RPF, once more

Over the last week, we received many responses to the question how RPF can operate without a canon text, the majority of them among the lines of much the same way non-RPF fandoms do: by constantly negotiating fanon interpretations. It looks like then that the question of what constitutes as canon is problematised for any kind of fanon.

(I’m also very glad that my throw out about canon already being problematised when we leave the media fandoms definitions was caught in this post.)

Henry Jenkins’ concept of Convergence Culture provides a useful way of thinking about how RPF communities work together to create their own meanings from transmedia texts, or intertexts, such as The Lord of the Ring and its paratexts distributed across many delivery platforms.


We can see fans refer to a continuously changing meta-text, both in and outside of RPF. (Something that we might call fanon.)

The „ideal” version of Star Trek, the meta-text against which a film or episode is evaluated, was constructed by the fan community through its progressively more detailed analysis of the previously aired episodes.

Jenkins, Henry (1992). Textual poacher, Routledge, 101.

I’ve found interesting the mention of fandoms with several adaptations here. It was surprising to me, but Martin also talks about this interconnectedness.

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.

GRAY, JONATHAN (2006). Bonus Material: The DVD Layering of The Lord of the Rings=Ernest, Mathjis (ed.) The Lord of the Rings: Popular Culture in Global Context, Wallflower, 238.-253.

Thank you for all the responses so far! To continue the conversation, I’d like to ask your experiences: have you ever seen something that felt like queerbaiting but with real persons? If you can think of an example, what did you think of it?

Why is RPF different?

When writing about RPF, there is one crucial question that makes it different from other parts of fandom (generally accepted as media fandoms).

How does it work without a clearly-defined central
canon text to play with?

MARTIN, Anna (2014). Writing the star. Stardom, fandom and real person fanfiction,

Now for those who expected the difference to be between fiction and reality, I invite you to message me and continue an everending discussion on whether that difference exist as something we can interact with. But when it comes to the way fans approach the source material, reality doesn’t figure into it. Whether there is a living, breathing body connected to our favourite ships, is also of no concern as even Henry Jenkins already talked about how fans read these bodies on the screen. What does is whether there is a central, agreed upon canon text or the fandom lacks it.

So the question is: how, indeed? What is your experience, how do transformative works operate without canon texts?

A comparison of trends in the same fandom, but on different platforms

Separate fandoms and even separate platforms will have their own trends when it comes to the type of content they create. The above quote compares fanfiction from the same fandom but on different platforms.

A survey of the ‘Sherlock/John’ tag on the MTSlash archive revealed that a majority of the written works were rated ‘G’ or ‘PG’ as opposed to the predominance of ‘M’ and ‘R’ rated works on global archives such as fanfiction.net an AO3.

Nivanka Fernando: Media imperialism, fan resistance and state censorship: BBC Sherlock Slash fandom in China https://www.academia.edu/16121021/Media_imperialism_fan_resistance_and_state_censorship_BBC_Sherlock_Slash_fandom_in_China

This observation shows again that when talking about trends in different fandoms, it’s worth to take a look at the different platforms they appear at and if they appear differently there.

Do you have similar observations about different kinds of platforms you are familiar with?

Fanfiction’s doppelgänger (from the market universe)

Porn parodies occupy an interesting space in the United States regarding copyright. While fandom is overtly familiar with the careful way fanfilms are made, porn parodies face a different treatment.

However, Brain’s films – including a Star Wars parody that generated not a word of complaint from Lucasfilm (Stuart 2013) – demonstrate that ’celebrating the story the way it is’ and skirting intellectual property laws by selling the work for profit is possible under the protective umbrella of parody.

Dru Jeffries (2016): This looks like  a blowjob for Superman: servicing fanboys with superhero porn parodies, Porn Studies, DOI: 10.1080/23268743.2016.1196118 p3
Stuart, Tessa (2013): ’When Fanfic Becomes Porn.’ Buzzfeed, June 7. https://www.buzzfeed.com/tessastuart/when-fanfic-becomes-porn

The line here that this law draws between parody and a non-parody work is even more interesting when comparing two movies that both contain explicit sex scenes.

Ultimately, the only salient differences between Fifty Shades of Grey: A XXX Adaptation and Braun’s parodies lie in their self-categorization – adaptation vs. parody – and the status of sex in the original narrative: since Fifty Shades already has explicit sex in the original novel, hardcore representations thereof in the pornographic version do not represent a parodic addition.

Dru Jeffries (2016): This looks like  a blowjob for Superman: servicing fanboys with superhero porn parodies, Porn Studies, DOI: 10.1080/23268743.2016.1196118 p7

While pornographic fanfilms are not known yet, fanworks representing explicit sex are common. Prose, visual art, and of course so-called podfics (audonarratives). The latter feels especially relevant to the comparison. As Olivia Riley Johnston points out,

the body does not disappear in digital fan works but instead remains salient, especially in podfic. In podfic, the voice pointedly reminds listeners of the bodies and identities behind the creation of fan works posted online.

Riley, Olivia Johnston. 2020. “Podfic: Queer Structures of Sound.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.1933.

There is a clear difference, though, in the production of these movies and fanworks as podfics operate within the framework of gift economy, while parody creators such as Braun have a different relationship with copyright,they still have to produce for the market economy. These different economic circumstances shape the entire process of creation of these artworks as there isn’t an employer-employee relationship between any of these creators. Their relationship might be more adequately described as gift giver and gift recipient because the fanfictions are gifts from the author to the community, including the podficcer, and the podfic recording is a gift from the podficcer to the community, including the author.

Reciprocation of these gifts may take a number of forms, both tangible (other art objects, feedback for the creator) and intangible (attention, recognition, status).

Turk, Tisha. 2014. “Fan Work: Labor, Worth, and Participation in Fandom’s Gift Economy.” In “Fandom and/as Labor,” edited by Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0518.

What do you think these copyright laws say about how a certain country sees parody, adaptation and fanfiction?

Call for participants for a research survey

Fanhackers has received a request from a Ph.D. student in Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies – Popular Culture Studies, at The University of Zurich. Fabienne Saurer is seeking help to find fan participants for a survey. Her research is on reading, fan culture and online communities. The survey is planned to run over the next few weeks, and will help Fabienne gather information to design questions for interviews later in her research. You can access the survey on this link, it consists of ten questions and takes an average of twenty minutes to fill out. We expect that many of our readers would be interested in both the results and in participating. As it’s a rather limited sample, Fabienne would appreciate the help in sharing the survey around.

The survey has been checked and approved by her Faculty’s Ethics Commission. This survey on reading engagement includes a consent form and information about participant privacy and data usage.

More information can be found by clicking on the above survey link. You can also reach out to Fabienne at fabienne.saurer [at] uzh.ch or her research supervisor, Dr. Ingrid Tomkowiak, at ingrid.tomkowiak [at] uzh.ch

Instagram novels

In honour of the recent launch of our Instagram page, I’m sharing a piece from a Hungarian paper that compares YA-novels and fanfiction posted on Instagram and Wattpad. 

Recently, the trend of writing serial stories and fictional diaries has been spreading among young, Hungarian, Instagram-users. (…) The episodes of these serial stories are posted by the authors under their shared pictures, which are often stockphotos.

Glózer, Rita & Torbó, Annamária & Geisz, Barbara. 2019. „Young adult” – Fannish Content and Amateur Literature on Social Media. Literatura 45 (1). p65. http://real.mtak.hu/102359/

The paper explores questions of cultural capital and “legitimacy” through the intersection of genre (YA, fanfiction) and platform (Wattpad, Instagram, physical book). It concludes that Instagram holds less cultural capital than published novels due to its’ connection to the YA-novel genre, as well as the presence of fanfiction on its’ platform.

What do you think? Do you read Instagram novels? Were you able to observe these connections too in genre, in style or in an entirely different manner?

The language of danmei forums

Like users of other Chinese websites, Jinjiang readers and authors share among themselves an unique „Web language” (Zhou 2000). They often use initials of pinyin spellings, Arabic numbers, emoticons, words from other languagesl or Chinese characters of similar pronouncitation to replace the actual characters. The circulation of this sort of written patois unintelligible to the unitiated demarcates the boundary between insiders and outsiders. This is especially useful for danmei fans, among whom certain „jargon” phrases, many of them lifted from their original Japanese, are widely circulated not just to produce a sense of community but also to protect them from unwanted attention and censure from society. However, danmei fans also take time to educate novices and alert each other to new works worth pursuing. The content of their communication induces feelings of recognition and identification more effectively still.

Jin Feng 2009. „Addicted to beauty”: Consuming and producing Web-based Chinese „Danmei” Fiction at Jinjiang. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 21 (2), 10.

Information science in a feminist universe

(At) the fan fiction archive, the Archive of Our Own (AO3), writers are required either to warn for rape or nonconsensual or explicitly choose not to warn for those things, and through the wonder of the AO3’s curated folksonomy a reader can make fine distinctions between nonconsensual sex, dubious consent, rape fantasy, under-negotiated kink, rape culture and more. This is what information science looks like in a feminist universe (…).

Coppa, Francesca 2014. “Fuck Yeah, Fandom Is Beautiful.” Journal of Fandom Studies 1(2), 73-82. doi:10.1386/jfs.2.1.73_1.

Fannish guanxi

Affective communication and guanxi, seems to lie at the heart of fan practices, as both politics and ethics.

Ling Yang&Hongwei Bao. 2012. ’Queerly intimate: Friends, fans and affective communication in a Super Girl fan fiction community’ Cultural Studies, 26 (6) 855. DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2012.679286

(The) gravity of guanxi seems to have shifted from kinship to friendship(…) Young people in urban China find their own ways of redefining and negotiating guanxi.

Ling Yang&Hongwei Bao. 2012. ’Queerly intimate: Friends, fans and affective communication in a Super Girl fan fiction community’ Cultural Studies, 26 (6) 859. DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2012.679286

The phrase guanxi describes an economy where

in which people interact reciprocally with each
other in both material and emotional ways (Yang, M.M.-h. 1994).

Ling Yang&Hongwei Bao. 2012. ’Queerly intimate: Friends, fans and affective communication in a Super Girl fan fiction community’ Cultural Studies, 26 (6) DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2012.679286
Yang, M.M.-h. 1994. ’Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China’ Ithaca: Cornwell University Press.

Other than stories, images and songs are also common gifts circulated in the community to stimulate and encourage new writers. One talented GL fan drew a beautiful picture to be used as ’book cover’ for the fanon Pink Affairs. The Singer-Woman dedicated songs she recorded to a number of stories (in the community). She also started a thread for readers to post memorable quotations from their favourite stories (in the forum) as a small token of gratitude to the writers. A GL fan from Shanghai wrote a Yang/Shang thriller about love and trust to comfort a local fan whose mother recently passed away.

Ling Yang&Hongwei Bao. 2012. ’Queerly intimate: Friends, fans and affective communication in a Super Girl fan fiction community’ Cultural Studies, 26 (6) 855. DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2012.679286

Do you have similar experiences of reciprocity in your own communities?

Incest tropes in danmei stories

Incest stories (including so-called selfcest) appear significantly in danmei circles. Recent research has highlighted some recurring motives in these stories.

In these fan-made webisodes, it is much more desirable for the new DFFB to experience love among the subcharacters (brothers and sisters), or to love herself, than love the so-called Zha Chong (the scumbag LHC).


Even though the next article’s main topic is original BL fiction but given that the collection they examine contains original as well as transformative BL fiction, this analysis can add to our understanding of incest tropes in fanfiction.

Our examination of Chinese father-son stories, however, suggest that incest plots in BL concern not only lighthearted sexual fantasy but also imaginary compensation for the lack of pure love in parent-children relationships, as well as an implicit social critique of the authoritarian parenting/governing style.

Ling, Yang; Yanrui, Xu. 2013. Forbidden love: incest, generational conflict, and the erotics of power in Chinese BL fiction. Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 4 (1): 33.

This early analysis seems to suggest that the erotic love, in this case, has the power to transgress the strict familiar roles an create a novel intimacy between the characters. (That the eroticism of love is allegorical or not is up to interpretation.)

Do danmei incest stories you have encountered seem to support this hypothesis? What’d your experience?