There is no doubt that 2012 was a big year for “nerd” culture. In the top 10 grossing movies of the year, three were comic book flicks and three more were fantasy/sci-fi novel adaptions. Big Bang Theory is one of the highest rated shows on television (and Game of Thrones is the most pirated). Grown adults proudly admit to watching My Little Pony, Gravity Falls, and Adventure Time. Comic conventions have gone from “that stuff’s for nerds” to highly anticipated, practically mainstream events (and I will always remember the “Fake Geek Girl” debacle as one of the top foot-in-mouth moments of 2012, and this happened during an election year!).
So if 2012 is the year the proverbial nerd finally escaped the basement, was it also the year fanfiction stopped being the punching bag of fandom and started being seen as a legitimate form of storytelling and activity to take part in?
Fanfiction is a varied as fiction itself but it is often marked by the “wish fulfillment” aspect. I’m not talking about “Mary Sues” but rather about how fanfics are written with the fans’ wants in mind: to have those two character finally get together, to have a character achieve the goal they struggling towards in the original work, to make sure the good characters are rewarded and the bad characters are justly punished. Another aspect that attracts many people to fanfic is the “what if” factor, what if those two characters who have never interacted met each other
and fell in love, what if this person died and this person lived, what if the story took place in a different era and location?
Fanfiction is often ridiculed (sometimes hilariously) for all the wish fulfillment/alternate universe stuff (and admittedly some of it is quite terrible). G.R.R. Martin is famously against fanfiction, calling it a lazy way out of developing your own characters and worlds (though he seems to be okay with HBO pulling the very fanfic-esque move of creating the character of “Ros the prostitute” who then somehow shows up everywhere and knows every character and seems to be in every other sex scene).
Despite that, there are plenty of cases in 2012 where fanfiction and fanfic-like storytelling started to escape the realms of livejournal and fanfiction.net into the mainstream.
* The 50 Shade of Grey trilogy, which is widely known to have started off as a Twilight-fanfic, were the top selling books of 2012, making E.L. James officially richer than you.
(And guess what, a 50 Shades fanfic was nearly released as an original novel so maybe the Mayan’s weren’t so far off on their 2012 apocalyptic predictions?).
* Another author who has roots in fanfic writing is Cassandra Clare, whose Mortal Instument’s series is a best seller and being adapted into a movie coming out next summer.
* The top grossing movie of the year was The Avengers which, while not a fanfic, certainly had a lot of fanfic style “wish fulfillment” and “what if” elements, mostly in the witty banter between characters, the crowd pleasing fights, Joss Whedon directing, and the fact that the writers almost purposely inserted enough sexual tension between Tony Stark and EVERY CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE to launch a thousand slash fics.
* Once Upon a Time isn’t the most popular show on TV or anything but the fact that this show about fairytales and cross-dimensional magic has survived 2 seasons on a broadcast network and not the CW or SyFy is pretty remarkable in today’s TV climate. This is basically “Disney/Fairytale Fanfiction: The Show”, where every plot feels like it came straight from some AU fic. What a strange and interesting world we’re in where Rumpelstiltskin and Belle fall in love, Mulan and Sleeping Beauty are romantic rivals, Snow White and Red Riding Hood are besties (plus Red is a WEREWOLF), and Captain Hook is the hottest one-handed pirate to shiver your timbers.
(A moment of silence for the Huntsman, plz, NEVER FORGET).
* The premise of this eagerly anticipated Avatar: Last Airbender spinoff, the Legend of Korra, definitely reads like a fanfic: It’s 60 years in the future and the avatar a super confident “leap-before-you-look” teenage girl. Her mentors? Kataara, Aang’s son, and Toph’s daughter. And it’s now like the 1920s and there’s radios and cars and stuff. And she has a super handsome love interest and is romantic rivals with the richest girl in town. And basically every character is really really really ridiculously good looking.
* On Parks and Recreation
my tv-boyfriend Ben Wyatt, a successful accountant and campaign manager, and a dude, is very open about his nerddom and in an episode this past fall he admits to writing Star Trek fanfics, he even shares a fanfic with April, aka the most apathetic character on TV, while stuck in a parking garage.
(P.S. is there a Ben/Data crossover fic yet? If not someone should get on that.)
At the very least, fanfiction definitely shed some of it’s stigma in 2012, with the new crop of authors that got their start in fanfiction (sorry GRRM) having best sellers and movie deals, and with the way creators are embracing fanfic elements like crossovers, original characters, alternate universes and lot of shipping of romantic pairs (even if it’s just hints).
When we look back at the nerd accomplishments of 2012, let’s remember it was the year fanfic totally became kinda cool.
some recommended further reading on the rise of fanfic: “The Boy Who Lived Forever”, Time Magazine