Last weekend, I attended San Diego Comic Con on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, there was no Haven panel this year due to production/filming schedules since the show got picked up for a double episode order, but there was a pretty awesome Haven autograph signing I went to on Saturday thanks to several messages from awesome fans on Facebook and Twitter telling me to go. The Community panel was on Thursday, so I did not get to go to that either, but there were still plenty of things at Comic Con to keep me busy and occupied.
I was not able to attend the Orphan Black panel last year, so it was a real treat to experience the Orphan Black panel with my friend Lexi this year. While waiting for the Orphan Black panel in Room 6A, one of the other panels we saw was for Outlander, a new Starz television series based on the books by Diana Gabaldon. Though I have not read any of Diana Gabaldon’s books, I am familiar with her stance against fanfiction. This prompted an interesting conversation between myself, a Screenwriting graduate student and disability advocate, and Lexi, an undergraduate fan studies scholar at California State University, Monterey Bay. I told her that I don’t agree with Diana’s stance on fanfiction, though I have tried to understand certain viewpoints of various authors and screenwriters who have an apparent dislike for fanfiction. It was this conversation that sparked the idea for this post and made me reflect on my own journey as a fanfiction writer, an aspiring television writer and the person I am today.
As a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I first dabbled in Buffy fanfiction at least a year or two before I knew what fanfiction was or that this particular writer-ly pursuit had a home on the Internet. At the age of 15, I used to scribble bits of Buffy fanfiction in notebooks and bring it to a local writers group, where it was read and critiqued by adults who had little familiarity with the show. That was okay at the time, but I wanted something more and soon discovered that there were websites on the Internet to post such stories. I was mostly a lurker at the time and came across a wonderful author’s story about Dawn Summers, my favorite Buffy character. Yes! I thought excitedly. Someone enjoys Michelle Trachtenberg’s (the actress who portrays her) work as much as I do! I signed up for the website within the year and began writing and posting stories and interacting with fans. My favorite series Tru Calling was airing at the time and the majority of my fanfiction has been focused on that show. When news of Tru Calling’s cancellation came out, a dedicated group of fans, myself included, banded together to create a virtual season 3 of the series in order to demonstrate our love for the show and hopefully give fans everywhere our own sort of closure. Though this incredible project was discontinued due to time constraints and real life commitments, I learned a lot from it and ventured off to continue writing more fanfiction of my own.
But it wasn’t until 2009 or 2010 when I began to think about disability portrayal in fanfiction. I’ve never written fanfiction for particularly huge fanbases (with the exception of Buffy), so other television shows, movies and books such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and even Harry Potter certainly have fans writing disability-centric stories. Though I have included characters with disabilities in my fanfiction stories, particularly those for Tru Calling and Haven, I never intended to write the “token disabled character” as a source of “inspiration.” It is fine line to walk (roll?) between due to the overwhelming presence of the “overcoming narrative” and constant bombardment of media images unabashedly proclaiming people with disabilities as sources of inspiration simply because they have completed a task that a person without a disability can easily accomplish without question. While people with disabilities may take a different path in order to achieve their goals and dreams, it should not be considered “special” or “amazing.” Because at the end of the day, talented people with disabilities are just people whose work should not be celebrated on the basis of their disability or chronic illness, but because of their talents themselves. It is something I constantly have to remind myself as a fanfiction writer and aspiring television writer that the character and her worldview and obstacles and achievements come first, not the disability.
In a TED talk by Australian comedian Stella Young, who uses a wheelchair, she notes the various media images we see of people with disabilities matched with so-called “inspirational” quotes as “inspiration porn.” She says that the purpose of these images is objectification in which disabled people are objectified by non-disabled people for sole purposes of “inspiration” and “motivation.” Other comedians with disabilities such as Josh Blue and Maysoon Zayid also discuss their disabilities in their comedy routines, but they don’t do it to be an “inspiration” to others. So how does this affect the wonderful world of fandom and fanfiction that exists on the Internet?
In the field of disability studies, there are two different “models” of disability. For the purpose of this blog post, I chose to focus on the social model of disability. The social model of disability states that negative attitudes, stigmas and various systemic barriers about disability created by society are, in fact, more disabling than the disability itself. Society’s view of disability perpetuates a completely different image of disability than what it actually is and should be.
I believe the social model of disability can be challenged. Through fanfiction and other artistic creations, fans both with and without disabilities, have the ability to change preconceived notions and shift perceptions about creating characters with disabilities – both visible and invisible – and including those with various types of chronic illnesses.
Someday, I hope that people come to view fictional characters with disabilities represented in film, television and online media not as people who are “special” or “extraordinary” or defined by their disability, but rather just as they are… as people.