Pop culture storytelling is a multi-modal creative effort, with narratives living as film, television shows, comic books, novels, and more. Fans, being both consumers and producers (or “prosumers”) continue these stories by bending them through their own creative and productive means. These transformative works use the source material for inspiration while generating and finding new interpretations and opportunities for the narrative and its characters.
Fans bend stories to their will.
The bent narratives featured on this site are case studies of fanworks that create room for more diverse stories and characters and, as such, are acts of political creativity. In each of these cases, fans do their storytelling across media – social, written, visual art, memes, hashtags, videos – and invite other fans and general audiences to the spaces they have created within the context of the original content. These stories within a story are necessarily personal, often invitational (and viral), and always visionary. I argue that these campaigns and creative reimaginings are more than just stories – they are narrative conversations, arguments, and collaborations with media consumers and producers alike.
It is not by accident that narrative benders often hail from science fiction and fantasy fandoms; these stories are being adapted at an increasing pace in the media landscape both due to interest and technological opportunity. (It was difficult to showcase a superhero’s powers prior to today’s CGI.) But this is also a reflection of the desires and hopes of audiences who are seeking a world different than the current one, with possibilities beyond the ones immediately at hand. If a new world is worth dreaming, why not dream big?
Historical Context of ‘bending’ in Fanlore
In 2008, the media activist movement, Racebending, was born out of protest of the live action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the animated series. “Racebending”(a play on the “bending” of elements such as air or fire, a sort of superpower, done by characters in the show) for this movement, refers to:
“…situations where a media content creator (movie studio, publisher, etc.) has changed the race or ethnicity of a character. This is a longstanding Hollywood practice that has been historically used to discriminate against people of color.”
Racebending.com/”What is racebending?“
Fans, as they are wont to do, borrowed the term and reclaimed it as a method for adapting known characters into minority versions of themselves. These diversity-positive examples of “racebending” are seen across a variety of fandoms and are deployed to illustrate and illuminate pre-existing narratives. Racebent versions of characters are common on fanart sites like DeviantArt and in spaces such as Instagram and Tumblr, where entire sites are dedicated to archiving racebent characters. Similarly, “genderbending” is a popular form of fanart and cosplay, wherein fans adopt and/or embody characters in new and creative ways. Rather than simply mimic the original character, these “bendings” visualize new opportunities and stories. This site celebrates the fan-appropriated and owned version of “Racebending”, while paying homage to the original media activist roots of the term.