RPF: Sometimes the medium is the meta

RPF (Real Person Fiction) is one of those things I have lots of thinky thoughts about, but nearly always bring up tangentally in some broader FPF (Fictional Person Fiction) conversation such it doesn’t really get explored. But I’ve been sitting on a link of vague interest in this regard for ages, and since we’re still in this zone where Time magazine makes us talk about fanfiction a lot, now seems like the time to share.

RPF is a funny animal, in that is has a lot of different purposes if one’s going to argue for any agenda or intent beyond just telling a story. RPF shows up in satire (e.g., the Guardian on Clegg/Cameron), literary fiction (e.g., The Imagined Life of James Dean), historical fiction (e.g., The Other Boleyn Girl), professionally published erotica (e.g., Starf*cker), and, of course, unpaid, community/audience-oriented fanfiction (e.g., Bandom, PunditSlash, and more). And because I love backstage stories of all varieties, whether they be fictional (e.g., Kiss Me Kate, Moulin Rouge) or not, I’m completely fascinated by it.

This isn’t an abstract, look-at-the-bug-under-glass fascination. After all, I’m in fandom; and hence fandom and its foibles is not the Other. I’ve even run into RPF about people I know (an experience which has proved to be more bizarre than awkward) and have encountered many, many ethical discussions about RPF (which are important, if not always compelling). And yes, I am also perfectly aware of the “fanfiction authors write RPF about other fanfic authors” meme.

For me, the fascination is absolutely, positively about the process of fame and the nature of celebrity. How do people — fictional or fictional versions of real people’s already somewhat fictional public personas — navigate private life under public scrutiny? When I’ve read RPF, speculation and argument about that is generally what’s driving my interest. Hell, arguably, that’s what’s also driving some of my interest in Twitter: the ability to witness part of a process — actual, fictionalized or fictional — generally outside of my ability to access.

Anyway, while I know this is far from the only reason people read RPF, I have to assume it’s a reason I’m not alone in. That reason is also one that, if simplified, pretty much boils down to the reader asking questions like “Holy crap, how does that work?” or “If presented with this set of choices I can’t even comprehend, what ridiculousness would I commit?”

Which is pretty much why my eyes bugged out of my head when I heard that a fanfiction author who goes by Neaf wrote a piece of RPF involving Glee cast members in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format. Thus the fic in question can be a friendship fic or a relationship fic or a porn fic or an angsty dramarama fic, and so involves a significant (yet unspoken) acknowledgement of the degree to which RPF may often be something read from the context of self-insertion, even without the overt presence of a Mary Sue.

Neaf’s story, no matter how you feel about the existence of RPF at all, is a pretty fascinating case of (to borrow a phrase clumsily) the medium being the meta.

That’s all I’ve got for you on this beautiful Saturday. But before you check the fic out: remember that this might squick you, remember to read warnings, remember I am not offering a value judgement on RPF good or bad, and please play nice in comments; I know RPF discussions can get seriously heated.

7 thoughts on “RPF: Sometimes the medium is the meta”

  1. Do you remember Moonlighting? I think that it was one of the first TV shows I ever saw that broke the fourth wall. In the last season, they were having all kinds of problems and there were these little preludes that was something very like RPF.

    I think that I feel enough uncomfortable with it to be fascinated. It’s a weird feeling.

  2. Interactions between fans and artists have become much more available through social media (ie: twitter, blogging, etc) which can cloud the differences public perception and private lives. Some people are very adept at creating a public persona that interacts directly with fans (Pete Wentz, for example), although I think this can be taken too far (or maybe I just got weirded out). One example of this was a “private” twitter account a celebrity created and then dispersed to a very select group of “fans”, so the celebrity could “talk” to them while ignoring the public twitter.

    In bandom, the ICH community is regularly visited by band members, who anonymously comment and at times have quoted comments in their public blogs. Pete Wentz created a t-shirt specifically for the community, with the tag “lurker” on the bottom, commenting on how he lurks there.

    All of this leads directly into my original interest in bandom fiction. It’s interesting to be able to craft stories involving the public personas, especially because there is little to no fourth wall. Bandom artists have been known to tweet their locations, say that they are taking gym classes at a specific location and time and invite fans to join them. They feel like they could be your friends (great publicity) and the writing reflects that. You could be reading stories about people that you would hang out with.

  3. This is an interesting and enlightening perspective on RPF, and it kind of explains to me my own fanscination with it.

    I got into fandom through bandom, specifically Museslash, but then went off it because I felt intrusive and ‘wrong’, etc etc. But recently I’ve been into it more (actually, mostly due to neaf’s fics) and I haven’t understood why.

    I think it is that social aspect, and wanting that insight, or speculation into, what it is to be famous. I suppose it’s also because I’m always fascinated by how stories are written and constructed, and fan fiction in any form, whether the characters are rooted in fiction or reality, always exemplifies that process.

    I’m still not sure whether I think RPF is ‘wrong’ or ‘immoral’ (incidentally, there was a really interesting post about that on the klainalysis comm, did you read it?). There are definitely places that I draw the line–like some pieces I saw written recently on how upset DC looked during that performance of Teenage Dream in London (people writing fics on how he was heartbroken over something to do with CC), which for me steps a little too far into a celebrity’s personal/romantic life. But even then, I still don’t know how I justify other forms of RPFs that are based on actual occurences in interviews etc., and I often feel kind of hypocritical talking about it.

    But in the end, I, too, am still fascinated by RPF. I agree with what Gemmi999 said above, I think part of the interest is definitely how the artists/celebrities themselves interact with RPF culture.

    I’m not sure where this comment was going, or whether it went anywhere at all…

  4. RPF tends to make me twitch, but I think part of that is how fandom, or at least my little corner of it, is so often accused of not understanding the line between fantasy and reality. Someone understanding that line and choosing to erase or blur it anyway makes me twitchy, but that’s really my problem. So I wouldn’t call it “bad” or “wrong,” just that it bothers me, much the way spiders bother me.

    1. I think there’s probably not more bad behavior around RPF, but that the repercussions of that bad behavior feel so much more egregious. Certainly, I know of multiple fandoms where people sent porntastic RPF to the actors who were the subjects of said RPF (this includes via Twitter and handing a printout to someone), which is just so much “What the hell?”

      I also often put off by “disclaimers” (which I don’t use on my FPF because there’s no reason too — I think we all know all the really famous properties I don’t own and am just playing in) I see in RPF that read like “We don’t know that this happened, but I bet it did.” It’s not cool, it’s not funny, and it’s not _necessary_. Stories and their implications, no matter how uncomfortable, should particularly in these cases probably speak for themselves. And RPF disclaimers should probably actually disclaim.

      1. Well, when I say “my area,” I mostly mean Power Rangers fandom, which has been singled out for such accusations more than many others just due to people’s attitudes towards the show. It all melds into one thing for me and makes me twitchy about boundaries. But that’s a personal issue, and some of it is an oversensitivity.

        As to disclaimers, I got into the habit of doing them when I hung out on archives that required them, and now the disclaimer/rating/author’s note is a major part of my style, to the point where people can recognize my fics by the way the disclaimer’s written. But yeah, for RPF, I’d want to be very, VERY clear that this is a work of fiction, in part because I’d also be paranoid about slander/libel laws, as well as not wanting to freak out the people involved.

  5. Wow. I am learning so much from this blog and related ones. The Time article was especially interesting in providing the history and context for RPF. Congrats on being featured! Before I became a Glee fan, I knew of certain aspects of fandom and such things as zines (kids, it was before the internet), but had no personal experience with these phenomena. I have since checked out fanfic, and find it pretty fascinating even as much of it for me is unreadable due to the poor or sentimental quality (sorry!). I have also seen some pretty compelling writing, especially erotica. What I admire about fandom and fanfic is the sense of community it offers, yet at the same time there is something wonderfully anarchic about it even with all the emphasis on canon, etc. It is free of the publishing world’s dictates and judgements and is available to all (who have access to a computer). It’s the punk rock of literature. Now RPF, I’m afraid, triggers a strong ick reaction in me even though, if I’m completely honest, it also holds a prurient fascination. The thought that a fan might actually tweet or mail RPF to its subject astounds me, and I am very curious about that. Can anyone who’s done this speak to the motives behind this? I would be very interested. Lastly, I gather that some authors take legal action if their characters are the subjects of fanfic; if there is no money being made, then what is the point of that? I would think it is free publicity.

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