When I was in high school, I began to write my first few works of fiction. I loved to read and my mother was an English teacher, but neither of these were the driving forces that jump started my love of storytelling. I was inspired by certain plots and characters from television shows, webcomics, and books. Like the droves of other dedicated fans looking for a niche, I flocked to the internet to find a community that also enjoyed what I liked and immersed myself in our shared subculture.
It was then that I discovered fanfiction. Fanfiction, for the unaware, is a form of storytelling written by fans of preexisting works. Access to fanfiction is free as long as you have wifi. It’s found on sites such as archiveofourown.org and fanfiction.net. Their plots can be original or run parallel to their mother works. They mostly center around characters from the piece of media they derive from, but also allow for self inserts and ocs (original characters).
It was here that I truly learned to love writing and found a way to express creatively how I interpreted the characters and text. I was in control of the story. I made decisions based on what appealed to me.
That’s probably the most endearing aspect of fanfiction. The fans are doing the writing. For free and for other fans to enjoy. From these fics, you can see exactly what kind of representation fans want to see in their media.
Are the characters LGBT+? Are they POC? Disabled? Struggling with mental illness?
It’s all very possible given the right interpretation of the text.
Anyone could see that this is a backlash from a predominantly white, heteronormative, and able-bodied and -minded mainstream media and it’s honestly astounding how often it is ignored or belittled. Mainstream media has failed to make room for people that don’t fit into certain standards and so, fans had to create their own content. No one gave them a place in media so they decided to make their own. With stories that are relatable. Stories with characters that fans have repossessed to be what they want to see. And, if mainstream media was smart, they’d be paying attention to this important online community.
It’s no surprise that shows like Steven Universe have gained a great deal of popularity. It gives its viewers exactly what they want. Lesbian characters, a boy who doesn’t adhere to gender roles, 3-Dimensional POC characters. It’s one of the most progressive children’s cartoons out right now.
But how is it handled by its hosting network? Rather than give it appropriate air time and space out new episodes or replay old ones as much as Cartoon Network replays Teen Titans Go!, practically a third of a season’s worth of episodes gets dumped on viewers in something called a “Steven Bomb”, which creates lower ratings for the show and provides a valid excuse just in case CN ever needs to scrap it.
Shows that reflect exactly what fans want to see just don’t get enough special treatment. If mainstream media were to take advisement from online fanfiction communities, they’d know exactly what their viewership is looking for and would be able to deliver for higher ratings and a higher satisfaction rate from its fanbase.