You know what’s really awesome? Stepping out of your boring real life and into a whole new world where you get to hang out with friends, go on adventures, and defeat bad guys. Reading is awesome. Possibly the only thing that comes at all close to the joy of a good book is the rich fantasy world you get to keep building in your imagination after you’ve finished a book you loved spending time in.
This is what’s so amazing about things like fanart and fanfiction. I’m pretty passionate about my various fandoms, and am always interested in a chance to delve into a world I’ve loved reading about. There are some really fantastic artists out there with some amazing ideas. I’ve seen some already great pieces of writing and artwork elevated to a whole new level through the eyes of fans of the original works.
The various forms of fanart can also be a cathartic way of reimagining an unsatisfying ending or saving a character that exited a story before you were ready. But I think that probably the most prevalent form of fanart in, frankly, most genres, is the type that involves shipping. What’s “shipping” you ask? Shipping is putting two characters together in a romantic relationship that did not exist or did not survive the story. “Ship” being derived from the word “relationship” (I suppose we just no longer have time for things like the first 8 letters of a word).
I feel like no set of characters gets shipped and re-shipped, and then shipped again more than those of everyone’s favorite wizarding world, Harry Potter. Harry and Hermione, Harry and Fleur, Hermione and Viktor, Sirius and Remus, Hermione and Tonks, Hermione and Ginny, Harry and Draco, Harry and Snape, Draco and Snape, Hermione and Snape, the list goes on, if you’ve thought it, someone has written a short story about it and someone else has done illustrations.
It’s actually kind of magical in and of itself to go to sites like Deviantart.com and look for Harry Potter shipping art and find multiple versions of whatever your fantasy is. Because fantasies are important. Our fantasies are the one place where we have no limits and no consequences. Whether you write it, draw it, sing it, cosplay it, or consensually roleplay it, as long as no actual laws are violated, you get to enjoy, and if you’re brave enough, share your fantasies.
But there’s a proposal currently being considered by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that would result in a global ban of all sexual depictions of minors in drawings, cartoons, and even in fiction. Now, I get that it sounds like a good thing at first glance. But if you think about the implications, it becomes pretty problematic. When we police works of pure fiction and imagination, it starts to look alarmingly like prosecuting people for thought crime.
I’m a pretty huge Harry Potter fan (Ravenclaw!) and Severus Snape is one of my favorite characters. Aside from being an interesting character with an evolving plot line throughout the stories and an interesting twist ending, his brooding, tragic, brilliant, older dude/professor vibe really does it for me. I have spent far longer than I ought to admit fantasizing about being a student, specifically Snape’s student, and various seduction scenes in both directions.
Why? Because, oh my goodness, it’s so fun! Expanding a universe I love and spicing it up with the odd erotic fantasy is just good clean fun wherin all participants are either consenting adults or consenting figments of my imagination. Should I feel the need to share such fantasies, I currently have several forums on which to display fanart inspired by a piece of work I love and my own imagination. Sounds good, right? We all like being able to express ourselves in safe ways, right?
Well, if this UN ban on sexual depictions of minors in drawings, cartoons and fiction were to be enacted, fanart and fanfiction depicting anything sexual involving at least one minor would become a crime. That means if you innocently ship young Harry Potter and his “Slytherin in the streets, Hufflepuff in the sheets” rival and secret boyfriend, Draco Malfoy, you could be in pretty serious trouble for creating child pornography. Or, if you’re like me and so bad at drawing that you find yourself browsing the internet for better artists versions of the vision in your head but not on your paper, well that’d be seeking out and consuming child pornography.
But really, the worst thing about it is that this sort of move doesn’t actually help to protect anyone. Rather, it just creates trouble for content creators and trouble for actual prevention of child sexual abuse (CSA). Yes, it is important that we communicate to young fans (and older ones) that adults must never interact sexually with minors. This applies doubly so when the adult in question is in a position of authority, such as a professor (no matter how hot he may be, and no matter how hard his student may be crushing on him).
But imparting this important real-world lesson doesn’t have to be incompatible with the protection of artistic freedom and fantasy. It is far harder to control the human imagination than it is to control the actions of potential child sexual abusers. So, why are we wasting our time protecting fictional characters that never existed in the first place? Why would we want to create another crime that ruins lives but doesn’t actually protect living children in real danger of being exploited?
This isn’t to say that nothing can be done about fanart and fanfiction that some people find disturbing or triggering. We all have a shared responsibility to ensure that fan communities are safe spaces, and that includes marking fanart and fanfiction that may contain triggering content; this is a standard practice on many popular art and fiction websites such as An Archive of our Own.
But outright censorship? That is a slippery slope and criminalizing fiction and artwork is not that many degrees of separation from book burning rallies. A vote for this ban is a vote for Dolores Umbrage. After all, we wouldn’t want too much dangerous, icky freedom, now would we? What Would Voldemort Do? Amiright?