I found this conversation really interesting and insightful, because it cued me in on something I hadn't realized about the stuff I tend to gravitate towards, and one explanation why some fandoms become huge and some don't. Discussion welcomed.
ME. I don't like AUs for a lot of reasons, but I think the chief one has to do with one of the reasons I don't like porn fic. About ten years ago, I was of the theory that fans wrote porn when the actual material didn't sufficiently capture their interest -- ie, if you really liked THE X-FILES, you wouldn't be writing dumb porn about Scully doing Mulder, you'd be writing casefic in an attempt to emulate the actual show. I don't know if that was true then, but it certainly isn't true now; for a lot of people, porn is the entire point of fandom. But AUs often give me that feeling: if you like these characters so much, why are you putting them in weird scenarios where they're so far removed from what made you fond of them in the first place?
TFV. I'm not surprised to hear that you don't like AUs, but I think there's a selection bias at work there. If you look at your favorite fandoms, most of them are the definition of "bad AU fandoms." (I mean, who is Batman if he's not, you know, Batman? Either a lunatic or a sane guy, and either way, he's no longer very interesting.) The elements that make a fandom great for AUs are elements that will actively drive you away.
You seem, for one thing, to be drawn to - I don't know how to put it. Interlocking canons? Canons where the people are who they are because of the (interesting) world they're in. That is exactly what makes a fandom bad for AUs.
ME. This is a really remarkable comment, because it make me think about my fandoms and the kind of thing I like. (I would really love a good Disney Princess AU, and have actually talked a friend's ear off on the concept in chat, but I think that's mainly because I want the Disney Princesses hanging out with and talking to each other, and an AU makes that readily possible. Though I'd probably enjoy a straight-up crossover more.)
What are the elements that make a fandom great for AUs? And what are fandoms that are great for AUs? I would think, for example, that shows like STARGATE wouldn't invite them (why would you *want* to hear about those folks being baristas, rather than universe-hoppers?) but apparently they did…
TFV. Okay, I'm hugely sick, so let's see if I can make any sense at all.
Fandoms that make for great AUs are fandoms where the characters appear in front of backdrops rather than integrated in complex, believable worlds, where who they are is relatively irrelevant to where they are. Ideally, you should be able to describe them as archetypes or using just a few key phrases - the Sarcastic Reluctant Hero with Issues, or the Mouthy Genius Scientist.
So. Oz makes for terrible AUs - who are these people if they aren't in prison? Not the people we know; almost the only way you can get them into the roles they have now and the relationships they have with each other is by locking them in a hole together. And then, even worse, the characters change over time - so now, if you write an AU, you have to do a snapshot, or you have to find some miraculous way for the characters to develop in your AU the same way they did in canon (which, wow, good luck, because like I said, prison is key to who they've become), or you have to say fuck it and have them develop totally differently, but then you're dicing with the line between OOC and OC. You know what would work as an epic Oz AU? A galley slave AU, or a gladiator AU, maybe. I'm having a hard time thinking of anything else. And then you haven't changed much but the clothes. (Obviously, a coin flip AU still works here; my favorite Oz story makes one major change to the canon. But they're still, you know, fucked-up prisoners, and they still have most of the same history.)
So let's consider SGA instead, and McKay/Sheppard because it's what I know and what there's the most of. First, these are not complex characters, relatively speaking; we know little of their backgrounds, histories, goals, fears, whatever - we have bits, but just enough to salt through an AU; not enough to make it hard to do. And they have point-by-point characterizations rather than three-dimensional characterizations. Is he sarcastic? Does he talk too much and too fast? Is he smart? Kind of not so up on the social niceties? It doesn't matter if he's a computer repairman or an alchemist or a flower: we know that's Rodney McKay. (If you can make his dialog sound like McKay, you're golden, basically.) Second, it doesn't matter if they're in Atlantis. They change a little over the seasons, but in standard arcs that are easy to mimic in any story. And what does Atlantis make them, really? Adventurers? Not exactly, and anyway, that's not unique to the setting. Um - interested in Ancient technology? Substitute another word for "Ancient" and you're golden. A team? Absolutely, but you can get that in almost any story. And so on.
The thing is, the SGA people are in Pegasus, but - I don't need to tell you that they aren't, really. Imagine how you would write a story about a small group of people who travel to a distant, populated galaxy to explore a dangerous and mysterious artifact. Would it look anything like SGA? Not unless you were totally phoning it in. That crappiness makes for fantastic (and extensive) fan fiction, leagues better than the show, and it also makes for great AUs. When the canon writers suck, we can take what they do and do it anywhere. And usually it works better.
So, like, I have two mostly-complete SGA AUs based on movies: Desk Set and Romancing the Stone. They work; I mean, I'm saying so myself, but still. They do. You can take almost any movie and sub in John and Rodney for the main roles. Try that with Beecher and Keller from Oz. Or with Batman and Robin. (Or Joker and Harley - oh god no don't NEVER MIND.)
If we read the same books, I could make a couple of other points, but we mostly don't, I don't think. And, anyway, this comment is getting above itself. But, yeah, I think about this a lot, because I read enough ff that I can usually recognize on sight a fandom that will produce great AUs and a fandom that really, really won't.
[ . . . ] the Disney Princess AU is a perfect example of this. I am not so totally up on my princesses, but - who is Belle? The one with the knowledge and the book-learning and very little real-world experience. Who is Mulan? The one who goes out and gets the real-world experience, with skills the other girls don't have. Who is Jasmine? The sheltered wealthy girl who longs for more. And so on. (Does Cinderella have a personality at all? I honestly can't think of what it would be.)
So you can take Belle and Mulan and Jasmine and put them somewhere else - medical examiner's office, a girl's school in 1941 England, the Belle Epoch, Mars - and they will still be recognizable. And if you do it well (especially if you do it on Mars), they will probably be more interesting, because of the interaction between them, yes, but also because they are underexplored characters who are typically archetypes, and whose personalities and arcs are independent of the worlds in which they've been placed.
You will actually learn far more about those characters if you break them out of their worlds. But they will still be who they are. The same cannot be said of Legolas or Tobias Beecher or Harley Quinn.
ME. Okay, so my comment about sucky stuff making for more AUs wasn't too far off the mark? It's odd, considering that the show I'm the most fannishly active about is a show that is mostly crap, but your comments about my brand of fandom are really interesting. You're right; I tend to really go for characters tied into their setting and dynamic, and am not that interested by source materials that don't have a strong, all-pervading, intrinsic sense of place and purpose.
TFV. …I'm not saying backdrop canons have to be kind of sucky - I am just not familiar enough with TV and movies to know for sure. But I do think that backdrop canons are more likely to be.
And that drives the fandom, too. Most fans, as far as I can tell, are looking for characters, not settings. Great characters in interlocked settings with great plots and great writing tend not to be fandom's babies, in part because they're hard to write and in part because slash fandom, at least, does best with great, or at least beloved, characters, full stop. Ideally played by actors who give you something to work with. So, like, Life on Mars (UK) - a perfect example of a great canon with great characters destined to be a small fandom. It's too hard to write in the world, and this is a canon almost wholly resistant to AUs, so - what can you do? Rewatch the source, mostly.
The fandom-eating fandoms - Smallville, Popslash, SGA, probably SPN - are all about characters in front of backdrops. (Popslash and bandom and J2 and Lotrips and AIRPS all count for this; I can't read RPF involving living people, because I am tragically allergic to celebrities, but I bet these fandoms are FILLED with great AUs. They're the ultimate AU fandoms, or should be: just characters. No real setting at all. Make 'em baristas! Make 'em magicians! Make 'em dragons or robots or pirates or ninjas or high school students or Pokemon! You can do anything with them, or you should be able to.)
Oh, and you said you couldn't understand why I (or, okay, anyone, but I count!) would want to read the Atlantis crew as baristas rather than, you know, on Atlantis, but this should make it obvious: as long as the characters are there, that's all that matters. So if the story is good, and it reveals something about the characters, and especially if it integrates them into the new setting better than the old one, I am sold. That is exactly what I want! (And if it does all those same things, but in Atlantis, I'm still sold. My point is, in these fandoms, AUs are just as good as non-AUs - and they are more likely to be long and detailed and plotty, which is a good thing for me.
End of excerpts. You see why I wanted to bring this out of comments and into its own post, right? I find this concept fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Mostly disturbing, because it just goes so counter to what I look for in source material. I want fanfic to be about the show because *I like the stuff I like.* I like futurefic and alts, but there's a certain degree of removal where I wonder, "Um, why is this story in this fandom, again?" I don't think there are any characters, except the Disney Princesses, that I would follow into AUs -- and frankly, with the Princesses, it's just because AUs are the easiest way to get them all to meet up. I think this is because my big thing is *characters making decisions.* The choices characters make tell us about who they are; in AUs that are just about the characters, odds are really good that the decisions they make in those stories will be much less important, or meaningful, or interesting to me than are their decisions they make on the show, so I will be sitting around going "THESE PEOPLE COULD BE PLANET HOPPING, I DO NOT GIVE A CRAP ABOUT THEM SWAPPING SPIT AND MAKING COFFEE." I would a thousand times rather read casefic than romantic fic, for the same reason.
(Also, if it's not obvious, I kind of hate RPF and wish it were still anathema, and while I know there are people who have found deep fulfillment in bandslash, the celebrity culture aspect of it still creeps me out. I mean, I love Leonard Cohen like whoa, and I can imagine some stories involving him but they would be really awkward to write, and I'm certainly not about to write a LEONARD COHEN'S ANGELS fanfic AU about Sharon Robinson, Jennifer Warnes, and Anjani Thomas fighting crime. This is partly due to old fannish attitudes, partly to snobbery -- and while we're on snobbery, I think plotty genfic is innately superior to porn, AND I AM RIGHT TEN MILLION TIMES INFINITY SO THERE -- and partly to a personal extreme squick, because I am made deeply uncomfortable when I find out that people have been talking about me when I am not present. So I still consider RPF to be a gross invasion of personal space. Clearly, a lot of musicians have way different standards of privacy than I do. This is probably part of why they worked their asses off to become celebrities.)
ETA: my thoughts on the XENA connection, here.
Originally posted on my DW. | people have commented there. | Do so yourself, if you like.