If there’s one thing you need to know about geeks, it’s that they believe the real world is like high school… or like they imagined high school was. Though most of us just got on with things in high school, geeks imagined themselves to be victimized, rendered powerless by their oppressors and humiliated in front of their peers. “Powerless” is the key word here: Geeks, ultimately, do not feel they control their lives, and this nagging insecurity undermines and informs everything they say and do and believe, from their politics to their entertainment.
Take fan fiction. Fan fiction is one of the cornerstone industries of the Internet, ostensibly based on the idea of fans of genre entertainment (anything from Star Trek to Buffy to Doctor Who to the Muppets, with no shortage of crossovers between all these properties and more) writing out fun “what if” stories for the satisfaction of themselves and other like-minded fans. If that combination seems odd to you, then you’ve not been a geek. To the geek, all things they cherish are of equal value, so it makes perfect sense for Strawberry Shortcake to team up with He-Man to defeat Cobra Commander.
You may wonder why some prolific authors of fan fiction don’t make the jump from publishing on the Internet with the moniker “BuffytheVampireLayer” to real, paid work, but consider that some of these geeks build up a reputation as authors of “great” fan fiction and are celebrated by groups of the kind of people who celebrate authors of fan fiction. Faced with the prospect of actually having to work and improve their craft in a tougher market, geeks will almost invariably choose the easier route to “fame” and “fortune.” Cheap and laughable power is preferable to hard work and the prospect of failure.
That need for power is prevalent in the text of most fan fiction, too. Fan fiction writers and audiences, like their mainstream, celeb culture-loving brethren, regard their beloved obsessions with an unhealthy mix of hate and envy. Geeks happily incorporate genre fiction into their identity, along with their love of hot foods, caffeinated products, and other pop culture junk. But even geeks know this is an unstable foundation for their lives.
You see, to a geek, the paid, professional creative staff that puts out the entertainment they love so much can never get it right. Their first reaction to any new installment in their drug of choice isn’t “is this any good?” but “is this right?”, a telling distinction. Analyzing the merit of stories and themes is hard, and a geek would much rather blather on about trivia than do any serious delving. Given a geek’s shifting criteria of “rightness,” it’s possible (nay, probable) they will never actually let themselves enjoy the things they love.
Fan fiction helps geeks cope with this grievous problem. With it, the geek can assert control over the pop culture icons they love to make them do things the “right” way — and as a geek is an unqualified critic first and an actual creative person second, these efforts are often laborious and plainly display the geek’s many insecurities.
In fact, there’s a whole subgenre dedicated to this: the “Mary Sue” story. In a Mary Sue story, a new character (a stand-in for the author) enters, say, Hogwarts, and soon wins over the love and admiration of every major character. The Mary Sue will often fall in love with the author’s favorite character, and previous rivalries — say, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy — will be mended, often due to the Mary Sue’s actions.
Mary Sue fiction is perhaps most distinguishable for its complete lack of real conflict. That’s because, to a geek, storytelling is more a security blanket than it is a challenge to consider new perspectives, or even simply to be entertained.
Fan fiction allows the geek to act like a powerful arbiter who determines what is cool and right, so of course geeks LOVE fan fiction!