself written by fans of the genre· to be an a t · . . . , ma eur sc1- enc~ fiction ~nter 1s t~erefore merely a step on the way to becoming a pro- fess1ona_l science fict10n writer, and professional writers still go to conventions to hobn_ob. Fr?m thi_s perspective, the professional is superior to the ai~ate~r, who 1s servmg a kmd of apprenticeship. Conversely, Media- West ~ndes Itself on being a convention run by fans and for fans, without any paid guests (professional authors, actors, or producers), and fan fiction writers tend to be defiantly amateur in the sense of writing precisely what they want for love alone. In this schema, to be a professional is to write at the command of others for money. There are exceptions to this in creators like Joss Whedon or Aaron Sorkin, who are seen as relatively fannish auteurs trying to make personal shows within the confines of the industry. How- ever, fans mostly shake their heads in bemusement at television shows that can’t keep track of basic continuity, or films that miss obvio~s dramatic opportunities; it’s understood that this is the by-product of creating a dra- matic universe for profit and by committee. Bemusement can give way to an angrier sort of frustration when creators visibly command the resources and power necessary for good mass media storytelling and are judged to have botched it anyway (George Lucas and Chris Carter come to mind).

In the infamous “Get a Life” (1986) sketch on Snt11rdn)’ Night Live, William Shatner framed his involvement with Star Trek as purely profes- sional: “You’ve turned an enjoyable little job, that I did as a lark for a few years, into a colossal waste of time!” Shatner’s professionalism is tied to his refusal to take mass media storytelling seriously. But what of the fan who does take mass media storytelling seriously? What response is available to her? The science fiction fan may challenge her literary forerunners by becoming a professional writer, but the media fan is less likely to become a producer, screenwriter, or director. Science fiction is produced from among “us,” but the mass media is still produced at a distance by “them.” Few fan fiction writers will ever have access to the means of production for mass media storytelling . The bar is much higher; the funds needed are enor- mous; one still has to move to Los Angeles or Vancouver; the odds of writ- ing a show you like, as opposed to one you’re assigned to, are small; until relatively recently, the gender bias in Hollywood was astounding. There is, in short, a very small chance of a fan fiction writer becoming a professional


mass media storyteller, even if she was inclined to do so. Defiant ama- teurism in this case is both realistic and structurally smart, but that doesn’t stop some science fiction fans from scoffing at the media fan’s refusal to write

something potentially salable . . . . . Not only has “derivative” fiction been scoffed at w1th111 science fict1?n

fandom but drama has historically been a belittled category as well.4 Despite the pop~tlar sense of science fiction as a genre wi°th space battles, laser guns, and voyages to the moon, these dramas have been traditionally_ scoffe? at by science fiction writers, whose allegiance is to idea-based narrative fiction. Magazines and novels are at the heart of science fiction fandom, not stage, film, or television (Ohmann 1996; Zimmerman 2003). In January 1976, an essay by Harlan Ellison appeared in the Science Fiction Writers of.Amer- ica newsletter urging the membership to take drama, and the SFWA s Neb- ula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, more seriously:

We haven’t been quite as concerned with the Drama Nebulas as with the_more familiar categories, chiefly because a small percentage o~ our membership (1as been employed in the areas that Nebula touches, and so 1t has been sometl~mg of an illegitimate offspring. But sf films and tv shows and stage product10ns and sf-affiliated record albums reach a much wider audience than even our most popular novels and stories. And to a larg~ degree !he public image of sf is conditioned by these mass-market presentations I Ellison 1984, 82].

Ellison pointed out the historic “snobbishness on the part of our older, more print-oriented members toward film and tv” and noted that “every- one else seems to understand the power of film/tv. SFWA doesn’t” (84). However, when the group chose not to award a Nebula for drama in 197′., Ellison resigned from SWFA and gave a speech in which he berated his audience for “worrying about a lousy 5 cents a word” while ignoring the much more lucrative fields of stage, television, film, and audio recordings (87-98). But Ellison’s concern was for the strategic and financial importan~e of drama, not for drama’s artistic value. In fact, Ellison is blatant about his allegiance to prose: “Tragically, the illiterates keep m~lti~lying, and the audience for books 11111st be kept alive! … Books are my first tnterest, books should be your first interest. They count. But the way to support the writ- ing of books is to get some of that film and TV money” (:3 ). .

This is hardly an enthusiastic defense of performat1ve storytellmg; Ellison merely argued that SFWA members should profit from the current boom in dramatic science fiction -1977 being, of course, the year Star Wars was released. Ellison not only wrote the hands-down most popular episode of Star Trek, “City On the Edge of Forever,” but is now also famous as a fierce defender of writers’ intellectual property. However, the snobbishness against drama Ellison was fighting in the 1970s is still alive and well in the new

JO. Writi11g Bodies i11 Space (Coppa) 229

millennium. Orson Scott Card (2005) celebrated the recent (and surely tem- porary) death of the Star Trek franchise by attacking the original series as mere visual “spectacle” for.people ‘,;ho weren’t readers of science fiction, although he does end by grantmg that screen sci-fi has finally caught up with written science fiction.” This is offensive to the female sf fans who created Star Trek fandom in the late 1960s; as Justine Larbalestier (2002) has shown, women “‘.ere always present as readers of sf, though they weren’t always visible on the zme letter pages that were the public face of the sf fandom (23-27). In fact, the ~ubset of female sf fans who founded Star Trek fandom had multiple lit- eracies and competencies: like many readers (and writers) of science fiction ~hey were likel_y not only to be avid readers but also to have advanced degree~ 111 the hard sciences at a time when this was much less common for women (Coppa, “A Brief History of Media Fandom,” this volume).

Most media fans still maintain at least a (ritual) allegiance to print over film; the two most recent large-scale media fandoms-Harry Potter and Tl,e Lord of the Rings- are listed at the multifandom archive site Fan und~r “Books” rather than “Movies” even though both fandoms grew expo- nentially only after film versions appeared. Ask a fan, and she’ll generally express a preference for the book over the “movieverse,” but over and over, dramatic, not literary, material generates fan fiction. Although creative fan- nish practices have become familiar enough to be applied to practically every genre of art-fanfic exists about books, movies, television, comics, cartoons, anime, bands, celebrity culture, and political culture – it’s only when sto- ries get embodied that they seem to generate truly massive waves of fiction.

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that fan fiction is an infe- rior art form and worthy of derision – oh, for kid~, maybe, sure, to get them reading and writing, but writing fan fiction is nothing that any respectable adult should be doing. Fan fiction, from this point of view, is neither art nor com- merce. Instead,_ it is charged with being derivative and repetitive, too narrowly ~ocuse? on bodies and ~harac~er at the expense of plot or idea. That may sound hke failure by conventional literary standards, but if we examine fan fiction as a species of performance, the picture changes. Fan fiction’s concern with bodies is often perceived as a problem or flaw, but performance is predicated on the idea of bodies, rather than words, as the storytelling medium.

Scholars of performance studies often refer to their object of study as “the movement of bodies in space,” and the behavior of those bodies is never unique or “original”; all behavior, as Richard Schechner (2002) explains, “con- sists of recombining bits of previously behaved behaviors” (28). For this rea- son, Schechner defines performance as “twice behaved” or “restored” behavior (22), so a focus on the importance of repetition and combination as well as a focus on bodies is intrinsic to performance as a genre. As Schechner explains:


Restored behavior is living behavior treated as a film director treats a strip of film. These strips of behavior can be rearrange~ or rec_o~structed; the~ are independent of the casual systems (personal, s~_,al, poh~1Cal, technolo~1~al) that brought them into existence. They have a hte .of their own. The _origmal “truth” or “source” of the behavior may not be known, or may be lost, ignored, contradicted-even while that truth or source is being honored [28].

This decontextualizing of behavior echoes the appropriation and use of existing characters in most fan fiction; in fact, one could define fan fiction as a textual attempt to make certain characters “perform” according to different behavioral strips. Or perhaps the characters who populate fan fiction are themselves the behavioral strips, able to walk out of one story and into another, acting independently of the works of art that brought them into existence. The existence of fan fiction postulates that characters are able to “walk” not only from one artwork into another, but from one genre into another; fan fiction articulates that characters are neither con- structed or owned, but have, to use Schechner’s phrase, a life of their own

not dependent on any original “truth” or “source.” . . . . What better tool to apply to studying Star Trek and its derivative artis-

tic productions than a form of criticism dedicated to explaining the semi- otic value of bodies in space? By recognizing drama and not prose as the antecedent medium for fan fiction, and by examining fan fiction through the lens of performance studies, we are able to begin explaining three highly debated things about fan fiction: (I) Why does fan fiction seem to focus on bodies? (2) Why does fan fiction seem so repetitious? and (3) Why is fan fiction produced within the context of media fandom? What is the relation-

ship between a fanfic writer and her audience?

Embodying the Geek Hierarchy

I begin a more detailed argument about the conflict between textual and embodied meanings with a quick close reading of the Brunching Shut- tlecock’s “Geek Hierarchy” (Figure IO.I). The Brunching Shuttlecocks are an online comedy troupe popular among a broad spectrum of geeks, nerds, fans, programmers, and hackers. The “Geek Hierarchy” is one of their most circulated jokes, but a revealing joke, one that gets at something true about

fannish hierarchies and social structure . The Shuttlecocks place “Published Science Fiction Authors” at the

very top of the chart, to be followed by “Science Fiction Literature Fans,” “Science Fiction Television Fans,” “Fanfic Writers,” “Erotic Fanfic

10. Writi11g Bodies i11 Space (Coppa) 231

Writ.erst and “Erotic Fanfic Writers Who Put Themselves in the Story” (all italics are my emphasis). To frame it another way, the Shuttlecocks rank the dramatic below the literary and the erotic below the dramatic . The hierarchy supports traditional values that privilege the written word over the spoken one and mind over body. The move down the hierarchy therefore represents a shift from literary values (the mind, the word, the “original statement”) to what I would claim are theatrical ones (repetition, performance, embodied action). As we descend, we move further away from “text” and more toward “body,” and, at least on the media fandom side of the diagram, toward the female body (because fan writers are likely to be women). At the very bottom of the hierarchy are the “furries,” or fans who enjoy media involving anthropomorphic animals. These fans indulge a fantasy of pure body that asserts a connec- tion between our human bodies and animal bodies. The mainstream discomfort with that idea is straight out of Freud’s Civilization and Its Dis- contents.

Even the Geek Hierarchy’s comparison between “Science Fiction Authors” and “Fanfic Writers” makes its distinction in terms of embod- ied action – because writing is a visible physical activity, a verb, while “authoring” (derived from the Latin auctor, “creator”) is something more complex. To author a text is to have power over it, to take pub- lic responsibility for it, regardless of whether or not one did the actual work of selecting words and putting them in order. Authorship is a sign of control rather than creation. This distinction is gendered, because there is a larger tradition of seeing the female writer in terms of body rather than mind. Consider, for instance, Hawthorne’s famous denigra- tion of female authors as “scribbling women”; the slur conjures a pic- ture of these women as engaged in frenetic activity, as if women’s writing must be more physical than mental. Scribbling women are like skiing women, clen11ing women, da11ci11g women -not minds, but bod- ies in space.

Moreover, Henry Jenkins, in Textual Poachers (2002), explains that one of the earliest uses of the word fan was in reference to “women theatre- goers, ‘Matinee Girls,’ who male critics claimed had come to admire the actors rather than the plays” ( 12 )- or, to gloss the idea another way, bod- ies rather than texts, or to have given a somehow wrongful emphasis to the body in space. Similarly, Joan Marie Verba, in her 1996 history of Star Trek zine culture , Boldly Writi11g, notes that by 1975, ever-increasing numbers of fans saw Star Trek not as science fiction but “as a ‘buddy’ show, or as a heroic/romantic saga, in which Kirk and Spock were the focus.” She continues, “Many of these stories reminded me of the ancient Greek

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legend of Damon and Pythias, with Kirk and Spock subsiituted” (23). This allusion is interesting, because practically speaking, the legendary charac- ters aren’t so much “characters” as a set of actions, a behavioral script; to offer to exchange places with a comrade who is facing death is to be Damon and Pythias, and so this sort of fan fiction “casts” Kirk and Spock as the legendary friends in a performance of the myth. From this viewpoint, Kirk and Spock aren’t characters firmly enmeshed in a narrative, but performers whose twice-behaved behaviors might (like Schechner’s behav- ioral strips) be rearranged or otherwise reconstructed. The result of this reconstruction wouldn’t be “original” behavior, however, because according to Schechner, there’s no such thing. Rather, Kirk and Spock are well cast to perform Damon and Pythias. One set of twice-behaved behaviors is exchanged for another. This emphasis on character, behavior, and relationships is often framed as a female value; it’s certainly a theatri- cal one.

We can see these theatrical and performative values in the very earli- est creative contributions to Stnr Trek zines. The first Star Trek fanzine, Spocknnalia (1967, edited by Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford), included the creative artwork “The Territory of Rigel,” by Dorothy Jones (Figure 10.2). In Bo/dly’Writing, Verba describes this as a “poem,” but it is, in fact, a song with an explicit stage direction that tells us it’s a ni Mr to be performed by two voices and a Vulcan harp, no doubt influenced by the scene in the Star Trek episode “Charlie X” where Uhura sings while accom- panied by Spock. Perhaps some readers actually sang the song with their friends, or perhaps the reader was merely supposed to direct the perform- ance of the song in her head – but the key thing is that the reader of this song can do these things because she has an image of Leonard Nimoy as Spock with a Vulcan harp accompanying a singer. The performance of this song has already been cast; we know the behaviors of both singers and harpist. To read this song is therefore to supplement the written words with the mental image of the appropriate bodies. This “text” is overtly perfor- mative and relational; two voices, ni var, two people singing; as the song- writer explains, 11i Mr means “two form,” comparing and contrasting two aspects of the same thing (Verba 1996, II). This ni var features two people singing, a third if the Vulcan harpist isn’t one of the singers, and a fourth if you, the reader/director, isn’t part of the performance. It’s not a poem, it’s a party; it’s an artwork that implies a community.

Opposite Fig. IO.I. Brunching Shuttlecock’s “Geek llierachy.” Availahl~ at http.:// (accessed June I, 2006). Used wrth pcnms- sion.

The Territory of Rigel (A ; 11 var to be performed by two voices and Vulcan harp)

Second Voice First Voice Dark and silent

Rigel in the scanner, . is the field of space. blue-white and crystalline,

shining. Light horn in the corona

The bridge is empty. pours into space. The time, three hundred .

The instruments whisper, The instruments tell little. the panel lights flicker. The computer absorbs in silence The stars are still and dear. trivial patterns meaning nothing .

Their song is deliberate, long years to a cadence .

Dust in their paths Three -twenty. moves in their wake like water.

The night is very long.

and Rigel shines . In the dark gulf is the ship. in the sleeping ship is the bridge The stars like ancient trees. on the bridge am I, heavy with planets , blazing with life. silence upon silence ,

as quiet as memory, and JJrk JS deJth.

I wander the bright roads I am far

whom no planet claims : from my beginning and my end .

live in the open Galaxy

Four hundred and the watch is changed. I have clarity before me,

I leave the bridge and go and Rigel full of light. from darkness into darkness.

F “The Territory of Rigel “by Dorothy tones, from Spocka11alia I© 1967, 10 2 by. s·herm, Comerford and D~vra Michele Langsam. Available in Verba ( 1996,

2). Used with permission.



Similarly, some fan fiction has been written in script or teleplay fo~m, often by fans who aspired to write for the produced show_ (and ~h.ere 1s a perception among fans that a greater proportion of these scnpt-wn~111g. fans have been men [ Cynthia Walker and Laura Hale, personal communicatt0ns, June 8, 2005 j ). An actual theatrical play base_d on St11T Trek was put ~n at the Denham Springs Community Theatre .111 1971; _the fact \~~s widely reported in zines, as was Gene Roddenberry s approvmg letter: I have no

JO. Writi11g Bodies i11 Spt1ce (Coppa) 235

objection to plays similar to Stnr Trek or even identical to Stnr Trek if done by students or community groups on a non profit basis as long as the appro- priate credit is given to the source material and individuals . Or as long as a production remains a community theatre venture” {Verba 1996, 6). Rod- denberry’s coda insists on the play’s nonprofit status; then as now, to write in script form would be a sign of a writer’s aspiring professionalism. Although some fan teleplays were probably written as spec scripts for the industry, others ended up published in zines, and when online fan fiction archives became popular in the mid-1990s, the fiction was categorized not only as “gen,” “het,” or “slash,” but by such categories as “romance,” “drama,” “humor,” “poetry,” “filk,” or “teleplay.” But the script form has always been unpopular among readers, so a fan whose primary audience was other fans rather than the television industry was more likely to tell her dramatic story in prose. Arguably, the teleplay form declined as media fan- dom broke away from science fiction fandom, becoming more defiantly amateur as television writing grew more professionalized, but the current fracturing of the television market due to competition from cable, satellite, DVD, video games, and the Internet seems to be reversing this trend once again. Newer shows (and older shows that have had time to evaluate the creative and economic value of their fan base) increasingly invite the cre- ative participation of fans, and many seem to want to blur the lines between amateur and professional, fan and specialist. As an example, the Web site for the television series The Dend Zone, a show helmed by longtime Stnr Trek writer and producer Michael Piller, offers to fans not only free copies of the aired scripts, but a writer’s guide for the show and explicit instruc- tions on how to send in your teleplay for professional consideration. In this climate, fans may become professional movie or teleplay writers while still maintaining their identities as fans and while writing fan fiction.

The existence of the teleplay and other performative forms helps to demonstrate fan fiction ‘s roots as an essentially dramatic literature, but the larger part of my argument is that fan fiction directs bodies in space even when it’s not overtly written in theatrical form . Readers come to fan fiction with extratextual knowledge, mostly of characters’ bodies and voices. Jane Mailander (2005) argues that fan fiction is an ideal medium for erotica because “the audience knows the characters; they’ve walked that mile in their shoes, they are primed . The dynamic between these two people is clear to the audience.” A fan fiction writer has “the challenge of expressing that dynamic, of taking it to a place that would make the producers blush – but a place that must follow logically from that baseline development.” Mai- lander is talking about character, but she might as well be talking about bod- ies; we know who these characters are because we know the actors who play


them, and we bring our memories of their physicality to the text, so the reader is precharged, preeroticized. But the actor’~ body, _as much as. the words on the page, is the medium of even nonerot1c fanntsh storytellmg. Jn making her point that we come to fan fiction “primed,” Mailander also identifies something we might correlate with Schechner’s twice-behaved behavior. We’re primed because we’ve met these characters already, and now we’re seeing them again. In theatre, we call that a production, and it isn’t a


Repetition and the Derridean Supplement

From a literary perspective, fan fiction’s unusual emphasis on the body seems like a thematic obsession or a stylistic tic, but in theatre, bodies are the storytelling medium, the carriers of symbolic action. Similarly, in liter- ary terms, fan fiction’s repetition is strange; in theatre, stories are ret_old all the time. Theatre artists think it’s fine to tell to tell the same story agam, but differently: not only was Shakespeare’s Hnmlet a relatively late version of the tale (previous versions include the “Amleth” of Saxo Grammaticus, its trans- lation by Francois de Belleforest, and the Ur-Hamlet attributed to Thomas Kyd), but we’re happy to see differently inflecte~ versi_ons of the_ t~le. _More- over, there’s no assumption that the first production will be definitive; 111 the- atre, we want to see your Hamlet and /iis Hamlet and lrer Hamlet; to embody the role is to reinvent it. We also want to see new generations of directors and designers recast the play without regard for authorial intent or historic- ity, putting Hamlet into infinite alternative universes: Wl~at if Han:ilet was a graduate student? What if Hamlet had an ( entirely ah1stoncal)_ Oedipal com- plex? What if Hamlet was a street kid in the Bronx? Hamlet has been por- trayed as an action hero/medieval warrior (Mel Gibson, dir. Franco Zeffere_lli, 1990), the avenging son of a Japanese CEO (T/,e Bnd Sleep Well; ~osh1ro Mifune, dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1960), an angry young man (Peter O Toole, dir. Laurence Olivier, Old Vic, 1963), and a university student home on break (Alex Jennings, dir. Matthew Warchus at the RSC, 1997).

In theatre, there’s a value to revising the same text in order to explore different aspects and play out different behavioral strips; similarly, in tele- vision, we don’t mind tuning in week after week to see the same characters in entirely different stories. We don’t mind new versions of Hnmlet the way we don’t mind new episodes of Stnr Trek. We don’t say, “Oh, Stnr Trek again? We had Star Trek last week!” We don’t mind if Kirk and ~pock visit- as they did on the aired series- a planet based on Roman gladiator culture, or Native American culture, or America during the Great Depression. Most

10. Writing Bodies i11 Space (Coppa) 237

pe~ple happily watch televised repeats- identical replayings of dramatic action. How much more interesting would different performances of the same scripts be if the actors and directors explored the limitations of the text and tried to _elici~ different readings, different embodied meanings? And because fan fiction 1s an amateur production accountable to no market forces, it allows for radical reimaginings: plots, themes, and endings that would permitted on network television. One could imagine Star Trek by David Lynch, Star Trek by Stanley Kubrick, Star Trek by Woody Allen – and what I’m getting at here is that that’s what fan fiction is.

But you don’t even have to attend multiple productions to understand dou~ling and repetition in theatre. Most productions were scripts first: the- at~e IS an art form where we read something with the goal of making some- thmg else out of it. The script isn’t the final product in theatre; in fact, one of the questions that theatre theorists have had to debate is the location of ~he wor_k of art. Is it in the author’s original script? Probably not; the orig- mal sen~~~ goes t_hrough innumerable changes in performance and is rarely seen outside of library archives. The published script of a theatrical or tele- play is usually a postproduction draft that takes into account changes that w~re ma?e during production by actors, director, and designers; far from bemg evidence of a single authorial vision, a published play is one of the most collaborative genres in existence. And most theatre works never result in a published script at all, so it’s difficult to argue for text as the central object in a theatrical art experience.

Far from being a sacred text, a play’s script is more like a blueprint for a production – a thing used to make another thing. Like any architectural b~uepri~t, a script_ provid~s the directions for building something three- d1m~ns1onal and situated 111 space. But one can’t point to theatrical pro- duction as the center of dramatic art either, because the question then become_s: “‘.hich production? A script isn’t simply directions for building somethmg 111 space, but also in time-not just a single production, but a potentially infinite series of productions. Marvin Carlson (1985) theorizes the complicated relationship between all the multiple and vastly different works of art that can be associated with a single dramatic story in terms of the Derridean supplement, and the supplement also serves as an excellent model for fan fiction as well ( see Derecho I this volume I, who uses the Der- ridean term arc/1011tic to describe this same supplementarity).

The best way to explain a supplement is by pointing to a concrete example of one; Roger Laport used a French dictionary, but let me substi- tute for that the more familiar example of an encyclopedia. When you buy an encyc~opedia, you buy a complete set, volumes A-Z. But the world keeps progressmg, and knowledge keeps expanding, and so this “complete” set


of encyclopedias is outdated the second you buy it; it doesn’t include today’s news and discoveries. So when you buy an encyclopedia, they generally also include a yearly supplement- 2005, 2006, and so on – that you can slot into your bookcase after “Z.” So with that image in mind, consider what the supplement does: it reveals the original thing, the encyclopedia, in this case, as incomplete, but also prophesies future supplements. In fact, a supple- ment suggests that completeness is actually impossible, as the presence of a 2005 supplement suggests the need for one in 2006, 2007, 2008, and on into the future, indefinitely.

We can apply this concept to theatrical performance, and then to fan fiction as performance. In theatre, a working script becomes a staged per- formance, but as Carlson explains, “A play on stage will inevitably display material lacking in the written text, quite likely not apparent as lacking until the performance takes place, but then revealed as significant and nec- essary. At the same time, the performance, by revealing this lack, reveals also a potentially infinite series of future performances providing further supplementation” (1985, IO). Fan fiction works much the same way. Once a story supplements canon – giving us something the original source did not by filling in a missing scene, getting inside a character’s head, inter- preting or clarifying or departing from the story as originally told -future supplements become inevitable, and they aren’t any more redundant than multiple productions of Hamlet.

A conservative critic might argue that Shakespeare can support that level of interpretation and invention, whereas your average-or even bet- ter than average – television show simply can’t. We tell certain stories over and over because they’re brilliant and continue to be relevant. I don’t share that point of view. I agree with Alan Sinfield when he argues that Shake- speare seems relevant because he is constantly interfered with (1994, 4-5). It is Shakespeare’s endlessly creative fans- be they theatre practitioners car- rying the stories on their bodies or literary critics teasing out new textual interpretations-who keep Shakespeare going. An endless number of Shakespearean productions supplement the texts, adding meanings that Shakespeare never intended and making them meaningful to twenty-first- century audiences. There’s no reason not to see this as a perfectly valid artistic activity; and if it is so for theatre, why is it not for television?

Before a Live Audience

The third theatrical quality I want to discuss in terms of fan fiction is the need for a live audience. A live audience has always been a precondition for

JO. \Vriti11g Bodies i11 Space (Coppa) 239

fandom. Longtime fanzine editor and archivist Arnie Katz (n.d.) explains t~1at science fiction magazines- particularly their letter pages-were essen- tial to the genesis of science fiction fandom. As Katz notes, “Science fiction and fantasy were widely available for many years before fandom erupted …. Those who wanted to be more than readers couldn’t do much while books remained the main delivery vehicle for science fiction. It’s hard to interact with a book, other than to write a letter to the author in care of the pub- lisher.” Science fiction fans have a saying: “fandom is a way of life” -which is to say, science fiction literature fandom is more than a celebration of texts; it’s a series of practices. This may be why most academic works on fandom are ethnographies, or analyses of social organizations and cultural performances. As Katz points out, fandom is essentially interactive in a way beyond the traditional reader-writer relationship.

Fan fiction, too, is a cultural performance that requires a live audience; fan fiction is not merely a text, it’s an event. Whether published in a zine, on a mailing list, to an archive, or to a blog like, there’s a kind of simultaneity to the reception of fan fiction, a story everyone is read- ing, more or less at the same time, more or less together. Over the years, technology has allowed television viewers to reconstitute themselves as an audience; now, you can watch television while you post to the boards at, or sit in an !RC channel, or send updates to your mailing list; you don’t have to wait for the next issue of a zine to be mailed. Similarly, fandom gathers together a live, communal audience for stories, and fans have adopted and adapted every mode of communication in an effort to ensure that fan fiction quickly reaches its target audience.

Compare this to John Ruskin’s definition of a “true” book:

A book is essentially not a talked thing, but a written thing; and written, not with the view of mere communication, but of permanence. The book of talk is printed only because its author cannot speak to thousands of peo- ple at once; if he could, he would- the volume is mere multiplication of his voice …. But a book is written, not to multiply the voice merely, not to carry it merely, but to perpetuate it [1985, 259-60].

Most books- including most mass market fiction – are not “true books” by this standard. Most books merely convey the storytelling voice to an audience that cannot be gathered together to listen simultaneously, as they do in theatre. A book’s audience is generally dispersed over both space and time; people in different places read a book at different times, and reading is- at least in the last hundred or so years- a pretty solitary activity. This didn’t used to be so; the line between reading and theatre was thinner in the days when a family patriarch might read aloud to his family after din- ner, or a group of middle-class women might stage a tableau based on a


favorite text. Ironically, the rise of literacy and the greater availability of printed matter are largely responsible for fracturing the communal reading audience and encouraging the solitary consumption of stories. Consider Isaac Asimov’s prophetic description of”the perfect entertainment cassette”:

A cassette as ordinarily viewed makes sound and casts light. That is its pur- pose, of course, but must sound and light obtrude on others who are not involved or interested? The ideal cassette would be visible and audible only to the person using it.. .. We could imagine a cassette that is always in perfect adjustment; that starts automatically when you look at it; that stops auto- matically when you cease to look at it; that can play forward or backward, quickly or slowly, by skips or with repetitions, entirely at ypur pleasure …. Must this remain only a dream? Can we expect to have such a cassette some day? We not only have it now, we have had it for many centuries. The ideal I have described is the printed word, the book, the object you now hold …. Does it seem to you that the book, unlike the cassette I have been describing, does not produce sound and images? It certainly does …. You cannot read without hearing the words in your mind and seeing the images to which they give rise. In fact, they are your sounds and images, not those invented for you by oth- ers, and are therefore better [quoted in Ellison 1984, 51-52].

Asimov, writing years before VHS, let alone DVD, frames the book as an improvement over other forms of dramatic storytelling (“sounds and images”) precisely because it’s more individualized (“visible and audible only to the person using it”). Asimov’s prophetic description illustrates how the book, taken as a technology, anticipates the virtual reality so feared by those who worry about the effects of video games and the Internet on chil- dren; it’s interesting that those same parents are often keen to encourage immersive reading of the kind Asimov is valorizing. But immersive reading is generally not the kind encouraged by literature departments, which teaches students to attend to language. To read critically is to see a text not as “sounds and images” but as specific words placed on a page in a particular order; to closely read a text is to make meaning out of those particular words and no others. To look at, rather than through, the specifically defined words on the page is to see a story as a written rather than a “talked” thing.

Fan fiction is Ruskin’s “talked” thing, or Asimov’s “perfect entertain- ment cassette.” Fan fiction writers generally use a relatively transparent style of prose conducive to an immersive reading experience. There are marvelous exceptions: many fan fiction writers are great prose stylists or even poets. But historically the fan fiction writer has tried not to get in the way of the reader’s view of the characters, and in this, fan fiction writers are part of a more general literary trend. In an article in the Washington Post, Linton Weeks (2001) complains about the “No-Style style” of many best-selling authors and quotes book reviewer Pat Holt as noticing that “the

10. Writi11g Bodies in Space (Coppa) 241

style of commercial fiction has shifted over to a television mentality,” with “short paragraphs, a lot of switching of locations and lots of dialogue,” with- out ever questioning to what extent this might make it not simply “inferior” prose but prose put to a different and nonliterary purpose. In her introduc- tion to the forthcoming Reco11structi11g Harry: “Harry Potter” Fa11 Fictio11 011 the World Wide Wei,, Jane Glaubman observes J. K. Rowling’s “transparent” prose style without judgment, concluding that “the impression of trans- parency must stem in part from continuities with visual culture” and these continuities “call on devices ubiquitous in commercial media that them- selves aspire to transparency.” Certainly, Rowling’s visual style may explain why the Harry Potter books were adopted by media fandom; they share fan fiction’s theatrical values. For instance, Glaubman notes the unusual extent to which Har~y was embodied in Rowling’s text: “An awareness of the body is everywhere in these books …. Rowling expresses I Harry’s! feelings somat- ically, ‘his heart twanging like a giant elastic band,’ ‘as though he’d just been walloped in the stomach.’ … By giving us immediate access to his sensations, she contributes … to the effect of transparency.”

Harry Potter comes to us as the embodied protagonist of a series of stories that retell Harry’s adventures during a series of school years. By the time of the fourth installment, Harry Potter a11d the Goblet of Fire, the simul- taneous, worldwide release of the book was the occasion for something very like a public festival, with people coming out at midnight, sometimes in costume, not simply to purchase the book but also to formally constitute themselves as an audience. The ongoing series of novels was then made into an ongoing series of films. In all of these ways, the Harry Potter books resist the status of “finished literary text” made up of particular words in a par- ticular order, and instead construct themselves as the open-ended inspira- tion for future performative supplements that will allow its audience to reconstitute itself on a regular basis. Harry Potter has already resulted numerous translations, four sequels, three films, and, as of June 13, 2005, at least 190,994 fan fiction stories- so far.

Why stop there? Ca11 it be stopped there? This is no longer a phenom- enon within a single author’s control; “Harry Potter” is now an entire cre- ative universe within which millions of people are writing, reading, drawing, reporting, discussing, analyzing, criticizing, celebrating, market- ing, filming, translating, teaching, theorizing, playacting. Although Rowl- ing may be responsible for putting together a initial series of words in a particular order, only in the legal sense is she the “author” of all of these other creative productions. Or, to put it another way, she’s the author in the sense of taking responsibility for these productions, but she’s not the writer of those specific other expressions of the idea of a boy wizard at


school. There are other creative players involved, some paid (the artists who illustrated the text; the scholars who are writing the critical studies of the series) and some unpaid (the fans who participate in heated analytical discussions on Harry Potter Web sites or mailing lists, fan fiction writers). Similarly, a film like Star Wars or a television show like Buffy tlze Vampire Slayer have become rich art worlds quite apart from the authorial or auteur- ial efforts of George Lucas or Joss Whedon. ·

One last word about the complex relationship between the author, these other creative writers, and the audience: in traditional literary studies, the author is dead, and has been for some time. The phrase alludes to Roland Barthes’s essay “The Death of the Author” and to Barthes’s argument that “as soon as a fact is narrated … the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins” (1977, 142). From this perspective, lan- guage always means more than an author intends, and we cannot evaluate writing as an expression of a “person’s” ideas or thoughts. Rather, we should look at writing as a separately existing linguistic performance that does/says more than any one person ever could. Barthes concludes by saying that what meaning there is to a text is made by the reader, and “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (148).

But not the writer. In fandom, the author may be dead, but the writer- that actively scribbling, embodied woman – is very much alive. 5 You can talk to her; you can write to her and ask her questions about her work, and she will probably write back to you and answer them. She might enjoy dis- cussing larger plot, style, and characterization points with you if you engage her in critical conversation. You can tell her that her story is bad and hurt her feelings, or you can flame her as someone who shouldn’t be writing at all. Moreover, the writer may well have worked with a team of editors or beta readers; the fiction might well be not only derivative of an author, but written collaboratively by a group, or crafted as a birthday present for a fellow fan – in short, the writer is part of an interactive community, and in this way, the production of fan fiction is closer to the collaborative mak- ing of a theatre piece then to the fabled solitary act of writing.

I believe that fandom is community theatre in a mass media world; fandom is what happened to the culture of amateur dramatics. In the days before television, people often made theatre in their homes, for fun, and in fandom, we still make theatre together, for fun, except we cast the play from our televisions sets. Theatre – actual, three-dimensional theatre that moves bodies in space- is expensive and requires tremendous social capital; you’ve got to have the power to make those bodies move under your direction and at your command. We discover women’s poetry in attic trunks and women’s novels written under male pseudonyms, but we still find that women are

10. Writi11g Bodies ;11 Space (Coppa) 243

underrepresented in the rol th h (male) bodie . c es at ~re estrate and dictate the actions of

s 111 periormance Cons1d th · of women playwrights com . . er e ongomg underrepresentation traditional theatre take~ a sc;;o;ersd direto~s, and sy~1pho~y conductors. If tially infinite number of p pd an. ma es it three-d1mens1onal in a poten-

~hree-cHmensional and thei;;r~~::~;t~~~ndf~~~ef:ndom takes s?methi~g is not authoring texts but mak1’n d . u~ber of scripts. Tl11S

‘ g pro uct1ons- relymg th d’ , shared extratextual knowledg f d on e au 1ence s and their smiles and e o sets a~ wardrobes, of the actors’ bodies

movements- to direct a living theatre in the mind.


I. Media fandom, although probably best the k of the popularity of the ma~s me<l,·a .t . L . d no~vn and most studied as a result

. . 1 1s 1ase around is n t th I k ‘ d C _omics, a111me, and gaming each have well-est l. , . o e on_y ·1~ of fandom. nes. However, the Internet has eoc) d . al lished fandoms with different histo-

1 . 1 urage aossover am0 ., the. – · r possibly as a result of the I I I 011 o se groups . U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968) ·111otl1er tele ‘. ~u le w_hamlmy of Stnr Trek and The Ma11 from

. ‘ ‘ v1swn senes t 1at wa. t I • fi ct1on fJns; see Walker (2001) and my ow “A . . . 5 rnge Y pop~ 1 ar with science 13 volume). n ne 1 History of Mecha Fandoni” (this

. 3: When possible, I have chosen to cite the I’ .. lustnnans rather than the published scholar! o~ rne wnr_k o_f fan-critics and fan- fan, I am wary of “d’istance p . . Y works of proless1onal academics As a l I ro 1ess1ona 1 ex f u • media fan is one of defiant amateurism I trer IS~ •. even Ill~ own; the position of the always done an excellent J’ob of ex•· I … n _iatlsfpm~, I tl!erelore note that fandom has

. ,, a111111g 1tse to Hselt <l · · t I 1eoret1cal literature its mun roster f c . I I I ‘ pro uc111g its own canon of . ‘ • o ,ann1s 1 sc 10 ars d · · . for reviewing, anJlyzing and recon d. c fi . ‘an Its own critical apparatus , imen mg ,an ct1on

4. Although the sociJI vJlue of live theatre h I . . . of mass media dramatic forn1s botl1 I . b as. llst_oncally been greater than that

· ‘ 1ave een marg111ahzed J ‘ t I otten grouped together as “high art” a ainst fit . : _:’ eratur~ an, theatre are tual values are often opposed to pe , g . m and television, hut 111 practice, tex-

r,ormat1ve ones Drama h· . h . to the working classes, women, children, and illi . . . . . as e_en seen as appeal111g no way to record and distribute it I ti . terates, also, u_nt1I recently, there was Karel Capek’s RUR (1920) h” h .’ n die specific context of science fiction, plays like

, Iv 1c intro uced the wo d I · I , are often left out of the sf canon eve ti I h r re> 10t 11110 tie worlds languages, fiction. ‘ 11 1 1 JOug ey antedate the rise of prose magazine

5. I am indebted to my conversations with Georgina Paterson for these insights.


13arthes, Roland 1977 The de· II f I · · a 1 o I 1e aut 1 1or. In l111nge-11111sic-text 141-48 Neiv k N oon d ay P ress. , – · v ,or :

Card, Orson S~ott. 2005. Strange new world: No Star Trek LA T’ M· 3 Carlson M· 1985 Tl . · 1111es, ay .

suppl~m:~~-‘~l,eatr; Jo:~:,:~t;~;s:t~rmance: Illustration, translation, fulfillment, or


Ellison, Harlan . 1984. Sleepless nigl,ts in rl,c procmstenn bed: Essays /1y Harlan Ellison. Ed. Marty Clark . San Bernardino, CA : Borgo Press .

Garber, Majorie. 2001. Arndemic instincts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press . Glauhman, Jane , ed. Forthcoming. Reconstructing Harry: “Harry Potter” f1111 fiction ,111

tire \Vorld \\fide \Veb. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press . Hale, Laura M. 2005. A history of fan fie. Fanzine . Jenkins, Henry . Textual poachers: Television Jam and participatory culture. New York:

Routledge . Katz, Arnie. N .d . The philosophical theory of fanhistory.

fstuff/theory/phill.html (accessed June I, 2006). Larbalestier, Justine. 2002. Tire battle of tire sexes in science fiction. Middletown, CT:

Wesleyan Univ. Press. Mailander, Jane . 2005. The advantages of erotic fan fiction as an art form . http ://mem – .html (accessed June I, 2006) . Ohmann, Richa~d . 1996. Selling culture: Mt1gt1zines, markets, and class at tire tum of tire

centur)’. London : Verso. Ruskin, John. 1985. On king’s treasuries. From Sesames 1111d lillies, in U11to this Inst and

ot/zer writiugs. 255-87. London: Penguin Classics. Schechner, Richard . 2002. Perfor1111111ce studies: A11 introduction. New York: Routledge. $infield, Alan. 1994. Cultural politics-Queer rending. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsyl –

vania Press . Verba, Joan Marie. 1996. lloldly writing: A Trekkerfn11 n11d zinc lristory, 1967-1987. 2nd

ed. Minnesota: FTL Publications. (accessed June I, 2006) .

Weeks, Linton. 2001. Plotting along : Best-selling authors are ri.:her than ever. So why is prose from these pros so poor? W,1s/1ington Post, November lit

Zimmerman, Diane Leenheer . 2003. Authorship without l>Wnership: Reconsidering incentives in a digital age . [)cJJ11ul l.nw Re,•iew 52:1121-70.

11. “This Dratted Thing” Fannish Storytelling Through New Media

Louisa Ellen Stein

ABSTRACT. – I link together three avenues of thought relating to on line

fon texts: (I) new media theory’s focus on technology, specifically under- standings of interface- that is, the point of interaction between a user and a computer at the level of the software with which we engage with new media; (2) genre theory’s conception of genre discourse as shared,

shifting, cultural category; and (3) fan studies’ focus on fans as users

and authors of media texts, who engage with and build on already exist- ing media texts in various ways. I propose that, through the merging of these three avenues of inquiry, we can find a new, more tangible, way to

understand fan engagement with new media and popular media texts. From the interplay among fan culture, genre discourse, and new media

interfaces, fan-created fiction and art are born. The histories and tradi-

tions of fan fiction intersect with broader cultural (generic) discourses

as fandom moves on line. In turn, as fans use the tools of new media to

write and share fannish narratives, new forms of fan creative expression come into being . I look at how this trifold process is exemplified in two

fannish uses of interface to create new modes of storytelling: diary- based fan fictions that use interactive blogging sites such as to create daily diaries kept by fictional characters; and fictional narratives created by fans out of images from Tire Sims, a com- puter game where players create characters and control various aspects of their lives.


  • Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet
    • 10. Writing Bodies in Space Media Fan Fiction as Theatrical Performance
      • Introduction
      • Embodying the Geek Hierarchy
      • Repetition and the Derridean Supplement
      • Before a Live Audience
      • Notes
      • References

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