Fanfiction and Henry Jenkins’ “Quinton Tarantino’s Star Wars?”

by Cat Apicella

Fanfiction is defined as “fiction written by fans of a TV series, movie, etc., using existing characters and situations… fiction written around previously established characters invented by other authors.” (Dictionary.com)

In the fourth chapter of Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture, Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?”, Jenkins looks at Star Wars and the many fan-made videos, books, and other materials that have spawned from this work of fiction, and, while he does touch on other fandoms, albeit briefly, none have a similar amount of data collected on them.

I will admit to being a ‘fanficcer’, someone who both writes and reads fanfiction. I also edit fanfiction, which earns me the title of ‘beta’ among fanfiction communities; in fact, I was voted runner-up in the ‘Best Beta’ award on a Livejournal community I’m a part of several months ago. Admittedly, I have never betaed Star Wars fanfiction, but I have betaed fandoms varying from Yu-Gi-Oh to Criminal Minds and The Dresden Files to Yu Yu Hakusho, and as such, I have quite a basis of knowledge to work from when talking about fanfiction.

As is stated multiple times throughout the chapter “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?” fans love fandom; they love the characters, love the story, and want to share their love of the fandom with others, it’s why they spend so much time and energy writing, reading, editing, and posting things in the fandom. Fanfiction is both a personal endeavour and a group project, it unites people who might not meet otherwise by their love of certain characters, or certain episodes, or certain books, and allows them to talk about the things they love so much.

I spend a good twenty-five hours a week, minimum, doing things related to the fandoms that I’m interested in, doing everything from looking up facts to editing other people’s fanfictions, or writing my own. I also spend multiple hours online a week talking to other people who write fanfiction, the people that I beta for, and the people that have become my friends based on fandom. I would never have met some of the amazing people that I know if not for fanfiction and a shared interest in certain fandoms. And, before you gripe about my experience being unique, I assure you that I am not a unique example; there are other fanficcers (which from now on I’ll use as a general term for anyone within the fandom) who spend even more time doing fandom things than I do, and other people who have become great friends with others based on fanfiction.

Within the chapter “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?” Jenkins argues that his “analogy… refers to a specific moment in the emergence of American popular culture, when songs were often circulated well beyond their points of origin, lost any acknowledgement of their original authorship, were repurposed and reused to serve a range of different interests, and were very much part of the texture of everyday life for a wide array of nonprofessional participants.”

I have to argue that this has not happened again, and that there are few in fandom that would want this to happen. In fact, if someone were to try and take, for instance, the characters of the fandom and try and reuse them and not give credit to the original author, the first people who would jump on them would be the fanficcers. We’re, as a whole, intensely loyal to the originators of the fandom that we’re a part of.

Jenkins then goes on to say that “the kind of production practices we are discussing here were a normal part of American life over this period. They are simply more visible now because of the shift in distribution channels for amateur cultural productions.”

I agree with this point, fanficiton is more visible now, it’s easy to find, a simple google search will turn up all the links you could possibly want for any fandom that you’re interested in, and the distribution channels for fanfiction has grown exponentially over the years, from magazines that had to be sent to a mailing list to entire websites based solely around fanfiction, or AMV’s (Anime Music Videos, similar to the Come What May video that Jenkins mentions), or similar fan endeavours.

Jenkins says that, “Ultimately… the studios are going to have to accept (and actively promote) some basic distinctions: between commercial competition and amateur appropriation, between for-profit use and the barter economy of the Web, between creative repurposing and piracy.” Fanficcers aren’t likely to (in fact, I would go so far as to say aren’t ever going to) try and overthrow the studios that make the TV shows or produce the movies, or the publishing houses that publish the books that they love. However, fanficcers aren’t going to just go away either, fanficcers have been around for decades, they aren’t going to just disappear because producers might feel weird having them there.

And lastly, Jenkins is completely correct in his final assertion when he says, “In the end, the media producers need fans just as much as fans need them.”  Without fans, there’d be no one to produce for, and, without the media, there’d be nothing for fanficcers to work from.

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