Slash Fiction is Like a Banquet
|Title:||Slash Fiction is Like a Banquet|
|Date(s):||March 19, 1999|
|External Links:||at Arduinna's site; WebCite |
at Sandy's site.
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Slash Fiction is Like a Banquet is an essay written by Arduinna in early 1999 in response to a mailing list discussion about the rash of very similar, often very short, stories being posted at the time.
Some fans know it as "the hummus essay" due to the topic of hummus, as well its title on Sandy Herrold's site, Confessions of a Fannish Butterfly. On Sandy's site's main page, the essay was called: "Slash is a banquet! (but all I can find is hummus)." 
The central metaphor of the essay: the world of slash fandom is like a banquet to which we each bring a beloved dish...but once it becomes customary to bring lemon-garlic hummus from the store, everyone starts bringing the same thing, and as a result our feast is impoverished.
[wickedwords]: From what I know: There was a discussion on the sentinel slash list run by bast (it was not long after it started)) and low and behold a critique discussion start right around the time that I subbed. I lurked, forwarding interesting bits to sherrold as one does--even though this was of course forbidden behavior--and the one of those posts was the post on Hummus. After contacting aka_arudinna about it, sherrold hosted it until trickster went tits-up years ago, and by that time, it was out and about, hosted on her own site and I think the symposium.
[aka arduinna]: hee! I thought it was you who forwarded it to sherrold, but I wasn't positive. It was actually a pan-fandom list (oneslash), not a Sentinel list, and -- hm. I'm not sure if Bast ran it, now that I think about it. That hadn't been in my head, but it's possible. Huh.
[wickedwords]: Yes, it was I, in my former guise as fomenter of critical thought. Or rather, as someone who recognized a good essay when she saw one, and loved passing them around. I know it was Bast's list, but I'd forgotten it was pan-fandom. There were so many Sentinel people on it, I'd forgotten it was supposed to be a multi-fandom list.
[aka arduinna]:Heh. Yeah, everything was Sentinel in those days. Man. I gotta give props, though; for all that I disagree with Bast's stance about practically everything, she's actually a good list admin, doesn't shut down discussions she doesn't agree with. Go figure! 
Later Comments by ArduinnaIn 2007, Arduinna offered insight into the origins of the essay:
Does anyone remember the context of Slash Fiction Is Like a Banquet?
I do. *g*
But first -- a friend pointed me here, and I have to say I'm tickled pink that people are still reading and talking about this essay. This is so cool!
The context was pretty specific, actually, but I'm delighted that the metaphor was open enough that people could get so much out of it.
I wrote it one Saturday during a list discussion on... er. A pan-fandom slash discussion list on onelist, which in my head is called "oneslash" but I'm not entirely certain that's correct. The memory, sometimes she fails me.
Anyway, iirc (it's been a while!) the conversation was one of the interminable rehashes of public discussion about stories, and whether it's okay to say you don't like a story or whether you should only ever praise things. As always, several people on the list were vehemently insisting that no one ever say anything negative in any way about any story, because omg, if writers are not praised to the sky at all times, they will stop writing! And then there would be nothing to read! (With the general implication being that if there were even a chance that someone might not be praised because fandom said it was okay to say you don't like a story, that authors would be too intimidated to ever post anything.)
A few of us (me, z_rayne, a few others) were trying to point out that sheer quantity isn't everything, and people have a right to have their own taste in fiction and say so, etc. And pointing out that if a writer is producing nothing but poorly written dreck, encouraging her just results in *more* dreck, and at least saying "um... spellcheck? maybe?" might make it more palatable. (The dreck in question, to clarify, was a spate of people posting what amounted to story *ideas*, without bothering to flesh anything out at all, posted as fast as they could type them up, and expecting to be praised for that.)
The return argument was that dreck was better than nothing, so quitcherbitchin', already, and be thankful that people were writing anything at all.
So I started writing up a reply. The arguments I'd been making, about stories per se, were just making people defensive, so I decided a metaphor was in order. And I was, um. Really hungry. *g*
I know, not very uplifting!
I originally had only intended it for a list post, within the specific conversation that was taking place that weekend; it wasn't until someone (sherrold, who iirc had been forwarded the email by someone else) wrote to me asking if she could put it up on her site as a guest rant that it occurred to me that it might work as a broader-themed essay. Shortly thereafter, I got a site of my own and put it up there as well.And that is the context of the essay! I'm really chuffed that people are getting more out of it, and that it seems to be staying relevant. Too cool.
I have to say something about the article itself. <g> I got rather tired of the 'banquet' references. Way overdone for my tastes. One or two paragraphs were fine, but 13 paragraphs later I just wanted her to come out and *say* exactly what she meant. I've read better essays on the subject. I just never save the URL's. 
To me, slash fiction is like a banquet, except there's no food, no guests and everyone hates each other. 
What *I've* noticed in online fandom is a defensiveness (or maybe it's just the fandom[s] I'm involved in) whereby a few terrible incidents make writers gunshy (as well as incredible divisions by character - but that's another issue). There have been some people who used the 'quality' and 'improvement' arguments as a ploy to get everyone to write the way *they* want. There have been others who flamed stories, using "I only want you to improve" as an excuse for tearing the author to shreds.And then there's what was best explained in Arduinna Finn's essay, "Slash fiction is like a banquet (but all I can find is hummus)" - http://trickster.org/fannishbutterfly/hummus.html On one hand, there's the "if we don't encourage writers to write, nobody will write anymore" phenomenon, which is good, but it also makes people afraid to be critical in any way for fear people will stop writing, which is obviously bad. On the other hand, people get so used to the 'hummus' that they don't know what to do with a good 'souffle' ("But we like hummus! The souffle is just so... different.") 
I remember reading an essay once complaining about the state of slash fiction (which personally isn't my thing, but I understand that there are lots of people who like it and more power to them, say I). Anyway, this essay was called "Slash Fiction Is Like a Banquet," and was chiefly notable in my opinion for stretching a metaphor involving lemon-garlic hummus way too far.However, the other thing that stood out in my mind involved the essayist complaining (couched in metaphorical language) that she was tired of putting time and effort and care into writing slashfiction works only to have them receive exactly the same level of applause as works that she felt were quite mediocre; she ended this complaint with the phrase "And she wondered why in gods name she even bothered." I was quite struck by that statement, because while I understand that it can be discouraging to put a lot of effort into writing something that goes unnoticed, "why even bother" isn't what I would consider an appropriate response. I personally try to make everything I write, fanfiction or original fiction, as good as it can be, whether or not anyone reads it, simply for my own personal satisfaction and in order to serve the story and tell it as well as I can. I would hope that other authors do the same (the state of fanfiction.net, where I post, notwithstanding. 
[seperis]: probably one of the most read fannish essays that I know of--not that I track it or anything, but it's possibly one of the best and most fun ways to make a particular point I've ever seen.
[excerpt from the original essay snipped]
Read the entire thing. It's short, it's fascinating, it's couched in metaphor, and it's extremely, almost painfully accurate.
Re-reading--because let's all face it, the last thing I'm going to do at work is work--it's just as interesting the first time, especially at this point, when I can apply to both types of stories (novel, pwp, gen, pairing, name it) and also, more interestingly to me personally, certain types of fanon.
I always read it as an essay on the value of diversity in general in fandom--sometimes as a challenge to do something new that you (or the fandom) hasn't done before, sometimes for the reader to expand on what they already read to include something new, and sometimes to please in the name of God spellcheck your work before posting, depending on what mood I'm in. But it also can be a call to break from a mental lock on what you think a character is or could be and expand to think of all the other things he or she is. Fanon!Slut!John is intersting, but Military!John and Geek!John are fun, too. Psychotically!Obnoxious!Rodney is fun, but Scientist!Rodney's perfectionism in his work is cool as well. And on and on.
I do wonder, though, if it can be expanded to include fandom choice in general. A fandom is a very personal thing to anyone, but I think it makes a good argument for being willing to write outside what you're used to, especially if you're in a fandom read-only for whatever reason. I wonder sometimes if part of a reason a fan, for whatever reason, chooses not to write in a fandom (separate from just not being interested in writing, which is fair) is even at the best of times, posting in a few fandom, no matter who you are, is freakishly stressful. To post into one where you have minimal interaction with the fandom itself and that has a lot of active writers already, or to a small one with a few very loyal writers, can be a little--er. Intimidating.Or I could be totally reading way too much into that essay. But darn it, it's fun. 
[seperis]: Does anyone remember the context of Slash Fiction Is Like a Banquet? I read it within a year of it being posted--probably around 2000, a bit before I started writing slash.
One of the first qualifiers I ever learned to use, and now use obsessively, is "I think". "To me". "From what I have seen". There are a lot of reasons for this--most notably when I was very new in fandom and I'd participate in discussions that I had zero context for but was interested in, but wanted to, you know, not get my ass flamed for saying something incredibly stupid. I mean, sure, I still got singed once in a while, but the habit's been set and I think how I interact with fandom in general now tends to be influenced by that. And a lot of the things I've had problems with over time has been the absolutism of some kinds of meta, whereas I like the open-ended question best. More--I like the fact there's no single right answer, that most of the time there isn't a right answer, and that most people tend to be comfortable aware that their own way of thinking or interacting with fandom is not necessarily the only one.
So Hummus, in and out of context.
I always read it as less a 'stop writing x' or even a 'you should be writing y', but instead as a kind of challenge to writers, and readers, to expand their reading and writing into places they usually wouldn't go.
I think it might sometimes read as an accusation. Or it can be used as one, in fandoms with strong OTPs (aka 'your pairing is oppressing my pairing, and also, you are boring and your hair is stupid.' I love fandom. Until that part starts) or even between fandoms ('your fandom is large and oppresses my smaller fandom, blah boring blah hair'), or far more fun to me personally, really insiduous fanon ('oh my god you do not write anything like canon and your feet smell'). And the always popular and teethgrinding joy of long essays of explanation on how you are thinking wrong (whatever it may be, from pairing to how a story is written to how the characters act to how you interact with fandom). Always a joy to behold.
Fandoms, especially ones after their second anniversary, get into ruts. That is not new. I like ruts--ruts are comfortable and expected and, for me, make fandom fun. I like a certain level of predictibility where I can get comfortable, be able to click, and not, you know, come out marginally scarred or mildly homicidal or disliking the author for weeks and having to filter her out of my flist because I have flashbacks of horror. (Yes, it's neurotic and nuts. Seriously, I do not care. My fannish experience = my rules.) I kind of like hummus. It's comfort food. Metaphorical hummus, that is. I still haven't actually had hummus itself. Sometimes, my hummus is someone else's icky liver casserole, and this could be taking the metaphor too far and too confusingly. It is. Let's try again.
Hummus never struck me as a bad thing, even an overabundance. I mean, no, if I hate hummus, wow, I'm screwed, and trust me on this one, the hummus of SGA is not always my hummus and I spend a lot of time staring resentfully at the newsletter at all the things I cannot eat. Read. That. It's not restricted to pairing, either--I have specific hummus requirements in my pairing, and even more specific hummus requirements outside it. So even a hummus banquet can be frustrating.
Here's the thing. I don't actually think there's an overabundance of hummus. I don't even think, most of the time, there's that big a lack of variety in general. There's just an overabundance of what I don't like, and there always will be, forever, because I don't like it. And in almost any fannish meta or discussion, I think a lot of it can be boiled down to that single point. Which is why I hate absolutism--it *is* this way, it *should* be this way, you are *doing it wrong*, you are *thinking wrong*. I am perfectly willing to state that there is far, far too much slut!John fic--but that's because it's not my favorite characterization and I don't read it, so inevitably, I will bitterly note the fic that is and feel marginalized and you know, grumpy. Or ranty. Whatever. That doesnt' change my basic awareness of one pertinent fact--there actually isn't that much of it.[snipped] 
[nimnod]:Something I noted from the Hummus Essay were the references to how the good, hard-working cooks who do everything from scratch and invent new recipes etc wonder why they should bother if everyone just likes and wants hummus. It seems to be missing the point (as it is for me, anyway). I "cook", albeit much less frequently than I'd like (the rarity being due to work-and-home demands on my time). When I do cook, however, I do it for the joy of the thing. I'm not a BNF. No-one knows my name, or really gives a shit about my dishes, and sometimes no-one ever even tastes them, but cooking them is fun, and they look pretty (to me) on the table, and seeing them there, seeing them exist like little creatures I've given birth to and then set free (oh the torturous mixing of metaphors), makes *me* happy. I don't care if other people think they are creme brulee or hummus, or even don't notice them at all in the rush for the chocolate cake next to them. They make *me* happy, damnit. I think once one loses that joy... well... the only person poorer for it is oneself. 
[fyrdakken]:That's coming into the thing about there being two forms of motivation for writing fanfic: A) To create the story one wants to tell, and do it as best as one can, or B) as a form of interaction with fellow-fans. There's a lot of friction when people in the A and B camps cross signals without recognizing that they're dealing with the other type (especially before they realize that there are the two types). And probably the Hummus Essay was suggesting that a lot of new people trying to decide between the two go into the B camp because it appears to be less work for the same result, though I'm thinking that that B camp is made of people who consider the "result" to be the feedback rather than the story itself, and so it's not like the hummus buffet is really diverting a lot of future Michelin chefs. People who cook (or write, or knit) for the love of it are going to try to push themselves to the limits of their interest and abilities and look for people who feel the same way to inspire and encourage each other -- people who think of cooking as merely the preliminary to being fed are going to be more likely to take shortcuts and not worry about it. 
Do you remember the Hummus rant? The hummus rant grew out of Sentinel fandom, and the theory at the time was that too much communication led to the same story (same length story, same takes on the characters, same themes, same tropes, same fanon) being written by many different people (aka, everyone new thinks it's a hummus banquet.) So when you sit down at the table, there's a lot of stuff, but after awhile there's the feeling of 'that's it? where's the cherry pie? And I would kill for a hot dog right now.)In reaction, there was then a wave of 'dark stories' that would come out, but again, similar badfic characterization, similar takes on 'edgy' behavior, etc, etc, etc. Then another wave of some other variety of story--let's say post-betrayal fic, since everyone had to write it--and then another after that. 
I think this particular rant could be applied to any kind of fiction. 
Some Later Sort-of Similar Essays
Some later fanfiction food analogies essays address expectations and fic similarities, they take a different fork in the road. As it were.
2007: You Mean Everyone Brought Potato Salad?
2016: The Different Fanfic Eras Explained As LunchA fan in 2016 commented about fanfic's changing "platforms":
The different fanfic eras explained as lunch:
Pre-internet era: You walk into a room and sit down at a table. Someone brings you a turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda. Perhaps you are a vegetarian, or gluten-free. Doesn’t matter; you get a turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda.
Usenet era: You walk into a room and sit down to your turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda. Someone tells you that over at the University they are also serving BLTs, pizza, coffee, and beer.
Web 1.0 (aka The Great Schism): You walk into a room. The room is lined with 50 unmarked doors. Someone tells you, “We have enough food to feed you and a hundred more…but we’ve scattered it behind these fifty doors. Good luck!”Web 2.0 (present): You walk into a room. Someone points at the buffet and says, “Enjoy!” You turn to see a 100-foot-long buffet table, piled high with every kind of food imaginable. To be fair, some of the food is durian, head cheese, and chilled monkey brains, but that’s cool, some people are into those…and trust me, they are even more psyched to be here than you are. 
- Author's personal memory, and also http://trickster.org/arduinna/banquet.html, accessed October 2, 2008
- Confessions of a Fannish Butterfly, Archived version Accessed October 2, 2008 and June 6, 2018.
- comments at hummus, take two; archive link, comments expanded (May 9, 2007)
- comment left in "Hummus Take Two", May 9th, 2007; WebCite; archive link, comments expanded
- quoted anonymously from a Starsky & Hutch mailing list (May 21, 2001)
- a line from Deep Fanfic Thoughts, a satirical essay
- comments from a print zine mailing list, quoted anonymously (September 23, 2002)
- from a Xena fan, Daughter of Tiaran at Some questions for fanfic authors
- the return of the hummus ; archive link, May 9, 2007
- seperis hummus, take two; archive link, comments expanded (May 9, 2007)
- comment at hummus, take two; archive link, comments expanded (May 9, 2007)
- comment at hummus, take two; archive link, comments expanded (May 9, 2007)
- comment by wickedwords at something's been lost in translation, July 5, 2008
- Don't Shake the Flask, May 2009
- berlynn-wohl.tumblr, February 29, 2016