A long-time reader, lsn, left a comment on my recent post, The Hour That the Ship Comes In that reminded me of a recent conversation on Tumblr.
First, lsn’s comment:
OK... there's fan fic about reality TV?!?
I honestly had no idea... I kind of get the reasoning behind fanfic about fictional characters, but writing it about actual human beings who are not in fact fictional characters no matter how much the editing does kind of is a bit... well, icky to me.
Now the Tumblr conversation. The first commenter has extensive interests (and over 1,000 followers) including WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, an admittedly scripted form of wrestling in which the wrestlers, while real athletes, play characters. Grandma D would have been a huge fan.) I’m not familiar with the second person, but she seems to be another wrestling fan.
Person A:….are wrestlers fictional characters?
Person B:i’d say yes, generally. though it’s a question i find very interesting.the distinction is easier to make with some wrestlers than others. the undertaker, bray wyatt, and other similar characters are obviously fictional. at the other…
Person A:It always trips me up. Like, calling an Actor their characters is kinda rude and just plain weird. But then if you call a wrestler their birth name, that’s disrespectful.It’s kinda like you read my mind and put my thoughts in a post. Lol.
My response, which I suspect neither of them noticed, was as follows:
I don’t think real-fictional is a binary; I think that there is a continuum from real to fiction and that we all position ourselves at different points along it depending on who we interact with. So an actor playing a role is further along the continuum toward fiction than the wrestler is, but even the actor is calling on some of his/her real self in playing the part. (Shoot, some actors play themselves over and over.) I was present at a reading that Attica Locke (fantastic author, BTW) gave and she began by saying, “I’m going to be real”, and I thought “no, you’re not”, not because I thought she was lying, but because simply using the phrase reflects an awareness that we present ourselves in different ways in different situations, so she had to pull up “real” from the pool of potential personas, and how real is that, when you think about it?
We all have ways of presenting ourselves that involve some to a lot of artifice, and we all recognize that other people have ways of presenting themselves that involve some to a lot of artifice.
So let’s take that idea further in dealing with lsn’s point, the ickiness of writing about “actual human beings who are not fictional characters.” Actual human beings have been known to Google their own names and can easily find said fanfic, and might be a bit nonplussed to discover that their significant others have been vanished down a rabbit hole, their sexual orientations have undergone wholesale revisions, or that they are now either pregnant or about to be fathers.
We present ourselves with various degrees of reality/unreality, but we also see other people the same way. To me, being able to see other people as being as real as ourselves, as the stars of their own lives and not bit players in our own, is the biggest task of growing up. I think we have all had the experience of working or going to school with or living next to someone that we see purely as a PITA, and then one day get that one glimpse or one bit of information that makes their behavior make sense from their point of view. I remember one summer working with two other therapists in a social skills group for teens. One particular young lady was causing me a lot of frustration with her constant talking and inability to stay on topic. Finally one of the other therapists told me that the young lady had recently been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and placed on medication, and was only now starting to talk in social situations at all. Oh! So the training wheels had just come off the bike and she was naturally still a little wobbly. I could deal with that. After all, that was my role in the group in the first place, teaching conversational rules.
Sometimes our only way of knowing particular people is through them being presented to us as entertainment. We see them on television in reality shows that are carefully contrived and we read about them in magazines that are designed to entertain. So what we get is fiction, not complete fiction, but somewhere along that continuum between fiction and reality. The distinction between the person I call Mikhail and Jane Austin's Mr. Darcy is blurrier than the distinction between Mr. Darcy and the young man in the next seat in English class, or the teacher presenting the lesson. It’s one small step from fanfiction about Mr. Darcy to fanfiction about Mikhail.
And unless teen girls have changed even more than I think between my days in high school and now, one more small step from fanfiction about Mikhail to fiction probably not published on the internet about the young man in the next seat in English class, or maybe even about the teacher presenting the lesson. A girl can dream after all.
A girl can dream, and then write about it.