I like really bad movies sometimes. And when I do, there are different roots to this problem. On occasion, it just has the right elements combined to get me on board. On occasion, it’s nostalgia. And on occasion, someone points out to me that said media is crap, and I give them my most puzzled stare.
And then I realize I’ve headcanoned it.
This happens to me all the time with plotholes and poorly conceived film climaxes. A friend is busy trashing the latest contrivance in some blockbuster, and I’m suddenly confused because I inferred elements that were never in the script. Oh, these characters are clearly a lot closer than the film is saying outright—that’s why the emotional arc works! I just made up an entire background for them in my head, complete with adorable scenes of them braiding each other’s hair as teenagers. They would die for each other. Fixed.
Of course, I can’t actually make that argument to someone. I can’t tell them “Oh, that movie works fine for me because I decided that these things you’re taking exception to make perfect sense by virtue of my nimble brain gymnastics.” That’s not a real argument. That doesn’t make a movie better. That doesn’t actually plaster over the holes, or excuse any lack of thought that went into said story, even if the author was intent on letting you fill in some gaps on their behalf.
Except I do make that argument sometimes. Not with the intent of telling someone that they’re wrong about bad writing or plotholes, but to explain why I like certain things. Sorry, I know it doesn’t make sense… but I made it make sense. I’m not saying that I disagree, I’m saying that I wanted it to work, so it did. Presto change-o. I’m a magical unicorn. (I’m not.)
Thing is, fandom is full of headcanons. But they come in a pretty wide variety, in different flavors and shapes. Some of them are incredibly subtle… to the point where you don’t realize that your version of a story is different from someone else’s until you’ve discussed it in depth. Often these boil down to difference in empathy; perhaps you are more inclined to like a certain type of character, or a certain system of government, or you always root for underdogs. We’re all bound to be more empathetic to characters and groups that align for us personally. Which might be why you have a tendency to cut tragic villains a whole lot of slack, while your BFF won’t give them an inch. Boom. Conflicting headcanon.
Some headcanons are different beasts altogether. For my own part, I have a tendency to reimagine lots of characters as queer people in the fiction I consume. Part of that has to do with my reading lots of slash fiction growing up. (The goggles, they never leave you.) But the main component of that comes from being queer myself; I’d rather be imbibing stories in which I felt better represented. It’s also easy to create wild variant headcanons for periphery characters or to do your own world building for universes that are a little on the thin side. There are canons that reconcile disparate versions of similar ’verses. (This is particularly common in comics fandom, where fans might chose to mesh comics themselves with movie universes and alternate realities until they come out with a version that suits them best.) Often fandom does work the author was never even planning to conceptualize, let alone flesh out. It’s one of the wonders of the creative process.
And then there are headcanons that technically cannot be disproven—they are (or appear to be) simply less common among the community. For example, there is a contingent of Harry Potter fans who think of Hermione Granger as a woman of color… and she could be. Nowhere in Rowling’s seven-tomed epic does she ever mention the color of Hermione’s skin (she mentions that Hermione’s mother is pale in the final book, but there is no record on Hermione’s father—he is only described as being brown-haired and brown-eyed), and by that logic, Hermione could be whatever color the reader envisions. The majority of HP fandom seems to have defaulted Hermione to a white girl, and she was played by a white actress on screen. But that doesn’t mean that these fans have created a headcanon that can’t or shouldn’t be recognized and taken seriously.
This particular aspect of headcanoning is perhaps its most profound; how it is often used to help fans relate better to stories they love dearly. Whether it’s changing the orientation of a few key figures, or imagining previous events that would lead to the more drastic action, these alterations can make the difference between whether or not someone connects with a work. While some fans (and even some writers) may take issue with that, I’d argue that’s it’s practically impossible to negate—the brain does its thing and you’re suddenly filling in the coloring book with your favorite markers. Probably drawing outside the lines too.
But I do wonder how many people encounter this problem outside of the internet. And I’ll always consider it one of the best things about creating and enjoying fiction in the first place. There are those who scoff at fans who create their own meticulous universes within another universe, but these are often the seeds that lead to other creative work. The separation between fiction, fan fiction, headcanons and fandom works are frequently much thinner than anyone wants to admit. So whether your head canon conflicts with mine or not, I’m glad we all have them.
And I do apologize for loving some awful movies (and TV shows and books). The brain wants what it wants… and sometimes mine just wants to plug the plotholes with glitter.
This article was originally published in February 2015.