It seems as if fanfiction is popping up everywhere nowadays. From “Fifty Shades of Grey” to “After,” there is about a 50 percent chance the latest romance novel in Target’s book section is placed under fanfiction. “After,” by Anna Todd, is a One Direction fanfiction that has been thrust into the spotlight.
With the huge fandom behind One Direction, both the self-proclaimed “directioners” and those who deny bopping their heads along to a tune — don’t lie we have all done it at some point — one would think “After” would be widely accepted. However, many fans feel that this fanfiction misrepresents One Direction as a whole and that it negatively impacts the perception of their fandom.
Although there are plenty of fans reading fanfiction and fanfiction websites, such as Archive Of Our Own, the fans who choose to read “After” are often viewed as “trashy” or “messed up.” This labeling can also be applied to those in other fandoms that read the fanfictions that are not widely accepted by the fandom as a whole. So the question arises: What happens to a fandom and its perception when fanfiction becomes widely known?
Some may argue that this publicity is simply just a widening of the fan base, that by publishing these fanfiction people will become interested in the band or the object mentioned in the fanfiction. They see any type of fanfiction being published to be a positive reflection of the fandom. However, many fans view the publication of fanfiction that is similar to “After” to be dangerous to the band. In “After,” Harry is portrayed as a womanizer and a reckless college student who only cares about doing drugs and using women for sex. While Todd did change the name of the main character from Harry to Hardin, readers already know that he was previously named Harry. Todd’s twitter photo, which seems to depict the two main characters in an embrace, still has Harry Styles’ face in it. Although Todd attempted to destroy the image of Harry as a womanizer in real life, she failed because of the intersection between fandom and media. In the early days of One Direction, you could find Harry being labeled as a womanizer every time One Direction was mentioned in the media.
Fanfiction is often written because fans support certain character pairings, referred to as “shipping” in fanfiction jargon. Once a particular “ship” is popularized through social media platforms, these “ships” begin to accumulate a following and numerous fanfictions, with fans finding pictures and evidence to support the “shipping.” In the case of “After,” media have begun to find ways to link Harry Styles and One Direction and their personas within this work of fiction.
Although there have been some fanfictions that have been published and made it “big” in the literary world, the chance that your favorite fanfiction will become popular is very slim. “After” and other fictions like “Fifty Shades of Grey” make it big because there are large followings behind them. “After” itself has over 270 million reads, although many of them come from people rereading or just reading bits and pieces of it.
Another One Direction fanfiction, “These Inconvenient Fireworks,” has also been published but the number of people outside of the fandom that have heard of it can be counted on one hand. So what makes stories like “After” so enticing that there has to be a published book and the chance of a movie made? Having read parts of this fanfiction, I can say that I have no idea why anybody would continue to read it after learning how abusive the main character, Hardin, is. However, this fanfiction does seem to have similarities to “Fifty Shades of Grey” in that it offers mature scenes to the readers and a plain Jane character that you can project yourself upon if you feel the need to do so. The ingredients for a successful fanfiction seem to be as many sex scenes as you can fit in featuring a plain Jane and a domineering male. If you have these, then Target’s romance section eagerly awaits the release of the next latest fanfiction craze.
Photo courtesy of WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
I would like to point out that not all fanfiction is writing by numbers. There are some very good, intellectually challenging (yes, as hard as that is to believe, not all teenagers brainless as we are portrayed), and deeply philosophical works out there that I’ve personally read. In fact, there are a good number of pieces that don’t display graphically sexual scenes at all. Some are about the stress placed on friendship due to excessive amounts of fame, others are about the bonds between siblings. There are some very creative writers out there, and some of them happen to be Directioners. And so, by combining what they love, they can simulate different scenarios while borrowing the features and characteristics of a person. This actually happens all the time in generalised fiction – an author might base one of his characters off a person they know, but nobody thinks of that as perverted or a gross invasion of privacy. Granted, it’s more likely that the author has obtained permission from the represented person, but still.
It would be appreciated if people stopped taking one side of fanfiction, or even Directioners and fandoms as a whole, and reducing them to overly-fixated, slavering hormonal fiends who feel the need to rub their crotch over anything and everything that tickles their fanatical fancies.