Race, Fanfiction and the Politics of Desire

by Vivian Obarski and Keidra Chaney


This an older conversation that I just recently resurfaced. If you have never read fanfiction in your life and don’t get why people write it, you won’t get any answers here. But if you have read fanfiction before and don’t get why it’s so often about white people (mostly dudes) getting it on, you might be interested in this convo between V and myself. Also, Skyfall spoilers. If you haven’t seen that movie yet, then seriously you are super late and I can’t help you. – KDC

Vivian: Thanks to Skyfall, I’ve got a new appreciation for Miss Moneypenny, so I went hunting around for fics and noticed something:

There’s a shitton of Bond/Q fic out there but little Bond/Moneypenny fic out there, which is weird given the chemistry that Bond and Moneypenny had and the lack of chemistry that Bond/Q had. And it got me thinking about this tumblr article.

To be honest, I’ve been wondering about this for awhile. Is there a dearth of Martha/Tenth Doctor fic out there? I’ve heard in Psych they don’t ship Gus and Shawn as much as Shawn and Lassiter (Lassiter/Shawn outnumbers Gus/Shawn by nearly two to one).

I’ve also reflected on this thanks to a Nerdist interview with Levar Burton where he talks about how EVERYONE on TNG got sex, except him. EVEN THE ANDROID GOT SEX. His thought was that the writers didn’t know how to write black male sexuality and worried about it devolving into stereotypes, so they didn’t write it. Do you think that it could be that?

It makes me wonder about interracial relationships — not just hetero but also gay interracial relationships seen on screen and in media. And why do people just pair together the two white people automatically?

Keidra: I have a theory about this that I wanted to make into a post. It’s clearly wish fulfillment in play: beautiful white (or just white) bodies are seen as most desirable in Western culture, and people want to place themselves in the center of that fantasy, non-white bodies are not seen as desirable in the same way, not aspirational. so it takes (many) people out of the fantasy. But even outside of race. Moneypenny is a threat. She’s a woman who gets in the way of the fantasy. You can be “THE” girl if there’s another girl there.

V: But this is where I get confused with fandom. I’m seeing a lot of love for Naomie Harris and Eve Moneypenny, but it’s not translating to fanfic, which saddens me because Eve Moneypenny is such a compelling character.

I think there is some wish fulfillment. One example I can immediately think of is the Sherlock fandom and how the fangirls love Molly, but don’t care for Sally Donovan. Granted there’s an antagonistic quality with Sally’s relationship regarding Sherlock, so that might affect things.

K: But just because fans “like” Naomie/Eve doesn’t mean that they connect with her or relate to her. Maybe it’s because of race, or perhaps it’s due to her characters ass kicking nature, or the fact that she is in fact stunningly beautiful and it’s hard to replace oneself in a fantasy context with someone with movie star beauty. In the case of the new Q, there’s the upshot of it being two attractive guys, there’s an (seeming, if not literal) age difference. There are lots of potential kinks to explore without it being steeped in a reality where there’s another woman to “compete” with.

Fandom is a strange beast, but fangirls – like many people – connect with characters they find relatable and accessible, and in many cases fangirls, relate most to characters much like themselves ( adoring of the main male character, perhaps the underdog in some way… white …)

V: True, true. I think you’re right on that. I know that as a fanfic writer I feel more comfortable writing something that is more familiar. I’ve started doing Sally Donovan fic because I get her as a person and she’s got an outlook similar to mine.

I think you’re right on the fact that they don’t relate to her on a writer/creator level, and this makes me wonder about the demographics of the people producing fanfic (I can’t speak to cosplay or other areas). I get the feeling its still mostly white, so I wonder if they’re writing the perspective they know — that is, being white. Fanfic is often about writing fast, on the fly and following fandoms, so I wonder if people are afraid of writing to accuracy, when writing sex is pretty easy.

I don’t know. I definitely feel like there’s some prejudice, but it’s not intentional. It’s more that subliminal thing like the casting practices that occur in Hollywood and mainstream media. I also sometimes wonder if there’s the fear of screwing it up and creating a stereotype or being accused of one when you didn’t intend it (if that makes sense). That’s no excuse either, but I dunno. It’s just messy and weird.

K: I do wonder if it’s more about relating to character on a level other than race, though. (and this is gonna sound like a dick move, but…) I notice that fangirls tend to gravitate toward identifying with unexceptional female characters, the underdog, the weirdo, the one that’s not too assertive. It’s easier to relate to a character that shares your flaws, not the ass kicking heroine or antagonist…

V: No, you’re totally right on that. I’ve noticed that fandom tends to love the awkward girls the most. Mousey Molly in Sherlock is a prime example for me. Even Loo Brealey said the character is basically a representation of the female audience watching Sherlock and wanting to run their fingers through Benedict Cumberbatch’s hair. Even in Leverage, a lot of people like Parker because she says the awkward things, feels a little on the outside and while she’s very good at what she does, her people skills aren’t very good.

I also wonder if it’s a matter of a writing thing. It’s easy to take a different spin on an underdog (why I like those characters admittedly) than someone like Zoe from Firefly. There’s more story to flesh out at times with that and perhaps the voice is easier to grab onto because basically, you’re living that voice. You identify with that voice so easily that it’s simple to write those fics. It’s basically a question of how you’d react to a situation.

I guess overall, I just wish that there was more options for people who want to see something else besides the two white dudes getting it on and to be blunt, I don’t want to be the only person writing that. I have only so many hours in the day.

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  2. I honestly can’t say anything but that I generally avoid smut with black women (characters in general) who are not the main characters because for me it feels kind of skeevy? I’m black and I have a biracial friend who agrees with me but I think it’s just easier for us because we are Africans and these white people are really just characters. We identify with them emotionally but the black characters are actual representations of the people around us and (possibly because I’m not interested in sex) the thought of them sexually makes me slightly uncomfortable if not done really well