Editor (1988 New Yorker article)
|News Media Commentary|
|Date(s):||December 12, 1988|
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Editor is a two-page article (a section of "Talk of the Town") in "The New Yorker."
The subject is media fanzines and relies extensively on an interview with Roberta Rogow.
Some Topics Discussed
"Grip" is a zine -- a collection of photocopied stories and pictures, staple-bound is a colored-paper cover. Since many of the stories in zines regularly include characters named Spock, Kirk, Scotty, and Dr. McCoy, people who mostly read what zine editors call "general-media zines" might get the idea that the zine phenomenon is simply the literary expression of Trekkiedom. But this is as wrong as wrong can be. For the zine writer, "Star Trek" just gives you a framework, a way of beginning," Ms. Rogow says. "A good zine writer might begin with "Trek" characters the way a Greek bard might have begun with the same old crowd of gods and heroes. But then you go beyond. Working with someone else's characters is a way of finding parameters for storytelling. It teaches you what you can never learn in a creative-writing class. It's only through the 'Trek' characters that you can find your own voice. When young writers want to begin with original universes, I tell them, 'First, write a "Trek" story. Before you let your imagination run wild, write about what you know."
She goes regularly to the cons, which have a heavy concentration of Trekkies, but does so with mixed feelings. She regards herself not as a Trekkie but as a Trekker, and often has to explain to twelve-year-olds the difference between her enthusiasm for "Star Trek" and their enthusiasm for "Star Trek." Most zine writers and editors are women, Ms. Rogow said as she sat behind her table. "Women could get involved in 'Star Trek.' They played a much larger role there than in any other series. After all, with Lieutenant Uhura, there was a woman on the bridge. Nowadays, young women say to me, 'O.K., but all she ever got to say was "Captain, I've lost contact with Star Fleet" or "Captain, contact with Star Fleet has been restored!" But in 1966 just to have a woman in contact with Star Fleet at all was a breakthrough. When 'Star Trek' was cancelled, in '69, all of us were lost. There were so many plot lines that were never resolved. So we began story trees, working our way up from premises and situations that had been left hanging in the show, and the zines eventually had a universe of their own. In 1977 came the second revolution—a whole new universe to play with. The story goes that the minute the first clips of 'Star Wars' were shown at the cons, fans started writing stories. Then came Indiana Jones, and that opened up other new worlds for writers. Anyway, it was around then, what with all those universes to play with, that I took up the ''cross''-universe story, which is my forte and what I'm famous for. Cross-universe involves taking characters from one universe and mixing them with the characters from another. The crew of the Enterprise has an encounter with Han Solo in hyperspace. Or Darth Vader travels in time and meets Karen Allen.  But you have to do it consistently. For instance, Indiana Jones is presumably a historical figure, alive at a particular time. So it's best to cross him with figures from the same time period. A friend and I wrote a story -- it's a classic, if I say so myself -- where he was careering  across North Africa with Noel Coward.
[An eleven-year old boy] reached out for a zine at the back of the table. On its cover were a drawing (an "illo" in zine jargon) of Mr. Spock stripped to the waist and the legend "Spock Enslaved".
Ms. Rogow snatched it out of the boys had. "Get out of here! Go away!" she ordered. "That is not for the young."She sighed, and said "Spock Enslaved" is an erotic zine. It's not really a slash book, but it's part of the same movement, which is threatening the zine universe. You see, in 1976 a story called "Shelter" was published in a zine called Warped Space. It was written by Leslie Fish. It's about Kirk and Spock. They on an uninhabited planet, they're trapped, they're in a cave, and well, there you go. There were others, and the thing took off. Spock and the Captain, Spock and the Doctor, The Doctor and Scotty.  But they're mostly about Spock seducing Captain Kirk -- that's whey they're called "K/S," or slash, zines. The slash books are basically harmless. People think that they are gay pornography, but they're not. They are written by women, for women. They're really Harlequin romances within the conventions of "Star Trek." Instead of having a name like Angelique, and a heaving bosom, the heroine just happens to be an admiral for Star Fleet. It's still the same girlish romantic fantasy. What the girls forget, though -- and this drives me into ferocious arguments -- is that Spock is sexually active only once every seven years. I've been arguing this one out for the last decade. That is clear -- that is unmistakable. He may be a gay Vulcan. He may be a straight Vulcan. I'm open-minded on that. But the one certain thing we know about all Vulcans' sex life is that they are sexually active once every seven years. When you ignore a rule like that, it seems to me you're not writing literature any more.
I've just published a cross-universe story in which one of the lawyers in "L.A. Law" goes to a con and picks up some slash fiction. Now, that's zine writing -- not some sexual encounter on an asteroid. People haven't even begun to touch on the possibilities of cross-universe writing. I'd like to cross "Beauty and the Beast" with this new series "Tattinger's", or have the cast of "Cheers" open up a bar on the Enterprise. Keep crossing long enough, and eventually you could write about anything. Eventually, you could capture the whole world in a single zine.
The first time I read _about_ slash was quite awhile before that, in an old New Yorker article about Roberta Rogow. It briefly mentioned slash and the possibilities for B7 (the reigning passion of my life then as now) immediately leapt to mind. But I was so...innocent...ignorant...that the idea of fanzines for B7 didn't. I had no idea there were so many other people hooked on this obscure (so I thought) series. Then, in rapid succession, I read Bacon-Smith's article in the New York Times (by then several years old), and one of Penley's essays, and e-mail entered my life (a white knight in armor fashioned of e-shaped links. Never mind). I signed onto Strek-L. Somebody mentioned K/S...and B/A. When I regained consciousness, I posted a request for addresses (I'd already written to Datazine because of Penley's bibliography but received no answer). Several people answered. I mailed out my weight in SASEs. The first shipments of contraband arrived in December: Fire and Ice, Before and After, a few Resistances. I almost called into work the next day. I couldn't walk for a week.So, I owe it all to e-mail, academics, and people who were willing to share information with me although we'd never met. I would never have found fandom, let alone slash, without them. Of course...I'd have a lot more money now if it wasn't for them...
- "Darth Vader travels in time and meets Karen Allen" would be RPF. Either that, or she confused the actress with the character.
- She may have meant "careening."
- This Fanlore volunteer can't think of any fanwork examples of the pairing of McCoy and Scotty.
- comments at Virugle-L, quoted anonymously (March 25, 1993)