“Verbotene Liebe,” soap operas, fansubbing, and YouTube

1. Introduction

[1.1] Fansubs—fans who subtitle TV shows, DVDs, anime, and other visual texts, as a labor of love, for other members of their community—are mostly associated with anime, but fansubs translate all kinds of texts, be they the latest episode of Lost for release in China or a Japanese-language anime series subtitled in English. Although the legality of this activity is questionable, the work of fansubbers serves to promote a media source that many viewers would not otherwise have had access to. Early fansubbed anime in particular permitted this art form to get a toehold in the American market [1]. Their transformative work makes the text explicable and available. Without fansubbing, it’s virtually impossible to access the text. The language barrier means that some mediation is required to permit understanding.

[1.2] Although I was peripherally aware of the fansub phenomenon, I’m not a big fan of anime, and so I thought little about it—until I discovered Ollian. Ollian (also known as Chrolli), or the Oliver/Christian homosexual relationship on German soap opera Verbotene Liebe (VL; Forbidden Love, 1995– ), is made explicable for me and all the other fans by a kind fansubber who creates Ollian clips and uploads them to YouTube. The fansubber cuts together a day’s worth of soap opera plot, focusing only on Christian and Oliver and excising all else. The condensed plots, which are usually about 7 to 9 minutes long and which are sorted by air date, are available two ways: in the original German, and subtitled in English [2]. I have found the subtitled versions absolutely riveting and have spent many happy hours clicking through the carefully ordered, dated clips to advance the narrative.

Oliver and Christian share a kiss
Oliver and Christian share a kiss

[1.3] The transformative labor of the fansubber alters the source text in two ways: first, the Ollian plot is cut out of the larger narrative, so any ties to other interweaving plots are lost. And second, of course, the words are translated. Although I don’t know German and can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translations, any translated text is a derivative artwork in its own right, with the translator making important decisions about context, word choice, and tone that will affect the readers’ experience.

[1.4] In typical soap opera fashion, the Ollian plot is not focused but instead narratively open-ended, so each of the short clips has no real story arc of its own. Interestingly, although I’ve watched all the clips, I’m not particularly aware of the two characters’ roles in other plots, although I’ve come to like several of the other characters, especially Christian’s brother.

Ollian

[2.1] The sweet, angsty love story between Oliver and Christian (played, respectively, by Jo Weil and Thore Schölermann) began in 2007. Openly bisexual Oliver’s love for a conflicted (straight…or is he?) Christian unfolds in typical soap opera fashion, with misunderstandings, girls used as beards, denial of homosexuality, panic about outing to relatives, overheard outpourings of romantic angst to sympathetic roommates, and anonymous online chatting.

[2.2] However, it’s the only one of VL’s plots that has resulted in fansubbing, which has in turn resulted in a large, dedicated fan base made up mostly of women and gay men—the former because the guys are hot and adorable, the latter because mainstream, sympathetic narratives of homosexual love geared to a general audience resonate, and both because a good love story is a good love story, whatever the sex of the couple. One poster to an Ollian forum wrote,

[2.3] As a gay man, I love being able to see the stories of my community portrayed so well—with some actual passion and playfulness, and without the bloody censorship that plagues queer storylines in North America (and, OK, seeing two beautiful men gettin’ frisky on a regular basis is also a powerful draw!). [3]

[2.4] Indeed, VL is not the only soap opera on YouTube with posted compressed story lines focusing on homosexual love. Other currently popular gay-themed soap story lines so treated include John Paul and Craig from Hollyoaks (UK, 1995– , although as of late 2008 both actors had left the program), Deniz and Roman from Alles Was Zählt (Germany, 2006– ), and Noah and Luke on As the World Turns (USA, 1956– ).

Noah and Luke on As the World Turns
Noah and Luke on As the World Turns

[2.5] Although further explication of gay-themed soap opera plots is outside the scope of this short essay, it’s definitely worth further study. I do find it interesting that such gay-themed plots are extracted, whereas other sorts of plots are not—although if such plots are available, I’d love it if commenters would draw them to my attention. This kind of plot extraction shows that there is a pent-up demand for gay-themed texts with deep emotional resonance, portrayed as an everyday-life occurrence.

[2.6] Despite the existence of these other pairings, particularly Noah/Luke (“Nuke”), Ollian remains the most popular fansubbed compressed narrative. The beauty and charisma of actors Weil and Schölermann, as well as their undeniable on-screen chemistry, only goes so far on its own. The fansubber’s work means that the Ollian story line can be enjoyed by anyone with access to YouTube who can read English—and that’s a lot of people. YouTube’s play counts are one indicator of the episodes’ popularity: as I write this, the episode where Oliver and Christian have their first (carefully elided) sexual encounter has been viewed just under 570,000 times since it was posted on April 4, 2008.


Christian and Oliver give in to the inevitable

[2.7] In addition, the Ollian plot is mentioned in mainstream magazines, like Soap Opera Digest, and several gay-themed blog sites devoted to expressions of homosexuality in popular culture, like AfterElton.com. But it’s safe to say that the broad popularity of Ollian is a result of this fan labor, coupled with the broad dissemination made possible by YouTube—as well as copyright holder Das Erste’s seeming lack of interest in pursuing clip takedowns. (Episodes are occasionally muted as a result of music copyright concerns and are promptly reuploaded.)

[2.8] The incredible worldwide popularity of Ollian caught the actors by surprise. In a 2008 interview, Schölermann noted, “The first letters came from Switzerland, then from England and suddenly from Canada and the USA! One day Jo showed me a video of us on YouTube, with subtitles in English and 100,000 views, and I thought, ‘Awesome! Unbelievable!'” [4]. Costar Weil noted in an e-mail interview, “we get awesome feedback to our story from Germany. But the English-language fans, in a very positive manner, seem to be more ‘extreme'” [5]. The actors were even invited, as a pair, to a Winter Pride event in Whistler, Canada. Video of the event is available in both English and German [6]. This event was used as a promotional opportunity for both the actors and the soap opera.

3. Fan activity around Ollian

[3.1] Fansubbing is just one of the fan activities that revolves around Ollian. It’s important in that it has permitted other fans access into the narrative. Other fans then use these texts to create other derivative artworks like music videos and fan fiction, as well as screencaps and manipulated icon/avatar images.


soapfan10038’s VL Ollian fanvid, “Shut Your Eyes”

[3.2] VL German- and English-language fan fiction is available at a number of sites, including LiveJournal community seifen_slash and fanfic archive No Limits, the latter named after a club in VL where the characters hang out. Fans also engage at various bulletin boards and other forums. But much fan activity also occurs right at YouTube, where the episodes are hosted, with people commenting with thanks to the uploader: “What you do is help bring this amazing show to an audience who would never see it otherwise and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting in the time and effort into translating these episodes,” one fan remarks [7].

[3.3] Scans of the comments reveal the existence of a truly international audience, with posters not only from the United States (often with remarks noting that Ollian is way hotter than Noah and Luke on As the World Turns) but also from places like Bangkok, Belfast, the Philippines, France, and Vienna—and that’s just from the people who sign their posts with their location [8]. Commenters here and in other compressed-plot texts note that American TV would never show what German TV seems comfortable showing: there is plenty of kissing, make-out sessions, and shirtless frolicking, but in typical soap opera fashion, the camera always cuts away before too much can be revealed.

4. Conclusion

[4.1] Most work on fan activity has focused on the creation and reception of clearly transformative, derivative artworks like fan fiction and fan videos. Fansubbing should also be acknowledged as a derivative art form: the fansubber creates the voice and tone in her translation. The transformation of the primary text, such as VL’s original German-language full-length soap opera, into compressed-plot clips is also a form of derivative artwork.

[4.2] As the example of VL shows, unpaid fansub labor has been crucial in making Ollian an international phenomenon, and the dissemination of subtitled texts that make the story explicable has in turn acted as a springboard for other fan activity. Further, Ollian’s popularity drives home the point that gay-themed texts that evoke everyday life, at least in terms of an open-ended narrative, have a large, vocal, passionate audience clearly underserved by existing media.

Notes

1. Dominic von Riedemann, “Fansubs: Publicity or Piracy?” September 1, 2006, Suite101.com, http://animatedfilms.suite101.com/article.cfm/fansubs__publicity_or_piracy_; Henry Jenkins, “When Piracy Becomes Promotion: How Unauthorized Copying Made Japanese Animation Profitable in the United States,” Reason Online, December 2006, http://reason.com/news/show/116788.html. Definitions and analyses of fansubbing are available at the Anime News Network, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/lexicon.php?id=63, and Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fansub. It is worth noting that in anime, fansubbers have been known to stop their activities when the copyright holders released subtitled versions, thus emphasizing that they were performing this task not to scoop the owners of the property, but because they wished to disseminate an explicable text and garner more fans. See Jordan S. Hatcher, “Of Otakus and Fansubs: A Critical Look at Anime Online in Light of Current Issues in Copyright Law,” SCRIPTed 2, no. 4 (2006): 533 (doi:10.2966/scrip.020405.514).

2. Ollian condensed plots in the original German are available at http://www.youtube.com/user/ichglotzgerman. Ollian condensed plots subtitled in English are available at http://www.youtube.com/user/ichglotzutube. Full-length German-language episodes of VL on YouTube are available at http://de.youtube.com/user/VerboteneLiebesoap.

3. Rob, April 8, 2009, thread entitled “Women’s perspectives on Chrolli/Ollian,” http://oliverandchristianfans.wetpaint.com/thread/1361999/Women%27s+perspectives+on+Chrolli+%2F+Ollian?t=anon. Responses to this post provide many reasons why gay men and straight women in particular love the pairing—findings that seem to replicate the audience for slash (homoerotic) fan fiction.

4. Mala Bhattacharjee, “Like ATWT’s Nuke? Meet VL’s Ollian!” Soap Opera Digest, October 29, 2008, http://www.soapoperadigest.com/features/as-the-world-turns/features/nuke_meet_vls_ollian/.

5. Michael Jensen, “Interview with Forbidden Love‘s Jo Weil,” August 18, 2008, http://www.afterelton.com/people/2008/8/joweil (quote from page 2).

6. Michael Jensen, “Meet Forbidden Love‘s Ollian at Whistler’s Winter Pride!” January 7, 2009, AfterElton.com, http://www.afterelton.com/blog/michaeljensen/meet-forbiden-loves-ollian-whistler-winterpride. Video coverage is available from Das Este, the channel that airs VL in Germany, as “Thore Schölermann und Jo Weil berichten au Kanada” at http://mediathek.daserste.de/daserste/servlet/content/1642384?pageId=&moduleId=439104&categoryId=&goto=1&show=, and a poor-quality English-language interview conducted by Brian Juergens and posted on March 19, 2009, is available at http://www.afterelton.com/blog/brianjuergens/exclusive-video-blog-vlog-interview-thore-scholermann-jo-weil-forbidden-love.

7. absinthefairy commenting to “Christian & Oliver 11.12.07 English subtitles Part 9,” http://pop.youtube.com/watch?v=PPzuBUWTDl0&feature=channel_page

8. Various comments to “Christian & Oliver 04.04.08 English subtitles Part 45,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMd1dKqqWRI.

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4 thoughts on ““Verbotene Liebe,” soap operas, fansubbing, and YouTube

  1. Surfing in from some link on LJ- howdy.

    [quote]I do find it interesting that such gay-themed plots are extracted, whereas other sorts of plots are not—although if such plots are available, I’d love it if commenters would draw them to my attention.[/quote]

    While I haven’t seen dubs- just extracting storylines is pretty common. I put up pretty much the entire Sonny/Carly GH original run (http://www.youtube.com/user/mediacow) and skimming my subscriptions you’ll find others doing the same thing- such as some classic John/Marlena DooL (http://www.youtube.com/user/johnmarlena and http://www.youtube.com/user/86jams). I know Steve/Kayla Dool is out there, and I’ve seen reference to a number of others. I don’t follow soaps much anymore, but I’m pretty sure breaking out and organizing particular storylines isn’t uncommon.

    • I ran a bunch of searches to find some romantic heterosexual storylines and didn’t have very much luck at all. So thanks for your comment–very much appreciated. I knew they had to be out there.

  2. I think this soap opera is doing a great job in integrating gay people (12%)with the other part of mankind. It shows how love can be expresed freely and nobody get hurts. It refresh our lives and give us strength to see there is no closet: just love.

    Christian & Oliver will change a lot of lifes and teaches how to live in a better world. We came to this world to be happy, and yes, we deserve it!

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