Slash - for and against

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Title: Slash - for and against (title on The hermit.org B7 essays table of contents)
Creator: Neil Faulkner and Judith Proctor
Date(s): Summer 1996
Medium: print, online
Fandom: Blake's 7
Topic:
External Links: Blake's 7 - SLASH - FOR AND AGAINST, Archived version
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Slash - for and against is series of essays and commentaries by Neil Faulkner and Judith Proctor.

The main essay was printed in Altazine #2 (1996) and later posted to Lysator, mailing list.

It has three follow-up commentaries.

The first is by Judith Proctor and is called "Judith's Counter-Attack." It's original publication place is unknown. It may be in Altazine as well, and it may have been on a mailing list referred to as "one of the B7FWN's circuits," or it may have been posted to Lysator. It now resides at hermit.org.

The second is by Neil Faulkner and is called "You Expect Me to Let Her Have the Last Word?" Again, its original publication place is unknown and may have been posted to "Lysator." It now resides at "hermit.org."

The third response is by Judith Proctor and is called "Additional Commentary." It was posted to Lysator.

Neil Faulkner's Introduction

Ed's note - this article grew out of my response to *White Mutiny*, a story by Judith which she passed around on one of the B7FWN's circuits. It's only fair to point out that she did so knowing that none of the other participants would be outraged, offended etc at having some hard slash pop through their letterbox. I won't summarise the story here, since that wouldn't be fair on any slash fan who hasn't read the story but might get to do so one day. Suffice it to say that it is a B/A piece which gets pretty explicit towards the end. My comments here may have been provoked by *White Mutiny*, but I feel they are pertinent to a broad swathe of slash, *WM* being what I construe to be a representative example of the genre. Judith has asked me to point out that although she and I disagree very strongly on this issue, this is not a bitter falling out as sometimes happens between fans etc. I would like to think that anyone else with strong views on this subject can maintain the same sense of proportion.

"Slash - A Case Against"

By Neil Faulkner:

I'm growing more and more disillusioned with the whole idea of slash, and ever more sceptical of the motives for writing it, and this story seems to exemplify the reasons for my progressive alienation from the genre. Blake and Avon are grossly distorted for what amounts to nothing more than writing a kinky thrill. Like most of the (admittedly little) slash I've read, it contrives circumstances to justify the sex and then stops. It is, in short, an act of surrogate conquest with no sticky fingers to wipe clean afterwards.

Despite not having read much slash, I've become attuned (or misattuned) to at least some of the conventions of the genre, and they seem to be well represented here. The key elements, as I perceive them, are as follows.

(1) An exaggerated focusing on the Blake/Avon relationship, with an emphasis on a one-way dependency (in this case, Blake's dependence on Avon) which probably didn't exist to anything like the degree suggested here.

(2) The introduction of a sexual dimension to their interaction, for no better reason than the writer wanting there to be one.

(3) The acceptance by one or both characters for an actively homosexual resolution of the relationship without any justification for such acceptance. In this case "...(Blake) knew Avon wanted him, and that knowledge was *potent and erotic*." The whole story rests effectively on that italicised clause. If Blake hadn't found Avon's behaviour 'potent and erotic', then nothing that follows could reasonably happen. But Blake's response is only really credible in terms of this being a slash story - taken out of the slash context, there is nothing to prepare the reader for accepting Blake's response as believable. I'm not saying there's any reason why Blake shouldn't be homo/bisexual, but this *a priori* assumption that he is, without prior elaboration, is an intrinsic weakness of the story. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Blake is homosexually inclined - why hasn't he noticed Avon in this way before, or, if he has, why hasn't the reader been informed of the fact. Conversely, if he has hitherto been rigidly heterosexual, why is this sudden awakening of his homosexual side neglected vis-a-vis his personal reactions to it (fear, loathing, curiosity, whatever) - all we get is his ready acceptance of his sudden attraction to Avon.

(4) The deployment of graphic sex as a means of working out the power relationship between the characters. This ties in with my arguments elsewhere (eg, HLZ 14) that the sex in slash is frequently metaphoric, but also further implies that the emotional element of the resolution is diverted from what it ought to be in order to fit the translation into the sexual metaphor. The emotional reactions are to physical stimuli - fondling, bondage, penetrating and being penetrated - rather than the psychological stimuli they are intended to represent. The emotional reactions thus lose their validity, and by doing so weaken the justification for the sexual element being there in the first place. The sex, therefore, essentially becomes a cop out, since it fails to fulfil its supposed purpose. It is exposed as just another cheap thrill, whilst masquerading as something 'more', or 'better' than just another cheap thrill. At least the PWP romparama is honest.

(5) The story is not about sexual politics. It is about non-sexual interpersonal politics translated, on a very flimsy basis, into sexual terms. The sex thus becomes doubly meaningless - having eschewed the responsibilities implies by its psychological powerplays, it then refuses to take up the new responsibilities implies by its sexual powerplays. In doing so it becomes a means without an end, declining to acknowledge why it was written in the first place. A story such as this amounts to - when you get down to it - a lie. It is a conspiracy between writer and reader that will not even admit to being a conspiracy.

"Judith's Counter-Attack"

By Judith Proctor:

Firstly I don't think Neil understands the genre at all. His comment is that the characters are grossly distorted, yet looking at the feedback on the same story from other members of the circuit there seems to be a general feeling that Blake and Avon (particularly Avon) are accurately portrayed with the exception of the scene where Blake thumps Avon (which I've since rewritten). And given that two of the readers are confirmed non-slash fans, that has to say something.

Russ interjects here. I'm one of the non-slash fans that Judith refers to above. I took my role as being criticism of the piece *within the framework of it being slash*. That meant that I found the portrayal of Blake and Avon to be convincing *given that* I was reading a slash story. It would have been as pointless to say that I didn't find their mutual attraction credible as it would have been to argue that FTL travel is a scientific impossibility when reading a gen B7 story - you accept the conventions of the genre, or you ignore the work completely IMO. Archivists may want to excise this paragraph, since it wasn't part of the original article.

Motives for writing slash are manyfold and it is as inaccurate to lump all slash stories together as it is to pump all gen ones. If a kinky thrill was all that was required, *White Mutiny* would have come out very differently. I got stuck for a couple of weeks in the middle of writing the story because I needed a way for Avon to defeat Blake by giving in to him. Once I had that (with a little help from M Fae) then I was able to resolve the story. The relationship, as almost any slash fan will tell you, is as important as the sex. If the relationship feels wrong then the sex usually fails to be erotic. Some slash fans enjoy mainstream porn, but the majority don't. It holds no interest because the relationship isn't there.

I suspect *White Mutiny* is probably the most explicit story I've ever written, and I'll freely admit that I find it very erotic, and others do too. But - and it is a big but - slash covers the whole range. The story I wrote after *White Mutiny* had no sex at all. It's a moot point as to whether it was even technically a slash story - the only kiss in it was non-sexual in intent. I didn't write that story because I felt guilty about sex - far from it. I wrote it because I wanted to explore the Blake/Avon relationship and for that particular story, this was the best way of doing it. A lot of slash writers also write gen. At least three B7 slash editors also publish genzines. There's almost a continuum from Hard SF through h/c to slash stories without sex (of which there are quite a few) all the way to extremely explicit material. Slash has just as high a percentage of badly written stories as genzines do, and any comparison on the grounds of plot quality should at least be based on a broader reading. I'll freely admit that some is totally dire, but there are also writers who can produce a sex scene from minimal plot without making it look at all forced.

Odd that Neil should comment on Blake's dependence on Avon, as most B/A slash stories have the relationship the other way around.

Introducing a sexual dimension because the writer wants it - YES! (And this would apply to any pairing from Avon/Cally to Dayna/Lauren).

To move on to Neil's comments about justifying the characters being homosexual or bisexual. The answers are as follows:

- as Neil himself says, Blake's response is only credible in the context of a slash story. As this is a slash story, I can't see the problem.

- if Blake hadn't reacted to Avon's attraction, then it would have been a different story. I've already written a story in which Blake was 100% straight, so why do it again? Bisexual Avon and straight Blake only gives a finite number of ways of resolving a story and most of them aren't terribly interesting, although I do have one more story in mind on that general theme.

- prior elaboration: can you imagine if every slash story had to include a few sentences to explain why Blake has never noticed Avon before, or why he has never realised he is attracted to men before? Gets very repetitive, very fast. Besides, it isn't necessary. I knew my husband for several months before falling abruptly in love with him over a game of mah- jong. We'd played it plenty of times before. Why should that evening have been any different? If it can happen to me, why can't it happen to Blake?

Sex in my writing is often metaphoric; I'm not so sure that this applies to other writers. I use different metaphors in gen writing, but I still use them. It doesn't reduce the validity of what the act also represents in its own right.

I think you're missing the point with regard to physical, emotional and psychological reactions. The three are very intertwined, particularly so for women. Take rape as an example. No matter what the rapist does physically to his victim, he is unlikely to induce an orgasm because the emotional relationship is wrong. It is not just a question of what is being done, it is a question of who is doing it and why.

"The story is not about sexual politics" - I'm not sure I understand most of this paragraph, but the story is essentially about revenge - the white mutiny. This was operating on two levels, not just the sexual one.

That's enough ranting on slash for now. I shall go and get back to a gen story that is largely concerned with concepts of justice and truth.

"You Expect Me to Let Her Have the Last Word?"

By Neil Faulkner:

Neil and Judith - two little petty imperialists divided by a common language. First off, I was writing *in response to* White Mutiny, not *about* it. And it doesn't matter a squit whether some slash writers write gen or not, or how good their actual writing is. The fault, if any, is in the writing of slash itself.

Exactly what is slash about? What is the idea, the central *concept* that it is trying to state? Why is it written in such humongous quantities? I can't help getting the impression that the last person to ask is a slash writer because she doesn't know, or if she does then she doesn't *want* to know, and certainly doesn't want anyone else to.

To say that the relationship is as important as the sex is about as myopic a retort as I can imagine. The two are inseparable the sex *is* the relationship. Slash defines relationships as sex. And the relationship is the sex - sex, according to slash, is about relationships. In this it differs from impersonal, male-oriented pornography, but it still seeks to deliver the goods (and who knows, maybe even win a coveted Stiffie). It is still a kinky thrill, but on the strength of its emotional, as well as its physical, content.

It's a kinky thrill because it's as far removed from actuality as any three girl teenage dormitory romp on some Swedish import video. (Actually the last one I saw was German and set in a harem. Superficially exciting, but only with critical faculties switched off.) It's an idealisation, a fantasy, and - like all pornography - an insidious distortion. Pornography objectifies and dehumanises. Slash is no more an attempt to analyse and explore - and hence come to terms with - male sexuality any more than Dirty Dora meets Insatiable Inga is for the female counterpart. *Both* masquerade as a reality that simultaneously placates, reassured, excites and assuages on a tacitly communal level within an arena of mystique and secrecy constructed to occlude, not reveal, the mystery of human sexual relations.

Both conventional porn and slash seek to redefine - and in doing so, escape from - the actuality of such relationships by bringing them into line with a consensual gender-oriented sense of experience. The dehumanised woman in male porn bonks away for the sheer hell of it, passed from partner to partner as if that's what she always wanted. (I'm not saying there's no such thing as female promiscuity - of course there is. But I don't somehow see the actuality of it correlating too closely with what does the home video circuit.) The male protagonists of slash plunge into an emotional depth of a nature quite alien to typical male experience. Thus on the one hand we have women acting as men would want them to behave, and on the other, men behaving as women would ideally like them to. This is what I mean when I say slash is not about sexual politics - it refuses to explore the actuality of the socially sanctioned distribution of power in sexual relationships and the legitimised means of wielding it.

A question emerges - are the male protagonists of slash dehumanised in the way the women are in conventional pornography? I would say that they are *mis*humanised, which might be a step in the right direction, but ultimately does neither them, nor the slash writers many favours. There are, in fact, a lot of things going for slash. It provides women with the power of control that pornography bestows. It contravenes and hence subverts, traditional ideas of male sexual behaviour. It offers an erotic outlet in a society where male erotic demands are allowed to run rampant and largely unchallenged. It gives voice to women's fantasies and women's desires and ideals that are elsewhere bludgeoned into silence. That's why I think slash as a right to be written, and read.

My misgivings lie more in the way slash stubbornly refuses to address what it is and why it is. It's the right stuff written by the wrong people. It is denied the right to justify its own existence. It can only reiterate, with constant variations (like the change of face on every other page of *Knave*), the same decontextualised, mishumanised, blindly fantasised and ultimately unattainable ideal.

Excerpts by Judith from "Additional Commentary"

Neil is wrong in one respect though (and it's his lack of experience of slash that leads to this particular mistake) White Mutiny is not typical of the slash genre. It was originally aimed at Oblaque, and readers of Oblaque will know that it was far more explicit and psychological than most other slash zines. (I think Neil had been loaned some copies of Oblaque by another fan) It has to be said though, that I am sure Neil would dislike the 'holding hands, tender loving care' style of slash even more. His dislike of the genre is largely based on what he percieves as the emotionalisation of the characters, and as a very rough rule of thumb, the milder the sex, the flowerier the flowers and the more bleading the hearts.

Neil tends to think in terms of concepts. I suspect he would rather have a story based around somebody dealing with society's restrictions on their sexuality. Hr tends to think in sociological terms. I'm sure he won't mind my referring to his current story in progress in this context. He is in fact writing about a lesbian police officer in a Federation society where same sex activities are frowned on and dealt with severely. He's looking at the way this affects things like promotion prospects, the possibilities of blackmail, the necesity to try and live a double life on occasion, the character's prepardness to commit suicide if ever the wrong people knock on her door, etc. It's well written and contains no sex. That I think it what Neil means by concept.

I approach things from an individual level instead. Thus, I can write a story about the way one individual sees prejudice. (Bottle of Wine) It can be read as an Avon/VilaSoolin story with no deeper meaning, but I know what I was trying to put into it when writing it, and hopefully some readers will find what I intended.

White Mutiny has a concept too, or a theme as I'd rather call it. It's about the nature of power and the way that a person percieves himself. How important is a man's self-image to him? This is critical to the story's resolution and also means that even though the story comes to an end, the characters cannot go back to exactly where they were before.

Neil and I have very different styles. I think we'd both agree that he is very good at developing complex societies, power structures and writing extremely effective descriptions. He's a dab hand at colloquial dialogue. Where I tend to do better (and I'm roughly paraphrasing what I can remember of Neil's comments from the writer's circuit I mailed onwards last week) is in knowing what the characters want and what they are trying to get out of a situation. I know what they want to say.

Neil has said in the past that relationships are largely a blank area to him. He doesn't claim to understand people well. I think most slash fans, particularly those who don't go for the very explicit stuff, will disagree with that paragraph. Pople who don't read slash but enjoy hurt/comfort stories may also understand the point. h/c is essentially read for the relationships. The broken arm or whatever is no more the 'relationship' than sex is in a slash story. (Neil also hates h/c <grin>)...

Slash can be an attempt to analyse and explore. I would certainly put some of M.Fae Glasgow's work in that area and I try to use it that way myself on occasion. Not always - I write some purely for fun - but others use sex as a way of gaining different insights into a character's mind.

And one final comment -

Slash is merely one variety of the alternative universe type of story. Approximately 1 in 10 of the general population is said to be gay, so any given character being gay or bi is not that improbable. In essence, assuming a character to be gay is a lot less unlikely than assuming that they will visit a planet inhabited only by two ghosts or that the crew will be in exactly the right place to rescue Ensor's son and thus obtain Orac.