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([personal profile] janedavitt Sep. 7th, 2004 12:12 pm)
Recently, I saw 'fanon-ridden' used in a disparaging way and it got me thinking. Why is fanon considered a poor relation? Why is it verging on calling something a 'bad-fic' to label it fanon-heavy, when a fic full of canon would be praised, all things being equal?

Fair warning; this is me rambling on in my usual rambly way and is most likely full of errors, misconceptions and mistakes. Feel free to point them out and snicker - and equally free to duck right after as I throw things at you. Of course, I might be throwing champagne truffles, if you're smart enough to spot a typo ;-)

One definition of 'canonical', and the one that applies when discussing fic, (we call Joss 'God' but I don't really think we mean that the scripts are, well, scriptural ;-)) is 'authoritative, standard, accepted'.

BtVS and Angel were television shows; for them, canon is what was shown on screen, no more no less. Not the script books; for once, the written word isn't the final word; they contain dialogue that never made it to screen and lacunae. Not interviews, tie in books...they, particularly the interviews, can be interesting but they're second order.

What we see on screen.

Simple. Nice to have a solid foundation on which to erect our edifices, raise our standards, write our fics.

Sh'yeah, right.

Canon is about as solid as a quagmire. 'What we see...'. We see and we hear when we watch a show. Technically we all see/hear the same thing but does it mean we all see/hear it the same way? Of course not. From an American viewer mishearing Spike's 'suss out' for 'assess out' at the end of OMWF,(which happened on a newsgroup I was on thanks to faulty subtitles, but he still wouldn't accept it wasn't correct for a while) to the infinite interpretations of a look, body language, a tone of voice, canon is affected the moment we start to discuss it - and it's almost impossible to discuss it objectively.

'Fanon' isn't even a proper word, to add to its low status. Oh, it is in a way; ironically, we're back at religion; it's 'a striped scarf-like vestment worn by the pope over the alb when celebrating solemn Pontifical Mass.' But it's not what we mean by it. One handy definition is,

'Those conventions and extrapolations from canon which become so popular and widespread in a fannish community, that they turn up in much fanfic, and often people cannot remember where the idea originally came from, and sometimes they can't remember that the idea isn't canon.'


Fanon isn't canon but it comes from canon. It's made by us.

Canon is complete. We have it all. Every episode has been shown from the first to the last. Barring movies, that's all. Grr aargh and all that.

Fanon is not complete and never will be; it's the lively offspring of canon; organic, evolving, interactive. It's all of us throwing contributions into the pot to be boiled down into a stew so that the garlic stops being overpowering and adds flavour and the tasteless water is changed into stock. It's the nacre surrounding a piece of grit, layer by layer, to produce a pearl. It's - well you know what it is.

All fanfic is, to a greater or lesser extent, fanonical. Unless you're using the exact dialogue shown on screen, your characters aren't speaking canonically; it's your extrapolation, your guess as to what they would say in a situation you've created, based on what they said on the show.

In other words, it's a photocopy of a sketch of a painting of a tree; it's not the tree itself.

Same with relationships; you put Giles with Jenny and you'd better not have them sleeping together, ever, if you want it to be canonical.

It's all fanon. FANfic. We're not copying scripts, we're not describing what we see on screen; we're using that as a base to do our own thing. There are no canonical fics by definition.

Well, OK, maybe that's being a little narrow. I think we all know what we mean by canonical fics, don't we? Sure we do. Except...we don't. As a Robert Heinlein character once remarked 'If 'everybody knows' such-and-such, then it ain't so, by at least ten thousand to one'. You might think your fic detailing what happened to Giles when he stayed late in the library one night slots neatly into canon, but there's bound to be someone who thinks, unreasonably I'm sure, that an orgy would have been bound to be noticed by the cleaners.

Wriitng canonical fics is, I'd say, well-nigh impossible, and, to a large extent undesirable because it adds nothing to what we already know. Fanfic is all about exploring the possibilities and the what ifs. Nothing to be ashamed of in doing that, and though at one end of the spectrum you might end up with one of those, 'Spike is a coal miner and Buffy is his beloved pit pony' fics, it's worth it for the multitude of interesting fics that fanon allows.

I'm not dissing canon. Even though according to it Giles is a Bay City Roller fan ::swallows hard:: I'm not saying we shouldn't, in general, make our characters feel enough like the ones we saw on screen to be recognisable - or what's the point? Believable characters - but believable to whom? All of us see them in different ways; if there's a consensus that yes, that fic has a good Spike in it, against what standard is the writing of him being measured? Not canon, I'd say, but fanon. We understand fanon better than canon because we made it, we're surrounded by it, we see if being created around us, we're part of it as writers, readers, feedbackers.

Ethan for instance. I know Ethan. I know what he's like, how he'd react, where he comes from...and most of that knowledge is based on fanon because he appeared in four episodes, had minimal dialogue and any assessment of his character is based on so little that it's frankly amazing how good a job fanon - not canon - has done on fleshing him out - to the extent that when Jane Espenson said recently that Giles and Ethan might have met up at public school there was the sense of a stunned silence followed by a brisk headshake. Fanonical Ethan didn't go to public school. End of story.

So, really, calling a fic fanon-ridden? Is redundant. Unless what you meant to say was 'full of cliches', 'unoriginal' or 'trite', which is another kettle of cod.



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