In many ways, the Internet is like a city; there are decent sections—those reputable sites frequented by hundreds everyday—and there are seedy sections—the proverbial “back alleys” of the online world. It is difficult to say where Real Person Fiction (RPF), and the communities that support it, fall in this spectrum.
RPF is a form of fan fiction that features actual people rather than imagined characters; think tabloids with a more narrative style and less basis in fact. It has a surprisingly strong online presence, largely due to the increase in accessible blogging platforms, and is most prominent on sites such as Live Journal, Wattpad, and Archive of Our Own, where flourishing communities have arisen (Yarrow).
Despite its growing popularity online, RPF is generally considered dubiously legal at best, toeing the line of slander, and morally disgusting at worst—a reputation which is undoubtedly linked to the popularity of Chris Brown and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev redemption stories in the community (Yarrow). The stigma is such that FanFiction.net, one of the world’s most prominent fan fiction sites, removed its RPF content as long ago as 2008 (“FanFiction Content Guidelines”).
There is, however, more than one side to any argument, and substantial historical precedents suggest legitimate uses for the genre.
Consider William Shakespeare’s Henry V or The Tragedy of Julius Caesar as examples of famously successful RPFs. Lesser known are the works of Charlotte Bronte, which depict a fictional African colony, Angria, led by the Duke of Wellington and his sons Arthur and Charles (“Childhood Writings”).
The tales of Angria were “strongly influenced by recent events in the political world,” but also passionately imaginative; gothic romances, magical genies, and epic political rivalries all provided important plot points for the series (“Childhood Writings”). These stories helped Bronte and her siblings develop the writing skills and creativity necessary for their future literary careers, and aided in their comprehension of current events, which were much discussed by the entire family (“Childhood Writings”).
As the evidence shows, Bronte and Shakespeare were early authors of RPF, and the genre seems to have proved very useful to their craft. Surely, if Bronte were alive today and posting her tales of Angria, she would be unjustly lumped in with the hundreds of young, mostly female RPF enthusiasts being labeled as disreputable (Yarrow).
Such doubters have not considered the benefits of a community that encourages a system of peer review (via the comment section at the bottom of each post), creative writing, and, in some groups, multi-layered discussion of current events among young people. One brief story by chicating imagines a personal conversation between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner, while another by Petra creates a universe where Jason Todd, the tragic second Robin in DC Comic’s Batman universe, pens a heartfelt fan letter to then Senator Obama during his first presidential run (chicating; Petra). Both are relatively well-written—which is more unusual than not in online fiction—and imaginative, showcasing a more personal understanding of politics.
Of course, for every good RPF, there are innumerable bad, and most authors seem completely unconcerned with the practices that can add respectability to the genre, focusing on shock-value rather than actual value. No one needs to know what happens when President Obama, Rahm Emmanuel, Nancy Pelosi, and other political leaders play spin-the-bottle at the White House (Tish). No one.
That being said, maybe internet-driven expansion of RPF forums is a very bad thing; maybe its only contribution to society is another back-alley internet vice that is generally known but never acknowledged. Or, perhaps the bringing-together of these people into one community is a good thing; perhaps giving them an understanding audience and an outlet for their ideas and opinions—however disturbing they may be—is the morally right thing to do.
As Charlotte Bronte once said, “…however insignificant, [the plain person] has the right to form an opinion and even to express it: kings and emperors have no authority to silence that inner voice which all men hear in their hearts…”(Helstone).
chicating. “Lunch, Almost A Drabble.” Archive of Our Own. 19 Aug 2013. Web. 29 Aug 2013. <http://archiveofourown.org/works/933278>.
“Childhood Writings.” The Secret and Lily Hart: An Early Manuscript by Charlotte Bronte. University of Missouri, 25 Mar 2011. Web. 29 Aug 2013. <https://library.missouri.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/brontewritings.htm>.
“FanFiction Content Guidelines.” FanFiction.net. 20 Nov 2008. Web. 29 Aug 2013. <http://www.fanfiction.net/guidelines/>.
Helstone, Caroline. “The Death of Napoleon by Charlotte Bronte.” The Briarfield Chronicles. Shabbyblogs.com, 14 Jul 2013. Web. 29 Aug. 2013. <http://thebriarfieldchronicles.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-death-of-napoleon-by-charlotte.html>.
Petra. “Dear Senator Obama.” Archive of Our Own. 06 Jul 2011. Web. 29 Aug 2013. <http://archiveofourown.org/works/255727?show_comments=true>
Tish. “Black Forest Cake and Kisses.” Archive of Our Own. 28 Jan 2013. Web. 29 Aug 2013. <http://archiveofourown.org/works/659195>.
Yarrow, Allison. “Inside the Wild and Addictive World of Celebrity Fan Fiction.” Time. 26 Aug 2013: Web. 29 Aug 2013. <http://entertainment.time.com/2013/08/26/inside-the-wild-and-addictive-world-of-celebrity-fan-fiction/>.