When I started reading fan fiction, around 2002, I ran across fan fiction of all ratings right away. I had vaguely heard of fan fiction and ‘zines as far back as the seventies, but I had never read any or even seen any except in passing. When I got interested in fan fiction, I found it online, and I ran across missing scenes that could have been slotted right into the original shows or movies or books, and I also ran across triple-X rated, *fans self* porn that most emphatically rejected the fade to black — sexually explicit stories that could never have been included in the original books or movies, but showed the characters we knew and loved in bed. When I first ran across the term “slash”, I wrongly assumed it meant any adult-rated romantic fan fiction story. Furthermore, I assumed that if fan fiction were grouped in any way, it would be divided into categories I knew from mainstream movies — the G, PG and PG13 stuff would be separate from the R and NC17 stuff. I was completely surprised to learn, the more I explored list-based and Livejournal-based fan fiction, that in fact the groupings were based on other concerns completely. The categories I found were gen, slash, femslash and het, and the boundaries between them were less about ratings for explicit sex or violence than about the presence or absence of romance, and the presence or absence of same-sex relationships. My preconceptions were, perhaps, a product of my 21st-century introduction to fan works. A little history, drawn from articles on media fandom (meaning fan communities that grow up around TV, movies, and other forms of pop culture), on Fanlore, this article by Coppa in Transformative Works and Cultures, and her chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet”. Fan fiction as written within media fandom seems to have been an outgrowth of science fiction fandom, and seems to date from the sixties and early seventies. When fan writers began weaving their own tales about Kirk and Spock and Number One and the Alien Babe of the Week, the male/male slash was hidden away in boxes under the tables, while the straight romances, even the explicit stories and the explicit art, were displayed widely at conventions, along with the action-oriented, plot-oriented fan stories whose focus was not romance and which became known as gen. Based on my readings in fan history, it seems that the first widely written femslash came out of Xena, and that fandom seems to have a separate history. (Please correct me if you have different information!) As we all know, societal attitudes toward same-sex relationships were harsh in the sixties in the USA — and still are, in many places. Because the Hollywood TV and movie canons we write about are so, so, so heteronormative, fan fiction that tells stories about intimate relationships between men or between women is usually pairing off people who aren’t presented as queer in the original shows or movies. (As an aside, the range of sexualities explored in fan fiction is limitless and often sets aside entirely the idea of sexual binaries.) So the objection to the earliest slash fan fiction often took the tack of: “Oh no! Don’t make that character gay!” Gay, lesbian or queer characters in mainstream Hollywood productions are very, very rare to this day. So if you hold out for only the romantic relationships that are present in the original canon, that means het (unless your fandom is Torchwood or one of the non-Western fandoms….). Of course, we’ll always have subtext, and certainly we are all watching different shows in our heads, and Hollywood is getting less reluctant to show us non-straight characters, but…. Let’s just say the lavender revolution is not yet in Hollywood. So my exploration of the history of fan fiction showed me a het+gen versus slash+femslash divide (and femslash is still by far the rarest category — all that history deserves a post of its own. In the meantime, I direct you to the Fanlore entry on Femslash, which is just fascinating.). But it’s my impression, and cryptoxin has written about this as well, that the het+gen/femslash+slash split is not as pronounced these days, two generations into what’s become known as media fandom. The lines that delineate the camps are blurring. Why is this? I’d love to hear your answers. I think it’s because movies and TV now include more female characters in roles other than Babe of the Week, and even occasionally pass the Bechdel Test. One reason that is sometimes advanced for the emergence of slash was the lack of strong female characters in television and movies in the sixties. I don’t know that I buy that, but it is true that fan writers now have a broader range of strong characters of both sexes from which to draw for our stories. So, my question is this: Do we have one fan fiction community now, instead of two or three or four? Or maybe we still have two, but a different two than slash+femslash and gen+het — maybe now we really do have the two categories I wrongly assumed almost a decade ago: Adult Rated, and Everything Else? And if these category lines have blurred, is it because society changed in terms of accepting queers? Or is it the shows that changed? Have vehicles like Buffy and Leverage and Stargate Atlantis and Queer as Folk and Torchwood, shows that have queer characters and female protagonists, driven the shift I see — the blurring of fan fiction genre lines and the lessening of negative judgments against each genre? For example, I rarely see today’s slash fans asserting that “there’s no good het” — and honestly, I always have a hard time understanding how bad het fanfic could be any worse than the badfic of any other genre! Another question: Did the internet accelerate the boundary crossing among fan fiction genres after, say, 1995? And, am I wrong in my additional impression that the fan enterprise of writing romances involving two people who are not traditional male/female, perhaps doesn’t horrify The Powers That Be as it once did? I do know that it was slash which captured the attention of the academic researchers, moreso than erotica of any other type, because it seemed “strange” that women would be interested in porn about two men. (Fan fiction is overwhelmingly written by women.) There’s a terrific discussion of this in Driscoll’s chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet.” But surely, such an interest is not strange anymore to academics? Or to Hollywood? Or is my personal comfort level with this type of fanfic — and with GLBT lit in general, for that matter — obscuring for me a colder reality? There will never be an end to ‘ship wars, of course, and probably never an end to gen-only fans ruefully noting what they see as a fan fiction community preoccupied with romance and sex at the expense of other kinds of stories, but at least within media fandom, it seems to me that the het and the slash and femslash and poly and noromo and bob fans coexist much more peaceably than in earlier days.

[META] Genre shift?
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14 thoughts on “[META] Genre shift?

  • 06/08/2010 at 18:57

    I…would like to point out that f/f slashers, more often than not, feel that there’s a big divide between f/f and m/m slash. Or between f/f and everyone else. When I hang out online in primarily femslash communities, there are very few m/m slashers who have a consistent presence and write as much femslash as they do boyslash. And there are plenty of femslashers out there that have a lot of pent-up frustration with the fact that they’re lumped in with the boyslash by people who just don’t get femslash.

    I’m aware that a lot of the m/m slashers consider themselves to have an interest in femslash, but, um. When an m/m slasher isn’t acting on that interest at all, isn’t hanging out in femslashy internet spaces, or is writing 1/10th or less the amount of f/f as compared to the m/m that they write, I don’t actually see them as doing anything more than dabbling in femslash.

    Which is not wrong, I should point out, or a bad thing on their part. Dabbling in femslash is okay! I just think dabbling speaks to more of a lack of interest, rather than less of one.

    (Oh, look, you mentioned femslash and I commented. I’m terribly predictable, aren’t I?)

    • 06/08/2010 at 19:00

      You know I’m always glad when you comment. And perspectives that are not mine, or are different from mine, are exactly what I was hoping for. Thanks for weighing in.

  • 06/08/2010 at 18:59

    I just think dabbling speaks to more of a lack of interest, rather than less of one.

    Make that: “I just think dabbling speaks more to there being a lack of interest, or maybe only a mild one, rather than a strong interest in a subject.”

    Editing fail.

    • 06/08/2010 at 19:01

      no worries. i think you can actually edit a comment on this interface; at least i can. but then maybe that function goes with the admin function; not sure.

  • 09/08/2010 at 02:06

    I definitely think this is an interesting conversation, but I’m inclined to think in general that “we” make up and populate a whole lot of different communities divided not just by f/f, m/m, m/f, and gen lines but by things like fandom (particularly, obviously, for the monofannish) and website.

    I spent a lot of time growing up in Sailor Moon fandom, which exists/existed/exists relatively autonomously from a lot of other fan activity both in the anime/manga world and more general media fandom. It has a lot of slashers but also a lot of femmeslashers (having a lot of interesting, developed female characters and canon lesbians to boot) and a lot of people who write both + het + gen and although I definitely am not disputing the claims you make more generally about fandom, I do think that the example is instructive in the ways that fandom communities are many and diverse and that there the specifics can be variable.

    • 09/08/2010 at 13:07

      Thanks for the perspective! I have a feeling that the anime fandoms are probably very different from the TV show and movie fandoms I’m most familiar with and perhaps have a very different history! I’d love to know more about that. *makes note for further reading*

      • 09/08/2010 at 17:25

        Yes, it’s very interesting. They’re different but not different enough, I think, for them not to be a facet of the issue at hand as a lot of behaviors are completely consistent like fannish focus on fanfic, fanart and other transformative works as well as use of similar sites like livejournal, ffnet, deviantart, etc.

        The biggest difference I see is that there are so many anime with a whole bunch of developed female characters, which perhaps allows for more opportunity for femmeslash. Sailor Moon may be THE example with a core cast of eleven women ranging in age from a two year old infant to mature parent-age adults (and eternal lol).

        • 09/08/2010 at 19:07

          I have watched Sailor Moon but never delved into its fandom — I really should do that; it would be interesting to make those comparisons.

        • 09/08/2010 at 19:37

          have a feeling that the anime fandoms are probably very different from the TV show and movie fandoms I’m most familiar

          In my mind, one of the strongest characteristics of anime and manga fandom, definitely from the late-’90’s through the mid-’00’s was the strong emphasis on affirmational and proselytizing (to use Leonard’s terminology) fandom. Fic-writing was one type of fandom activity, but I always felt that it was generally considered secondary to collecting and disseminating “primary” information about shows, creating fansites, and writing fan essays. Why these kinds of fan activities are now much less prominent than they were five or ten years ago is actually a really interesting research question.

          • 09/08/2010 at 21:09

            Fascinating; thank you. I well know that cataloguing, encyclopedia-compiling, collecting itch for fandoms too!

            And your impression is that that’s gone down in the anime fandoms in favor of what? More fan fiction?

            *ponders* Message boards, websites and LJ- or DW-style platforms are all good for essays — if those have decreased, is that a platform issue or Something Else?

          • 09/08/2010 at 21:31

            *ponders* Message boards, websites and LJ- or DW-style platforms are all good for essays — if those have decreased, is that a platform issue or Something Else?

            I think a lot of it definitely is a platform issue; there’s an inherent difference between learning HTML or whatever to build a website from scratch, and simply using LJ/DW/whatever. If nothing else, the former is much harder and so, would appeal to a much narrower audience that has to make much more of a commitment.

            And looking at it from a different point of view, a post on a messageboard or LJ almost by definition expects comments and is meant to be a part of a conversation. A single-author essay is not, or at least explicitly. So maybe it does go back to anime fans originally working to not just proclaim, but actually spread their views, whereas now, there is little need to proselytize, and more opportunity to engage in conversation.

            The bottom line, though, is that yeah, the single-focus anime fansite or series/character shrine is pretty much dead. And, not incidentally, so are the places (like Geocities) where most of these used to live…

          • 10/08/2010 at 00:41

            I think you’re right to point to platforms as a variable at play, and I think to some degree there’s a time issue. And by that I mean that people who have hung around in the fandom for this long use fic, cosplay, fanart, fandubbing and other transformative works as a way of keeping the material fresh.

            I would hesitate to characterize anime and manga fandom in general as being more affirmational. Certainly those circles of people exist just as there are affirmational Star Trek and Star Gate fans, but specific spaces for transformative works-centered anime fan communities have also always existed (on platforms that could at least accommodate us). In Sailor Moon fandom in the nineties, for example, I used to hang around the archive, A Sailor Moon Romance (http://fanlore.org/wiki/A_Sailormoon_Romance), and then later, One Song Glory (http://www.moonromance.net/).

            As for the state of the fandom today, unfortunately a lot of wank went down over the past year and there was community deletion and a scattering of us, leaving things in pandemonium although I am confident a center will re-emerge. After all, we survived the A Sailormoon Romance crash, which makes me inclined to believe we can survive anything.

  • 09/08/2010 at 17:18

    Very interesting. I learn something new on each of your posts. Thank you.

    • 09/08/2010 at 19:06

      Thanks, Kyle!

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