Fandom vs. romance, redux edition.

/Fandom vs. romance, redux edition.

Hey, so you remember the post from the other day, “Fandom, we need to talk about romance”. Well:

The section in question now reads:

We’ve already answered this, right? No, all fanfic is not porn. And all fanfic porn is not bad porn. You’re actually way more likely to find well-written erotica from fanfiction writers on AO3 than from many writers of published erotica. There’s also the fact that when it comes to sexually explicit material, the fanfic community has a pretty unusual attitude compared to mainstream porn, erotica, and many other forms of popular entertainment.

Typically, the most popular and highly-recommended fanfics are long (about 20,000 words and up), well-written, and feature a mixture of plot, character study, and romance. In popular fandoms like Sherlock, Teen Wolf, and Avengers, the most popular longfics focus on a central relationship like Sterek or Johnlock, but also have an action/adventure or mystery plot, and adult-rated sex scenes.

This type of cross-genre mixing is pretty rare within Hollywood narratives, particularly if you’re looking for a sci-fi or action movie that also focuses on sophisticated adult relationships. This limitation is one of the reasons fanfic is so popular in the first place. Even in novels that include sex scenes, unless the book is categorized as New Adult, romance, or erotica, you’re unlikely to get an equal balance of gripping plot and heady sex.  Sure, you do see cross-genre mixing in mainstream fiction to a certain extent, particularly in Urban Fantasy novels and high-concept romance lit like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. But it never happens in the kind of popular entertainment most fanfic fandoms are inspired by: Sherlock, Supernatural, Harry Potter, and so on.

Outside of romance and speculative fiction, fanfiction has been the driving force that unites “mainstream” narratives with underground tropes like sex, kink, and other forms of erotica. There’s a huge gap between adult-rated shows like Game of Thrones, and actual pornography. In the world of fanfiction, this division is almost nonexistent. Fanfic sites like AdultFanFiction.net and AO3 are among the only places where you can find this kind of fiction in bulk, and have it be written about characters that you already know you’ll love.

In the real world, we’re used to seeing a pretty clear division between what is and isn’t porn—or at least we were used to it prior to the rise in New Adult literature. New Adult often combines multiple genres with erotica and romance. And how did New Adult begin, again? With the success of Fifty Shades of Grey—a novel that started out as fanfiction.

This is much better, I think, and I agree with the notion of “Hollywood-ish”–which is pretty clearly coded for “male”–cultural products having a very, very different take on sex and sexuality to primarily book-based and female-coded genres like urban fantasy1 and New Adult.

I’d also agree, at least in part, with the notion that fanfic is a driver behind the increasing blend of erotica and, erm, plotica in the various subsets of romance, particularly as it relates to kink and queer identities. (Also see: the increase diversity in spec fic.) Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s the only driver… but I definitely think it’s a driver, if only because the demographics for the genres overlap so much, both on the reader and the writer side. This really needs someone a lot more academic than me to break it down with graphs and history and whatever–and also tease out some of the differences between erotica, kink, queerness and other diversity/representation issues that I’m problematically conflating a bit here–but my point is I think the overlap is A Good Thing, and that both fanfic and romance-and-associated-female-dominated-commercial-genres can not only coexist, but that fanfic readers who find “mainstream”/male-coded texts regressive (or just not porny enough), yet still want to support a commercial product, should maybe consider browsing some different sections of the bookstore.2 (And then writing more fanfic about what they find. Remember kids–teen girls especially–you are the ones who make culture. Fangirl over it, and the money and the attention will come.)

So, yeah. That’s kind of a messy aside. Point being: kudos to Aja, Gavia, and The Daily Dot for the revisions.


  1. On a somewhat related note: has anyone else noticed that when men write urban fantasy it’s starting to be branded as “New Weird” instead? What’s up with that? (Actually, don’t bother answering that. I think we all know exactly what’s up with that…)
  2. Tangent: Sort of like how I didn’t really realise how hungry I was for a movie like Maleficent until I went to see Maleficent. Dear gods did watching that make me realise just how boring the recent crop of male-led action flicks I’ve seen have been. Also ref. something like The Bridge (US version), which starts out with such amazing promise–specifically, taking the standard “autistic genius detective” trope, making him a woman, and giving her a Latino partner–and ruins it all around episode 9 by turning the plot into a pissing competition between two men over a woman. Seriously. Must we?
2018-05-22T08:56:09+00:0020th June, 2014|Tags: aja romano, books, culture, fandom, fanfic, pop culture, xp|

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