Real person fiction
||This article may contain original research. (September 2007)|
Real person fiction (RPF) is a genre of writing similar to fan fiction, but 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 stories. 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. For example, in RPF based around The Lord of the Rings, Viggo Mortensen is frequently shown as taking an Aragorn-like leadership role, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan are lighthearted Hobbit-like pranksters, and Elijah Wood is more physically fragile and emotionally vulnerable than his colleagues.
A significant minority of such stories take the form of "Mary Sue fanfiction", which feature a "Mary Sue" character, usually but not always female, who is described in extremely idealistic terms and is described as a wish-fulfillment image of the author. A Mary Sue may become romantically involved with a band member or actor, join a film cast, prove to have superior acting or singing ability, and/or possess incredible beauty.
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.
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.
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 band members, most notably Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, names were changed to pseudonyms such as "Tris" and "Alex".
Starting in 1984, 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.
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. 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 on the FanFiction.Net website. When the RPF section was removed from Fanfiction.net in 2002, the community dispersed to smaller web archives and LiveJournal communities. RPF is generally totally absent from Usenet, especially in older and more established newsgroups. Until it shut down in 2014, Quizilla was a popular website for publishing RPF.
The website The Nifty Archive, which launched in 2003, was a notable repository of boy band and celebrity erotica. Other music-related RPF websites include rockfic.com (2004), for RPF involving rock stars (its inaugural story was a slash pairing between Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett), and Metal Fic (2009), specifically for heavy metal artists.
Another popular website for RPF chosen by youth fanfic writers is Winglin.net or asianfanfics.com, which is more commonly centered on 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 authors, producers, copyright owners of the original works 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 a letter on March 17, 2003 from a representative of the New York Yankees baseball team. The complaint alleged that the story "If There's Gray Hair On The Field, Play With Balls", which depicted a present-day homosexual encounter between former Yankees players Virgil Trucks, Rugger Ardizoia, and Eddie Bockman, all of whom were then in their eighties, 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 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 boy band-related RPF was slash fiction. 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 existed 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 RPF.
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.
- 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.