Divya Iyer, I Year B.SW
Radha Rani, I Year B.Com
Come closer and tell me, what do you see? What worlds exist in these pages? What mysteries are waiting to be explored on this screen? And what secrets do you carry in your heart?
When we look at fiction and fantasy worlds, there’s often only so much that can be clearly defined. The beauty of books and writing, in general, is that no matter how much is written down, the manner in which a person visualises each character will inevitably be different.
At the same time, without clear definitions, minority groups often never truly get the space they need to exist. We’ve been conditioned to see certain things as default – to think that characters are white if their race isn’t mentioned, to think that a character is heterosexual and cisgendered unless otherwise expressed, to think that a character will be a certain way without any indication of the author one way or another.
Saying outright that a character belongs to a minority group is important because that’s what Canon is. (To our readers: Canon is anything that is specifically mentioned by the author or shown on screen in movies) Once it’s stated explicitly, it becomes something that is a fact, in that universe. Books and other forms of fantasy/fiction reach a diverse crowd of people, and it’s important that everyone who reads or watches the product is able to identify, empathize and see themselves within it.
We want you to ask yourselves, when was the last time you saw someone like you on screen or in a book? In most western media, representation is sadly lacking and that’s a tragedy. An utter travesty. Representation gives people a place to belong and, when done properly, empowers people. Representation is looking into a book/screen and being able to see people like yourself. It is finding that there are people like you living, working, existing, in that world you love.
When there isn’t enough representation in the canon universe, fans turn to other places to find it. They usually come together and form what is known as a ‘Fandom’. Fandom is a varied diverse group of people who might have originally come together to create art and expand stories and worlds that already exist, but over time it’s evolved into so much more.
Fandom has, instead, become a space for expression.
Expressing yourself through the characters you love, and through the situations and people around them helps you connect better with that fictional universe, and the people in it. In a way, it helps you analyze and understand the core aspects of Canon better, while simultaneously enabling you to ask “What if it were like this instead?” and create alternate realities within that universe.
Fandom gives people a space to interact and understand each other within the context of another world. People from different cultures and backgrounds are able to understand each other and bond over their love over a common theme. It provides a tool for representation that is often more efficient, as a diverse group of individuals leads to a coming together of multiple perspectives. Often, people contribute to fandom by drawing inspiration from their own lives and struggles, therefore providing people with a relatable context within which they can understand these struggles.
Seeing fan-art that portrays characters in different ways is liberating, as well. Often, characters’ physical appearances are not defined in detail, so fan art gives artists a space to draw and portray these people however they visualize them. The same character can be drawn in several ways, and can still make sense in canon – for instance, the debate over a black Hermione in the Harry Potter universe. Some fans can visualize it, and some fans choose not to. Both representations of Hermione are still valid in their own right, and are still Hermione.
There are different stories that are created, about characters who struggle with anxiety, and cut themselves as a coping mechanism, and there are also people around him learning how to help him through these anxiety attacks. (For those of you who wish to read the fic, it’s on ao3: non te ne andare by adreamingsongbird) Another one, where Ginny Weasley gets sorted into Slytherin and has to deal with the prejudice against her house, (Changeling by Annerb) also brings light to several issues. The point to be made here is that fandom covers up a lot of holes in canon or rather, exploits canon for all its worth. While tons of fanfic is homage to canon, there are so many more that have this punk-rock anger towards it. Fanfic/art is fans coming together and saying, “That’s not good enough for us. So guess what, we’re going to make it better.”
Fandom is the space where we take matters of representation into our own hands. We say that we want to see a reality in which these characters are more like us, and we shape that reality – give form to it.
Ultimately, everyone needs representation, and what better way to get it than to chase after it on your own? After all, what better fate, what better destiny, than one you make for yourself?