HPfGU #51702

FF: Evil!Cho: Cho Chang and Reader Response

RE: FF: Evil!Cho: Cho Chang and Reader Response

Some thoughts here on the prevalence of Evil!Cho as a fanon staple, and on what this might tell us about how the readership as a whole is responding to Cho Chang's depiction and role within the canon.


This topic came up, as far as I can tell, in response to two things: a poster's assertion that she disliked the character of Cho Chang; and a much earlier discussion of the possibilities of Cho-turns-evil as a future canon speculation, a discussion in which the question of the canonical plausibility of such an event was mixed with expressions of reader desire for such a plot turn, mainly based on dislike for the character herself.

Petra Pan wrote:

This is really where this thread came from. The subject of 'disliking' Cho, a character we barely know in canon who gets trashed in fanon.

Well, why does Cho get trashed in fanon?

Presumably because very many readers do dislike the character and/or find the idea of a Cho-Is-Evil plot development plausible or appealing.

It's only to be expected, to my mind, that the same reader responses we see here are also going to be reflected in fan fiction. Fanon is a reflection of popular reader response. It is not random, and it is not arbitrary. It's a reflection of how people are reading the books.

No need to look up passages in canon - just fashion one of your own devising. If you can type it, it can become fanon...and even fanon has its dogmas. This is at the root of my disquiet.

I don't know if I agree with: "if you can type it, it can become fanon."

If that's the case, then why is Evil!Cho fanon? There are fanfics that feature sympathetic portrayals of Cho. I've read them, and some of them are excellent. So why is that portrayal not the "fanon," if all one really needs to do is to type something out to make it so?

Really, you know, anyone can write anything. I don't think that's enough to make it fanon. Things only become fanon, I think, when they touch on some already existant and widespread desire or anxiety or need or perception or projection within the readership as a whole. Evil!Cho, evidently, meets the requisite criteria in a way that Sympathetic!Cho does not.

It's an interesting question, though. Why? What is it about this seemingly harmless—indeed, admirable—character's portrayal or role in the canon that is causing so many people to react so negatively to her?

EvilInFanon!Cho is the best example of giving free and unchecked rein to the desire for wind in the sail. Firstly, nothing in canon characterizes Cho as being unworthy of Harry's attention; the emergence of Fanon!Cho has no roots whatsoever in canon. Not in PoA and definitely not in GoF. Is there?

Oh, almost certainly there is! How else would Fanon!Cho have come about, if it had no roots in the canon? Popular fanon depictions emerge from the canon, after all. They aren't spontaneously generated, and space aliens aren't beaming them into our brains. There are a few examples of HP "fanon" that don't have any particular canon basis but instead are side-effects of people running with ideas that were laid down in early and influential fanfics ("Lupin lives in North Wales" is a good example of this type), but for the most part, fanon emerges from the intersection of the original canonical material and the readership's response to that material.

So let's look at Evil!Cho, shall we? Where does she come from? Why is EvilInFanon!Cho so popular?

Right off the top of my head, I can think of a number of possible reasons. Many of them came up on last week's thread.

1) Dissatisfaction with Storyline

Readers found Harry's crush on Cho an unwanted and irritating intrusion in the storyline of GoF, either because they were not interested in seeing any romantic subplot for Harry or because they would have preferred a romantic subplot involving a different character, or perhaps merely a different type of character.

The 'Crush on Cho' subplot did not interest them and/or actively annoyed them. Annoyance with authorial decisions almost invariably gets displaced onto the characters who serve as the textual agents of those decisions (a phenomenon which ties into that old question of "What Does It Mean To Like/Hate A Character?").

2) "Where the hell did SHE come from?"

Related to (1) above. The introduction of a new character who is slated to be emotionally important to the hero is problematic when it is done mid-series, because it asks the reader to expend the time and energy necessary to engage with someone new. Authors need to work overtime if they want to introduce such a character half-way through the series and still have the readers like him or her. JKR didn't put in that work -- quite possibly because she actually has no intention of shipping Harry with Cho in future canon. Many readers, however, likely did perceive her as the introduction of a long-running romance plotline. Resentment followed, because the reader felt that she was being asked to do "extra work," work that was properly the author's job.

3) Idealized Portrayal

Cho has, so far in the canon, been depicted as a character without flaw. She is pretty, popular, athletic, gracious, nice and (we assume from her House) clever. She displays good sportsmanship. She is not "silly:" she does not giggle idiotically at the approach of a boy who may have a crush on her. She shows remarkable maturity, social skill, consideration and kindness in her ability to reject an invitation. She is desired by the desirable Cedric. She can even weep attractively (no humiliating blubbering for Cho, right? Just those ever so dignified silent tears).

Readers tend not to care very much for characters who are presented as without flaw, even when there are perfectly valid story-telling reasons (Harry's POV, for example) for the author to have done so. One-sided portrayals nearly always foster both reader suspicion and reader resistance. Fans often suspect "perfect" characters of harboring secret or hidden vices, just as they often suspect that flatly-portrayed "evil" characters must actually possess significant yet hidden virtues (cf Fanon!Draco). In Cho's case, this suspicion is likely reinforced by the fact that we see Cho only through the POV of Harry, whom we know to be both besotted and often fallible when it comes to character judgements.

4) Unintentional Authorial Implication

We know very little about Cho, but two of the things we do know about her are that she is "pretty," and that she is "popular." To American readers, "popular" is a somewhat negatively-connoted word, especially when combined with the word "pretty." This is because in colloquial American English, "popular girls" is the code phrase for a particularly unpleasant type of exclusionary and unkind female in-crowd. (I get the impression that while this stereotype does also exist in the UK, the word "popular" is not nearly as negatively-connoted as it is here in the US, nor half so often used as a euphemism for cliquishness.)

Therefore, although Canon!Cho is indeed depicted as an utterly exemplary person (as well as an unusually kind and considerate one), and although JKR surely did not intend for her use of the words "pretty" and "popular" to imply anything dire about her, her word choices act against her intent for many American readers, especially younger ones who may not be as familiar with UK/US differences and for whom the social hierarchies of the schoolyard are still very much a pressing concern. (The conflation of "popular" with "handsome" turns many a reader against Sirius Black as well, although at least with Sirius, those suspicions have a bit more in the way of canon support.)

When you combine this factor with number (3) above, you get a situation in which readers feel that they have succeeded in "sussing out" the true nature of the hidden vice of Cho Chang. She is not actually what Harry believes her to be, but is instead one of those Evil Popular Girls.

5) Competence

This one applies more to Evil!Cho proper than it does to any of fanon's other negative Cho portrayals (Whiny!Cho, Bitchy!Cho, Shallow!Cho, etc.). Cho Chang is a female peer of Harry's about whom we know virtually nothing, but who seems to be talented, intelligent, athletic, beautiful and socially adept. This makes her tempting as a villainess. So far in the canon, JKR has not provided her readers with much at all in the way of female characters upon whom they can project their hopes, their desires, or their fears and aggressions. Evil!Cho tempts precisely because while she is not quite a blank slate, she comes close, and yet the author has not defaced that slate with any scribbles of silliness or banality or incompetence, as she has with Lavender, Parvati, Pansy, etc. One can, at least, imagine Cho as an effective evil character. It's hard to do the same for Harry's other sketchily-portrayed female peers.

6) Narrative Utility

Harry's crush on Cho can be exploited for narrative purposes. Femme fatale. It's a kind of a banal plot hook, IMHO, but it's also a standard one. It is ubiquitous in movies and on television, and in prose fiction as well. To many people, it therefore seems an obvious and instinctive direction in which the character might be taken.

7) "But what's She FOR?"

With Cho, we have the introduction of a character who serves as Harry's romantic interest, yet who is also perceived as rather too blandly and flatly portrayed to serve effectively as a future relationship for the protagonist. Perhaps, therefore (people think), she's actually being set up to do something else. Evil!Cho is one obvious possibility, and the very same things that make her an unlikable character—her blandly idealized portrayal, for example—would also suit that dramatic possibility.

So there are seven reasons that I can think of right off the top of my head for the popularity of Evil!Cho. There are doubtless many more.

How can such a negative prejudgment be so pervasive?

Well, I hope I've helped to suggest some reasons why it might be so.

If the readers had liked the Cho/Harry plotline better, then I am guessing that you would not see such a prevalence of Evil!Cho. If the word "popular" did not have very specific connotations to many American readers, I don't think you would see as much Evil!Cho either. And if Cho's presentation in the books had not been quite so one-sided and idealized, then I also doubt that Evil!Cho would be nearly as widespread a reading as it is.

Combine all of those factors, though, and I'd say that you have a very good recipe for fan vilification of a character.

I would point out, though, that these factors are really not completely external to the canon. They are rooted in the character's canonical role, presentation and depiction. They may not reflect the author's intent, but they do derive from the choices that the author made. Fanon emerges out of the intersection or the collision of what is actually there in the text, and what the readership wants, needs, or expects from that text.

In Cho's case, I would say that what the author wanted to give was clearly not what the readership wanted to take away.

If the strongly negative portrayal in fanon stems not from Cho the character as JKR has delineated so far, then perhaps it stems from her narrative function as the current focus of Harry's romantic interest.

I hardly see how it could not do, honestly. Cho as a character barely exists. So far, her role as Harry's romantic interest is pretty much how JKR has delineated her so far.

I do appreciate the distinction you're trying to make here—it's that old distinction between the character-as-a-person and the character-as-a-construct—but at the same time, when it comes to the develoment of fanon, I think that we have to accept that both factors are always going to come into play. Fanon portrayals reflect reader response, which derives from reactions to the characters both as people and as constructs.

After all, don't you think that it's reader rebellion against Draco's designated narrative function that lends such force and momentum to Fanon!Draco? I certainly believe that it is.

In order to develop an alternate relationSHIP, many fanfic authors felt obliged to address the issue of shifting Harry's focus since his reactions to Cho in PoA are a drag to the dynamics of nautical speed.

I agree that this is surely one of the factors contributing to the popularity of Evil!Cho, but I don't think that it's the only one. See above.

The inconvenience that is Cho's narrative function to shipping has led to poor characterization of her in fanfics in general.

I don't really think that "shipping," in the sense of readers plumping for certain already-hinted-at potential future relationships for Harry, is by any means the only factor at work here. I suspect that many readers who hadn't previously even bothered to consider Harry's love life still may have found Cho to be an irritant. One of my housemates is about as little interested in the entire shipping issue as it is possible for a reader to be, I'd say. He absolutely loathed Cho.

Just for the record, by the way, I myself have no problems with Cho. I felt affection for her while reading the books; I felt rotten for her at the end of GoF; and I'd like to see more of her in future canon (although only if she's actually going to get fleshed out a bit more). But I really can't say that it surprised me in the least when I learned that she was so widely disliked. Neither, however, has this fact led me to reevaluate my own reading of her canonical depiction, which I view as positive, if also rather blandly idealized.

I suspect that if she hadn't been set forth in the text as such an unmitigated collection of idealized traits (pretty, smart, sportsmanlike, popular, athletic, sensible, kind, mature, ick, ick, ick), then people would both have liked her better and be far less inclined now to propose Ever So Evil Cho speculations. I don't particularly dislike the character myself, but I can certainly understand why others would -- as well as why others might consider a descent into darkness a way to redeem her as a character who might add interest and relevance and...well, and Bang! to the storyline.


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