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A Tale As Old As...Twitter?: A Breakdown Of Twitter Fanfiction

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In March 2014, a Twitter account named "30 Minutes of LOOKING" (@30minofLOOKING) sent its first tweet into the ether, stating its premise.

Based on the now-canceled HBO show Looking – which centers around a group of gay men in their late twenties to early forties who live and love in San Francisco – 30 Minutes of LOOKING presented pastiches and soft critiques of episodes in the form of screenplay treatments countered by minutes.

It poked fun at show creator Andrew Haigh and his deliberate, slow-paced style, as well as the show's tendency to focus on minutiae instead of bombastic grandstanding.

 

While the parody account didn't gain much traction in terms of a following (much like Looking's viewer ratings, despite its cult following), 30 Minutes of Looking did have some popular followers — among them, the official account for the now-defunct show. Numbers aside, what makes 30 Minutes of Looking unique is that in spite of its obvious satire, each tweet contains a companionable piece of fiction, and – dare I say it – fanfiction.

It might seem far-fetched to think of Twitter parody as a form of fanfiction, but there is one link that connects the two genres in a dogmatic yet infallible way: the necessity of a reference point.  

Fanfiction, like parody, is meaningless without a reference point. While conventional literature, great or mediocre, can stand alone, parody and fanfiction are rendered nonsensical without a canonical narrative of origin. (To qualify: this is not to say that parody or fanfiction can't also have some higher cultural value — it can. Quality of writing, even with the difficulties presented in the medium of Twitter, are not congruous within the genre of fanfiction itself.)

Here's another Twitter phenomenon that illustrates both of these points: Modern Seinfeld.

In late 2012, comedian and Last Week Tonight staff writer Josh Gondelman and comedy/sitcom writer Jack Moore created Modern Seinfeld (@seinfeldtoday), a Twitter parody that re-imagines the characters of Seinfeld in contemporary situations. As of now, the semi-regularly updated Twitter feed posits Elaine, Jerry, George and Kramer in Internet-Age circumstantial foibles — like George falling for a Twitterbot and Kramer going off the grid because he suspects that the NSA is spying on him.

Much like 30 Minutes of Looking, Modern Seinfeld encapsulates what could actually be, as per its moniker, a modern-day episode of Seinfeld — despite its obvious poking-fun-at, on-point humor. But, like fanfiction, the joke wouldn't hold without the canonical reference point.

What would the Elaine of Modern Seinfeld be without original TV Elaine's hang-ups and her yada yada yadas? What would Kramer be without his paradoxical go-with-the-flow erraticism? What would Jerry be without his hang-ups? (Okay, what would any of them be without their hang-ups?) The hang-ups, as they were, are now TV canon.

[A/N: I reached out to co-creator Gondelman to comment; he said he was unable to do so due to his work contract.]

Perhaps this kind of breakdown is best left to the scholars, like French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, who expounded upon the result of the metaphorical and actual lost reference point in his seminal treatise "Simulacra and Simulation," which excavates the idea of the hyperreal (i.e., an almost prophetic treatise on living in the Internet Age and everything it contains), and the relationships between progenitoric symbols, signs and their ilk. 

Even though at one point Baudrillard discusses the idea of a divine entity, he could as easily be extrapolating on the entity of Twitter fanfiction, or the narrative in general, in terms of the authorial: 

"But what if God [or an authorial establishment] can be simulated, that is to say, reduced to the signs which attest his existence? Then the whole system becomes weightless; it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum: not unreal, but a simulacrum, never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference."

Any writer can joke about a God complex: anyone who dabbles in fiction, whether it be traditional (i.e., in the form of a novel) or non-traditional (like fanfiction) could easily agree that creating a fictive world where you make characters do whatever they want (even those who already exist as the work of, say, J.K. Rowling, or as real celebrities) is an imitation of some sort of higher power.

That's why the word "authorial" is defined as "the maker of anything; creator; originator." And in the realm of fanfiction, the meaning is lost without a reference point and authorial presence: it becomes simulacra (a depiction of what once was a reference with a reference point).

As Baudrillard says, "Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation as itself a simulacrum."

To this end, fanfiction and parody blend: without a reference point, they are unmoored — and worst of all, meaningless, even plasticine. Or, to put it simply: what would a Beyonce fanfction account be without the colossal, enigmatic persona that is Beyonce?

Or would this Tumblr graphic depicting A Christmas Story/Garfleld, tweeted from WTF Fanfiction (@wtffanfiction), an account that tweets out excerpts and links to the best and (mostly) worst of fanfiction, make any sense whatsoever?

Fanfiction is a shapeshifter. Although many still think of it as a long-form offshoot of the hardcore fandom that once existed in the paper confines of 'zines, and now solely lives on the webpages of sites like FanFiction.net, the mainstreaming that the genre has experienced within the past ten years has permeated global Internet culture in ways that we haven't yet realized. It's also changing the way we think about proscribed genre categorizations.

It's making us throw away our inaccurate syllogisms, replacing them with new ones: "If parody can be fanfiction, then fanfiction can be parody" is one we can now count as precisely accurate. 

And can both be on Twitter? Yes, they certainly can.


Photo: Caroline Delaney | Flickr

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