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Real People Fiction
by Kristina

Caveat: While this essay is supposed to encompass het and gen real people fiction as well as slash, most of my personal experience has been with slash as has most discussion I have encountered. Also, all of these opinions are clearly my own.


In their 1992 article "Beatlemania" (Ed. Lisa A. Lewis. The Adoring Audience [1992]), Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs explore young female Beatles fans and the erotics and power relations of their libidinal investment in the band. Beatles fandom lacks the sustained documentation or the clearly traceable history of such a fandom as Star Trek; still, anecdotal evidence suggests that many girls wrote stories featuring themselves and their favorite Beatle or possibly even their two favorite Beatles together. In many ways, it can be argued that Real People Fiction (RPF) is much more easily accepted by non-fans than Fictional People Fiction (FPF), since it mimics fannish behavior shared by many adolescents--at least for a time (see marythefan). What teenager hasn't adored a movie, sports, or pop star, hasn't decorated their room with their pictures and fantasized potential romantic encounters? It's only a small step from that to writing these fantasies down, to creating what is, in effect, RPF.

At the same time, however, the trajectory of media fandom coming out of Star Trek zines and quickly expanding to include a variety of sf/f and cop buddy shows and, with the rise of the Internet, any conceivable number of media texts, has long considered the fantasizing about real people taboo. Most fans entering traditional media fandom before 2000 were initiated by learning that RPF was not to be done, that the stories would only feature characters, not actors. Of course, the boundaries between actors and characters were often fluid; after all, what but the body of the actor was used as the visual on which to pin fantasies of the characters? Moreover, as the case of Blake's 7's Paul Darrow showed, even the erotic same-sex portrayal of the characters could upset the actors (see Bacon-Smith, Enterprising Women [1992] 35-6) and that, made the taboo all the more important.

The little RPS that appeared often originated from extremely small fandoms (such as rock band slash like Duran Duran or Metallica [see, sidewinder]); likewise, wrestling fic had firmly established its own fandom, separate and mostly independently from media fandom. In media fandom, there occurred the simple collapse between actors and their characters, often importing the actors into the mediaverse or the fictional characters into our reality in order to bring together both the fictional romantic pairing as well as their real life counterparts. These collapses of reality and fictional universe were rare, usually frowned upon in the fandom at large, and often seemed to be accompanied by conspiracy theories that posited real life relationships between the actors (for example, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson of The X-Files or David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and rumors actually describe early Shatner/Nimoy stories).

In media fandom, the lines tended to remain clear, however: while most media lists and archives placed few limitations on violence and graphic sex, allowing torture, heavy BDSM, and often even underage and incest, they usually tended to forbid RPS. Looking over several central archives of bigger slash fandoms before the mainstreaming of RPF (The X-Files, The Sentinel, Due South, The Phantom Menace, Smallville), none of them archive actor slash and three of the five prohibited RPS explicitly in their guidelines (TS’s “852 Prospect,” TPM’s “Jedi Master and Apprentice,” and the “Smallville Slash Archive”). Moreover,, the largest and most comprehensive fan fiction archive which initially allowed various forms of RPF, removed all Real People Fiction in 2002 (where it previously apparently had prohibited actorfic but allowed other forms of RPF). As late as 2003, Noy Thrupkaew--in her otherwise unbiased account of slash for Bitch magazine--calls RPS slash’s “latest offshoots” and immediately comforts her readers that “[m]any writers of fictional-people slash, however, frown on the morally dubious rps genre” (Bitch 20 [2003]).

Things changed around 2001. Early in the year, a number of multifannish mediafic writers suddenly started writing *NSYNC stories. Puppies in a Box, one of the early popslash websites, forced many mediafic writers to confront the issue of RPF, since it was their own friends and fannish acquaintances moving into the taboo area. At the same time, with the release and success of the Lord of the Rings movies in December 2001, fans began to imagine the intense filming experiences and the relationships between the cast members. Lotrips (LOTR RPS) was born, often drawing its members from fans not previously exposed to media fic and its rules or from LOTR fans who often moved effortlessly between actors and characters. Beyond an increasing influx of new writers who enter these fandoms through their interest in the actors, singers, or performers, a large segment of fan fiction writers have migrated from media to Real People Fiction, in the process erasing some of the moral prohibition on RPS and eroding the traditional ban on fictionally playing with real people’s lives.

Since then RPF has expanded everywhere to include everything and everyone. Whether the 2004 Olympics or the US elections, fan writers will pair any real person with any other, at times encouraged by the material (like Britney/Madonna after the 2003 VMA kiss; JohnxJohn", aka Kerry/Edwards; the inseparable and engagement-proof damonaffelck; or Gerard_emmy, the central actors of Phantom of the Opera); other times less so (like the most recent spread of Ratzinger stories). RPF has become a new way to comment on world politics and pop cultural events, often easily crossing the fictional barrier by inserting fictional characters in "our" world and vice versa.

In other words, RPF is everywhere and the ficced and slashed objects are often aware and not necessarily upset about it. Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, for example, comments "There’s absolutely nothing wrong with fictionalizing a genuine character as long as you make it clear that you are fictionalizing" [source] and Harry Potter actor Chris Rankin answers an interview question about fanfiction with " Ahh, it's fantastic, I love it all" [source]. Other celebrities have responded in a similar vein, possibly bemused but none too upset. After all, considering that many of them clearly are marketed as sexual objects, it begs the question as to whether there really is such a big difference between more traditional private fantasies about the celebrity's body or writing and sharing similar fan fantasies.

Ethical and Legal Objections

With its increased visibility, passionate debates have sprung up, condemning as well as defending RPF. Detractors usually focus on moral and ethical objections as they accuse RPF of being: (1) open to libel in its disrespectful invasion of the celebrity’s privacy; (2) disgusting in its sharing of one’s (especially sexual) fantasies about real people; and (3) deeply immoral in its potential to hurt or disturb the celebrity or—even worse—their friends or families who may not have chosen the spotlight (see, for example, gloriana, unanon, damned_colonial, lexin, and neadods). While regularly debated, RPF’s legality is still uncertain. Both RPS and FPF have a tenuous legal hold (for libel and copyright infringement respectively) and mostly seem to function in a grey zone. Without a legal precedent, however, and given the international character of the internet and the pronounced differences among the legal systems and procedures of different countries, predicting the outcome of a potential lawsuit is impossible.

Defenders of RPF counter the privacy and morality claim by arguing that a celebrity in part gives up his or her right to privacy as they often expose their private lives to the public. After all, the more pronounced fandoms tend to gather around celebrities who provide much canon in forms of extensive media footage. Moreover, RPF questions the actual reality of celebrities, arguing that rather than fictionalizing a real person, RPF takes a prefabricated persona and creates depth and character in its fiction. The issue, then, is not actually whether pop stars or other celebrities are less “real” than normal people. Instead, RPF criticizes the way celebrities have become objects for a public that invades their privacy and expects them to act in particular ways. One of the central concerns of RPF is the question of reality, both in the sense of how real events enter and shape the stories as well as the impact these stories can have on the real lives of fans.

Unlike much of the tabloid press, which purports to tell the truth, RPFers consciously declare their writing to be fictional. RPF writers clearly separate their stories from rumors, even when their stories are immediate responses to real-life events. At the same time, however, they refuse to follow the cliché of declaring the public performances of pop stars a fiction and the band members fake and fabricated; instead, their stories often reveal deep empathy and sympathy for the stars they depict. Writing stories about celebrities often requires immersion in the available material. RPFers, far from objectifying them, deeply care about the stars and frequently defend them against accusations of falsity or lack of talent. Rather than dehumanizing the real people by making them a character in their fiction, RPF writers re-humanize the personas artificially constructed for and by the media by giving them inner lives, often making them question their fame and struggle with their constant visibility.

Rather than reducing celebrities to their favorite color and animal as many teen magazines do or completely dismissing them as artificial and unauthentic as most their critics are wont to do, RPF writers create fully formed, intricate and interesting characters with flaws and vices, doubts and insecurities. Moreover, I'd argue, they ultimately extrapolate and create a version of the character they (and their readers) find attractive; they shape and alter the celebrity to their own specifications, making him more interesting, intelligent, or vulnerable, and thus more desirable, identifiable, and available. Often the characters are more literate, more sensitive, or simply more self-aware than we might extrapolate from the media portrayal, and the particular aspects the writer chooses to foreground are indicative of the personality she wants to create or explore, the characters she want to understand, care for, maybe even identify with. BettyP describes this as follows:
I'm supposed to admire these children? I'm supposed to *love* them, to cherish the way that Lance lets his secret boyfriend carry his moppy little dogs from gig to gig for him, and then votes for the same party that wants to amend the US Constitution to make sure we don't ever get around to thinking about maybe giving gay people their civil rights?

But I do, some of the time, love them. While I'm writing about them, I do, because I write them in a certain way, a little more thoughtful than they probably are, a little more genuine, a little more confused. I write them trying harder to get through life than I think they really are. Even when I'm feeling the Gritty Realism (tm), I romanticize their problems, their struggles, to give them greater weight and depth than just some fucking rich kid who's all woe is me, my life is so hard. I do that because I don't want to read about their bloated, competitive, soulless, consumptive, defensive little lives. I want, in one sense or another, a romance, a story about one or another kind of love. [source]

Fiction, Reality, and Collaborative Fantasy Spaces

For most RPF writers and readers, it is pretty clear that what we are dealing with is a performance, that the source text from which we draw is similarly created (albeit by concert footage or interviews or other media events) to the way movies, books, and TV shows are. Some, of course, will clearly declare that they are not interested in the characters and only write their own fantasies, thus creating something similar to mediafic writers who take the characters (or simply their bodies) and tell their own stories--canon be damned. Not only is the canon broader and more contradictory to allow for more varied portrayals, just like mediafic, writers choose to comply with canon or not, try to extrapolate character and behavior from the material provided--or spin their own stories regardless of canon. Almostnever describes such an approach to RPF and suggests that the term casting fic would be more appropriate (kind of like some FPF moves into bodyfic):
I kind of like the idea of calling it "casting"... "casting fiction", "casting slash". We're not really writing about Orlando, or Viggo or Ian or Billy or Dom or Elijah. We're casting them in roles in our stories. We just use their names to evoke the appearance and presence of the actor we're casting in the story. [source]

The problem I see with such an approach is that it willfully ignores the ethical issues inherent in RPF by simply ignoring its reality aspect (however codified or fictionalized they may be). It is similar to the defense some popslash fans started with by perceiving boybands as artificially constructed and therefore less "real" than normal people, so that it would be OK to fictionalize them but not others. Whether the repeatedly voiced reproach of boy bands’ fakeness is true or relevant, the bands’ success in large parts relies on their ability to satisfy clearly defined—and manufactured—desires by enacting certain roles that may or may not be who they “really” are. This is where RPF picks up. Acknowledging the artificiality of their construction, the fanfic writers buy into this construction to a certain extent at the same time as they try to move beyond it. In other words, while we have to believe in the media representations, because they, in effect, constitute canon, we simultaneously want to extrapolate the persona we are given to create a complex and real human being beyond the media spectacle. This duality is what RPF thrives on: the writer and reader must simultaneously believe and disavow the “reality” presented by the media. In other words, we purposefully 'buy' the image we are given as real yet, at the same time, are constantly looking for the gaps in the performance in order to glimpse the 'real' person underneath.

Most RPFers thus work under a certain cognitive dissonance where we simultaneously know footage to possibly be false yet have it be true for the basis of our canon, where we simultaneously deconstruct this very canon in order to create and "prove" relationships that we very well know not to be true. Marythefan calls this fannish space where we collectively agree to pretend to see reality through our particular lenses all the while knowing that this is not reality, the "collaborative fantasy space." She describes:
I've talked about a "transparent veil" that separates fantasy from reality in SDB fandom [Sparkly Dancing Boys] - it's transparent, but it's still a veil, and it's tacitly understood to be there by the people who are playing together. It means there's not the need for constant disclaimers that "Joey and Lance are SO doing it, and I mean that in a fantasy, in-my-head way." The default mode of discussion is "through the veil" and if I'm going to talk about, gun to my head, what I ACTUALLY think is going on between Joey and Lance, generally I'm going to explicitly state, somehow, that I've shifted over into talking about "reality." [source]

While most of us blend the two so that we can sometimes look at a photo or footage and have a moment where we truly believe that our stories are, in fact, "the truth," it mostly does not matter, because we tend to be aware of and enforce for ourselves that separation. There are fans, however, often in a small yet vocal minority, who are invested in believing in the truth of the relationship as reality, who do not separate fiction and reality. They do not regard themselves as making up stories from the material provided in media footage but rather believe that they are teasing out and uncovering the truth underneath the--often purposefully--concealing media coverage. Fans who believe that the romantic couple really is together, that their on-screen romance extends off-screen or that their clearly displayed affection indicates a romantic relationship exist in many fandoms.

Canon and Its Consensual Creation

Most fans, however, assert the fictional status of their stories; they emphasize the collective fantasy space in which they operate and agree on a set of assumptions, of "facts," that constitute the canon for their respective fandoms. Non-RPF fandoms include a variety of source texts that function to varying degrees as canonical, from the most limited source of a single or serialized literary text through TV shows and movies with their clearly defined canon up to comic books with their varied and competing yet still author-dominated source texts. In many cases, multiple sources must be accounted for (such as cut footage, spin off series, tie-in novels, or unfilmed scripts) that may offer differing or even self-contradictory plot and characterization. Most TV shows also have a variety of creators, from writers to directors to actors, who may offer contradictory interpretations of characters and events. Still, even when we are faced with competing or even opposing source texts (like Smallville and the entire DC comicverse), there is still a well-defined source text.

RPS, on the other hand, is constituted by a wealth of different sources so that its canon must be understood as a loosely agreed-on set of information. For popslash, for example, it not only includes the songs, concerts, public appearances, interviews, and print media, but even more personal experiences (such as concert experiences, sound check parties, personal photographs,…). As a result, the RPF writer is constantly faced with an enormous influx of, often contradictory, material. Fans privilege one appearance over another, choose one facet from a contradictory field of information, or dismiss certain facts entirely. Moreover, the very nature of the celebrity discourse makes it impossible to ever truly believe any public account (i.e., unlike fictional characters who rarely are shown to purposefully lie to the audience, any statement by a celebrity is much more suspect: they could tell the truth or purposefully lie from disinterest or ignorance, for publicity reasons or to keep their privacy, etc.) As they try to establish what exactly constitutes the canon, RPF writers constantly confront questions about how much of any given footage is authentic, how many candid moments are, in fact, premeditated or rehearsed, and whether the question of authenticity ultimately matters. In a way, then, the canon-formation in RPS is a lot like fan fiction in general (and the fan-created consensus any interpretive fan community shares): RPS canon tries to fill in the gaps and make the contradictory information cohere.

This canon formation, this construction of narratives occurs by juxtaposing and selecting from the “official” material (which may be as varied as the celebrity’s interviews or publicity statements or any level of more or less supported rumors) as well as the “personal” material that enters the canon. After all, as the fan’s personal experiences are shared with the fan community they become public property and thereby co-create the canon. It is at that point that a distinction between canon and fanon does not make any sense in RPF. Since there exists no true author(ity), no true owner of the source text, no single canon source can be claimed; as a result, the “canon” gets created simultaneously by the celebrities, the media, and the fans alike. In other words, the fans actually help create the source text, though at that point the lines between facts and interpretation become ever more fluid. It is important to realize, however, that RPF's source text and “reality” need not coincide: obviously there are real events that are not part of the canon because fans are not privy to them; equally, rumors can easily create parts of the canon even though they are, in fact, untrue.

Interestingly, looking at this very clear role of the fans in the creation of the canon allows us to reinvestigate canon creation in FPF: there, fans also select and dismiss informational pieces, thus helping to create what is then considered canon. Julad argues
Now, I'd argue from this point that media slash canon is subject to a similar kind of filtering: it would be impossible for every single reader and writer of, say, Highlander slash, to have watched every single HL episode and remembered every detail in them (let alone all the supplementary HL canon). So HL canon, for all that they're a bunch of canon freaks *g*, is a rough consensus on what parts of All That Was Written In Highlander are significant, even if some of the significant parts are debated and debatable. Again, the parallel to literary canon-- those of us who are from Certain Theoretical Backgrounds recognise that literary canon is a product of history, politics, economics and such, a rough consensus among the literary Powers That Be (Or Were) on what is (or was) significant. There are some things that are definitely In and some things that are definitely Maybe In and many things which never registered as significant (quick, tell me: does Duncan MacLeod drink apple juice?). I've long argued (though not often in public) that media slash canon isn't half as clear or absolute as we pretend it is (and we don't often get the luxury of pretending it's even remotely clear and absolute). More frequently, I think, we are satisficing, sticking to the unspoken agreement on what's significant, which masks just how problematic even media slash canon really is. [source]

Bodies--Virtual, Real, Imaginary

Rather than trying to clearly separate RPF from FPF it might be useful to use RPF as a test case of at times more clearly delineating issues that are effectively operating in FPF as well. Julad's description of fannish canon consensus is one such example; fans' relationship to the bodies of our objects of affection is another. The similarities between casting and bodyfic mentioned above is one such instance, but in general we tend to elide the realities of the actor's body in FPF while focusing on that actor's sensibilities when confronting his body in RPF. After all, there is also a relationship between the real body of the actor and the fictional body who tends to get quite naked and active in the fic. At the same time, we co-create the body in what we choose to single out and embellish, what aspects of the body we foreground and the way we invent the rest. So both in RPF and FPF we tend to draw from the celebrity/actor's body in order to create the bodies in our stories (though in mediafic the character's body is yet another aspect). Is it Chris Keller's tattoo we're describing or Meloni's? Rosenbaum's hairlessness or Lex's? Mediafic certainly is more complicated but most writers still use the actor's body as a point of reference. (The issue is yet again different in book fandoms where often the written description can jar with actors' bodies).

One indication that the underlying real person and his body are not utterly irrelevant can be seen in the bleedover effect. describes:
The bleedover effect is what I call it, though the Ewan McGregor effect would probably be a good name for it, too, since he seems to be behind at least 50% of the occurrences. It's when elements from other parts an actor have played bleed over into the fanfic portrayal of character X, played by that same actor. Because that actor looked so cute doing whatever as character Y in that other tv series or movie, so he can do it over here, too! Except over here it's supposed to be character X, who has nothing in common with character Y except for the actor. I mean, I don't have an RPF squick (no, really?), but I don't particularly care for an X/Y hybrid who is pretty much an OMC who looks like the actor. It fails totally for me both as X fanfic and as Y fanfic, and as RPF, for that matter. I want warnings! I'm scarred for life! [source]
In other words, we draw from multiple sources when extrapolating the fic character from canon--and some of these parts and sources may be affected by what we know about the actor, his other shows, etc.

So, with characters where we have real bodies that represent them somewhere, we are always constructing imaginary bodies at the same time as we go back to the actual real life actor's body. Obviously, part of the character's body is based on the actor's body and it is this template that we are undressing; there *is* this connection between our object of lust and the actual actor where we do fantasize about a real body (at least in part). So there is a real body which offers a basis and then there are our fantasies, our embellishments and alterations. That goes for body and other characteristics. There is always a remainder and reminder of the real body in the imagined one. At the same time, we use our fantasies to make the guys become more appealing to us, readers and writers. I think that happens in behavior but also in body descriptions. In turn, even though RPF may have a clearer body blueprint, it still gets altered for the fiction to serve our fantasies better.

Alternate Universes, Casting Fic, and Playing Roles

With the increased popularity of RPF has also come an increased interest in RPF AUs (Alternate Universes). Part of this might be versions of casting fic where the bodies of actors and celebrities become blueprints to create new and interesting characters with which to populate one's stories or Role Playing Games (RPGs). Ithiliana describes the way RPF can indeed move far away from any traditional (i.e., FPF) sense of canon and still interact with the Real People as characters:
I think that in some ways at least some of the RPS I've read and written featuring the actors from LOTR at times has the actors' performances as characters (past and present) in it as well. So there's what I want to call a triangulation between the actors as "real" people and the roles they've created in the past (certainly in the FPS, a lot of the writers enjoy mixing characters from the various actors' pasts in some amazing ways). By triangulation, I mean a character can be based on many/multiple sources of inspiration: "factual" information about the actors, elements of their roles/characters as well as their characters in LOTR; and, also, many fics show the writers' own experiences and knowledge about some element of the story (easier to write what one knows, fun too). So most writers (I'd bet) are well aware they're not trying to create the "real" people. So it's a bummer that the name of the genre has "real people" in it. And that outsiders get all weirded out by it, some to the point of what I'd consider a different kind of insanity... [source]
Similarly, many RPGs that use actual celebrities but cast them in clearly non-canonical settings seem to play with the fluid boundaries of actor in fictional role; actor in RL role; and fictional character created by the writer.

At the same time, AUs can also serve a different function, namely they can validate and focus community-agreed upon canon. Writers invested in RPF canon do not have the ease of canonical surrounding to signal to their readers where and who their characters are but instead must make them recognizable in their new shapes or settings. One way to signpost the character's ("authentic") identity is with well-known idiosyncrasies or specific facts well-known within the fan community. However, since the aspects that make the character recognizable to the reader are often the very elements that the media uses to create an easy shorthand, these same characterizations also tend to become overused and clichéd when they are the only thing connecting the fictional character to his “real” counterpart. The most successful approach seems to come about when the writer extrapolates the character’s underlying identity and which aspects would remain the same and how. So Justin Timberlake’s tennis shoe collection may not translate into a past or future scenario, but the underlying obsessive sorting and collecting tendencies might.

The very act of writing RPF requires the writers to attain an understanding of the immutable aspects of someone’s character. Fantastic narratives simply make visible the process all Real People fan writing must perform: the act of teasing out underlying characteristics to make the characters recognizable to the readers while creating a world that is by agreement not the real one is very much the same. As such, fantastic RPF not only illuminates and highlights certain aspects of identity construction within the fictional world, but also ultimately exemplifies the very process and difficulties of maintaining recognizable characters in fan writing.

Moreover, in condensing a character into his/her central and thus recognizable parts, writers address issues of identity. In particular, they investigate how individuals become the persons they are (i.e., how much any given individual's characteristics are hardwired and how much his/her identity is created by surrounding/environment). When juxtaposing two versions of the same character separated by times or realities, when altering the character’s body, gender, or species, or when placing the character in an unfamiliar setting, the writer ultimately explores his or her reactions and possible changes and implicitly or explicitly compares this created character to the one we know as "canonical."

LJ, Slashing the Slasher, and Performing Identities

One of the repeated objections most RPFer have encountered is "What if someone did that to *you*?" Most will not care, of course, and to some of us it has happened before. At this point, however, the question becomes crucial as to whether the ficced object wants to or ought to hear about it, which is why most RPFers draw the line at confronting celebrities with their fantasies (both of their "real" and their fictional selves) [see idlerat].

Of course, there is a difference between celebrities in the public eye and everyday folks. While all of us create a variety of identities to present to the world, celebrities tend to do so more clearly. In his study Celebrity (2001), Chris Rojec argues that "celebrity status always implies a split between a private and a public self. . . . For the celebrity, the split . . . is often disturbing" (11). As such, we could argue that even though celebrities are just like us, their more clearly pronounced public persona makes them a particularly apt object to address questions of identity, which is a topic often explored in RPF. Moreover, in a way the more clearly defined public self is, of course, all fans ever get to use; the public persona is the entirety of RPF's canon.

This mostly clear separation between public and private became very clear in the aftermath of the October '04 discovery of personal photos of the LOTR cast. The responses clearly indicated the anxiety among RPF fans about wanting to maintain a separation and the fears of not doing so. Angstslashhope wrote an excellent post in which she looked at the various issues that influenced the debates surrounding these pictures that were just "too real," that opened up the private selves that RPF may imagine but does not want to actually encounter. Her post clearly suggested how the fans' own anxieties about RPF got projected onto the celebrities, how their own sense of intrusion became a protective gesture for the stars' privacies:
there probably isn't any direct effect on the guys of having a bunch of fans see their personal photos. i think people chose to see it as that, though, because of the way it made *them* feel to see them - I know that when i was looking at them i was like "hee, these are great!" but the more i looked the more i could see they were personal, and that made me uncomfortable. because like a lot of fans, after following these guys for about 3 years now i feel a degree of closeness to them (which is, of course, false), and so there's the warring feelings of glee at being able to get close to them, and also a kind of shame because you *know* that you're not really personally close to them, you're just very familiar with the persona - and whether they feel direct results or not, the people viewing the photos with that investment feel almost like they're exploiting the guys who are in a vulnerable position by having these photos of them - without their personas in play - in a public place. [source]
Moreover, angstslashhope connects issues of public and private selves to us fans as well:
And on top of the public/private issues that come with celebrity, fictionalising and fanning celebrity, is our own practice and existence within fandom. Up until quite recently the mini-universe of fandom existed much like a public sphere within which fans discussed issues of fanfiction, fanon, canon… basically anything fandom-related, via mailing lists, message boards, and earlier still - paper zines. With the massive influx of Livejournal as the community medium for fans to communicate, suddenly public and private issues are being aired and discussed in virtually the same forums; even 'friends lock' is creating micro-public spheres for fans to share aspects of their private life in a public environment. More conflict arises as we face a similar public/private split as celebrities face, and yet fans (BNFs included!) are not figureheads standing out of our reach but people within a digital arm's reach, who we communicate with regularly, and who can read what we say about them. [source]
In fact, I would argue that on some level, the way fans interact with one another closely resembles the way we imagine celebrities. Obviously, we do not and cannot ever know the true (veridical) self of any celebrity--in the very process of allowing the media into their private lives, the 'trueness' gets erased. So all we pretty much have to go by are the performances we are offered, the footage, the behind the scenes, etc. Some of that may be real; other parts may be consciously constructed and performed. We do not and cannot know how much of what we see is performed and how much is real--all we have is the public persona. When we write the celebrity, however, we imagine what the "true" version underneath could look like; in other words, we create a fictional real self, extrapolated from the public persona we see. That creation is not quite like the public persona (for one thing, if we slash him, we certainly have changed his "official" sexual orientation :-) and he may or may not be like the "real" person (depending on our ability to extrapolate and just pure chance).

Similarly, I would argue, we ourselves exist on multiple layers of identity so that a character who is defined by these layers of hiding and secrecy resonates with us. How many of us are "out" as slashers? How many are "out" as boyband (or whatever other celebrity) fans? How much of what we show to others is the "real" us (both in RL and online)? So it seems to me that much of the fannish online interaction is a modified version of RPF (mostly clearly visible in things like lust threads or challenges like ). In other words, just like there is real!celebrity; performance public!celebrity, and the extrapolated fictionallyreal!celebrity, there is real!me, LJ!me, and whatever "real" persona one might extrapolate from the information, tone, ethos, they have picked up in my LJ. So in Slashing the Slasher the writer doesn't necessarily take people she knows in RL and write them getting down and dirty...but takes personas and expands a fictional universe for them.

And while LJ and fandom offer a particularly perfect version of these personas, effectively we do this every time we interact. After all, while an online acquaintance is clearly a fictional product extrapolated from the source material of her LJ and/or other interactions, any real person I meet is similarly an extrapolation of the information she discloses and the face to meet the faces that she meets, a creation of their (fictionally "real") persona. We all play roles; we all interact with versions of our interlocutors. So, while RPF may work particularly well as an identificatory space for online fannish folks, it seems to move toward a much larger truth about who we are, who we think we are, how we present ourselves, and how others see us.

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