The Wave Theory of Slash/Fan Discussion and Meta

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The Wave Theory of Slash, a 1993 essay by Lezlie Shell, is a highly-influential and oft-discussed fanwork.

In the essay, Shell theorized that there are clusters of tropes and styles in slash that a given fandom (or a given fan) progresses through in the same way that feminism is said to have progressed through various "waves".

The essay was posted to Virgule-L on April 7, 1993 with the title Catch A Wave. It was also printed in Strange Bedfellows in May 1993, and it had the title in that apa of I am not Alone or The Four Waves of Slash Fandom.

The Wave Theory of Slash was one of the first "big hits" of fannish meta fandom, and it has elicited conversations and analysis from the time it was first posted, and continues to do so.

Fan Comments

Comments: Virgule-L

The essay was posted to Virgule-L in April 1993 and generated some discussion, though not as much as in Strange Bedfellows APA.

Some excerpts are below. They are quoted anonymously, except for when fans have given their permission.

Lezlie's wave theory of slash writers got me thinking about those of us who stick to reading rather than writing. It seems to me that once you've found slash, you either become primarily a slash fan and look for other slash first, finding new fandoms that way; or you are primarily a series fan and look for the slash potential after you've found the new fandom. I haven't had coffee yet -- did that make sense?

[the essay's author replied]: You're describing the difference between a 4th waver and a 1st/2nd waver. As a self-described 2nd waver, I find the show and then see IF there is a slash element. If there isn't, then I'm still a fan of the show and will read non-slash stories about the show, but Slash stories based on the show leave me asking, "why?".

Finding slash and going on to other fandoms by following the slash is a 4th wave pattern. You are a slash fan more than a fan of the show and probably wouldn't bother with a show that didn't have slash (unless you decided to put pen to paper and do it yourself).

Is this making sense? [1]

I really like the clarity and simplicity (in the best meaning of the word) of Lezlie's Wave theory. Anything I try to do, will just mess it up! We have had a similar theory for sometime here that is based on Threshold fandoms. But our theory has too many parts.

But, so what! Taking the hammer in hand that worked so well on my little sister's Lego creations, I set forth in search of the Wave--

Bits of flotsom and jetsam, followed by the "Threshold Fandom" theory:

One, it matters 'how' people are brought in, as much as when;

The first ten stories you read, mark you for your fannish life. One possibility is you dislike *all* of them. Unless your entire social group become slashfen all at once, you'll probably never try slash again.
Another is, there is more than one fandom represented. You never realize that many of the people around you are faithful to some fandom, and think of yourself as media (or slash) fan, rather than a B7 or Pros fan from day 1. This didn't happen much back in the middle/early eighties, but it certainly could have happened by the middle eighties.
Lots of other possibilities--if whatever you are shown first mark you, then a first waver bringing in a friend today will show them their fav 1st wave stories, and make a new first waver, that is someone who expects that sort of story.

Two, some people are slash fans first, with favorite shows, and some people are Pros or B7 fans, with an extra interest in slash; There's been a lot of chat about the difference here, so I won't belabor it.

Three, and most important: there are threshold fandoms. Very few people (traditionally) *started* in slash fandom in Pros, since the only way to watch Pros is be handed a tape by another fan. On the other hand, lots of people started in fandom because they, all on their own, became a ST fan. Beauty and the Beast and QL are the other two big threshold fandoms of the last few years. Fans in threshold fandoms are more likely to be new; are more likely to have only new fan friends, and are more likely to be totally loyal to their current show.

So, someone in their theshold fandom could be a first waver for that fandom, but a 2nd or 3rd waver in other fandoms. That is, for their first fandom, they are: totally caught up in it; loyal to aired facts over fan canon; reads both gen and slash in that universe, considers slash stories that include 'the premise' even if they don't include sex, justifies sex through universe details... (I think those are the major 1st wave points. Wouldn't you know I can't find my copy of the essay right now), but in their next fandom, they would be more 2nd or even third waveish, that is: found the fandom through slash stories, not the show, fan canon is as important as show details, will read slash stories of shows they haven't even seen. Now these could be people that got involved in media fandom just in the last couple of years--way too late for the 1st wave, but they show all the signs in their 'first fandom,' especially if they found it pretty much by themselves (i.e., starting writing their first Sam/Al story before they'd ever heard of media fandom or slash.)

Sorry it isn't more coherent... [2]

I just reread Lezlie's wave theory (very very interesting, Lezlie!!), and I'm wondering what the distribution of waves over the different fandoms is.

Is it only because I haven't read so much material yet that I think most of the K/S stories are first wave whereas in B/D there is a lot more second and third or do others have the same impression? What about the other fandoms? [3]

As Lynn so ablely chronicled, Zcon was a wonderful weekend. One of the fun parts for me was wearing my three buttons (2nd Wave, And Proud of It--3rd Wave, And Proud of It--4th Wave, And Proud of It) discussing the wave theory with the other cognescenti (hmpt), and explaining them to people who hadn't heard of the theory.

I wish someone had kept transcripts of some of our attempts to explain the waves--I know some of the distinctions we were coming up with (especially between the 2nd and 3rd waves) didn't exist in the original essay, but I don't remember them now.

Another cool think about the buttons: they were a bridge of sorts between people in the Strange Bedfellows apa and our more virtual Apa...people from either group, seeing someone they didn't recognize wearing one of the buttons started conversations and got to know each other all weekend.

Thanks Jenn (even though you can't hear me) for making them and bringing them--thanks Lezlie for the original theory. [4]
I'm getting more and more confused about the wave theory anyway. At first I thought I was somewhere in 3rd or 4th (because yes, I love to read good sex scenes), but I find that I enjoy equally many stories that are attributed to first or second. Now I think I don't belong to any particular wave at all... [5]

Strange Bedfellows APA

The Wave Theory of Slash Revisited by Gayle F was an essay was published in Strange Bedfellows APA in May 1993.

Comments: Strange Bedfellows APA #2: August 1993

I liked the "four waves" analysis of slash, although I'll make a few comments. I'm confused about the importance of sex within stories being linked to the wave and how closely a story is tied in with its media source. I read and enjoy many "fourth wave" style stories, yet I have no problem classifying something without overt sex as slash. I've read multimedia crossovers in which the sex is very subtly implied and never shown; I've read some of the early Naked Times in which sex was detailed, and the characterization built around it, although the "real" Trek universe was the background. Probably you'd set these latter in second wave (at least), though they appeared relatively early. Overall I assume you're setting up general categories, and that exceptions and in-between examples will appear. At one time I judged fan stories on a number of criteria, including how closely the story held to the televised (or movie, or whatever) universe. That's still one axis on which to rate stories, but I've shifted to looking more for clear expression of whatever the story is telling me about. Maybe that's fifth wave? I admit to disliking some of what you class as fourth-wave fiction because the characterizations tend to be generic — as you say, the writer is aiming for a general slash audience who may not know squash about the characters in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I say that a good story would tell the reader what those characters are like, their individual reasons for (in a slash story) humping their buddies at the bottom of the sea. It might be a good story even if it made up a fair amount of this data — the point is to make the story, not VttBofS, crystalline to the reader. I suppose if it accurately and convincingly conveyed the VttBofS characters it would be a first wave story anyway? Well, suppose it's a story where VttBofS characters combine with UFO characters — does the point hold that sloppy, general characterization is sloppy and general no matter what show (or how many) the characters come from and how much bonking they get in during the story?

This all may mean that a good fourth-wave story is more demanding of the writer — and indeed I believe it is. Adequate characterization for a well- known character need merely be consistent with the screen behavior, while making a little-known character lively requires establishing his or her personality with more than names and sketchy hints. Hmm, I think you said this; I'm just amplifying a bit for my own amusement.
[L S] wins the award for the most discussed APA. Everyone I ran into at Mediawest who had access to SBF, and there were rather a lot of us, wanted to discuss [L's] wave theory. Its terms and concepts are already falling into general usage in at least our comer of fandom and seemed to be useful in explaining the "generation gap" that separates different segments of slash fandom. I have even had someone suggest that Enterprising Women focuses mostly on first and second wavers, while Textual Poachers is a study of third and fourth wavers. (I don't think that's entirely true but it has gotten me thinking.)

The whole thing would read a bit different if we saw it as a theory of slash as a genre rather than a theory of slash authorship. Lezlie frames this discussion as a series of movements away from fidelity to the series; I, being more of a 3rd and 4th waver, would read it as a movement towards an autonomous genre. Genre theory suggests that most genres emerge from previously existing generic traditions, breaking off from the parent works to begin to develop distinctive traits. The first phase of this process is one of imitation and innovation.

[snipped]

[L's] first wave can be seen in these terms, as the emergence of slash from other forms of fan writing (the 'great friendship' stories in ST, hurt-comfort, etc.) and from material explicitly contained within the program text. (We might, of course, consider a series of other shifts within fan fiction which makes the concept of slash thinkable -- from early fan writing which sought to imitate the structure and themes of the episodes to 'keep Star Trek alive' and the related debates about what constitutes "character rape" towards the gradual acceptance of stories which broke more dramatically with the aired material, rethought or reinterpreted the characters, introduced other genres into the series universe, etc.) Writers like Lezlie Fish and perhaps [Gayle F] probably did not have a conception of slash as a genre when they wrote their stories but rather saw them as simply another interpretation of the series characters. All of the first waver's stress on fidelity to the program text reflect the need of this emerging genre to stabilize itself through appeals to more firmly established texts.

[L's] second wave seems to be slash's classical phase as slash stories start to respond to other slash stories rather than simply responding to the aired episodes and the slash premise can start to be taken for granted, no longer demanding such elaborate justification. The third phase in generic evolution comes when the conventions start to feel tired to readers and writers, when new talents emerge who want to innovate within the form and feel progressively frustrated by generic restraints, who want to introduce an air of realism or self-consciousness or otherwise question its basic assumptions.

[snipped]

In slash, this might constitute [L's] third phase, where we see a new realism or a new self- consciousness (genre mixing, AUs, etc.) entering slash.

[snipped]

What's interesting about this genre-based approach is that individual writers can shift within it; they are not stuck within a particular wave or moment, but can choose to grow along with the genre. Most of the writers in later phases are consciously aware of what has come before, may have great respect for it and choose to build upon it, rather than duplicate it, within their own work.

[snipped]

I suspect now that slash has established itself as an autonomous genre and a semi-independent fandom, it will be able to contain all of the waves, provided we learn to listen to and value what is best in each of them. Like many genre critics, [L] adopts a fairly static conception of slash as a genre, treating some moments as golden ages and others as declines. She seems suspicious of certain tendencies in third and fourth wave slash which break too dramatically with the configuration of the genre at the moment of her initial encounter with it. Yet, a more dynamic model of generic evolution recognizes that genres never exist in pure forms, but rather the conventions of a genre at a particular moment represent the shared needs of readers and writers in response to the accumulated traditions of the genre.
None the less, this means, overall, far from seeing 4W slash as straying from the original source material, I see later slash as perhaps more true to the original universe. Re the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea example, apparently intended to demonstrate that 4th wavers slash just for the sake of slashing -- why does there have to be a "self-sustaining Voyage fandom" for the story to meet first wave criteria? As an ardent enthusiast of a rather small fandom (even if it is over- represented in this APA) I rather resent the implication that the size of the fandom has anything to do with its membership's relation to its source. The author may have written the story for one other Voyage fan. She may have written it for herself and sent it out in the hopes that it might find another, or in the hopes that people less obsessed with her universe might enjoy it anyway, or perhaps even hoping to stimulate interest in other fans in her universe.
Well, for the most part, I guess I fall between the 3rd and 4th waves of slash fandom. My only problem with 1st and 2nd wave is the "I'm not gay, I just love my partner" attitude. The only place I can possibly see that attitude working in the slightest is S/H where they're already extremely emotionally involved and might, very naively believe they're not gay because they don't do the kinds of things the stereotypical faggots do. S/H, for all the supposed sophistication they're credited with, really are very naive about a lot of things...
I love The Wave, and have only [one] real change I would make. I don't see the waves as non-time dependent, nor as personality dependent. Some people are finding Pros right now, and becoming 2nd wavers (and you know who I mean), even though they were say, 3rd wavers in a past fandom (i.e., it is not their personality that made them a 2nd waver), and even though they have found Pros now in 1993 (i.e., they aren't 2nd wavers because they found the fandom a few years after it got started).
I'm probably in the second throes of slash fever because although I found K/S over 9 years ago (God, that long) I only found other slash fandoms about 3 years ago so I am still rapidly trying to catch up on my 'new' interests. I love a lot of B7 stuff thought some of the more dewey-eyed stuff gets wearing after a while. Currently my fav's have to be B7, CC, B/D and K/S. Its been great getting back into K/S after all this time (I stopped buying and reading it several years ago) all these great stories have turned up. Wave theory - I seem to fall into several different categories depending on which fandom I run this list against.

When we compared our impressions of the panels [at MediaWest*Con], we agreed that we were seeing [L's] theory in action (they are also on the slash list where the Waves first appeared), but to us it came down to a binary. Yes, I feel a pomo shiver at the B word. It seemed to us that there was a division among the panels and audiences between those who are fans of the series first and those who are fans of slash first. We're all in the former group — two of us read only B7 with a strong preference for B/A, and one of us reads mostly B7 and some Pros. So the series and the relationships between the characters are very important to us. If they weren't, we'd be reading gay porn or slash for series we haven't seen. I dutifully read the ST and Pros stories Sandy and others shared with me and they had very little impact on me. I like ST, but not that much, and I have only seen half an episode of Pros. Because I'm not emotionally involved with either universe, the stories had no emotional kick for me the way B7 stories do, and I inevitably tried to translate the couple into B/A or A/V. I gather from what I've read that a lot of slash fans read stories before they see the series, but it doesn't seem to work for me — if I haven't seen the series, I'm not involved in the characters, so the stories mean very little.

There are also shows I like a great deal but am not really interested in reading fan fiction about - The Sandbaggers, for instance. There are at least two pretty potent slash possibilities (depending on how lenient you are about age), and I love the series, but I'm not really interested in slash, adult, or gen stories.

I'm emphasizing this because when I said the next part on the slash list it was, IMO, misconstrued as saying we were only interested in the sex, regardless of the characters and their relationship with each other.

We were all dismayed at the idea of slash as a political forum. We like it because it's a fantasy for us, and we like reading about these guys fucking each other senseless. There are caveats -- we very much care which men are doing the fucking; the relationship between them is crucial; we enjoy the sex but also like stories that aren't explicit; and none of us were suggesting political and social viewpoints shouldn't be brought in. We want a wide range of story types available, what bothered us was the feeling that the kind we like were being completely edged out by the fourth wave trend.

I found your division of slash fandom into waves fascinating and useful, and therefore promptly began tinkering and fine-tuning. The boundaries between "waves" aren't as clear in reality as they are in theory, of course, and each wave persists even after others have appeared on the scene. In your fourth wave (and perhaps in late third) is what I have been calling the emergence of "slash as a fandom in itself," i.e. the development of the possibility of being "a slash fan" in the same way that one can be "a Star Wars fan" or "a Wiseguy fan." Especially important is your point that each wave uses material from previous waves as sources for its own extrapolations. Certainly, when I started writing B7 I was using the fanfic I'd read to supplement the episodes, and when I started writing Pros, I had never seen the show! (I hasten to add, though, that I didn't actually finish a Pros story until I had seen some episodes; but part of the reason "Sule Skerrie" is so completely a/u is because when I began it I had never seen the show. What I had done was to read lots of Doyle-is-an-elf stories and get fed up with them.)

I don't think I know of any non-slash by Sebastian or H.G., although you list them as first-wave writers and you list having previously written non-slash as a characteristic of first-wave writers. Is it just that I don't know about their non-slash, because I came in later and didn't get given copies? Can you pass on info? Also, another tinker I would make is that writers can move from "wave" to "wave" in their work; Sebastian's "Velvet Underground" in Paean to Priapus and "Virtual Reality" in Oblique are fourth wave for sure.
I came to slash in third wave, by your divisions, and have ridden the fourth wave along. But, perhaps because I entered by reading huge stacks of everything available at the time, I can enjoy first and second wave stones just as much as third and fourth. I'm sure this is true of many other fans. Although the "waves" may have appeared on the scene in the order you list them in, I think that, because each persists rather than being superseded, and because any one person may read and write in several "waves" more or less simultaneously, what you have created may function better as a division and sorting out of attitudes and themes than as a chronology.

Interesting theory. I think you're getting at and describing a lot of significant differences among kinds of slash stories. A number of us had been commenting in the TNU on a shift in slash that we'd perceived, but you're actually outlining it. In terms of specific feedback, I tend to think that the differences between waves two and three are more significant than any of the others. I might delineate them as Wave 1, sub-wave A, and Wave E, sub-wave A. It seems like what you're describing is a progression toward and away from one major shift that is comprised of many smaller changes in the genre.

As I understand it, the major shift you're describing is in part a change from slash being an outgrowth of fans of a particular show, to slash as a fandom in itself. In the former, fans are writing about the characters' developing sexual relationship as a way of expanding that relationship because they love the characters and the show, and because they see it as a natural progression for the characters. In the latter, fans are looking for the slash relationship itself. They may or may not be fans of the show; what they are interested in is the kind of relationship slash stories depict. In this scenario, fans are always on the look-out for new shows with characters they can slash.

In outlining this shift, you're describing slash as having moved away from the shows or sources from which they originated. Since the slash relationship is primary, its relationship to the show takes a back seat which gets pushed increasingly further back as slash continues on this direction. The example you provide is M. Fae's writing.

This is where I disagree with your theory. While I agree that slash has developed into a fandom of its own, I do not think the changes that development has created in slash stories is simply an increasing distance from the shows of origin. I think the difference between fanfic-that-is-slash and slash fanfic is the kind of relationship each has to the show, not whether they are connected to the show. It seems to me that early slash often pulled directly from the show using lines or scenes from specific episodes. Most current slash doesn't do that, with Jane Carnall's Bodie/Cowley trilogy a notable exception. What most current slash does do is strive to be realistic. Realistic to what? Realistic to the show.

M. Fae is a perfect example. A number of her Pros, stories have both characters struggling with being gay or bi and closeted, closeted because they work for a government organization which would kick them out if they came out. It just makes sense that this would be the reaction of CI5. Another example of second wave slash, also M. Fae, is a quality of grittiness, a hard edge that is valued in many of her stories. (I think Sebastian is another example of this, and probably would not, therefore, place her in the first wave.) Again, this quality is based on an interest in realism. Men who kill and get shot at for a living, in a country where almost no one carries a gun, would not likely have a hearts and flowers relationship. The grittiness then, goes back to the show.

It may well be that second wave slash is very different from the show, but it still uses the context and parameters the show sets out to build its stories. Second wave slash writers re-think what it would mean for "our boys" to be sexually involved given the context they're in, i.e., CI5, it being the 1970's, and the fact that they're partners. There are many ways that second wave slash doesn't follow the show, but I think the distinction is that it's less concerned with specifics and more concerned with the larger context.

Another example of this is the increase in s/m sex stories. I see these stories as in part coming out of a re-thinking of the kind of sex these characters are likely to have. In grittier universes like Pros, and B7, it makes more sense, is more realistic, that the men have rougher sex. As I write this, I can see holes in my theorizing, but I think that what I'm suggesting needs to be considered seriously for us to reach a more accurate understanding of this shift in slash.
Your Wave Theory makes a lot of sense! I find myself squarely within the Fourth Wave in my sensibilities, though I have a bit of Third Wave tendencies in my like for Bodie/Doyle A/U stories. More than that, the Wave Theory explains the diversification of slashdom in a way which traces the way the fandoms have developed through the years. I now have a better understanding of the "we're not gay" stories (though they still don't make a lot of sense to me — I want my characters to be queer). Not even sure if a penis is necesary in the newer developments in slash. Lesbian stories have experienced an exponential growth just in the past year. Then there is the question as to whether a penis really makes someone "male" or not (as in THE CRYING GAME, where all of the fan stories I've seen in this universe refer to Dil as "she").

Okay, now about these Waves of yours... I agree with quite a bit of it, some of it I disagree with, and some of it I need clarified. But I'm having tremendous fun with all of it.

First Wave: agree with A, but B is not exclusive to First Wave, because I for one (and I get to say this cos you picked me as one of the writers typifying Fourth Wave!) belong very actively to a very active fandom, and there is considerable discussion about stories and ideas, before and after (although LOCs seem to be a lost art — thank god for our big monthly meetings and that bank robber, the phone). There are so many discussions and so many opinions, there is no consensus-type characterisation produced, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Could you define a bit more what you mean by C, because I really don't see a lot of that in, for instance, Sebastian's stories (Siren, Such a Day Tomorrow, On Heat, Army Games, Pleasure Bent and a few others).

Absolutely agree with you about Second Wave A, but did all writers really accept the boys as being strictly, absolutely hetero? I'm not sure of the chronology of stories, but for instance, by On Heat, Sebastian had Doyle quite comfortable with homosexual fantasies, and by The Ball Was Good, she had Doyle already having had homosexual sex. And I haven't the faintest idea what you mean (shows you how thick I can be sometimes, doesn't it?) in C when you say that the sex is still "female oriented". And again in D, I'm curious as to what makes you certain that the writers were inspired to write by having read slash. I always assumed that there were always going to assumed that there were always going to be those who would simply write it and only later discover that there were other people out there just like them.

Third Wave: A. Now, again we run into the problem of chronology. For instance, where would O. Yardley's Injured Innocents be without the slash element? But she's been in Pros slash since the beginning, and does, from the way I read your Wave, belong to First Wave, even though Injured Innocents (and so many of the Christmas stories, for instance) is focussed entirely around slashing the boys, i.e. getting them into bed and declaring their love for each other. And I'm not sure quite what you mean by 'sexless' stories: do you mean the ones where nothing explicitly happens (e.g., Our Heroes gaze into each others' eyes, then the veil is discreetly drawn and the next paragraph begins with "The next morning as they awoke satiated and content, in each others' arms...") or do you mean stories where they are still just buddies, haven't considered sex with each other and are sexually unaware of each other? Because although I might consider the latter pre-slash (e.g. Mr. Doyle's Neighbourhood), I would certainly consider the first slash. Just not necessarily satisfying slash! I agree with you about a/u coming into its own here — so does that make Meg Lewtan a Third Wave writer? And where would you fit H.G.'s Peerless Pair? Apart from on the bookshelf within easy reach, of course.

Fourth Wave: aha, now we get to my bit (only joking, only joking: the megalomania isn't quite that advanced. Yet.) Okay, now you picked me as one of the writers who typifies Fourth Wave, so I'm going to reply from my own experience.
A few comments on the Four Waves. [L], as hooks go, this one has taken hold. M. Fae and a lot of other people we've talked to find the terminology convenient in the extreme. Not that I'm sure I totally agree with your categories or analysis, but it's very nice to be able to say third wave and immediately have an idea what kind of writing we're referring to. One question, however: did you mean your waves to apply to all slash fandoms? The writers you've given as representative are all known (primarily, exclusively, currently, or unfortunately [in the case of M. Fae!) as Pros writers and you seem to be looking at the development of Pros fandom. Now I admit that after K/S, the mother-of-all-slash. Pros probably has been the most popular slash fandom, but would the four waves framework hold for say B7? I think not.
Your assertion that you know fans who've been inclined toward slash all their lives. When I first started on slashnet, we did a round of "how I found slash" and I was stunned by how many of them had been fantasizing male/male tv characters before finding out about slash. This contributed to my wave theory because none of the people I consider first and second wave even thought of slash before being told about it via fandom.
Have to admit that while I like many shows and often slash the characters (4th wave?), I still tend to look for proof in the aired show (1st or 2nd wave?) (That's why I have arguments with K/S, since I don't see it in Spock as he's aired on the shows/movies. Kirk would screw anything that doesn't move fast enough, but it's not in Spock's character...). And, unlike 1st or 2nd wave, I have a real hard time thinking that 2 men who engage in gay sex aren't gay or bi...So, since I seem to have a bit of each, do we average the waves and call me 3rd wave?

Comments: Strange Bedfellows APA #3: November 1993

I think I agree with you about the 4W writers being less focused on mapping their own sexuality onto the characters.
I am frankly confused by your comments about fourth wavers wanting to politicize slash. You acknowledge that there is no form of fiction or recreation that is ideology free. Later, you acknowledge that the libido is anything but apolitical and express your own political discomfort with portrayals of violence against women in slash stories as well as in the commercial media. So, what is it that the fourth wavers are proposing that you object to? Is it that they are consciously interested in thinking about the ideological content of their stories? That they want to explore what sexuality means and what its implications are rather than simply writing sex scenes? That they find certain actions or attitudes as objectionable as you find violence against women? 1 don^t see very much pc agit-prop creeping into slash stories. All I see are some writers being more interested in exploring and vocalizing the political implications of what they are writing and I see that as all for the good. That doesn't mean you, me or anyone else can't or shouldn't get off on it. It just means that good slash stories can be meaningful on more than one level at once. For me, they are meaningful because of their critique of traditional masculinity. For some one else, they may be meaningful because they offer supportive images of gay lifestyles. For you, they may be meaningful because Blake and Avon can make sparks fly by rubbing two sticks together.

I've heard so much about your Wave Theory the past few months it's great to have a chance to read the original. (I was at Closet Con (K/S convention) in England in July, and one of the fans there informed everyone she was "Seventh Wave". Knowing her, I tend to agree.

I'm trying to place myself as which "wave" I am, and find it varies by fandom. For K/S it's about halfway between 2nd and 3rd wave, in that I read tons of gen Trek before "/" was even published; read several K/S stories before I believed in the premise, but now can't imagine how I saw them any other way, and am quite happy to imagine either/or K or S having been gay or bi all along.

For Bodie & Doyle I'm between 3rd and 4th Wave, in that I saw a few episodes before I began reading circuit stories; than watched more episodes while reading yet more stories, so that "canon" versus fannish convention are inextricably linked in my mind.

For "Blake's 7" it's back to 2nd/3rd wave, with the additional observation that this is the one fandom where I'll still read gen, as I'm interested in all the characters, and am perfectly happy to read anything well written, such as the Hellhound series, or Ann Wortham's Southern Comfort zines which happily feature adult hetero, "/" pairings of any or all the male characters, female "/", etc.

For other, smaller fandoms, such as WISEGUY, QUANTUM LEAP, MIAMI VICE, HOLMES/WATSON, etc. I waver - I'm more familiar, to start with, with the source material than I was when I got into Pros, so stories with a good grounding in the actual series will appeal to me more than "/" for the sake of "/" - but I will read just about anything in these fandoms since there is so little. And U.N.C.L.E. - I hadn't seen the show in years when I first started reading the zines - but was amazed to discover how much was still subliminally there, and was able to view the show in an entirely different perspective when I actually had the chance to see the episodes again. Guess I'm 3rd Wave in that one.

I am frankly confused by your comments about fourth wavers wanting to politicize slash. You acknowledge that there is no form of fiction or recreation that is ideology free. Later, you acknowledge that the libido is anything but apolitical and express your own political discomfort with portrayals of violence against women in slash stories as well as in the commercial media. So, what is it that the fourth wavers are proposing that you object to? Is it that they are consciously interested in thinking about the ideological content of their stories? That they want to explore what sexuality means and what its implications are rather than simply writing sex scenes? That they find certain actions or attitudes as objectionable as you find violence against women? 1 don^t see very much pc agit-prop creeping into slash stories. All I see are some writers being more interested in exploring and vocalizing the political implications of what they are writing and I see that as all for the good. That doesn't mean you, me or anyone else can't or shouldn't get off on it. It just means that good slash stories can be meaningful on more than one level at once. For me, they are meaningful because of their critique of traditional masculinity. For some one else, they may be meaningful because they offer supportive images of gay lifestyles. For you, they may be meaningful because Blake and Avon can make sparks fly by rubbing two sticks together.
Re "all writing is argument." This is also what I love about fandom. Making the characters plausible is a relative, not an absolute i.e. the 4 Waves. But also on an individual basis. I've said it many times: what is one fan's candidate for Turkey Read Of The Year is another fan's idea of a total masterpiece. Which fans have better taste or views on literary merit? It depends on the various beholders who read the various works made available. Some of the other members of this APA may have seen that I am the truly sick puppy who placed both SNOWBOUND and GENTLE ON MY MIND on my list of "favorite Bodie/Doyle stories" in a couple of the B/D letterzines. I loved them both when I made up the list, and I still do!

Comments in Other Places

Comments: 2005

Comments: 2006

Comments: 2007

In 2007, the theory was discussed in a post by torch to shift the focus away from the stories per se and onto the writers and readers, suggesting that the same person might want to read or write different waves in different fandoms, depending on how involved they are in a given fandom (i.e., they may be fourth-wave in their primary fandom, but first- or second-wave in an unfamiliar fandom). See Pairings, wave theory, interpretive communities by torch (March 22nd, 2007).

Comments: 2008

In 2008, Sandy Herrold reposted one of her responses to Lezlie's Wave theory:
"This was posted a few weeks after The Wave Theory of Slash, partially as a response to it, back in 1993:

"Threshold Fandom" theory:

One, it matters 'how' people are brought in, as much as when; i.e., What if the first ten slash stories you read, mark you for your fannish life?

  • One possibility is you dislike *all* of them. Unless your entire social group become slashfen all at once, you'll probably never try slash again.
  • Another is, there is more than one fandom represented in that stack of 10, and you like most/all of them. You never realize that many of the people around you are faithful to some fandom, and from the beginning, you think of yourself as media (or slash) fan, instead of a B7 or Pros fan. This didn't happen much back in the '70s/early eighties, but it certainly could have happened by the mid-eighties.
  • Lots of other possibilities--if whatever you are shown first marks you, then a first waver bringing in a friend today will show them their fav 1st wave stories, and make that new fan a first waver, too; i.e., someone who thinks of a firstwave story as "the real slash". A second-waver will give a new fan 2nd-wave stories, and that new fan will think of second-wave slash as the way that slash should be written, etc.

Two, some people are slash fans first, with favorite shows, and some people are Pros or B7 fans, with an extra interest in slash:

  • Someone who is a Pros fan first, will tend to want 1st wave stories, with lots of work on the milieu, think of them as 'straight' as they are in the canon, etc.
  • Someone who is a slashfan first, will tend to be okay with PWPs and other stories that let them get right down to it; i.e., later wave stories.

Three, and most important: there are threshold fandoms.

  • In the US, very few fans found Professionals fandom on their own, since nearly the only way to watch Pros is be handed a tape by another fan. So, there are few people for whom Pros is their first fandom. On the other hand, lots of people started in fandom because they, all on their own, became a ST fan. Beauty and the Beast and QL are the other two big threshold fandoms of the last few years. Fans in threshold fandoms are more likely to be new; are more likely to have only new fan friends, and are more likely to be totally loyal to their current show.
So, someone in their threshold fandom could be a first waver for that fandom, but a 2nd or 3rd waver in ther fandoms. That is, for their first fandom, they are: totally caught up in it; loyal to aired facts over fan canon; reads both gen and slash in that universe, considers g-rated stories to be slash even if they don't include sex, justifies sex interest through universe details... (I think those are the major 1st wave points. Wouldn't you know I can't find my copy of the essay right now), but in their next fandom, they would be more 2nd or even third waveish, that is: found the fandom through slash stories, not the show, fan canon is as important as show details, will read slash stories of shows they haven't even seen. Now these could be people that got involved in media fandom just in the last couple of years--way too late for the 1st wave, but they show all the signs in their 'first fandom,' especially if they found it pretty much by themselves (i.e., starting writing their first Sam/Al story before they'd ever heard of media fandom or slash.)[6]

The theory was also discussed in 2008 by princessofgeeks and focused on the way people were coming into fandom via the Internet. Some clarification was made that fans could drop into the various phases at any point, rather than always starting with phase one. See: more on "wave theory" in slash fanfic.

The theory was discussed in the comments to something's lost in translation, a post by seperis.

The theory was discussed by princessofgeeks in 2008 in the essay another section of the slash puzzle.

Comments: 2011

The wave theory fits my experience of old fandoms like K/S or Due South but not more recent fandoms. [7]
I prefer the "threshold fandom" theory described on the same page. But I enjoy it as a Theory of Fandoms rather than Theory of Slashers. I definitely feel like there is slash written now - not all slash and not necessarily good slash or bad slash - that engages more with slash tropes and ideals than it particularly does with the original text. (For example, I would say that Arthur/Eames, to me, draws on the movie characters to tell slash stories, it doesn't use slash to tell stories about the movie characters. There are some exceptions but yeah.) Whereas I do feel like 30-year-old fic has a particular flavour that is not much like modern slash and does sound a lot like the so-called first wave. It doesn't at all describe an individual fan's journey (and it's illuminating that it's written from a self-described earlier wave slasher) [8]

Meta/Further Reading

References

  1. ^ May 14, 1993
  2. ^ quoted with permission: May 20, 1993
  3. ^ Hunt 24, 1993
  4. ^ Sandy Herald, quoted with permission (September 27, 1993)
  5. ^ November 6, 1993
  6. ^ More '...from the vaults' stuff post by sherrold, Oct. 22nd, 2008; reference link.
  7. ^ anonymous comment at fail-fandomanon dated November 21, 2011; reference link.
  8. ^ anonymous comment at fail-fandomanon dated November 21, 2011; reference link.