While reading Masamichi Inoue’s fascinating Okinawa and the U.S. Military: Identity Making in the Age of Globalization recently, I came across a reference to Emmanuel Lévinas’ ideas about the nature of love and the “intimate society.” Love, Lévinas argues in Collected Philosophical Papers, is inescapably solipsistic: “to love is to exist as though the lover and the beloved were alone in the world. The intersubjective relationship of love is not the beginning, but the negation of society” (31). The intimate society of love, according to Lévinas, “is dual, a society of me and you. We are just among ourselves. Third parties are excluded” (30). But society in its larger, customary sense, Lévinas declares, “inevitably involves the existence of a third party” (32)–and the tension between the intimate and larger societies can lead to the refusal of the couple, the intimate society, to recognize the harm they or their relationship may do to others in society at large, intentionally or not.

Inoue uses the notion of the disruption of the intimate society of “me and you” by the third, the social, to frame Okinawan activists’ disruption of the intimate society of the United States-Japan security alliance by articulating both global resonances and local consequences in their protests against the U.S. bases and military presence in the archipelago. Being a fan as well as an academic, of course, my own thoughts went immediately to the phenomenon of the OT3.

I had the privilege of attending Con.TXT 2010 in Silver Spring, Maryland last year, which was quite informative in terms of fannish history as well as a lot of fun–a lot of people who’ve been in fandom for decades were in attendance, and were quite willing to talk about their changing experiences of fandom through the years. One of the panels, “Fandom Suddenly Loves the Ladies,” noted in passing that one of the reasons for the apparent recent increase in representation of female characters in fanworks–which still is by no means equitable, merely better–may be the increasing prominence of the OT3, or threesome pairing.

I don’t think I can better illustrate the massive caveat that accompanies this entire post than to link an analysis of the pairings found in Star Trek fic on the Archive of Our Own: overwhelmingly, fan writers are still writing slash (M/M) pairings, with only a relative smattering of het (M/F), femslash (F/F), or other or multi pairings, under which category any OT3s falls. Still, for all that, it does seem that fans lately are more willing to consider writing an OT3 relationship that includes the main female romantic rival to the slash pairing, rather than focusing exclusively on the slash pairings within a fandom.

In fact, OT3s are a prominent feature of fanworks for several popular fandoms, notably the television series White Collar and the new Sherlock Holmes movies. As people at the Con.TXT panel suggested, it’s undeniable that female characters in U.S. media these days tend to be much better written than their counterparts of thirty, forty, fifty years ago, but I don’t think that’s the entire reason for the increasing popularity of the OT3. Fandom’s own social dynamics have to play a role as well.

In its own way, OT3 fic is just as much a rebellion against the narrative conventions of mainstream media as slash is, and I certainly don’t want either to edge out the other in any fandom. But OT3s bring a different perspective to the table, one that critiques heteronormative assumptions from another angle than slash, and I’m quite happy to see that many of these fics do, often unwittingly, add a deeper sociopolitical dimension to the worlds they construct when they add a female character to the male/male pairing. (I’m a historian, I always like my narratives more complicated.) Certainly at its best, OT3 fic does disrupt the solipsistic intimacy of the slash OTP and present an alternate vision of that fandom’s world and characters, one in which the whole is frequently greater than the sum of its parts. That those alternate visions naturally give female characters more prominent roles only makes them more enjoyable, to my mind.

Having said all this, I’ve convinced myself to reread the excellent X-Men: First Class OT3 fic that inspired this entire post in the first place.

[META] OT3s: Disrupting the Intimate Society?
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One thought on “[META] OT3s: Disrupting the Intimate Society?

  • 31/10/2011 at 14:40

    I’m not sure I’m inclined to accept Levinas’s claim, but even if I were, I think this argument edges into the problematic. Going directly from “solipsism” to “slash” troubles me, even though of course you’re right that slash is prevalent in fandom (although not perhaps at utterly dominant as the AO3’s statistics might make it seem). Freud’s psychoanalytic theories ascribed same-sex relationships to narcissism and an inability to cope with difference (as though difference of sex were somehow the true difference and the only difference that mattered). “Slash is solipsistic” risks reinscribing that, especially since you go on to suggest that threesome fics with a heterosexual element (specifically m/f/m fics) “add a deeper sociopolitical dimension to the worlds they construct” and are thus less solipsistic, more responsive somehow to society and social responsibilities. Again, this echoes with homophobic arguments that are deeply rooted in western cultures, in this case the notion that queer women and men ought nevertheless to be heterosexually partnered (i.e., married) as a gesture of maturity and responsibility. Do f/f/f and m/m/m threesome fics get to be less solipsistic as well, or do they not qualify?

    In any case, I’m skeptical of arguments that writing or reading a particular type of fictional relationship is more politically or socially responsible than reading/writing another type of fictional relationship. The claim some slash fans make that slash is more righteous than het has been deservedly critiqued in fandom; here you seem to be making the same claim for a different type of pairing. OT3 fic may present relationships and characters *differently* than pairing fic of any kind, but that doesn’t necessarily mean better, although it may mean more to your taste.

    Finally, if one does accept Levinas’s argument that love is ultimately anti-social, I don’t see why increasing the scope of the love relationship slightly, from two people to three, should make much of a difference.

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