Fanfiction leaves its mark on pop culture

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Source: centreoftheselights on Archive of Our Own

Fanfiction promotes LGBTQ+ representation in media, as can be seen by Archive of Our Own’s top 10 most popular “ships” of 2020, which are all male/male relationships.

Mahika Sharma, Staff Writer

Although books, movies and TV shows are considered the main pillars of pop culture as per the City University of New York, many tend to overlook one that is loved by fans of all three: fanfiction.

According to Tech Times, the term “fanfiction” was coined in 1939 to describe stories that incorporated elements of existing media, but it was not until the rise of the internet that fanfiction became so popular. The creation of websites such as Fanfiction.net, Wattpad and Archive of Our Own made it easier for fanfiction authors to connect and share their works. Today, over 100 million people around the world read and write fanfiction.

Book series such as “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” are some of the most popular subjects of fanfiction. Although these novels have been around for years, they have remained in the spotlight in part due to the original stories that fanfiction authors have created based on them.

“[Fanfiction] allows you to explore the stories you like more. You can read stuff that you don’t get to read in [the original story],” sophomore Roshni Ahuja said. “If there are a limited number of books, then you still have an abundant supply of things to read. Sometimes you can enjoy those more than the original books.”

A major motivation for some fanfiction authors is the possibility of achieving fame for their works and becoming professional writers. The Wattpad fanfiction “After,” written by Anna Todd, became so popular that it was officially published and later adapted to film. E.L. James and Cassandra Clare, the authors of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, a “Twilight” fanfiction, and “The Mortal Instruments,” a “Harry Potter” fanfiction, have had similar success stories, and their works have made them household names.

Fanfiction is like reading any other story or book; it’s entertainment, it’s fun. It’s a good outlet for creativity for a writer. They do a really good job and it’s really fun to read their stories. Who are [people] to judge?”

— sophomore Samantha Smith

“If the audience of the original [material] wants to see more of it, they read the fanfiction writers’ point of view,” sophomore Samantha Smith said. “That same audience can help [the fanfiction] get big just like they helped the original. It might not be as big of a portion of [the audience], but it’ll still be enough that [the fanfiction] can still become a commercial success.”

Aspiring writers are not the only group for which fanfiction has provided a platform in mainstream media一it has given a voice to the traditionally underrepresented LGBTQ+ community too. Many of the most popular relationship pairings on Archive of Our Own, for example, are queer, including Castiel/Dean Winchester from the TV show “Supernatural” and Keith/Lance from the “Voltron” franchise.

“A lot of times, big [franchises] will have one side gay character and that is it. Then they will be in it for five minutes and the [franchise] is like ‘oh, you got your time, and now that we’ve shown that we’re diverse, let’s go back to the story,’” Smith said. “But fanfictions are so much more inclusive because they aren’t worried about the whole world seeing gay [relationships]. A lot of the times the authors are part of the [LGBTQ+ community] too, so it’s great.”

However, fanfiction also has its share of naysayers. In fact, author R.S. Benedict went viral on Twitter in early January for a thread sharing her criticisms of it, which amassed thousands of interactions. Still, many of the replies to the post came to the defense of fanfiction, arguing its positive impact overall.

“Fanfiction is like reading any other story or book; it’s entertainment, it’s fun,” Smith said. “It’s a good outlet for creativity for a writer. They do a really good job and it’s really fun to read their stories. Who are [people] to judge?”

Despite its controversies, fanfiction remains near and dear to the many across the globe, whether it be for sparking interest in existing stories, its amplification of marginalized voices or its promotion of budding authors; regardless, it remains a major facet of pop culture.

“Fanfiction influences pop culture by spreading interest in fandoms, like if a certain fanfic gets a lot of hype through social media, it can reach people more than the original story,” Ahuja said. “Because of its popularity, relationships shown in fanfiction sometimes make their way to the media. Certain times, if a fanfic is popular enough, it gets published, making it a larger influence than a regular book or show.”