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Fact, Fiction, and the Writer's Responsibility to the Truth
by nospeud

A lot of celebrity fantasy stories doesn't appeal to me personally. I don't especially want to read about actors, because by and large actors are fairly dull people. Actually, I don't even want to read about what celebrities are getting up to in the real world. The personal lives of actors and boybands interests me not at all. I'd rather read about fictional people, who usually lead more interesting lives.

Beyond that, celebrity fantasy stories do squick me a little. In the not so distant past, writing stories about actors was the one unforgivable sin of fanfiction. Writing that nasty SLASH about actors was...well, whatever the step beyond an unforgivable sin is. I have an instinctive reaction which says eww. I have the same thing but magnified for explicit photomanips, whether they feature the actor or the character. These are my personal emotional reactions.

However, I read and now write popslash. I read it because it's good quality fiction, there are excellent writers, and I find it an absolutely fascinating genre.

Where factual writing is concerned, I have a boring, absolutist position that says the writer has an obligation to tell the truth. Writing fiction and calling it factual is commonly known as 'telling lies'. I think this is generally a bad thing. I come from a profession— science—where telling the truth is expected, and where getting caught lying means the end of someone's career.

If people want to tell only part of the truth, then they should label the piece as their opinion.

However, once something is called fiction, all bets are off. There is no obligation on the writer to tell the truth, or represent the real world accurately. They can put stirrups and black leather on their Roman cavalry, they can have an American sub capture the Enigma codes, they can pretend that FTL travel is possible, or horribly misrepresent evolution for plot purposes. If people believe what they read or see in clearly labeled fiction—and people do—then their stupidity is their own problem, not the problem of the artist.

I take an absolute position on censorship of fiction. It's wrong. It's dangerous, and it's a very slippery slope to start down. I don't think there is anyone out there I would trust to say what fiction should or shouldn't be written. Certainly not me, and possibly not even my mother. I also believe that on of the very worst reasons for censoring fiction is that it upsets and offends people.

Many written things upset and offend people. Even taking the very narrow area of fanfiction, there are people who will be offended by the way that race, sex or religion are portrayed in stories. There are people upset by death stories. There are survivors of rape or childhood sexual abuse who would be horrified and traumatised to read a story containing those events, perhaps especially one where it is eroticised (and there are those who find such stories cathartic). There are people who are deeply upset by chan. There are people who are revolted and offended by the whole concept of slash, and some who genuinely think that the writers will burn in hell and the angels will weep.

Given an acceptance of that reality, I don't say that a writer—of factual book, original fiction, FPF or celebrity fantasy—should never write anything that upsets and offends others. Rather, I believe that a writer should take responsibility for what they write. (And also the reader for what they read. Here, I'm talking primarily about the writer.)

I write sexually explicit slash fiction. I write it about at least one character played by an actor who has very publicly stated his dislike of slash featuring that character. I don't dismiss that out of hand. I know that if he read my stories they would annoy and probably upset him. I doubt he will ever see them. I doubt, if he did stumble across them, that he would read them, given the disclaimers. But I have considered the remote chance that I could cause him distress, and I've decided that I accept that risk and I'm willing to take the consequences.

Does the fact that I accept the possibility I could cause distress to him and write anyway make me selfish? Yes. I am selfish. I know this already, because I spend my surplus income on *NSYNC DVDs and CDs instead of giving it all to charity.

I write *NSYNC popslash, too. Again, I don't dismiss the possibility that people could be hurt by it. I post disclaimers, I avoid getting the story pages indexed in search engines. One day I may password protect.

I'm sure that what I've written in some stories—original, FPF or celebrity fantasy—could upset people. I don't dismiss that distress. Nor do I ignore it or pretend it won't happen. I can say that personally I would be hurt to think that I had upset such-and-such a person, and that I wouldn't give a toss if I upset others. However, just because I care more or less about them, I don't believe that one person's hurt or upset is intrinsically worth more or less than another's. I am not prepared to make that value judgement about the validity other people's feelings. I'm certainly not willing to be dictated to by other people who want to make those judgements for me.

The Backstreet Boys have spontaneously joked in interviews about popslash written about them. They don't seem to be upset by it. Actors, writers and producers from a number of TV series, films and book have expressed disapproval of and distress over FPF. There is no black and white that one always hurts and one always doesn't. It puzzles me that people are willing to dismiss the publicly declared distress caused to a writer or actor by the slashing of their characters, while emphasising the wholly theoretical upset caused to someone else by celebrity fantasy stories.

I think that everyone should take personal responsibility for what they write. Firstly, this means legal responsibility. While I doubt very much that writing celebrity fantasies carries any substantial risk of legal action in any individual case, it's something of which writers should be aware. However, that is equally true for all fanfic writers—the risk of the C&D letter is always there.

Secondly, it means accepting that what we write does have an effect on the people who read it, whoever they are. It's fine to say that an actor or singer should be used to fan behaviour, that it's part of the territory, that they can look after themselves, or that their families, partners or children won't care about the stories. It's fine to say that if they read the stories and are upset then they should have taken heed of the disclaimers. However, it's dishonest (which is not a word I use lightly) to say that there's no possibility of the subjects being distressed by celebrity fantasy stories. In the vast majority of cases, we have no idea whether they would be or not.

However, this applies to all bad consequences of writing. There is a possibility that a plethora of slash stories about someone character could hurt their feelings, the feelings of their partners or family, or even their career. I have no idea how realistic that latter possibility is. Until someone comes up with some research, there's no way of telling, but that doesn't mean that the possibility isn't there.

I don't think that 'it would upset the subject' is a conclusive, blanket reason not to write celebrity fantasy stories. I don't think 'it will upset X or X group of people' is a conclusive reason not to write any fiction. I think it is a very real point that deserves consideration. Writers of all fiction need to make their own judgements on how much distress or damage they are willing to cause, and to whom, and I think marking writing genres with blanket labels of 'good' or 'bad' doesn't help this.

In summary: write whatever you want to write, but consider and accept the consequences.

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