The Wave Theory of Slash Revisited

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Title: The Wave Theory of Slash Revisited
Creator: Gayle F
Date(s): September 1993
Medium: online
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The Wave Theory of Slash Revisited is a 1993 essay by Gayle F that was posted to Virgule-L, a private slash mailing list, in September 1993 by Lynn C. with Gayle's permission as Gayle did not have easy internet access. The essay is used here on Fanlore with Gayle's blanket permission.

Also see Meta Essays, List Surveys and Notable Discussions on Virgule-L.

In Response To

Gayle's essay was written in response to reading The Wave Theory of Slash, a meta essay by Lezlie Shell that had been posted earlier that year to both Virgule-L and the apa Strange Bedfellows.

Some Topics Discussed

The Preface by Lynn C.

Since Sandy brought up the Wave Theory again, I figure now is a good time to post something I got from [Gayle F] before Zcon about the wave theory. I sent Gayle the original post, and NONE of the subsequent discussion we had about it

[...]

Gayle's reaction was therefore based solely on her reading of Lezlie's rather terse original post, which I include before Gayle's message. I later tried to present to Gayle some of the interpretations of the Wave Theory that I think we have all settled on, which were never summarised as such on the list (to my recollection), and she calmed down after that. But her post is very interesting anyway and I am more than happy to forward responses to her, whether posted or private. [1]

The Essay by Gayle F.

When Lynn first mentioned the "Wave Theory" to me, I thought it was fun and sounded pretty accurate. Now that I've received the posting, I still think it is fun, but accuracy is another thing.

For one thing, it is natural for a slash fan who becomes interested in a series to develop her story out of the series models. This fits right in with the First Wave theory as presented. However, after a First Waver has explored the relationship in those terms for a while, she may want to try a different tack to find new insight, or to keep the writing fresh. Alternate Universe stories, either from series episodes, or from other inspiration, were very common with First Wave writers in K/S fandom. The Mirror Universe fascinated everyone, and K/S worked especially well for love slave stories.

Blake's 7 on the other hand, because the tragic end creates a closed universe, works very badly for anything but AU derived from the series. And the love slave stuff set within the series is usually silly. Because there is so much conflict between Blake and Avon, the slash pretty much demands that you work with the universe as is. Anyway--the point was that AU is not a province of the later waves, it is also a natural progression of First Wavers. To a First or Second Waver, a good AU story would be used to investigate the characters as presented in the show. If this were changed in the Series Universe, how would it affect our characters. For Third and Fourth Wavers, its purpose is as you suggest. The K/S Love Slave erotica is probably debatable, but even there most writers were trying to keep the characters in character, as well as indulge the fantasy. There are also innumerable First Wave stories, and novels, that fit the Third Wave parameters, where the relationship is central but the story itself also important.

It also strikes me that the point at which a slash fan entered fandom is extremely important. To a certain extent, now that Slash fandom exists, there will be fewer pure First Wavers. Although there will always be some lonesome soul hiding her slash manuscript in her drawer, many fans move from one fandom to another, and take their knowledge with them. But the central point of First Wave seems to be that it focuses on the show as aired, rather than simply referring to fans who got into Slash fandom way back when. I was First Wave K/S, and I'd call myself First Wave Blake|A/B, although the fandom was established when I entered it, it was the series that hooked me, and the series characters I wanted to work with. In B7, I had both characters bi-sexual. They were so antagonistic that having the conflict and tension of one or both of them fretting about being gay was totally irrelevant. But I don't doubt that having been involved in fandom had freed me to make that choice. While I consider that fiction I wrote as Sylvia Knight First Wave, there was more Second Wave influence than on the K/S stories (I can remember, early on going Avon and VILA?, AVON and vila?--I can see Blake and Vila easier than that--a story choice influenced by fanfic, but characterizations developed from the show). If I had ever written the one Starsky and Hutch fantasy I had, it would have been Second Wave, as I was as influenced by Connie Faddis and Penny Warren as by the show.

A reference is made to the amused tolerance of Fourth Wavers toward the "specialness" earlier groups feel toward their characters. This may be true, but First Wavers, while they may feel their characters are special have also developed a more relaxed attitude over time. When I entered Star Trek fandom, K/S was the only slash and it consisted of a single, one page published story and an underground manuscript that I didn't see for a couple of years. Fortunately, while I had the delicious idea of Kirk and Spock as lovers all on my own, there were many other fans who had been brooding on it as well, and there were a couple of editors in love with the idea ready to publish zines with slash or all slash. And, while I am very much a First Waver as a K/S fan, it was Connie Faddis' fiction that taught me to love McCoy, so I am also a Second Waver. The notion that Fourth Wave is more sophisticated that First is insulting -- there are well-informed, sophisticated writers at all the levels. A bisexual fan who discovers Slash fandom and wants to write for a favorite universe is probably going to bring a little more knowledge than a straight one, but ride any wave. A First Wave writer who has years of experience in one fandom and becomes a First Waver in another will again be bringing what she has learned into the fandom. A medicocre fan writer with years of experience can be topped by a neophyte with pizazz.

While its natural that the early Slash fen feel more of a specialness about their characters when they had to defend the whole concept in a much more hostile environment, I find it hard to imagine a good slash story written about two characters who have a penis. There are shows in which I really care for two male characters, and simply cannot manage to get them into bed. I've always wanted to do a Harry O and Lt. Trench, and the best I could ever imagine was an embarrassed one night stand they both pretty much wanted to forget. I'd love to read a Neil and Willie from the Sandbaggers, but I can't imagine believing it. I feel a certain amount of perplexity about Fourth Wavers in general. If you aren't intrigued by a special set of characters, you can probably find better gay erotica in the local book store. But of course, fandom itself can be fun, and there is lots and lots of slash stuff to be pawed through. And it seems to me that whatever the level of sophistication in the realism of physical detail, the best-loved Slash stories are emotionally as well as carnally erotic, and are primarily written by women for women.

From the M. Fae Glasgow stories I've read, I would not put her as a Fourth Waver. Although like Vivian Gates' provocative K/S she does deliberately go for the unusual, it seems obvious to me in reading her stories (her Sherlock/Watson and her Data/Picard) that they are based on the series characters. Her language goes for the tone of the shows. And if her Sherlock is colder and kinkier than the one I see, I'd bet he comes from the series, not from some other fan's Sherlock. I don't know her so I could well be wrong, but it strikes me that its her personal, outrageous, challenging sensibility and work in several fandoms at once that is getting her classified as Fourth Wave, not her way of approaching the characters. I do think in the case of Vivian Gates and M. Fae Glasgow that being part of fandom liberated them to try out their more hard-edged interpretations of the characters. But they are interpretations, not inventions that have little or no relevance to their sources. From what I know of The Pros Slash fandom, the very first people involved would have to have been First Wavers, but Second Wave was skipped over in favor of Third and Fourth, because while fanfic was available, the series was not. There are more new First Wave stories about now, than there were five years ago.

Follow-Up Comments by Gayle

On October 1, 1993, Gayle wrote:

On your comments about my statement about their being fewer First Wavers the longer fandom exists. If it was not clear, my point is that, a slash fan at this point in time, even if she is hooked on a show from a First Waver's POV, is probably going to be reading fan fiction very early on. However much of a purist she is, she will be effected for good or ill by what she reads. I had already made this point, when I talked about how Connie Faddis' fanfic influences my view of McCoy (for the better). I also know a new B7 fan, who got into the show and the fiction about the same time. She WANTS to write about the show characters, but isn't always sure whether assumptions she is making come from what she has seen, or what she has read. I think, at this point, that even if a slash fan is ardently attached to one particular series, she would probably take note if a new show appeared on the tube with two interesting male leads. I know I keep an eye out for the possible new slash hit, even without any particular desire to get hooked. I just wonder who will develop a yen for them and start slashing. If she is interested in the show, and goes looking for the fiction, she may end up with the same sort of dilemma. If she has a Fourth Wave attitude, and the original isn't important to her, then she has no dilemma, of course.

I disagree that First Waver slashers are texturally driven. That might be more true of gen writers. I would say that most First Wave slash fen are drawn in by an erotic interest in one of the characters (or both, if they are really lucky). I know that this is the case with me for both Star Trek and B7, as well as for minor dabbling in a couple of other fandoms. This doesn't mean that I don't enjoy the shows for themselves, I do, especially B7. But it was the intensity of my attraction to Spock and to Avon that got me writing about the shows, and my desire to create something with those characters, rather than to just write something about that universe. On the other hand, I think that being true to the characters and true to the tone of the show are very much inter- related. And for that matter, how true to the world and characters the story seems to me will definitely effect the emotional response that I have. Sentimental B7 is more "off" than sentimental Trek, while Trek allows for the possibility of darker explorations.

I also disagree that First Wave fans want only want stories that extend the series--if you mean to the exclusion of anything else. On the other had, I could accept a definition that a First Wave story would have to be set within the boundaries of the series. The point I made in the earlier Email was that as First Wavers are usually interested in the characters in the context of the show, and that for them, that is the natural place to start exploring the characters. Once they have done that, they may very well go looking for a new context such as an alternate universe. But they want to be true to the characters as they perceive them to be, or, in an AU, to make some change that further illuminates them in some way (as I did with my Spock who was raised as a human). By the time you get to the Fourth (Fifth?) Wave approach seems to be more, "Gee those guys are cute, I wonder what they'd look like with elf ears?"

[...]

perhaps, there are more First Wave fans who are gen fans as well as slash fans? Does anyone else want to comment on this? While I found working within the B7 universe more compelling than the Trek universe, Trek, with its "strange new worlds" and wide range of aliens, offered more possibilities for people who wanted to write Sci Fi. Because the erotic attraction was so strong, I never wanted to write anything else, for those shows, but I had ideas for Harry O, Columbo, Murder She Wrote that were gen, even if I never wrote them.

[...]

Yes, I enjoy slash, to a certain extent, purely as a fetish. I like seeing guys together, too. I flip through gay porn mags, I go to movies with gay themes. There doesn't have to be anything special about the mags or the films to get me to do this. It's fun. It's sexy. That's reason enough. For me the "specialness" is inherent in my feelings for the characters--though I would also argue that Sherlock, Spock, and Avon are truly "special", extraordinary, characters, whereas someone like Castillo I would just say is interesting--I am not talking slashability here, just uniqueness of character. And if, as you say, you are looking for emotion in the slash you read, how can you not be looking for whatever spark it is that makes these slash pairings work--so that it is a pairing of people, not just two guys, each with a penis. For example, almost all the sucessful slash couples are opposites in one way or another. There is temperamental contrast that gives emotional excitement to the stories. While you might get a steamy erotic scene with two characters fished from separate fandoms, you aren't going to get much emotional omphff without that edge. Because my involvement in Star Trek and B7 were passions, not casual amusement, I can't help but feel a little disdainful of the Fourth Wave attitude, as Fourth Wavers may feel amused by mine. First Wavers are involved in a intense love affair, Fourth Wavers are having a holiday fling.

[...]

For the most part, I would not read a story in a multi-media zine about characters I didn't know. I would if it was by a writer I liked, or if it came highly recommended. But I would still assume that by not knowing the characters I would be missing part of the point of the story. And there is so much bad writing in fandom that I wouldn't want to brave a story about characters I didn't know, even as I would put up with it to be with characters that I care about. You complain about weak writing in First Wave, but there are only a handful of professional quality fan writers. How can you possibly get as good a story from writers of equal capability, if one is basing her writing on an entire series played out by actors of presence who can (hopefully) make even mediocre writing come alive, as opposed to someone who bases their story on a hodge podge of secondary sources with conflicting interpretations. Even the best written story will not show you everything that can be gotten from the series, even if it enriches your view of the character past what is shown on the series, as Connie Faddis' McCoy did for me. Unless it was a guided tour by someone I trusted, I would rather not be introduced to a fandom through the fiction. It's obviously a First Wave sort of attitude, and I miss out on some fun slash, and no doubt some well-written slash, but it is how I feel.

[...]

I will admit that I sometimes wish I could be more Fourth wave in one way. About the only pairing that I have gotten into in which I thought both characters were sexy was C/C from MV (and there, I confess, I had undertones of Edward James' incredible performance in Wolfen as an undercurrent to Castillo). I cannot remember any story in any of the fandoms that I have been involved in that brought in an outside character to take the place of the established slash partner that worked, even when I didn't much like one of the partners. For me, there is too much inherent power in the established relationship. As a fan of the old Kung Fu, I had a crossover fantasy with Spock and Caine, and also Avon with a Caine like monk. But, despite my liking the Caine character better than Kirk or Blake, the official pairing was still like a magnet. Even when I could make the new character believable--at least in my fantasy--the inherent coupling of the show would assert itself, and I would feel compelled to resolve that. And in both cases, I was interested in playing off one favorite and highly complex character against another, in ways that I found meaningful. In some ways it would be more fun to care less, and whip around the erotic favorite from one show and match him with another character I liked. I can see that Fourth Wavers get to have their cake and eat it too. But too me it would be a bit like sawing in half a Matisse and gluing it together with a Vermeer. It all becomes really silly. Doyle and McCoy, right, yeah, sure. Ah--how about Vila and Al from Quantum Leap? No, Avon and Al. Avon would spend the entire series trying to figure out a way to kill a hologram.

On the other hand, if I am not asked to believe that Avon is truly Avon of B7, but an Avonic character placed in a new universe and redefined, I could accept some other pairing. And in that case, it would be necessary to make the new universe, and how it has altered the character clear. Even if I knew that someone had used Avon and say, Doyle, in such a fashion, I could accept it. But that is different from the kind of character assassination that is done in bad fanfic. It's probably a difference that makes no difference to Fourth Wavers, but it's very clear to me. Right now, I am now contracted to Dell for two historical romances. Both have Avonic characters, neither is Avon, exactly, and I would have with a free conscience used a male figure from another fandom for a slash lover if I felt I could get away with it in, which I can't, though I have got a slash pairing planned for a future novel, that if I do well with these, I feel that I can sell. I would not have trouble with this idea, because both characters would have to be melted down and reformed within the crucible of the novel. If I did my job right, they would be part of the new world. To me, in that context, changes are valid. Though Avon fans may well like these characters, I'm not pretending to offer Avon himself, then failing to deliver. I've felt the same sort of annoyance with First Wave writers who differ widely from me in their concept of the characters--but at least they care who they are writing about. However, if some marvelous Fourth Wave writer produced a wonderful Avonic character, based on the permutations of Avon in fanfic, and didn't call him Avon, I would be very happy to read the story. I can accept character transformation, but not character violation.

However passionately attached I am to my particular loves, I accept that not everyone wants the same thing that I do out of fandom, as I do the fact that they are interested in fandoms that have no appeal for me. People whose opinion I respect may well see the characters differently than I do. It keeps it all lively and interesting, and even when I feel like bopping people on the head sometimes, I love it that fandom exists in all its perverse diversity. [2]

References

  1. ^ comment by Lynn C. (September 28, 1993), posted as a preface to Gayle F's essay
  2. ^ post to Virgule-L, quoted with permission