Real Person Without the Fiction: Idol Success As Fannish Activity

In their work, describing the data manipulation tactics of fan leaders of Chinese idols’ fan clubs, Wu Xueyin describes two kinds of fandoms.

 Two categories of fan identities account for a large proportion of fans in Chinese fandom: only stan/solo stan (Wei Fen) and fans who ship their idol with other celebrities as a fictional/real couple (CP Fen).

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. “Fan Leaders’ Control on Xiao Zhan’s Chinese Fan Community.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

CP Fen’s activities could be more easily described with the familiar terms of transformative fandom.

Comparatively, CP Fen of Chinese pop culture belong to a loosely connected digital community. They tend to have a more casual and spontaneous attitude toward their daily practices. Most of them allow real person slash to be published within their Super Topics and some of them are even open to a more diverse interpretation of the idol’s image such as feminizing images of male idols or masculinizing those of female idols, while both of these are less tolerated in Wei Fen Super Topics. (…) Also, even though some of the CP Fen groups perform data manipulation as well, a large proportion of their daily activities are more spontaneous and less collective. The Untamed attracted a lot of CP Fen who ship Xiao Zhan and Wang Yi Bo; they upload the ship’s cute moments from the behind the scenes or clips of TV shows or video interviews. Some CP Fen also add likes or watch them multiple times to strategically promote the video’s popularity. But it can be observed from the comments that fans are having fun with it while they watch it; they make diverse interpretations of the video contents and contribute to the discourse of their relationship. 

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. “Fan Leaders’ Control on Xiao Zhan’s Chinese Fan Community.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

Shown in opposition here, is the data manipulation activities characterising Wei Fen.

(…)  even though the business model of BL (generally in the name of bromance to avoid censorship) pairings achieve some success, the media industry is still sensitive to homosexuality-related contents. Thus, in order to ensure their idol’s long term success, CP Fen are generally deemed to be in a lower moral ground in the fan community and excluded from the Wei Fen community. 

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. “Fan Leaders’ Control on Xiao Zhan’s Chinese Fan Community.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

(…) in the case of Chinese media fandom, fans devote their labor not for the use of content materials but to proudly be part of the cultivation of their idols. They proclaim themselves as “female data worker” (Shu Ju NüGong). The term might imply fans’ recognition of fan identity and the media industry. One the one hand, they recognize their labor is being exploited by the media industry as workers whose work is repetitious and uncreative. On the other hand they happily accept that because they know the data traffic they generate will be transformed into their idol’s success and they will be the ones who determine that success.

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. “Fan Leaders’ Control on Xiao Zhan’s Chinese Fan Community.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

Throughout the paper, though, we can see, how this success is also motivated by a narrative of the idol: a grassroots artist, an artist too kind to protect themselves, the innocent child of the mothering fans. The data manipulation is therefore enabled by a different form of fan gossip or imaginings, in these case centred around the idol’s and the fans’ shared success.

How do you see the role of an idol or other star’s success in fannish imagination?

How the visual image of the star can contribute to the actor/character resonance?

Earlier, in this post, we have talked about Jenkins’ idea of how fans, in the process of slashing, might read the body of characters (especially in media fandoms). We also talked about in this post I quoted Cathy Yue Wang on how Real People in RPF can appear as Derivations of the characters they resonate with. Taking these points farther, maybe it can be said that the viewer reads the characters into these bodies that appear on the screen. Martin discusses a fanvid where this happens on a dietetic level: the plot itself turns the bodies of the actors (shots from documentaries or behind-the-scenes footages) into the reincarnated or immortal version of the characters they play.

The final sequence of the vid, in which a shot of Arthur and Merlin looking out over Camelot fades to a shot of Bradley and Colin standing and looking out over Caerleon (from The Real Arthur and Merlin) sums up the layering of “Arthur and Merlin” and “Bradley and Colin”: a shot of two actors, standing where the “real” Arthur and Merlin reunited. Again, the inter-textual (sic!) relationship between various texts and sets of texts is a site of play for fans in exploiting their meaning-making potential. The effect is also one of mythologising James and Morgan: in saturating images of the actors with images of their mythic characters and their narratives; they become the bodies of stars as they are mythologised. This vid and ones like it demonstrate again that it is not alone the industry producers who undertake the project of mythologising. Fans engage in the same thing, though they may not call it that. RP fans are preoccupied with the resonances that produce the star.


Based on this, it appears that the visual elements not only inspire fanworks (fanvids or fan art) but might even motivate the mythologisation of real people. What are your experiences?

New Transformative Works and Culture issue is out!

The new issue of the OTW’s fandom studies journal is out!

Look into it and read one of the many interesting texts. I started out with this paper on Censorship and Chinese slash fans. It presents an image of Chinese slash fandom after the Archive become inaccessible from China.

With AO3 blocked, mainland China’s slashers must choose to preserve Chinese customs on foreign platforms, to write in a foreign language, or to stay on domestic platforms but self-censor. 

Pang, Yudan. 2021. “Censorship and Chinese Slash Fans.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

Share us what caught your attention in response!

Repetition and variation

I certainly do talk a lot about fanwork’s transformative quality, that’s why I found the below reminder welcome:

(…) in a transmedial perspective, fan fiction can be seen as one more instantiation contributing to building up a collectively imagined fictional world, and not as something in conflict.

Tosca, Susana 2021. Appropriating the Shinsegumi: Hakuoki Fan Fiction as Trnasmedial/Transcultural Exploration In: F. Gilardi F. (ed.), Lam C. (ed.) Transmedia in Asia and the Pacific, Palgrave Series in Asia and Pacific Studies

It is important to see how fanworks are a variation of the original work, but one should not abandon examining what it repeats, what it uses of the original work.

The pornography that censorship produces

These cases (of arresting authors for their writing) produced heated discussion both within the yaoi community and in the mainstream media campaogn to purge online pornography. They are concrete examples of the Foucaldian claim that censorship produces, rather than prohibits, media content.

Meijiadai Bai (2021): Regulation of pornography and criminalization
of BL readers and authors in contemporary China (2010–2019), Cultural Studies, DOI:

Real People as Derivations of the played characters

Earlier, I quoted Jonathan Gray and Anna Martin on how the basis of The Lord of the Rings Real Person Fandom is their connection to The Lord of the Rings fandom.

In the bonus material, (Gray) points out, the actors as presented as similar to their roles in the film (…). The behind-the-scenes narrative existed parallel to the fictional narrative of the trilogy, and, as Gray argues, it mirrored the narrative of the trilogy, both enriching and being enriched by it. (…) Certain parallels are used to pin these versions together at crucial points, as I will discuss later in this chapter. Many points in the behind-the-scenes documentaries are used to pin the film version to the books. The books, the films and the paratexts link together in various ways to form a complex intertext, an interrelated group of texts that enrich and layer each other in meaning.


Now, Cathy Yue Wang talks about a broader tradition of creating a transmedia story around certain characters or certain ships.

A more intriguing and creative subgroup has appeared, called “Lou/Cheng Derivation” (楼诚衍生). This refers to fan works which use characters from other media productions, who are played by the same actors who take the roles of Ming Lou (actor Jin Dong) and Ming Cheng (actor Wang Kai). (…) From the West, “Halric” presents a similar case, as part of the fandom of Thor/Loki and Chris Hemsworth/Tom Hiddleston – Hemsworth played Eric in the 2012 film Snow White and the Hunstman and Hiddleston played Prince Hal in The Hollow Crown TV series (2012). The creation and reception of this type of derivative coupling rely on sophisticated identification and recognition from both fan authors and fan readers. On one level, fans need to meld the performed character with the performing actor and this implicitly incline toward the controversial Real Person Slash. On a second level, it is also necessary for fans to project the image of the actor into the newly created fictional role, from a different media text. During this process, the boundaries between performer and performed, between actors and characters are radically blurrred. (…) The motivation behind the crossover coupling is the shared belief that the love and affection between two male characters , in this case, Ming Lou and Ming Cheng, is transmittable across several disparate media texts. In this sense, we can view this creativity from slash fans as a grassroots endevaor to produce a special kind of transmedia storytelling which is solely motivated by love – both the love between two characters, and the love received by these characters from the fan audience.

Wang C.Y., Hu T. 2021. Transmedia Storytelling in Mainland China: Interaction Between TV Drama and Fan Narratives in The Disguiser. In: Gilardi F., Lam C. (ed.) Transmedia in Asia and the Pacific. Palgrave Series in Asia and Pacific Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. 120-121.

In this way, there is definitely a subgroup of RPF that treats the Real People, the actors behind the characters as another derivation of the characters themselves. The transcendence of these stories, indeed proves love is universal – at least for a fan’s OTPs. But it is not that love is truly universal but that by layering these stories on each other, they create an experience of greater authenticity for the readers and creators.

It seems to me impossible to separate the emphasis throughout the DVD Appendices (of The Lord of The Rings) and behind-the-scenes documentaries on truth and authenticity from the focus in fandom on truth.


Real Person Space

It might be interesting to consider the space in which RPS usually takes place: any real person can be the object of RPF in theory, yet, it is usually the same space from where our favourite fictional worlds are produced.

This chapter argues that the actor-character resonance at the heart of this process of mythologisation of both the actor and the industry is the space from which RPF is produced.


If the space where work does not mean producing something for the money but creating is such a defining element then RPS about actors and other type of artists might have more in common with actor AUS than with RPS where the people are not famous for some kind of creative work.

What do you think? Where would you place sport RPS, is it also another kind of pastoral fantasy?

RPF as reading the body (of text)

The process of slashing a text is described by Jenkins as reading the body for clues of a relationship.

Here and in other such moments, characters retrace the steps of the fan viewers who have searched the performers’ bodies for suggestions of these same unexpressed feelings.


We see that in stories, this practice of reading the text and even reading the body for these clues can be mirrored in the narrative where the characters recognise the same feelings the viewer does. Martin observes the same mirroring in how RPF fans read the stars’ body and their texts. They say about a fanfiction that deals with an editor discovering that Viggo Mortensen’s poem are about Orlando Bloom and Orlando Bloom after reading the collection, confronting Viggo Mortensen:

This story is particularly interesting because the narrative reflets the experience of the fan reading the poems (of Viggo Mortensen). David, the editor, can see which poems are about Orlando without having to ask. Upon reading the poems, the meaning is clear to Orlando himself.


Fans adapt a practice of reading for clues, hidden narratives and that can lead RPF, too. Have you observed the same similarity, too?

New survey alert!

This is the summer of surveys! This one is from Emily Faulkner, an MSc student at Robert Gordon University. Emily is studying information-seeking behaviours of fanfiction communities and their applicability to libraries for their grad dissertation! The survey is open to adults who read and/or write fanfiction content (fan comics and podfics included) and details are below.


How long: About 30 mins depending on your fanfic sites 

Closes: August 2nd, 2021 noon EST

Go forth!

Call for Survey Participants (REVISED)

Hi folks!

A couple of weeks ago, we had a call for participants from a researcher conducting a study out of Bellevue College, and we just got word that the survey deadline has been extended, so we’re passing that along! As a refresh: the study is about sociolinguistics in online fandom, and really digs into how individuals personally define various fannish terms. There’s a particular focus on shipping and antis, and a portion of the survey is optional and uses trigger warnings for potentially upsetting content around antis and anti discourse.

The number of survey questions vary depending on your answers. People have finished in around 20-30mins, and some have really dug into the optional, long-form questions and have taken an hour! We figure around 30-45mins is a good estimate for length.

The survey was set to close on Jun 25th, but has been extended to September 16th. Go go go!

Survey link:
Project FAQ: