The Fanfic Symposium
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Why is There So Much...?
by Lucy Gillam

Part 2 in our ongoing look at what sources inspire fanfic

And we're back!  Side note first: I'm getting some interesting responses to my request for "why isn't' there more..."  suggestions, so I will very likely do a follow-up after the series is complete.

Last time we looked at puzzling "gaps" in the fanfic world: sources that either haven't inspired any fanfic (The Matrix) or have inspired far less than, in the columnist's steadfastly not-humble opinion, they should (SG-1 and Sandman).  Note that I'm still waiting for the story that brings the two Morphei together.  Today, we go in the opposite direction: a look at fandoms that have exploded beyond all reason.

As always, we have a few criteria, here:

  • I'm not simply talking about fandoms with a lot of stories.  I have no doubt that Star Trek has far more stories out there than any of the fandoms I will be writing about here, but it has also been around for several decades, and was the entry point for a whoooooole lotta fans, if not the actual genesis of the slash phenom.
  • I'm also not necessarily talking about very active fandoms. X-Files fans are still out there producing a great deal of fic, but it seems to wax and wane with the series.  It is also a fairly popular show of a "type" (creepy, paranoid science-fictiony) that fanfic writers are often draw to.
The fandoms I want to write about today have drawn fans in proportions that surprise either fans themselves or would greatly puzzle "outsiders."  That second one is kind of important: we who are immersed in fandom probably never give a second thought to U.S. residents writing slash about a tv show that never aired in their country, and aired in Britain when they were children.  But, being the kicker-over of ant hills that I am, I want to think about just that.

So, on with the show!

# 1  Where the Heck Did That Come From?  SW:TPM Slash

In case you've been living under a rock for the last six months, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace has absolutely exploded on the slashfic scene (more so, in fact, than it did in theaters). The lists and archives of TPM slash produce more fic in a day than some fandoms in a month, and many, many, many writers have (at least temporarily) abandoned their usual haunts in favor of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan.  I've even run across quite a few stories that were written before the movie came out, which may not be a first, but is certainly a little disquieting.

Now, while I totally grok the appeal of TPM slash (it's my current fav, in fact), I also understand the befuddlement of those who either don't get it at all, or don't understand how it drew so many writers so quickly.  Let's look at a few facts:

  • This is, basically, a kids movie, which doesn't rule out slash, but does mean the source text is a little simplistic.
  • The slashees, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan (god, it even rhymes) spend maybe, what, 10 minutes interacting on-screen, most of which is "I feel a disturbance in the Force." "Me too."  Until the death scene, most of the emotional involvement between them is kept in the undercurrents.
  • As portrayed on-screen, and in the novelization, the relationship seems more parental than romantic.  From what little we know of Jedi life, and the characters background (assuming you view the supplement books as canon), Obi-Wan has been with Qui-Gon from the age of 13, which means Qui-Gon more or less finished raising him.  That's not the most conducive situation for romance.
So why did TPM become the overwhelming obsession of slash fen everywhere?  Sure, the actors are lovely (see below), but The Matrix had Keanu.  So what's the draw?  Well, let's look at a few more facts (or speculations, as the case may be):
  • We'll get the obvious out of the way: Ewan MacGregor.  Liam Neeson. 'nuff said.
  • Slash fans are often drawn to pairs with obvious differences, be they physical or temperamental.  Here you have the obvious differences in age and height (and slash fans love differences in height and build, I've noticed, even creating them where they don't exist or exaggerating them when they do.  But that's another rant), and the less obvious differences in temperament (Qui Gon being at once more composed and rebellious than his brasher -yes I hate the word, too, but it's really the only one that fits - and more conservative padawan).
  • The whole "master" thing can definitely be a turn-on.  It can also be a serious squick, but those who are bothered by it can either ignore it or even use it to add conflict.
  • I remember seeing the first, er, fourth Star Wars movie as a kid.  Just about anyone 20 and up (which would be ... gee, most slash fans) is probably going to feel some sort of emotional connection to the Star Wars universe, especially the Jedi mystique.  Many of us played in this universe as kids, and the chance to do so again with our adult interests is too tempting to pass up.  Note: I'm not entirely sure why Ep IV-VI slash never really took off (it's out there, but in fairly small numbers).  My initial (and gut) response would just be that the slashy vibe isn't there, but I've long ago dismissed that as an explanation for anything, since the slashy vibe is such a subjective thing.  My only other explanation would be that so many of us first experienced those movies as children, and this has colored our perceptions of them in a way the precludes slash.
  • I mentioned in the last column that one could not really write happyhappyjoyjoy M/K X-Files slash (or hhjj much of anything XF) without risking either being massively untrue to the source or just writing drop-and-replace sex.  The source is just too dark and complex to produce good lighthearted fic (note that i don't really consider black humor "lighthearted").  One of the draws of TPM, I suspect, is that it allows for a range of tone and complexity.  It is easy enough to imagine master and padawan enjoying a carefree vacation, and equally easy to put them in the middle of a complex, dangerous conspiracy.  Likewise, while the emotional issues were kept in the undercurrents in the movie (until The Scene, of course), they were there, and perhaps all the more interesting from a fic perspective for being under the surface instead of on it.
  • And then there's the death scene.  Whoo, boy, the death scene.  Chalk it up to vastly superior (and more experienced) acting.  Wonder if maybe Lucas himself has grown up a bit.  The bottom line is that there is more emotion, more depth, in those twenty seconds than in the entire first trilogy.
Any one of these factors alone probably would have produced an SG-1-sized fanfic reaction.  All combined...been to the Master-Apprentice Archive lately?

#2 "The What?  Oh, you mean that cop show on UPN?" Sentinel Fic

Now wait just a darned minute!  Put the e-mail down and back away slowly.

I more or less entered the world of fanfic through TS.  My four lonely little stories are all TS.  When I hang out on-line, it's usually in TS-related venues.  So when I say I'm puzzled by the absolutely staggering amount of TS fic out there, I'm not saying I don't "get it."  I fully, completely, and utterly get it.  I'm just saying there's something a little odd about it of you really stop to consider.  Let's go back to the fact board again:

Fact the first: Outside of fandom, this was not a top-rated, or even terribly well known show.  C'mon, admit it: we've all been there, looking at our friends' blanks stares as we talk about our favorite show.  And that's usually the kinder reaction.  I loved this show dearly, but there were times and circumstances under which I was more than a little hesitant to talk about that love.

The huge amount of fanfic generated around TS proves a theory I've had for quite some time: that fanfic draws people to sources as often as sources draw people to fanfic.  While I doubt that very many people went to see TPM solely because they'd read some good fic, I know a whooooooole lotta people, myself included, who didn't give TS much more than a second look until they stumbled across the fic.  This has, IMNSHO, had some interesting effects on both the fic and the fandom, something I won't go into at great detail but might very well write a column later.  I will say that I find it interesting, in light of my comment above about people writing fic about TPM before they've seen the movie, how many people begin writing TS fic before they've seen the show, or after only one or two eps.  And I often wonder how many people watch the show more to get grist for the fic mill than just to watch the show (no judgments there, just idle speculation).

Fact the second: TS is that rarest of beasts, sources that inspire slash and gen in nearly equal numbers.  I suppose the reason I find this puzzling is that, while I like TS gen, and understand the draw, many of the reasons I could cite to explain why there's so much TS fic are slash oriented (see above about yummy guys and disparate pairings).  In other words, while I certainly understand what draws people to read and write TS genfic, I can't explain the absolute explosion of it the way I can the slash.

Except...(and here I go making friends again) there's often very little difference between TS gen and TS slash.  Take out the stuff about the guys' naughty parts, change a few key words, and you've pretty much got the same thing.  Now, this is not to say that those are insignificant differences.  However, it might help explain the gen explosion to realize that people are reading and writing gen for much the same reasons they are reading and writing slash.

At present, the TS tsunami seems to be dying down a bit, which is not at all surprising given that the show was recently canceled.  I suspect that it will remain an active fandom, but I have doubts that it will ever reach the fever-pitch it had in the previous 4 years.

#3 Tapes, Swiss Rolls, and 70's hairdos: The Professionals

Obligatory disclaimer: I like The Professionals. And yes, the guys are yummy. I get why it's so open to slashfic (if Pros genfic exists, I've never found it).  I enjoy said slashfic.

But let's think about this for a minute (Lucy runs back to the fact board):

  • Unless I've been grossly misinformed, The Professionals has never aired in the US.  Never.  Not once.  Nada.
  • Copying something taped in Britain to something that will be played in the US is not as simple as simple dubbing
  • While some Pros slash is written by people who've lived in the UK, a whoooooole lot is written by Yanks whose most profound exposure to British culture comes from ... well, Pros fic (again, not a judgment, just a hmmmn).
Now, you gotta admit that this is just odd.  Yeah, the guys are yummy, and cool, and the set-up's nifty, but what did the show really have that couldn't be found in any number of past or present US shows?

(Now before anyone gets in a huff, I'm not saying American shows are superior, or that Yanks should buy Amur'can and shun that ferign stuff; I'm just saying that the fairly significant amount of slash based on a show that has never aired in a decent chunk of the writers' home country is, well, odd.)

Where was I?  Oh, yeah. What did the show really have that couldn't be found in any number of past or present US shows?

Well, for one thing, it had British characters.  With British accents.  Who used British slang.  And inhabited British settings.

You get the idea.  Let's face it: a huge chunk of the US population still has some deeply, deeply ingrained Anglophilia.  Hell, Anglo-worship.  We do so love those accents.

To make an editorial aside, this has led to waaaaay too many writers taking on a culture they really don't know enough about to deal with in a written medium.  The differences between American English and British English go far deeper than a few elongated vowels and dropped h's.  In their zeal to sound authentic, writers often use overly phonetic spelling (you don't always have to make the accent "visible"), or litter phrases and words they've seen in other stories countless times.  The end result is Bodie and Doyle sounding like the equivalent of Americans in a Agatha Christie novel: all wrong.

</aside off>.

So why are so many Yanks writing about a British show?  Because it's British.

As before, I would love to hear from you all about fandoms that exploded, or just seem somehow out of proportion in some way.  What fandoms make you ask, "Why is there so much...?"

Next week:  We stroll into the land of the totally subjective with "Joxer?!?!?!  And other Things Lucy Doesn't Get."

Update:  A kind soul has informed me that she has seen Pros tapes with the station ID of a US tv station, which means that it must have aired in the US at some point.  If anyone knows when this is, I'd love to know.

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