*cracks knuckles *
...Before I say anything else, I think I should mention that I have not actually read Dante's Inferno (I tried once, near the end of my book-reading days...I think I got through about 5 pages). But this isn't really about that specific story; that's just the example I see brought up most often.
An example of what, you ask? An example of the idea that it's wrong to refer to 'legacy' works of fiction using any of the popular vernacular that writers use today: you can't call the characters things like 'Mary Sues' or 'self-inserts', and god help you if you use the word 'fanfiction' to describe stories that expand on older tales.
What I'd like to ask is why??
I've never seen anyone give an explanation that's more than just judgmental (i.e. an expression of personal disgust...which is valid, but hardly a call for people you don't know to change their behavior).
I've seen a lot of things along the lines of 'so you really think [insert famous work of fiction] is equivalent to someone's My Little Pony/Voltron crossover isekai AU'...and those are funny and cute and get a lot of likes, but they're also just strawman arguments. =/ Just because the worst stories YOU have ever heard of happen to be fanfiction doesn't mean fanfiction in general is just a vehicle for bad writing.
It goes without saying, but there are a lot of great fanfiction writers out there, who put heart and thought and creativity into their work...I consider myself one of them. And it's a little insulting to think that the general consensus is that we all just mash our favorite characters together like Barbie dolls and call it a day. Writing a fanfic is still writing...literally. And if you can't write a good fanfic, I doubt your original work will be much better.
My point is, I see no reason why something like Dante's Inferno couldn't be written by someone today (although I guess it wouldn't be considered 'fanfiction' because people tend not to think of Christian theology as 'fiction', but that's another discussion entirely). And if that is the case...then what's the difference...??
To be perfectly honest, it sounds to me like just your average everyday 'those goshdarned kids' argument. Like, the meaning of the words isn't important; it's just the fact that younger people are applying the words and ideas they're familiar with to 'sacred' older concepts, and that makes people uncomfortable and angry.
There are possible justifications, though, especially depending on the age of the stories in question. Like...sometimes tales didn't get retold in different ways because a new author wanted to put their 'spin' on it, sometimes it happened because of the mechanisms of oral history, or because the original version was lost, or because there was never any 'original version'-- it was just meant to be a loose sequence of events that a storyteller could condense or expand to their taste.
You could also argue from a cultural standpoint, that the conditions and reasons for which we write fanfiction today and those for older authors, though similar in some aspects, were wildly different in others, enough to differentiate the practices.
Like, for one thing, writing in the 1400's was a lot more difficult and inaccessible than it is today...the types of people who could do it and the reasons for which it could be done (let alone copied and distributed) probably affected the selections of works that we know of nowadays.
I'm sure there are more sound arguments to make (that I've never seen anyone attempt, btw)...but that would require people to focus less on how revolting they think fanfiction is and more on actual critical thinking. 9_9;
But I still don't see why that would make it unacceptable to use words like 'fanfiction' at all...like, even if it's not a completely accurate thing to say, at worst it's just ideological shorthand, isn't it??
And no one has any issues with other forms of ideological shorthand...I hear plenty of it in science all the time. Like, if you're talking about tRNA 'looking' for complementary sequences to 'turn into' proteins...like, on a molecular level, that's not really what's happening. But it kinda feels that way, and saying things like that is easier when you're just trying to quickly get the point across, or...y'know, just talk casually about the issue with other people. ._. When did that become a cardinal sin...?
I feel like at least part of it, beyond fanfiction being 'amateur stuff' and older writing being 'sacred', is that the idea that the older established writers themselves (who are usually highly celebrated, since we're still talking about them decades or centuries later) are 'geniuses' whose work simply cannot be compared to the work of 'people on the internet' (as if we aren't all just people in a place...).
Like, if they've done things that are smart and good and amazing and influential, they must be a cut above. You can't compare your work to theirs because you're not even the same level of human that they are. You couldn't possibly be able to think in the same way, and if you don't agree it just shows how ignorant you are.
Which is just...not true. It's not...sure, there are people whose brains work differently from others, and that helps them see patterns and make observations and discoveries that other people can't/would take longer to figure out.
But A, you can't just assume that about someone who lived 300 years ago and whose inner life you know nothing about.
And B, no matter how well you know someone, you can't assume that they live their whole lives in 'Beautiful Mind'-mode...if you want to know whether something was a instinctual stroke of genius, the result of lots of in-depth thought and planning, or just for fun (because believe it or not, smart people DO have fun) you kinda have to ask them. Otherwise, all you have is a theory. Hopefully a well-researched and supported theory, but still just a theory.
And C, no matter how intelligent they and their creations are, it doesn't bar 'ordinary' people from relating to them, understanding them, or finding common ground with them. I would think that's the whole purpose of art, actually...like, by trying to police how people can talk about art, are you really trying to 'uphold respect for the medium', or are you trying to maintain an arbitrary divide between 'good opinion-havers' and 'bad opinion-havers' and hoping that doing so puts you in the former category...?