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I Don't Believe in Real People
by Justine

I was just now pointed toward a very nicely done piece of fan art, and ran screaming.

The piece in question is a HP photomanip, called "Disarmed," and you can find it from here. But the part you need to know is that it is a Harry/Snape photomanip (or electronic portrait of some sort), based on images from the films. Whomever X is, X is very talented. And X is even very careful to subtly age the character, so that the Harry in the photograph is, presumably, Old Enough.

But you know what? He still looks an awful lot like Daniel Radcliffe, who at 14 is Not Old Enough. And this made me yelp and close my browser with an eeee! and start thinking again about my Real Person Issue.

I am as far from a Real Person Fan as you can get and still be in fandom.

I mean, I'm not interested in RPS of any sort, but that's not the weird part -- lots of people don't care for RPS, lots of people do, have it your way at Burger King. But I also have no interest in conflating actors and their characters in any way, even for fun, even as a jest or an in-joke or a lark.

In fact, I can almost always tell between photographs of an actor playing a character and actors being people (either selling the show or caught candidly), and do not find the latter pictures remotely intriguing, even the ones of Alyson Hannigan in dishabille. In fact, I don't even like fan art if I can recognize the photo reference and I know that the original picture was not of the character.

I don't get Richard Burgi's portrayals of Mack Wolfe or Jim Ellison or Alan York conflated; I never want to read stories in which MacGyver was Jack's ex-lover, or in which Alan Rickman as Snape time-travels to runs into Alan Rickman as whats-his-name from Sense and Sensibility. I don't care that Ewan has been in both Moulin Rouge and Velvet Goldmine, I still never want to come across Obi-Wan Kenobi in a burlesque show. And not just because these are bad crossover ideas -- but because I will eeek and then have to say 10 Hail Inannas just to scrub my brain.

People -- well, certain groups of people -- think this is a little unusual for an inveterate slasher who will essentially read almost anything grammatical, no matter what kinks or strange pairings might occur within it. If you want to do anything at all to a character, knock yourself out: I'll bring the whips and the baby oil. (I only ask that you try to keep them alive at the end. If you have to kill them to have your fun, well, you'd better be extra grammatical.)

But when people start talking possessively about their actors, or start hunting actors down at cons, or -- so help me -- showing their slash to an actor!?! Ye gods, I want nothing to do with these people. I want them confined to a desolate island with no internet and no hope of TiVo.

I mean, I like certain actors' work and find certain actors attractive, but I just don't interact fannishly with actors. One day I might possibly send a professional whose work I really, truly admire a note saying "I really, truly admire your work. Best wishes." I haven't yet and don't think it's likely. I have written to executive producers, however, to say that I like such and thus a character, and that they'd better breathe life back into that character's corpse next season or I'm buying my dishwashing detergent elsewhere.

Speaking of which, let's consider my undying love for Blair Sandburg. He looks a lot like Garett Maggart, because Garett Maggart played Blair and therefore instilled him with certain admirable physical qualities (a rough-sweet baritone voice, and a high-pitched funny laugh, and an ass that never should have spent three seasons covered in flannel). Because I liked the way he played Blair, I'll take a look at the next bit of work Garett Maggart gets. But he's not Blair Sandburg -- not my geeky anthropologist-turned-cop with a collection of Zuni fetishes and weird taste in food and inexhaustible courage and fiercely beautiful anger. He's just the actor who, with his reasonable amount of talent, conveyed those things on camera.

Richard Burgi and Garett Maggart are two guys with agents and a job. Pet Fly is a production company that needs to associate itself with a reliable scriptwriter. UPN is a deservedly failing network. The city of Cascade, the fates of Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg (and all their strange associates) belong to the realm of story. I sense a difference there that allows me to be a media fan and sincerely not believe I'm stealing anyone's livelihood.

I think this is why, over time, I have become a fan of increasingly text-based fandoms. I'm a fan of archetypes (Buffy, TS, SG-1, DS), of comic books and novels. One of the things I love about comics series, for example, is that we don't exactly know what the characters look like. This is one of the reasons comics superheroes, drawn by different artists in different styles, have such vibrant costuming -- we all agree that Batman is the guy in the cowl and the cape, and that Superman is the guy in the red undies. If you dressed one artist's picture of Superman up in Batman's clothes, well, Clark Kent could own Wayne Manor.

Similarly, Gene Hackman, John Shea, and Michael Rosenbaum can all play Lex Luthor; Chris Reeve and Dean Cain and Tom Welling can all play Clark Kent. We all agree that, for most iterations, Luthor's a snappy dresser, hair (and morals) optional, and that Clark Kent is tall, muscular, and dark-haired. But the essential heart of Lex Luthor is in his manipulations, his genius, his obsessions; the essential heart of Clark Kent is his earnestness, his (occasionally naive) moral compass, and the secret of his power. Comic books convey these two characters just as well as the actors do, albeit in a different medium (and in fact, I'd say the most enlightening and convincing Clark Kent I've ever seen is in the graphic novel Kingdom Come.)

Can you tell me what Oracle looks like? There was the Dina Meyer version on Birds of Prey, but all we really know based on the comics is that she's red-haired, wears glasses, and Shows Physical Fitness in a Swimsuit. Oh, plus the little matter of the wheelchair. Thus we can all agree that any wheelchair-bound redhead shown in a DC comic book is supposed to be Oracle. But is her hair curly, or straight? Is she strapping, or fine-boned? Is she 5-foot-2 or 5-foot-11? Square-jawed and brittle-eyed, or a little more on the side of anime adorableness?

It's not just description -- these multiple interpretations have everything to do with perception, and the layers therein. It's that same flexibility, that mystery, that keeps me involved in a story, going back through what we have of canon to make decisions about What Happens Next and What Happened Before and What Happened In the Pauses -- what I think of as three essential questions of fannish storytelling. The more possible interpretations, the more excited I get.

Similarly, I've now gotten involved in Harry Potter fandom -- in no small part due to the great fannish stories that have come online since the films. And if I think Tom Felton should be back in acting school instead of playing Draco Malfoy, well, I respect that Alan Rickman's portrayal is partially responsible for the Snape fixation of these writers.

But only partially -- I also think Rowling's done a remarkable job of creating a character with layers of possibility. Is Snape evil, or simply bitter and repressed? Cold-hearted, or trapped in layers of his own guilt? How did he become the way he is? What was he like before? What kind of man can keep a life vow by guarding the son of a man he hated -- and yet still have joined with Voldemort in the first place? The greasy git (to use his Homeric signifier) is just one interesting sonofabitch. The fact that Alan Rickman's godawful pretty is just a booster.

My image of Rowling's characters has to do with their iconography -- Harry is short and thin and has messy black hair, green eyes, atrocious glasses, and a scar on his forehead. He has a tendency to be quiet and to notice a great deal; he has a great capacity for laughter but is himself inclined to be somewhat serious; he's impulsive, but not as impulsive as Ron; he's clever, but not as clever as Hermione; he's magically powerful, a natural athlete, and he has inside of him a poisonous rage that he fears and barely acknowledges.

So far, Dan Radcliffe's caught most of that in the movies. But Harry Potter doesn't, in my head, look much of anything like Radcliffe -- at least, no more so than he looks like any other kid with black hair, pretty eyes, glasses, a curse scar, and a Nimbus 2000.

That little habit Radcliffe has given to Harry of biting his lip and lowering his eyes before he smiles, though, is one thing I did take away from the movie, because it fits with my impression of the character. That's an image and an interpretation, and I collect those from every source I can lay hands on. That one image shows Harry's innate ability to consider-- he is both considerate and considering, all the time. The bite on the lip is him thinking through his words before he speaks -- the shy smile up through those eyelashes is guaranteed to win you over. Did the kid who survived ten years with the Dursleys learn those two tricks? I'm betting yes.

I'm not sure what's behind my inability to see X's art as an extrapolation, rather than as pictures of the actors, even though I'd say that intellectually X's art is a picture of the characters rather than the actors. I wouldn't even say that I've never read or enjoyed slash fiction featuring an underage character -- dude, I've written chan. But "Disarmed" hit my Real Person button, possibly because I've never seen Daniel Radcliffe play a Harry older than 12, so the older-Harry, in my mind, must be the actor rather than the character ... I don't know.

There's also probably something in the fact that I greatly prefer epic stories about heroes to anything on a smaller canvas, even cop or detective shows. When I watched TS, it was for the mythic aspect and the quirkiness of the Sentinel secret; the more traditional cop-type episodes did very little for me. Ditto Due South -- mythic and quirky. Anything else I've really fallen for has been a variant on Elite Secret Cadre Saves the World. Maybe I like to keep pretending; I want to believe in heroes, and pay not attention to that man behind the curtain.

In the end, though, I find myself a fan of icons and archetypes, not a fan of real people who work as actors. Perhaps it's because I come to fandom for escapism, or because I still have this cute whimsical belief that stories aren't owned by corporations, or because I can't bear to think of all that abuse happening to a real person. I'm not sure why I feel this way -- I only know that I do, and from what I can gauge from most other fans, it's an extreme reaction.

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