It is I who will make you play

about to kiss for real

A quick and dirty update on my project-in-progress, “Unbuckle Your Belt.”

Biggest shift at present: I’m now reading “Just Relax” as part of a larger pattern, an ongoing game, rather than as a singular instance of Collins substantively contributing to Destiel fandom.

The theory side of this project started with this wee snippet of Lyotard from The Differend:

One will not link onto To arms! with You have just formulated a prescription, if the stakes are to make someone act with urgency. One will do it if the stakes are to make someone laugh. But there are other means to achieve an end. The idea of seduction needs to be extended.

A genre of discourse exerts a seduction upon a phrase universe. It inclines the instances presented by this phrase toward certain linkings, or at least it steers them away from other linkings which are not suitable with regard to the end pursued by this genre.

It is not the addressee who is seduced by the addressor. The addressor, the referent, and the sense are no less subject than the addressee to the seduction exerted by what is at play in a genre of discourse. (Lyotard 84)

Reading Just Relax” through this lens suggests that the short is funny, in part, because the discursive linkages it invokes between the TSA, Destiel, and seduction are deliberately infelicitous. That is, these links are unexpected, almost to the point of incongruity.

Ok. So what?

Perhaps part of that answer might be provided by Baudrilliard, who manages to say some useful things about seduction in the midst of a whole lot of terrible sexist nonsense in his Seduction (1978).

To wit, he suggests that:

This is what occurs in the most banal games of seduction: I shy away; it is not you who will give me pleasure, it is I who will make you play, and thereby rob you of your pleasure. A game in continuous movement…

“The law of seduction takes the form of an uninterrupted ritual exchange where seducer and seduced constantly raise the stakes in a game that never ends. And cannot end since the dividing line that defines the victory of the one and the defeat of the other, is illegible. (Baudrillard 22)

So perhaps part of what makes the infelicitous discursive or thematic linkages in “Just Relax” productive—and yes, I know I have to define what I mean by that—is that the short is part of a larger game: not a unique instance of Collins contributing to the Destiel narrative from outside of the Supernatural canon, but one example of such in an ongoing game of seduction, of mutual seeking of pleasure that’s always unresolved.

Take this vid, for example, that Collins posted in the fall of 2013 (I think? Need to find out for sure):

So who is the seducer/ee here? Are the fans being seduced by Collins playing to their favorite ship? Or has Collins been seduced by fan practices around the ship? Again, Baudriallard may be helpful here when he argues that:

to be seduced is to challenge the other to be seduced in turn (Baudrillard 22)

More consideration is needed here. But this line of thinking feels promising, as well as entertaining.

On a semi-related note, I’m toying with Linda Williams’ discussion of what she calls “body genres” of film, in which

the success of these genres is often measured by the degrees to which the audience sensation mimics what is seen on the screen. (Williams 4)

Now, no one is going to come from watching “Just Relax” alone, but fandom can make/take the text one step further and make it so. As 51stCenturyFox, the author of the hilarious TSA America fic “Two Fingers Under the Belt” puts it, “Fandom do porn. That is how we DO.”

To invoke Williams again:

What seems to bracket these particular [film] genres from others is an apparent lack of proper esthetic distance, a sense of over-involvment in sensation and emotion. We feel manipulated by these texts—an impression that the very colloquialisms of “tear jerker” and “fear jerker” express—and to which we could add pornography’s even cruder sense as texts to which some people might be inclined to ‘jerk off’ (Williams 5)

I love thinking about slash as a “body genre.” HA! Have to keep thinking about this.

Finally, my investigations of TSA America fic has me stuck on the idea of “Just Relax” as a closed narrative: that is, the way in which the story ends makes it hard(er) for fic writers to revise and extend the story as is. Admittedly, there are only 6 fics tagged TSA America on AO3, though I suspect there are more floating around on tumblr that I need to find. However, most of these 6 begin with the authors having to re-open the story in order to find a way into porn.

For example, in “TSA America: Level Rainbow,” the Texan (whose name in the script is “Duke,” apparently) physically leaves the airport terminal and then reenters so that he might go through the TSA line again. When he reaches the front of the line, he tells the semi-suspicious agent on duty: ‘I had to go back out to pick up to pick up a … package” of his grandmother’s cookies. Like you do. Hee!

I need to think and write more about this, but for now suffice it to say that I suspect that, because of the way in which the short is constructed—with a very definitive ending that leaves Duke and Officer Franklin, the TSA agent, separated and with seemingly little chance of being reunited—it may be easier to repurpose the short’s narrative for Dean/Cas in visual, rather than textual form.

Like this:

Hmmmm.

Gotta be honest: I didn’t expect there to be fic about the short. I thought there’d be fic that straight-up repuprposed the story for Dean/Castiel purposes, but I didn’t expect to read (and enjoy!) stories that take up the story of Duke the Texan and how Officer Franklin rocked his world.

Anyway! Progress. We’ll see where this goes next.

Setting Wincest Straight

Here’s something I learned at the conference I attended last week:

  1. Wincest is disgusting, to some people.

Let me set the scene.

As my brother wisely observed, I go to conferences to road test my academic material. To put it up in front of an audience and see what works, what doesn’t; a trait, he says, I learned in improv, where it’s all about doing, reading audience reaction, and revising the work the next time you go on stage.

[I hadn’t made that connection, myself. He’s a smart one.]

What I’ve realized, though, is that there’s a productive tension between the need need to put a piece of academic writing on its feet and the need for it to be, you know, something good enough [ugh] for me to stand behind.

At some level, I’d love it if every conference presentation resulted in all comers telling me what a fucking genius I am, showering me with publication offers, and buying me drinks.

At another, I recognize that the unexpectedly rich engagement [weird, lively, sorta intense conversation] that occurred during my panel’s question and answer session was WAY the fuck more valuable. Even if no drinks were purchased on my behalf.

To wit: one of the lessons I took from the panel.

  1. Wincest is disgusting, to some people.

So one of the academics on my panel now writes about sex and science fiction, but is, in her other scholarship, also involved with neuroscience and psychology. In my paper, I talked [much more briefly than in others] about the rise [ahem] of the Wincest narrative and its distinctive presence in Supernatural‘s primarily female fandom. In response to some audience comments on the paper [more about that in a moment], this presenter stated that she found Wincest to be disgusting and disturbing because, as she noted, child/child incest occurs more frequently in the US than adult/child incest. At the time, my sleep-deprived brain didn’t know what to make of this statement, other than: dude, Wincest is hot. Which I thought but did not say.

But, later, revived by food and coffee, what I realized was this:

For my colleague, Wincest is akin to incest, which, in the popular [and legalistic] understanding, is almost always equated to sexual abuse. To the abuse of a power dynamic, of age difference, of emotional maturity, between siblings. Indeed, as this Harvard Law Review article suggests, most state laws that criminalize incest rely solely upon the notion of familial relation; that is, if two people who are “related” [and yes, the definition of this term varies from state to state], then any sex between them can be characterized as illegal–even when it is consensual.

And that’s the key to Wincest, I think. Well, to a lot of it.

Wincest is slash fic, first and foremost, and, in practice, most slash fic is predicated on a relationship between two [male] characters who are equals. Who consider themselves to be equals in real life, if not in the bedroom.  At least, that’s what much of the old school, hardcore academic theory [Constance Penley, Henry Jenkins, Mirna Cicioni] on slash argues. And this rings true for me as a reader and writer of slash.

So, to me, the concept of “Wincest” hinges at least in part on this sense of Sam and Dean as equal partners in general. And this sense of equality is linked to consent, to the notion that the boys come together [or, ah, something] because they want to, because it’s what they desire. Now the contrivances that get them there can be legion: magic, demons, booze, somebody’s hurt, somebody wants to fuck, somebody has a sudden moment of emotional clarity–whatever. But this acceptance of who they are, of what they have–even if it’s just for one night, as in some stories–is key, for me. Now they are non-con stories, sure, and many that feature dubious consent. And I hate making universalist or generalizing statements about anything, much less about something as free-range as fan writing.

But.

I think this equation of incest with abuse is what lay at the heart of my colleague’s squick reaction, of her immediate dismissal of Wincest [with which she had not been familiar, it seems] as aberrant, deviant, disgusting.

Which is, to me, fascinating. Because as often as I proclaim myself an evangelical member of the Church of Gay Incest Porn [tm twoskeletons], I think that I’d forgotten what that phrase actually means to most people.**

As a scholar, this was a helpful reminder that what I’m talking about, as much as I like to play at it being a little kinky and weird: actually is kinda kinky and weird, to some. And that resistance, as in this case, can be productive for me, can raise questions, can remind me of the “straight” reading of Wincest to which, through which, my scholarship on this awesomely sexy and transgressive and often really well-written stuff must be negotiated.

In fact, the whole discussion reminded me, eventually, of this terrific panel I attended at the same conference on BDSM and the popular romance novel. One of the presenters discussed the links she sees between the geek/fan community and the kink community; and, in the course of her discussion, she noted that folks in kink are constantly contradicting themselves in the way they talk about their practices. In the same sentence, she pointed out, kink people will say, “Hey, what we do is transgressive and resistant to the heternormative construction of sex. And that is fucking awesome” AND “Hey, what we do isn’t weird. We’re just like everybody else.”

Which kinda feels like where I am with slash fic, at the moment: weird and different and yet really normal, in a way. Whatever “normal” means.

So I’m stuck in between these two bodies of thought, these two ways of seeing Wincest, after this conference. Which feels like a good place to be, for now. A productive one, at least.

**Side note: One audience member who said very nice things to me about my paper after the panel also said: “I don’t really see the Wincest thing”–ok, I thought, fair enough–“but when you showed that picture of Dean at Sam and Becky’s wedding [the one at the top of this post], and you made that joke about how he was upset about Sam marrying anyone but him–I could kind of see that, in his face.”

I chose to see that as a step on the road to Damascus, friends. A baby step towards a casual Google search, towards a visit to the Sam/Dean Slash Archive, perhaps…

It’s Time For A Check Up

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So my grad program wants to know: what have I accomplished this year?

First, I made a lot of mistakes.

I spent too much time comparing myself to my colleagues, measuring myself against an imaginary standard that I manufactured in my spare time and spoon-fed with paranoia.

I spent too much time listening to certain people in my life, both in academia and not. Wasted too many brain cells trying to apply logic to things they said that made no sense then, that make no sense now, and that ultimately don’t mean a damn thing.

I didn’t spend as much time on some readings as I should have, spend more time on others than they really deserved.

At conferences, I didn’t go to enough panels. Didn’t talk to enough people.

I put myself down too often.

I forgot to press “save” more than once.

Dicked around too much, in general.

Waited until the last minute to start my work when I sure as hell knew better. Not all the time, but at least one too many.

Didn’t talk enough in some classes. Talked too much in others.

I got up too early, too often.

Didn’t spend enough time with my students’ texts or spent far, far too much.

I drank too much coffee. Ate too much bad food. Didn’t take up smoking.

Didn’t drink enough booze.

I wasted too much time not writing.

But then, I made some good choices, too.

I presented at my first conference and managed to write something, to say something, that sounded like me: funny and sarcastic and smart.

Presented at a second and, when the room wasn’t as friendly, that time, I didn’t beat myself up about it.

I said “thank you” when people praised my writing, my thinking, my teaching. Didn’t question or try to talk my way out of the compliment. Just said “thanks.”

I said “thank you” when someone told me “You can do better,” because she was right.

I was a little too honest a little too often and, man, was it good.

I started watching Supernatural.

I started writing slash fic and, damn, has that changed my life.

People I don’t know, will never know except via the internet, read my writing and liked it and even came back for more, even saw more in my texts than I did, than I can, than I could.

I remembered how to learn strategically, how to get what I need from a text and move on to the next.

I became myself, in my teaching.

I discovered porn studies and critical discourse analysis and feminist film theory.

I submitted abstracts without fear because, hey, the worst they can say is “no.”

[Or is that “yes”?]

I had colleagues ask me to submit panels with them and said “yes” instead of “why?”

I had papers accepted at a hardcore feminist conference, at pop culture fests in the US and in Switzerland, at a grad conference, at a regional MLA deal.

I didn’t listen when some people gave me misguided–if well-intentioned–advice about my academics, my career, my once-and-future “marketability.”

I accepted that other people in my academic life might actually mean it when they offer help, or guidance, or direction. And that these people might be good advocates, for me. That they want to be, if I’ll let them.

I interviewed my academic idol, saw the mask fall, and figured out that I have to hack out my own path as a scholar. Figured out that douchebaggery can trap, can take even the best of us.

I embraced my inner Rage Cat and then learned how to let him go.

I said “yes” more than I said “no.”

I wrote a love(d) letter and got back something, someone that I’d lost.

I stopped waiting for someone to give me permission to do what I want to do in my research and just–did it.

I realized that I might have something to say, after all, and that some people might want to listen.

I became a writer.

I became “KT.” Or “CC,” all at once.