Quite a while back, I wrote a post called In Defense of Fan Fiction, where I basically just got upset at authors who don’t think people should write fan fiction of their work. I stand by that post 100%; this one is not in opposition to it, but rather in conjunction. Because lately, I’ve seen a lot of talk around fan culture, specifically people ragging on Benedict Cumberbatch (star of Sherlock) for saying that he didn’t care for Sherlock & John as a romantic, sexualized couple, and that made him ungrateful to his fans. I’ve seen this mentality in other areas of fandom before–that anything fans do with regard to a work ought to be met with enthusiastic approval from the creators of that work–and I find it deeply irritating. Here’s why.
First off, I want to make it clear that I think fans have a right to write/draw/make anything related to the fandom of their choice, so long as they are not profiting off an intellectual property violation. I absolutely do not think that there should be hard and fast rules against fan remixes and fan works, because frankly if there were, we would literally never get any new stories ever. Even Shakespeare wrote fan fiction. It’s a hardwired part of how we experience and even create media.
I also think that it is incredibly rude for creators to openly abuse or threaten their fans for creating fan works (looking at you, GRRM), because they do not hurt you and, in fact, they often contribute to the world you’ve created and win you new fans. If people are writing fan fiction about your work, you should be damn grateful for that fact.
You do not, however, have to approve of the ways in which fans interpret your work, and this is where I find my hide chapped by all the snarking at Cumberbatch. His issue with the fan fiction community around Sherlock is not that it exists, but that its interpretation of his canonically asexual character is wildly off-base. He’s essentially saying that the Johnlock pairing is OOC (Out of Character), and (in the world of Sherlock, at least) he’s right. Johnlock is horrifically out of step with the show itself. Sherlock queer baits the shit out of its audience, but at the end of the day, it practically has “no homo” as a subtitle; it goes out of its way to laugh at the idea that they could be a couple (which is totally fucked up, don’t get me wrong, but that’s a whole other can of worms for another day). For Cumberbatch, who’s charged with bringing this very specific version of Sherlock to life, seeing that complete dismissal of his character choices has to be frustrating, if not downright infuriating, and he is 100% allowed to express that opinion, especially when specifically asked for it. It doesn’t mean he hates his fans.
The fact is, sometimes (often), fan fiction gets it wrong. That’s why it’s called fan fiction; though sometimes very good, it is by nature not canon. And there’s a very common tendency in most fan circles to interpret characters as possessing traits that are clearly (sometimes aggressively) not present on the show, to the point where those fan interpretations sometimes eclipse the actual show’s depiction. It’s only to be expected that some show creators won’t like that very much, and they don’t have to. It is okay to not like fan interpretations of your work. It’s just not okay to be rude about it, which Cumberbatch wasn’t (he went on to talk about how he thinks fan fiction creates a safe space for teenagers to explore their sexualities, which is 100% true).
So can we all agree that disagreeing with fan interpretation of your work does not, in fact, make you a bad person?
“I think it’s about burgeoning sexuality in adolescence, because you don’t necessarily know how to operate that. And I think it’s a way of neutralizing the threat, so this person is sort of removed from them as somebody who could break their heart.” -Benedict Cumberbatch, on why teenagers write fan fiction
P.S. While we’re on the subject, I just want to take a moment to express my other deeply held opinion about fan fiction done wrongly: STOP WRITING SLASH FAN FICTION ABOUT REAL PEOPLE. IT’S CREEPY AND WEIRD. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF STRANGERS WERE WRITING SEXUALITY EXPLICIT STORIES ABOUT YOU AND POSTING THEM FOR OTHER STRANGERS TO DROOL OVER ON THE INTERNET? BECAUSE IT FUCKING SUCKS. STOP.