That’s a Wrap! A hard look at the fine line between reality and fiction in the BL industry

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece meant to encourage love and respect not hate.

We often talk about the fine line between good and evil in the world, that blurred gray area between the two we all exist in to some extent.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the brutal way we, as an audience, butcher the fine line between reality and fiction.

Dramas are safe places full of unsafe (and safe) things we let ourselves explore in a way we wouldn’t explore in real life—a place where we can do that without being shamed for doing it.

It’s where we can love or hate a villain without being treated like we are one ourselves. Feeling sympathy for or empathizing with a fictional dark character doesn’t mean a person would condone the behaviors in reality. Loving angst on screen doesn’t mean we strive to create drama in our everyday lives. It’s a place where people with mediocre, calm lives can be thrown into chaos without destroying their modest reality and where people with chaotic lives can experience a little calm.

The same goes for the writers, artists, and actors behind the worlds we dive into.

As an author, I often live inside a fictional world inside my head, one I’ve created because, inside that world, I can be creative and free and different from myself. But it’s not a world I want to live in permanently. It’s more like a place I take a vacation in. One where I can try on various personas and then let go of them at the end of the day to eat dinner with my family.

It’s the same for actors. Acting is a creative hobby that allows someone to enjoy honing a skill. It’s a professional game of pretend that takes a lot of work and dedication. Actors explore being other people in different situations. They get to walk in someone else’s shoes. And there’s something really cool about doing great work and seeing yourself be different on the screen. There’s something cool about seeing your face and body on someone else’s personality. And it’s gratifying watching yourself grow as an artist. I’ve never stepped in front of the camera, but I’ve been behind it watching actors do their thing. I’ve seen the pride in realizing they’ve done it well.

But at the end of the day, they still go home to dinner with their families.

There’s a clear divide between fiction and reality that viewers shouldn’t cross.

I watch, review, and recommend dramas because I enjoy the art, time, and attention that goes into them. I enjoy the mini-vacation escaping into someone else’s life gives me.

I enjoy breaking down what a drama might be trying to say and the nuances a director and cinematographer might be trying to convey.

But all vacations end.

At the end of the day, when the work is done, everyone goes home.

This brings me to fanservice. During events, interviews, and promotions, an actor is often tasked with remaining in character to please an audience, to evoke a response from fans. Some actors and companies do more of this than others. Some don’t do it at all. Either way, it’s a job. A job that shouldn’t tear apart real-life friendships, relationships, or connections made inside the industry. Also, being close and loving to co-workers isn’t always fanservice. It often indicates the genuine love and friendship working and being together has brought to their lives and how much richer it’s made their present.

But at the end of the day, when the interviews, promotions, and events are over, they all go home to the family and friends that exist away from the limelight, away from the pretend world they’ve escaped to temporarily.

It feels wrong to have to hide who you are in real life to make the pretend world more ‘real.’ It feels wrong to create drama spun off fictional people, places, and events when actors have parents, friends, and pets in the real world they have responsibilities to. It feels wrong to tarnish the work an actor is proud of and his/her/their relationship with their coworkers based on a viewers’ perception.

Fan culture is essential to the entertainment industry and artists, but the line between reality and fiction is like the caution tape at a crime scene. It’s not meant to be crossed. Stepping into the shoes of a beloved character shouldn’t require a person to sacrifice their reality. Or their sanity.

We live in a world where it’s become almost a requirement to disclaimer ourselves.

There’s always been a toxic trend of canceling artists based on their real-life interactions with others, but it’s been noticeably worse since the pandemic. I think partly because fiction has become much safer than reality, and social interactions have been limited and tainted with medical caution.

And it’s especially noticeable in the BL community. And that makes me sad.

We live in a world striving to be better, in a world where we are still fighting for inclusion, acceptance, and certain freedoms. And in that world, gay television should be a safe place for those in the community looking for representation in film. But the keywords are “in film.”

Because at the end of the day, when a show ends and an event closes its doors, reality returns. And in reality, we should support an artist who takes risks, who decides to portray a character on screen and gives everything to make those characters come to life.

And when reality returns, the things we ask our allies in the community to do for us in the real world should apply to actors portraying gay characters. This includes not assuming sexuality, outing someone, stalking, and more.

Supporting actors and the characters they play is incredibly fulfilling without taking it to extremes. Sometimes love grows between actors. A lot of love stories are born on television and movie sets. In those cases, fiction crosses into reality. But it should never be assumed.

There’s been an interesting shift in the industry, one I’ve talked about in previous posts. The way shows are shot and the funding, time, and attention that goes into them has changed as the competition for viewership grows stronger. We’re getting more mature content with better quality productions. And like the maturing television we’re being given, I hope the same maturity happens inside the fandoms.

Being part of a fandom should be a fun, happy place where we can share, promote, and love the projects we take a mental vacation into and the artists who take us there. It shouldn’t be a place where we constantly fear or shame each other. It shouldn’t be a place where an artist has to fear being him/her/theirself.

May we grow into a world where appreciating art also means appreciating each other’s realities.

At a time when we’re celebrating pride month and the joys of loving to love and not to limit, let’s love without hate.


One thought on “That’s a Wrap! A hard look at the fine line between reality and fiction in the BL industry”

  1. I’ve seen how toxic Mainland Chinese BL (and actually any fandom) can become. I don’t know if it is quite as crazy in other countries as it is in China. After discovering The Untamed, I was flabbergasted to see how Xiao Zhan’s own fans almost succeeded in destroying his career when they declared war on a fan fic website that hosted plenty of WYBXZ explicit shipping fiction. Other fans of the hosting site declared war on Xiao Zhan in retaliation once the supposed pro fans brought in the censors to have the site blocked in China, effectively removing a beloved place for not only BL shippers, but many others who are not accepted by family and society for their sexual orientation or practices. What a horrible mess that may have also effectively destroyed the obvious friendship between the two actors and was another step in the Chinese government’s attempts to remove all BL content from the airwaves. In fact, edicts were issued banning “effeminate”-looking young men. Long hair, earrings and other jewelry, and anything else that didn’t hew close to some trope of hyper masculinity was banned. It might be worth looking more closely at BL fandom in China, which skews overwhelming young and female. Obviously, it fills a real emotional need that stereotypical masculinity does not fulfill in such a highly patriarchal culture where women are devalued and too often abused by men in all parts of their life.


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