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Anti-canonical vs. Extra-canonical or Round 735,921 of Is Slash Contrary to Canon? - Mo's Journal
January 28th, 2008
10:40 am

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Anti-canonical vs. Extra-canonical or Round 735,921 of Is Slash Contrary to Canon?
I see that folks are yet again discussing whether or not it's a good idea to dismiss slash for being anti-canonical. kindkit argues here that the relative lack of queer characters in so many fandoms requires anti-canonicity for slash. I think that she's well-intentioned but kind of misses the point. Well, obviously she makes her point, but I'll make mine :-).

My point is that there is a big difference between anti-canonical fiction and extra-canonical fiction. All of fanfic exists outside of canon. If people want to read/view only canon, they don't read fanfic - they just watch reruns or reread their favorite books. Fanfic takes canon and adds something that wasn't there. It is by its very nature extra-canonical.

OTOH, fanfic need not be anti-canonical. Sometimes an author makes a definite choice to violate canon in a specific way, and we call that an AU story. One commonly written and accepted form of AU is where a character death is negated (In TPM fandom this is so common that the scene where Qui-Gon dies is typically referred to as "the scene that didn't happen"). Another is where an author branches off from canon at a particular point in a series of books, movies or tv shows, ignoring later volumes, films or episodes.

Still, much of fanfic is not AU and not in any way anti-canonical. Fanfic typically answers one of the following questions:

1. What happened before the story began?
2. What happened in between the scenes we saw or in other locations while the reader/viewer was otherwise occupied?
3. What happened after the story ended?

Those are by definition extra-canonical questions but the answers need not be anti-canonical. In fact, I think just how well they fit with canon is a measure for many of us of the quality of the fic. We want to feel that the characters and world we know and love are right there in the story.

This is no less true of slash than adventure stories, het romance, or any other kind of fanfic. If we as slash writers do our job properly our characters will be credibly gay (or at least credibly behaving sexually with someone of the same sex) and still credibly themselves. Is that easy to do when a character is presented as canonically heterosexual? Not always, but for those of us who like to write realistic slash, that's part of the challenge.

And although it may be difficult to convey realistically, it's certainly not impossible. A lot of us write in fandoms that present worlds much like ours, albeit with some key differences (e.g. there are mutant superheroes in my fandom's world :-)). And in our real world there are plenty of canonically heterosexual men who turn out to be anything but. From public figures like toe-tapping Larry Craig and "100%-heterosexual" Ted Haggard to your garden variety non-famous guy who leaves his wife for a man, the phenomenon of someone presenting as straight and fooling lots of people - even his wife, even sometimes himself - is hardly an uncommon one. Certainly anybody who lives in our world knows that sexual orientation is not something you can tell by the ring on the finger or the "canonical" presentation. So why should it not be the same in our fictional worlds?

I particularly like writing a gay Cyclops because I think being a closet case fits in well with his canonical characteristics. What makes Scott "Cyclops" Summers the man he is? I think his canonical personality is characterized by strong - even excessive - sense of duty and commitment to the mission and the team, along with an almost slavish devotion to self-control, to doing things the "right" way, to living up to others' expectations of him. I've sure known a lot of closeted guys like him, minus the optic blasts. A man who has so much control over his body that he can keep his eyes closed for months might well believe he has the self-control to overcome his sexual nature, too.

And what of the canonical heterosexual relationships? Of course the slash writer has to deal with them, and do so realistically. Scott's relationship with Jean is another reason that I like writing him as gay. Their romance makes it all so much more poignant, but also more real. He has to be able to fool a telepath into thinking he's straight, which means he has to fool himself, too. It's armor of self-deception he needs to have built up over a period of years. So what happens if something - or someone - cracks that armor? And if it were to happen, wouldn't it make sense that the person who cracks it is someone who has demonstrated an ability to get under his skin already? That's the question I asked myself when I started to write this. I think it's an extra-canonical but not anti-canonical view.

Slash need not be anti-canonical. It is certainly incumbent on the author to make the same-sex attraction and/or relationship believable, to make the character convincingly gay and convincingly the person we know from canon, and that includes dealing in a credible way with canonical portrayals of heterosexual behavior, relationships and attraction. I think slash writers do that, or at least the good ones do. Fanfic by its very nature gives you something that's not in canon. The people who decry slash as "anti-canonical" don't seem to grasp the distinction between "extra-canonical" and "anti-canonical". They seem very happy to read fanfic of other genres that provide plenty of stories, situations and elements that don't occur in the source text. When people want lots of stuff you don't see in canon - new adventures, new stories, new characters - just as long as nobody comes out, well that sounds like homophobia to me...

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From:executrix
Date:January 28th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
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It's true that sometimes there'll be a challenge or we'll write a totally bizarre crackfic just to prove we can hammer two characters together, but usually (and especially if the writer has an OTP) what the writer is responding to is the sense that what canon shows is two characters who not only have strong feelings toward each other but that they feel physical desire for each other. I don't think you picked Scott and Logan's name out of a hat--I think you're writing about vibes you see in canon.
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From:mofic
Date:January 28th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
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Hmm. No certainly it's not an arbitrary pairing. And it's not (at least in my case) just that the actors are both particularly good-looking men. I think there's a definite intensity in their reaction to each other that makes them slashable. OTOH, I really don't think there is a sexual interest between them portrayed or implied. They are portrayed as two guys who pretty much can't stand each other on first sight, and over time develop a sort of grudging admiration. That's a common trope for heterosexual romance, from It Happened One Night to Cheers, and it translates well to slash, I think. But there's not an intentional homoerotic subtext there, I don't think. I think that often is there in popular slash couples, particularly of the "comrades in arms" or "buddy" types, sometimes with allusions - joking, usually - to their relationship being like a marriage. But I don't see it there with Scott/Logan. I see the potential for sexual desire, but not any real canonical basis for sexual desire. Which is why I think of both the desire and the fulfillment of it as extra-canonical. In some other pairings I think it's easier to argue that the desire is canonical even if the fulfillment is extra-canonical.
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From:executrix
Date:January 28th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)

Out of the Mouths of Babes

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Well, my first major pairing was Blake/Avon, and they fight all the time...in a very overdetermined way.

I think that a lot of what slashers call subtext is *not* intentionally included as fanservice--you have to be outside the situation to see what comes across in the lines and the acting even though there wasn't a stage direction "and then they just stand there even though they want to kiss each other."
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From:talktooloose
Date:January 28th, 2008 05:09 pm (UTC)
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Well written. Since most queer characters in mainstream entertainment are calculated and safe, they often don't ring true and don't reflect the real and complex presentations of queer attraction in RL. Calling slash necessarily anti-canonical might come from people who are only willing to accept same-sex attraction in a character if it comes neatly packaged in an approved gay container. The fact of slippery and complex sexuality makes people uncomfortable and might, therefore, make them see slash stories as necessarily AU.

This comes down to politics again, doesn't it? We are writing from a certain vantage point about queer sexuality that differs from a mainstream "safe" acceptance. I'm sure people some people who think of slash as anti-canon don't think of themselves as homophobic. They'd be perfectly willing to accept Will and Grace slash between Jack and Will. They'd even support their marriage!

The way you gave us new wrinkles in the relationship between Scott and Logan seems to fit perfectly with canon and I endeavour to do the same with my boys. In fact, the most anti-canonical parts of my novel are my treatment of Kitty and I just think of it as correcting internally contradicting depictions within canon.
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From:mofic
Date:January 28th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
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Calling slash necessarily anti-canonical might come from people who are only willing to accept same-sex attraction in a character if it comes neatly packaged in an approved gay container.

That's a really good point! And worthy of an essay in itself. Now that we do have gay characters in mainstream media to what extent do they reinforce stereotypes? Is slash more or less challenging to both popular culture and popular concepts of what it means to be queer in a time of Will and Grace than it was in a time of Kirk and Spock? You could write a monograph on that!
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From:lydiabell
Date:January 29th, 2008 08:24 pm (UTC)

here via metafandom

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The fact of slippery and complex sexuality makes people uncomfortable and might, therefore, make them see slash stories as necessarily AU.

In more general terms, ambiguity makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The idea that there is One True Meaning of a work (the one the author intended) seems to be behind at least some anti-slash sentiment, not to mention a ton of anti-fanfic sentiment.
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From:kindkit
Date:January 28th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
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the relative lack of queer characters in so many fandoms requires anti-canonicity for slash

That's not what I thought I was saying--if my post seemed to make that claim, it certainly wasn't my intention. I was responding specifically to a claim sometimes made by people who dislike slash, namely that slash is bad because it violates canon. Their definition of "canon" in this case is that all characters must be presumed straight unless proven otherwise.

So I took that argument at its face value and tried to show how limiting it was. The point I was trying to make is that the canon itself is a product of homophobia (especially in the case of broadcast TV and mainstream films, there's a strong reluctance to include LGBT characters). Since most fandoms have very few "canonically" queer characters, telling people they can only write slash about those characters is, in effect, telling them they can't write slash at all. And therefore, the "slash isn't canon" argument is not as neutral as it might seem.

I absolutely agree with your argument that slash doesn't need to be anti-canonical. In the post you mention, I took up, for rhetorical purposes, an argument made by opponents of slash. Their viewpoint isn't mine, and I just wanted to make that clear.
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From:mofic
Date:January 28th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
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Sorry if I misunderstood. I took you to be saying - in fact I think you did say - that if we require that slash not be anti-canonical we are "silencing" slash writers because of the dearth of queer characters in canon. But to me the whole point of slash is that it's extra-canonical without being anti-canonical. And that's the point of other fanfic for me as well.

So I think the lack of queer characters in a particular fandom is irrelevant. After all, you wouldn't argue that a lack of dentists in various fandoms means we need to write about dentists. I think that to some extent making lists of fandoms with few or no queer characters really just misses the point that there is a big difference between anti-canonical and extra-canonical, and that's what I tried to address here.

Edited at 2008-01-28 06:03 pm (UTC)
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for reading!
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From:kattahj
Date:January 29th, 2008 12:55 pm (UTC)
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I had quite a bit of discussion in the comments of that post, and something occurred to me: readers tend to identify with characters, and if there's no particular reason to think otherwise, I suspect we assume the character to be "like us". That is to say, there is every reason for me to think that a fantasy character won't find outdoors life as tedious as I do, because I'm aware of fantasy conventions, but there's no particular reason for me to think that the character won't enjoy being hugged. Despite there being people who don't enjoy being hugged. Because I enjoy being hugged.

I'm aware that there are people out there who are most definitely straight and for whom any other option would be a huge deal. It feels very alien to me, but I know they exist. But since I've always been much vaguer in my sexual identity, I tend to assume that a character is like me in that respect (unless I remind myself of the opposite possibility). Meanwhile, I think a person who's very straight, and unaccustomed to slash goggles, might automatically assume that the characters are like him/her, and might react negatively to the idea of a same-sex partner as "out of character". ("She has a boyfriend. I have a boyfriend. I would never want a girlfriend. Therefore she would never want a girlfriend.") In both cases, it's an interpretation of what canon means, rather than canon itself.

Of course, there are chars even I find damn near unslashable. (Steve Taylor used to be one of them, until I kind of slashed him.)
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2008 03:27 pm (UTC)
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Your point relates a bit to talktooloose's one upstream, that a lot of people are comfortable with gay characters in media as long as they are presented as "other." I think you both have good points. And I think as an author part of what I need to convey to the reader is that my characters are real people (well, they're not :-) but I want the reader to feel like they are) who are in some respects like the reader and in others different. They can't be so alien that their experience can't touch the reader, but obviously to have a varied readership means no character is just like any one reader, either.

What feels too alien to relate to varies from person to person, of course. But I do think that it's the heterosexist assumptions of society, much more than the heterosexual orientation of the individual, that causes people to see characters who are heterosexual in canon as incapable of same-sex attraction...

Who is Steve Taylor? I tried looking him up but only got a real person - a singer/songwriter.
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From:kattahj
Date:January 29th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
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What feels too alien to relate to varies from person to person, of course. But I do think that it's the heterosexist assumptions of society, much more than the heterosexual orientation of the individual, that causes people to see characters who are heterosexual in canon as incapable of same-sex attraction...

Well, yeah. I guess what I was getting at is that the heterosexual viewer has little reason to challenge his/her assumption that everyone on screen is straight unless openly presented otherwise.

(As a kind of opposite to this assumption, I've encountered the opinion sometimes that "everyone is bi" - in real life as well - to which I nowadays tend to take the stance that when I tell people I'm bi I expect them to believe me, and so when they tell me they're gay or straight I should believe them. But all my characters are pretty much bi unless I say otherwise. *g*)

Who is Steve Taylor? I tried looking him up but only got a real person - a singer/songwriter.

The lead character of Coupling. When he was at a fertility clinic, he had to send his best friend Jeff to fetch his porn mags, since the ones at the clinic had men in them and he was in danger of "eye slippage". He once declared that when man invented fire, his first thought was to celebrate the fact that he could watch naked women in the dark. You know. Either this guy is straight or he's so deeply closeted that even if he wasn't straight he'd never admit it.

So when I got Steve/Jeff as a Yuletide assignment one year, I solved the problem by toying with the limits between homosociality and homosexuality. I let Jeff suggest that maybe there's something just the tiniest bit gay about men watching porn together, which has Steve hyperventilating for a couple of scenes until he comes to the conclusion that whatever the reason, he likes porn better when he's watching with Jeff. Which was about as far as I felt I could take Steve in a 1400 word story. :-) Here's the link, if you're interested.
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
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I had quite a bit of discussion in the comments of that post

I just read a couple of threads you were in. I see that the person you were discussing it with is the same one who told me that sex is only PVI and if lesbians think what we do is sex, we're in denial. And now I see she thinks slash is completely changing a personality because everyone is heterosexual unless presented as otherwise. And also that she has never had sex and never will. She sure has pretty strong (and restrictive) opinions about other people's sex lives, real and imagined! Well, takes all kinds to make an internet.
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From:kattahj
Date:January 29th, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC)
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And now I see she thinks slash is completely changing a personality because everyone is heterosexual unless presented as otherwise.

Reading the other threads now, she also claims a writer always knows the sexuality of her characters. Huh. I can't say I do, beyond knowing that this person pairs well with this other person, or not. (But then, using bi as a vague default I'm always safe, because if and when sexuality becomes a feature, I can pair whoever I feel like.)

Where did she say that stuff about PVI? I couldn't find it in the comments of that post.
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
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However, I'm not sure I agree that not liking slash in a particular story, or with particular characters, is homophobia

I don't think I said that, and certainly didn't mean to imply it! I do think that viewing slash as a genre that "violates canon" yet not seeing the rest of fanfic as doing that by its extra-canonical nature tends to suggest homophobic attitudes.

I don't know Lost, but in general I don't think the reader should have to see subtext for slash to work. It is the author's responsibility to convince the reader that there's more to the character's sexual orientation than what's presented on screen or on the page. But the reader needs to be open to the possibility or it doesn't matter how skilled the author is.

And beyond the general openness to slash - or het - everyone has preferences of one sort or another and that's just how it goes. A lot of folks are OTP types and really don't want to read another pairing - slash or het. I'm more of a character fan - if I like a particular character, I will happily read him/her paired with a variety of people, as long as it's done credibly. And I think Remus can very credibly be written to have been Sirius's lover and then fall in love with Tonks, certainly.

I mostly write Scott/Logan but I love reading good Scott/Jean, too. I find Scott/Emma a harder sell, even with its canonical blessing. And Scott/Anystudent I find very hard to reconcile with his canonical personality. rachelmartin wrote a truly beautiful Scott/Jubilee piece that I love, but they don't get together until well after she graduates, which fits in much better with who he is.
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From:dejla
Date:January 30th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
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Except that I don't have to hate slash to not see slash in a universe. Heck, there are lots of universes where I don't see certain het pairs, and not even a very good writer could suspend my sense of disbelief. I don't see Draco/Hermione. I don't see Dumbledore/McGonagle. I don't see Snape/ANYONE.

I agree with you that canon or not, Scott/Emma just makes me go "Huh?" And that's where I usually part from the story, canon or not. If I can't see what a show is doing as reasonable due to previous canon, I stop watching. If I start a story and it goes somewhere I can't follow, no matter how well it's written, I probably will stop reading it.
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From:dejla
Date:January 29th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
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It's not homophobia. At least, not in my experience. What it is, is very simple. I don't see it. You can say everything you want about this scene and that scene -- I don't see it.

There are a very few stories where I can see a possible same-sex relationship between the characters.

But in the others -- you can call it teal. I think it's turquoise.
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC)
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Maybe you should reread the post. I'm not saying you need to see it, or that if you don't it's homophobia. I'm saying that if you take this particular extra-canonical element (m/m slash) and no other extra-canonical fanfic (and all of fanfic is extra-canonical) as out of bounds, I don't see how that can come from other than a homophobic - or at least heterosexist - mindset.
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From:snorkackcatcher
Date:January 29th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
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Me again. :) Yep, that sounds like a very good summary, and is one fairly big reason why I find a lot of slashfic unsatisfying, despite intermittent attempts to read more of it. Obviously readers might well not care about canon-compatibility if a story is scorching hot, but equally obviously as a straight man that's not going to help me as I'm probably not going to find even the scorchingest slashfic more than lukewarm. :) (On the other hand, that does apply to quite a chunk of hetfic too.)

In general, I greatly prefer stories which feel as they're taking place in the canon universe, with characters like their canon selves, and elements that just don't seem to fit can throw me right out of a fic -- although if the author can fit them to existing canon (both directly -- no contradictions -- and indirectly -- no air of "why wouldn't people know about that?" unreality) that's great. Obviously, crossing clear or likely canon relationships or canon sexualities is one very common type of this.

(HP example of what I mean: so you want to slash James/Snape? Fine. Canonically, they hate each other's guts both personally and philosophically, frequently hex each other with malice aforethought because of this, and are both carrying an Olympic Flame-sized torch for Lily Evans who James eventually marries -- among other bits of background which make an affair that none of the other characters even hint at implausible. Yes, I can see how it's technically possible to thread the needle with this one and make it canonically credible, but boy, it sure ain't easy.)
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2008 09:57 pm (UTC)
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Me again. :)

Do I know you?

In general, I greatly prefer stories which feel as they're taking place in the canon universe, with characters like their canon selves,

Me, too. And I like slash when it does that and not much when it doesn't. Since I'm a lesbian I'm not in it for the hot male bodies either :-).

James/Snape? I can see it a couple of ways, but I agree it would be difficult. Sirius/Remus OTOH? Dead easy.
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From:executrix
Date:January 29th, 2008 10:09 pm (UTC)
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James/Snape? I can see it a couple of ways, but I agree it would be difficult. Sirius/Remus OTOH? Dead easy.

"The difficult we do right away. The impossible takes a little longer."
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From:snorkackcatcher
Date:January 29th, 2008 10:25 pm (UTC)
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Do I know you?

I only meant "me again" in the sense that I think I posted much the same comment on the previous post. :)

Heh. The odd thing about Sirius/Remus to me is that it seems a bit like a slash parallel to Harry/Hermione -- obviously there are strong bonds there and it seems very plausible at first glance, but when looked at more closely seems misfitting, despite what the more vehement ship partisans claim. :) S/R is considerably easier than H/Hr, admittedly, but it's not a gimme. (lls_mutant is someone who does it well IMHO.)

One of these days I'll write my Petunia/Hestia fic, which would at least enable me to say "now here's a slash rarepair". Unfortunately, it's on the growing list of plotbunnies that would probably take at least 10K words to do adequately, and therefore have Getting Around To It problems. :(
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