More on "wave theory" in slash fanfic

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Title: More on "wave theory" in slash fanfic
Date(s): July 14, 2008
Medium: online
External Links: more on "wave theory" in slash fanfic; archive link
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More on "wave theory" in slash fanfic is a 2008 post by princessofgeeks.

The four main parts to this post is mention of discussion about The Wave Theory of Slash on cathexys' friendslocked journal, the reposting of a fan's modern take on the theory, a reposting of the original "Wave Theory" (albeit with an incorrect origin date), and many fan comments.

Loligo's Rendition of "The Wave Theory of Slash"

Loligo posted their version of "The Wave Theory of Slash" to cathexys' journal (which is friendslocked), but gave permission for it to be posted on princessofgeek's journal.

Loligo says:

"Here's me rephrasing the four slash waves in a way that makes sense to me:

(1) "We're not gay, we just love each other." The reader/writer has an intense crush on this pairing and this text; the pairing is wonderful and unique and special, and the text exists in a vacuum.

(2) "We love each other, so we're probably gay..." Readers/writers take the text out of the vacuum and situate it in the real world; they see real world issues of identity and power playing out in their favorite pairing (and throughout the text), and this is reflected in the fic they read and write.

(3) "... so very, very gay." This is the stage of slash goggles. Readers/writers situate the text in a group of similar texts and interpret it according to conventions developed together in previous fandoms. There's a particular dynamic that they're looking for, and together they seek out texts that allow (or can be stretched to allow) that dynamic.

(4) "How do you like my gay pants?" The true focus of this stage isn't the text, it's fandom. Readers/writers are fans of *each other*, and the texts they choose from are just the raw material they draw upon in creating things designed to please each other.

I think that in the history of slash this was a progression because fandom as a whole couldn't get to stage 3 without going through stage 2. But I don't know that stages 3 and 4 necessarily count as "progress", in the sense of improvement. I think they're just different kinds of engagement with stories and with fans -- kinds of engagement that aren't open to you until you've spent some time in fandom.

I think you can definitely return to stage 2 at any time -- for the length of a story, or even as your primary mode of engagement in a particular fandom. But I think you only get one first time: you can't go back to stage 1. Once you've seen context, you can't unsee it. Also, I think it's possible for new fans to skip right from stage 1 to stage 3 these days, now that our fannish foremothers have done the collective work of stage 2."

Reposting of the Original "Wave Theory of Slash"

princessofgeeks reposted the original "Wave Theory" by way of another fan's (palo_verde) post. It is slightly different from the actual original. The actual original is at: The Wave Theory of Slash.

Phase One: Character-based stories with slash

  • A. The relationship between the characters is the point of the story. Slash is a means to intensify that relationship.
  • B. These stories are almost exclusively set in the "real" broadcast universe as the writers' love of the show/characters as presented is what got them into fandom.
  • C. The writer invests a great deal of time making characters presented as heterosexual having sex with each other "believable". In these stories this relationship is not "homosexual" in the political or social sense. The sex acts are between two people of the same sex, but are not "realistic" in relation to the lives of homosexual men.
  • D. The writers are in fandom (in contact with other fans) and already writing non/slash stories. They view slash as the end of a progression. Would have no trouble classifying a sexless story as slash. Writers: Sebastian

Phase Two: Character-based slash

  • A. 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.
  • B. The majority of the stories are still in the "real" world, but it is a broader world. The few a/u stories are the "real" characters in another time. The reader has no trouble recognizing "aired" characters in these stories.
  • C. The sex in these stories is more realistic in that the writers have probably read "The Joy of Gay Sex", but the sex is still female-oriented.
  • D. Second wave writers are already a part of fandom and are readers of non/slash fan lit, but there is no doubt that reading slash gave them the impetus to write. Writer: Pam Rose

Phase Three: Slashing the characters

  • A. The slash relationship is central to the story. Without it, there would be no story. But, let me hasten to add, there IS a story complete with plot.
  • B. No emphasis on trying to convince the readers that these characters are having sex. The characterizations are based on 1st and 2nd wave stories as much if not more than the episodes.
  • C. Sex is more realistic in regards to actual homosexual practices. In these stories, one or both of the characters has experience with the same sex (other than the first-wave Bodie in Africa type of experience).
  • D. The writers were drawn into fandom by the slash. To them, there is no point in a sexless slash story.
  • E. Alternate Universe stories come into their own. The A/U is used to remove the characters from the strictures of the "real" world, or, to put it bluntly, to let the characters be out of character. Writer: Ellis Ward is a very good 3rd-wave writer.

Phase Four: Multimedia slash

  • A .Slash goes multi-media. It is commonly accepted that the only admission requirement for a male TV character to be slashed is a penis. The notion that there was something "special" about K&S or B&D, etc. that made them slashable is viewed with tolerant amusement by the 4th wavers.
  • B. The characterizations in multimedia are, for the most part, composite slash characterizations built from fan fiction in other fandom. It takes a VERY VERY good writer to do character-based slash for a show that has a limited audience because the readers buy-in is limited
  • C. Fourth wave sex, particularly for shows set in present-day America, is more sophisticated. Some stories have one or both characters being bi or homosexual, as opposed to just having some same-sex experience.
  • D. While the writer will be drawn into fandom by the virtue of writing, the readers don't get drawn into the fandom. While the writer will be drawn into fandom by the virtue of writing, the readers may remain fans outside of fandom. Writers: M. Fae Glasgow and whoever wrote the Holmes/Watson story in Kathy Resch's zine."

Excerpts from the Comments


Now I know how old I am because I remember sitting with Lezlie when she put this together ...


[Regarding the date of the original essay and where paper copies were originally dispersed to a wider audience]: Escapade and given the author examples she uses, I'd say '94 or '95 at the latest. I'm sure I have copies of all of this stuff in the files in the garage, academic packrat that I am. If I track it down I'll let you know.

oh, marvelous! Thank you!!!

We really need to have a better way to save these things...both the memories and the artifacts...thankfully there *are* academic packrats like you :)

i'm still thinking about this, and the wave theory does break down at some points, but i found it useful.

Cathexys said these authors named were from "The Professionals?" Is that Bodie/Doyle? Have I got that right?

I'm pretty sure that M Fae was writing for the Circuit (and those stories were only distributed by mail to a limited circle - never at conventions in the UK) in the late 1980s. But UK Pros fandom was odd, entirely slash, and entirely underground for at least the first 3 years while the series was still airing.

Blake's Seven fandom was even odder since it was limited to het and gen until the mid-80s. I wonder whether these 'waves' depend on the type of fandom, or the influence of the internets.
princessofgeeks: I wonder that, too! Everything moved much more slowly and methodically, and depended more on face to face, before the net, that's for sure. change was slower, and the various fanfic fandoms were much less aware of each other.

The Professionals, yes, and Bodie/Doyle. At the time I fell into it, it was pretty widely known as being "mostly slash, you know..."--often said with varying degrees of deprecation or disdain, depending. Those of us who knew we liked slash, though, just smirked and quietly traded addresses of zine editors we knew.

The slash zines often were to be found under the dealers' tables at the cons then, and you needed to ask for them.

I'm thinking fondly of "Professional Dreamer" by Pam Rose, right now, and wondering if I could find it if I went a-digging. It was AU, and a fun one.

See, now this is the wave theory concept I'm more familiar with -- though my initial exposure to wave theory was back in 2006 (Old Fandom, New Fandom, and melodrama) and involved the differences between zine fandom, mailing list & usenet fandom, and lj fandom.

Zine fic tended to be either first time slash, an action gen plot, or a combination of the two, was generally long, invariably contained h/c (or at least, all the good ones do), and was all about the character love and emotional gratification.

Mailing lists and listservs allowed for faster communication, more fan-to-fan interaction, and the beginning of posting WiPs. Long serial fics doled out in shirt doses, with plot and again, h/c, were the rule (the fic often reads about the same as far as emotional satisfaction goes; it's the dynamics of fan interaction that have changed). As far as I'm aware, listservs were also the place where headers and labels were polularised. Fic from lists was often posted on personal webpages.

With lj, fandom gained even more speed and interaction, as well as the ability to be truly multifannish and interconnected in a way that mailing lists (dedicated as they are to single fandoms or pairings) can't be. What it's lost is some of the sense of community that zine fandoms and lists had. There are also a lot more casual fans, people who don't OTP, people who don't have hard-core emotional investments in the source canon, but are there for the pr0n, or the meta, or the social interaction (not that older fen weren't also there for the pr0n and interaction, but you had to seriously, truly have love and committment for the characters to write zine fic for them for thirty years).

Then there's, which is its own, parallel thing. In some ways, it's a different community entirely, and all of the slash waves we're talking about here exist simultaneously there.

There's also yaoi fandom, which as far as I can tell seems to have two waves: the old school yaoi fans from the 2000-2003ish era, back during the heyday of, when the main source for anime was often fandubs and Sailor Moon and Speed Racer were the only anime most Americans had seen (things like Inuyasha and Gundam Wing were just starting to be shown on Cartoon Network), and the people writing yaoi fic were for the most part relatively serious anime/manga fans (the sort who order doujinshi in Japanese and read scanlations of manga years before the English version comes out from Tokyopop). Yaoi fandom has its own well defined trophes and cliches, some of them taken straight from shounen-ai and yaoi manga and some of them universal (like Duo Maxwell's lush violet orbs weeping crystal tears). Second wave is the (often younger) crowd who have arrived more recently, generally after seeing anime on television. They skew much younger, and while they still read manga and watch anime, often the same ones, they're not the same set of people.

Slash fandom got an influx of yaoi fans around the height of HP fandom, right when lj was getting started, and it would be interesting to try and analyze how that affected slash. Old school yaoi tended to be more openly embracing of kink than old school slash, for one thing, and the very concept of "chan" comes from there, but the more stylized yaoi also takes the "weepy, feminized/infantilized bottom" to a whole new level of cliche.

this is absolutely fascinating; thank you.

i know that yaoi has its own history and culture, and there's a dissertation in there somewhere for someone -- the impact of yaoi on HP!!!

thank you so much.

I had looked at the structural or historical waves of slash fandom -- how the infrastructure impacted the community. that's actually more what i feel comfortable talking about, because my formal training is in mass media studies and journalism. so looking at the WHERE of fandom is something I'm pretty okay with.... but the writerly or literary analysis is harder for me because i tend to be a fandom serial monogamist, plus i have no training in literary theory.

i love the gender studies and feminisim way of looking at slash, but again -- totally a acafan wannabe there too.

thanks so much for the thinky!

(from Metafandom)

Thanks so much for this post. You know, people seem to be interested in "wave" theory as a way to try to categorize slash historically, but I personally find it most useful in understanding my own reading preferences. I like "wave one" fics far more than fics that take fanon or fandom meta too much for granted ... I love UST and watching characters struggle with discovering they want to fuck their best friend/enemy/etc. within the canon universe. But those fics are far and few between in my fandom nowadays ... instead, most fics take established fanon characterization/relationships for granted.

Anyway, I always had trouble trying to find a way to describe this ... saying I prefer my slashfics to be as "canonical" as possible just always seems wank-stirring because of course definitions of "canon" differ. This "wave theory" offers a much more value-free way of making the same argument, so I appreciate your round-up here. :D

thank you!

it's so great to hear your summation, because you are approaching this from exactly the same way I have been -- I have concluded, finally and mostly on the basis of loligo's wonderful shorthand, that the waves in slash are useful both as a way of categorizing styles of fic AND as a description of the historial development of slash. Of course there are exceptions and no generalization is universal, but I have found it a good way to make some distinctions that I find helpful...

I do think I am a second wave writer in a third and fourth wave world, and that makes a huge difference.

I think cathexys was seeing what you see in terms of canon, but to me the idea of canon means that third- and fourth-wave fic are not "uncanonical", but that they take more things as a given -- they assume the audience has its slash goggles on and go from there.

I think my personal preference, since I've been interested in issues of identity and psychology and inner change, and of course, the emo porn, make it most likely that I would continue to like second wave fic.....