Romancing the Slash

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Title: Romancing the Slash
Creator: S.E. Thompson
Date(s): likely late 1996
Medium: print, online
Fandom: Blake's 7-centric
Topic:
External Links: Romancing the Slash
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Contents

Romancing the Slash is an essay by S.E. Thompson. It was first published in the zine AltaZine 3 and subsequently archived online.

The Essay

Note: the odd formatting of the original online version has been corrected in what is posted below.

One of the joys of B7 pornography is its enormous variety.In a series that included as regular characters at various times a total of six men, five women, and three AIs, there are a great many possible pairings (not to mention more complicated groupings), and a surprisingly high percentage of them have been written up as stories. Nevertheless, amidst all this variety, there are two favorite combinations that account for more stories than everything else together. Both are male/male slash. Explanations for why this should be so include the general popularity of slash (whatever the deep seated psychoanalytical reasons for that may be), and the fact that on the original show, the male characters were better developed than the female ones. But I think there is yet another reason for the popularity of these two types of stories: they correspond to classic prototypes in romantic fiction.

It has been noted by a number of people that slash is essentially a specialized form of romance. The overwritten style, the torrents of torrid emotion, and even the explicitt sex are all characteristic of the romance field. In fact, a great deal of amusement can be had by taking the commercial romance of your choice and substituting the names of your favorite media slash couple, with appropriate changes in the plumbing wherever necessary. (I am indebted to Jennara Wenk for introducing me to this game.) Romance as a genre is known for its very clearly delineated parameters; certain specific types of stories recur over and over again. The two that are most readily recognizable in B7slash are, in chronological order of appearance, the bodice-ripper and the Gothic.

The classic romantic scenario that applies to first- and second-series B7 is the Taming of the Shrew plot-- what I'd call a bodice-ripper. Apparently the term "bodice-ripper" has even more definitions than "Mary Sue," but I use it to mean a story set in some previous century, with elaborate and colorful costumes, in which a feisty, argumentative heroine succumbs more or less reluctantly to the overpowering charm of a masterful hero. Their encounters are always emotionally intense and sometimes physically violent. In recent years the bodice-ripper has gone out of favor in the romance field because it is so blatantly politically incorrect, but it is alive and well in B7 fanfic in the form of Blake/Avon slash. It is, after all, a rather obvious eroticization of what was actually going on the show. Which characters had the most intense relationship? Who was constantly arguing? Who always won the arguments, not by logic but by force of charisma? The political seduction that was seen on the screen can be reinterpreted in fiction as a romantic and sexual seduction by those so inclined. It's true that leather doesn't rip very well, but black silk shirts tear nicely.

The show itself changes greatly in the third and especially the fourth series, and so does the associated romantic storyline.Now the classic prototype is the Gothic: a sweet little thing falls for a dangerous man, even though she knows he's bad news byany rational standard. By the fourth season, you've got the perfect Gothic hero-- sinister, smoldering, tormented by his darkpast, and quite possibly crazy. But when you start looking for a suitably hapless, put-upon Gothic heroine, you run into problems. None of the women will do; they just don't cower properly. (A few writers have tried to force Cally into this part, but most don't see her as such a wimp. Besides, by the time Avon gets truly weird, she's out of the picture anyway.) There's really only one possible choice for the role of Gothic heroine, and it ain't a girl. A B7 Gothic romance has pretty much got to be Avon/Vila.

What's so bizarre about B7 slash overall is the drastically different role played by one and the same character in the two favorite scenarios. The spitfire heroine of the bodice-ripper becomes the brooding hero of the Gothic. It's as if halfway through the story, Scarlett O'Hara turned into Heathcliff. Note, however, that the focus of erotic attention remains the same. We've gone from "She's a hellcat, but I love her anyway," to "I think he's trying to kill me, but I love him anyway." No doubt we'd all like to think that we could be as nasty as Avon and beloved anyway, which I suspect has much to do with the appeal of both types of story.

Ever since I identified these two plotlines, I've wondered whether there might be any other classic romantic set-ups that B7 characters can be shoehorned into. I've been speculating about an Avon/Tarrant scenario. This one would be a contemporary, I think, about a couple who have to work together even though they don't much like each other, and who fight constantly until, to their mutual surprise, they finally squabble their way into each other's arms. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year, perhaps? Or maybe Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen? I can't quite see Tarrant as Katharine Hepburn, but I suppose it's no worse than Avon as Scarlett O'Hara.