Real person fiction
||This article possibly contains original research. (September 2007)|
Real person fiction (RPF) is a type of fan fiction featuring celebrities or other real people. In the past, terms such as actorfic were used to distinguish such stories from those based on fictional characters from movies or television series.
Before the term "real person fiction" (or "real people fiction") came into common usage, fans came up with a variety of terms, which are still used for specific genres or cultural practices in the RPF community; for example, musicfic, popslash, or actorfic. The genre includes stories about actors, athletes, comedians, historical figures, musicians, newsworthy people, and reality show contestants among others, as well as fiction about the fans themselves.
In general, the authors seem to adopt the public personas of the celebrities in question as their own characters, building a fictional universe based on the supposed real-life histories of their idols. Information from interviews, documentaries, music videos, and other publicity sources are assimilated into the "wank corpus" on which the stories are based. It is also very popular to write fiction about celebrity couples. Communities of writers build collective archetypes based on the celebrities' public personas. Communities also develop their own ethics on what sort of stories are acceptable – some are uncomfortable with slash fiction, or with mention of the celebrity's real-life families, or with stories involving suicide, murder, or rape. Like most fan fiction, the RPF genre includes stories of every kind, from innocuous to sadistic to pornographic. Like many fan fiction writers whose subject matter is commercially-prepared entertainment, particularly before the advent of the Internet, a number of RPF authors report that they began writing on their own, without any awareness of a larger fan fiction community, and were surprised to learn that they were not alone. Many report having been completely unaware of media fandom's taboo towards RPF; that is, many fans believe it is acceptable to write about the characters, but not about the actors who portray them.
Depictions of actors in RPF stories are often heavily influenced by characters the actors portray. This is particularly noticeable in The Lord of the Rings RPF, where Viggo Mortensen is frequently shown as taking an Aragorn-like leadership role, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan as lighthearted Hobbit-like pranksters, and Elijah Wood as more physically fragile and emotionally vulnerable than his colleagues.
Between one fifth and one third of these stories may take the form of a "Mary Sue" story. A Mary Sue is a character, usually but not always female, who is described in extremely idealistic terms and is supposedly always a wish-fantasy image of the author. A Mary Sue may become romantically involved with a band member or actor, join the cast, prove to have superior acting or singing ability, and incredible beauty. A number of RPF fans find these Mary Sues (or Gary Stus) distasteful and sometimes bash them. A small number of RPF writers are apparently under the belief that a celebrity is involved in a real relationship with another celebrity, and go as far as to spend large amounts of time searching for proof of this relationship. By writing RPF stories, these people believe they can "prove" that a particular pair of celebrities are in a relationship. Politician fic is sometimes used as a form of satire, or to highlight the underlying biases or attitudes of the politician being portrayed, although more recently there has been an increase in more 'ordinary' fanfiction about British politicians in particular, with a notable emphasis on slash.
The earliest known RPF was written by the Brontë children from 1826 to approximately 1844. Based on the children's roleplaying game about the Napoleonic Wars, the series featured the Duke of Wellington and his two (actual) sons Charles and Arthur, and their nemesis Alexander Percy, partly based on Napoleon. Over the years, Arthur evolved into an amazingly charismatic and powerful figure, the Duke of Zamorna. Percy became a tragic villain, partly inspired by John Milton's version of Satan from Paradise Lost. These stories were not published until well over a hundred years later, but the children used them to polish their writing skills and eventually all became professional authors.
In the early 1920s, Seigneur Books published the series “Fatty Arbuckle and the Time Pirates.” Inspired by the actor’s career-ending scandal, the novellas depicted a time-traveling Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle forcibly raping famous historical figures.
During the 1940s, the Whitman Publishing Company released authorized editions of real-person fiction, possibly as a boost to the careers of the Hollywood stars of that era. Described as "The Newest, Up-To-The-Minute Mystery and Adventure Stories for Boys and Girls, featuring your favorite characters," a variety of famous actors and actresses were spotlighted, including Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, John Payne, Ann Sheridan, Jane Withers, Bonita Granville, Gene Autry, Deanna Durbin and Ann Rutherford. The hardcover publications had colorful dustjackets with a photo of the celebrity on the front, and several illustrations of the actor or actress inside the volume. Liberties were taken with the identities of the celebrities; for example, in the story "Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak," the "Ginger Rogers" character is not an actress at all, but is instead a humble telephone operator who becomes involved in a mystery.
The original edition of the "Three Investigators" children's crime series was billed as "Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators", with Hitchcock as mentor to the eponymous heroes. Elliot Roosevelt wrote a series of detective novels casting his real-life mother Eleanor Roosevelt in the role of a crimesolving sleuth, with titles like Murder and the First Lady, Murder in the Oval Office, and Murder in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Modern fan stories go back to Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Elvis Presley. Jean Lorrah's Visit to a Weird Planet, published in Spockanalia 3 (1968), was a lighthearted two-parter about what would happen if a transporter malfunction caused the Star Trek characters to be swapped with the 20th-century actors who played them. Regina Marvinny, editor of Tricorder Readings, encouraged fans in the early 1970s to write "what-if" stories about meeting Leonard Nimoy. However, some of the earliest known published cases of RPF come from 1977, when fanzines of the band Led Zeppelin began to print some of the fan fiction being written. Due to the fact that these stories involved real Zeppelin bandmembers, most notably Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, names were changed to pseudonyms such as "Tris" and "Alex".
A number of authors of modern bandfic – stories based on musical celebrities – began writing in the early 1980s, when MTV brought musicians into close focus for millions of adolescents. Others wrote humorous short stories about Paul Darrow from Blake's 7. Some of these stories may have circulated in fanzine form, but there was little community and many authors remained unaware of others doing similar work. It was not until the 1990s and the spread of the Internet that RPF began to increase in popularity.
The RPF community was, for a period of time, centered around the FanFiction.Net website. When the RPF section was removed from Fanfiction.net, the community dispersed to smaller web archives and LiveJournal communities. RPF is generally totally absent from Usenet, especially in older and more established newsgroups. However, Quizilla is a popular choice these days for younger people wanting to read or write RPF.
Another popular website for RPF chosen by youth fanfic writers is Winglin.net or asianfanfics.com, which is more commonly centered around Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese or Chinese musicians and actors, like TVXQ, Super Junior, Big Bang, SHINee, Mike He, S.H.E and others.
Morality and legality
The morality of Real Person Fiction is debated. Most RPF authors state that they have no intent to claim these fictional portrayals reflect the real activities of the "source figure" in any way.
Some authors of traditional fan fiction view real person fiction with suspicion, disdain, or outright disgust. Some feel that fanfic based on fictional characters is on shaky enough legal ground, barely tolerated by "the powers that be" (authors, producers, copyright owners) and that RPF, especially real person slash, may turn corporate and public opinion against fan fiction as a whole.
To date, unlike traditional fan fiction, only one cease and desist letter is known to have been issued against RPF: FanDomination.Net received this letter on March 17, 2003 from a representative of one of the members of the New York Yankees baseball team. The substance of the complaint against the site was related to a story entitled "If There's Gray Hair On The Field, Play With Balls." The complaint alleged that the story's depiction of a present-day homosexual encounter between former Yankees players Virgil Trucks, Rugger Ardizoia, and Eddie Bockman, all of whom are currently in their nineties, was harmful to the Yankees brand and to the reputations of the players depicted.
Real person slash
Real Person Slash (RPS), also known in some circles as real-life slash (RLS), involves homosexual relationships. (See slash fiction for more on the subtleties and variations in definition.) These are usually complete fabrications, not based on any real-life indications of the subject's sexual orientation, but on the fantasies of the author and the desire to experiment with perceived or invented homoerotic subtext between the idols in question. Slash is roughly equal in popularity to less controversial types of real person fiction.
The content of the stories can range from the mildly romantic, involving deep friendships and innocent boyhood or girlhood crushes, to carefully written homosexual love stories, all the way to profoundly explicit erotica.
With the advent of boy bands, fans wrote an explosion of fictional stories about male members being involved in romantic relations with one another. In the 1990s, early online RPS communities were devoted to depictions of boy bands. Most of it was slash. Older RPF communities also began to see a rise in slash content, in contrast to earlier stories, which had generally featured original (non-"canon") female characters as partners for band members.
As slash became more acceptable, the amount of explicit sexual content in the stories also began to rise. Erotic fan stories have certainly been around for as long as other types of fanfic, but they were often a closed-door affair, circulated only in private among friends, and it is unclear whether homosexual content was a common theme. With the advent of the Internet (allowing easy distribution of stories and relative anonymity for authors), stories with explicit content suddenly became much more widespread.
Due to the potentially libelous nature of some stories, and the knowledge or fear that some celebrities dislike slash fiction involving themselves, some fan fiction communities denounce RPS fiction and do not allow it on their websites.
Reaction to real person fic
For the most part, celebrities have expressed indifference to or ignorance of Real Person Fic. This public show of indifference is difficult to maintain when fans attempt to show their stories to the people featured in them. Elijah Wood has publicly given a nod to the creativity of slash groups on the Graham Norton show during an interview post LOTR, this was a comment based on Manipulated photos that went with Slash and RPS stories on specific website. Elijah has also mentioned the web site numerous times stating that it is one of the most creative endeavors he's seen.
In 2008, a man was arrested in the UK for writing and publishing on the internet a story featuring various members of the band Girls Aloud under the Obscene Publications Act. The story described the kidnap, rape and murder of the girls. He was subsequently tried (the R v Walker trial) and found not guilty, and claimed that he had never intended to frighten or intimidate the band members.
The television show Supernatural shows a fictional reaction to "real person" stories in the season 4 episode "The Monster at the End of This Book" and the season 5 episode "The Real Ghostbusters". In this case, the "real people" are the characters in the show, who find out that stories have been written about them. The characters react with anger and disbelief to both the "novels" being written about them and the fanfiction born of those novels. However, in the world of the show, the fanfiction writers believe they are writing strictly about fictional characters.
The following is a timeline of events in the Real Person Fan fiction community:
- 1976 - the Star Trek fanfic anthology New Voyages (Bantam) prints "Visit to a Weird Planet, Revisited" a sequel to the 1968 story "Visit to a Weird Planet," which had appeared in the fanzine Spockanalia 3. In the original, Star Trek characters Kirk, Spock and McCoy are involved in a transporter accident and are transported to a Burbank soundstage. In the sequel, we learn the fates of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, who were transported to the Starship Enterprise. The New Voyages is particularly noteworthy because up until that time, Star Trek fanfiction was published only in small fanzines like Spockanlia, and known only to hardcore Trek fans. The New Voyages was a mass market paperback, available to all readers, and since its stories were introduced by Star Trek actors, it merged Star Trek fans into mainstream science fiction readers and vice versa.
- From 1977 to 1983, Led Zeppelin slash fan fiction begins to circulate in fanzines. The early zines used the names Tris and Alex, or Allyn Sterling/Derek Quinn instead of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.
- Early 1980s - Star Wars stories are published in which Harrison Ford meets Han Solo.
- 1980s - numerous Duran Duran and other bandfic authors began to write in isolation, spurred by MTV
- 1984 - Elliot Roosevelt published the first of his detective novels starring his mother Eleanor.
- 1991 - Duran Duran slash and het fic begins to be circulated in fanzines including UMF (issues of which are archived at The Lovely Blue Planet of There). According to Sidewinder, Duran Duran zine people said that Duran Duran were aware of the fan fiction. Sidewinder also notes that the RPF people at the time did not seem to come from the same community as "traditional fan fiction fans" were coming from.
- March 1993 - The Nifty Archive came on-line, a repository of boy band and celebrity erotica.
- October 15, 1998 - FanFiction.Net enacts a policy specifically forbidding ActorSlash.
- October 1999 - A popular Backstreet Boys fan fiction site, My Confession, comes online http://my-confession.net
- On December 28, LOTR_RPS appears, the first The Lord of the Rings real person fiction community.
- September 12 - FanFiction.Net removes all Real Person Fic from the site and bans all Real Person Fic that does not tie into other media directly.
- April 26 - The website rockfic.com appears. This is a repository and community for RPF involving rock stars. Its inaugural story is a slash pairing between Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett entitled "Eazy Rider."
- Shatnoy RPF on LiveJournal.com was created as a community for slash RPF mainly between Star Trek actors Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner and occasionally DeForest Kelley, Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine.
- November 14 - The Organization for Transformative Works opened Archive of Our Own to public open beta. Categories for real person fiction are dedicated to bring RPF back to a major all-inclusive archive
- Metal Fic (metalfic.foroactivo.net) was opened as a free community of writers and readers who enjoys fanfic-stories about musicians and composers inside the Heavy Metal music. Includes femmeslash (most of them, protagonized by Gothic Metal vocalists), slash and a special section dedicated to all the stories where there are multiple pairings and a deeper plots beyond love and sex.
- Fanlore: RPF. Accessed 2013-01-03
- Based on a survey from FanDomination.net
- Ratchford, Fannie, The Brontës' Web of Childhood. Columbia Press, 1941.
- Lorrah, Jean, Visit to a Weird Planet Originally appeared in Spockanalia 3, Fall 1968. Retrieved on 2007-01-20.
- Berman, Jean. "Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited," Star Trek, the New Voyages (edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath), Bantam: 1976.