Part 1: Hail to the god, baby!
By Lord Chaos
His lordship Chaos here.
Not too long ago, the Fic Bitch Emailed me and asked if I could do a guest rant for her page. Normally I would have politely declined, but then Bitch-san threatened to go online & post the somewhat incriminating pictures of myself posing in a certain raven-haired Senshi's sailor fuku. I was thus convinced that a guest rant was a good thing.
So today, we're going to talk about a phenomenon that is rather unique to the fanfiction universe as a whole. Sometimes you (the otaku) get so involved with a TV series--in this case, Sailormoon-- that you wish you could be a part of it. And more often than not, you have no life outside of Sailormoon, so you decide to indulge yourself since fantasy is always better than reality. Hey, a world where no one seems to need a toilet, and people still smell good after wearing the same presumably unwashed outfit for 3 seasons sounds like a sweet deal.
The end result is a fanfic where you (the otaku, now the author) insert yourself as a pivotal figure in the Sailormoon universe.
Well...actually the results don't just end there. They generally end where I (the victim) stumble across your self-insertion, and promptly commit ritual seppuku because I feel I must atone for your shame and dishonour.
Hey, wait a minute...why do I have to die for your horrid fic?!
*Ahem!* The term "avatar" itself comes from Hindu mythology, where a god comes down in bodily form to earth. Granted, other religions also have cases of such incarnations of deity. Not to mention many otaku enjoy having Anime as their own religion.
Those of you who can figure out where I'm going with this are already cringing. You see, fact is that in a tale of fanfiction, the author is god. Forget the fact that a fanfic is based on a pre- existing (and copyrighted) universe, where the creator(s) has established all the laws regarding characters, setting and plot.
However, in the online textual medium, the author writing the story is god, since he or she can reshape this pre-existing universe into whatever twisted little dementia they so desire. Capricious little deity wanna-be's, aren't we?
And sometimes, the author/god decides that there is only one way to improve on such a wondrous universe as Sailormoon. Namely, they shall toss an incarnation of themselves into the mix. Enter the avatar, exit my lunch.
This character, the author incarnate--who can be either male or female or both (gyack!), since egotism knows no gender limitations- -is based almost entirely on the physical and personality traits of the author. Behold the self-inserted, author avatar: one of the greatest threats known to fandom.
Now before you all light your torches and carry your pitchforks over to my place, hear me out. Hey, you there setting up the wooden stake and the bonfire! I demand you bring marshmallows when you burn me as a fanfiction heretic!
I will say that there are distinctions between pure self-inserted avatars, and wholly original characters being placed into the Sailormoon universe. Yes, an original character can share a lot of commonalities with the author's life and/or personality. But fact is that there's a line drawn where the character is recognised as being nothing more than a fictional character. This sort of character is NOT an avatar; they are simply a character in a story. Maybe a well-liked character by the author, but a character never the less.
As a result, there should (in theory) be some emotional distance between the author and the character, regardless of how closely one is based off the other. This degree of detachment is something I personally value; I can be fond of a character somewhat based off me, but I can still kick their ass around if that's what the story calls for. I'm such an evil little bastard that way.
However, sometimes this line between "kinda like me, but still just another character" and "Hey look at me! I'm in my own story!" can become incredibly blurred, so I'll just settle my point with grandiose hyperbole.
You ever notice how the majority of author avatars are between the 11-17 age range? Now far be it from me to mock this most awkward stage of a young person's life, where it's very easy to come down with an inferiority complex. However, no matter how good a gig Usagi & her friends seem to have, the Sailormoon universe is not a valid substitution for reality.
If it was, I'd be living it large in the Tokyo Tower, having reconverted it into my own private penthouse suite. Throngs a cute, nubile and scantily-clad Anime babes would be lavishing attention on me in between such scheduled events as "take over Sony", "go zombie-hunting with Largo" and "wash laundry."
That said, let's look at how the mind of a typical self-inserted author avatar works...or doesn't quite work.
If I may put forward a slice of personal philosophy, I liken the traditional author avatar to watching an episode of DBZ (Dragonbarf Z). Why? Well, it's a story where nothing happens for hours on end, everyone is absurdly super-powerful, and I get a sudden urge to fall asleep.
Anyhoo, inside the Sailormoon universe self-inserted, author avatars of the most ridiculously delusional calibre will invariably have damn near more power than God or Bill Gates. Not to mention they'll be so perfect in...oh, everything! Sports, popularity, part-time jobs, academics and needlepoint. Such perfection will quickly make you want to hurl a javelin or the nearest other sharp and pointy object through the avatar's vital organ of your choice. My recommendation would be to aim for the kidneys.
Yet if they're not absurdly powerful or perfect, then they are psychological basketcases. And you know what this means, people: their favourite Senshi or male mentor gets to comfort, console and play therapist all for free. More WAFF than you can shake a rod borne of love at abounds, and once you're done paying homage to another god (this one made of porcelain), you return for *shock!* wow, more avatar-centred WAFF!!
More than once the presence of an avatar has led to a Senshi or some hapless male character in the series have the uncontrollable urge to tear off all their clothes, get nekkid with the avatar and have wild, sweaty lemonsex! *gasp!* Be still my beating heart! No really...be still. A heart attack's preferable to the agony suffered by reading a bad self-insertion made worse by seeing it spiral into a lemon.
One word here: Oscar. If you know the name of this infamous argument for birth control, then I'll pause the rant momentarily so you can retreat into your happy place as the long-buried, horrific memories of his/her fics return to haunt you. Those of you who for some strange reason don't know about this avatar...ignorance is bliss. Don't tempt fate.
Now I'll be deconstructing the traits of the avatar in later rants, so we'll shift gears for a moment. It's time to look at the sort of story you'll be encountering when you stumble down an avatar's rabbithole.
Naturally, because the story centers around the avatar, other not- so-important plot points will have to be pushed aside to make room for the glory that is the self-insertion. So farewell, coherent are grammars and punctuation? Give my regards to Sera Moon Broadway, realistic character portrayals of the Senshi! Leave my brain in San Francisco, engaging and original plot! And sayonara to that peskie litle devace knon as the spellchekur!
The Senshi are virtually always written woefully out of character, because if they were in character, they'd join us in kicking the avatar's ass before the end of the 1st chapter. But in a stock self-insertion fanfic, the Senshi are reduced to something even worse than cardboard cut-outs with dialogue that makes the Teletubbies sound intelligent. A dreadful fate awaits any sailor soldier in an avatar's fic: they become groupies, those "yes-men" who clamour around the avatar and agree with everything the avatar says and does.
Occasionally you'll get the odd Senshi who winds up disliking and becoming insanely jealous of the avatar for most of the story, but in the end realises the error of their ways and converts to worshipping the avatar along the others. Either way, I'd as soon go with something a little more mentally stimulating, like watching a debate between JarJar Binks and a chunk of Gorgonzola cheese.
The fanfic's length can be summed up in single bark of laughter. Each chapter (and there is usually many many many many of them) shall not exceed more than 3 pages and be: maddeningly short; lacking in coherent plot; no more than a few dozen of them. This is known as the Potato chip principle: eat one and you can't help but eat all the others because the first wasn't filling.
Many authors who decide that avatars are the way to go have a real life that mirrors their stories: PWP (Plot? What plot?) has evolved out of LWL (Life? What life?). In a sense, this only goes to prove that the greatest threat to otaku prone to self-inserting themselves (both fanboys and fangirls alike) is natural selection. I am filled with a deep sense of relief in knowing that while the avatar might breed hundreds of unholy pages of progeny, odds are the LWL author won't be getting any in the near future. Or the far future, for that matter.
But that's just me ranting.
I'm sure by now many of you are thinking that all avatars are evil and deserve to be punished--and not necessarily in the name of love and justice either. But like every general principle in fanfiction, there are exceptions.
While likeable avatars are rare, they are out there. I quite enjoy the exploits of Greenbeans' avatar in "College Life." I also enjoyed Sean Gaffney's avatar in "Made of Stone" and "Trials & Error." One reason was that in the end, his avatar realised he was a bit of an asshole and changed for the better.
Such authors have discovered the enlightened truth behind making a successful self-insertion avatar. And it is this: stop taking yourself so damned seriously. Even if they're your own avatar, they're still just fictitious characters in a story. It's meant to be a fanfic, not your own personal fantasy!
And contrary to what you might think, there has been one incredibly good thing to come out of self-insertion fanfiction: MSTings. It's good to be able to laugh, cry and bang your head against the desk alongside those poor Mystery Science Theatre 3000 guys (well, two robots and a guy), whose scathing one-liners actually make the avatar's fic fun to read. That inspiring MSTier, Megane 6.7 (my hero and yours), is the sole reason I can stomach any Oscarfic, and that's because he has me laughing so hard at Oscar's inadequacies.
But again, that's just me ranting.
So ends the first part of my "self-insertion" guest rant series. For my closing remarks, I am reminded of the lines sung by Frank N. Furter in the movie 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show', which would best sum up almost any reading experience with an author avatar:
"You'll get used to it. A mental mindfuck can be nice."