Why I Don't "Buy" Slash
by L. Goldman
Okay. Let me make a few confessions here before I begin, huh?
First off, I hate writing sex. I suck. Period. End of statement. When I can write good sex, winged simians will come soaring out of my posterior.
Second, I am the co-author of a slash extravaganza. I freely admit to being one-half of a duo currently subjecting people to a (quite possibly) endless manga-style story arc. (The first arc is completed and I'm editing the second as fast as my little fingers and my RL will let me). My other half writes much better sex than I do.
That said, it is the only slash-type relationship I've ever “bought” enough to be able to read or write about. By “bought”, I mean I'll consider the pairing the author has given me, but if the author can't convince me, forget it. Now, before you decide to email me with all your suggestions of stories that would make me buy other particular pairings, let me explain my thinking. You might not wanna hear it, but I'm going to tell you anyway. The disclaimer is these are my reasons only; your mileage may vary.
“I'm Gay. Did you know that?”
A continual ploy I have found in numerous fandoms that really irks me is the “Look, I'm Suddenly, Totally, Irrevocably and Happily Gay!” storyline. This is closely followed by the “I've Been Closeted All My Life and I Just Need the Right Man to Release My True Self!” method of bringing two characters together. I'm not saying that life-altering experiences aren't possible, and angst is all well and good, but, really, enough's enough.
Putting aside subtext, et cetera, in shows like The Sentinel or Highlander or The Professionals or…or…Andy Griffith and Barney Fife, for God's sake, as a first-time traveler to these strange lands, I want to read these stories, I want to follow along with the characters and see their development, to see this relationship develop. Instead, I get the fanfic equivalent of Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 2 (“They always fuck you at the drive-thru!”). Essentially, I get shortchanged.
What the story boils down to is I'm reading is two men who, as far as I can tell, have never remotely thought about boinking each other except in their cold, lonely beds at night as they pine and sigh (thereby producing more carbon dioxide than our planet's vegetation can handle). Then, at the appropriate moment, they suddenly have a conversation that seems to follow one of two outcomes:
Man #1: “I'm Gay. And I want you.”
Man #2: “Great! I'm gay, too! Your bed or mine?”
Man #1: “I've been tortured for years by the fact that I can never reveal my true self.”
Man #2: “Well, here, let me help you. A good roll in the hay will fix that!”
Man #1: “Thanks. I feel better now.”
In both scenarios, the couples now live happily ever after, go shopping for curtains and take up macramé for fun and profit when they're not obsessively screwing each other's brains out. Oh, and let's not forget that everyone in their life that they tell from here on out is loving and supportive, and that at least one of the character's mothers will show up with the silver pattern she's been saving for this day.
“Allow Me to Introduce Myself…in excruciating detail”
Now we come to the next reason I don't “buy” slash. In this particular piece of fiction, the characters may or may not already be together, but the author is making sure we know that he or she is very aware of The Issues. This can include always noting that the character is dressed in his AIDS Awareness T-shirt (Every time he walks out the door? He must have a closet full of these things!) or that they collect for the United Way or they volunteer every spare hour they have to the Society for Blind Llhasa Apsos Cursed with Tone Deafness.
I'm not trying to be snide (well, at least not in this paragraph). I appreciate authors who attempt to tackle issues within their fic, whether it be AIDS, sexual/physical abuse, child pornography, the difficulties of relationships or any host of topics. However, when the characters take backstage to the author's personal soapbox and it's the character speaking in the author's voice, saying what the author wants to say and only what the author wants to say, I'm outta there. You may be trying to educate, but you're going about it in such a heavy-handed way that I'm not interested in sticking around long enough to find out. Instead, I've decided a pod person has taken over the character and I'm going to be far, far away before they come looking for me.
Along the lines of “The PC Story” are stories where we learn much, much, much more about the author than we ever really wanted to know. Yeah, I have kinks. Yeah, I write about ‘em. Are they the only way my character makes love? No. Are the techniques/kinks laid out in such a relentless manner that they resemble more of a how-to manual than either tender lovemaking or a fast, hard fuck? I certainly hope not.
These are characters that I am reading about – that I want to read about, I should say. I do not want to read about the author typing one- handed which seems to be what happens in some of the stories; The Sentinel comes to mind in particular at this moment. I'm reading a scene between Jim and Blair when, without warning, there's suddenly three people in the bed. It's a weird, wavy, gray kind of area, but you know exactly the point where Jim and Blair making love mutated into Jim, Blair and the author.
Let's just draw the curtain there on that topic, shall we? Tiptoe away…give the kids a little privacy.
The other reasons could come under the headings of Character Rape, Name Calling and Objectification of Characters/Women.
Character Rape or Who Is This Person?
Could someone please tell me when Mulder began crying all the time and what I can do to make sure it never happens again? When did Blair Sandburg suddenly begin channeling that episode of Star Trek where a woman was trapped inside Captain Kirk’s body? When did Walter Skinner start beating up his agents for sex?
AND WHO THE HELL IS THIS “BABY” EVERYONE KEEPS REFERRING TO? (Ahem…sorry…was getting ahead of myself there).
As I stated earlier, angst can be a good thing. A little hurt/comfort isn't bad, either; however, is it necessary to wallow? Do you really have to throw everything including the kitchen sink at your character so they can emote? No, you don't. It's a cheap shot, an emotional peep show, if you will.
Canon gives you a framework for the character and the subtext that you see in the interaction between the characters on the show gives you even more of a playground to work with. Even with all that, there are still some basic truths regarding the characters that cannot and should not be ignored for the sake of the author's Inner Drama Queen.
I will certainly allow that there is always room for interpretation since no two authors are going to see the same character in exactly the same way. However, there is a time and place where you can play around with a little “what if” and there is a time and place where canon should take precedence – not the least of which is how the character relates to other people or to events in his/her own life. All too often, though, the author chooses to ignore what is known about the character and, instead, “shoehorn” them into what they want the character to do. Why not? They already have their storyline figured out and have decided to just forget about those pesky bits of information, kindly provided to us, that have played out over forty- seven minutes for weeks on end.
Something about the way the character was written hooked you into him/her, so why do you toss it out the window when you write about them?
To the best of my recollection, I haven't seen more “babys” outside of a maternity ward. Every time I see it, I think, “Dear God, not another ‘Jim's pregnant’ story!” (this needs to be said in the manner of Westley in The Princess Bride when he says to Prince Humperdinck, “Dear God, what is that thing?”). I know very few grown men or women who call each other “baby”, “sweetie”, “honey”, “lover”, or “darling” with every breath – or, in some cases, instead of ever using the character's name again in this lifetime! I read much more of this and I'm going to need to have my insulin levels checked.
Please, people, stop the madness! These people have perfectly fine, usable first names (well, except for Mulder). Give ‘em a spin. They might grow on you. Besides, I hate needles.
Finally, one of the most disturbing trends I've seen is the treatment of the characters as objects – especially female supporting characters.
You Only Hurt The Ones You Love?
I have seen Mulder infantilized to a degree that was damn near pedophilia. I have seen Scully referred to as a “stupid cunt” for daring to suppose she could have any opinion on the Mulder/Other Partner pairing of the week. I have seen Blair horribly raped and then seemingly replaced by BlairySue (acted by a guest appearance by Norma Desmond minus the turban if the character's actions were any indication). I have seen grown, capable, intelligent men feminized to the point of absurdity and women with the same capabilities reduced to the point of caricature and, now, I have definitely seen enough.
Why is it necessary to vilify someone like Dana Scully who has been written as a strong, intelligent, classy individual? Should she be subjected to rape, torture or even crude, base comments that reduce her to the sum of her body parts simply because, in the author's opinion, she “wouldn't understand” the Mulder/Other relationship? If you don't know what Scully's response would be, don't put her in the story! Does Blair have to be reduced to a grasping, whiny, needy child with the IQ of a rutabaga before Jim notices him, metaphorically spanks him, and they get on with life? Why is it necessary to have Mulder raped by Skinner and then have him come crawling back for more?
The answer is that it's not (but you knew that since I was asking the question, right?). Maybe some people simply have personal issues that, intended or not, are reflected in their writing, and maybe others can't figure out how two people can relate to each other without one of them obviously being in control or dominating the other. When they do this, however, they reduce the other person to an object, something that is there solely for the convenience and feet-wiping purposes of the other character. This is not a relationship; this is a doormat.
Rape and violence are not ways of expressing or finding love. There is a line between hurt/comfort and humiliation and degradation. I'm not talking about a consensual dom/sub relationship; if the two parties agree to the rules of the game, that's another matter entirely. I'm not talking about rape/rape recovery stories. I've seen both gen and slash rape stories that were quite well done and believable. I'm talking about a tendency some people have for wanton destruction of another individual, a predilection for brutality to masquerade as love or caring. Violence is not foreplay, it is not seduction and it is not romantic. In situations such as Walter Skinner physically threatening/abusing Mulder or threatening to do evil unto Scully if Mulder doesn't sleep with him, I'm not rooting for the couple. I'm rooting for someone to wrap Skinner up in a nice, tight, white jacket and yelling, “Get thee hence to a qualified psychiatrist!”
The same goes for any other fandom I've read with similar “plots” that try to explain the attraction of two people using the unnecessary subjugation of another person as its basic premise. This is further compounded by the author's attempt to weasel out of what would be obvious and long-lasting repercussions by the ability of the abused character to bounce back wash after wash, clamoring for more, and declaring to the heavens and anyone else how they realize they are now in love with the person that has abused them. Come on. I sincerely doubt most of us would put up with that type of behavior in real life from someone who supposedly “loves” us or we say we wouldn't, so why make the characters do so time and again?
Say it with flowers, okay?
(I'll bet you were waiting for that, weren't you?)
I'm not saying these types of stories and their authors should be burned at the stake (okay, I've had fantasies on occasion, but that's beside the point). Even if I wanted to wipe them off the face of the earth, I wouldn't. People will write what they want to write and there is obviously an audience for these types of stories based on their proliferation if nothing else. You can add to the mix that there will always be a certain amount of wish fulfillment/AU taking place since same sex relationships are not universally accepted in this world we live in; however, it's when the wish fulfillment begins to overtake common sense and characterization that the story is about a relationship just as much as a porn video is about a relationship. Nothing has been added to these people; the author has simply substituted them for when he/she used to play at Barbie and Ken doing the deed in the back of Barbie’s pink Porsche after the prom. I like a PWP as much as the next person, but when wish fulfillment or titillation takes place at the sacrifice of the characters themselves, they might as well just be two totally different people with the same names.
If you want me to see a relationship, write a relationship whether it's a first time story or they've been together for months or years. I've read some great PWP’s where the relationship was obvious even in the confines of the “were just going to have sex now” scenario. I've also read some great multi-part pieces that really gave me clues within the context of the character according to canon about how each partner was feeling about the other, the relationship or simply the plot dilemma at hand. Unfortunately, the majority of what I have read has been what I have described above. These are the authors who take shortcuts simply because they want to place two men or women together in a bed, the authors who can't keep themselves out of the story long enough to let the characters say anything and the authors who seem to think fear and cruelty are acceptable and can be covered up by cutesy disclaimers stating that “Blair and Jim (or insert your favorite slash pair) each receive ‘owies’.”
Writers have a basic responsibility to be true to the characters as they have been created. Canon is there for a reason and not to be discarded as it suits the author's purposes. If it is, then it is no longer fan fiction; it is simply fiction or pornography using the character's names.