Examining trends in fanfiction.
The creation of fanfiction and fanwork is, at its core, a subversion of traditional media. Taking first the world of another creator and then overlaying new tropes and personal experiences, fanfiction writers create original derivative work that pushes boundaries that the parent work could never hope to actually talk about. Sometimes that is done for intelligent and creative reasons, like adding diversity to a show otherwise dominated by cis white men or going deeper into a character’s backstory. Other times it’s done so two characters can have extreme, animalistic sex for a week.
There’s no way to talk about Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics (also known as Omegaverse) without talking about sex. Omegaverse was conceived in a kink meme, a byproduct of the livejournal fanfiction communities where creators would anonymously drop in ideas for other writers to expound upon, usually about characters having sex. In one such kink meme, specifically for fanfiction surrounding the actors for the hit TV show Supernatural, a user asked for something very specific:
There are three types of men, alpha males, beta males and omega males. Alpha males are like any ordinary guy with the exception of their cocks, they work just like canines (the knot, tons of cum, strong breeders, etc) The beta male, is an ordinary guy without the special cock. Omega males are capable of childbearing and often called bitch males.
The language in there is graphic, but the fundamentals of the concept have not changed substantially since the foundation of the meme. The world is divided along a secondary sex. Alongside men and women and nonbinary folks, you have alpha, beta and omega. These are almost exclusively driven by the sexual markers stated above, but also divided along the same personality traits that have long separated traditional gender studies – alphas are the aggressors, betas are the middle line, and omegas are the nurturers. At its best, Omegaverse fanfiction can be used to make complex statements about gender and our relation to sex, at its horniest, it’s an excuse for the characters to have uninhibited sex and for men to become pregnant, while at its worse, it’s basically just an excuse for dubious consent in a sexual environment.
[pullquote]Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics is frequently about making the perceived monstrous domestic[/pullquote]
What makes Omegaverse so interesting is that it is fan created and it is exceptionally divisive. There are currently 25,149 original works on Archive of our Own, probably one of the best-maintained fanfiction archives on the internet. Over 25,000 pieces of fanfiction and fan art and readings of pieces, in English and Finnish and Chinese, from an anonymous prompt on a kink meme in 2010. In just one archive of derivative fiction. Compare: there are only 1,700 pieces of work for Labyrinth, a highly successful cult classic movie from 1986.
Despite this sheer quantity of works, Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics is deeply divisive within the fandom. Frequently used for dubious consent (a character who is in a sexual frenzy most commonly cannot consent) and also featuring questionable understanding of biology, as there are frequent leaps to explain why men can have receptive sex and also (sometimes) bear children, it has many detractors. Bring up Omegaverse in a conversation with someone new to fandom and you will inevitably have a third party telling you not to scar the newbie. Though a frequently used trope, one almost impossible to ignore if you read fanfiction (it can be found in anything, from the BBC series Sherlock, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to Korean bands, to fanfiction about NHL teams), it is one that is considered a bit of an underbelly of fan created works. This is probably directly tied to its foundations in the kink meme and it’s frequent use in mature content, though it is worthwhile to point out that not all Omegaverse is pornographic. As with many pieces of work directly related to mpreg (male impregnation), Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics is frequently about making the perceived monstrous domestic. Pairings are often seen in idealized family units, or doing normal things like shopping for curtains, as well as being cast into sexualized scenarios.
Omegaverse is not exclusively used in slash (homosexual) couplings. Fanfiction is both a derivation and a deviation from its source material. While writers will on one hand hold themselves strictly to canon (the Winchester brothers drive a 1967 Chevrolet Impala) the nature of the work allows you to frequently ignore that which is inconvenient towards telling a good story (Why can’t the Winchesters have a third sibling? Do they even have to be siblings at all?). Within that you also get deviations within the trope itself, and interesting discussions on the dynamics of relationships where, say, an Omega character goes into heat once or twice a year and is driven into a sexual frenzy, something they find deeply traumatic as they are asexual. This takes the original sexy prompt and turns it into a discussion on sexual identity and a bit of angst. Almost everything in that original prompt is up to debate and remixing, from the nature of behaviors within the genders, to childbearing.
What makes Omegaverse so fascinating is both its origin story as a fan creation and its enduring nature. Even common soulmate tropes, like where you only see color when you see your soulmate for the first time, or more descriptive tropes, like where you vomit flowers when your love is unrequited, are relatively small in the grand scheme of fandom. Omegaverse, dubious consent and alien biology aside, seems to have struck a chord with the communities that read and write fanfiction and it seems like it might be here to stay, even if just as fanfiction’s dirty little secret.
Amanda Hudgins is an occasional writer, former rugby player and wearer of incredibly tall shoes.