Romantic Myth, Transcendence, and Star Trek Zines

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Academic Commentary
Title: Romantic Myth, Transcendence, and Star Trek Zines
Commentator:
Date(s): 1986 (as a chapter in book)
Medium:
Fandom:
External Links:
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Romantic Myth, Transcendence, and Star Trek Zines is a chapter by Patricia Frazer Lamb and Diana L. Veith in the 1986 book called "Erotic Universe: Sexuality and Fantastic Literature."

It was originally a 1982 oral presentation called: "The Romantic Myth and Transcendence: A Feminist Interpretation of the Kirk/Spock Bond." The text of the oral presentation was reprinted with permission in the 1985 Sime~Gen zine Post-Syndrome: Considerations on Sexuality in the Sime/Gen Universe. While the topic and contents of the book chapter and the oral presentation are quite similar, the 1986 version is much revised.

"Romantic Myth, Transcendence, and Star Trek Zines" is oft-cited, and a very early example of acafandom.

Joanna Russ cited it her early works, as does Henry Jenkins in Textual Poachers.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Leslie Fiedler and "Love and Death in the American Novel"

Excerpts from the Article

This is a science fiction variation on Fiedler's thesis: The white hero and his nonwhite male partner leave-escape-reject "feminine" civilization to seek their destiny in the dangerous frontier; in doing so, they unwittingly push back the frontier; and women, bourgeois conventionality, law and order, and civilization follow close behind them. The frontier here, "the final frontier," is space. Kirk, the white male hero, has taken flight both figuratively and literally. Spock, like Chingachgook in Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans," is a prince among his own people, but his being half-alien, which is underscored by his color as well as his other Vulcan attributes, ensures that he will never "pass" in a Federation still dominated by Human (analogically, white) males.
Nevertheless, however romantic the K/S zines may be, Kirk's and Spock's relationship is not analogous to the relationship between the man and a woman. The ST universe as defined by NBC and Paramount is ruled by men. Only one woman (in "The Enterprise Incident") ever held command, and she is a Romulan. A human woman and Kirk's former lover, Janice Lester, is driven mad by her frustrated aspirations, in "The Turnabout Intruder" episode, because she cannot reconcile the limitations still imposed on her gender in the twenty-third century with her "unnatural" ambitions for command. Women are stereotypically portrayed in the ST episodes as being less competent and less trustworthy than men; more sentimental, fearful, and gullible; more often moved by their feelings and petty desires.
In K/S zines, Kirk is still an outstanding success in a patriarchal system . Behind his enjoyment of battle, however, he appears at times almost to have a death wish, event in the incredible risks he continually takes. Yet Spock must suppress his protectiveness, his temptations to to domesticate or tame Kirk, which he recognizes would alienate his bondmate and reduce his effectiveness. Rather than attempt to make Kirk more cautious, Spock's solution is always to accompany his lover into danger, to be there to protect, save, or perish with him. Their adventures are shared. There are no wives. No one stays at home to worry or do the laundry.
But why don't women write and read about women doing what Kirk and Spock do? The answer is that, given the historical and current limitations imposed on women, it stretches even the level of credibility required of science fiction to imagine believable female characters who, like Spock and Kirk, "can save the universe once a week," as one zine editor puts it. Traditionally, women have had little difficulty indentiying with fictional male heroes. K/S zines are read by women because they present a new kind of relationship that a growing number of women see as an ideal.
K/S stories remove gender as a governing and determining force in the love relationship. The lovers may have many problems to confront, but on problem common to contemporary women never arrises; one partner's inferior sexual rank in a sexist society. Joanna Russ has commented, "The 'What if' behind K/S is: What if I Were Free?" These novels, stories, and poems are not about sex or gender; they are certainly not about male homosexuality as such; and, despite appearances, they are not even commentaries on the romantic love story. Rather, they provide a vision of a new way of loving and especially a vision of new possible for women. They are about the possibility of joining integrity to the self with fidelity to one's partner. This investigation of possibles occurs in the vast arena of fantasy and science fiction, where anything is possible.

Some Comments

1993

With Russ [it was the] first academic work on slash. K/S only: gives history, examples. Gives chart of androgynous qualities of Kirk and Spock which gives slash writers opportunity to present them as not simply masculine or feminine, but whole people, in a relationship that joins personal integrity to fidelity to partner. Slave, masochistic stories not mentioned here. [1]
But you know who helped me [discover slash], was Pat Lamb, in her piece. A little note, right down at the bottom of the page, gave the address to Datazine and On the Double [2]. In other words, she wasn't really giving anything away, but if you were really grabbed by this, you could write and that could be, like, the beginning of the thread, you had a way in if you really wanted to pursue it. [3]

1994

Over the Christmas break I read Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, a collection of essays by romance writers, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, herself a romance writer. So much of they said shouted "slash" at me, and raised questions about the Patricia Lamb & Diana Vieth article in particular, that I binged on trashy novels to see how similar the two forms are.

[snipped]

Lamb & Vieth, and Joanna Russ following them, say slash is androgynous romance, a romance between equals, and so on. The first time I read it I wondered what they'd been reading because that isn't what I'd found at all in B7. They stuck only to K/S, as do Russ and Penley, probably because their audience is not likely to know B7, Pros, and some of the others. But their comparison to romances, the implied critique of the unequal power distribution and split of character traits in romances, and thought it sounded right. After reading romances, however, and the author's analyses of what they're doing, I disagree with L&V. That is, I agree with their chart and the idea that Kirk and Spock both (usually) end up with mixed male and female traits as they're assigned by tradition, but I disagree that this is not true in romances and always true across slash universes. [4]

2012

Like the discourse(s) about lesbian/feminist "cross-writers," Joanna Russ equally erases the "fag" out of the "fag hag," by referring to the -- now unfortunately irretrievable -- lecture by Diana Veith and Patricia Frazer Lamb on the 1982 Conference on Fantasy, "The Romantic Myth and Transcendence: A Feminist Interpretation of the Kirk/Spock Bond." By declaring that Kirk and Spock are not "really" gay men in K/S fiction, but "only nominally male" -- a metaphor for "love and sex as women want them, whether with a man or with another woman" -- the female slash fan's/writer's attraction to "male homosexuality" is neglected/declared to be a substitution mechanism" once again. In their paper in Donald Palumbo's anthology "Erotic Universe: Sexuality and Fantastic Literature" (1986), Patricia Frazer Lamb and Diana Veith amplify this point of view. Based on the insight of feminist science fiction studies that the "alien" as the "other" symbolizes the "woman," Veith and Frazer argue that Spock is no "real man," but essentially "androgynous" in the zine stories. [5]

References

  1. a 1993 K/S Bibliography, MPH's personal collection
  2. This fan is mis-remembering. The zines titles and addresses were Datazine, Universal Translator, and zines by Roberta Rogow.
  3. a comment at a 1993 Escapade panel
  4. from Strange Bedfellows APA #4
  5. from "Naughty Girls and Gay Male Romance/Porn: Slash Fiction, Boys' Love Manga , and Other Works by Female 'Cross-Voyeurs' in the U.S. Academic Discourses" by Carola Katharina Bauer (2012)