Do you remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from middle school? The ones where you got to choose if Sally went through the red or green door, or spoke to the alien or not, and then, depending on your choice, you flipped through to the page where the story reflecting that choice was told?
I hated those.
They felt like a cheap trick to force me to be an active reader. I thought I was already too much of one. My 8th grade teacher took me aside during a camping trip to explained that I confused and concerned people when I started telling stories about people I knew and I didn’t specify if they were fictional or not. It didn’t really matter to me–stories about Buffy and Alanna could be just as exciting as Morgan and Brian–but I started explaining because that teacher often gave me sound advice. But the activeness of my participation in the story felt natural because, to me, reading is about exploring author’s world. Yes, there was only one path through the story (pages 1-n, in order), but a good story shows the paths not taken.
The entire 3rd season of Dr Who, to me, is about him trying to accept not taking the path to Rose. Twilight, garbage that it is, can be quite entertaining if you read the series while waiting for Bella to decide that she doesn’t need to choose between werewolves and vampires, she can have both (Laurell K. Hamilton-style). I don’t do passive media.
It’s the ultimate trope about TV: TV is a passive medium and TV viewers are passive consumers.
Not when they’re writing fanfiction. Not when they’re taking the story into themselves, testing it, enlarging on it, exploring it through their own lenses–even if a consumer never produces a word or a clip of fanwork, they can engage in a story by being a fan. I think reading and writing fanfiction and writing it gives fans control over their shows, makes them active participants by engaging their minds in considering the paths not taken by cannon. This can be quite cathartic, if the show isn’t heading in the desired direction.
This week, I was getting really stressed out watching Dr Who. Where I am in the plot, the Doctor has had to abandon his love in a parallel dimension. Talk about the worst long-distance relationship ever. Feeling quite tense, I decided to find some fanfiction where the tenth Doctor and Rose ended up in a relationship. And, after reading a few, I relaxed. I knew the cannon would continue to torture me–season three of Dr Who is all about the pity and fear of Aristotle’s catharsis–but reading fanfic gave me choices.
In return for the mental exercise of holding a dozen possible permutations of the cannon world, with different memories and characterizations of the characters, I get to see my (current) pairing happy together.The more engaged I got, the more I got out of the series.
I went back to watching Dr Who on Netflix after my fanfic break. While I was stilled stressed about how miserable the Doctor was, I was looking for hints and clues as to where the show might go next. While following the plot, I kept an eye out for clips I had seen in fanvids, glances or phrases that might support my current theory about the future of the characters.
I used fanfic to give me a new perspective of the show, and then dove right back in. I think that is to the benefit of the story’s creators.
“You watch television to turn your brain off and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.”– Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer and Pixar, in Macworld Magazine, February 2004