The Semi-Annual Slash, Anti-Slash Debate

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Title: The Semi-Annual Slash, Anti-Slash Debate
Creator: Joan Crenshaw
Date(s): December 14 (or close to that), 1994
Medium: online
Fandom: Blake's 7
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

The Semi-Annual Slash, Anti-Slash Debate is a 1994 essay by Joan Crenshaw.

It was posted to the Blake's 7 mailing list Lysator.

Some Topics Discussed in the Essay

Some Topics Discussed in Comments

  • authorial intent
  • slash as pornography
  • conflating slash with terrible crimes
  • slash as out-of-character
  • much more

From the Essay

It happens at least twice a year as we each try to convert the other side. And it changes nothing. Despite the cries that slash perverts the author's intent and charges that the antislash people are homophobic, the end result is stalemate. I loved Sarah's erudite comments on the old literary argument. The newsgroup idea? No reason for them to be mutually exclusive and I would like to suggest Whatever-His-Name-Is start that newsgroup...and shut up about it.

So where am I going here? There's a theme emerging, a subtext for those who feel the need to intellectualize, that we must all be in agreement on any issue. We must convert the (slash) (antislash) (newsgroup)(antinewsgroup) (Darrow's bald) (Darrow's beautiful) non-believer to our correct viewpoint. But in the long run, it's all opinion. Even if Terry Nation sat down in my office right this minute and TOLD me specifically that he never intended any homoerotic tension between Blake and Avon, I would still see it and enjoy it. And I enjoyed playing Spot-The-Bald-Spot.

There are those of us for whom irreverence is a given. And we will live longer than those of you for whom irreverence is anathema. For me, fandom is something that has brought me much pleasure, but I cannot take it as seriously as so many seem to do. I enjoy the fact that we all disagree. It's so sane and normal.

Fan Comments

[Beth Friedman]: Some people have explained that slash, to them, is equivalent to ascribing repugnant, morally unsound, or even vicious nonconsensual sex practices to the characters. I agree that this is a matter of individual belief, religion, and conscience. I agree that I would be unhappy if I read a story in which someone ascribed the actions of characters I'd created to their previous jobs as travelling torturers. In fact, if someone handed me such a story, I'd try to resist the temptation to read it. But then there are lots of things that make writers unhappy. Bad reviews, fan letters that miss the point, fan letters that say, "Why haven't you written anything good since [first novel, twenty years ago]?"

Why should this particular way of making a writer unhappy be especially culpable? Because homosexuality is so terribly immoral that ascribing it to anyone, real or fictional, is the ultimate calumny?

[Craig]: Ok, stop right there. Yes, I despise "/". Yes, I find it repugnant in every conceivable way. ***NO***, I was not comparing it to child molestation or suggesting that it was worse than other comparable forms of non-consensual (from the author) character manipulation. I was trying to illustrate the anger I would feel were anyone to ascribe such traits to my characters without my explicitly defining them as possessing such characteristics, by using an example I hoped would revolt those who claimed there was nothing amiss in ascribing sensitive characteristics to a writer's creation without hir consent. The analogy stops at that point. I might find both practises repulsive. I did not say they were equivalent.

[Beth Freidman]: If I accused a real person of child molesting, it would be actionable. If I wrote a story in which a real person molested a child, and used their real name, it would be actionable. But these are fictional characters. We can't hurt them.

[Craig]: But you *can* hurt their creators in the same way that such an interpretation of your work might harm you by inference. This is precisely my point and not limited to B7, indeed it need not be central to B7 at all (I have never inquired as to the B7 writers' opinions on such matters). My point was that, as I have spent a considerable portion of free adult-life time in the creation of my work, I would find it a *tremendous* insult to both it and m self were someone to ascribe characteristics to my creations wholly anathema to my intentions and which I found repulsive, regardless of what those characteristics might be, particularly should such opinion become semi-canonical. […] I have to disagree with this statement from the simple standpoint that there is no single B7 writer. B7 was written by quite a few different people and there's no way on Earth that you could possibly say that every single one of them interpreted the characters and universe exactly the same way. […] They had the advantage of being able to inquire of Terry Nation as to whether he might find an introduced trait particularly offensive. Whether they did this or not I cannot say, however I very much doubt that many(any?) fanfic writers have gone to such lengths. The argument is academic in any case -- I stated specifically that I was not limiting my remarks to B7 and went on to point out in that and other posts (and Email to Dawn) why I would find any rewriting of a character I had created both offensive and a reason for *intense* legal retribution.
[Craig, regarding the threat he made to fans who would slash any of his characters]: They haven't had the chance. Actually, I've never tried my hand at fanfic (apart from `The Gathering' outline which I wrote in response to an Ep-53 challenge on this list, but might now try to finish). I was referring to 2 original multi-volume fantasy epics, 1 of which I've been working on for nearly 12 years on and off and the other for nearly 3, and both of which I hope to begin publishing book-by-book within the next 4-5 (whichever is finished first). To be frank I wouldn't consider it worth my pursuing anyone for twisting original characters I put into a fanfic story, although I would expect them to have the courtesy to at the least consult me should they intend to use them. My rights IMO must necessarily be somewhat diminished by the fact that I would be using someone else's universe unless I were to have its original creator's consent to do as I wished. My own work/universe is entirely another matter. [1]

[Craig]: P.D. being an actor can expect to be associated with Avon for the rest of his life (or for a jolly good part of it) and since we see on-screen Avon through and because of him it is understandable that he might consider he has at least some right (subject to the canonical writers' rights) to define how Avon can be portrayed in fanfic. The moral (and IMO legal) rights of the fan must be subject firstly to the writers, then (assuming the writers' assent) to the actors playing the characters.

[Ann Wortham]: Well now, Avon has been portrayed in various stories as a psychopath, a paranoid killer, a (heterosexual) rapist, allergic to every little thing in sight, addicted to ice cream.

[Craig]: If you are referring to adult fanfic, such portrayals are IMO as deplorable.

[Ann Wortham]: Terry Nation wrote scripts that portrayed Avon as an embezzler, a potential traitor, given to cutting and unkind > I need to go on?"

[Craig]: No. Terry Nation can do as he pleases -- Avon is his creation. If we don't like it, too bad.

[Ann Wortham]: Jane goes on to make the point that if Paul (or anyone else) objects to stories that make Avon homosexual, why don't they object to stories that make Avon out to be a paranoid psychopathic killer?

[Craig]: Because these traits are so obviously alien to them (unless they're leading double lives as night-time assassins) that none save a fan very much out of touch with reality could possibly mistake them as indicative of their own personalities. Sexual preference is a far more subtle and insidious characteristic and any deviation (as considered by P. D. or anyone else associated with a created character) cannot be easily disproven or denied once asserted. Actor(tress): `I am 100% heterosexual, I could not be any other way. Surely you can understand why I might despise such a portrayal of a character with which I'll be associated for years to come.' Fan (with a smug and understanding smile, thinking if not saying it): `Of course, I can understand your saying that so as not to make your real preference too obvious. Don't worry. I *saw* how you portrayed hir on-screen, I know what you really prefer, but I won't give you away. Your little secret is safe with me.' At which point, the actor/writer has reached an impossible position. Denial is proof of secret longing. Failure to do so is proof of tacit acceptance. Small wonder those who despise such twisting of their creations find it preferable to tear the perpetrators of such distortions to pieces in every way they are able. If you cannot win, you might as well do as much as possible to make it clear that you're not minutely impressed. I certainly would.

[Ann Wortham]: Somehow I don't think Craig would be objecting to someone "interpreting" a writer's work as implying a heterosexual relationship.
[Craig]: Somehow I suggest it worth your rereading my posts on the matter. I would consider ***ANY*** interpretation of my work not explicitly defined by me as cause to take the individual to the cleaners should s/he insist to others it was correct after I had said otherwise. This would ***VERY MUCH INCLUDE*** any claims of a relationship between a male and female character not explicitly defined within the work. Believe me, they would regret it. [2]

[Ann Wortham]: I have yet to hear a _reasonable argument_ which postulates just_why_ it is that Avon could not possibly, under any circumstances, be interested in men.

[Ken Crist]: Because he just wouldn't be. He's Avon, and Avon wouldn't be interested in men, so Avon isn't interested in men. It is up to you to give a _reasonable argument_ as to why he would be.
[Ann Wortham]: He's Avon" does not define a person's sexual orientation; therefore, it is not a reasonable argument for what the individual does in privacy. "...and Avon wouldn't be interested in men" is [Ken C's] opinion, rather than a proven fact, so it is not evidence one way or another. This kind of argumentative logic would be laughed out of a courtroom […] The point is, of course, that since we have insufficient proof of Kerr Avon's total sexual orientation one way or another, we would inevitably end up with a hung jury. [3]
[Kathryn Andersen]:

Hmmm. While you're all patting yourselves on the back about telling the people who dislike slash to shut up, consider this:

If I'd posted a long thing about how I dislike Alternative Universe stories, would you have told me to shut up, that I didn't have to read them if I didn't want to, and so on?

Don't blame the people who don't like slash for *all* the heat on this subject.

(Now, I'm not going to post a long thing about how I dislike AU stories because I don't actually dislike them! I prefer non AU's, but a good AU is fun too.)

The other thing that puzzles me is that the debate always seems to be about slash, not about *adult* stories. Me, I wouldn't touch *either* with a ten foot pole, because I'm not into pornography (and if you object to that word, replace it with "erotica", okay?) but we never have people raving on about their right to write erotica if they want to. Is it because some people object to slash but not to erotica in general, or is there a large overlap between slash-haters and erotica-haters?

[Ann Wortham]: Well, the short answer is, yes you would get the same reaction, at least from me, and I suspect from others. In fact, I have a long-time friend who got embroiled in just such a debate in Pros fandom (where AU stories proliferate to the disgust of some and the delight of others). You don't have to read _anything_ you don't want to, and you certainly don't have to patronize any zine you don't want to (one that contains AU's or slash or pornography or erotica or writing you consider bad, etc.). But, it's really none of your business if other fans choose to patronize something you don't like. As a publisher of straight adult fiction, slash adult fiction, and gen fiction, I can say that most of the people who like the gen material also like the adult material. Of those who like the adult material, a majority of them like slash, some tolerate slash, and a small percentage out and out dislike it, but they like the straight stuff so they buy the "mixed" zines anyway. Most people who "hate" slash have nothing against the hetero sex. A few, like Kathryn, say they just don't like adult stories at all. [4]

As I've mentioned several times, I don't like slash. I think I am similar to Kathryn in that I don't like _any_ of the so-called "adult" stories. I don't care for erotica of any form - it's boring even when well-written. Same with porn movies, etc. *yawn* But that doesn't mean I have any moral objection - they're just boring.

I have to admit that I'd certainly be vastly more inclined to read straight "adult" stories than slash if forced to make the choice. But I don't think there's any mystery to that. I'm a het male so why on earth would I wanna read about two men?

I do have a little qualm with the term "adult" , though. I think they should be called slash, erotica, porn, whatever. But I don't see anything "adult" about them. It's a kind of insulting term when you think about it. And conveys an odd message. Like, to be adult is to talk about sex. Anything else isn't "adult". Weird term but obviously it's not something that's just been adopted in fan fic. It's a pet peeve of mine though.

Schnidler's List seems much more of an adult (i.e. mature) movie to me than, say, Debbie Does Dallas or whatever porn movie you wanna mention. [5]


  1. ^ comments at Lysator (December 16, 1994)
  2. ^ comments at Lysator (December 27, 1994)
  3. ^ comments at Lysator (December 31, 1994)
  4. ^ comments at Lysator (December 29, 1994)
  5. ^ comments at Lysator (December 30, 1994)