Let's just call it all butter brickle!
|Title:||let's just call it all butter brickle!|
|Date(s):||July 19, 2002|
|Topic:||Slash, History of Slash Fandom|
|External Links:||Let's just call it all butter brickle!, Archived version on LJ|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
let's just call it all butter brickle! is an online essay written by bettyp and posted to Livejournal on July 19, 2002.
"For those of you just joining our Fandom In Progress (although I tend to subscribe to Jenny O's famous opinion that "I've been in fandom since 1998 and so have you," I'm sure there's someone out there who hasn't been, right? Right?), here's a quick recap. Slash, according to, I don't know, who the hell ever wrote these things down back in the day, is fanfic that posits a non-canonical homosexual relationship between ostensibly heterosexual characters. That's what all the "What Is Slash?" websites used to say, when I first discovered slash, and that's what Henry Jenkins, Our Father in Meta, tells us, so that may as well be our official definition.
Except that nobody likes it anymore. Because now we have fanfic that strips that "non-canonical" bit out of the definition, as well as some that strips out the "ostensibly heterosexual" bit, and even some that looks like slash and acts like slash but has a heterosexual pairing, and that's all without picking up our sharp sticks and poking the RPS issue.
In philosophy...there is theoretically a First Moral Principle (FMP) to all ethical systems. When two or more different moral rules come into conflict (oh, for example, "thou shalt not kill" versus "an eye for an eye"), and you can't do everything at once, you have to identify the FMP and let that be your deciding factor.....
So while I've been mulling over the definition of slash....it seems to me that we need to isolate the FMP of slash. If we're buying the Official Definition above, then we have three immediate options, and I reserve the right to think up more as I go along, and we'll think about some combinations further down the line.
FMP #1: SLASH IS NON-CANONICAL In other words, any time a fanfic writer alters the nature of the relationship away from what is endorsed/proven by Source Material, there be slash. This is similar to the BtVS-fandom concept of "Unconventional Pairings," except that the fucking with canon is even more central. Jim has hot monkey sex with Blair? Not in canon, he doesn't! It's non-canonical! Stuart has hot monkey sex with Vince? Not in canon, he doesn't! It's non-canonical! Angel has hot monkey sex with Kate? Not in canon, he doesn't! It's non-canonical! So if you write a story where any of these people are having hot monkey sex, it's slash. HOWEVER, if you write a story where Blair is merely pining miserably over Jim? Still non-canonical, BUT. If you write a story where Vince is pining miserably over Stuart? Canon. Not slash anymore. And if you write one where Kate would love to have sex with Angel, but feels she can't because he's a creepy soulless thing? Well, that's grey, isn't it? But pretty canonical. You could play it either way. You might call it slash, and maybe I wouldn't. Not that I'm ruling out FMP#1 for mere ambiguity. I happen to like ambiguity.
FMP #2: SLASH IS HOMOSEXUAL Well, this has become our de facto position in fandom, but the debate persists because not everyone is happy with this as a de facto definition. It does tend to prevent the ambiguity problem (unless you're writing, I don't know, Imajica slash with Gentle and Pie, and if you are, can you send me a link?) Generally, we all agree on what's m/m and what's f/f, and whether we're talking about Lana/Chloe or Willow/Tara, we know it's Very Gay, which equals Slash.
FMP#3: SLASH ALTERS THE CANON SEXUALITY OF A CHARACTER Nobody actually uses this one, but I thought I'd include it because it's interesting. If you write a story where Willow is secretly in love with Cordelia in high school, 'cause Cordy's so beautiful and perfect, and part of her hatred for Cordelia is sublimated attraction/anger at Cordelia for making her want things she doesn't want to want.... Well, we don't know that, but we do know that Willow is queer. If Beecher used to be in love with Ryan, or Phil used to date Vince, you have to make shit up to write that story, non-canonical stuff, but you're not messing with the basics of anyone's sexual identity. So maybe it's not slash. Maybe it's just fanfic that expands on what we do definitively know about a character, without causing any fundemental alterations.
It seems to me that...the problem is that "slash" as it exists now is fulfilling at least two distinct purposes, which don't always co-exist the way they once did. First, there's the need to screw with canon, to tease out the hidden things, to play with subtext and bend the landscape (a nice title for a pretty bad anthology series of gay-themed genre fiction) and *queer the text,* in the sense of altering it in some way by filtering it through our own needs and issues, psychosexually speaking. Second, there is the desire to read and write about queerness itself, the dynamics of same-sex relationships, characters who are not straight-identified, whether their not-straightness is something that we gain from canon or something we bring to the table as fanfic writers.
Basically, is your slash queer because it didn't really happen like that, or is your slash queer because it's not heterosexual?
Usually, you know, the answer is Yes. Usually, we're doing both in a fandom, although some stories will press harder one way or the other. But now that not everything we get from our mass media is unqualified...ed...ly (damn) heterosexual, you can have stories and pairings and whole fandoms that will only fulfill one of these two goals.Now, if I were trying to wrap this up cleanly, here's what I would suggest. I would suggest that we call Stories That Are Queer Because They Sit At an Angle to Canonical Reality something like UC stories or alt stories. And that we call Stories That Are Queer Because They Are About People Who Aren't Acting Very Straight something like queer fic. And that we call stuff that's UC/alt *and* queer...slash.
"The thing with slash is that when it started being written, there wasn't really any canonical homosexual relationships in the popular media, so they didn't need a term for the canon "slash" pairings. Now, while we don't have many homosexual pairings in the mass media, but we do have some -- and we still don't have a fannish term to describe them. I really doubt people are going to start labeling their stories about canonical homosexual relationships "homo," so what are we going to do? I really don't no problem using "slash" like how "het" is used (which is used for both canon and noncanon pairings) 'cause at the moment there is no better term to describe it. It's not the way I see it, but sometimes you gotta just go with the next best thing."
".....it does strike me that slash and queer lit are not the same thing, though one may be a subset of the other. But I think they *do* different things, and embody different conflicts somehow on the basis of *what* they do.
In a way, traditional slash was an offshoot of the romantic comedy in which there was a barrier to love and the pleasure came from watching the couple crash the barrier (whether that barrier was class, as it was traditionally) or ethnicity (c.f. West Side Story) or race or religion or whatever. With slash, it's sexual orientation that is often the barrier to be crashed. So--slash "does" romantic comedy....
....Slash does difference--I feel different, I may be abnormal, I am queer/strange--which is why it attracts so many quirky and interesting freaks....and iconoclastic types and nerds and wonks and smart girls who didn't get dates till college or ever or never wanted dates anyway cause they were busy being brilliant and getting patents. It may not even be textually about anything gay at all--it's the metaphor of strangeness that matters.
Queer lit, I'd say, simplifying the definition very much for this provisional theory--emphasizes sameness--I may seem different, but I am like you, I am a member of the human race. I love like you love, even though I do not love who you love.
Now complicating this even further... is the fact that some people slashed and still slash for representation reasons. I.e. "On the Enterprise, my desire can be normal--in the future, my difference will be integrated and acceptable--underneath, those characters on TV are just like me." I think this aspect of historical slash is the one under pressure, because the fact is that while slash is a fun place to gets your gay representation, thank God it's no longer the *only* place. You can go buy a mainstream novel now, a mainstream movie--and while, yeah, I dig, there's still not enough and it's not good enough, at least people didn't have to wait until Stardate Whateverthefuck.So (cough) I think that slash is being changed by this in many fundamental ways.
"If pressed, I think I'd *reverse* your definitions. When I think of queer lit, I think of stuff that challenges our sense of what's normative. When you queer a text, you play with issues of gender and sexuality, insiderness and outsiderness -- that's why so much fantasy and horror is inherently queer. It's interstitial, it's about alienness/alienation, it's the intrusion of the spectacular and potentially apple-cart-upsetting into our received notions of what the world is like. At least, that's my understanding of queer theory, or my memory of my understanding of it.... A lot of slash, on the other hand, doesn't challenge our definitons much at all, except by making both romantic partners same-gendered. Beyond that, it's still meet, attraction, resistance, wearing down of resistance, catalytic event, change in perspective, declaration of love, committed relationship. Obviously, that doesn't describe all love stories, het or slash, but an awful lot of them, I daresay even most of them. There's nothing inherently "queer" about it; we just like seeing boys do it to each other. Or girls, whichever. Not both, is the point.
"Er, what era of slash history are you talking about? Because when I look at what few historical documents I can find about why people started slashing in the first place, there's very little sense of slashers representing themselves as queer along with or through their characters, in the way you seem to suggest. This, in fact, seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon to me (although, I only got in fandom since '98, so maybe I'm wrong). If any representation was going on at all, it was the idea that the slasher (an adult woman) can be an active participant in an adult relationship (working, fraternal, and romantic) rather than relegated to object of desire and caretaker, even if she's doing it through a male avatar. 
"I didn't get into fandom in 1998, or even 1988 -- it was much closer to 1978 -- and the canonically thing? I don't get why you kids care so much about it.
Honestly, the first people I remember talking about it as a required tenet were newbies in the early 90's, freaking out that we were just starting to get actual gay characters on television. Old timers weren't so much online yet, and the newbies definitions seemed to have stuck. But don't kid yourself -- it wasn't part of the original definitions, and it still makes no real sense to me.
Slash is...fiction written by fans for fans containing a sexually-*charged* relationship between two same-sex media characters, usually men.Sure, some people never heard of the community, and by the time they find it, they've got 10 stories in a drawer somewhere, and they all feel like slash -- there are outlyers in all sets. But the fact that it's written by people influenced by a community of slash fans is way more important to me than whether the Tara/Willow story was written before, or after, they came out canonically.
"What I'm always wondering in these discussions (about the nature of slash and the motivations for it) is how many of the people who enjoy slash are really "slash fans", i.e. primarily fans of slash, for whom the slashiness of a show and/or the possibility to slash it is essential to whether something will become a fandom for them, and who are for the most part into a fandom or into fandom in general for the slash. I'm not a slash fan in that sense. I like to read slash, but I'm a fan of the source first and foremost. I don't read slash in all my fandoms, and I don't really pick fandoms due to their slashiness, though clearly character chemistry and buddy interaction that appeals to me, is also among the factors that you list that lead to the various types of slash. But I've never seen much difference between reading slash or any other type of fanfiction.... My point - lost as it is amidst the ramble - is, that for some fans who like slash, the slash isn't really the main point. Not that it hasn't some really cool things going for it as a genre in subverting heteronormative media with queerness or whatever theory you like, but that's not really why I read slash in a fandom X. Unless I read slash in fandom X for wildly different reasons than reading gen or het in fandom X without really knowing it. And it doesn't even really hit my kinks any better than other story types. I'm not turned on by the majority of slash stories, however there are also het and even gen stories that definitely push my buttons (again not the majority, but they exist). I think any unifying theory of why slash fans like the slash they like has to take into account the continuum of slash fans going from "like slash for the sake of slash preference with fandoms that are incidental to pushing slash button(s)" to "like fandom for the sake of fandom preferences with slash pairings fitting with fandom button(s)".
"Well, I don't think there's a grand unified field theory or anything. That's my main issue with academics who write about slash, really; they're often all "I have a theory," only without the catchy musical accompaniment. I only like generalizations about slash when I'm making them myself, you know? :-)
It's difficult to get anywhere with personal experiences vs statistical trends when talking about slash, because we don't really have any stats to refer to (or do we?), but everyone whose personal experience is different will say so. Maybe "slash fans don't like to be categorized" is the only generalization that won't go uncontested.Except that I'd quite like to be categorized. As long as it's done right, of course.
- reference link 1; reference link 2.
- bettyp. goes to motive, posted to livejournal 19 July 2002. reference link 1; reference link 2.
- What we talk about when we talk about slash, Archived version
- reference link 1 dated July 20th, 2002; reference link 2.
- comment in the What Is Slash? essay.
- comment in the What Is Slash? essay.
- bettyp's response to the above comment in the What Is Slash? essay.
- comment in the What Is Slash? essay.
- Sandy Herrold's comment in the What Is Slash? essay, quoted with permission.
- comment in the Motives for writing slash post.
- comment in the Motives for writing slash post.