Fan Fiction as Digital Literature-Erika Panzarino

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This short story, “Loud”, (http://archiveofourown.org/works/4623426/chapters/10539903),  a transformative work found on archiveofourown.org provides an exemplary sample of fanfiction and it’s place in online literature. The work focuses on two main characters, Jack and David, from the live-action film Newsies.

Like many fan works, the piece centers on a “ship”, short for relationship, between Jack and David. This piece firstly extends the canon, setting it after the newsboy strike and well further into the timeline. The expansion comes in the development of the boys relationship from friendship to romance. Additionally, the author chooses to write David as a person with autism. These two major additions to the established canon of the original film transform the pre-existing givens about the characters.

What makes this transformation crucial is that the readers seeing out this type of work are warping the canon to be more of “what they want.” This specific piece follows the incredibly common pattern of creating a male-male love interest. Across any media following, there are always fans who create and latch onto different queer ships, using canon moments as evidence supporting their theories. In many cases, a heterosexual ship can and does become canon. But it is only in recent years that we have begun to see any queer representation in mainstream media, and thus fanworks are the only place for the representation to appear. Film viewers wanted to see Jack and David together, so they turned online to place where that would be possible. Because acceptance towards the LGBTQ community has only recently begun to appear in our media, digital literature was the only place to find media that viewers found identifiable, and thus they become readers.

This same idea holds true for presenting David as autistic. People with disabilities are another largely underrepresented demographic in mainstream media, and even when portrayed are often put into narrow, “tolerable” levels of disability. Presenting a non-verbal, panick-stricken David being comforted by his boyfriend is not likely to be found in any mainstream media so far, and it would be optimistic to say such a scene would appear in the near future.

In short, fanfiction is digital literature. Fans seeking a fulfilling, relatable story are more likely to turn to non-traditional storytelling, because the mainstream media simply has not caught up to the desires of the consumers they hope to reach.

9 thoughts on “Fan Fiction as Digital Literature-Erika Panzarino

  1. I find it really interesting how these trans-medial adaptations still maintain a power for the fans in question and that the medium in either sense is a vessel for these characters and their relations. Instead of Jack and David appearing together on screen they are written together and this points to this resurgence of readers that you hint at, the democratization that the written (or rather typed word) affords. The fact that fan-fictions, seems to me, to stem not out of any disappointment with a work but rather a satisfaction and a further hunger for it, to the point of tailoring it to a niche or marginalized viewership is very powerful. An original serves not only as entertainment but as inspiration and as a jumping off point. As one who isn’t well acquainted with the realm of fan-fiction this is an interesting transformation you have pointed out.

    • Honestly that is a huge part of if I like a work or not, is it something I can riff off of later? I’m usually interested in consuming *more* canon, and seek out fan fiction for sequels, prequels, and deleted scenes. I’m actually in the minority of fan culture because I try to read and write as close to the canon as possible, but for many people the chance to deviate completely is hugely important.

  2. Fan-fiction is one of my favorite forms of digital literature. The ability for the reader to create their own story is remarkable. This is very evident in the video game scene, where fans will create their own spinoff stories for their favorite characters. I’ve seen Newsies and I enjoyed the movie and the play. This fan fiction adaptation sort of turns the story on its head. There are probably plenty of fan fiction adaptations of Newsies, however, this one is very entertaining and brings out a whole other world inside the original story. Fans are hungry for more of their favorite stories. The creative minds of these fans are truly incredible.

    • Numerically, Newsies actually has an incredibly small collection of fan fiction compared to other more popular media, but reading across different fandoms some of the most sophisticated and professional work comes from that group. There’s a fascinating exploration there because the charicature of a “teenage girl with too many feelings” coexists with people who have been consuming fan work since the movie came out over twenty years ago. It’s definitely a case of a fandom starving for more of their favorite characters, and adapting it to suit their needs.

  3. Fan fiction is probably one of the more liberating forms of digital literature; not only does the consumer get to enjoy a new form of their favorite media, but the consumer/reader can become the role of author as well. The role of the author then changes because of the ability for anyone and everyone to express the way they want shows, movies, or other books to end or be reworked. Moreover, fan fiction is a way for consumers to share what they want out of a show or more or less what they think the show needs. Fan fiction also is a creative way for people to share their frustrations they have with a story line, as well as bond with other viewers that have the same frustrations.

    • Fan Fiction is a way for the fans of a particular platform to be able to control the way that they would have liked the story line to play out. In many cases these fans write things that normally might not be seen in books, movies, or shows; for example making Jack and David together and having David be autistic.These kinds of changes would probably not be the most popular with the masses, but in the online fan fiction community there are so many different opportunities to get these new and interesting story lines some attention and to have them be appreciated by the fans of the original work. I am sure that these fan fictions are helping influence the way in which society views and thinks about the world we live in.

      • I really appreciate what you said about fanfiction as a way to help people bond over their frustrations, as many of the fandom circles form out of shared headcanons and ships. People definitely flock to those that agree on how the story should have gone, and a lot of fanfiction even riffs off of other fanfiction. Once the initial barrier is broken, it becomes a conversation, not a lecture.

    • The way these characters are being portrayed is becoming increasingly in demand as the media catches up with reflecting our society. I think there’s an interesting theory in fan culture becoming more accepted as other outlying groups like the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities become more visible. To be clear I am in no way equated fan culture to the same marginalization that these groups experience, merely pointing out the vast amount of overlap in who contributes to fandom and how. Those who see themselves in mainstream media, primarily straight white able-bodied males, don’t need to create their own representation. It exists already. It’s the rest of us that are left looking for token side-characters and sub-plots that need fan fiction to bring our stories to the forefront.

  4. Fan-fiction is a clever way to make what you want out of media happen; either through finding what you want through other fan-fiction works or from writing it yourself. This is a case where creative expression through the internet has allowed more and more people to state what they feel about a work of media or in this case, make the media themselves.

    Its also interesting that the direction this specific fan-fiction goes in is with representing two types of relationships (same-sex relationship) and also cover an important disability (Autism). This allows these two elements to be brought up in a work that initially never had those elements; a new perspective and narrative that the original story.

    From someone in the background in video games, fan-fiction is an element that is quite common; gaming series like Final Fantasy for example are very common in this field. Just like with this example, it also the gamer to write the story they feel should happen in a world they enjoyed being a part of.

    Creative expression is important and seeing that interact with normally static works of film or literature is fascinating.

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