|News Media Commentary|
|Date(s):||26 September 2000|
|Venue:||The Guardian (The Observer), online|
|External Links:||Hard soap; archive link|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Hard soap is a 2000 article about the rise of slash fiction. The article's topic line says: "It started in obscure Star Trek fanzines and now slash fiction is big on the net. But what exactly is it? Think Starsky loves Hutch."
The article says that thanks to the internet, "women's wildest fantasies are being catered for in an entirely different way, with the booming online literary phenomenon, slash fiction." It then gives its own definition of slash:
The term refers to the use of a stroke or "slash" to signify a homoerotic relationship between two characters from a cult TV show or film. It could be any two personalities such as the hugely popular Star Trek pairing Kirk/Spock or Mulder/Krycek from The X-Files. The only restriction is that the characters should not have a sexual relationship in the "real" series.
The article gives an excerpt from a Starsky & Hutch slash story which is mistakenly said to have been "from the LadySlash web-ring." The story is actually My True Love Gave to Me by Sebastyin and was posted at a Starsky & Hutch fanfiction archive run by Flamingo.
Some fans are asked to answer the Why Slash question and Kitty Fisher (who "has been writing slash for eight years"), Elanor Summerton ("who runs the Britslash website"), R Olivia Brown ("who runs the RedRoses fanzine"), and Joram (who uses a pseudonym because of her job) all give it their best shot. With the regard to the why slash question the article also contains a quote from Camille Bacon-Smith's book Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth.
This article was reprinted in its entirety in DIAL #16.
On the face of it, this looks like just another geeky outpouring from the net's lunatic fringe. Certainly there is no obvious connection between this level of fan writing and women's erotic empowerment. Yet surf through a few typical sites and something unexpected emerges: almost all the stories are written by heterosexual women. Some offer truly bizarre pairings - Joey and Chandler from Friends, Ashley and Nicky Piatt from Coronation Street, bluff TV detectives Dalziel and Pascoe. The story content ranges from the sadistic (Mulder tying Krycek in knots) to the sensitive, with macho characters showing a level of vulnerability never allowed on screen. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of character pairings come from shows with a tough guy element. If there's a common thread running through much of slash fiction, it's that women appear to find erotic appeal in emasculating TV hard men."
... slash is probably an attempt by women to take control of their sexuality but many writers may not be conscious they are addressing this. "The real appeal is that it allows us to explore a romantic relationship in which normal ideas about power and gender have no place because both characters are the same gender."
Another writer, who because of her job in the civil service will be identified only as Joram, takes this argument a stage further. "As a reader, slash for me is ideal fiction because I dislike female characters. They make me feel demeaned and ashamed because most tend to be two-dimensional. I focus on male characters because I like to lust over them."So why not write heterosexual scenes? "There are a lot of strong male characters on TV that women would like to see show a vulnerable side," Joram explains. "What better way of doing that than by putting two guys in a romantic situation? Then we can make them vulnerable and hurt them emotionally to our heart's content, and there's no need to put a woman in there at all.
Another reason why manywomen are turning to the format is that the slash community encourages new writers. "It's very welcoming and supportive," explains R Olivia Brown who runs the RedRoses fanzine. "Discussion between writers abounds and it's not restricted by what's acceptable outside in the 'real' world. Here you can discuss grammar and penis size, often in the same email.
"The real appeal is that it allows us to explore a romantic relationship in which normal ideas about power and gender have no place because both characters are the same gender."
I disagree. I think that male/male slash is very much about mainstream gender ideas. Much of the slash out there are about, as mentioned elsewhere in this article, "dark stories...non-consensual stories...dominance," etcetera. In a society where only men are permitted to serve in combat, where the majority of pro athletes are men, and where most of the advertising that uses sex to sell is geared towards men, not only men but women are innundated with images of "acceptable" masculinity. Men are supposed to be aggressive, courageous, strong, risk-taking, sexy. And women are turned on by those things because society has conditioned us to be so. Think Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Was he not sexy when he was chugging that machine gun at the bad guys? Think Antonio Banderas. Was he not incredibly hot when using that guitar case to blow people away?
It is socially unacceptable for us to be excited by violence, and yet violence is constantly portrayed as exciting. But what can you do? There are only a handful of stories in which Mulder is violent towards Scully, because that just wouldn't be right. Men can be violent towards each other, but not to women. And so women take their need for male violence and point it in another direction. Slash is exciting to us because we can have men being both violent and sexual but not feel threatened by it...
"Perhaps another factor in the popularity of male/male pairings is that there aren't that many inspiring female characters to begin with".I think the amount of Scullyslash I've seen around here says that we've proved that one wrong. And yet she's right. Beverly Crusher and other supporting characters in fanfic are boring to write about because they're cardboard on the screen. There's a reason why Trekkies make fun of Beverly and Troi all the time. It's because they're never given any good plotlines. Scully is, and that's why there's so much romantic X-Files fanfic. Go Carter. Damn it, if there aren't many inspiring female characters, start writing them! Buffy rules! Xena rules! And Scully rules them all! 
"I think the amount of Scullyslash I've seen around here says that we've proved that one wrong. And yet she's right. Beverly Crusher and other supporting characters in fanfic are boring to write about because they're cardboard on the screen." I have to disagree with that statement. I have written fanfiction for four years now and almost every story has centered on Beverly Crusher, mainly within the Picard/Crusher relationship. Yes, I believe that her character has been short-changed through the series and films, but there have been some notable Bev-centered episodes where she was allowed to shine. If these "supporting characters" aren't given enough screen time to satisfy the fans who love those characters, that's where fanfiction comes in -- creating situations where the character can be fleshed out more. I'm sure that Troi (and Skinner and Krycek and Gunmen) fans would say the same thing. As much as I love reading XF fic, I still would rather write Trekfic. I have yet to find the Crusher character boring to write about....You should check out how much romantic (and hot!) Picard/Crusher fanfiction there is out there. Despite its inclusion of a "boring" character, there's a helluva lot of it. And Orion Press has published two zines devoted exclusively to Beverly Crusher. It all comes down to what a viewer/reader finds compelling about a character. 
"Men are supposed to be aggressive, courageous, strong, risk-taking, sexy. And women are turned on by those things because society has conditioned us to be so. Think Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Was he not sexy when he was chugging that machine gun at the bad guys? Think Antonio Banderas. Was he not incredibly hot when using that guitar case to blow people away?" No, they were not. To me, anyway. Not in the least. While I will fight for the right of anyone to write, read, or do whatever floats their boat sexually, I think you are generalizing way too much.