Euphoria, the new HBO series, is no stranger to controversy. Even before it premiered on June 16th, it was already creating buzz. However, it wasn’t sex, drugs, or one of the uh, anatomical scenes that set the internet aflame this week. Instead, it was Euphoria‘s One Direction scene. The scene, an animation of a character’s fan fiction, depicted group members Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson in an intimate moment. The internet, predictably, went bonkers.
The Fans React to Euphoria‘s One Direction Scene
Among the fans, there have been two major reactions. The first is defensive. These are fans who are angry on behalf of the pop singers. They see the scene as yet another in a long list of violations. That’s because while there have long been conspiracy theorists who believe in the existence of “Larry Stylinson,” the romantic relationship between Styles and Tomlinson, it is obviously not a mainstream belief. As Tomlinson has gone on the record before about how such chatter has affected his relationships with both Styles and his actual partner, a negative fan reaction is no surprise. These fans believe that at the very least, Euphoria should have cleared the scene with Styles and Tomlinson. (On that note, while Styles has yet to comment, Tomlinson has once again made his feelings very clear.)
On the other side are fans who are less outraged. These include fans who reacted with a kind of wild, horrified glee. They didn’t expect or even necessarily want to see an animation of a slashfic, but they got it. And that scene, along with the larger character arc, gets them back.
Fandom in the 21st Century
Fan fiction itself predates the internet by centuries, dating back to the days of Shakespeare. But the creation of the internet made fan fiction widely available in a way it never had been before. Where it once was the province of only the super-fans, anyone can now visit online archives and read stories about their favorite movies, TV shows, books, and actual celebrities. (The latter is known as RPF or “real person fiction,” in the parlance of fanfics.)
But greater access to fan fiction isn’t the only gift the internet gave to fandom. Through social media and websites like Tumblr, fans are able to congregate, albeit virtually. In turn, the immediate dopamine hit gratification of Twitter helped give rise to “stan culture,” or fandom as intense community. As with any culture, it comes with its own slang and social mores.
The Secret Life of the Internet Fan
That is precisely the world Euphoria revealed with its third episode, which mainly focuses on character Kat (Barbie Ferreira). She’s not an outcast at school, but she’s not a shining light, either. She’s one of those kids who sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.
Online, however, she’s a star. Using fan fiction as her medium, she’s able both to challenge her creativity and build her own fandom (to the tune of over 100k Tumblr followers). Although Kat is obviously a character, her fandom experience is as real as real life. While not everyone who participates in online fandom becomes as popular as her, they’re all seeking a similar thing–that sense of ride-or-die community. That’s what Kat gets from her readers, who pledge their loyalty to her. So as notoriety explodes into her real life, when an illicit video of her is passed around, she imagines her online fans as a Dothraki horde, ready to defend her honor in the high school cafeteria.
It’s a surreal scene, an escapist fantasy. But isn’t that what her fan fiction is? As Euphoria narrator Rue (Zendaya) tells us, Kat wrote stories for a few different fandoms, but it was her One Direction fic that went viral. That’s telling, in that it wasn’t new stories about fictional characters that made her popular, but rather, RPF. She created a fantasy about two real people, and in doing so, created herself online. Or at least, a fantasy of herself.
And she’s not the only one. As of press time, there are over 30k separate works about Styles and Tomlinson on Archive of Our Own. That’s just one site, of course–there are still more stories out there on Wattpad, Fanfiction.net, Tumblr, DeviantArt, and whatever’s still left of Livejournal.
Fiction Gets Too Real for Real People
So despite the outrage from fans, Euphoria‘s One Direction scene merely depicts something that already widely exists. Should they have literally depicted it, in a lush animated sequence influenced by early anime Belladonna of Sadness? That’s a different question for a different day, as well as one that may largely be dependent on personal beliefs. And it may have already been supplanted for some fans by a different controversy. Showrunner Sam Levinson described the scene to the Los Angeles Times as “…sort of what Kat’s dream would be if she could see an animation of one of her stories. That was the impetus behind it. It’s sort of allowing her wishes to come true.”
But in creating the character, perhaps as research, someone behind the show also created a real Tumblr account. The account, with the username thunder-kit-kat, was created some time in 2018 and interacted with a number of other accounts, following them and reblogging their posts. Upon the discovery that Kat’s account was real, these fans were upset. Believing it unethical that someone at HBO had infiltrated the world where they discuss a purported romantic relationship between men they don’t know, many recommended that the account be blocked. They didn’t want to be seen.
But they already had been. And that’s what that scene shows.
Featured image via screengrab
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.