Laura Mayer is an Associate Producer at WNYC.
Real Life Fan Fiction
Friday, March 08, 2013 - 04:23 PM
It’s been over a decade since reality television exploded. Cheaply-produced programs showcasing people acting nuttily while being urged on by reality show producers and powered by alcohol beam at all hours of the day.
The magic’s in the editing. Nothing’s real. Blah, blah, blah. We get it. And, perhaps from a combination of demand and low costs, it doesn’t look like this trend will stop any time soon.
At least, I hope not.
Consume enough of any kind of media and you start to think more deeply about why it’s so compelling. Can this fluff actually be meaningful?
The brilliant writer Heidi Julavits is a top-tier thinker and a lover of The Bachelor and all of its spinoffs (or, as she calls it, The Franchise). Julavits recently published a story in Harper’s Magazine called “This Feels So Real” – a work of fan fiction based on Ryan P., a contestant on Season 7 of The Bachelorette.
Although he was voted off during the contest, Ryan P. somehow kept showing up on the show. As Julavits said last spring at the Happy Ending Music and Reading Series, there was something about Ryan P. -- an endlessly- optimistic director of business development at a solar electric power plant firm -- that called for a back story.
Heidi Julavits - Excerpt, "This Feels So Real"
Heidi Julavits reading a version of “This Feels So Real”
“We guys told Ashley that our families loved us and we loved our families. Our families were our spiritual protein shakes….I told Ashley this too…Truth, see. No real love but the total possibility for it. Though my mom did say to me once, and not even because she had cancer, you are my son. I am. I am everyone’s sun…What can I do with these people other than beam them with my special optimism and say to them, just as I say to the potential accounts at my solar energy firm, without the sun you die.”
Hype has been swirling around fan fiction for the past few months – the idea of hoards of super-fans, sitting in their homes, solitarily fleshing out the world and the characters from their beloved fiction. But it’s not just pure fiction that gets this treatment. Since there’s so much reality television on the dial (?), reality TV has been getting the fan fiction treatment, too.
This isn’t a new thing. Back in the days of 2010, Richard Lawson became the father of reality television fan fiction. While at Gawker he wrote recap upon recap of the Real Housewives of New York. Each post covered the basic details of the episode, sure. But what made these recaps so readable was the fantastical, borderline science-fiction, turns they took. On RHONY’s Ramona.
"Oh, Ramona. Grown in a Petri dish after some of her cells were found on a piece of the Sputnik satellite that managed to make it through the atmosphere intact, no one is quite sure where the original Ramona might be from.”
Every season the actual “real” characters grew more canned on the show, while Lawson’s recaps grew more outlandish, but somehow closer to true character of the reality stars on the show.
Emily Yoshida over at Grantland has been writing Real Housewives of Beverly Hills recaps/fanfic, in a series titled “The Saddest Thing That Happened on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Last Night.” The ladies of Beverly Hills have weathered some major storms over the past three seasons – divorces, rehab visits, and a househusband suicide. Anyone who follows the show (and, full disclosure, I follow all of them) senses that the viewing exercise is less that of glitz and glamour as the series' title would suggest, and more one of examining downfall.
Cast member Kim (and incidental Paris Hilton aunt), recently out of rehab and suspected of relapse, shows up to a party on a Parisian balcony seeming discombobulated. In Yoshida’s recap, she examines the crush of pressure put onto Kim – by her sobriety, by her cast members, and by the viewers.
“These ghosts aren't as aggressive as the ones in her old house in Westlake Village, but there are a lot more of them. Probably because Paris is such an old city. It collects more ghosts over time, whereas the ghosts in California are more spread out… In the bright lights of the explosions she can barely see the spirits anymore. Maybe they're gone for good, but she doubts it.”
If you aren’t a fan of the reality shows, the recaps/fan fiction will seem as inane as the bad reputation reality television has in the first place.
But, as Julavits said in another Harper’s article, “Love in the House,” where she delves into various realities of reality television situations: “The readers of novels experience real feelings as a result of fiction. And what about the characters? They don’t not fall in love, just because a writer orchestrated it.”