Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile

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Academic Commentary
Title: Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile
Commentator: Mark Dery
Date(s): 1996
Medium: online
Fandom: slash, Star Trek: TNG
External Links: Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile - Tactical Media Files, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile is a 1996 essay by Mark Dery.

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta.

Some Topics Discussed

  • slash fiction
  • "slashers' feminist attempts to 'rewrite' the male body"
  • the zines Science Friction, Fever
  • Borg and Nazi imagery
  • gay culture and gay subculture
  • use of the phrase: "textual poaching" (which some fans found irritating, and, ironically a form of poaching itself)
  • includes some quotes by Susan Sontag and Constance Penley

Excerpts

In Science Friction, mechanical reproduction is strictly X- rated. The Toronto-based queer 'zine is devoted to campy, techno-porn burlesques of Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Borg" episodes. (For non-Trekkers, the Borg are the implacable man-machines who periodically imperil Truth, Justice, and the United Federation of Planets on ST:TNG.) The 'zine features panting tales of RoboCopulation, pornographic "Sonnets from the Borgugese," and "heart-stoppingly explicit illustrations," spiral-bound and sealed in a "plastic splash guard cover" for your one-handed reading convenience.

Science Friction, whose battle cry is "If Paramount can't give us that queer episode, just make it so!," is a textbook example of textual poaching---a sort of guerrilla semiotics in which consumers-turned-producers perversely rework popular fictions. Henry Jenkins III, a professor of literature, and Constance Penley, a feminist film theorist, have documented a form of textual poaching known as "slash"---erotica written by female fans of the original Star Trek TV series and published in underground fanzines. Typically, it is about Captain Kirk and the Vulcan science officer Mister Spock and is thus dubbed "K/S" for short, yielding the term "slash."
Slashers' feminist attempts to "rewrite" the male body as well as the male psyche through the vehicle of homoerotic SF fantasies is underscored by "a very real appreciation," Penley writes, "of gay men in their efforts to redefine masculinity, and...feelings of solidarity with them insofar as gay men too inhabit bodies that are still a legal, moral, and religious battleground." Gay bodies, like those of female slashers, intersect with technology in cyberculture, a point made dramatically (and comically) clear in gay Trekkers' own attempts to rewrite gender norms by slashing the Borg. (The term "slash" seems to have come unstuck from the strictly literal usage; it is increasingly applied to TV-inspired homoerotica, whether Kirk/Spock or not.)

Like the original series, ST:TNG is built on an unshakable bedrock of liberal humanism. The Borg, mindless cogs in a totalitarian civilization whose monomaniacal goal is the extinction of all free thought, provide a cartoon antithesis to the series' endlessly reiterated thesis that humanist values (read: the American way) are destined to triumph over the enemies of democracy and free enterprise. The crypto-fascist Borg are not just inhuman, they're un-American.

And, horror of horrors, they're queer! At least, that is, in the alternate universe of Science Friction, which highlights the gay subtext of the Borg episodes. Once "outed," the Borg appear to be so obviously and so variously wired into gay myth and metaphor that it seems almost unthinkable that the connections could have gone unnoticed.

Like sailors, bikers, cops, and other stereotypical characters in homoerotic fantasy, the Borg are an all-male society living in close quarters. They are in constant physical communion with one another, literally bonded by electronic interconnection--- "borgasm," to use the co-editor Glenn Mielke's elbow-in-the-ribs coinage. "Wait a minute," says Geordi, in Mielke's "Beamed on Borg" (Science Friction No. 2), "you mean to say that the Borg are in constant sexual link?" "Yes," replies Hugh, "we are with each other always." The reader half expects him to break into Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself": "I sing the body electric/ The bodies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them." Anonymous and continuous, the exchange of fluid data among the Borg conjures the fleeting, faceless sex, in bars, bathrooms, and public parks, of the gay sexual demimonde in the '70s and early '80s. The Borg's cadaverous pallor evokes urban nightcrawlers---sybarites who come out only after dark, like the androgynous vampires in Anne Rice's best-selling homoerotic novels.

In a delicious irony, Borg slashers reprogram the technophallic killing machine for the very "softness" it abhors. In "Locutus" by Gigi the Galaxy Girl (Nancy Johnston, Science Friction No. 1), a Borg's hardware has been reconfigured so that he may boldly go where no man-machine has gone before:

Instead of puckered flesh, his Borg anus had been enhanced and altered to receive. He had the perfect access conduit.

The Borg also suggest a mechano-erotic take on the gay "clone" of the '70s, the mustachioed, short-cropped fixture of San Francisco's Castro district, instantly recognizable in Levi's and leather, flaunting his gym-toned muscles. Dank, dark, and hazy with mist, the tangled catwalks of the Borg ship cross the gay bathhouse with the S&M pleasure dungeon. The results are a natural habitat for man-machines in form-fitting black armor that resembles the accouterments of the bondage fetishist, their flesh punctured by cables in a semiotic echo of the pierced ears and nipples popularized by gay culture.


Fan Reaction

[Henry Jenkins]: Derry [sic], on the other hand, seems to have a slippery grasp on the concept of slash as is illustrated in the book's glossary: K/S or "Slash" Stories. Pornographic K/S (short for 'Kirk/Spock') tales written by female Star Trek fans and published in fanzines, often featuring Kirk and Spock as lovers. Spun from a perceived homoerotic subtext in Star Trek narratives, slash stories are often animated by feminist impulses. Appropriated for general use [by anyone other than Derry?], the term 'slashing' may be applied to textual poaching in which tales told for mass consximption are reworked to suit subcultural needs." Aside from the fact that he sees all fan fiction as slash, all slash as softcore, and all slash as K/S, one wonders why we need a new word to refer to textual poaching when poaching is itself a more inclusive and sufficiently new word. (He does not, however, bother to credit me or my book with introducing the links between fanfic and textual poaching, so it is not clear that he gets these concepts from anything other than second or third hand.) [1]
[S]: I find myself pretty angry at Michael [sic] Dery, who has appropriated the term "slash" in a way that disagrees with what it means to us. Henry points out, with some amusement, that all he's doing is poaching it, as we poach things ourselves. But it seems needlessly offensive to use it in a way that the community which coined the term—namely us—would not recognize, would disavow. And it's needlessly confusing, when academics or fans try to move from the one realm into the other, and find the same word being used in such different ways. In fandom, not all fanwriting ("textual poaching") is slash. To Michael Dery, apparently, it is. Ptui on him. I wonder if his slippage of the term's meaning is due to people (like he himself) reading Henry's book and fixating on the shocking aspect of fanwriting, going away with the impression that slash is most of what there is. I have no more faith in academics' being able to read calmly and coherently about things which shock them than I have in anyone else's. [2]

References

  1. from Strange Bedfellows APA #4 (February 1994)
  2. from a fan in Strange Bedfellows APA #4 (February 1994)