The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

RPF PSA

I've posted on this topic several times before, but I've become involved in several new fandoms since the last time, and there are lots of people on my friends list now who weren't there before, and based on some comments I've received recently, I am feeling the need to revisit the topic of how I feel about RPF. If you've heard me talk about this before, you can probably leave now, as my feelings have not changed substantially since the last time. For anyone else who wants to know...

Whenever I talk about RPF (real person fiction), I always start with a quote from Broadway Melody of 1938, spoken just before Judy Garland's character started writing that famous love letter to Clark Gable, "You Made Me Love You." It's particularly instructive, I think, because it's nearly 70 years old; some fans seem to believe that RPF and its more recent offshoot RPS is a recent trend among teenies, but that simply isn't true. The quote is, "Now, look here, young lady - you stop thinking about those motion picture actors and you go right to sleep! And mind you - no dreaming about them, either!" Which I think we can all agree is the unreasonable extreme of restriction upon fannish fantasy. Far more than their roles as artists, movie stars exist as such for us to dream about. And think about. And, dare I say, talk about. It's why they're celebrities.

Garland sang "You Made Me Love You" to Gable at several public occasions, so I daresay as well that he didn't think of her as a stalker just because she publicly professed to having fantasies about him. Of course, it's different between celebrities to begin with -- they're presumed to understand the extent to which the persona one sees is just that, though given the number of affairs they seem to have while making movies together which fall apart as soon as they're fully out of character, one does sometimes wonder whether it's really true. My point is that it's been widely understood since the creation of stardom that people would fantasize about the stars, who were at one time so prepackaged and marketed that playing themselves was a bigger occupation than playing their characters. To some extent, for certain celebrities, this is undoubtedly still true.

I have a story on my web site about discovering RPS by accident, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It is true that I discovered lotrips while looking for Smallville fic, finding what I thought was a Clark/Lex story and discovering only a third of the way in that it was, in fact, Viggo Mortensen/Elijah Wood, at which point the part of my brain that wanted to know if there was Viggo Mortensen/Sean Bean fic was crying out far more loudly than the part of my brain that was saying, "Should people really be posting this stuff in public, where absolutely anyone could find it including the celebrities themselves and their underage fans?" (I know that saying "think of the children" makes some people go berserk, to which I can only say: look, I have children, and I do supervise their internet usage, and I have watched one of them type in the name of an actor to look up a project only to see RPF show up in the Google result. Parental supervision can only go so far with a completely unrestricted internet.)

The truth is that I already had a vague notion of public RPF from a friend who'd left Trek fandom for boy band fandom, but I didn't think about it much, partly from an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude -- I didn't read or look for anything having to do with BSB or N'Sync, and it seemed very marginal as a result. But I also knew full well at that point that private RPF existed. I'd written it. In fact, in one case, I'd posted it to a closed mailing list. But we're talking about a very, very limited number of people who ever saw this, all friends, people I knew by real names and occupations, and the stuff was covered with disclaimers not only stating that it wasn't true, but that it was never to be shared with anyone without the express written consent of the author, and its existence was not even to be discussed. (And yes, it's Trek, and no, you can't see it.)

I knew I wasn't the only one; every fic mailing list I'd signed onto at that point had big warnings, "ABSOLUTELY NO STORIES ABOUT THE ACTORS!" And, you know, people don't write disclaimers like that unless it's been an issue, either on the lists or in their own imagined possibilities. I think it was taken for granted until very recently that if you thought things like that, you only told your best friends, and if you wrote it down, you only showed them. That's what has changed -- not the existence of RPF, but its publicity and the widespread sense now that there aren't the same legal or ethical concerns that there once were.

Nearly everyone reading this probably knows I've written LOTR RPS. At one time I posted it, too, under a different username that shall not be mentioned here (note to anyone leaving comments: you mention her, you're off my friends list!), because after that initial stumble into lotrips, I discovered that there were reams of it and thought, hey, why not get involved? The lotrippers were by and large a friendlier group than the Tolkien fan writers I knew, not as nitpicky about trivia from books, more welcoming, and, in many cases, much better writers of erotica.

Moreover, on LiveJournal at least, one could get the impression that there was more fic being written about the actors than the characters. There are several reasons for this, I think: the ease of writing in modern rather than Tolkienesque English, the fact that the actors seem so open to discussing themselves and their feelings for one another in a way the characters largely do not, the voluminous interviews and source material (as opposed to a handful of novels), the photos, Ian's web site, Viggo's poetry, Dom and Billy's seeming determination in every interview to suggest that they might be dating...at any rate, I saw all this and I didn't think much about the ethics of private versus public posting when I first got involved. I was more concerned with my privacy than with the actors', not really fearful that anyone who stumbled into the fandom would have any more trouble determining its fictionality than I did.

Then I met a nutcase. Not one of the Lij/Dom tinhats, though it might just as well have been; I never knew any of them by anything other than reputation. This was a person whom I'd thought was relatively sane and stable, until I discovered that she drew no distinctions between her fantasy life about the actors and objective reality concerning them. It really freaked me out. Not that I thought she was a threat to anyone other than herself, or perhaps a couple of other friends in the fandom, but that was enough.

It made me rethink my personal ethics concerning RPF, the privacy issues involved, both among fans and concerning celebrities. There's so damn much of the stuff...unlike anything around before, this public wealth of stories about actual people that isn't specifically parody, though I've been told that both certain musicians and certain science fiction actors had their own closed communities of RPF writers in the past. I still wrestle with the shared-reality issues, the consent issues -- does willingness to sell oneself on magazine covers imply consent to have oneself commodified in printed fictional form? -- and particularly the fact that, for people whose grasp on reality is already tenuous, RPF seems to encourage completely abandoning any attempt to separate personal fantasy from the sometimes illusory notion of community via the "shared reality" of RPF. It seems to have all the usual fandom power games and BNF issues, plus its own set of specific delusional behaviors centered on the fact that one can attempt to raise money in Sean Astin's name or meet Karl Urban at a convention, unlike Sam or Eomer.

All that said...this week, for the first time in a long time, I've been hearing from the other side. The people who have serious ethical issues with RPF, not in the ridiculous "writing fanfic is equivalent to rape" sense or even in the people-should-be-able-to-copyright-their-own-names sense but in the concern that if this sort of published falsehood is permissible and acceptable about celebrities, it has implications for all of us. But, that said, I have to wonder what's at stake for the people who most vehemently insist upon the wrongness of RPF -- and I don't mean the knee-jerk homophobes or the ones who are uncomfortable with any public discussion of sexuality, I mean the ones who quietly pass moral judgments on people who write it or even joke about it. I'm certainly guilty of a great deal of the latter in this journal. But it's my journal. If it makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to read it, or you can read it and say hey, that's her thing, not mine.

My feelings are pro-choice in this as in most things. If you want to read/post RPF in public, with your real name, so long as it's disclaimed to distinguish it from libel, fine; if you want to post it anonymously because you fear it could get you in trouble in your line of work or you're just not sure of the legal ramifications, that doesn't mean you're doing anything illicit; if you want to read it but you don't want to write it, that's your prerogative; and if it offends you and you don't want to read it or even talk about it, I understand completely. But saying you'd rather not discuss it and saying "this is wrong" are two different things.
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