Status: Submitted for consideration as a presentation at the C4: The Conference on Contemporary Celebrity Culture, Drake University, 2019
Since the birth of the internet and online fan communities, fan fiction has enjoyed an increasingly prominent role in fandom. Whereas traditional fanfiction has dealt exclusively with the expansion and/or cross over of existing universes, a relatively new sub-section of the genre has moved away from character narratives, employing real celebrities in its construction. This is known as Real Person Fanfiction (RPF). In instance of RPF, we see that celebrities are not only being talked about but cast in real life scenarios which treat them as themselves, rather than characters which they play. When we consider this in light of the celebrity as commodity or in relation to ideas around fan ownership or entitlement, it is very troubling. In the case of deceased celebrities, there is an additionally morbid undercurrent to this form of RPF. Frequently, the deceased is posed in a time, place and context outside of the real, becoming an avatar to serve the needs of the fandom which idolizes them.
My focus in this discussion is Kurt Cobain and his appearance in RPF. Cobain has long held a prominent position in the celebrity world as tragic rock-star and poster child for Generation X and the Grunge movement. In his RPF persona however, he is transformed from rock star, junkie, husband and father, into a victim of sexual and physical abuse. Frequently at the center of homosexual relationships with other popular singers from the same era, Cobain’s body becomes a conduit through which ideas of sexuality and gender are played out for the enjoyment of readers, often brutally. When we consider that it has been over 25 years since his death, we must question why Cobain continues to be resurrected in this way. In many cases there is compelling evidence to suggest that several authors of Cobain inspired RPF had not been born during his lifetime. As such, the who of Cobain and the what of his artwork must questioned. Specifically, who do they imagine Cobain to have been? What do they imagine he was discussing in his lyrical content? How does this marry with their casting of him into a victim role? Perhaps more troubling is the question of why, why does this fandom want to write the celebrity as victim? Finally, where do we begin to draw a line within fandom and its influence on the structure of celebrity? In the case of Cobain, while there are many biographical and auto-biographical accounts which exists, we must consider what role his RPF plays in defining his posthumous image.
In this discussion, I draw on the fan studies work of Henrik Linden and Sarah Linden, along with biographical work on Cobain by Charles R. Cross. Additional source material will be drawn directly from RPF archives. My goal is to highlight the way in which fan groups continue to “speak about” dead celebrities and impact of these discussions on the legacy of celebrities like Cobain.