When Henry Jenkin’s “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten” revealed fan fiction as an almost “exclusively feminine response to mass media”, the existence of the Harry and Draco’s Loveshack forum thread at fanfiction.net finally made sense. As Jenkins states, the goal of most fanfiction is to produce a counter text that caters to female desire. In so doing, these writers reengineer the original text to rectify characterizations that seem sexist or gender biased in when viewed in contemporary culture. Fanfiction’s singular focus on character relationships seems to be a gender specific phenomenon that Jenkins suggests is the result of men and women being raised to interpret a text for different reasons. Citing a study by David Bleich, Jenkins argues that men favor logical, narrative conclusion brought about by goal oriented conflict while women seek to gain a deeper understanding of the characters for psychological fulfillment and treat the overall plot as a secondary concern (476).
Naturally this raises the question: if fanfiction provides women with the ability to cater to their own desires, what is it that allows men to do the same? The constraint of working explicitly with pre-existing material makes fan editing and remixing a perfect fit for the masculine desires Jenkins highlights, and a quick Google search shows that the vast majority of all fan edits seem to be made by men (or at least people with usernames that imply they are men). While fanfiction writers claim a text as their own by bringing it into women’s culture, fan editing appears to claim a text by reorganizing it into a paradigm of masculine literary values. This is achieved by similarly targeting the character relationships of a text. While most fan edits begin in service of repairing plot holes or removing the extraneous bits of a narrative, determining what should remain a part of the final product is chiefly motivated by a character’s relationship to a given scene, other characters, and the overarching narrative.
Perhaps the best example of this is the ongoing battle between fans of Star Wars and the saga’s creator George Lucas. In many ways Lucas could be considered a fan editor of his own films, he’s infamous for rereleasing the original trilogy with minute changes to alter special effects or erase continuity issues with the newer prequel films. In fact, there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to tracking the extensive list of hundreds of alterations he’s made since 1977 and it isn’t even complete. What seems to get the fans up in arms, however, are any of the changes he makes that affects characterization. While the “Han shot first” debacle is probably the most well-known of Lucas’ problematic characterizations, there has been considerable backlash against the Anakin/Darth Vader character of the prequel films. Fans argued that Obi-Wan’s description of Luke’s father as “a good friend” in A New Hope isn’t something he lived up to in the later films. Consequently fan edits of the prequel trilogy are generally structured around redefining Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship because of the belief that their dynamic is the foundation of the entire universe. One such edit, known as The Phantom Edit, goes so far as to remove young Anikin’s annoying “yippee” and “oops” in order to make him more endearing to both Obi-Wan and the audience.
An avid Lost fan that goes by the name of DriggyDriggs edited the fifth season of the show into a four-part miniseries that has each episode focus on a singular character. The result is a shockingly poignant look into the lives of the surviving islanders without the ridiculous magic church and purgatory nonsense. Cosmology is a film that combines footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey, There Will Be Blood, Jurassic Park III and a dozen other films to create what the author, who goes by The Man Behind the Mask, calls “a fanedit about us” that’s basically The Tree of Life without Brad Pitt.
The list of fan edits that center on recontextualizing character relationships is so large that I couldn’t possibly list them all. The point is that although men and women claim ownership of media in different ways, this “character control fantasy” certainly isn’t gender restricted and the ways that men approach textual poaching certainly supports Jenkins’ assertion that “fans are empowered over mass culture” (491). I wonder what other forms of textual poaching there can be. Do Bollywood rip-offs count?