Meet the Volunteer: Shyamala

Hello, hello! I (she/her/hers) am Shyamala—feel free to rhyme that with Pamela—and I am the latest Fanhackers recruit. Armed with a B.A. from the Global South, an M.A. in English Lit and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, I’ve been writing fanfic since I was about eight. Some of my earliest fandoms were Beyblade, Power Rangers and Cardcaptor Sakura, from where I transitioned into the Hindi soap-opera fandoms that I concurrently played in with western media fandoms as a teenager. My current playfields are Supernatural, Sense8, 9-1-1, 9-1-1: Lone Star, and c-drama fandoms like Mo Dao Zu Shi, Tian Guan Ci Fu, The King’s Avatar, etc. 

While I enjoy writing fic, most of my fandom consumption tends to stem around podfic, which is one of my main academic interests in fan studies. I am a very auditory learner, and I’ve found that text-to-speech can shorten academic texts in a way nothing else can, while readers of podfic can spin familiar fics in unfamiliar ways by giving it their own voices. My own work, both academic and creative, has often centered around ideas of voice and space, stemming from my identity as a fangirl of both English and non-English-language fandoms growing up in the Global South. I am interested in the ways race can interact with the (dis)embodied performance in a podfic and what that means for larger questions of accessibility, both technological and otherwise. 

For my M.F.A. thesis, I wrote a YA fantasy novel exploring pleasure and play in everyday life in a tropical city, not taking on any Big, Systemic Thing, but focusing on the play and pleasure of everyday life in a queer tropical city populated as much by gods and deities as it is by ordinary folk doing extraordinary things. In contrast, fanfic is where I enjoy exploring traumas—tackling the Big Things that need 100k+ words to be Solved with a happily ever after. Worldbuilding is one of my absolute favorite things to do, as evidenced by the fact that a majority of my fics are fantasy AUs.

As a magpie nerd who likes learning shiny new things, I’m happy to chat! You can find me lurking on twitter. Live long and prosper!

The fiction of stars and fans as real people

(The question at the centre of RPF is) “what if?” This question is the question asked by each one of these Hiddleston fans arguing that he should be left some space. What if a man performed six nights a week in a highly emotional play and was then confronted, night after night, by fans outside the stage door, each one of them looking for a piece of him? What might he want, this man? And the answer is fanfiction.


The porn in slash and slash in porn

I have brought you a paper before that talked about how derivative practices appear in the work of porn studios. We can also observe porn fragments used in fanworks.

By their very nature, slash manips also make clear the oft-overlooked connections between slash and gay pornography, and in turn te contributions of gay male participants, who are well represented by the form.

Brennan, J. (2013). Slash Manips: Remixing Popular Media with Gay Pornography. M/C Journal16(4).

Are you familiar with slash manips? Have you seen gay porn used up in the making of fanworks?

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?