Given their potentially fickle fan bases and often precarious livelihoods, YouTubers don’t usually insult their viewers—they need someone to smosh that subscribe button and buy all that merch. But once in awhile, they just can’t stop themselves from letting their followers have it, especially the ones who’ve taken their awe and admiration to an uncomfortable extreme: fan fiction.
When vloggers read fan fic about themselves, it can get kind of brutal: They wantonly make fun of their most loyal followers’ spelling and grammar, accuse them of stereotyping, even call them names like “cuck” and “pussy-ass bitch.” Sure, the practice is mean (though seldom mean-spirited), mocking as it does the romantic and erotic desires of mostly young, mostly female adorers by older, more powerful boys and men. But when they’re done right, such videos are a comic gold mine—and arguably a necessary one.
Fan fiction is more than half a century old, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The idols change, from Spock to Mulder to One Direction to a catacomb’s worth of sexy vampires—but the feverish, melodramatic timbre and (largely) bad writing stay the same. So it’s entirely expected that, as YouTube stars supplant traditional celebs among children and teens, stories about figures like Logan Paul have become mainstays of fan fic hub Wattpad, which sees more than half a million tales uploaded to the site every day. (Wattpad, in fact, hosts more than 7,000 fan fics about the world’s most notorious YouTuber. I’m thrilled to report that I have no idea how many of them reinterpret the word Logang.)
Reading fan fiction about yourself is harder than it looks, and not just because you might dread each new word that you force yourself to read aloud. The genre is a tricky test that demands vloggers get visually inventive, while showing off the wit, personality, and whatever other qualities inspired someone to sit down and type out the fantasies they had about a creator. The result is often a Frankenstein-ish mashup of other genres: the cringe video, the reaction video, and in one case, a try-not-to-laugh challenge. Like almost anything on YouTube, a few sparkle, while the rest hardly justify their running time. Still, it’s an important exercise in fan management, where creators get to insist they aren’t whatever idealized versions of themselves that exist in viewers’ heads—while rewarding the fiction writers’ devotion with a direct response, however sneering it ends up being.
One of this genre’s best examples is among its most popular: web comic artist James Rallison’s thoroughly creeped-out but ultimately sweet rejoinder to a fan fic about him. Viewed 7.8 million times, “I Read Fanfiction About Me” is animated like the other videos in Rallison’s TheOdd1sOut channel, and thus effectively a storybooklike illustration of a fan’s story about him. (Rallison notes in the video that having a fic written about them is one of the three big milestones for any YouTuber, along with gaining 1 million subscribers and having their work stolen or reacted to by a fellow creator.) The fan fic that he reads is fairly innocuous, featuring an 11-year-old girl stalking a same-aged version of Rallison (who’s “almost 20” at the time of the video). Rallison frequently interrupts his reading or summary of the fic with his own funny asides, taking offense at the fictional James’ use of Axe body spray or laughing at the 18 times that he’s referred to as senpai (Japanese for “teacher” or “master”). At one point, Rallison’s admirer in the story drinks in the scent of his Axe, which she refers to oh-so-earnestly as “senpai smell.” If you don’t LOL, you have no soul.
There are a lot more swerves in adorkable rapper Dave Brown’s “Reading My Own Fanfiction,” which continually and hilariously veers in awkward, unwieldy directions. Brown’s visual format is a lot like the other “reading fan fic” videos, combining close-ups of himself talking to the camera with shots of the text he’s reading. Lighthearted charm carries the video, from the Snapchat-like filters that embellish Brown’s reactions to the spirited, British-accented readings he gives the half-dozen or so excerpts. I laughed each time he robotically bellowed the fan fic argot he came across, like, “I guess I’ll see you around, YOUR NAME.” His jokey demeanor (“This Dave is rather forward!”) is a welcome tonic as the stories introduce new love interests who need saving from self-harm, depression, and other “metal illnesses.” Watching the video, the gulf between the jaunty vlogger that Brown is and the romantic superhero that the fics imagine him to be is impossible to cross. It’s an endearing reality check.
Neither Rallison, who usually appears in animated form as a humanoid pile of circles, nor Brown, with his A.V. Club–approved fire-engine-red waist-length hair, are exactly mainstream-heartthrob material. More conventionally attractive superstars—like (since self-outed) vlogger Connor Franta, hip-hop artist Lil Drip, and the Logan Paul–affiliated Dolan Twins—giggle and blanch their way through much raunchier stories, sometimes with tasteful beeps ensuring that their videos won’t be rated 18-plus by YouTube. (They know who their fans are.) The dirtier the stories, the greater the cringe comedy should be, but not in these cases. These teen pinups let fan vulgarity do all the work, instead of engaging with the material in a fun or interesting way. Ethan Dolan acting out his twin brother Grayson’s fictional lupine lust, for example, means barking like a crazed dog, his lack of imagination laced with contempt. If it’s a boner kill that the fratty pair is after, they’ve succeeded.
All fan fic isn’t adoring, of course. One of the reasons why male vloggers reading stories about themselves is so genially low-stakes is that the tales are largely, if sometimes disturbingly, worshipful. Prominent female YouTubers, in contrast, are often the source of envy among fan fiction readers and writers (the vast majority of whom are girls and young women), and so fan fic is sometimes weaponized as a tool of humiliation against them. Vlogger Sarah Baska’s sister reads a story about her that involves a corn dog as a sex toy, for example, while gamer SSSniperwolf (née Lia Shelesh) is disgusted by a tale in which she’s mind controlled into having sex with a stranger. I’m sure there’s a video out there of a female YouTuber reading nongross fan fic about herself, but I couldn’t find one. Perhaps the best that fan fic’d female vloggers can hope for is to be shipped with another vlogger, however shudder-inducing it is to be matchmade with a total stranger—or worse, a work acquaintance.
Is there something a little churlish about successful vloggers ridiculing fans for not being sophisticated enough in their desires or their self-expression? Of course. But the need of YouTubers to humanize themselves probably outweighs the stings, particularly as many creators lack the resources and sometimes the mindfulness to protect themselves from rabid fans. Unlike conventional celebs, vloggers are often pressured to be endlessly responsive to viewers in order to cultivate a sense of connection and authenticity. Even if not every creator makes a “reading fan fic” video, the genre’s existence alone helps police the borders of fandom by maintaining the boundaries that do and probably should exist between YouTubers and fans.
As for the fan fic writers, I hope having their de facto love letters picked apart by the objects of their obsession doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm (or desire) but inspires them to keep growing as writers and explorers. And take it from this former fan fic addict (who wrote a fair bit but rarely disseminated it): You don’t need to publish everything you think. In your later years, you might even be relieved that you refrained.