Why fans think HBO’s Euphoria crossed a major fanfiction boundary
July 2, 2019 10:11 PM   Subscribe

“'[Larry] is a subject that was funny at first but now is actually hard to deal with, as I am in a relationship. Me and Harry are best friends. People look into our every move — it is actually affecting the way me and Harry are in public.' Facing the negative consequences of certain 'Larries’' actions, 'Larry' became the poster child of fandom taken too far." (SLPolygon)
posted by Caduceus (83 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm unfamiliar with the show but thought this was worth sharing anyway. I don't think my lack of familiarity made it any less interesting.
posted by Caduceus at 10:11 PM on July 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


Speaking as someone who used to be DEEPLY into fandom- RPF is one of the *many* things that turned me off that world. For fucks sake- there used to be a word for writing false stuff about real people- libel.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:43 PM on July 2, 2019 [15 favorites]


I've always been creeped out by RPF, so maybe I'm off base here, but I feel like that if someone knows they have to block the social media accounts of people they're writing fanfic about, then they know full well that they shouldn't be writing that fanfic.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:00 PM on July 2, 2019 [16 favorites]


Wow, that was fascinating to read and unsettling.

I also know nothing about the show but this part had me raise an eyebrow:
Despite this, Euphoria’s decision to invoke “Larry” makes sense. No other ship of its ilk has the same genre of pop culture resonance or instant recognizability.
I feel like Kirk/Spock and Edward/Jacob are also fandom fanfic spaces where this kind of stuff has been discussed.

Not trying to get all focused on which fandom did this first or which fandom is bigger. I just feel like it's worth acknowledgement that this happens in other spaces with other fandoms.

Like it's obviously problematic no matter who is being shipped in this way but seems to have been a thing for as long as people have had the ability to fantasize and write.
posted by Fizz at 11:08 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ohhhhh no oh no... I'm not sure if I'm more horrified that RPF is on TV, or that it's on Metafilter.

I'm not creeped out by people who want to ship celebrities, although I think they probably shouldn't. I think it's largely the same impulse that causes people to ship fictional characters. However, there really is no way to do it without invading their privacy, and in the age of social media it is much worse. There are always tinhats who have a really big sense of entitlement and a really poor sense of boundaries. All big ships have their tinhats, but if it's Kirk/Spock you're not combing over someone's real life for clues that will confirm your shipping conspiracy.

Kirk/Spock and Edward/Jacob

These aren't RPF, which makes them not of the same ilk. The things that make RPF problematic don't apply.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:20 PM on July 2, 2019 [31 favorites]


There was an old episode of Love and Radio about RPF: "The Boys Will Work It Out".
posted by Going To Maine at 11:51 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


I feel like it's not a coincidence that RPF is very disproportionately about men marketed to teens and/or about gateway fandoms. Like, a whole lot of it, especially the weird stuff on kink memes, can kind of...be sung to the tune of "I am learning that I have erotic desires and they're neither unique nor evil." Ideally people would get halfway decent educations and be able to discover however many centuries of material had discussed this or that concept without dragging some hapless vocalist(s) into it, but here we are.

Also, explicit transformative works aren't all that much cleaner if they're using the names of characters rather than actors, particularly when the material is so far removed from canon and reality as to make no difference. I do think authors should take reasonable precautions to keep it out of sight of the subjects, children, and people who don't want to see it, but "don't do it on a sidewalk" and "don't do it" are not at all the same.
posted by bagel at 11:54 PM on July 2, 2019 [10 favorites]


Honestly I think all celebrity relationship speculation is a bit messed up (think of the whole Virtue/Moir thing where mainstream media outlets wrote speculative articles about their dynamic) but the impulse to write RPF is understandable, especially when such a large part of celebrity culture is PR people deliberately trying to market their chemistry or dynamic.

Ideally, RPF fans keep everything locked way down and it never affects the celebrities in question. Last year when Aja Romano tried to write an article about hockey RPF that lead to a lot of people archive-locking and deleting their fic. But as Kutsuwamushi said, there are always tinhats who cross boundaries, and now that fic is more easily discoverable journalists and apparently HBO want to write about it.

There's a lot of straight RPF out there on Wattpad, particularly of the reader or self/insert meets and dates a celebrity variety, but somehow that's not considered as transgressive as the gay kind. Maybe because record companies want teen girls to imagine themselves dating boy band members, and everybody knows this. Modern celebrity culture has always been about marketing celebrity personas and relationships, but now with RPF large numbers of fans are narratives that they're not "supposed" to. Celebrity culture is generally fucked up, but I don't think RPF is very much worse.
posted by storytam at 11:55 PM on July 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


However, there really is no way to do it without invading their privacy, and in the age of social media it is much worse.

I will say, I do think there's a way to do it without invading anybody's privacy. It isn't really my thing, but like... if you look at a given Youtube star, say, it is very possible to distinguish between the real person and the persona they are presenting as themselves. If you stick with basing it on the "official canon" of someone's media and public appearances, I don't think it's inherently more invasive than writing fic based on a fictional character that someone wrote with a lot of personal investment and reference to their own lives. The fail state for RPF--which is a huge chunk of the RPF out there, not arguing that--is thinking the fictionalized version of this person is the real person AND doing the thing where you think that because you ship it, it must be canon, when suddenly the canon is Real Life. (The latter often gets super creepy even with the fictional characters, with people harassing creators and such.)

Unfortunately, I don't really believe that this is why they decided to focus on RPF. I think this episode was about RPF because from a corporate perspective, the priorities are all backwards. The privacy thing matters not at all to HBO. On the other hand, I suspect that HBO was not about to go to bat legally for fanfiction being creatively distinct even when you're making money off of it, which is exactly what they would have been doing if they'd done this same show about somebody in the Supernatural or Avengers fandoms. They'd have wound up having to license stuff for that. This is where it feels particularly shitty--I think they made Harry and Louis the target because they were free.
posted by Sequence at 11:57 PM on July 2, 2019 [14 favorites]


I heard about the whole Larry thing a couple years ago and the more I read, the more I also saw comments from them about it hurt their friendship. And that made me very sad.
posted by sio42 at 12:04 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't see any reason to demonise RPF per se, even though the older I got the more I find it to not be my cup of tea, for reasons relating to the fact that I like playing with canon and spending so much time with RL canon is just invasive but history of literature and narrative can tell you that's exactly what's been happening for centuries, the only difference being now communications across social hierarchy have become in many ways frictionless, much like the difference between comments in an online news article vs letters to the editor, so those without the good sense God gave a flea no longer has the barriers befitting their station.
posted by cendawanita at 12:14 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


If I'm understanding the description here, this was not itself RPF, but a depiction of the thoughts of a character on the show who writes RPF? Which seems a strange line to be drawing.

I came out of the old-school fandom background that was very anti-RPF. Eventually I decided that, while it wasn't for me, there was no meaningful ethical distinction between having a fantasy in your head about real people (surely unobjectionable?) and writing it down, so long as you kept it away from the people involved (if they went looking for it, that was their own fault). It's tricker to do that now, with the fourth wall in ruins. And yet--the problem is not the writing of a story, the problem is the obsessive overinvestment in someone else's romantic life that exceeds all boundaries. You don't have to write a word of fiction to engage in invasive speculation of the kind that it might reasonably creep someone out to stumble over. And it's not a problem unique to m/m shipping; people have been doing this with, e.g., men and women co-stars forever.
posted by praemunire at 12:21 AM on July 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


Also my grand overall unifying theory of fandom puts the blame squarely on Supernatural for the journey that brought us to Larry. There's something that went on that brought together fandom misogyny (which led to shipping in spn pre-Castiel to be dominated by slashing the brothers ie incest or the actors ie RPS), the dark web with its penchant for paedophilic fiction, and the energetic idolatry that pop bandom manufacturers go out of their way to foster, and the internet's love for conspiracy theorizing, that's got us here.
posted by cendawanita at 12:21 AM on July 3, 2019 [10 favorites]


If I'm understanding the description here, this was not itself RPF, but a depiction of the thoughts of a character on the show who writes RPF? Which seems a strange line to be drawing.

The thing is, hardcore Larries hate all outside attention if it doesn't validate their crackpot True Belief that it's only a matter of time that Larry will go public.

(The only reason the TSwift/Karlie Kloss (sp?) tinhattery doesn't get as much ink is rly down to that fandom misogyny.)
posted by cendawanita at 12:26 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Oh, AND anti-Larries in the fandom (which isn't ppl who don't ship but actively hunting down Larries to disagree with in large part because of the real world hurt Larries have caused to actual friends and family of the two men) are also mad because they read it as the continuing disrespect that the Larries represent.
posted by cendawanita at 12:29 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


It all becomes really fun when you have crossover fics with a real life Korean boy band star shipped with a fictional Japanese anime idol.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:42 AM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


there was no meaningful ethical distinction between having a fantasy in your head about real people (surely unobjectionable?) and writing it down, so long as you kept it away from the people involved (if they went looking for it, that was their own fault)

If someone were to write erotic fiction about me I would feel creeped out and violated. If it's in their diary I'm still going to be unhappy about it but whatever, it's their private thoughts. But these are posted on the web for anyone to read. Blocking social media accounts, not sending links to the targets, those are tissue-paper thin protections, especially once the fandom takes off. I would bet many of these fanfic writers would not be happy if similar fanfic was written about them. Writing these fics requires you to believe that the rules of basic respect no longer apply to you and a celebrity's life is publicly owned. It's thoughtless and entitled.
posted by schroedinger at 4:17 AM on July 3, 2019 [39 favorites]


I agree that there was a perfect storm of Supernatural and Bandom happening together right after the Lord of the Rings rpf tin hattery that really pushed rpf (real person fiction) to where it is now.

But I'd also add there was also the rise in these celebrity family reality shows which followed celebrity families through mundane things like group lunches, turning their lives into soap opera stories and making them see more like characters than people.

Pre-Castial Supernatural was just a sea of incest and rpf, with the rpf writers thinking they had the moral ground because it wasn't incest. Then in short order you were coming out of the Backstreet Boys and My Chemical Romance /Panic at the Disco/Fall Out Boy emo pool and into Jonas Brothers and One Direction.

Supernatural and the early band writers were pretty much older women that also had been writing in LOTR and the rpf there, with the readers skewing younger, so you had a lot of younger writers developing in a Fandom Era where while rpf wasn't 100% okay and accepted, it was tolerated at an openly seen level early fandoms were not.

Like some of the earliest online fanfiction fandoms outside of Trek were Highlander and The Sentinel, and I think I saw one RPF of the Sentinel guys before the author hid it away because of harassment from other fans.

So when the young readers started writing their own stuff, you had a LOT more rpf written alongside Supernatural which was still chugging along. Once Castial was brought in, the rpf in Supernatural died down a lot. But you had two age groups churning out rpf for multiple fandoms so it was a hugely visible and growing faction of fandom. Which is about when the hockey rpf started taking hold. Then it was across television, sport, and music fandoms. That's a wide, wide field to fill.

With Supernatural finally ending the fanfiction will probably slowly ramp down to a trickle like other fandoms, hockey locking down their stuff or stopping their writing after the Aja thing, 1D acknowledging rpf affecting real world relationships, and these family celebrity reality shows becoming less popular and more objects of ridicule - there will be less and less rpf written and more push back against it from Fandom as a whole.

I doubt it will ever really go away, though, as long as fans feel entitled to know everything about a celebrity and there's tabloid magazines and sites along with E!News to cater to that.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 4:43 AM on July 3, 2019 [14 favorites]


Fandom can be so creepy and gross.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 5:09 AM on July 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


Okay, it's not just fandom; it's perfectly mainstream media that is creepy and gross. It's been creepy and gross as long as I can remember, with the primary difference being that you couldn't have produced Euphoria in 1985. We live in a creepy and gross culture that cynically does as much as it can to devalue privacy, individuality and just not-being-as-skeevy-as-possible every minute in order to shock and get whatever the era's version of clicks is. And what is more, this is always spun as "oh it's what the viewers want, we are expressing some kinds of intrinsic truths" as if being sat at the steering wheel of an enormous, powerful propaganda machine isn't itself about shaping what people feel they want.

The more power you have, the more you're to blame. Hapless teens not realizing that their fandom is kind of gross and immoral should shape up; profit-driven skeevy media corporations like the ones producing Euphoria, running Twitter, etc are the real villains.

Stop with the "reality" shows, reign in social media, stop with the endless ramp-up of more violence, more ideologically terrible depictions of sex, more gross intrusiveness, more stupidity, and most of the amateur stuff will sort itself out.

But that would require a whole different economy, so it will never happen. Just another header into the cesspool, that's all we can expect.
posted by Frowner at 5:32 AM on July 3, 2019 [24 favorites]


All of this stuff is the culture version of, like, intensely focus-grouped high fat high sugar high salt snacks full of saturated fat - something that is designed to replace better stuff, to be as addictive as possible and to make money. We have this narrative where we're like "this is just a cultural chocolate chip cookie, you want to ban a harmless little homemade cookie? You monster!" when it's really pure garbage made by multinationals out of garbage ingredients in the interest of as much profit as possible.
posted by Frowner at 5:34 AM on July 3, 2019 [10 favorites]


So the show went meta in illustrating 'real-people slash fiction' by using two real celebs whose actual romantic involvement is ever-so-slightly plausible when they could have simply gone roman a clef instead. Sounds unethical and edgelordy to me. And the even bigger problem is this sits right at the corner of invasion of public figure privacy and tabloidy conspiracy theory. Any more of this would be enough to make Carol Burnett start drinking again, and Olivia De Havilland declare, 'This is bull...t and you can quote me on that fifty years from now!'

Does HBO have no legal team? Oh, I forgot, HBO is owned by the phone co. now, and they may just not care.

Welp, I guess it's time to burn my trove of Korman/Conway shipper slash now. Tim, Harvey, wherever you are, I'm truly sorry for using you in my, ahem, 'meditations' all these past decades. I never meant any harm and I promise to keep my suspicions about the hints at your secret 'Hnorkit' love act to myself.
posted by zaixfeep at 5:46 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


This sort of fandom (with the shipping and all the sub-categories and history) is almost completely invisible unless you are one of the (millions of) people involved in it. It breaks out into public attention once in a while, like with this scene or when EL James published 50 Shades, but otherwise gets very little attention.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:35 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm confused by the idea of modern day teenagers caring about One Direction. Is that still a thing?

IMO, there's a spectrum to RPF, in how much it separates the celebrity personas from the actual person versus tinhatting. Like, consider Keanu Reeves in Always Be My Maybe or Edward Snowden in The Spy Who Dumped Me - I don't think anyone is really considering Always Be My Maybe Keanu as real Keanu. But then there's the Moire/Virtue stuff that people brought up earlier, where people got really invested in the idea that they absolutely had to be a couple.

And yeah - this stuff is just a reflection of what's going on in mainstream celebrity press. It gets a different reaction when it's fandom, but are we going to pretend that celebrity gossip doesn't exist?

Also, I've had people ship my tumblr sideblog with another person's tumblr sideblog and write fanfic about it? And I mean, it was a weird and surreal moment in my life, but it was also a weird and surrealist fandom blog, so. It was about me but it really wasn't, because the person had no idea who I was. I've never written RPF but I'm also generally not invested in shipping in general, so a lot of my reaction to mainstream fandom is me shrugging and saying 'you do you'.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:42 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Look, I'm a fangirl. I write fic, I read fic, and some of it is explicit. I am willing to conduct an extempore defense of fic as an outgrowth both of women's storytelling traditions and the unspoken female erotic, and yet RPF* engenders an immediate and personal response of PUT THAT THING BACK WHERE IT CAME FROM OR SO HELP ME. It doesn't matter that it's repulsive to me personally so much as that it hurts people, and this is something every one of us has got to endeavor not to do.

The thing is, RPF shouldn't have to hurt people; it's just unavoidable. You should, in theory, be able to share it very privately among decent, boundary-having people who share your interests. (I do know such people who are into RPF, and they are fine! Life is a rich tapestry.) But you can't let the stories go free without exposing them to folks who don't have these boundaries, either because they are so young their brains haven't formed them yet or because they have always had serious boundary issues. And it is all going to get back to the subjects, one way or another, and it is going to disturb and frighten them.

The producers of this show had the easiest possible option here: make up a fake boy band! Make up a fake fic pairing! Rainbow Rowell did this in Fangirl, and she made her point, and did it so well that she actually ended up writing the fic! But no, they needed to taste the edge here. I hope they're pleased; nobody else is.

-----
* I was going to add "about living people," because historical figures are fairer game, but they really have to be historical. Apparently somebody wrote shipping fic about Chernobyl, and even Tumblr was not having that.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:18 AM on July 3, 2019 [28 favorites]


It's consent. If you don't have it, you shouldn't do it. If you do it anyway, that's wrong.

In the simplest terms, that's my problem. It's not fantasies or sexuality that's the problem, it's that consent matters when you make a thought real or do something outside of your head. If you ignore consent, it's very likely other people will be hurt in some way.
posted by bonehead at 7:33 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Wow, this show sounds terrible. Poor HBO. They got health problems.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:42 AM on July 3, 2019


I think it's worth noting that the fans are upset not because Euphoria invented something whole-cloth that exposes their favorite musicians unfavorably.

They're upset because Euphoria exposed their favorite hobby.

Euphoria is a show about teenagers doing really fucking stupid things, as teenagers often do. It's kind of tough when you do this sort of thing, because it rings really hollow if you make up details. It doesn't have that impact if your character's fanfic was about fictional characters.
posted by explosion at 7:54 AM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


I deeply dislike RPF but it is probably one aspect of fandom that makes the most sense to people outside of it. Look at gossip blogs, look at all the rumors about Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Shipping co-stars is normalized. The only unusual aspect here is that they're both male. I wonder how many people find that gross compared to this.

Likewise, shipping yourself with a famous person is also understandable so much so it's the basis of a lot of movies and romance novels.

Anyway, Euphoria itself is very funny and enjoyable but they probably should have used a fake band as mentioned above.
posted by asteria at 8:05 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Euphoria is a show about teenagers doing really fucking stupid things, as teenagers often do. It's kind of tough when you do this sort of thing, because it rings really hollow if you make up details. It doesn't have that impact if your character's fanfic was about fictional characters.

Eh. One of the things about this sort of fandom is that oftentimes the characters/people end up being almost interchangeable, and tropes end up being the same across fandoms with what amounts to regional variations. That's one of the reasons why Fangirl worked so well - yes, it was obviously based on a specific best selling book series, but Rowell was familiar enough with the general fandom tropes and conventions around fanfic that that's what made it resonate. You could totally have made up a couple of boy band members and it would have both had the same feeling and also felt a lot less dated.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:09 AM on July 3, 2019


In other words, just make up a boy band and have the two members meet in a coffee shop and it'll seem more real than just invoking Larry.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:12 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


when you make a thought real

WRITING A STORY IS NOT MAKING A THOUGHT REAL.

Sorry to yell, but this is an incredibly important point whose implications extend infinitely beyond any teenagers writing about two bandmates getting together. I cannot deal with the disgust-based purity culture that makes lazy equations like that.

As I said before, it's harder for the subjects to avoid being aware that this stuff exists now, and I agree that this makes the analysis somewhat more complicated, but the fact is you only know the details if you go looking for it. And, again, I cannot stress this enough, no storywriting is required here. It's perhaps even more invasive-feeling to read someone speculating about you in real life than to read someone writing a story about you. If you do celebrity romantic gossip of any kind anywhere anyone else can see, you are doing this.
posted by praemunire at 8:50 AM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


WRITING A STORY IS NOT MAKING A THOUGHT REAL.

Where is that line then? Writing a story? Having a viral hit story that gets optioned into a three movie deal that is seen by hundreds of millions? When is that line crossed?

I don't think this is a slippery slope. I know many would like to argue it is: fanfic is unimportant, it's obscure, it's private. I don't get how any of that applies to the open internet. Privacy can't be a defense if it's being posted on a publicly accessible part of the net. It matters because it's out there. It counts. If it's out there it could very easily get picked up and turned into something big. It matters in the same way that the Star Wars kid's life was ruined by becoming a meme.

There's also the argument that: "It's the price of celebrity" In my view that's how you get to a culture where implied violence and sexual objectivity is ok. It don't think the rules for "celebrities" should or can be that different.

I know it's impossible to stop. There are much worse things that have proven impossible to stop. But I also think we need to stop excusing objectification of real people in fan fic as not real and harmless. It's clearly not.
posted by bonehead at 9:09 AM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


The Crown is RPF.
posted by airmail at 9:11 AM on July 3, 2019 [23 favorites]


It's consent. If you don't have it, you shouldn't do it. If you do it anyway, that's wrong.

Amen.

Here's what I'm hearing about RPF: Everyone treats it like fiction except for a few outliers; it's not necessarily about a real person, but can be about their public persona; the industry implicitly encourages it; you can just circulate it with a few trusted friends; you won't even know that it's there unless you go looking for it; and it's basically inevitable anyway, especially with young people.

It's not hard to imagine people saying the same sort of thing about pornographic celebrity deepfakes. Even if they're labeled as deepfakes, this is all extremely objectifying and invasive.
posted by This time is different. at 9:14 AM on July 3, 2019 [9 favorites]


I know more about the 1D fandom than I ever wanted to. RPF is one thing, but the obsessive belief that "Larry is REAL" among a very vocal subsection of the fandom is another. Like, Supernatural fans write J/J RPF, but there isn't an active contingent tracking Jared and Jensen's every movement, declaring each action proof that they're surely going to leave their wives and profess their love for each other. Or if there is, it's been quarantined, because I haven't seen it the way I actually saw the Larrys. That was legit scary for me, to watch people blur the line between fiction and reality, so I definitely understand why it took such a toll on the friendship between Styles and Tomlinson, and why they would be against RPF of them.
posted by Ruki at 9:14 AM on July 3, 2019


But let's not forget that RPF is very often embarrassingly explicit porn. It's really, really okay for people - even famous people - to prefer that there not be a whole subculture for creating and sharing porn about them and their co-workers.

I think most of us would prefer that others not write explicit sexual material about us and our co-workers, and we would be even more off-put if there were, like, a whole slack channel at work devoted to the process. I mean, when this actually happens there are either HR consequences or we all agree that it's really horrible and vile and feel sorry for the victim.

It's all very well to say, "oh they're famous" or "oh, people also write horrible things on gossip blogs", but first off writing horrible things is gross too and second, just because fame comes with some drawbacks along with the money doesn't mean that it's not weird and creepy to have people writing porn that is literally about you and your colleagues and that you would have zero feelings about it.

It's not the same as the (also distasteful) "oooh, is so and so cheating with this other person? Is there a baby bump? Is there a Kardashian?" stuff in the tabloids, because while that's gross and distasteful it's also not porn. Sexual speculation about people is an intense and personal thing to do in our society; it's not the same as other kinds of gossip, even if it has some overlap with them.

Honestly, the culture of Having Famous People is so disgusting and wrong anyway - RPF is of a piece with the rest of the intrusiveness and the con game of giving often very foolish and young people a lot of money to have their personalities deformed and destroyed by celebrity, but people at least shouldn't defend it.
posted by Frowner at 9:18 AM on July 3, 2019 [21 favorites]


Like, Supernatural fans write J/J RPF, but there isn't an active contingent tracking Jared and Jensen's every movement, declaring each action proof that they're surely going to leave their wives and profess their love for each other.

You have, in fact, missed this toxic contingent.
posted by TwoStride at 9:22 AM on July 3, 2019 [15 favorites]


It's not hard to imagine people saying the same sort of thing about pornographic celebrity deepfakes. Even if they're labeled as deepfakes, this is all extremely objectifying and invasive.

Yeah, I don't think it can be stressed enough that RPF is not a difference in kind from deepfake celebrity pornography, only a difference in degree (and even then, not that far off).
posted by tocts at 9:25 AM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


Where is that line then? Writing a story? Having a viral hit story that gets optioned into a three movie deal that is seen by hundreds of millions? When is that line crossed?

There's also an argument to be made that the Onion's Joe Biden character is more harmful than any RPF fic could ever hope to be, because people seem to view the real Joe Biden through that lens, even if they know he never parked a trans am on the white house lawn.

I know more about the 1D fandom than I ever wanted to. RPF is one thing, but the obsessive belief that "Larry is REAL" among a very vocal subsection of the fandom is another. Like, Supernatural fans write J/J RPF, but there isn't an active contingent tracking Jared and Jensen's every movement, declaring each action proof that they're surely going to leave their wives and profess their love for each other.

Oh. There definitely was, and their wives definitely got hate and death threats over it. There was an anonmeme specifically for it.

I think most of us would prefer that others not write explicit sexual material about us and our co-workers, and we would be even more off-put if there were, like, a whole slack channel at work devoted to the process. I mean, when this actually happens there are either HR consequences or we all agree that it's really horrible and vile and feel sorry for the victim.

Again, I mean, not with my coworkers, but strangers on the internet wrote a story about some vague version of me making out with a vague version of someone else? And I've been thinking about why it didn't feel like an invasion of my privacy - I had panic attacks for days after getting doxxed not the long after. It really did make a difference that it was just based on the persona I'd put out there for people's consumption - no details about me, I spoke in my writing style, it was a heightened, weird version of what I was already doing. In the end of the day, it felt more like someone writing fanfic of my fanfic than something that was about me as a person.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:26 AM on July 3, 2019


Again, I mean, not with my coworkers, but strangers on the internet wrote a story about some vague version of me making out with a vague version of someone else? And I've been thinking about why it didn't feel like an invasion of my privacy - I had panic attacks for days after getting doxxed not the long after. It really did make a difference that it was just based on the persona I'd put out there for people's consumption - no details about me, I spoke in my writing style, it was a heightened, weird version of what I was already doing. In the end of the day, it felt more like someone writing fanfic of my fanfic than something that was about me as a person.

But the thing is, you're at least part of "weird tumblr", right? You're not just some rando at the coffee shop that someone else thinks is hot. And your actual life, unlike a celebrity's, is not subject to intense public scrutiny, which is why it feels so abstract; you don't make your money by using your body to perform, either. (I assume, or at least that's not what your internet persona was about.) If someone who understands that RPF is a thing is like, "oh, cool, you can totally write mpreg about me and this other blogger, sounds hot!", that's fine. But it shouldn't be the price of admission for wanting to make a living as an actor, or in any unrelated field.

Also I think it's creepy to write RPF about people you know, even if they're just internet people.
posted by Frowner at 9:42 AM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


It's weird the number of people here who are making excuses for rpf fans or basically shrugging and saying "blame gossip columnists." Obviously a lot of people here have never been stalked, and have no empathy for their victims.

Because that is what this is. Stalking and harassment. And just because it supposedly comes from a place of fandom doesn't make it really any different from the guys who send their sexual fantasies to unconsenting women, or the guys who do "countdown clocks" for underage performers like the Olsen Twins.

Seriously. People need to stop making excuses for these creepers. They need to be shut down, hard.
posted by happyroach at 9:45 AM on July 3, 2019 [11 favorites]


Here's what I'm hearing about RPF: Everyone treats it like fiction except for a few outliers ... you can just circulate it with a few trusted friends ...

I hope it didn't sound like I was suggesting that. I was saying that theoretically it should be possible, but is not, because the human element mandates that somebody somehow is going to fuck things up and cause other people pain. (This is how I feel about a lot of kinks, to be honest.)

Things seemed simpler in the Livejournal days. There were still RPF shippers then, and they were mad as a box of frogs, but ... okay, you know what, there's no good ending to that sentence. It just seemed simpler. Maybe it was the UI.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:46 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


I deeply dislike tinhattery but I'm still not on board with just cancelling all of RPF as though it's the most singular development, like as though Shakespeare's stock in trade wasn't basically historical RPF. Like Dante's Inferno not RPF (and a crack one at that). What makes them harmful and disgusting is when the fans feel entitled enough to treat it all the same, that there're no boundaries between their imagination and real people. Yes, I do miss that sense of keeping it low-key because the understanding that it is vulgar (and the more alive your celebrity the more vulgar it is; also why this whole concept is received better as satire or parody than straightforward drama, because then that element of pining fantasy is never far away). But let's not act like this is brand new.

And specific to the cultish tinhattery like Larries and J2 for eg, where there are genuinely predators in the midst encouraging the mass hallucination together, just like a cult, and harming actual real life people, not just with gossip but downright classic channer behaviour like doxxing/swat-ing etc, it is in their interest to keep the argument just at the surface of the ethics of RPF. Larries as a cult deserved every terrible reputation bestowed upon them. One half of these guys had to go through the death of his mother and still these cultmembers were fixated that this is the moment the other one will join him in public and show their love. And guess what? These fast friends were truly no more because not even for the death of a parent could they even indicate in public that maybe that guy gave his condolences or whatever.
posted by cendawanita at 9:47 AM on July 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


And bringing in deepfakes to me is irrelevant because the moral issue is privacy yes but in regards to our right to our likeness (and yes that means copyright). The fevered text of a rando fic is extremely not even in the ballpark of a journalistic piece and who's going to be fooled? Now, making extremely long invasive shipping manifestoes where rl audiovisual material is decontextualised to fit their argument? That's Fox News material.
posted by cendawanita at 9:52 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's still objectification. It may not be as "bad" as another form of objectification, but I don't see how it makes it less creepy and somehow ok.
posted by bonehead at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Steve Allen was calling out this sort of reality blurring years ago and coined the word dumbth for it. IIRC, his specific example was people sending cards and flowers to soap opera production offices when characters were written into the hospital or killed off.
posted by zaixfeep at 9:56 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Yes, it is absolutely is objectification. Again, all of human literature will absolutely support you on this. We fucked up as a society this time round in collapsing the veil and expanding the meaning of celebrity thus that even those with no means to shield themselves from it become fair game. And pop bandom svengalis don't give a shit about the well-being of their content
posted by cendawanita at 10:00 AM on July 3, 2019


Oh. For the record, then, my point was specifically that RPF that blurs the line between fiction and reality is really fucking harmful. SPN was clearly a bad example. Or maybe fandoms in general are just that toxic now. I used to write Velvet Goldmine fanfic years ago so I'm not anti-fanfic, and if you know the story of the filming of Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor's sex scene, I mean, the RPF practically writes itself, but death threats and stalking make me just want to burn the whole RPF thing down.
posted by Ruki at 10:03 AM on July 3, 2019


Tomlinson told The Sun in 2017 that shipping culture “created this atmosphere between [himself and Styles] where everyone was looking into everything we did.

Well, no...being a celebrity did that?

This is...weird. One of the sites I let myself check during the day is Lainey Gossip. It's definitely celebrity gossip, but it's sort of...political analysis of celebrity gossip? Like the focus is often on the process itself, breaking down the public relations campaigns to figure out how a career is made or destroyed, how conflicts are won or lost. Like that Anne Helen Peterson stuff, except more fun to read. Anyway, that shit is fascinating to me.

And the thing is...celebrity is all about encouraging fans to become invested in your personal life. It's all a performance, calculated to bring about certain reactions. In some cases that means keeping your relationships in the closet; in others it means performing them in a specific way. One of the big subgenres of that performance, since, like, the studio system era, are fake relationships -- the relationships that are literally contracts and exist solely to increase one's celebrity profile. Including, of course, beards and merkins (which is one of the funniest terms I've ever heard, but moving on).

And particularly with social media, part of the deal of celebrity, if that's something you want for your life, is that you give up some sense of ownership to your fans. At the point where a celebrity is like "please stop this, I don't like it," a decent, healthy, responsible adult would stop, but if you've been courting teenagers as your fanbase, and counting on the insanely irrational amounts of energy teenagers pour into their chosen idols, I'm not sure you get to expect them to act like responsible adults on your command. Even if they're not teenagers, honestly. Like, if part of your social media strategy is having private FB groups of highly devoted super fans who do half your marketing for you in exchange for occasional crumbs of interaction, and you know these people are doing a full time job in hopes of the barest sign of approval or intimacy from you...you are not encouraging healthy relationships from healthy people. In fact you are relying on free labor from highly unhealthy people that you get via manipulation. It's almost weirdly abusive. And then it's kind of entitled to expect them to act like healthy people with healthy boundaries when you decide you've had enough.

But then the celebrities in question were teenagers when they made the choice to pursue stardom, right? So...overall, yikes. Like how do you deal with that tiger you have by the tail, you know? You invited a tiger into your life, and now it's just...gonna be a tiger.

And then, of course, there's the fact that these kinds of rumors are often (usually) encouraged when they are deemed helpful to a celebrity's image. Or to a television show's ratings, or whatever. So you have all these panels where the actors involved in a popular ship or a canon relationship will be really flirty with each other -- performing for those fans -- even though they are married to other people, or have a different sexual orientation than their characters.

And what's deemed helpful, and what's encouraged, isn't independent of the rest of society. Like straight pairings or f/f pairings are often winked at or encouraged, and m/m...not so much. It doesn't seem insignificant that two men would have vastly different reactions to being shipped together than two women might (or do). Like if the fanbase's incessant fantasizing and conspiracy theorizing affected their relationship, I'm not sure that's entirely separable from the way out m/m celebrity relationships are punished (lol I mean if they existed in the first place; they definitely don't, not unless being gay is your thing).

I guess I'm saying there's a reason that fans feel some degree of entitlement, because that entitlement, and the devotion it brings, often makes careers, so it's often encouraged. Until it isn't. And those boundaries seem to be drawn in ways that aren't entirely consistent. Navigating what's consensual shipping -- which, as a concept, seems like it might need some working out -- It doesn't seem totally obvious to adults, so I'm not sure I would expect teenagers to get it.

I did not expect to have so many thoughts about this, ngl.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:05 AM on July 3, 2019 [16 favorites]


Maybe a tl;dr: an industry (celebrity) that relies, to a large degree, on encouraging unhealthy relationship patterns with fans is gonna have unhealthy relationship patterns with fans. I don't think you can have one without the other. And the craziness is horrible -- death threats? stalking? -- but I think the responsibility is a little bit diffuse. Like the people responsible for marketing a celebrity, the platforms that allow this stuff to escalate (including HBO), the overall culture that allows people to get into this space to begin with...

This is one of the reasons teenage celebrities make me so, so uncomfortable. Like I can see navigating this as an adult, or at least having the awareness and maturity to make an informed decision about choosing to navigate it as an adult, but teenagers...it's just not possible.

I don't know that there's anything to be done about that, but yeah. Teenage celebrity makes me incredibly uncomfortable.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:10 AM on July 3, 2019 [11 favorites]


sigh: and I didn't say it, bc it goes without saying, but just in case: the ultimate responsibility for terrible things lies with people who do terrible things. But to the degree that we're talking about systemic responsibility or stochastic terribleness...yeah.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:12 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Where is that line then? Writing a story? Having a viral hit story that gets optioned into a three movie deal that is seen by hundreds of millions? When is that line crossed?

Actually doing something to somebody, rather than thinking about them.

"Just writing down a thought makes it real" is one of the precise arguments used to shut down all kinds of transgressive literature throughout history. I'm a little surprised that that even needs to be pointed out.

Because that is what this is. Stalking and harassment.

If I write a story about Real Persons A and B and send it to three of my friends via email for our private entertainment (again, this is not actually me, I have very little interest in this kind of thing), where is the stalking? Where is the harassment? I am not going anywhere near these people, I will never see them or communicate with them in any way. I have no intention of either of A or B ever reading the story and in fact would strongly prefer that they not. A and B's lives are simply not affected by my story.

Now, the increasing porousness of the boundary between the famous and the not means that one needs to be a lot more thoughtful about ways in which RPF (or, as I keep pointing out, speculation in nonfiction genres) can leak and legitimately negatively affect people's lives. I agree with that; I think those concerns are very reasonable. But that is what we might call a format-specific issue. A very legitimate issue but, as you can see from the example I gave above, not one inherent to the concept of having sexual fantasies about a celebrity. Everyone else here yelling about how disgusting the very concept is is, to my mind, being hypocritical. Unless you are asexual, I suppose, you will almost certainly have had fantasies about celebrities of some kind. Most of you will have discussed them at some point with someone, even if only to make a casual joke about them (we just had a whole FPP on yearning to be run over by celebrities' cars, etc.). And many of you will have consumed at one point at least one of the forms of celebrity romantic gossip. It's pretty hard not to! They are all predicated on the same objectification of real people, the same reduction of an image of a person to a subject for sexual gratification. If you don't like what you see in the mirror, smashing it isn't going to help.

(By the way, based on past experience, I'm going to skip a step here and point out that praemunire is a gender-neutral name but praemunire herself is a woman and has all the same personal concerns about sexual violence that any woman does.)
posted by praemunire at 10:15 AM on July 3, 2019 [11 favorites]


Yeah I definitely agree schadenfrau. At least back when the act of performing your brand, like... last sighted in the late 1990s the act still has to go through latency and lag of multiple mediums. Now there's so little friction that 1D and some 2010s kpop bands had to be our lab rats so we can revise the societal SOP accordingly. In the meantime, here we are.
posted by cendawanita at 10:16 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


It doesn't seem insignificant that two men would have vastly different reactions to being shipped together than two women might (or do).

As I noted above, women have been expected to put with up this kind of fantasy construction around their relationship with their male co-stars since at least the dawn of the studio system. People who think that the current examples having to do with m/m relationships is just a coincidence are being a little bit naive.
posted by praemunire at 10:17 AM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


Seriously. People need to stop making excuses for these creepers. They need to be shut down, hard.

I don't think that people should write RPF, but I also don't think it's productive to describe the people writing it as creepers and stalkers.

To start with, there are really two big arguments against RPF: (a) that writing and sharing the material itself is wrong, and (b) that some RPF writers do stalk or harass celebrities and their families. If you talk about RPF writers as if they are all (b), well, it's going to put people's hackles up, because it's not true of all RPF writers, and it's also not exclusive to RPF writers (see: mainstream celebrity culture). Early RPF had a big taboo about bringing RPF to celebrities' attention or interacting with celebrities in anything but the prescribed ways (e.g. autograph signings) - which in a way made it more respectful of (b) than a lot of mainstream celebrity culture.

But also, a lot of the people writing RPF are girls or women who are responding to celebrity culture in a way that they understand. In a way that is sometimes actively encouraged these days. They are supposed to fantasize about celebrities - but "no, not like that."

Importantly, fandom is an outlet for a lot of us - it's a place of expression and safety, although less so now that it's become more mainstream. There's a lot of social and historical context that is important here. Even if you think that RPF is inherently inappropriate or boundary-crossing, it's not coming from the same place and doesn't have the same effects as, say, a man posting deepfake nudes of a woman he has a grudge against.

I don't think it's easy to have an informed discussion about RPF outside of fandom. That's the reason my initial reaction was "ohhh nooo" - not because I'm embarrassed somehow, but because I didn't anticipate that the discussion would be respectful or informed about fandom. I'm glad that so far most commenters seem to be in fandom, though.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:45 AM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


As a note, I don't think that RPF is inherently more likely to be smut written by teenage girls than any other part of fanfic, it's just that the stuff that's not smut written by teenage girls is passed over as somehow not RPF - even if it's coming from within fandom. Like, copperbadge has been doing a series on RDJ advising other actors about their life choices, based loosely on celebrity photographs, for years and nobody thinks a thing of it. I could trawl the Mcsweeney's archive and find a ton more that'd fall into this framework. There's at least one book about Obama and Biden solving murder mysteries together.

People interact with celebrity personas all the time and make up narratives about them, make memes about them, and it can easily be dehumanizing even without being sexual. I do agree with the idea that it's about consent, but the line of consent is about what is given up for public consumption and what is not.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:53 AM on July 3, 2019 [9 favorites]


Are professional sports players considered to be subject to celebrity culture? Some players do cross the line over to being full fledged celebrities in additional to athletes (like Tom Brady, Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan), but it feels weird to me to argue that an athlete "invited a tiger into their life" when they decided to pursue their sport professionally.
posted by devrim at 10:54 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


I mean, there's tons of RPF about hockey players, so this phenomenon is definitely not contained to actors/musicians.
posted by TwoStride at 10:58 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I mean, there's tons of RPF about hockey players, so this phenomenon is definitely not contained to actors/musicians.

I am not defending RPF in one direction or another, but I do think it's hilarious that some of the most popular pairings were up for vote of "most popular bromance" in the NHL Fan awards this year.
https://www.nhl.com/fans/nhl-fan-choice-awards

There are certain sports where the team social media is certainly aware of what's going on in the larger sports celebrity sphere. Hockey is definitely one of them.
posted by librarianamy at 11:37 AM on July 3, 2019


I've never happened to write RPF, but I did read some of it in the Lord of the Rings fandom, where the behind-the-scenes documentaries depicted this world of wonderful, creative, attractive people working in close proximity in beautiful scenery. Because the setting and timeframe were so constrained, it never felt invasive to me - it was like this little bubble of time and space that was clearly a not-real setting for the stories. Then again, I remember there were tinhatters for Domlijah who were doing the same thing - scrutinizing every public appearance for signs of true love. I think there was one unbalanced culty person behind the scenes encouraging a lot of that too, and it ended up playing out in some sort of hoax convention thing.
posted by PussKillian at 11:40 AM on July 3, 2019


As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I'm fine with all of fandom's ills being blamed on Supernatural , and I can bask in the moral superiority that comes from knowing that no one wants to think about Arthur Conan Doyle having sex, except there is Arthur and George... does writing about ACD's cockstand count as RPF? What about "ripped from the headlines" plays like Hillary and Clinton? Or the novel I enjoyed the most last year, The Seventh Function of Language, which features some (still living) critical theorists engaged in sex and other activities that most definitely did not happen?

I think this "controversy" is coming from a couple of directions:
(1) Fans are unhappy because their hobby was exposed and made to look silly. Unfortunately, other people's wank material always looks absurd.
(2) Women are getting off to the wrong thing, and what's worse, they aren't sitting around feeling ashamed of it.

There's a difference between "writing RPF" and "writing RPF and tweeting at the celebs involved and asking them if that thing you made up in your head is true". I think a lot of what happens on Twitter and at conventions is harassment, but it is not a problem limited to RPF fans.

(Aside from the books/play mentioned, my only experience with RPF is belonging to a Belle and Sebastian mailing list where people would sometimes post poems about having tea with the band. This was back in the day when they had more than one Stuart.)
posted by betweenthebars at 11:43 AM on July 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


Like, copperbadge has been doing a series on RDJ advising other actors about their life choices, based loosely on celebrity photographs, for years and nobody thinks a thing of it.

RDJ Advises isn't RPF in the sense of being like, something I could imagine RDJ or his family objecting to. It's suuuper tame.

In another edge case, Lams (Alexander Hamilton/John Laurens) is not often tame, and the subjects cannot be described as having invited modern celebrity culture into their lives. A) Is it cool because they're dead? B) Is it more okay if it's tagged as fic of the musical rather than historical RPF, even if the text is the same? C) Is it less weird if it's a coffee shop AU on the Moon but not a ship manifesto based on close readings of the men's own letters? I only feel confident answering the last question, and that in the affirmative.
posted by bagel at 12:07 PM on July 3, 2019


Yeah, but if we're using a definition of RPF which is just fiction based on real people, it's definitely RPF. So's that time we were all Beyonce's assistant last week.

And this was a while ago, and a part of fandom that I didn't interact with that much, but there was definitely a thing where people would plug in CW actors into the plots of various famous romantic comedies. I don't know, maybe they were secretly also incredibly freaky weird, but my impression is that they were essentially creating queer romantic comedies for themselves with two hot dudes in the lead.

All of this seems like differences in grade to me - none of this stuff is really meant to be for the celebrities (any more than book reviews are really meant for authors), but talking about RPF like it's all one thing also seems kind of short sighted.

There's also a case to be made that parasocial relationships are inherently dangerous, whether you're sexualizing the person or not. I mean, think about all of the times that people have gotten away with horrible things due to having the right public image.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:28 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Holy shit did I fall into some sort of time vortex or something and it's 2001 again and we're having debates about whether or not that story is acceptable because they don't have sex, but that one isn't because they do?

Upstairs in my attic I have a novel where the ghost of Claudette Colbert gets off by sticking her breast in a jar of bees and a t-shirt from comic book where Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage build computers and fight crime. Not to mention my collection of ridiculous teenage historical romance novels, most of which include at least one historical figure because, y'know, learnings.

I didn't have Lovelace & Babbage as an example the last time this debate went around, but aside from that, it sure looks like nothing's changed. And yeah, believing in epic conspiracies about the true love of your favourite pairing is bad, but it isn't the object of the belief that's the problem, it's the belief itself, and treating it like something different than, fuck, I don't know, QAnon or Birthers or JFK... it just seems a litttttttttttle hinky.

tl;dr: same fandom wank, we're all just even more tired.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:06 PM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


There's also a case to be made that parasocial relationships are inherently dangerous, whether you're sexualizing the person or not. I mean, think about all of the times that people have gotten away with horrible things due to having the right public image.

I regret not retaining the citation from 1997 or so, but I remember hearing on a news program that studies had shown how people often identified television show characters as part of their friend circle, reasoning that they saw these TV characters more frequently than they did some of the people they knew in real life.

I thought about that citation a lot when I watched TV show fans excuse terrible behavior from fictional characters and the antihero genre boomed. We have a hard time admitting that the people we like or love have been unworthy of our esteem; that goes for Walter White too.
posted by sobell at 1:18 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Importantly, fandom is an outlet for a lot of us - it's a place of expression and safety, although less so now that it's become more mainstream. There's a lot of social and historical context that is important here. Even if you think that RPF is inherently inappropriate or boundary-crossing, it's not coming from the same place and doesn't have the same effects as, say, a man posting deepfake nudes of a woman he has a grudge against.

I agree that deepfake revenge porn differs importantly from RPF. But that's a different matter entirely from whether deepfake celebrity porn differs importantly from RPF, at least with respect to the defenses and excuses people are raising here. I mean, the historical context of fandom wouldn't make deepfake porn of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki any less creepy or objectionable, even if everyone knows it's a deepfake and even if was made by and for a community of mostly women as an outlet of expression in a place of safety.

In fact, the community aspect is part of what makes it bad. We're not talking about private fantasies that no one sees, but rather material produced within and distributed among a community of people. The publicity component (however limited) might raise new issues of copyright for deepfakes, but surely that's not what makes deepfakes creepy and wrong. It's the objectification, violation, and lack of consent. Is this really what fanfic-centric fandoms wants to circle the wagons around?

(For what it's worth, I think this also explains intuitions that historical fiction about real, long dead people is less objectionable. We don't think Julius Caesar is vulnerable to those harms the same way that still-living people are, at least in part because they're not around to feel objectified or violated, and in part because everyone with personal memories of Caesar who might feel indirectly violated are also long dead.)

I'm not saying that RPF is the same as deepfake celebrity pornography, but as tocts said, the difference is one of degree rather than kind.
posted by This time is different. at 1:49 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Unless you are asexual, I suppose, you will almost certainly have had fantasies about celebrities of some kind. Most of you will have discussed them at some point with someone, even if only to make a casual joke about them (we just had a whole FPP on yearning to be run over by celebrities' cars, etc.). And many of you will have consumed at one point at least one of the forms of celebrity romantic gossip.

I feel like maybe people don’t really know what a RPF fic contains? It’s not anything like any of that.

Let’s take One Direction fic. Of the 58858 works on Archive of Our Own in the 1D fandom, 12605 are marked Explicit and 11707 marked Mature. The third most popular fic (based on Kudos) uses the tags Rimming, Anal Sex, and Anal Fingering, you only have to go 4 fics in to find the tag Ass to Mouth, and in the first 400 results there are NO works tagged General Audiences.

I understand that this and celebrity culture are all of a piece but these aren’t things I tell my friends about my fantasies and gossip magazines don’t say anything like that about Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. I can understand being unnerved by coming across something like that, written about me, by someone who thinks it’s true.

NB I like kinky fanfic about not-real people, so I’m definitely not trying to shame anyone here.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:05 PM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


A large part of Chuck Tingle’s œuvre is erotic RPF, yet he remains a consistent MeFi favorite, across many many threads and hundreds of comments.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:54 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I don't think anybody can read Chuck Tingle's work and actually find it erotic. It is obviously a joke.
posted by schroedinger at 3:38 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


tbf I have read Unicorn Butt Cops Beach Patrol and the sex parts are pretty standard erotica. If you forget they’re T-Rexes it’s kinda sexy.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:58 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think four things:

a) I think that there is a difference between the personae of a star adn the actual person of the star, even in these rpf, the shipping is a set of personae, and not actual people.
b) i think that the construction of fame requires this kind of seperation, and that the personae can be sliced for various audiences.
c) i think, still, the desire of queer folks and young women is considered terribly taboo, and so this leads to finding identity construction where one can annotate outside the margins. I think we tell each other stories about queerness, or construct queer meaning, or read queer code, because there are very few other ways of being in a misogynst and homophobic world. I think this has existed for a very long time, sometimes encouraged by queer or queer adjacent performers (Mineo and Dean in Rebel, Brando in The Wild One), sometimes as a way of working against a homophobic text (I would argue Jodie Foster in Silent might be this or most of Anthony Perkins career) Boyd MacDonald's Cruising the Movies is a useful text here.
d) 20th century culture is marked by the mash up, the rewrite, the fanfiction, the collapsing of the real into the sureal, and the refusing of canon, what a real person is, what a personae is, and what a wink at the mutual construction of either, is an ongoing crisis. Censoring texts because we feel over protective about the personae. (someone said that the Crown is fanfiction---but what is Tab Hunter in Polyester but a RPF, how can that be understood, w/o outing Hunter? What is Ursula in the Little Mermaid but Alan Menken's insidery queer joke about Divine and the queer monstrous.


When did we get so fucking polite?
posted by PinkMoose at 4:33 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


like when i masturbate to a fanfic of Blake Shelton being tied up by Adam Levine, I am not imagining actual Blake Shelton and actual Adam Levine, i am fantasizing the public personae that "Blake" (hard, okie, butch, homosocial) and "Adam" (soft, cali, metro) interact---in the same way that when I watch Annette Benning in Stars Don't Die in Liver Pool or Taren Edgerton as Elton, I do not leave the theater thinking I know anything at all about their persons, but I do know what the culture is telling us about (aging or queerness or camp or sex or appetite or loneliness or AA)
posted by PinkMoose at 4:39 PM on July 3, 2019


These fics upset the people they're portraying. It's an asshole move to continue to write them if you know they're upsetting the person you're writing about (and are supposedly a fan of). As a queer woman, I don't think the identity of the writer matters one iota when it comes to RPF. Assholery doesn't stop being assholery when it's dressed up in queer theory and gender studies.
posted by schroedinger at 6:08 PM on July 3, 2019 [16 favorites]


This is neither here nor there, but it turns out that there was brief, cute RPF of Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde in a newspaper in 1882, and I felt that this thread needed to have it.

All I can explain it with is that it could be really hard to fill column inches in the old publishing days, especially for small papers.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:50 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thank you, praemunire. The problem is indeed the obsessive overinvestment that exceeds boundaries, not in the writing of fiction which is clearly labelled and identifiable as fiction. I have seen a tiny incident pounced upon by obsessive fans, given a flimsy explanation and had that explanation accepted as certainty within that group—and my reaction at the time was to feel that the correct response to such tiny incidents was to address them in fanfiction. RPF and 'people who cannot distinguish fiction from reality' have a very small overlap. (Yeah, there are always a few.) The latter are unlikely to be fic writers/readers: when we write stories, we know they aren't fact because we remember making them up.

It's noteworthy, I think, that in the incidence that got this discussion going, it wasn't members of 1D finding stories about themselves on the internet and being upset. It was members of 1D finding the concept being used by an entity far more powerful than any fan putting it on television to make money.
posted by Pentickle at 3:46 PM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


The issues with One Direction fans existed a long time before Euphoria and as mentioned above has negatively affected the relationships of those involved.
posted by schroedinger at 4:10 PM on July 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's easy to have an informed discussion about RPF outside of fandom.

Why is it I always hear that excuse when fans behave badly? "Oh well, people that aren't real fans can't understand the nuanced humor that is Harlan grabbing a woman's breast on stage." "Oh well outsiders may think that this anime is about junior high school girls getting raped, but real fans know... " "Look, sending death and rape threats to critics like Anita Sarkesian is just a Gamer Thing. You wouldn't understand. " Informed discussion always boils down to "Just let us keep doing it. "

And couple that with a quick diversion of responsibility to some abstract institution "Don't blame fans for something that is Hollywood's fault." Sure is nice to be able to shift personal responsibility onto some institution we can't do anything about.

The bottom line is real people are getting hurt by this and the collective response is *shrug*. Because a few people getting their rocks off is considered more important. And that's an attitude I've seen that have lead to teens getting sexually assaulted at cons, women being chased out of their careers, people being fixed and mass harassed online...its toxic behavior that repeatedly infects fandoms , and the same excuses and derailments get recycled to justify it.

But hey, as long as some people can masturbate at the expense of other people, its all good, so I'm told.
posted by happyroach at 8:05 PM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


Why is it I always hear that excuse when fans behave badly?

Excuse me? I've said in this thread and in the comment you're responding to that I don't think that people should write RPF.

But because I said it's not productive to lump together the act of writing RPF with stalking or harassing celebrities, I'm "excusing" fans who are behaving badly. Uh-huh.

Yes, I think that if you want to change people's minds, you ought to argue that what they're actually doing is wrong - not that what other people are doing is wrong. And you can see why, right here in this thread: They'll rightly object that they're not doing the thing. And yes, I do think that the social context is important. For one thing, an understanding of social context helps me refrain from bad comparisons to how women are harassed in fandom!
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:08 PM on July 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


It's simple: what happens on AO3 stays on AO3. Fan fic writers shouldn't harass the subjects of their RPF fics and the celebs it is about should not go looking for them.

Just like 'real' writers do with fan fic set in their worlds or using their characters.

Most of the real problems with RPF isn't so much that it is 'creepy' but rather fans overstepping boundaries, which when you're talking about people as popular as the One Direction dudes, will always happen. If you have millions of (mostly teenage at the time) fans, there are bound to be a couple of thousand obsessive assholes.

That sort of shit is worth pushing back against and in this regard Euphoria putting a spotlight on it, no matter how annoying to RPF writers who aren't stalkers, might help flush away some of the worst behaviour.

In a more general context, the problem we have with the current internet is that a) technically everything you do on it is public and b) social mores haven't quite evolved enough to deal with this. Everybody has a lot of stuff out there that you could look up and drag out of context, but you shouldn't.

RPF hurting the people it's written about because people share it overzealously is just a symptom of this, imo.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:55 AM on July 5, 2019


Most of the real problems with RPF isn't so much that it is 'creepy' but rather fans overstepping boundaries

So, what I think you and others keep sidestepping is, the fact that RPF is viewed as acceptable in some spaces because people think somehow it can be contained there contributes to fans overstepping those boundaries, above and beyond what might have happened otherwise.

I'm not gonna say there would not be One Direction fans who take things too far without RPF, but Larries were not an inevitability when the band members signed their first contract. Much like chan culture is a conduit to self-radicalize people who weren't yet but could be influenced into becoming trolling, disingenuous assholes, spaces where RPF is viewed as "OK, so long as we keep it on the down low" can do the same for people who aren't yet but could become unhealthily obsessed with celebrities.
posted by tocts at 5:52 AM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't have a problem with RPF or biographical fiction, in theory. But in context we had a conspiracy theory that Styles and Tomlinson were a couple and both faked multiple aspects of their family lives to cover that up. Once the fake baby rumors were picked up by celebrity news sites who "reported the controversy," I think it was time to get out of that RPF pool.

Similarly, I think it's probably in bad taste to write scific/horror stories about bad vaccines, or to write thrillers about Hollywood-staged atrocities right now. The conspiracy theorists have spoiled those barrels. Even if you're not personally tinhatting you're giving material to the tinhatters via Poe's law. Subtlety's for fuckers in this decade. Similarly I've developed sort of a knee-jerk aversion to, "it's obviously just fiction, why so serious?" these days.

More broadly, Larries are part of a larger problem in fandom of conspiracy theories of clues about cryptoqueers who will have a gay endgame or big coming out party tomorrow. Yes, mass media is frequently less than forthright regarding LGBTQ characters. Yes, some artists have used ambiguity to avoid committing. But we have a growing number of works and artists who are forthright. It's no longer progressive to play the same games we did in the 1980s and 1990s, and I'm tired of playing those games. And frequently, the story about Straighty McStraightdudes is exactly what it looks like on the surface.

Not that you need arguments for quasicanon or cryptocanon to ship it anyway. The tradition of fanfic starts from transformative queering of conservative straight narratives.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:34 AM on July 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


But also, a lot of the people writing RPF are girls or women who are responding to celebrity culture in a way that they understand. In a way that is sometimes actively encouraged these days. They are supposed to fantasize about celebrities - but "no, not like that."

Oooh, this reminds me of paid con photos. Has everyone here seen those? You go to a convention, pay some money, and you can get a picture of [insert celebrity here] gazing deeply into your eyes. A lot of these pictures are cute and funny and clever, but some of them look like actual, honest-to-god engagement announcements. I find them deeply weird and unsettling, moreso that RPF because of the paid participation of the celebrities themselves. I understand there are distinctions between hugging a fan for money and being the subject of explicit rimming porn, but fantasizing about celebrities is absolutely cultivated by the industry. Celebrity culture is invasive and unhealthy, but sometimes your creation takes on a life of its own and you can't always put the genie back in the bottle.
posted by Mavri at 3:00 PM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


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