POTUS RPF: Poignant Nostalgia for Libmerica
September 1, 2019 8:35 AM   Subscribe

The Adventures of Barry & Joe: Virginia Heffernan reviews the strange, nostalgic world of Obama-Biden fanfiction. “To clarify: None of this is slash. That’s a blessing. . . . And before we introduce delusions about what might have been, we have an urgent challenge in the present—Trumpism, which can be stopped only with something other than naked cartoons.”

“Biden mirrors the sulky American people. Is Barack Obama ghosting us? Probably. But in Hope Never Dies, he‘s not ghosting Biden, and after Encyclopedia Joe stumbles on the mystery of the murdered Amtrak conductor in Hope Never Dies, the Dem Duo reunite to criss-cross Delaware in a farrago that leads them to find the mastermind of the opioid epidemic because why not.”

What is RPF? Real Person Fiction.

August was a particularly good month for fanfiction: Archive of Our Own won a Hugo Award. “AO3 co-founder [and talented fanfiction writer] Naomi Novik, accepted it on behalf of all of the website’s creators and readers. ‘All fanwork, from fanfic to vids to fanart to podfic, centers the idea that art happens not in isolation but in community.’”
posted by sallybrown (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Shaffer clearly admires and somehow truly gets Joe’s geriatric efforts to be cool and, especially cringily, down with the 44th president, with fist bumps and (yikes) even pseudo-Ebonics. It’s good someone finds that side of Joe charming.

Is it though?
posted by box at 8:51 AM on September 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Like all RPF- this is gross as hell.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:08 AM on September 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

See, this is why I could never get into The West Wing. The idea just made me achy and sad.

I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of fic, fandom, and the kinds of entertainment that some others would call escapism. I think they're important even--sometimes especially--in times like this. But that's because, properly done, these things have uses that allow us to expand or shore up our knowledge of what we want and what we can achieve in the real world. They give us rest and inspiration. But there is a point past which,-- and I never finish the sentence. It's just a Point Past Which. I have never been able to define it properly.

But I think that that point is where fantasy gives way to pure contrafactual wish-fulfillment in a way that saps and diminishes our engagement with reality rather than giving us the strength to engage further. That's part of why living-person RPF is generally unhealthy, in my opinion. These books aren't slash and don't encourage that kind of unhealthy fixation, but they do encourage dwelling in an imagined version of the past. And that damages our chances at a better future, as surely as it does when GOP voters do it.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:28 AM on September 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

It's interesting that this is described as fanfiction, despite all being commercially published works. That's a line that's usually a bit trickier to navigate.
posted by one for the books at 10:43 AM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

These are commercially published works, not fanfiction—there IS political RPF, and most of it is better and more interesting than this stuff, though still not my jam.

Also, I'm always curious as to how far people's "ew, RPF" feelings go. Do you mean that we should kick Primary Colors off the island? Lincoln in the Bardo? Libra?
posted by branca at 12:48 PM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I haven't seen the comics Heffernan is reviewing. They sound like their intended market is people buying gag gifts, perhaps something paired with a novelty Trump toilet paper roll. Are there multiple books? Are people buying them? What is happening?

Maybe the criticism is unfair -- because I haven't read these books and I'm never, ever going to -- but the very idea of finding a "mastermind" behind the opioid crisis is pretty gross. There's more than one, and they're not secret. Some of them are even publicly traded!
posted by grandiloquiet at 1:41 PM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I read the first one at the library and it was amusingly ludicrous. More about the bro-crush than anything else. I am both surprised and not surprised there is a sequel, somehow. The only way it works is because fictional Joe is, well...cheerfully ludicrous.

That said, yeah, this idea is totally wrong, and even worse when one of them is now running for president officially.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:43 PM on September 2, 2019

I always thought the memey notion that Biden was some kind of cool old badass was risible, but I never thought it would become actively harmful, in that it seems to have actually given him credibility and an identity as something other than an elderly drug warrior machine party hack.
posted by thelonius at 5:18 PM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

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