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On “Dark Fic,' Morality, and Why Critical Thinking Is Vital

“No, we can't make moral judgements about individuals based on their interest in ‘dark fic.''

10/16/2021 6:59:00 AM

The latest FanService dives into why fans find themselves interacting with “dark” content as consumers or creators ⤵️

“No, we can't make moral judgements about individuals based on their interest in ‘dark fic.''

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.“For me ‘dark’ means ‘when I get out of this fic, I feel sad/upset/down,’ and for that to be the case, the fic needs to end on a bad note,” long time multi-fandom participant

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Arsenic Jadeexplains, noting that she's not talking about accidentally being triggered or traumatized by the story itself. Rather, the goal of the story is to leave the reader feeling sadness.Arsenic recognizes that this isn’t the common definition of dark fic: “The common definition, in my observance, is ‘fic in which terrible things happen to one or both of the protagonists throughout the fic but may or may not be resolved.’” Common tropes that fandom at large deems “dark fic” are stories where characters are active serial killers, in the mafia or other organized crime, or are enslaved in some way (either fantasy/science-fiction inspired or… not that). A big thing, for many people, is also the element of “

hurt/comfort” where one character is hurt awfully — after an assault, witnessing a crime, etc — and another character has to help stick their pieces back together.Arsenic goes on to point out her issues with the term “dark fic” itself. “I actually really don't like the term dark,” she shares. “Not just because it's broad AF and means pretty much nothing, but because it's what I consider a binary term, that is, it has an understood opposite: light. And as with most binary things, there are implied judgements in both of those terms, which, nope.”

One of the biggest ways that judgement shows up is in how people across multiple fandoms talk about the people who have positive engagement with any kind of “dark” content. It’s not a subtle judgement, and even well meaning people can get caught up in making nasty assumptions of people based only on their fandom output.

Popova’s expertise is in fan fiction that deals with issues of sexual consent, and they say that even within that subset, there are many individuals, opinions, and experiences. They argue that making moral judgements about people based only on the fic they read or write doesn’t really make sense. “There are people who genuinely want to explore and understand what consent truly means and how it might be constrained,” Popova says. “[Then] there are people who just want to have a wank.”

It’s a constant circular discourse, where some fans assume that liking dark content at any level implies that you’re a bad person actively into bad things; others insist there’s no connection between fiction and reality. Binaries like this erase the complex reasons behind why fans like

andcomplain about different forms of dark content. They also perpetuate the idea that you can assume what a person is “really” like based on the content they like or create, something that Popova has already pointed out is an unhelpful stance to take.

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Twitter contentView on TwitterIn short: “No, we can't make moral judgements about individuals based on their interest in ‘dark fic,’” Popova says. That doesn’t mean we can’t analyze and think critically about the communities we’re part of, and the impact of fan-created art on those communities. “We can point to tropes, fandoms, or communities that carefully, thoughtfully explore consent through fiction about incest, rape, or the Omegaverse,” they say, citing their book

Dubcon. “But even within those communities we can see lines of fracture and division. And we can just as well examine the way that fanfiction communities protect some types of fans over others, particularly when it comes to race, as you yourself as well as scholars like Rukmini Pande and Cait Coker have argued. That's the aggregate level at which we can try and make sense of things, while not losing sight of the fact that we'll always be making generalisations, and there will always be more nuance we can dig into.”

So, whydofans find themselves interacting with “dark” content as consumers or creators? For starters, “they just like it” is absolutely a reasonable response. Over the years in fandom, that’s been the main reason why fans talk about enjoying content that other fans find upsetting or “too dark.” They simply enjoy stories with controversial, “darker” themes and the happy ending that most authors give their characters after sending them through some serious suffering.

Sometimes, fans use different types of dark fic to deal with trauma and fear. In fandom, some people share their traumatic experiences to explain their interests, while others keep it more private. (No one, by the way, should ever be expected to reveal past trauma in order to validate their interest in or criticism of specific fandom content.) It’s also normal for people who’ve dealt with trauma like sexual violence or childhood abuse to unpack their pasts in fantasy like roleplaying or fan fiction/erotica. It doesn’t actually mean that they’re condoning sexual violence or abuse, but that

they’ve found fantasy as a safe space to engage with something that left a mark on their memory.There are very few forms of dark fic that have managed to escape criticism. Some criticism comes in good faith, pointing at stories that eroticize the Holocaust (which

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bit of nuance I personally observed: yes most people who read dark fics read it for completely valid right reasons. but obviously, some don't. problem is shaming people for reading these might push potentially vulnerable people into isolated groups with potentially harmful people

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