Students explore erotica in fan fiction DeCal at UC Berkeley

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The literary community is dedicated to all sorts of reading: novels, novellas, autobiographies about sports, history, fiction — and more recently, the subculture of eroticism and sex.

As a subset of this community, students on campus have created a space to discuss fan fiction, a literary genre generated by fans of fictional stories. These fans dedicate their time to recreate plots that involve characters from the original piece — a form of “fan labor” that has grown since the beginning of the Internet.

At a weekly DeCal class called “The Theory of Fanfiction,” students share and explore the forms and themes of fan fiction. Students meet each Monday to discuss the genre’s role in the literary world as well as in society as a whole. Through the class, started this semester by UC Berkeley senior Isadora Lamego and junior Katrina Hall, students explore the history of fandom, the role of social media in developing the genre and fan fiction’s importance in providing a vehicle for alternative sexuality and kink expression.

Each week’s discussion is centered on a specific topic, such as the history of fan fiction or kink in fandoms, with certain fan fics as required reading.

“We try to give them a really good overview of what fan fiction is and how it came to be so popular,” Lamego said. “If we are talking about the eroticism of fan fiction, then fan fiction is extremely prevalent in utilizing kink and showing what readers want in a relationship.”

Lamego said she started reading fan fiction on websites such as LiveJournal and when she was 13 years old. She said she enjoys the drawn-out tension between characters in well-written plots that can last for 100 or more chapters.

“For me, it is about picking any work and expanding on the universe — like what would you want to happen or what themes you would want to exist,” Lamego said. “I am super interested in pop culture, and movies and books make up a big part of my life, and I wanted to expand on those things.”

Lamego said readers and writers of fan fiction often seek and create erotic relationships not commonly portrayed in popular media. Stories may pair characters together in BDSM relationships where they engage in dominance, submission, roleplay and restraint, Lamego said.

Though some fandoms center on the erotic, others focus on romance with “slow build-ups and cutesy things,” Lamego said.

Though fan-fiction communities are hardly a new phenomenon, “slash pairings” — relationships between same-sex characters — are becoming popular, according to campus professor of media studies Josh Jackson.

“Slash fiction and erotic fiction came from ‘Star Trek’ as a cult program,” Jackson said. “I definitely think it is a popular and legitimate form of writing.”

Members of the fan-fiction community often tell stories in narratives that would otherwise be devoid of homosexual pairings or erotica, Jackson said.

“I know that fan fiction that is written about the creation of new relationships with previously unromantically involved characters are popular,” Jackson said. “I know that slash fiction is so popular that there are different codes to identify male-male, male-female, female-female.”

Media producers are also increasingly focusing on creating texts meant to foster intensely loyal and cult audiences, Jackson said.

For Hall, fan fiction began as a way to correct characters’ “mistakes” when she disliked how a storyline panned out on TV. Hall, who began writing fan fiction at the age of 11, said her first fan fiction was dozens of chapters long.

Hall said she enjoys fan fiction that focuses on character pairings with equal relationships, such as same-sex pairings or protagonist-antagonist pairings.

“I particularly love kink and BDSM, and just in fan fiction in general — there is a lot of kink available,” Hall said. “It’s a way to express things you normally don’t find in society.”

For Hall, who still writes, the fan-fiction community is supportive of those who pursue interests in fandom, from teenage girls who began at 12 to writers in their 30s and 40s who write longer novels. The bestselling “Fifty Shades” trilogy has its origins in Twilight fan fiction, published in its original iteration episodically on fan-fiction websites.

“Especially with kink, people are supportive — there are so many filters to find what you are looking for or what you don’t like,” Hall said.

But not all students become interested in fan fiction at an early age.

UC Berkeley freshman Domenic Botteni, whose interest in fandom began after 10th grade, said several of his favorite subjects involve mind control and women who have sex with other women, with an emphasis on femdom. Several of his favorite authors include Fenoxo, who specializes in “furry” erotica, as well as Tabico, who wrote the novella “Lens” about mind control.

Benjamin Weitz, a UC Berkeley freshman, said his interest in erotica began sophomore year in high school. While Weitz said erotica can be “weird,” he finds it interesting and entertaining.

Some of Weitz’s favorite pairings include Destiel (Dean and Cas from “Supernatural”)  Drarry (Draco and Harry from “Harry Potter”) and Johnlock (John and Sherlock from “Sherlock”).

“It is a way for horny teenagers to fantasize about their favorite characters being together,” Weitz said. “It is a way to keep a previously ended series alive.”

Contact Robert Tooke at [email protected]