On Crossovers

by Admonisher

Modified and expanded from the introduction to "Stranger than Fiction."

For the majority of "intellectual property rights" that comprise the Worldís vast media franchises, crossovers are taboo. The rare exceptions are when a gimmick is needed or when each franchise will benefit from a stint with the other. Daria is a show where neither situation applies, so the likelihood of there being a genuine, authorized Daria crossover is very low, with perhaps the best chance being a cameo by Beavis & Butt-head.

This doesnít necessarily mean that crossovers are intrinsically bad. Rather they are not often logistically possible for widespread distribution to an unyielding and discriminating fan base. The controversy generated among the canon-based majority alone would make the action difficult, if at all possible, to justify. Witness the controversial reaction of the fan community to the two "fantasy" episodes thus far ("Daria! The Musical" and "Depth Takes a Holiday.")

Enter the internet, and the wonderful world of non-canonical fan-fiction, where anything can happen and inevitably does. The viewer can read any story -- write it if it doesnít exist -- accept what they want and reject what they donít.

Thereís a long tradition involved with the crossover story. Thereís something momentous and truly special about the merging of two worlds. Itís a guilty pleasure: throwing two ideas at each other and seeing what happens. With the proper love and care, the results can be outstanding. I love my Star Trek/X-Men comic book. The Critic/Simpsons episode is one of my favorites. Even more mundane crossovers, such as Spock on Star Trek: The Next Generation, are magical moments to me.

Why the thrill? Why the fascination? My theory is that its like shaking up two bugs in a jar to see if they fight ... except on a much more complex level. The crossover combines all the character and expectations of not one idea but two. What will happen? Are we looking at fireworks or a fiery crash?

This makes a crossover especially tough from a writerís perspective. Itís a daunting task! The two separate and distinct ideas must not merely coexist, they must come to some sort of union. At the same time, they must be their own definitive expressions. You cannot compromise one idea to fit the other or you defeat the purpose of a crossover.

This all-too-common facet of crossover -- of changing one idea to meet the needs of the other -- is one of the reasons that the crossover genre has been widely regarded as the bottom of the fan-fiction barrel. In fact, crossovers do have advantages over "normal" fan fiction. They present wonderful opportunities to go behind the characters. The skillful crossover will play off of the similarities and contrasts that exist to emphasize the defining characteristics of the cast.

Crossovers also afford opportunities to explore new ground. Daria, for example, deals chiefly with stereotypes, and the humor derived from the irony and hypocrisy these stereotypes generate. There are other kinds of humor, though, such as the humor intrinsic in taking a character and placing them in a situation outside their experience. This is a classic tradition that dates back to the earliest days of Greek theater. A crossover helps make this type of humor more accessible.

Bear in mind once more that while this brand of experimental storytelling is not necessarily practical or even proper for a television show so grounded in reality as Daria, it is a perfectly justified venue of exploration for fan fiction. Given that, there are three kinds of crossovers, each with their respective pros and cons.

On one end of the spectrum, you have parody. In a parody, also known as a spoof, one cast is placed into a situation or storyline written for another cast. In the past weíve seen such successful fan fiction parodies as "Cynic Wars," "Sarcasm of Titanic Proportions" (both by Matt) and "Back to the Future -- Again!" (by Milo Minderbinder) Little excuse needs to be made for these stories, as the intention is obviously to poke fun at the storyline being parodied, not to directly relate to the cast. The television show has even dabbled in this genre with the episodes "The Daria Hunter" and "The Lawndale File," which both placed the cast of Daria in borrowed themes. In this sense, we have crossover as "interpretation."

The second form of crossover is harder to define, but closer in character to the episode "Depth Takes a Holiday." The nature of the show crossing over may force the fiction to ignore certain things -- such as logic, or the laws of physics. This is perhaps the most controversial crossover genre, as it requires that Daria, a show firmly rooted in reality, suspend that reality for the sake of the story. True, great fun can be had. Fan fiction author Peter Guerin has exploited this genre with good (if controversial) success. The problem lies in trying to please everyone. On one hand youíll have those fans who canít fully enjoy the fun due to the belief-factor. A popular concession to these people, and to the "reality" of the characters, is to cloak such fantasy under the guise of a dream or some other plot device. On the other hand, this will displease fans who find such a concession tacky or unnecessary. As a result, the most successful fan fictions of this type are those that are possessed of enough raw creativity, eccentric humor, or radical extremes to supercede most concerns of reality. ("#10 Dream" by Rey Fox springs to mind. Not a crossover in characters, exactly, but certainly in character.)

The third form of crossover is the most difficult and challenging of all: the "real" crossover. This is the crossover that proposes that the continuity of both ideas can exist at the same time without contradiction. For many readers, this is harder to accept than fantasy. And it is this genre where the issue of compromise reaches its most controversial point. For example, there is the issue of contrivance. Somehow, the premise of the crossover must be explained. If it is not, or if it is done too hastily, or passed over altogether, the validity of the crossover loses weight and the foundation is undermined. Also, the crossover cannot fully succeed if the distances between disparate ideologies are so great that the gap cannot be bridged without changing the character of one cast or the other -- again, undermining the reality that this type of crossover depends upon. Common ground must be found, whether in similarity, contrast, or both, or the "real" crossover has no hope of succeeding. My own "Stranger than Fiction" (a week from being published at the time of this writing) is my answer to the concerns of this genre.

(NOTE: Beavis & Butt-head is the sole instance where compromise would be less of an issue as far as Daria is concerned, as the shows share a principal character.)

In all of these facets of the crossover genre, the key to success is honesty: remaining true to the characters above all else. You have to know how they would react in the situations you place them in -- itís the only way the reader will be able to begin to accept the circumstance you have invented as valid. You also have to decide where on the story spectrum your crossover will fall -- parody, genuine or somewhere in between? -- and remain true to that decision.

Above all ... have fun. Thatís what the reader needs more than anything else. Enjoyment is the best excuse for the suspension of disbelief. Donít let the apparent shortcomings of the crossover scare you away. Writing one is always a challenge, but it is a valid one, and one with unique merits. The weaknesses lie in human inadequacy, and are not intrinsic to the genre.

So when that ghost of an idea crosses your mind; when you see that "impossible" scenario and the notion brings a smile to your lips and an itch to your fingers as they fly towards the keyboard, remember the crossover-writerís credo: be honest, remain consistent, have fun. Enjoy!