Is Real People FanFiction OK or Bad?
Real People Fiction, or RPF is fanfiction featuring real people, usually celebrities. This is generally considered a bit more taboo than fanfiction, and even FanFiction.net has banned it from its site, although you can find it on other fanfiction sites like Archive of Our Own. Many people find it strange and creepy, even if the featured celebrities have already given their public support. They see it as an invasion of privacy and they are particularly uncomfortable with stories involving sensitive subjects like suicide, drug use, murder, and graphic sexual and violent details in general.
History of RPF
The earliest known RPF is from the Bronte children from about 1826 to 1844. During role-playing games, the children made up stories about the Napoleonic Wars, featuring the Duke of Wellinton and his two sons, as well as their nemesis, Alexander Percy. Although these stories were never published during their lifetimes, the Bronte children found their interest in writing with these stories and used them to help improve their writing skills before becoming professional writers in adulthood.
In the 1920s, "Fatty Arbuckle and the Time Pirates" was published by Seigneur Books. This was a series featuring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, who traveled in time and raping famous historical figures.
In the 1960s, there were many stories featuring Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and the Beatles. In 1968, Jean Lorrah published "Visit to a Weird Planet," a short story published in Spockanalia 3 about what would happen if the characters of the popular show Star Trek were replaced with their 21st century counterparts. In the 1970s, fanzines about the band Led Zeppelin started printing fanfiction about the band, only changing the names to protect the real-life members.
When MTV began and rose in popularity in the 1980s, so did RPF about various bands and musicians, creating a subgenre called bandfic. But although some of the RPF stories got circulated through fanzines, most writers kept their stories to themselves and were unaware of others doing the same thing until the 1990s when RPF became popular on the internet.
Morality and Legality
RPF is on even shakier moral and legal ground than fanfiction. Even many fanfiction writers are against writing stories about real people, finding it creepy and an invasion. In a discussion about RPF on FanFiction.net, a writer who uses the nom de plume Princess Skye Jewel posted "I'd be gasping and choking for air if someone writes a story about my real persona. So, no real person fiction for me."
Most RPF writers use a disclaimer, saying that they in no way intend to imply that these are real events or interests of the celebrities they are portraying. Only one known "Cease and Desist" letter has been given to an RPF writer, unlike regular fanfiction. This was for the story "If There's Gray Hair on the Field, Play With Balls," a 2003 RPF about a homosexual encounter between three retired Yankee baseball players. The complaint said that the story was not only harmful to the reputations of the former players, but also to the Yankees brand.
Types of RPF
There are several subgenres to RPF:
- bandfic: Stories about musicians, especially popular members of bands. Many of these stories are wish-fulfillment stories describing romantic encounters, or playing with the band.
- political fiction: These are often satire stories about current political events and politicians, criticizing some views through humor and showing exaggerated versions of what happened and exaggerated views.
- Real Person Slash or RPS: Slash stories are stories with homosexual themes, regardless of the true sexuality of the person. These range from innocent crushes to explicit erotica. They have risen in popularity with the popularity of boy bands, with many stories involving the band members being attracted to one another. These are usually considered as controversial as other RPF, not more.
- Mary Sue Stories: These stories are usually wish-fulfillment. They usually feature a heroine (although there are also Gary Stu stories out there as well) that is more beautiful/kind/talented than others and she stuns people with her personality and skills. She often has an innocent persona and is modest despite her above average attractiveness. These characters are perfect to set up the celebrity featured in the story with a love interest.
Although probably many celebrities do not appreciate RPF about themselves, a lot of them put on a projection of indifference or ignorance, which is a good way to not alienate some of their fans, and might be why a lot of them do that.
In the TV show Supernatural, there was an episode about RPF where Sam and Dean read fanfiction about themselves and showed anger at the invasion of their personal lives. However, the fanfiction writers didn't know they were writing about real people, and not just characters from paranormal books.
Elijah Wood has given RPF a nod on the Graham Norton Show, about slash fiction and art featuring him and other Lord of the Rings actors. He says it is very creepy because they are so realistic and several times he has said that it is one of the most creative endeavors he's ever seen.
Real People Fiction has even been known to be used with the celebrities' permission to possibly help their career. In the 1940s, Whitman Publishing Company released authorized fictional stories about actors and actresses, including the photo of them on the front and illustrations of them inside. These included Ginger Rogers, John Payne, Betty Grable, Gene Autry, and Ann Rutherford.
Personally, I think RPF is a little creepy, especially if it's about people who are still alive today. Even though I don't have a problem with fanfiction, I've always felt fictional stories about real people should be kept private and not shared on the internet, especially when it can get back to that real person or people close to them and offend them.
However, with famous historical figures or celebrities who have already passed (after a few years, though. Right after the death is kind of wrong, too) I don't consider it too weird. I mean, that seems much more acceptable considering the number of movies and books that are essentially RPFs featuring historical figures, like Mulan, Anastasia, Shakespeare in Love, and Outlander (although the main characters in Outlander are completely fictional, Bonnie Prince Charlie does make an appearance, and he is real). Not to mention the many Doctor Who episodes dealing with historical figures, an episode of Leverage involving a famous but real crime, and an episode of Supernatural where Robert Johnson makes an appearance with the legend of the Crossroads.
So I draw the line with stories about celebrities who are still alive, or those who have recently passed away. Where do you draw the line?