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What Does It Mean to Say that Slash is (or isn't) Subversive? - Mo's Journal
January 22nd, 2007
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What Does It Mean to Say that Slash is (or isn't) Subversive?
So, a discussion on lemurgrrrl's journal about various things mentioned subversive slash, and it turned out that different people in the discussion meant different things by "subversive", referring to slash. It got me thinking, and polling...

Poll #911958 What is Subversive Slash?

When you say that Slash is subversive, do you mean

that slash fanfic subverts authorial intent?
5(5.1%)
that seeing media through slash goggles subverts authorial intent?
3(3.0%)
that slash fanfic subverts compulsory heterosexuality?
21(21.2%)
that slash fanfic subverts patriarchy?
1(1.0%)
that slash fanfic subverts conventional ideas of romance?
1(1.0%)
something else, which I will explain in comments?
4(4.0%)

Do you like your slash subversive?

Yes
39(38.6%)
No
5(5.0%)
Sometimes
57(56.4%)

Is sexually explicit slash more subversive than non-explicit slash

Yes
13(12.9%)
No
49(48.5%)
Sometimes
39(38.6%)

Does the phenomenon of more openly gay characters in popular media make slash more or less subversive?

More
4(3.9%)
Less
42(41.2%)
Neither
56(54.9%)

This is mofic's first attempt at a poll. How embarrassed should she be by it?

She should never show her face on lj again
0(0.0%)
She should appear on lj but red-faced
3(3.1%)
She should hide out for a week and all will be forgotten
4(4.2%)
It's not that bad.
89(92.7%)

(79 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
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From:executrix
Date:January 22nd, 2007 10:31 pm (UTC)
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I think that a lot of people use "subversive" in the sense of a minus sign in an equation: that you multiply previously heterosexual characters and get a couple--or, now that canon gay characters are a real possibility, you "slash", say, Brian from Queer as Folk with a female character.

But as far as I'm concerned, I think the subversion lies in fans' asserted power to decide how they will respond to TPTB's text (and to the society that produced it). But if we think that TPTB got it right the first time, whether it's a turn of events, a canon M/F couple, or a canon M/M couple, I don't think we have to have a knee-jerk rejection response.
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 01:14 am (UTC)
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Okay, I read this three times before I understood it, but I think I get it now. Btw, executrix you often have that effect on me. I read something you've written and I say to myself "I think I would agree with her, if only I were smart enough to understand what she's saying."

But anyway, I looked at "minus sign in the equation" and mulled over that for a while, but then I realized you meant *multiplicatively*. Maybe even a tilde would be better: Brian becomes ~Brian if he is "slashed" with a female character. I get what you mean - or what you mean other people mean - and understand now why some people define slash as any non-canonical pairing.
From:thelastgoodname
Date:January 22nd, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)

I've not read that particular post, but...

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One problem I have with this topic (well, one of the many problems) is how it quickly becomes entwined with the "is slash feminist" question. This might be because of the nature of most of the people having the conversation -- women who write about men having sex with each other, and particularly, women who keep quiet about the fact that they write about men having sex with each other -- and it might be because somehow when the topic comes up, the implication is that the act necessarily becomes a political one.

Slash might very well be a subversive act, or a feminist one, but I'm one of those people who think politics is intimately tied to intent: it's only subversive (or feminist, or political) if one intends it to be subversive (or feminist, or political).

In a lot of ways, I think people who write slash might be giving themselves a bit too much credit for work they haven't actually done yet.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 01:10 am (UTC)

Re: I've not read that particular post, but...

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Well, that's interesting. I guess I would see slash as political in a feminist sense only to the extent that the personal is political. I do believe that, and I think if we can analyze housework and sex and child-rearing and marriage from a radical feminist perspective, we can certainly apply that kind of analysis to slash - or any other hobby. But I think you're saying something else - that women are viewing writing or reading slash as a political act. And you don't see it as political if it's hidden, is that right?

I think of my slash as political in the sense that it deals with political issues of import to me. I do see slash in general as subverting - or at least challenging - the notion of compulsory heterosexuality, but it does so in a very confined space. I do not necessarily expect that women who read or write slash will challenge that notion elsewhere in their lives.

Lots of women who write/read slash are mothers. How many of them talk about their infant sons as "lady killers" or their toddler daughters as having "boyfriends"? How many of them assume heterosexuality for their children? How many challenge that assumption when others say those kinds of things? I don't know that it's more than the general population.

But anyway, my main impetus in this poll was surprise at the idea that what "subversive slash" is subverting was authorial intent. I'd never heard the phrase used that way, or at least never understood it to be used that way. So I was seeing "subversive" as meaning about compulsory heterosexuality, or gender roles, or the classic romance paradigm, or assumptions about power dynamics in relationships. It's interesting to me that there's this whole other view of slash as being subversive only to the extent it is contrary to the author's view of the characters. In that case, canon that is accepting of slash can't be subverted.
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From:eveningblue
Date:January 22nd, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC)
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I love your poll. I ticked "It's not that bad" on the last question though I was tempted to tick one of the funnier responses!

My answer to number one is related to my answer to number three, so I thought I'd explain: to me, part of why NC-17 slash is subversive is because it's mostly written by women, and I think it's a commonly held belief in our society that women don't like porn, aren't interested in porn, and would never ever actually write porn. I suppose that NC-17 het fanfic would also be subversive in this way, but I don't see very much of it (maybe because I don't look for it).

Non-porny slash is subversive, too, but for different reasons.

I think executrix makes a good point when she says that subverting the will of TPTB is, by extension, subverting the expectations of society as a whole (at least, I think that's what she's saying). Subverting a couple of writers on a tv show somehow seems a lot less thrilling to me than subverting the notions of a culture, so maybe that's why I think of the culture as a whole and not a few tv writers when I think of slash as subversion.
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From:executrix
Date:January 23rd, 2007 12:09 am (UTC)
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The individuals in TPTB (writers, directors, producers, etc.) are not only unconsciously shaped by their culture (and how this turns out is easier to see with Old Skool stuff, because we have a little distance from it) but, as profit-making enterprises, have every incentive to suck up to advertisers, and in turn to do whatever they think they need to become popular. As amateurs, we don't have those incentives.

It's certainly not true of every fanwriter, but in some cases writers do buy into "euwww, girlparts!" and "good women don't HAVE desires" ideology, so it does take some doing to find sexually explicit hetfics that show appreciation for female bodies and women with powerful desires.
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From:unsymbolic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 01:35 am (UTC)
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Apologies for the drive by poll-taking and commenting. blue_braces pointed me here, and I'd like to say a lot more than I have time to say right now, but in answer to number one, I would add that slash also (at least potentially) subverts conventional hierarchies about "appropriate" modes of production and consumption (i.e. reading and writing stories from which no one makes a profit, being "too invested" in a text/ desiring through it).

Also, you suggested in a comment above that a "canon that is accepting of slash can't be subverted." But I would disagree-- there are many kinds of representations of same sex eroticism, some of which are far more normative than others. In a canon where two same sex characters go off to play house, make love (to each other) every night down by the fire, and cook dinner together (forever), I think there's still plenty of room to subvert the canon by queering it further.

Anyway, I think this was quite a good poll, and I plan to pop back in again later (if I can find the time). :)
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 01:42 am (UTC)
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Also, you suggested in a comment above that a "canon that is accepting of slash can't be subverted."

No, or at least I didn't mean to. What I meant to say was that *if* one views slash as subversive only of authorial intent (which is not how I view it at all) then canon accepting of slash can't be subverted. I was trying to understand/reflect/express a view not my own. Sorry that wasn't clear.

Still, that said, you make good points about the ability to subvert authorial intent by the kinds of characterizations, even if the idea of slash is accepted by the author. I have to think about that one some more.

Oh, and doesn't slash subvert conventional hierarchies about appropriate means of consumption and production only to the extent that all fanfic does? I mean, I do see fanfic as inherently subversive of the system of distribution of pop culture and of a consumer culture (we do it for free!) but I don't see that as particular to slash.

Thanks for dropping by with intriguing thoughts! And thanks to blue_braces for pointing you my way.
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From:musesfool
Date:January 23rd, 2007 01:42 am (UTC)
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Personally, I think *fanfic* is subversive, because it requires one to go from being a passive consumer of text to an active reimaginer of text, often reading it against the author's intent - this goes for UC het couples as well as slash pairings. I don't think slash is inherently any more subversive, simply because so much of it reads like m/f romance anyway. People blather a lot about taking gender inequality out of the equation when they write slash (well, those who claim that it is subversive in and of itself), but I find that a lot of those people still write m/m slash featuring the smaller man and the taller man, and it's always the taller man who tops, and the genre romance novel tropes are all present - up to and including weddings and pregnancy in some cases - and the only thing that maybe makes it subversive is that the fanwriter is taking a character the original author has probably defined as heterosexual and made him or her engage in homosexual sex. So the original author's intent has possibly been transgressed, but no more so than if I wrote an uncanonical het pairing.

I think a lot of people start writing slash and then feel the need to justify themselves and so claim they're doing it to be transgressive or subversive, but I think the number of writers who are *actually* writing slash that is politically subversive is small.
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 02:24 am (UTC)
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I should write a post on "What I Learned Writing My First Poll." Anyway, one thing I learned was to better clarify what I was asking. I did not mean for this to be a poll on whether slash as a whole is subversive. I was getting at something more specific - that if you as a reader deem a particular work of slash subversive or you as a writer see yourself as writing subversive slash, what do you think it's subverting?

And actually my head kind of spins when I think about whether realistic m/m depictions are more subversive (because they challenge compulsory heterosexuality and classic romance tropes) or the romance-novel-turned-slash stories you mention are more subversive, because they challenge the reality of homoerotic desire and male/male sex and replace it with a woman's fantasy. I mean I know I prefer realistic slash, but is a preference for realism inherently conformist? I know I've seen a lot of arguments in favor of the feminization of male characters (which I personally find distasteful) in slash, seeing that pattern as an expression of female creativity and of women creating for other women. Well, as I said, it makes my head spin a bit to think about that.




I think a lot of people start writing slash and then feel the need to justify themselves and so claim they're doing it to be transgressive or subversive


Now that's an intriguing thought! Where does that need to justify come from, do you think?

Thanks for stopping by...
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From:xtricks
Date:January 23rd, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)
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Well, I'm opening myself up to being beaten about the head and shoulders for this but ....

I don't believe that most* slash is particularly subversive anymore, except possibly as it subverts the original authorial intentions (and possibly, brings up the questions of intellectual ownership of ideas and entertainment).

*when I say most, generally, the majority, usually and so on I mean exactly that; most of the topic at hand follows these patterns IMO. I'm quite aware there are always exceptions (Mo's work the first, and most notable exception I ran into in the slash community); this is the world and we're human beings, no rule, generalization and etc is absolute.

The rest of my opinion on this topic can be found at my journal, as it's too long and it may get wanky and that's not nice to do to someone else's LJ.
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 03:19 am (UTC)
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I won't beat you about the head and shoulders - or anywhere else. I'm not a beat-about-the-head-and-shoulders type.

I wasn't actually expressing an opinion that slash as a genre is subversive. I think it sometimes is and sometimes isn't. What I wanted to know was for that subset that someone thinks is subversive, what do you think it subverts? Because prior to this discussion I saw in lemurgrrrl's journal, I really thought the answer for everyone was "presumptions of heterosexuality" or some variation thereof. But what I saw in the aforementioned discussion was people talking about slash as subversive or transgressive when it subverted authorial intent, which I think would be true of fanfic in general.

Anyway, I will know a little more about poll construction for the next one.
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From:barenakedrachel
Date:January 23rd, 2007 06:20 am (UTC)
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Uhhh... so I thought I knew what subversive meant, but after reading through this poll, I had to look the word up again :-) I guess I've never thought of slash as subversive... I dunno... I suppose this isn't at all helpful to you in your poll, though!

Fwiw, I think your first attempt at a poll is just fine! It's just that I don't have any answers for you...
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From:barenakedrachel
Date:January 23rd, 2007 06:38 am (UTC)
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Okay, now that I've read through all the comments to this, I think I am understanding more of what you and everyone else means by "subversive" -- in the sense that to pair same sex partners together based on a storyline in which they are, as written by the original writers, not paired together is challenging to the notion that everybody is hetero unless proven gay? As in to be hetero is the norm and to not be is against the grain... Is this what everyone is meaning by compulsive heterosexuality?

If so, then I guess this is why I've never thought of slash as subversive... because I don't look at people and see them for any sexual orientation. At least not usually, anyway.

This whole topic makes me think of something rather off topic -- my mom was talking about my oldest son (who is only 4) and the conversation turned to his distant future. It was one of those classic things where she said "One day his girlfriend will see these pictures and he'll be so embarrassed!", and I paused for a moment and said to her "Or his boyfriend. You never know..." And she thought that was really odd of me, but I thought it was equally odd to assume that he is or will be heterosexual.
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From:blue_braces
Date:January 23rd, 2007 09:09 am (UTC)
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Sorry, I got a call before I could leave a comment.

I only answered "she should appear on lj but red-faced" because I thought I ought to mix up the answers on that question. ;D I actually think it's a great poll.

For the first question, I agree with tathren comments about how slash subverts conventions of production and consumption.
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 12:35 pm (UTC)
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More so than other forms of fanfic?
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From:hitchhiker
Date:January 23rd, 2007 07:48 pm (UTC)
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it subverts conventional ideas of how to play in an author's playground
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 07:51 pm (UTC)
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Yes, that's a good point. Slash can be more subversive of authorial intent than other fanfic and it also can be subversive within fandom (although I think that's much less true now than it was a 5-10 years ago).
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From:thelana
Date:January 23rd, 2007 08:27 pm (UTC)

here from metafandom

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*hides*

I usually think that people are being pretentious windbags. At least a little bit. And I actually love slash.

*runs away*
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)

Re: here from metafandom

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LOL! I probably am a pretentious windbag from time to time. OTOH, I write hot slash :-).
From:galadhir
Date:January 23rd, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)

here from metafandom

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I ticked 'something else' for the 'when you say slash is subversive, why?' question.

I think it's subversive because it's largely by women, for women. Particularly because slash communities are a place where women realize that they are not alone in having a sex-drive that works in this way - that they aren't wierdos at all but that enjoying slash is maybe actually *normal* for women. That's quite a liberating thing. Being liberated from the feeling that you are a single solitary pervert to the realization that actually there are a lot of women who feel the same way, probably has to subvert women's conditioning, somehow :)
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 10:14 pm (UTC)

Re: here from metafandom

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Very good point, and one related to lemurgrrrl's view. I say something related as well in my follow up post, that if I as a lesbian can write text that's hot to heterosexual women and affects how they have sex with their husbands, then that's a behavior that subverts conventional ideas about sex and marriage.

Thanks for stopping by!
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From:thirdblindmouse
Date:January 23rd, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure what the difference between the first two is, but I ticked them because it's sometimes true. At other times authors are perfectly aware of what they're doing and how it's going to be interpreted.

I'm also assuming you meant girlslash as well as boyslash. Sometimes boyslash fandom itself makes me uneasy, or plays more into heterosexual stereotypes than your average het.
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From:mofic
Date:January 23rd, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
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My reasoning in giving those first two as distinct possibilities was that for some people it seems that it's creation of a slash fic and/or what happens when it's read that is the subversive act. For others, looking at media and seeing slash possibilities is subversive by itself, even without that creation and sharing.

And I really was only talking about male/male slash, partly because that's what I write and the subset of fandom I'm involved in, and partly because I think some issues are the same and some are different with femslash. If you read my next post, I talk at more length about my own views of what can make m/m slash subversive.

I do recognize that slash often is male/female sex with two male bodies - and not even male/female sex but a stereotypical and unrealistic view of male/female sex. I tried to address that a bit in comments. xtricks speaks very cogently about that form of slash in his journal. Is that what makes you uneasy, or something else?
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From:elspethdixon
Date:January 24th, 2007 03:07 am (UTC)
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I actually don't think of slash as being all that subversive (well, beyond the general subversiveness inherent in writing fanfic at all rather than being a passive media consumer). It might be culturally subversive to the extent that homosexuality is still viewed as unacceptable by a wide segement of society, but I don't see it as a deliberate attempt to subvert the text.

When I write slash, just as when I write het or gen, I do it because I like the dynamic between a certain pair of characters, regardless of their gender. It's more of an attempt to celebrate or explore the text, or to rework it, than to deliberately violate the author's original intent (which I usually don't really care about all that much). Then again, I'm one of those fans who equates slash with same-sex relationships in general rather than just with non-canonical same-sex relationships--some of the slash I've written has been about canon couples.

Of course, it may be that, being bisexual, I tend to view all characters as potentially bisexual anyway, and don't see m/m or f/f relationships as all that different from m/f ones, and therefore just don't think of gay sex as all that inherently subversive. Sex is sex, and romance is romance.
From:indywind
Date:January 24th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
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I don't really think the slash itself--whether it be creating slash fan-product or just looking with slashy-colored glasses--is necessarily subversive in any way.

It can be, depending on the attitudes/intentions/actions of the person(s) involved, but it can also not.

Ditto actual gay outness FWIW.
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From:mofic
Date:January 24th, 2007 07:03 pm (UTC)
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Interesting. I think slash can be subversive, as I explain in the next post. But I think being out in a heterosexist society is always subversive. Which is not to say that our intent in being out is always to subvert. Sometimes it is but more often we're just living our lives. Still, I think the effect is always a subversive one.
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From:birggitt
Date:January 26th, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)
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Well, I think slash is subversive because is nit (ot, wasn't, at least) what authors were aiming. So, we're subverting the text, making it ours by changing what it means, finding sub-text and extracting conclusions from there.
But is the sexual aspect which, IMHO, makes it really bothering for TPTB? society? general others?
Homosexuality has been a taboo in TV for almost its entire life, and take famous characters and show them as in a same-sex relationship was, in a moment, very, very bad. We, slash girls, must be ashamed from ourselves. Women enjoying male-male sex were considerate almost pervert and most of writers and readers hidden it from family and RL friends.
I know, I did it.
Today, most of this issues are not real. Slash has become almost a standard in fanfiction, and with writers actually telling us they are writing sub-text, that aspect also is less subversive. Of course, you could see other pairing, or see it in a show when it was not intended, but is not the same.
Sure, there are others subversives aspect in slash: men more in touch with their feelings, relationships where both partners are equals (we can say men and women are equals, but, seriously, when we come home from work, who do the dishes, and laundry, and almost anything? Who ask for days at job when kids are sick?)
But for me,the real "wicked" aspect in slash is... women: we are women, women who enjoy sex, who writes sex, who thinks two man together are hot and, worst, we think we have the right to enjoy sex, write sex and be playful about it.
So, there is not a simple answer. There is not only one answer. As anything worthy in life, there are more views than viewers =D

BTW, english is SO not my language, please, forgive my horrible grammar *blush*
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