Characterization Rape: An Examination of Fan Fiction

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Title: Characterization Rape: An Examination of Fan Fiction
Creator: Kendra Hunter
Date(s): March 1979 (Trek #13), March 1980 ("The Best of Trek #2")
Medium: print
Fandom:
Topic: fanfic, zines, Star Trek: TOS
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Characterization Rape: An Examination of Fan Fiction is an essay by Kendra Hunter.

It was first published in March 1979 in Trek #13 and reprinted in the pro book "The Best of Trek" #2 in March 1980.

The article is widely quoted in Textual Poachers. [1]

Some Excerpts

Writing in the constant pressure of a television-production atmosphere must be debiliiating at best, and the probability of committing what has been labeled 'characterization rape' is great. This is done by professional writers in all aspects of fiction writing, so it was not surprising to find this offense in the volumes of fan fiction which began while Star Trek was still being aired in prime time. [2]
There is no way to discuss fan fiction or characterization rape in fan fiction without discussing the worst offender: the Lieutenant Mary Sue story. Mary Sue stories are typical groupie fantasies in which, usually, a writer transfers herself from the 1970 era into the future by means of the Guardian of Forever, a time warp, or other device of time travel, and finds herself in the Star Trek universe. In general, Mary Sue is a single, thirty-year-old female, who is incredibly beautiful, super-loving, super-intelligent, super-everything. In the stand-ard format, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy fall in love with her immediately and sometimes even Scott, Sulu, and Chekov are included in the emotional tangle. Mary Sue will choose one of the men to begin a relationship and complete her fantasy. In so doing, Mary Sue usually must save the Enterprise from some unimaginable horror while the command crew, whom Starfleet command has spent a great deal of taxpayer money to train, sit on their hands. Once the Big E is saved to fight another day, Mary Sue and whichever of the men (in my case, it's always Captain Kirk) she chooses ride oft into the sunset to live happily ever after.
The officers and crew of the USS Enterprise are not real, a fact that is sometimes overlooked by the fans. Many writers have difficult time relating from their point of view in the real world to the imaginary world of our beloved Kirk and company. Mary Sue and her many compatriots serve as a bridge to span this void between the real and the unreal. It is a step used by the writer to overcome a barrier which exists in the mind and allows her to relate on a one-to-one basis with the fictional characters.
Fan fiction had its beginning during the second season of the air episodes and is still being produced at a phenomenal rate this ver monument. Over the years the writers have gone through a series of phases in the content of the stories, beinging with teh sequel stage. The majority of early fan fiction concerned itself what happened to Zarabeth or the further adventures of Kevin Riley, the characters the fans were enchanted with immediately. Then came Mary Sue, followed by "get Kirk and "get Spock" stories wherein the development of the realtionship was explored by a method called hurt/care/torture/comfort. Kirk is hurt, Spock cares, the pain is tortuous, and Pocks offers comfort. Or the other way around.

[In the episode "Requiem for Methuselah"]: ... in one of the most moving scenes in aired Trek, Spock demonstrates he does know love by removing the more painful memories from Kirk's mind-a beautifirl action which offsets one of the worst of the episodes. Alone in the universe, Spock, at home nowhere except in Starffeet, and Kir}, bearing tLe loneliness of command, find the streagth of love and friendship in each other. One of the most valuable things to come from women's lib is "men's lib." A release from years of not being able to love, cry, exprress emotion, or asgume the responsibility for changing the baby's diaper. Being a man, of a woman, has taken on new dimension wherein each is allowed to develop his or her interests and abilities to the fullest. And as has been said many times before, Trek was ahead of its time. The wide format allowed these two men to care about each other and to establish a love/friendship relationship. We didn't see Joe Friday and Frank Gannon hug one another or cry' or even care about each other the way Starsky and Hutch are now able to express these feelings. In the past when two men cared for each other, and expressed it, they were eventually labeled gay. This has befallen Kirk/Spopk, arrived at logically after years of writing, reading, and developing said characters, according to those who accept this premise. Unfortunately; it is out of character for both men, and as such comes across in the stories as bad writing.

After reading a sampling of zines, which were provided by the curator of Memory Alpha, the Federation iibrary and Bibliographic Center, containing stories, editorials, and viewpoints, there seems to be, in fanfic, a theory that after all the years of searching, touching, hurting, comforting, there is only one recourse open to the Kirk/Spock relationship, and that is the evolution of a homosexual relationship.
This relationship came into being because the fan writers loved the characters and cared about the ideas that are Star Trek and they refused to let it fade away into oblivion. It is these fans who are responsible for the volumes of fanzines which contain stories, novels, articles, poetry, songs, cartoons, and many other artistic expressions. If there was no fandom, the aired episodes would stand as they are, and yet they would be just old reruns of some old series with no more meaning than old reruns of “I Love Lucy.” Because Star Trek is what it is; because the fans took to heart every word that was uttered, every expression that was filmed, every eyebrow that was raised and made it even more; because the fans took Kirk/Spock and developed it far beyond even what Roddenberry had imagined, the relationship has become as deep and rich and meaningful as the entire concept of Star Trek itself.
However, the broad format allows for several sets of circumstances in which Kirk and Spock are placed in a position where a homosexual relationship seems to be the only way out, usually because Spock's life is on the line. If Spock was pure Vulcan, a different set of standards would be used; but Spock is half human and that adds a new field of speculation. For a scenario, the premise of pon fan seems to provide the most realistic setting. Spock is now in the advanced stages of pon farr, and because of his continued mind link with Kirk, the only person who can save Spock's life is Kirk. Needless to say, tbe Enterprise is parsecs from Vulcan. But Spock would never allow Kirk to know, and he would die. If Kirk, being the industrious person that he is, discovers the problem at the last moment, he could force Spock to accept his help. Kirk, watching his friend near death, finds he has no choice: He either enters the realm of bisexuality or allows Spock to die.

There is another line of reasoning as to why the Kirk/Spock relationship has been developed to the physical. In the realm of fanfc it is believed that this relationship has evolved logrcally to a sexual relationship over the years while each gradually Iearned to touch and be touched, to hold and be held, to care and to love. I realize that the homosexual relationship did not just appear one day; it was reached after years of writing and reading. But I must wonder if it wasn't the result of the writers' having nothing left to write about. After all the hurting and torture aid caring and comfort what was left to write about?

Trek fiction has a problem unique unto itself in that the characters first appeared on the screen rather than in print, so that when one thinks of Kirk, one automatically envisions Shatner. Leonard Nimoy tried to deny that he was Spock and came to the logical conclusion that if he was not, then who was? Most fictional characters are created on paper to walk the pages of a novel long before being transferred to the screen. Not so with Trek. Roddenberry outlined the characters, Gene L. Coon directed the formation, but it was the actors who provided the form and substance, the personalities, the expressions, and the attitudes; aII combined to make us, the viewers, really care about what was happening. Trek was special to each of these people who have had their lives shaped by the effect that Trek produced on us, the fen. We should remember their feelings as we express our own in fan fiction. Yes, we the fans and the writers, and the artists, and all the rest--do have the right to freedom of expression, but only when that right does not infringe on the rights of other individuals.
Trek is a format for expressing rights, opinions, and ideals. Most every imaginable idea can be expressed through Trek including homosexuality. But there is a right way. Kirk's actions in "The City on the Edge of Forever" and "Balance of Terror" showing his strengths and weaknesses. The wrong way can simply be illustrated with "The Galileo Seven." Fiction literature has long portrayed an important role in the presentation of new ideas and concepts. When properly expressed, these ideas have started revolutions.

Author's Remarks: Seventeen Years Later

In a 1996 letter to In the Belly of the Whale, the author addresses her 1979 essay:

As to my personal views, I am on record in the public forum, The Best of Trek #2 with an article entitled "Characterization Rape", in which I state clearly that I do not believe in a sexual relationship tionship between Kirk and Spock. That was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far way, before my religious experience while on the road to Damascus.

Actually, I was on a beach in Athens watching the calm waters of the Mediterranean while working on a Starsky and Hutch novel that I had my great revelation regarding the love between two men and how powerful it can be. Since that time, I have been involved in gay rights, worked in the adult entertainment industry, read volumes both fiction and non-fiction regarding the gay lifestyle, and have made many friends in the gay world. My horizons have been expanded and my life enriched by the experiences. [3]

Reactions and Reviews

Firstly, the article is rather poorly titled by the writer, as it deals only very peripherally with fan fiction at all; why, then the sensationalistic title regarding "rape"? Mainly, the writer seems content to complain over the characterizations in aired TREK episodes, but only touches momentarily on the fan fiction portrayal of the characters. And then, she only "happens" to mention the rather negative aspects. I must also say that I simply cannot agree with her analysis of the Kirk/Spock stories coming across as "bad writing". In other words, simply because she finds herself in disagreement over the premise, she dismisses the entire concept as "bad writing". I've read many, many Kirk/Spock stories, and have even published a K/S zine — and I'll be the first to say that, while the stories are certainly controversial in nature, the level of writing is excellent! It makes me wonder how much actual research went into her article — whether she actually read the stories, or whether she simply glanced through a couple of the K/S zines and decided she didn't like the idea and therefore it was all "badly written".

Secondly, in her arguement against the K/S homosexual relationship, she tends to give the distinct impression that two people must meet and enter a sexual encounter/relationship immediately if it's to be at all. In other words, Ms. Hunter's article seems to be saying that because Kirk and Spock didn't have a sexual relationship on aired Star Trek, that it can't and won't and mustn't develop into one later. [snipped]... Does she really think that Kirk and Spock would have entered a sexual relationship soon after meeting one another? That seems to be the impression she tries to give in arguement against the premise -- that because it didn't happen within "X" number of days/weeks/months/years, that it cannot happen at all. After all, if they did have a sexual relationship during the aired Trek days, no one would have known about it anyway. We must remember that, in those days (late '60s) married couples still slept in separate beds, and the Enterprise didn't have any bathrooms, either!

Also, in regards to Ms. Hunter's treatment of the Kirk/Spock relationship, I can only feel that she is expressing her own sexual mores for the characters — that she's attempting to dub in her cwn 20th Century morality and "overlooking" the fact that Trek takes place 200+ years in our future, and that the characters are that far "beyond" our cultural taboos and restrictions of the 1970's. In other words, why must Kirk and Spock be bound by our morality some 200+ years from now? That, my dear, is illogical!

I have been reading fan fiction for quite some time, and the only thing I can remotely agree with Ms. Hunter on is her analysis of the "Mary Sue" stories. Unfortunately, however, I got the very distinct impression that her Mary Sue analysis was directly attributable to an article by Christopher Randolph [4] in ENTERPRISE INCIDENTS #6 — she uses the exact same arguements, same phrases, same general outline as Mr. Randolph, and it just comes across as though her only actual research into fan fiction may have been through articles in other zines.

Another aspect of this article is that it totally ignores the really good fan fiction stories which have been written. She mentions only the negative, totally ignoring the positive. Granted, we can't have one without the other, but why was only one side portrayed? Why no mention of such stories as "The Weight" or "Night of the Twin Moons" or "The Logical Conclusion" or "The Rack" or... or... If Ms. Hunter has read as much fan fiction as she claims, it leaves me wondering if she's one of those elitists who will never accept anything other than aired Trek and/or perhaps the motion picture. It just seems as if Ms. Hunter has decided that, for her, fan fiction isn't where its at. However, she breaks her own rule by "infringing upon the rights of others" — in that she attempts in that she attmepts to portray all fan fiction as being "less than professional" if not just plain bad. I'd be hard-pressed to agree with that — even the very worst fan fiction is light years beyond the Bantam novel, VULCAN!. That novel is the very epitome of characterization rape/ degradation/bad writing and all those other nasty little words which Ms. Hunter seems to attribute to fan fiction alone. And yet it was published professionally. Perhaps the time has come for the "professionals" to take a back seat in regards to Star Trek fiction, leaving the characters to those who do truly understand them, and have developed them far beyond aired Trek -- I'm speaking of the fans, of course.

Which brings me to my last point: Why is it assumed by Ms. Hunter that the characters must be developed in only one way — hers? In other words, all of the characters are certainly open to "interpretation" from anyone -- simply because nearly all of the characters stepped out of "synch" even in aired Trek. In "The Tholian Web", Spock remains" to fight the Tholians and attempt to rescue Kirk despite overwhelming odds against winning either battle.That was illogical, therefore was "out of synch" for even Spock in regards to Kirk. Kirk isn't stupid, therefore his unresearched decision to accept the challenge was totally out of synch for him. And yet, "Amok Time" is also one of the best Trek episodes.

So, you see, rules are made to be broken, but hopefully with logical reasons which surface in the end. Not all Trek fiction is logical (professional or amateur), yet not all of the fan fiction is "characterization rape" either. Ms. Hunter shows only one side of a very, very complex Trek fiction universe, leaving out that which did not fit in with her own views of the characters, or just terming it "rape". [5]

WE WILL LEAVE IT TO KENDRA HUNTER TO ANSWER MOST OF THE COMMENTS IN DELLA'S LETTER, HOWEVER WE FEEL THAT IS IS IMPORTANT TO CLEAR UP TWO MAJOR POINTS:

1) THE TITLE OF THE ARTICLE, "CHARACTERIZATION RAPE" WAS SUGGESTED BY THE EDITORS WHEN PRESENTED WITH MS. HUNTER'S OUTLINE FOR THE ARTICLE. WE FEEL THAT IT IS A GOOD CHOICE FOR AN ARTICLE THAT DISCUSSES WHAT IS WRONG WITH SOME FAN FICTION — AND EVEN SOME EPISODES. IT WOULD NOT BE EXPECTED TO FIND MENTION OF "GOOD" FANFIC IN A PIECE DEVOTED TO "BAD" FANFIC. WOULD YOU EXPECT MENTION OF THE PAST YEAR'S BEST MOVIES ON A CRITIC'S "WORST LIST"?

2) THE ARTICLE WAS IN HAND AT THE TIME ENTERPRISE INCIDENTS #6 APPEARED, SO IT IS VERY UNLIKELY THAT MS. HUNTER DREW ANY OF HER "MARY SUE" CONCLUSIONS FROM THAT ARTICLE. THE INFERENCE THAT SHE EITHER COULD NOT MANAGE THE CONCLUSIONS ON HER OWN, OR THAT SHE PLAGIARIZED IS AN UNFAIR ONE. HOW MANY DIFFERING VIEWPOINTS OF A "MARY SUE" STORY CAN THERE BE, ANYWAY? HOPEFULLY, BY NEXT ISSUE WE WILL HAVE A RESPONSE FROM KENDRA HUNTER (AND PERHAPS OTHER READERS) TO THIS LETTER. THIS CONTROVERSY WILL PROBABLY NEVER BE RESOLVED TO ANYONE'S SATISFACTION, BUT WE FEEL THAT K/S HAS BECOME SUCH A DIVIDING FORCE IN STAR TREK FANDOM THAT IT MERITS ONGOING DISCUSSION. HOW DO YOU READERS FEEL? [6]

I am known to be rarely emotional about much of anything (my husband's traditional nickname for me is "old stoneface"), but recently I have been aware of rising blood pressure in a few instances such as:

— the shooting of prominent people all over the world

— green fruit In the supermarket that takes days to ripen only to rot during the process

— re-runs of rejects on TV all summer and

— Kirk and Spock becoming homosexuals!

There Is not much I can do about the first three on the list but I can certainly protest the fourth, especially since I feel It Is a distinct departure from the established outlines of the characters' original creations. Once again I must refer to Kendra Hunter's article "Characterization Rape" which says all of it so well. Of course, writers are permitted great liberties when composing stories in science fiction and fantasy, and Star Trek writers have taken a liberal share of same. I have accumulated a good cross section, I believe, of fan fiction with many treatments of episode continuations, Mary Sue, hurt/comfort, and "adult" Interpretations — the latter seemingly dominating more recent publications. As a result, if one wants to read material above the sixth grade level, one must indulge In "adult" zines or suffer slow starvation! However, I have found two or three mature zines that used adult themes sparingly, enough to attract adult readership, yet retained a sense of good taste that allow almost anyone to read them. But then there are various shades of "sexually explicit" zlnes and some of them can be good reading for those forewarned adults who choose them. Again, I feel the extremes do not relate to the original concept of Star Trek but would fit almost any cast assigned to the writer, otherwise. [7]
I have much respect for the brave woman who published the first K/S story. Here's the legend as I've heard it told. Gayle F. had already written "Desert Heat", but it hadn't been published yet. So, the first story actually published was "Epilogue to Orion." (I won't mention the author's name...cause I'm feeling somewhat weird about it...I don't know how she'd feel...) It came out in around 1978. I haven't read it, but I don't believe it's the PWP Arachnae described above. It was a short little story, but I don't believe it was very explicit at all. However, it was clearly *not* hurt/comfort. And it did indeed cause a firestorm within Star Trek fandom. Some glimpses of this discussion can be had in the "Best of Trek" books. An article entitled, "Characterization Rape," by Kendra Hunter in "Best of Trek #2" takes a somewhat balanced, but ultimately negative view of K/S. There's more sniping about it in "Best of Trek #3 & 5" in the Roundtable sections. [8]
In "Characterization Rape", Kendra Hunter discusses a theme which some authors have adopted, that of a homosexual relationship between Kirk and Spock. It is my opinion that although these two men obviously love each other, there is no reason why their relationship should become sexual. In the mainstream of our society, there is only one relationship in which sex is acceptable, and that is the relationship between a man and a woman. However, there are many types of love. Parents love their children, a child can love a toy, people love their pets, sisters and brothers love each other, people love their friends, and people can even love God. These days, it is even possible to have friends of the opposite sex. All of these relationships can be deeply satisfying, but they are not normally sexual. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are like brothers, and although we know that Kirk loved his brother, Sam, it is unlikely if he has sex with him. As far as sex goes, it is not always a beautiful, spiritual experience anyway. Prostitutes perform with complete strangers for money, women are brutally raped, even many husbands and wives have sexual problems. Obviously then, sex and love can exist independent of each other. The relationship between Kirk and Spock is that of a beautiful friendship, and there is no need for writers to go beyond that, because there is nothing beyond that. There are certain characteristics which define friendship and others that define romantic love. While sex is considered a desirable and necessary ingredient in a romantic relationship, it is not a requirement of friendship. Friendship is by nature simply non-sexual. Furthermore, neither Spock nor Kirk were socialized with the idea of homosexuality. Captain Kirk is definitely a ladies' man, while Spock can hardly bring himself to admit that he has emotions. Though the two men love each other, I do not think that either one of them would be comfortable with the idea of a homosexual relationship. I am not saying that homosexuality is wrong, but just as it seems "natural" to those that are homosexual, it seems "unnatural" to those that are not. I think that Captain Kirk is simply accustomed to having sex with women, and would feel uncomfortable having sex with a man. Spock, under normal circumstances, would probably feel strange having sex with anybody — it is hard enough for him to even talk about it. I have always found the Kirk/Spock relationship very beautiful, especially because it shows that two people — even men — can love each other. One of the goals of the feminist movement is to prove that we are all people, not simply men and women, and we can appreciate each other in ways other than sex. I would like to think Kirk and Spock have not and would not have a homosexual relationship. I think that it would mar the purity of their friendship, and I do not think it would make them any closer than they already are. [9]
I must.... take to task a point raised by Kendra Hunter in her article "Characterization Rape." I believe she has read too much into the Kirk/Spock relationship. It is emotional, intellectual, and complimentary, but it is not in the least homosexual. Why much a deep and abiding friendship between persons of the same sex instantly raise questions of homosexuality? [10]
I get so sick of some kinds of shippers, the way they don't care about who the characters really are and how they really relate but just willfully ignore reality in favor of their bizarre fantasies. I remember that decades ago in one of the Best of Trek volumes collecting Star Trek fanzine articles, there was an essay by Kendra Hunter complaining about fanfiction authors who made characters behave grossly out of character in order to fit the stories they wanted to tell. The term Hunter used was "characterization rape." I think that term itself is in rather poor taste, but it illustrates the critic's point that such writing violated and undermined characters rather than celebrating them, and I feel similarly about some kinds of shipper factions. You're not really showing any fondness for a character if you want them to behave in a way that's totally contrary to who they are. That's not affection, it's pure self-centeredness. I guess that's part of the reason for the rape analogy Hunter used: because it's about using characters to serve your own desires without any regard for the characters themselves. [11]

References

  1. Jenkins gets the essay's date wrong, though -- citing 1977.
  2. She cites the Star Trek episode "Galileo Seven" as an example of characterization rape: "Such a story leaves the reader or viewer frustrated, unsatisfied, and cheated."
  3. from In the Belly of the Whale #1
  4. Christopher Randolph is one of Della Van Hise's pseuds.
  5. by Della Van Hise in Trek #14
  6. response by the editors of Trek, printed in issue #14
  7. from a LoC in TREKisM at Length #2
  8. "TSU:Star Trek in the Stone Age/zines" discussion on alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated, dated April 26, 1998
  9. from a comment in Trek #18
  10. from a comment in Trek #15
  11. comment by Christopher at Warehouse 13: Parks And Rehabilitation , posted May 2013, accessed August 2013