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A post over at the Brokeback Mountain community wranglers provoked some reflections on the validity of real person slash from me, and I thought I'd share them with y'all.

The one thing I didn't say in my comments is that a heck of lot of Jake/Heath slash is a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation, friend. Especially when they make Jake Gyllenhaal a too-sensitive overly weepy guy. But hell, I'm totally Brokeback obsessed, I love Jake, and so-so smut is often still pretty hot!

Anyway, the BBM poster asked:

"I've noticed a lot of fanfiction posted here, but dealing with the actors, not characters of the movie. I've been reading fanfiction for almost 10 years now (scary thought -- started with the X-Files, then moved to Harry Potter, then HP Slash) and I haven't encountered this amount of actor fiction. Personally, I can't read it. These actors have given us the wonderful gift of bringing Jack and Ennis to life in the movie -- they've done a beautiful job. But shouldn't we be obsessing over the characters (I sure am!), not the actors? The story lives on in the written word and on the screen -- the actors have done their job and moved on. I guess I see it as a bit of an insult to transfer their work of developing and portraying these characters into their everyday lives. I guess I'm just curious why people read/write actor based fiction...

"Please don't misunderstand me -- I'm not intending to offend anyone. I feel that as long as the fanfiction is labelled, people can make the choice to read or not read. Thank you to everyone for clearly labeling! I just choose to read character-based fic only.

"I'm hoping this will only cause an interesting discussion, not bashing of anyone's opinion. Many years ago I was involved in an insightful discussion of why some people choose to read Mulder!torture (I loved to read Mulder from the X-Files get severely injured, others thought we were nuts)."

I responded:

Let me preface this by saying that I appreciate the respectful way you've asked.

OK, full disclosure: I am a fan of RPF (real person fiction) and I recently began writing smut about my fave actor, Cillian Murphy.

I understand why you have a squick about RPF. What you say makes perfect sense. And when I read some of the comments of fans about RPF, it does seem that some begin to confuse the fictionalized versions of celebs with the actual people.

But let's consider this from another angle. Isn't the recent film Capote RPF in a way? Aren't all dramatizations of historical figures and non-documentary celebrity biofics essentially RPF? Conversations are imagined, real people are combined into composites for dramatic simplicity, some motivations are emphasized while others are downplayed or ignored, sometimes relationships are invented, and so on and so on. Nonetheless, these works are taken very seriously, and concerns about inaccuracy are often sloughed off as to be expected in the genre.

And then let's consider that some people consider fanfic that borrows characters and universes from their originators to be trespassing and offensive. Yet from Don Quixote on down, there is a rich tradition of that kind of borrowing in high art also.

It's true, RPF fanfic often takes on real people as they're living their lives, often making very intimate suggestions about their sexual tastes and emotional natures. This is a tricky thing, and sometimes I feel a little weird about it. But I feel far more strongly that there really isn't much of a difference between fanfic and biopics besides funding and respectability. And the line between fiction and nonfiction is actually far clearer in RPF than it is in say, Walk the Line, which is intended to be taken as based strongly in fact.

Ultimately, I think that RPF should be taken as playing with popular fictional characters that many others share an interest in and affection (obsession?) for. We authors don't know the real people we base our characters on, and what we write says a lot more about us and our projections onto our adored actor or rock star than it does about them. In my case, I certainly do research about the making of 28 days later..., I research Irish and English slang, I listen carefully to interviews with Cillian to try and get a sense of him and his cadences, etc.. I try my best to write something that fits into the spaces between what fans know about him, something that is convincingly realistic, and that's part of the thrill of writing it (and reading it, I hope). But it's fiction, not an accusation or gossip. I became fascinated with him because of his chameleonic acting talent (though his beauty didn't hurt of course!), and then when I started following him as a fan, I became fascinated with his personality, his artistic choices, his principles, that he's a musician, etc., etc. But that was him becoming a character in my mind, a character -- I don't know the real him. And I don't write about the real Cillian. Sure, I love to speculate with other fans about him, but it's all speculation. All fiction.

I think what I do is just as valid as someone making a movie that speculates about the vacation John Lennon took with his gay manager Brian Epstein. No one knows what really happened or if their relationship was ever sexual. But the movie was not decried. It's speculation, and that's clear. As long as writers and fans believe in their disclaimers, I think it is fine. And some of the celebs in question are actually amused. I've read that Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand, ostensibly straight, takes all the smutty slash that fans write about the band members being sexually involved with each other in stride, finding it both fascinating and flattering.

That said, obviously, you don't have to like RPF or read it!

Let me add though, that one of the more squicky aspects of celebrity fiction is when non-celebrity partners and family members are written in deeply. This is something I've struggled with because my fic imagines Cillian cheating with his co-star on his girlfriend (now wife), who's pretty anti-Hollywood red carpet/adoring wife, and is an artist in her own right. While Cillian's job specifically calls for convincing millions of people of fictional things and putting his very body out there for art (and commerce), that's not what she signed up for. So I don't use her name, don't quote her as having said anything, and am otherwise careful about how much I bring her into the story, though obviously her existence is an integral part of the plot. This is something I struggle with, although, again -- it's FICTION!

Comments

( 14 meltings — Melt me )
(Deleted comment)
melty_girl
Apr. 23rd, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC)
...Personally I find it quite strange if an actor feels offended....So really... you see the actor as something so far away from you, something almost not real. While at the same time you really feel like you know them.

I think this is very insightful.

Yet, I think, if I ever met say Cillian or Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom in person, their person would become too real for me to ever write fiction about them ever again.

Yeah, I think if I actually got to meet Cillian, I would feel so embarrassed!

...Franz Ferdinand... ...I wonder why it is flattering if someone writes about you being gay when you obviously are not. Or does he just mean the attention he gets from the authors? I wonder, does he really know the meaning of the word slash?

Oh he knows exactly what slash means -- he's read some of it, and apparently he's mentioned the FF slash LJ community slacken_ties when he meets fans. I suppose it shouldn't be flattering anymore than it is insulting to be written as gay when you're not, but I don't think that's really the point. Like many rock stars, Alex Kapranos is a flirt and craves attention. He understands that when women write slash about FF it means they're turned on and captivated by FF, and he likes that. He wants to be the subject of fan fantasies. And he enjoys pushing the sexual envelope. He says he's not gay, but he wrote a really slashy hot song called "Michael" -- check out the lyrics. In live performance, he's been known switch the line, "So come and dance with me, Michael," to "So come all over me, Michael." But he says that this song is about his friend Michael and a gay guy at a club, and that the actual Michael's girlfriend is not happy about the song.

Since the days of glam, male rock stars have been doing slashy things.
(Deleted comment)
melty_girl
Apr. 25th, 2006 04:45 am (UTC)
Yeah, Alex Kapranos certainly seems bi-curious, but then so did David Bowie, yet he seems to go more for women.

Funny about bad vs. beautiful slash... but bad art is a problem in any genre.
assassinofjoy
Apr. 24th, 2006 02:14 am (UTC)
On the issue of RPS ... it's not my first choice when it comes to fic, but I do read it from time to time, if it's a pairing I don't mind and if it's well-written (there was a time when I avoided RPS like the plague ... have since been seduced into becoming a closet fan ;P). I can understand being attracted to the idea of slashing two fictional characters, and bringing them into situations that would never happen in canon. I think that a lot of the reservations that people have with RPS, on the other hand, is the idea of taking Real People and placing them in situations that they would NEVER been involved in RL (the same reasons makes for its appeal, I think). At the same time, it's fiction -- intelligent people can make the distinction and not worry about someone's privacy or slander or some such nonsense. Weirdly enough, I think of RPS as a sincere form of flattery -- that fans care enough about a famous personality to wonder what if, and bring that potentially taboo idea to life.

Obviously, RPS isn't for everyone, but just the same, that back button on your browser is there for a reason, you know? If people don't like or appove of what they're reading, leave it alone and find something that they won't mind so much. *shrugs, smokes*
melty_girl
Apr. 24th, 2006 03:13 am (UTC)
(there was a time when I avoided RPS like the plague ... have since been seduced into becoming a closet fan ;P)

Heh heh.

I think of RPS as a sincere form of flattery -- that fans care enough about a famous personality to wonder what if, and bring that potentially taboo idea to life.

Too true!
the_automatik
Apr. 24th, 2006 01:29 pm (UTC)
This is a nice discussion. I agree with you totally.

I have written RPS before. I think after you meet the person it becomes awkward, though, haha. Not saying anymore about that.
melty_girl
Apr. 24th, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading.

And hmmmm... Redd Kross?
the_automatik
Apr. 24th, 2006 03:40 pm (UTC)
How did you guess?

Also, the incest angle is a bit dodgy. But really, they sort of fall all over each other so it's not much of a stretch.

HAHA!

Also: Sloan. Even though it makes me gag to think of it because I basically loathe them now.
mofic
May. 11th, 2006 11:03 am (UTC)
Disclaimer: I don't know that much about RPF. I've read very little of it (actually what I've read most of is a subset that's political satire through RPS of Canadian government officials, and that's a very specific subgenre). I'm most aware of the Jake/Heath slash, but I haven't been interested in it (although I am interested in BBM fanfic) and haven't read it.

Given that, it seems to me that there is a big difference between biopics (or biographies in general) and the RPF I've seen. Biopics are an attempt at a fictionalized rendering of real events in a real person's life. As you say, conversations are imagined, sometimes events are portrayed out of order for dramatic effect, etc. But in RPF, afaict, the events portrayed have never happened and the author isn't attempting to find out what happened and write about that. The author is writing about what s/he would like to imagine happening.

So, to use Brokeback Mountain as an example, since that what prompted the exchange. We have no reason to believe that Jake Gyllenhal and Heath Ledger have ever had sex. The Jake/Heath slash out there is written because some people would like to imagine Jake Gyllenhal and Heath Ledger having sex. This seems very different to me from Walk the Line depicting a relationship (sexual, professional, friendship and marriage) between two people who actually did have a relationship (sexual, professional, friendship and marriage).

Let me add that - unlike the poster who began this - I don't have any objections to RPS. I'm generally not interested in it (because what interests me about slash are things I can't get from RPS), but I don't think there's a moral issue there. Fiction is fiction afaic. I sincerely doubt that the subjects of RPS are reading lj, and if they are and it makes them uncomfortable, well they can stop reading it. I don't feel like it's a violation of their privacy, particularly since it basically has nothing to do with their real lives. But since it has nothing to do with their real lives, I can't see it as equivalent - or even much related - to biopics.

I think the genesis of biopics and their fictional elements is "This person has an interesting and dramatic life story. Fictionalizing elements of it would make it more interesting and/or more dramatic." I think the genesis of RPF is usually "I think this person is hot. I'd like to imagine him with person X, because I think they'd be even hotter together." I see these as very different.
melty_girl
May. 11th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC)
I understand the distinction you're making between RPF and biopics. In a way, I made it myself, pointing out that the line between nonfiction and fiction is not as clear in biopics, yet that usually doesn't disturb anyone.

But I don't think you're correct in all cases. Usually, the further you go back away from our era, the more fiction necessarily comes into the equation of biopics and the "this would be hot" thing can come into things. And sometimes, a biopic is really RPF, is really slash, plain and simple. I went and looked up the name of the example that I mentioned that imagined John Lennon and Brian Epstein's vacation together: The Hours and Times. As far as I know, there is no evidence that the two had an affair, though there has been speculation since they did go away together that one time. But no one knows what happened. And basically, it's just about what would be hot. (And, geez, I gotta see this movie once and for all!)

Oh, and I'll mention that, like fictional fandom based slash, RPF isn't always smut. (Mine is though!)

nice qaf icon!
mofic
May. 11th, 2006 10:55 pm (UTC)
I really can't argue with you about RPF, because I'd be arguing about something I just don't know! My impression of RPF in general - and RPS in particular - is that it's totally fiction and not an attempt at telling the story of someone's life with a kind of fictional license, but I could be wrong. I do know a lot of biopics, though, and I've read a lot of biographies, and I think that in those cases they really are an attempt to make the story of a well-known figure's life accessible to viewers or readers, through adding dialogue, etc.

pointing out that the line between nonfiction and fiction is not as clear in biopics, yet that usually doesn't disturb anyone.</>

Hmmm. I think I'd go back to the purpose. The purpose of a biopic like Walk the Line is to tell Johnny Cash's life story. It's not all going to be entirely as it happened, but I think it would disturb people if he were shown to be in love with and marrying Debbie Reynolds instead of June Carter. It's my impression - and again I'm talking with very little knowledge of RPF - that it, by contrast, generally depicts relationships that did not happen in rleal life.

Now, I don't know that movie you mention, and I have no idea how it was reviewed, but what I have seen is biopic movies panned if they don't represent the actual events of a person's life, although they can certainly take license with conversations and sometimes with order. If The Hours and Times is a totally fictional rendition of something that didn't happen (or that no one knows happened) in John Lennon's life, then I'd say it's not much like a mainstream biopic (which is what I'd call Walk the Line).

It may well be that there is lots of RPF that does represent the real events of the subjects' lives and adds dialogue and/or rearranges events. What I've seen, though, is nothing like that. What I have seen is people writing stories about two people who play characters who are sexually involved. They then take the actors playing those characters and write totally fictional accounts that imagine the actors themselves being sexually involved. It seems to come to me from liking what they see of the actors on screen together and wishing there were a relationship between them. That's what I see in the Jake/Heath RPS. As such I don't think it's of the same character as a speculation that a close friendship between a gay manager and a putatively straight singer/songwriter might have had a sexual component.

But, again, my experience of RPS is very limited. What I've seen of it, though, is very unlike biopics in ways having much less to do with money and respectability than with authorial intent.
ciaan
May. 14th, 2006 02:40 am (UTC)
This is really similar to something I just posted in my own journal. So, yeah, just to say that I pretty much agree.
melty_girl
May. 14th, 2006 07:35 am (UTC)
Interesting -- what's the link to the post you made?
ciaan
May. 14th, 2006 01:41 pm (UTC)
melty_girl
May. 16th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
We are definitely thinking along the same lines.

Lots of people complain and worry about RPF, but it's actually much more mainstream and more legal than fanfic of fictional characters... What do you think movies like Kinsey and Monster and Velvet Goldmine and Eight Below and Alexander and Walk The Line and Dick and Munich and United 93 and Henry & June and... well, all the dozens of others are?

These are fantastic examples, especially Monster, Alexander and Dick. Are we really supposed to think that most of the scenes are accurate?

What if Michael Rosenbaum does get his show Paradise going, and it's a fictional account of his own life, created and produced and maybe partially written and directed by him. Hey, a guy's allowed to do that to himself, right? But then, would it be wrong for people to write Paradise fanfic, because that would count as RPF? Or no? ...How DARE he RPF his own mother and grandmother! That rat bastard!

Hilarious -- didn't know about that. It's like Tori Spelling's new show too.

But a lot of people complain that the PROBLEM with RPF is that it makes real people do unreal things. Maybe I'm the weird one. Who knows. Maybe the real people would indeed be more horrified by pairing them with someone they aren't attracted to. But doesn't it make it easier for the reader to separate fantasy and reality, the character and the actual person?

This is my point. But another commenter above says that's what makes RPF not analagous to biopics. I think she has a small point, but as a whole, I think she's took my term biopic a little narrowly. Your example of something like Dick or my example of The Hours and Times about John Lennon demonstrate the far end of biopics and remind us that even the most strictly-minded historical biopics on the other end have to invent things.
( 14 meltings — Melt me )