Fan fiction is giving immortal characters a post-modern makeover

Scrolling through www.india-forums.com is truly an exercise in cultural anthropology. Myriad threads discuss TV melodramas with an earnestness that cannot be feigned. There is also a notable trend; most fans engage with the show by generating thousands of fan fiction stories. In the process, all the old tropes — a chaste heroine, a personality free hero, scheming villains and love of the ‘flame can never be extinguished’ variety — get a post-modern makeover.

Fan fiction was usually associated with literary creations; the turf of Potterheads, Tolkienists or Twihards. In recent years however, fan fiction has become an integral part of television show fandoms with book adaptations, such as The Vampire Diaries and original works like Lost. TV shows have literally broken out of their hermetically sealed environments and entered the mutable, ever expanding sandbox of fan fiction.

The signs have all been there. Even Amazon is seeking to cash in on this creative craze by buying rights for estrogen-fuelled TV dramas such as Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl; the soapy twists and star-crossed romances in these shows provided popular fodder for fanfiction.

As with any geeky fan subculture, it was Star Trek in the 1960s that kicked off this wave of amateur writers playing around with established worlds and characters. The show’s sci-fi credentials and topical moral dilemmas - all with a strong dose of Kirk-Spock bromance - cemented the fan fervour. Trekkies (Star Trek fans) congregated at conventions, dressed up as their favourite characters and wrote thousands of fan stories. Some of these were shrewdly packaged and sold back to fans in the form of tie-in novels.

So fan fiction writers must be socially awkward male geeks, right? Actually, no. A large number of fanfiction writers are women. Interestingly, 90 per cent of Star Trek fan fiction writers were estimated to be women! There’s no better genre than the infamous slashfic to see what young women think is missing in television shows. Slashfic pairs up members of the same sex for some sweet lovin’. Supernatural, a popular TV series follows two comely brothers who battle demons and spar like an old married couple, boasts thousands of slashfics. These have become so ubiquitous that fans have dubbed them ‘Wincest’; social taboos being shattered with one literary stroke.

Henry Jenkins, an American media scholar and a professor at the University of Southern California has postulated that the high participation of women in fan fiction is an attempt to calibrate more positive female messages given that most media caters to men.

Even India has been washed away by this wave. A sizable number of serial addicts, especially those of mushy melodramas, are taking their favourite characters through new narrative, ahem! adult, arcs. Arnav and Khushi, two extremely popular characters of the now defunct Star One melodrama Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon (IPKKND), are emblematic of this fan fervour. Jointly referred to under the cutesy moniker Arshi, several fan fiction stories feature the two in a passionate Mills and Boons-esque love affair. This is all the more scandalous when juxtaposed with the original soap’s furtive glances and coy flirting. Moreover Khushi has far more “You go girl!” moments than the show ever afforded her. Saima, an avid IPKKND fan fiction writer, explains that fan fiction aimed to correct the show’s victimisation of the female protagonist. “Khushi was treated so badly by everyone including her family when she and Arnav eloped. Fans waited patiently for everyone to ask for her forgiveness but the show started up an envy angle that again positioned Khushi as a victim.”

A surprising number of fan fiction blogs also warn potential plagiarisers to respect their ‘copyrights’, unaware of the irony. “There are people who like to showcase someone else's work as theirs, which makes the original writers feel disheartened and abandon their works”, Saima explains.

So who owns these characters anyways? Intellectual property rights aside, don’t Arshi belong equally to the hordes of fawning teenage girls? They may have been birthed in the minds of writers but it’s the audience that carries them through the end. The concept of ‘joint ownership’ should become de rigeur.

And not all fan fiction is poorly written tripe. They may feature an affinity for narrative developments that may be too bizarre even for TV soap, but a significant number of them can feature complex stories and fascinating characters. Fan fiction is the reason the unwavering romance of Arshi still lives on in the hearts of fans. The show must go on, in somebody else’s pages.