Sunday, October 15, 2006

Slash Fanfic

Teresa Nielsen Hayden posted a link on Making Light to this LiveJournal entry on slash and shame or lack of shame in fan fiction. There's a bit of a discussion going on in the comments on the LJ blog about the entry, too. Go read. I'll wait.

Okay, then. My thoughts, briefly because I don't have much time now. And I seem to recall discussing this here before, but this new ongoing blogosphere discussion is a good excuse to revisit it.

The show I went through puberty with (age 11-14) was The Man From UNCLE (MFU). Star Trek, the show mentioned in the above linked LJ, was on concurrently and I watched it, but MFU was the show that my libido apparently focused on.

I never thought of the male leads together. I didn't sexualize THEM. I viewed them through a growing sexual awareness that, no surprise, focused on ME. Teens are notorious for being egocentric and I was no exception. I fantasized about Illya and ME. Not Illya and Napoleon. As an adult, I can look at that and realize there would be no fun unless I was a participant in the fantasy.

At the time, I would get all warm inside whenever Illya got hurt. I didn't understand it. Then my worldly-wise best friend W, whom I met in junior high when we were 13, explained it to me. Suddenly, it all made perfect sense. And anyone who has ever read a Mary Sue story, with Mary Sue Wonderful fixing the Enterprise with a hairpin, knows that Mary Sue Wonderful is a stand-in for the author because Mary Sue Wonderful often if not frequently or near always, gets laid by the author's prefered male hunk on the show that's the subject of the story.

I think developing sexuality is a factor in much writing, in how a writer makes choices re: what he or she will write about. I don't know that I agree across the board re: the shame factor, that fan fic:
"But in fandom, we've all got this agreement to just suspend shame. I mean, a
lot of what we write is masturbation material-- not all of it, and not for
everyone, but. A lot of it is, and we all know it, and so we can't really
pretend that we're only trying to write for our readers' most rarefied
sensibilities, you know? We all know right where the Id Vortex is, and we have
this agreement to approach it with caution, but without any shame at all."
And I just don't see this, not for me. I never agreed to suspend shame. First, there's nothing shameful re: writing or reading "masturbation" material. Freudian interpretation of fairy tales, after all, are quite sexual, or so I recall from my psych classes back in the '70s. (What did you think little Hansel and Gretel throwing the evil old witch woman into the oven meant? Let alone eating the candy off her house?)

Second, while I've read slash (purely for the titilation factor, born out of an intense curiosity), I find much I don't like. Shame was not usually a factor, though I would call some of it shameful, if it wasn't so laughable. A particularly ridiculous Hawaii 5-O story from the '80s comes to mind where, after fucking, McGarret and Dan-O send out for pizza. Other things about slash and even some non-slash fan fic that I find shameful is the feminization of some of the TV characters, leading me to wonder if the author is identifying with a male character she then needs to make more like herself. And I gotta start wondering why.

Third, I don't think about my audience when I write, and certainly not when I wrote fan fic those 15 years. I wrote the stories I wanted to read. I wrote adventures that included the guys having sex with the woman du jour if it fit the story. I wrote more episodes of my favorite shows, a way to add to the stories available to me, especially for shows that were pre-VCR and therefore not available to me except in reruns (and in the case of MFU, the books that were pro published). Star Trek continues apace in books, which might be why I never felt the urge to write it myself. And for cancelled shows, it was a way to keep them alive.

And my focus always was on the male characters I had crushes on. If anyone else wanted to read my fan fic stories, that was great. And when I got comments like the one I got from a friend that she didn't like one of my stories much because there wasn't much of Illya in the story (I was indulging my newfound appreciation for Napoleon once I'd reached adulthood), I decided that many if not most fan fic readers were reading for a very different reason than I do.
And so we've got all these shameless fantasies being thrown out into the
fannish ether, being read and discussed, and the next thing you know, we've got
genres. We've got narrative traditions. We have enough volume and history for
these things to develop a whole critical vocabulary.
And I'm just kind of flailing now and going "Fandom is cool! Squee!" but,
really, I wonder what the effect on, if not mainstream literary fiction, at
least on mainstream genre fiction is going to be when the number of
fan writers taking that toolbox with them into pro writing reaches critical
mass-- which I think it's going to, in the next decade.
Many fan fic writers have been pro published, some of which might've written
slash (I don't know). But in any case, I see a bit of loosening up regarding
sexuality in books, though this has been coming from writers who did not, to my
knowledge, have a fan fic background. All writing falls into genres at some
point and any hobby or common interest will lead to a vocabulary to discuss it.
I learned many fan fic lingo, but at some point, I became an outsider. No longer
a writer of fan fic and no longer much of a reader of it, I've had the lingo
evolve and pass me by. I never did learn much of the slash lingo, either.

But ultimately, what pro publishing will allow to be used from that fan fic writer's toolbox will depend on the publisher and what the editors see the reading public buying and accepting. And not all fan fic writers have that toolbox. Some of us just write fan fic the way we wrote original fic. It might be considered fannish by some, not by others. It's not my concern. Writing the best thing I can is my concern. At most, I think my way of writing relationships, friendships, comes from my fan fic. But that's a chicken and egg sort of thing. Because how I wrote that in fan fic mostly came from me. It's what led me to love certain shows, certain characters, certain relationships. It's what led me to see what I saw in those shows. And what I saw never looked like slash.

Is Ellen on to something? Maybe, for a number of fan fic writers, yes. But for all? I'd say, No. But for those it fits, it says a lot, I think.

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