How Fanfiction Is Saving Civilization
Not long ago I came across an alarmist article about the heinous effects
television is having on us and our children. You know the kind of thing: it
stultifies the imagination and prevents children from learning to interact with
actual humans, etc. etc.
I won’t say he was altogether wrong. And I’m sure I don’t have to convince those of you reading this that using the television as a babysitter, leaving children in front of it all day every day, is a bad idea.
However, while I was reading this article about the death blow to imagination that television has been, I couldn’t stop thinking about one thing: fan fiction.
Indeed, as has been pointed out before, fan fiction in a sense is a continuation of a very old tradition. Before the Internet, television, movies, and the printing press, people had to entertain each other by telling stories. A lot of these stories revolved around familiar figures - King Arthur, Robin Hood, tricksters of fable and mythological gods and goddesses. In a sense, people sitting around the hearth were spinning Robin Hood fanfic. And for most of our ancestors, storytelling wasn’t a specialized profession reserved for the exceptionally talented and lucky. It was something everyone could do. Technology inevitably changed that. This isn’t altogether a bad thing - I wouldn’t give up the original trilogy of Star Wars or the novels of Jane Austen - but the fact remains that fan fiction is a way those of us “common folk” who don’t have the luck to get into the very small field of professional screenwriting or successful novel-publishing can tell stories of our own.
To be sure, an awful lot of fan fiction is dreadful stuff. Still, isn’t it better for someone to spin their own fantasies about Mary Sue mowing down stormtroopers and winning the heart of Luke Skywalker than just watching other people’s fantasies? And while on the one hand I’ve seen fics whose spelling and grammar has to be seen to be believed (“sweat rolled down his face”) I also know people from other countries who read and write fan fiction partly to practice and improve their English!
But plenty of fan fiction is damned good storytelling. Most of my online fannish friends who write fiction inspired by TV shows are very well read in history, classic literature, and fantasy/sci-fi. I remember one of my favorite fanficcers, who writes great fic based on a movie I love, gloating one day that she’d just gotten a new volume of Middle Eastern poetry. Many of the best fics really stretch the imagination, such as AUs. Some of the best fanfics will take on the job of rehabilitating a villain or reinterpreting the canon, which can be very thought-provoking. And the discussions on fanfic lists and ljs show that, whatever “mundane” may be doing, fans are not just passively absorbing their TV programs. They are analyzing them, exploring different interpretations, comparing them with related works, and dreaming about them.
The lesson to be learned from this is clear. Fan fiction writers, keep up the good work. The survival of civilization is in your hands.