An Open Discussion on Fan-Fiction

(This is the first in a series of articles, in which JPCatholic student Carly Twehous discusses erotic written pornography, specifically fan-fiction. Through these articles Carly will explore the dangers, addiction, history, and statistics related to this type of fan-fiction and its harmful effects on our culture. Carly is also working on a documentary on this subject.)

Part One: A Brief and Bloody History

By Carly Twehous

Honest to God, I hate to be that kid who begins a serious article with a quote from an arbitrary, online dictionary… but Urban Dictionary defines fan-fiction as “Hilarious, often disgusting storys” — (Yes, this is apparently how my fellow Millennials spell ‘stories’.) — “about pre-existing characters written by insane fans.”[1] No alternative definitions are cited.

In layman’s terms, fan-fiction is a story, typically published for free on the Internet, involving characters, settings, and mystical situations based on pre-existing materials, be they movies, television shows, video-games, comic-books, or the increasingly cringe-worthy RPS/RPF (Real Person Slash/Fiction) sub-genre.

Unlike visual pornography, some fan-fiction is utterly harmless and involves nothing more than missing scenes or alternative endings. Such pieces can, in theory, help writers evolve and even hone their craft, without the added hassle of having to world-build, develop original characters, or worry about creating unforeseen plot-twists. For new, young writers, such an avenue of expression can not only be beneficial, but enjoyable, because they get time in the metaphysical playground with their favorite characters.

Alarmingly, however, a shocking percentage of fan-fiction available for free on the World Wide Web takes a rather steep downward spiral to the Dark Side. The most popular fanfics out there not only contain graphic sexual content, but also bear disturbing warning tags such as “PWP” (Porn Without Plot), “Sexual Abuse”, “Rape/Non-Consensual”, “Incest”, “Underage Sex”, “BDSM”, and others speaking of very specific sexual acts.[2]

This dark, mysterious, hush-hush world of fan-fiction is something that is hardly ever discussed in public forums outside of Tumblr. To be quite frank, most, outside the Millennial generation, have never head the term and most Millennials have a secret, unspoken pact with each other to never speak of it.

I think it’s time someone broke that trend. It’s time that someone spoke out against the alarming popularity of this particular breed of underground pornography. Fan-fiction, at its absolute worst, presents not only a disturbed view of human sexuality but also serves as a perversion of the inherently sacred nature of story-telling.

To better understand the nature of this bizarre phenomenon of modern culture, one must first have a firm grasp of its history.

Sexually explicit erotica literature, in itself, has its origins in high-society Greece and Rome and now permeates the market with 50 Shades of Grey and that trashy romance section in every used bookstore. Fan-fiction, essentially erotica on steroids, now exists in almost every crevice of the Internet. Some say the first fan-fiction was of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, others point to the underground, birth-of-the Internet Mulder/Scully novel-length epics that started popping up in the late 90’s, due to the popularity of our favorite alien-hunting FBI agents. Still others will sarcastically turn the clock back even further and conclude that after posting the Ninety-Five Theses on the cathedral door, Martin Luther sat himself down on the toilet and wrote a comprehensive fan-fiction of the Catholic Bible, thus launching the Protestant Reformation.

The jury’s still out on who officially started the trend. It’s safe to say, though, that for almost as long as there have been stories—and long before the advent of copyright/IP laws—people have been writing stories about stories.

In the past century, the incarnation, revolution, and distribution of modern fan-fiction largely found its home in science fiction, as did the once-niche sub-genre of slash-fiction. I’m looking at you, Trekkies. With the growing popularity of Star Trek in the late 60’s, fans—particularly female fans—read a little too much into whatever subtext was on screen and began crafting their very own Kirk/Spock stories. “The violent-sounding ‘slash’ is so called because of the ‘/’ separating the names of the two characters involved in homoerotic love, often pornographic sex. For example, Holmes/Watson, Kirk/Spock, Harry Potter/Ron, Starsky/Hutch, Jesus/Judas.”[3]

(Because unfortunately, Biblical fan-fiction has not been limited to Martin Luther over the centuries.)

Eventually, starting in the early 70’s—long before the birth of the Internet—Trekkie fan-fiction writers began circulating so-called “fanzines”, in order to better spread their work. With the advent of Star Wars, die-hard fans continued the Trek-trend of publishing increasingly disturbing sexually perverse stories about their favorite sci-fi heroes. Even the Skywalker sibling reveal in Return of the Jedi could hardly sway the popularity of the explicit Luke/Leia stories.

With the rising popularity of fan-fiction, fanzines, and fan conventions (in which people could get their autographs, collectibles, and meet up with strangers to discuss their favorite fictional pairings), people slowly started to realize something: with fiction, you can do absolutely anything. Combine that with a dash of infinite creativity, utter relativity, the prevalence of both the LGBT and feminist movements, a culture that’s saturated with sex and pornography, add the Internet, and you get something strikingly similar to Fanfiction.net or Archive of Our Own.

Today, fan-fiction is literally everywhere, yet no one is talking about it. This article, and those following it, are meant to open a conversation about the modern world of erotic fan-fiction by exploring the statistics, normalization, and the perversion of culture and story-telling. The intention, of course, is not to inspire curiosity, or even to evoke shock value, but to inform. Whether you’re a parent, an alien from Mars, or fellow Millennial, my hope is to open an honest discussion on the harmful effects of explicit fiction.

There have been an increasing number of studies in recent years on what visual pornography does to the brain and the cycle of addiction it fosters, and believe me, I am all for such advocacy. Fact is, however, researchers and anti-pornography advocates have been mysteriously silent on the subject of pornographic fiction and fan-fiction. Often, this means that fan-fiction either remains a hush-hush topic of conversation that only exists in certain forums or it is blatantly dismissed as a cheap, yet arguably redeemable alternative to watching or viewing visual pornography.

That’s what makes fan-fiction dangerous. Dismissing it as nothing allows for justification and ultimately, greater perversion of both story-telling and sexuality. Silence and ignorance mean alienation and an unhindered downward spiral into deeper and darker things.

It is a grave injustice to call a majority of fan-fiction anything other than what it is: explicit pornography that easily rivals top visual porn sites for the most disturbing content. With literally anything and everything at the fingertips of every fan-fiction writer, and without the ordinary limitation of actors, crew, or the human body, fiction becomes an almost perfect avenue for this particular breed of pornography.

This needs to be part of the conversation. Fan-fiction exists around the darkest corners of the internet and wages war on all that is sacred within culture and within fictional story-telling. “Fan-fiction begets fan-fiction, which then in turn becomes mainstream which then begets further fan-fiction and so on. When we reach that point our future will not be fifty, but fifty thousand, shades of grey.”[4]

[1] “Fanfiction: Definition”, by princessgamer8, Urban Dictionary. March 10, 2014. Accessed April 11, 2017. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=fanficton (Be honest. You’re surprised and a little bit impressed I cited that, aren’t you?)
[2] “Most Popular Tags”, Archive of Our Own. Accessed April 17, 2017.

[3] Morrison, Ewan. “In the Beginning, There Was Fan-Fiction”, The Guardian. August 13, 2012. Accessed April 11, 2017.

[4] Morrison, Ewan. “In the Beginning, There Was Fan-Fiction”.