Political real person fiction (RPF) builds on the public identities of politicians, using their media appearances, social media activity, and campaign platforms to provide the source texts, or “canon,” of the fiction. Similarly to writers of fan fiction who depict fictional characters, writers of political RPF fill in the typically one-dimensional personas of political figures and, as a community, attribute favored characteristics to different candidates. These characteristics, based not in fact but in community belief, are considered “fanon” versions of real people (although some argue these “real” people are merely personalities cultivated for media consumption) (Hagen 2015; McGee 2005).
An examination of Bernie Sanders–tagged fanfiction on Archive of Our Own (AO3) reveals a combination of canon elements, such as physical appearance, and fanon constructions, such as romantic entanglements and a rebellious persona. These fan writings provide insight into fans’ perceptions of the senator, including those aspects that have most captured fans’ imagination and support. Canon elements serve to create a connection between the altered reality of the fan fiction and Sanders as a candidate, while fanon elements enable fans to accentuate (or fabricate) certain aspects of Sanders’s personality or lived experience to create a more satisfying version of the candidate’s life.
While candidate image building and branding have been managed by paid campaign staffers in the past, in the current post-broadcast era, political fans have begun participating in the branding of candidates alongside more traditionally cultivated official campaign narratives. Investigating fan fiction featuring Bernie Sanders can therefore provide insight into the evolving practices of candidate image management.
Winter, Rachel. 2020. “Fanon Bernie Sanders: Political Real Person Fan Fiction and the Construction of a Candidate.” In “Fandom and Politics,” edited by Ashley Hinck and Amber Davisson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 32. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.1679.