Right Next To The KY

A few weeks ago, I wrote this impassioned, angsty post about my squick points in SPN fandom. I was very specific. I was very serious. I was very delusional to think that everything would stay so neatly within the proper boundaries.

Especially since past me wrote, then:

But I guess I see the whole notion of squick in slash as generative, as a way of delimiting one’s imaginative [sexual] boundaries and then shifting those borders as needed.

Which, at the time, I thought applied to other people. That my “imaginative boundaries” were firmly planted; once negotiated, now settled.

And I was pretty freaking certain about the Stonehenge of my squick: real world. As I said then:

So I actively avoid learning anything about the real world side of SPN.

Enter Tumblr. And Stonehenge falls.

Still, it seems that past me was at least aware of this possibility, though I tried to couch it in terms of my scholarship, ’cause that’s the shell I run to when I’m freaked:

Maybe it’s just temporary. Maybe it’ll be like my once avowed opposition to J2… a taboo that flew by the wayside thanks to my research on meta slash fic.

Right. RESEARCH.

Sam loves research. He does. He keeps it under his mattress, right next to the KY.

Shut up, Dean.

So this week, when I found myself happily reading J2 and liking it, for gods’ sakes! and it wasn’t even anything I could vaguely point to as being useful in this paper or the next one, I had a moment of: oh shit. Who am I? What have I become?

Well, that goes without saying by now.

Then I self-flagellated myself to a friend, someone I can count on to slap me down if necessary, and this person said:

Dude. There’s good stuff in every genre. If you’re reading it and you like it, it makes you happy, then do it. If you don’t and it’s not, then stop.

Basically: stop angst-ing about reading porn. Jesus.

Now, I still don’t want to know about anyone’s kids, or people’s marriages or ways of working or dogs or whatever–see? I’ve already said too much. But I’m less terrified of what will happen if I do, accidently. I still don’t seek this shit out, this kind of real world knowledge, but if I pick some up through an AU J2, really. My brain will not explode. And I’m not, therefore, a terrible person.

I can be amused by stuff like this and not forfit my professional fangirl card, not lose the illusion that I can summon cool detachment in the middle of Wincest and go “hey, yeah, I can use that. For RESEARCH.”

Because I totally can.

This is a long way of saying, I guess, that the fences are still flexible in my corner of fandom. Which I knew, but. I guess I wasn’t ready for the pastures to move so soon, you know?

I guess what worries me is that I have a tendency, once I drift into a particular subgenre as a reader to want to go there as a writer. But I’m sure that won’t happen here.

No freaking way.

Know Your Squick

In which a post that started off quick and funny ends up long and angsty. 

One of the great things about slash fic is that it forces you to get to know your squick, those points at which the fic does something [to someone] that goes a step beyond what your personal fanon is willing to tolerate.

Sometimes, squick points are specific sex acts. Or they can be certain character pairings that to you, the reader, border on the unholy. In a bad way. Other times, it’s a particular trope that makes you nervous, like wing!fic, or curtain!fic or bottom!sammy in SPN slash.

What I appreciate about the squick factor is that it is, in my experience, a constant site of negotiation. When I started reading Wincest, for example, I was horrified by the notion of Castiel/Dean. Then it kind of slid from horrified to indifferent. Then from indifferent to oh, okay, maybe I could see it. And so on.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some squick rubicons that I still will not cross. Any slash fic featuring John Winchester, for example? Forget it. No freaking way.

But I guess I see the whole notion of squick in slash as generative, as a way of delimiting one’s imaginative [sexual] boundaries and then shifting those borders as needed. It’s like Henry Jenkins says in Textual Poachers:

“Not all of slash is politically conscious; not all of slash is progressive; not all of slash is feminist; yet one cannot totally ignore the progressive potential of this exchange and the degree to which slash may be one of the few places in popular culture where questions of sexual identity can be explored outside of the polarization that increasingly surrounds this debate.” (Jenkins 221)

So, for me, wrestling with the squick is one way that I as a reader [and a writer] do this kind of work, monkey around with “questions of sexual identity” for myself and for my own readers via slash fic.

Notice how I’ve gotten this far without saying what my SPN squick points are? As I’ve said before: repression–it’s a talent.

Now these are mine and mine alone: I sure as hell make no judgements about other readers and writers who go places I don’t want, or who avoid locations that I hang out in all the time. [I’m thinking of one of my readers who is lovely about my Wincest fic but vaguely disgusted by my Cas/Dean stuff. Heh.]

  1. Anything with John Winchester. Period. Dude creeps me out in the main narrative and I sure as hell don’t want him hovering over my slash fic.
  2. Non-con, in general. There are times when I’m ok with dubious con–because it usually works out for the best, in a not-terribly-feminist sort of way–but non-con? No thanks.
  3. Extreme violence. Yes, “extreme” is a wiggle word, but it’s like Justice Stewart said: I know it when I see it.
  4. Fic set before the boys are in high school. Just–ack.

But my biggest squick point as a fan has nothing to do with the fic. It has to do with the real world.

See, as a fan, I’ve never really been into the “real world” side of whatever it was I was fanning over. Take Star Trek, the foundation of my life as a fan. I’ve never been to a convention, or stood in line to hear the actors speak, or gone to Gene Roddenberry’s grave, because, fundamentally, what I love about ST is the fiction, are the characters and the stories. I don’t ‘ship Nimoy and Shatner, I don’t follow the actors around on Twitter, I’ve never watched the show’s blooper reels because, it’s just like, I know that it’s all pretend. All made up and crafted out of styrofoam and velour and monsters of the week: I know that.

But there’s part of me that’s cognitively dissonant enough to hang on to the fiction, to be invested in Dr. McCoy rather than DeForest Kelley, in Khan rather than Montelban, in Chapel rather than Majel Barrett. And I want to keep it so, to keep pretending at least in that tiny region of my brain that the Enterprise exists, that these people are truly tangling with all the weird shit that Kirk’s ego gets them into.

And in ST fandom, this is actually pretty easy to do, for me. Because the actors are old enough–hell, the show was old enough, when I stumbled across it–that I can fashion that dissonant space without too much trouble. Can maintain it without installing a watcher at the gate.

But in SPN fandom? Those borders are much, much more difficult to enforce, given the primary narrative’s obsession with pointing back at its real world fans and the real-time nature of the show’s production [relatively] and my consumption of the product.

And yes, talk about dissonance, right? Given that my research on this stupid show had centered on fandom, on the show’s portrayal of its female fans. But I don’t care about who’s producing, at some level. At who’s doing the writing, what the network is saying about next season, what the actors [god forbid] think about the current story arc. [This may explain why I broke up with SPN for like two weeks over “The French Mistake.” Grrr.]

So I actively avoid learning anything about the real world side of SPN. Like Ned Seagoon used to say on the Goon Show: I don’t wish to know that!

Now granted, this IS going to cause problems for my scholarship, this desire to hold the borders fast between the world of the show and the real life logistics that make the show happen, the real people who engage with the fans [whether we want them to or not]. I know this. It’s problematic. I’m not an “informed fan,” as a  fellow scholar put it once at an SPN panel.

Maybe it’s just temporary. Maybe it’ll be like my once avowed opposition to J2 [Real Person Slash for SPN], a taboo that flew by the wayside thanks to my research on meta slash fic. [Hey, I had to read those stories! It was part of my research. I swear.]

But. We shall see.

He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged


I’ve spent a lot of quality time with Becky Rosen lately. And this is a piece that’s come out of our communion.

I’ve been working with Becky since last November, when I watched episode 7.8, “It’s Time For A Wedding!” for the first time.

My first reaction to what I saw as the episode’s, uh, problems? Was to write my first S/D story, “Hot Blooded.”

My second? Was to start work on this piece, which has moved  from a presentation [of which this is version 2.0] to a lengthier academic essay.

The reaction that I’ve received to this work at the two conferences at which I’ve presented it has been generally positive, but it’s also stirred up some hornets’ nests for some folks, which is kind of awesome. 

This presentation relies pretty heavily on images [which is part of why I’m so fond of it, I think]; if you wish, you can download the associated slide show here

While Supernatural doesn’t belong to me, this work does. And, as Becky might say, everything may be a fic of everything else, but don’t try to slash this slasher, to represent this work as your own.

He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged:
Deleting Female Desire in “Season 7: It’s Time For A Wedding!”

Soon after its premiere in 2005, the television show Supernatural—the story of Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who’ve committed their lives to protecting people from supernatural creatures—spawned an online fandom dedicated to “slashing” Sam and Dean; that is, to writing stories in which the brothers are portrayed as lovers. Indeed, over the course of seven seasons, the existence of these narratives—affectionately dubbed “Wincest” by the show’s fans—has become a defining feature of Supernatural‘s primarily female fandom.

By introducing a meta-textual version of the show—a series of books also called Supernatural—into the primary narrative, the program’s producers have allowed Sam and Dean [and, by extension, the producers themselves] to comment upon the productive and consumptive practices of Wincest fans. However, the subsequent introduction of the character of Becky Rosen—dedicated Wincest writer and devoted fan of the Supernatural book series—has allowed the producers to take this commentary one step further: to illustrate the monstrous potential of the female fan, particularly one who actively engages in the construction, consumption, and distribution of Wincest narrative.

In this paper, I will argue that a central image in Becky’s most recent appearance in season seven, episode eight exemplifies the danger that the show’s producers see her [and the female fans for whom she stands, in their minds] posing to the show’s carefully maintained masculine order: the image (slide 1) of a semi-clothed Sam bound to a bed, his body and the text which it represents at the mercy of his female captor. The transgressive nature of this image lies in its reversal of what Laura Mulvey calls “the symbolic order” of gender in the visual, one in which “the silent image of woman [is] still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” That is, the threat that Becky poses to Sam, to Supernatural, lies in her status as a woman and as a fan writer, as a figure who can upend the central narrative by affixing the masculine to her “rightful” place as the signifier of meaning while claiming the role of producer for herself. Continue reading “He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged”

This Week In Male Hetero Fail (Thus Always To Tyrants Edition)

This is my boomstick! Not my transvaginal probe. Swear to god.

A friend and I were in a local restaurant/bar last night, eating, talking, trying to get some shit for school done. It was pretty quiet, being a Sunday night, I guess, save for one boisterous exception: a group of aggressively moronic dudes playing darts right behind our fucking table.

Now I have no problem with the individual elements here: dudes, darts, and beer. Fine. But this group took the elemental combination to new heights by tossing homophobia into the mix, which. Awesome. They’d divided themselves into two teams for their game, and their team names? The “gays” and the “lesbos.” Yes, in fact, they were so proud of these monikers that they not only repeated them [loudly] at every possible turn but also inscribed them on the wee chalkboard on which one of their ilk was keeping score.

So I don’t know for certain that these men were exclusively hetero; indeed, you could make a pitch for such aggressive posturing as being a cover for some sort of latent anxiety related to their own sexual identity, much less that of others.

Still. I strongly suspect.

So their dickishness [and my inability to formulate any sort of real-time response, vocal or otherwise], got me thinking about all of the male hetero fail that’s swirling around my home state of Virginia these days.

It’s not fair to consign all of heterosexual maledom into a universal. So take that as my caveat. [Indeed, a friend recently rapped my virtual knuckles for referring to him as “hetero” in a way that he took as a bit of an insult, which, ok, it may have been, but only unconsciously so. Hence me performing my bias so openly here.]

However, a handful of white, heterosexual men–many of whom ostensibly represent the fine people of Virginia–have been doing their damnedest over the past few weeks to make that truism harder and harder to uphold. So to speak.

Most of this idiocy centers around our state government’s attempts to pass a law that would have required any woman seeking the LEGAL medical procedure of abortion to have a transvaginal ultrasound. Oh, yeah. You’ve surely heard about this by now, thanks to the efforts of Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and The Rachel Maddow Show. Thus always to tyrants, indeed.

Currently, Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion in our fair state. And although the person who drafted the state-mandated penetration bill is a woman, many of the bill’s loudest and most prominent supporters were the white men who dominate Virginia’s House of Delegates and our Senate.  Our right-wing social experimentalist governor, Bob McDonnell, had been touted as a potential running mate for the GOP’s eventual nominee [*cough*Mitt Romney*cough*].

However, once the transvaginal nonsense broke into the mainstream–both in Virginia and in the national press–McDonnell backed down from his heretofore vociferous support for the bill [and its equally insidious cousin, a so-called “personhood” bill that would redefine human life as beginning at conception. Good times!].

Now that the state-mandated penetration bill has been killed and the “personhood” bill has been sent back to committee [effectively tabling it for the rest of this year], you may be asking: of what new male hetero fail do you speak?

I speak, dear reader, of Delegate David Albo, who ostensibly “represents” district 42 in Fairfax, VA. Let me allow the gentleman from Fairfax to speak for himself–and it’s worth quoting in full, via Gawker:

I got Rita [Albo’s wife] some red wine, sat next to her, used my patented cool move. I invented this, it’s a United States patent. I went, “Ohhh, I’m so tired!” I then turn on the TV to find the Redskin channel. I know you think that’s weird, but my wife loves the Redskins more than she loves me. Got my theme music going, my red wine, looking at the Washington Redskins and I start flipping through the channels. And through the channels you have to get through the news stuff. And all the sudden on my big screen TV comes this big thing and a picture of a bill that has “Albo” on it. I went, “Wow! Holy smokes, it’s my name as big as a wall!” And the very next scene was a gentleman from Alexandria’s face as big as my wall going “trans-v-this” and “trans-v-that” and “they hate women!” and “we’re gonna—in that bill—she’s crazy!” And I’m like this with my wife. And the show’s over, and she looks at me, and she goes, “I gotta go to bed.” So if the gentleman’s plan was to make sure there was one less Republican in this world, he did it.

[If you have the stomach for it, you can watch the video of this display of rhetorical impotency here.]

As the commenters on Gawker’s story point out, Albo can’t even SAY THE WORD VAGINA, yet he professes a desire to legislate how and when the state should have access to it.

What’s almost as bad, I think, is his apparent assumption that if he wishes to have sex [shudder–why am I thinking of tentacle porn?!], then his wife should [by right] be in the mood. And I also love his assumption [a peek into his figured world, perhaps?] that it’s the talk of the transvaginal probing legislation that gets his wife “out of the mood,” as if she was already in said mood, given all of his careful preparation for seduction. Hey, at least he recognizes that talk of state-mandated penetration is, you know, less than alluring–as might be, dare I suggest, her knowledge that he supports such legislation of women’s bodies. Might not really make her want to, you know, give you access to her vagina, dude, knowing that you spend all day thinking up way to virtually worm your way into those of women all across the state. Just a thought.

And, to top it off, the Daily Caller website threw a video tantrum today over Rachel Maddow’s coverage of Governor Transvaginal Probe and his buddies. Seems the good people of the Caller don’t like Rachel using the word “vagina” on the TV machine. Loudly. Repeatedly. And in the context of GOP policies. [Also, note the totally squeamish way in which the blogger from the Washington Post presents this video. Can’t even bring himself to comment on it beyond a coy: “That’s as much detail as I’m willing to provide on this affair.” And the use of the word “affair”? No mistake there.]

So let’s add “vagina” and “transvaginal probing” to the list of words with which the dominant discourse is very, very uncomfortable–to the list of words I vow to now repeat early, often, loudly, and occasionally even in context–in a way that’s totally different, I think, from the heebie-jeebies that words like “anal” and “sodomy” give to said discourse.

Stories matter, damn it.

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So I went to an academic conference last week and presented a paper on Supernatural. Yes, I am awesome. Heh.

The conference I attended is dedicated to the study of popular culture. It was the first conference I’ve attended as a presenter, which. Sigh. But it went well–hell, I got to give a presentation that included the above shot of Sam without a shirt. Come on! And some very smart people said very nice things to me about my writing style (ah, the fastest way to my heart) and my sense of humor in said presentation. Which. Brief moment of happiness, of belief in my temporary awesomeness.

My work was on episode 7.8, “Season Seven: It’s Time For A Wedding!” Ah, yes, the one where Becky roofies Sammy and doesn’t fuck his brains out. I know, right? Complete science fiction.

Now academic conferences are a funny thing. They’re often a place for posturing and performance–and not by the people who’re onstage. People in the audience, well, they don’t like being in the audience, at some level. We all think we’re smarter than whoever’s talking and some of us take it upon ourselves to fucking prove that–to ourselves, to the rest of the audience, and especially to the presenter.

[ETA: I came very close to bring that person today during a panel at the conference I’m attending this week (where I presented a paper on metatextual Wincest and J2, but that’s a story for another post). Tried to restrain myself, even when smarmy panelist made it clear that he knows nothing about comics, that the only ones he’s ever read are those assigned in his comics 101 class last semester, a class from which all of the papers on the panel were drawn! Blargh!]

Ahem.

Toss a little female fandom into the mix–and topless pictures of Sam and Dean–and you have a receipe for fanwanking and sword-crossing on an epic scale.

Now I expressed some strong opinions about how The Powers That Be (TPTB) treat Becky in 7.8. I argue that TPTB delete Becky’s sexual agency in this episode once and for all, the culmination of an erosion that begins with her second appearance in 5.9, “The Real Ghostbusters” [though, sadly, I cut this gradiation part of the paper for time; ok, yes, it was like six pages long, but still. Sucked to take it out.]

I also suggested that the tactics that TPTB use to do rewrite Becky in this way are pulled straight from the Leviathan playbook in 7.6, the ironically titled “Slash Fiction.” That is, like the Leviathan, TPTB first tried outing Becky’s slash practices [and those of the fans she represents way back in 5.1, “Sympathy for the Devil] then shift to rewriting those practices as morally and legally reprehensible (as the Leviathan do by creating alternate versions of Sam and Dean who set out on a multi-state killing spree and create, in essence, a slash version of the “saving people, hunting things” story the boys have made for themselves).

I had a light touch with this material, I think [Sadly, I was the only presenter on our panel to use the word “fuck”–much less to use it repeatedly. Heh!]. But I also was pretty specific about how I read the producers’ acts of reinscription in this episode, of the ways in which they attempted to recode Becky [and the female (slash) fans that she represents] as potential rapists, as women desperate for societal approval, whose greatest desire is not to fuck Sam (see what I mean?) but to be read as happy heteronormatives.

So despite the good reception that I got for my work, I did have several people say to me (or in their presentations at the next Supernatural panel–yes, there was more than one)–that, oh, well, you know it’s all in fun, this rewriting of Becky. Or, well, can’t you blame it on the change in showrunners (no), on the bringing in of new writers (?!), or, at the very least, the producers are having a conversation with us, the [female] fans, and that means it’s ok.

You know what? It’s really not. Stories matter, the stories on TV matter, the stories that TV tells us about ourselves fucking matter. Intentionality makes no difference; I could care less what the producers have said on the message boards, or at a con, or on Twitter [sorry, Misha].

What matters to me is what the text is doing, what the texts say together, the ways in which the show’s primary narrative seems to stage repeated tactical attempts [in the de Certeau sense] to undermine or disrupt slash fiction, on Wincest, on the [primarily] female fans who produce and consume those texts. And, just as important, I’m interested in what the fans are doing with the primary text–how they embrace it, resist it, tweak it, undermine it, reject it, etc.

To me, the primary narrative of Supernatural suggests that female fandom in general, and slash fans in particular, make the show’s TPTB really fucking nervous. Or at least create an exigence to which the producers feel they must respond.

So, for me, there’s value in looking at the tensions within the texts. I am completely uninterested in reading about how the producers are talking to fans in a general sense outside of the primary narrative, for now. The text is doing, the fans are reacting, and these are interesting phenomena that are worthy of thought and examination. [And I hate it when people try to justify their research. Fuck, people, it matters to you; show me, rather than tell me, why I should care.]

All this is to say: there’s a fine line between fanwanking and academic scholarship, between professional fandom and everyday geekery. The key, I think, is that we not take ourselves too seriously as scholars, but that we do treat the texts and what they do as if they matter, really matter, to someone other than us. Because they do.

Only one of each of us

In K/S slash, there’s a lot of talk about drowning; Spock drowning in Kirk’s kisses, or Kirk drowning in Spock’s pleasure, etc. etc.

I started to read slash this week, intending only (expecting only?) to duck my head beneath the waves and bob up better informed.

However–

My mouth is full of saltwater, my eyes are stinging from the sand, and, oh, please keep that life preserver to yourself.

I suppose what’s bothering me here is that I did not expect to like slash–to find it intellectually interesting, yes; as a fascinating embodiment of de Certeau’s notion of “making do” (per Henry Jenkins), yes. But to enjoy it as writing? Not possible.

However. Continue reading “Only one of each of us”

This isn’t what it looks like.

I have much love for the TOS episode “Amok Time”: it’s Spock-centric, we learn cool stuff about Vulcan, and McCoy gets to be a drug-wielding hero.

And it features T’Pau, who spits out more good lines in this episode than Chekov gets in two seasons–
“Are thee Vulcan, or are thee human?’

However–

Up until now, I’ve managed to overlook what seems now to me to be a huge leap (or absence) in the episode’s logic:

Spock doesn’t get laid. Continue reading “This isn’t what it looks like.”