Gird your loins, fen, Erszebet has been thinking

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Title: Gird your loins, fen, Erszebet has been thinking
Creator: Erszebet B
Date(s): August 28, 1993
Medium: mailing list
Fandom: focus on The Professionals
External Links:
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Gird your loins, fen, Erszebet has been thinking is a 1993 essay by Erszebet B.

"... a possibly coherent summary of my recent struggles with the notions of waves, MFae, character distortion, multi-media zines, and whether two guys getting it on is always slash. This is sort of an essay, I guess."

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts from the Essay

It started with the census, where I identified as a second-waver because I fit Lezlie's criteria (although I fit the first-wave almost as well, really, now that I look at it again), to wit: I like "Stories about the characters involved in a slash relationship. The slash characterizations are still tied to the aired ones, but the writers do more extrapolation without looking for "proof" in the aired episodes. Certain aspects of the first-wave characterizations are accepted on equal footing as aired source material."

(By the way, one of the assumptions here is that it is useful to have something of an analytical foundation for organizing one's thoughts about slash, and the wave theory is the best one I've come across. I'm not usually a labels & categories-oriented person, so all of this is solely for the purpose of Thinking About Things.)

ISSUE #1: MFae and character distortion

Character distortion is anathema to the first- or second-waver. My favorite slash writer, M Fae Glasgow, allegedly distorts the characters six ways from Sunday, so I began to agonize about this contradiction with my second-wave identity. (My primary reasons for liking MFae so much are that she is one of the best *writers* I have ever encountered, and her psychosexual insights are stunning.)

The question is, is what she does really character *distortion* or character *exploration* in unique directions untouched by other writers? (Mind you, I don't like *everything* MFae does, especially the shallower humorous stories or the really wild satires (which do distort the characters, but on purpose obviously). I'm smitten by her serious, dark, angsty stories, the ones with the psychoanalytic agonizing, realistic tension, etc.) My own response comes from this note to Alex about a story in "Queer as 2 3-Pound Notes":

I love "November," but for me "Ambush" was even better--it took all the power and twisted *rightness* of the gun scene and stretched it out into an entire story. Much more erotic than the 'consensual S/M' stuff. A clear look at the seething morass of confusion that passes for desire among the black-hearted such as myself--I identified completely with every moment in it, every paradox, every twist and turn. Every irrational compulsion. Yes. Yes. And I could fully believe this Bodie and Doyle, too. No doubt because I can identify with the feelings attributed to them in the story. And because I subscribe to the proposition of several months back that these guys are *not* wholly 'nice', and their job makes them even less so.

In other words, to go into the possible darker aspects of a character is not necessarily the same as distorting the character. The way MFae does it makes them more *real* because I can identify with them more fully--they are more richly drawn in her stories than in almost any others. (At least, in terms of feelings and experiences I personally can identify with.) Yet they are still believable extrapolations of the characters in the aired episodes.

Of course, many people would disagree with me, which brings up the interesting issue of what people see when they watch a character in an episode. The Bodie or Doyle I see may be a very different person than the one Doro or Alex or Lynn sees. Thus, the way a particular writer expands the character will be more or less believable to each of us, based on what we already think we see in that character.

It's basically the old 'the viewer creates the text' concept from semiology or wherever the hell it came from. The viewer, IMHO, has at least a pretty big part in creating the text. And the things that predispose the viewer to see a character a particular way in an aired episode will cause her to find various stories more or less credible and accurate in their portrayal.
Issue #2:

Further Thoughts on the Importance of Characters, Leading to a Theoretical Distinction Between 'Slash' and 'Erotica'

Remember when I said "two guys getting it on is not necessarily slash"? Then I felt confused, because supposedly that's exactly what slash is. But I felt there must be some sort of fundamental quality about slash that makes it different from any old portrayal of two guys getting it on. (The old slash vs. gay porn debate.) We've defined it a lot of different ways over time, but here's another go.

I propose that there are two distinct kinds of writing, which for convenience we can label 'slash' and 'erotica.' Slash is character-based. You start with the show, the episodes, the characters as built up by the actors in the show. You extend and expand those characters, as plausibly as possible, within their universe, and the way you portray them as sexual beings enhances and fits with that characterization. They are not interchangeable. The way Bodie makes love is *not* the same as the way Doyle, or Avon, or Spock, or Captain Kangaroo, makes love. To use the same words and patterns for each of these characters is to blow it completely, lose touch with the characterization.

Anyone who has taken a writing class probably got fed the old saw that every line of dialog should perform at least two, if not all three of these functions: (a) further the plot; (b) expand characterization; (c) be interesting in itself. IT'S THE SAME WITH SEX SCENES.

Then there's erotica. Erotica is the portrayal of interchangeable bodies doing things to each other. Nothing wrong with it, but when a writer slaps names on said bodies, such as Bodie, Avon, Spock, etc., and tries to pass the story off as slash, she's missing the mark, to put it in the kindest light possible. Erotica (for example) is brand-name lube; detailed descriptions of piercings (when there is nothing but the writer's say-so to indicate that the character involved would ever be interested in piercing); gay cruises; all the things that some people think is slash just because the names are the same as those of Our Lads.

WHEN EROTICA PRETENDS TO BE SLASH, IT CHEAPENS AND TRIVIALIZES THE CHARACTERS. The dishonesty of it makes me feel cruddy, and like I said in my census comment, I have to cleanse myself and reestablish the characters by watching several episodes immediately. MFae walks a thin line, sometimes, but at least she is fairly honest about it--for example, she admits that her story about the B7 crew visiting a colony of renegade Scots and having to wear kilts began as a joke. (And I must admit her description of Avon's outfit and behavior was not only very striking, it was very Avon, so she did OK even here.) Many other writers either don't know the difference, or try to obscure it. Either they haven't done their homework (i.e. they haven't paid any attention to the characters and haven't thought through how they will portray them) or they are just plain shitty writers.

When it comes to slash, the characters be true to themselves, and any really wild aberration must be carefully built and justified so that it is a valid possible direction that that character might go. (The infamous catheter story is an example. Not that I'm crazy about it, but the B and D that MFae creates here, with care, building on the first two segments of the trilogy, are believable variants for me, though not ones that I like very much.) Thus I can appreciate stories where Lad X is a shuddering virgin, and ones where he is a dissolute S/M addict, and anything in between, if the sexual aspects of the character as presented in each story are well-reasoned and carefully extrapolated from Evidence (that is, the aired episodes). On those rare occasions when I deliberately seek out erotica, anything goes, *except* trying to pretend it's slash.
Satire is in a category by itself, of course; IMHO it is neither erotic nor true to the characters, so it is neither erotica nor slash. I don't like satire much, as we know. (Yes, some of the Leah Rosenthal cartoons make me laugh out loud, but then I shudder and put them away. Who needs it for more than ten seconds?)

Unlike good slash, generic portrayals of sexual activity between men don't do any more for me than any other kind of generic portrayal of sexual activity. (Unless it's very well done and contains at least one of my Fetishes--S/M, boots, hair, vampires, androids, etc.--and even then it's a chancy thing.) What turns me on are *characters*, preferably in conflict with each other or themselves. B and D are rich, provocative characters; so are the B7 guys; and Ripley and the doctor in "ALIEN 3" (a particular private favorite of mine, even though a female character is involved--she's so strong, she thrills me as much as the male characters do), etc. These characters interest me, and so their sexual nuances and struggles interest me. Hence, slash.

As for female characters: Servalan, allegedly a strong character, does not interest me--in fact, I dislike her more and more. I'm coming to the grudging realization that the female characters in B7, with the occasional exception of Cally, are really just as flat as female characters in any other TV show and most films. So they don't interest me sexually either. That is, their sexuality doesn't interest me. There's nowhere to go with them.

Issue #3: Multi-Media Zines--New Fandoms: The Undiscovered Country

We're talking here about a zine with stories from a bunch of unfamiliar fandoms, by unfamiliar writers, made tempting because one or two of the stories are based on TV shows or movies that I've never read any slash about before.

The reason for a second-waver to buy such a zine is the hope that at least some of the stories will be true slash--that is, explore characters in a rich way and make their sexual interactions both erotic to read and expressive of the characters. Since some of the characters/fandoms in that zine *do* interest me (the THUNDERHEART guys; Roy Batty from BLADE RUNNER), I'd love to read some real slash about them. The risk is that what I'll end up with is erotica--maybe really erotic, maybe not, but having nothing in common, except the names and a few accessories, with the characters I want to know more about. That would be painful, unless I tailor my expectations appropriately in advance. At $20 a pop, is it worth it?

(Now you realize the real reason for all this: I am attempting to rationalize spending $20 I don't have on a zine I know nothing about.)

Obviously, there's no one answer to that question, unless one is independently wealthy. Luckily, in this case I can check out the zine at WorldCon next week--the easy way out. (If I buy it, I'll review it for y'all.)