In 2019, popular fanfiction home Archive of Our Own took home the Best Related Work prize at the Hugo Awards. The award was touted as not only a win for the website’s founders but also a win for its large, global membership. It was an honor rarely bestowed on fanwork creators outside of cosplay and art contests. Indeed, more than a few creators, like George R.R. Martin and Anne Rice have been downright hostile towards fanfiction in the past. Fanfic has gotten a bad rap in other instances, too: in China, Archive of Our Own was recently banned.
Due to the pandemic, though, fan works are on the rise, given that people are stuck at home with free time on their hands. And that’s not just fanfiction: it’s fan art, graphics sets, gifs, memes, and other fan creations. Fanworks (and narrative media in general) have always been about creating a certain amount of catharsis around a particular emotion or event, whether inside the text or outside of it. Fanfiction, in particular, typically responds to events in a given work’s canon, usually in disapproval, seeking to mold the text to the author’s particular tastes.
So it tracks that fans are now taking their fan works and applying them to what’s happening in the real world. To be fair, that’s always happened. There are some notorious historical-based fan works that got a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. But focusing works around our current crisis and our current lot in life, self-isolation and social distancing, just seems right somehow. After all, one of the most popular fanfiction tropes is trapping two characters in a room or an elevator or maybe a cave, and forcing them to work out their differences (it’s not just a popular fanfiction trope either; there’s a reason the bottle episode exists).
Indeed, it’s likely that non-fan media will likely interact with the pandemic when they come back from their imposed hiatuses. They’ll just be behind the curve. There’s currently a “Lock Down Fest” going around on Tumblr that’s hosted on Archive of Our Own. It’s dedicated to not just fics about the current crisis (provided they are adequately tagged), but fics about any pandemic or epidemic. Additionally, fics where characters are trapped or locked down somewhere, are also welcome.
Fanwork creators are also turning to making creations to pay the bills in this time of economic hardship. It’s a depressing reality, but with many people out of work, fan artists are taking commissions. Taking commissions for fan works is still a legal gray area, but generally considered acceptable. But as fan art evolves in its diversity, its definitely a welcome distraction. As we emerge into a brave new world, turning your fandom side work into your full-time job might actually be worth it.
The all-powerful form of the meme is also having a comeback. The subreddit r/lotrmemes has surged in popularity, especially since it called r/PrequelMemes for aid (and r/Prequelmemes answered – a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one). Most of the memes are either about the PrequelMemes subreddit helping out or about something to do with our global quarantine efforts. There’s a lot of toilet paper jokes, but a particular favorite has to do with Gandalf breaking down and whispering to his moth friend…on only the sixth day of quarantine.
Fan works are also being reported on for other media outlets during this time. The Daily Dot published an article specifically on fanfiction authors, as did Insider. Fanfiction and other fan works are still a relatively niche outlet for creative expression, but Archive of Our Own’s Hugo win and fan works’ current popularity may not go away when we all emerge from our cocoons, hopefully sometime in the near future.
Until then, quarantine fics and memes, as well as escapist art and crafts and every other fan work under the sun will have to do to keep us fans content as we wait out The Long Night. Well, hopefully, this won’t be 8,000 years. But it may very feel like it without content, both fan and mainstream, to keep us entertained and engaged.