As Popova points out, what “dark fic” is ultimately depends on individual reader and creator interpretations of the trope or pairing. This, along with the intensity of the dark content and what it’s used for in the story, leads to people forming personal catalogs of dark content on main, works they enjoy and ones they very much don’t. Across fandoms and age groups within fandoms, two people may have vastly different understandings of what dark fic looks like and what kind of dark fic they’re okay with consuming and creating.
One person might view Real Person Fiction itself as “dark fic,” because it crosses established personal boundaries for the relationships we have with celebrities and ones they have with each other. Another one might only count RPF that uses extreme elements: for example, an alternate universe that places characters from an idol group in the universe of The Purge and has them enact horrific violence against each other. Even Omegaverse, my favorite trope/genre in fandom ever, can be considered dark fic by some people, because it often serves up gender/bio essentialist worldbuilding wrapped around some werewolf-y characters getting intimate.On “Dark Fic,” Morality, and Why Critical Thinking Is Vital
First of all, major thanks to Dr. Milena Popova, author of Dubcon: Fanfiction, Power, and Sexual Consent, and the brilliant Arsenic Jade for speaking with me for this piece and broadening my horizons.
I’ve wanted to talk about the concept of “dark fic” – which my expert fans agree is one of those unhelpfully broad fandom terms that says everything but means… less than you’d think – for a hot minute now. For starters, y’all know I don’t actually like fandom terms that are hard to define because at the end of the day we’re all sitting here like “okay but what actually are you trying to say here” and “dark fic” is no different.
Especially when it comes to not uh… making liking or hating it your personality. Both things are extremely embarrassing for me to see because I don’t think that they’re healthy approaches to content because the positioning alone (interested/hating) isn’t enough to give you a good grasp of a person especially when you consider that one person’s dark and upsetting content is… someone else’s Tuesday afternoon.
One example would be stories that deal with terrible pregnancies. Even if they go well in the end, the dramatic plot focusing on a character dealing with a rough pregnancy or even a near miscarriage can feel like “dark” content and a fan can have a highly positive or negative response to it. It literally largely depends on the people when they create or come across this.
Yes, there are some things that are clearly created to hurt people. They’re not tagged well. They’re exploitative in the way of the J2 Haiti fic. They’re about sexy Nazis and/or promote white supremacy. There are pieces of content that are created out of spite and/or with the intent to hurt other fans, not to explore desire or complex concepts in the slightest. The thing is that you do kinda know who they are because the authors are obnoxious little shits about it. And so are their die hard defenders.
Now, I don’t think many people actively would’ve expected a pretty positive outlook on “dark” content from me, but… A lot of people simply have never asked what I like in fandom. Or what I write in fandoms when I have the time. Light/dark are just… vague concepts. I could write a nightmare of an “accidental baby acquisition” story if you let me and I have written goopy sweetness set in dystopias. What I’m realizing matters the most – not the only thing though – is how fans treat each other and why they bring specific attitudes to the table.
Some people are just dicks though.
Regardless of the content they like!
(Also shout out to my editor Claire for getting me Squid Game and Hannibal in the art for this column (by Liz Coulbourn) because literally as I wrote this I was just checking out the new fic for the former fandom and going over my old haunts with the latter!)