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GIF It Good: GIFs as Fics and Storytellers (Part Three!)

[Be sure to check out part one and two!]

Groundhog Day much? Haven't we already been here before? Sure, the GIFs I talked about in our last section—like Incorrect Marvel Quotes or the beautiful pairing of B99 with the latest memes—seems kind of fic-ish. It's basically a story. Want to know what it would be like to see Jake Peralta sighing, "May I get a hell yeah?" Now you know! These GIFs are already taking imagined scenarios and trying to pass them off (with everyone in on the joke) as actual canon, so why do we need another section about this stuff?

Well, because to me there is a distinct difference between those GIFs that throw out a one-liner joke and those that are setting a scene. We can certainly try to imagine what happens after Steve hangs his head in exasperation at Tony's antics, but we're not encouraged to. The quip has already been made and it's time to keep scrolling; move on with your life until a new post catches your eye. These GIFs, however, have multiple layers attached to them. Like short fics, they paint a world for the viewer to briefly fall into, allowing us to imagine this alternate universe with a bit more consideration than we'd pay to a meme. Take, for example, this set by Lethal-desires:

It's meant to appeal to the Stucky shippers—those favoring the pairing of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes—but considering that the set pulls from non-MCU footage, it can easily be read as a pseudo Real Person Fic (RPF), which is exactly what the author allows for in their description:

Lazy Days ~ Stucky AU/EvanStan Character CrossOver

The term "crossover" is used to describe two fandoms that are slotted together somehow—the crew of the Enterprise attends Hogwarts, Sherlock falls back into drugs and takes on the alias of Patrick Melrose, Sam and Dean find themselves in a Scooby Doo cartoon, etc.----and indeed, we do have two fandoms here considering that RPFs are the imagined relationships between actors and other celebrities. The stories might be based off of real people, but the content is definitely fictional. By opening up the possible ways to read this set, by claiming that this might not just be Bucky and Steve in civilian clothes, but also Chris and Sebastian enjoying their Saturday afternoon, lethal-desires broadens the audience for this set considerably.

In terms of the content, take a moment to appreciate how long it takes to read the text and match it up with the changing imagery. As said, these aren't jokes that you read quickly and then just scroll past. They're stories that take time to parse out and enjoy. The joy, of course, stems not just from seeing your OTP in a domestic setting, but appreciating all the details that coincide with the canon/EvanStan's career.

Because of course these two are going to chat about getting their kid lots of toy soldiers so he can have a "battalion" to command. Of course when he finds a red, white, and blue tin cover that's going to turn into Captain America's shield. Lethal-desires doesn't shy away from reminding the viewer of who these characters are, despite how far removed this domesticity is from their normal, violent lifestyles. As for that domesticity itself, it's a simple thing that represents most of the fluff fic out there. Bucky teases his son. Steve is feeling too lazy to go grocery shopping. He only relents when Bucky says that they're out of condoms. It's the exact mix of sexy and sweet that we've come to expect of most ships.

On the other hand, this swanqueen set embraces a "less is more" perspective. This reads like the beginning of a fic and fans are well-versed in filling in the details. Maybe they just ran into each other. Some kind of meet-cute. One of them—Emma perhaps?—did something that most would consider annoying, rude even, but here it comes off as charming. Given their personalities they'd never speak of feelings openly. Not yet anyway. So Emma gives a confident "You're not allowed to fall in love with me" instead and lets her coy smile say the rest. Regina responds in turn. It's flirting at its best and once again we have an author's note encouraging us to imagine this alternate universe beyond the small moment we see here. Pointing out their similar necklaces makes us wonder if there's something soulmate-esque at work. Acknowledging the dialogue's origin encourages us to imagine an Emma/Regina relationship as similar to Jake and Amy’s: quirky, teasing, utterly devoted.

Back to Marvel. I won't lie, this is one of my favorite sets and if anyone knows of/wants to write a 100k fic based off of this premise? I'm here for it. Talk about excellent editing. Most of these GIFs are obviously pulled from interviews----using the real life format to increase the authenticity of the fiction----and with the exception of Steve everyone is out of costume, selling the idea that this stint on The Bachelor is something heroes of the MCU really do in their free time. (I'd love to see Loki's reasoning behind that hair and glasses...) I adore the chosen dialogue and the descriptive banners that, yeah, really are on point. Each GIF plays off of the other, whether it's "Loki old af" vs. "Thor old but buff," or the implication that, like most reality shows, the characters have heard and are responding to the others' answers:

Doctor Strange: "I'm the clear choice. Are the others rich doctors? I don't think so."

T'challa: "A doctor. That's cute. I have several doctors in my palace."

(Sorry, T'challa. You're the obvious choice here, but Ironstrange has been gaining speed since Infinity War and if you've got a ship with Tony I haven't seen it yet.)

I have things to say about tumblr posts that start with something like, "Someone should write a fic where" but then describe the plot in such detail that it's like we've already read it. Do I want 100k of this nonsense? Yeah. But if I don't get it I still have some of the best parts laid out here. Posts like this already function as complete, visual stories.

Finally, let's take a look at a Supernatural set. As I've mentioned before, these scenarios function best when they're explicitly attached to the canon in some way. Steve really did say "language", but now we're changing how Tony responds to that chastisement. Emma and Regina really did give those coy, little smiles. It's just now they're giving them to each other instead. Here, Cas does begin the scene with "I'll handle this" so immediately the well-versed Supernatural fan is going to picture the rest of the conversation: he sidles up to a suspect, stares her in the eye, and screams WHY DID YOU KILL YOUR HUSBAND?! at the top of his lungs----scaring the hell out of her and everyone else. We know this scene and it's the knowing that makes the change that much funnier:

There's so much wonderfulness going on here. The change in context, making Cas' anger and the woman's horror suddenly about brownies instead of death. The quick world building that Cas and Dean are married and this is a very common occurrence at PTA meetings. The fact that the woman is now named Helen, deliberately pulling from tumblr's 'white suburban mom' meme which represents all that's awful about privileged, shallow, middle-aged women. The idea that Dean and Cas----a couple who are never allowed to be a couple due to queer baiting----would become this stereotype is hilarious as well as oddly comforting. It imagines a world where badass hunters embrace their femininity and are accepted enough within the suburban community to ream out their neighbors about proper brownie baking.

These are stories, full stop. Perhaps not with the clear beginning, middle, and end that we've become used to, but stories nonetheless. GIFs use filters, editing, comparisons, author's notes, and written dialogue to re-contextualize the canon. They're using different tools to achieve the same result as fanfiction and doing so marvelously. They've become an art form all their own, particularly on websites like tumblr, and are well worth the attention we're starting to pay them. The next time you're browsing social media and stumble across a GIF-set, take a moment to think about what kind of story it's telling. You might be surprised by how much there is to take in.

Image Credit

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