So, let’s talk about sex, shall we. No discussion of fan fiction is complete without it.
There is a lot of sex to be found in fan fiction, even amongst those with source material that’s neither overtly nor covertly sexualized. This fact in and of itself is not an ugly thing, or even a bad thing. Both romance and erotica are legitimate contemporary genres of original fiction that enjoy tremendous annual sales worldwide. As stated of fan fiction in the Time article, “It’s a monument to the diversity of human sexual whim. There are stories that take any and every character you can name and pair them up romantically, erotically or pornographically.”
It is that final adverb in the list with which I take issue.
In the book The Joy of Writing Sex, author Elizabeth Benedict presents the top ten principles for writing a good sex scene. Three noteworthy tips include the following:
5. Sex is nice, but character is destiny. I need to care about your characters enough to care about their sex lives.
9. A good sex scene is always about sex and something else. It needs to reveal something about [the characters], [or] act as a metaphor, a symbol, or an illustration of an aspect of your theme, your plot, and/or your characters’ desires and dilemmas. Sex in real life doesn’t have to be about anything but sex, but in fiction, it has to reveal something about who the characters are, what they want, what they might not get, what they think they can get away with, or what this collision of bodies has to do with everything that comes before and after in your story.
10. Who your characters are to each other is key. There is no more important element in crafting a sex scene than the relationship between sex partners. (pp. 41-50)
For me, where the ugly comes in in fan fiction is when the sex serves no discernible purpose in the story other than to have two traditionally unpaired characters get it on. In fanfic circles, this is referred to as PWP, which stands for either “Plot? What plot?” or, perhaps more accurately, “Porn without plot”.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for me to argue the merits of pornography in its current incarnation in society, be it visual or literary. I believe it has numerous negative social impacts on both men and women and both adults and youth, not the least of which is an erosion of the ability to recognize, form, and maintain relationships based on genuine sexuality and intimacy rather than the scripted, sensationalized, homogenized, oppressive product that pornography represents. It has steadily invaded every aspect of our culture (e.g. media, fashion, advertising, language), to the point that we are now all influenced by porn culture and suffer its ill-effects regardless of whether the actively consume commercial pornography or not. I do not believe this to be a good thing.
So, for me, even if a sex scene it is the most well-executed, literary, and stimulating one I’ve ever read, if it doesn’t fulfil the above three criteria, it’s both bad for society and in general just bad writing.
Of course, we’ve already established that fan fiction is notorious for being badly-written.
As mentioned in the Time article, fan fiction can lead readers down some dark paths in terms of subject matter wherein every reader must decide for him-/herself how far s/he wishes to go. Certainly, these topics are nothing that hasn’t been tackled in original fiction, if not to the same proportions as in fanfic:
- Male pregnancy was the theme of the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Junior;
- I’ll not mention which author featured in the Flavorwire.com article takes on “twincest” (incest among twins) for those who don’t know yet and want to be surprised;
- Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s classic 1955 novel (along with its various movie and stage adaptations), deals with both incest and sex with a minor;
- Stories involving dubious consent and rape are too numerous to name.
That being said, further deliberation on some of these topics raises important ethical questions. In the Flavorwire.com article, the agent of J. K. Rowling, author of the mega-bestselling Harry Potter series, makes the following statement:
The books may be getting older, but they are still aimed at young children. If young children were to stumble on Harry Potter in a an X-rated story, that would be a problem.
Obviously, exposing young children to X-rated Harry Potter stories is not the best idea. But beyond that, as a series aimed at young children, the books therefore contain young – i.e. underage – characters. Yet countless Harry Potter fanfics (and no doubt fanfics drawing from other source material involving child characters) do indeed involve X-rated situations.
In a world where the exploitation and sexualization of children is a growing problem, these sorts of fanfics are difficult to excuse. Even if the sexual acts remain solely between the child characters, with many of these stories being written by adults for adult consumption, and with many of the stories likely being of the PWP variety, it sets the stage for valid debate on whether this differs from images of sexualized children, which most people would agree are not okay. Even advancing the original child characters’ ages in an X-rated fanfic might not be as simple a solution as it seems.
Fan fiction raises a whole host of difficult moral questions on the nature of art and creativity, whether there is a such thing as creative ownership, the manner in which original works come to evolve and influence other authors, and whether it’s true that, to quote the Flavorwire.com article commenter Fortytwo, “the right to consume is not the same as the right to produce”. There is one question, however, for which the answer is all too simple: Will fan fiction ever be eliminated?
The answer is no, or in the very least, not anytime soon.
We’re therefore going to have to find a way to live with it.
It was never my intent to go all John Stossel on this topic with five separate posts when I first started writing about it, but the more I talked to various people about fan fiction, and the more research I did, it quickly became a case of the dog with its bone: it wouldn’t let me go. I have on one more “In (Sorta) Support” post to go after this one, at which point I’ll return to writing about the trials and tribulations of a rule-enamoured, publication-aspiring writer (me), but in the meantime, if you have any thoughts on anything to do with fan fiction, consider leaving a comment.