Kristina Busse

Abstract for Community, Fiction, and Reality: Real People Fiction as Historiography

SCMS (March 2016)

This essay offers a historical and theoretical account of real people fiction (RPF), the fannish creation of stories involving celebrities such as actors, singers, or sports stars. Within media fandom, RPF used to be a contentious subject due to its transformative use of real people (as opposed to fictional characters), and ethical debates continue. Still, the last 15 years have seen a substantial increase in the volume and visibility of fan fiction in general and RPF in particular, with Lord of the Rings and Supernatural actors, boy bands, and football and hockey players constituting some of the larger transformative fandoms, each easily producing tens of thousands of stories. This development may best be illustrated by Anna Todd's After series, originally written as One Direction fan fiction and now an international best seller.

Regular fan fiction tends to rely upon contained and limited sources, be they a television series or the entirety of a comic book universe. RPF, on the other hand, is constituted by a wealth of different sources so that its canon must be understood as a loosely agreed-on set of data. RPF writer is constantly faced with an enormous influx of often contradictory material and must select or ignore nearly random facts. The very nature of celebrity discourse makes it impossible to ever fully trust public accounts, so that some facts get dismissed entirely. Thus canon formation, this construction of narratives, occurs by juxtaposing and selecting from multiple sources and diverse material that collectively co-create canon.

This paper looks at RPF fandom within the context of historical research by reading the process with which fans select, dismiss, and narrate the events as a form of historiography. Rather than focusing on epistemological inquiries on celebrity discourses or arguing ontological questions about performative identities, I suggest that canon creation within RPF fandoms closely resembles the historical processes that gather and organize factual data, events, and accounts, evaluate their respective reliability and importance, and collectively generate a "Record," which in turn allows different fans to inter- and extrapolate their own narrative constructions, their own versions and stories of reality. Unlike historical accounts that vie to minimize the variances and biases of the historian, RPF writers instead relish the potential of storytelling within and beyond the constraints of the canon.