Top Shelf: Fanfiction in popular media

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When E. L. James originally wrote the first book of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series, it was a fanfiction based off of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. (screenshot/thetwilightsaga.com)

When E. L. James originally wrote the first book of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series, it was a fanfiction based off of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. (screenshot/thetwilightsaga.com)

E.L. James, the author of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series, has recently announced that she has written a new book titled “The Master,” which will be released in April of 2019. With James back in the limelight, I want to take a moment to remember how “Fifty Shades” got its start.

When James originally wrote the first book, it was a fanfiction based off of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series; the character Anastasia Steele was originally Isabella Swan, and Christian Grey was Edward Cullen. I won’t get too deep into the literary issues with the “Fifty Shades” series simply because I could write a good 12 articles on them, but the point is, we’d all probably be better off had the series not been published.

This is the biggest example in popular media where a fanfic was adapted into a novel, but it’s not the only one. Most recently is the entire controversy around Anna Todd’s “After.”

The book started out online as a Harry Styles fanfic, but it was later published with the main character’s name changed. That being said, who Hardin is meant to be is pretty obvious. Not just from his name, but from his “tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, and tattoos” that he’s described as having in the book summary.

The book is more-or-less a teenage version of “Fifty Shades” and centers around an abusive relationship. While the characters, at least, seem aware of this fact, I still don’t think abuse is a trope that should be repeatedly played out on the big screen. Not only is it overdone, but the more we consistently portray abusive relationships, the more normalized they become. It sets up a dangerous precedent and starts to tell audiences, especially young girls, that that is what love is supposed to look like.

Not to mention, again, that it was literally a fanfic about Harry Styles.

Fanfiction has always ridden the line between acceptable and controversial, but most of this debate revolves around who the subject matter is. It’s one thing to write about fictional characters from your favorite book series, but it’s another to write about famous celebrities. We often forget that famous people are, in fact, actual people, and fanfiction gets to be a problem when this happens. People can get so involved in these made-up stories that they lose sight of who the person actually is.

I mean, how would you feel if you woke up and there was a movie about you pretty much abusing some girl? Obviously you didn’t actually do that, but how much does that matter once the movie is out? It’s rude and creepy, especially once people begin writing stories about celebrities in romantic situations with their friends.

Freedom of speech is obviously a thing, and I’m not against fanfiction with fictional characters. I’m actually heavily in support of it. Fans of any work often have a better understanding of the characters and their emotions than the writer does, because they’ve spent hours studying the work and reading theories about it. Fanfic writers put in all the work of actual authors; they do research, come up with original plots and write full-length novels that often have millions of readers, but they do it all for free, and half of them are still in high school.

Fanfiction is often dismissed as something juvenile and not of literary merit, but the writers often have huge fan bases, and their writing can be spectacular. Fanfic writers deserve a lot more credit than they get, especially considering they usually don’t make any money off of what they do.

Part of the reason for the negative view of the craft goes back to situations like that of Todd’s book and the upcoming “After” movie, which again leads me to my point: Fanfiction about celebrities is controversial and problematic at best. It leads to dangerous idealizations of those famous people and misunderstandings of who they are and what is real. It might exist in corners of the internet, but it shouldn’t exist in actual bookstores, and it definitely shouldn’t exist on screen.

Changing the names of the characters so a fanfic can be published doesn’t solve the problem. All it really represents is that publishing companies see works online that millions of people are reading for free, and they just want to find a way to profit off of it.

Inevitably, money was yet again put over what is morally right, because the movie targets a large population of One Direction fans who know of the movie’s origin. But that doesn’t change how messed up of a premise the movie has or how messed up the origin is. I can’t emphasize how creepy it is to have a movie both romanticizing an abusive relationship and portraying someone’s fantasy about a popular singer actually play in theaters.

“After” is a creepy example of fanfic going too far, and it’s an unfortunate example of publishing companies putting profit over actual good writing.


Courtney Gavitt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at courtney.gavitt@uconn.edu.

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