The Homosocial Nature of Fanfic Communities
Caveat: I am neither a fanfic writer nor can I consider myself part of any actual fan community—except as a reader and voyeuristic observer.
In a recent Genders article, Gayle Wald suggests in her discussion of fan appropriations of pop music culture that “girl-consumers …use boy bands … in intensely personal, individually empowering, and occasionally unsanctioned ways.” One of the examples she gives is the use of “boy-band fan practices to mediate intimate relationships between and among girls.” Reading this, I was wondering whether such homosocial bonds, created over shared attraction to celebrities or media characters, could provide a model that fits slash fan practices as well.
After all, am I actually imagining making love to the celebrity or even being him? Possibly on some level, but, personally, I imagine most of these celebrities to be pretty boring; I also do not really want to inhabit their lives. Similarly, the characters in mediafic are much more interesting than their real life counterparts (would anyone choose an evening talking to David Boreanaz over conversing with Angel?); moreover, their fictitious characterization is usually more interesting than the way they are represented on TV. How many of us got into a show via the fic only to be slightly disappointed that the TV characters were much less interesting than the ones we’d grown to love in their fanfic versions? And I’m not talking about messing with the canon as much as the loving creation of depth that is simply impossible to present on screen.
In short, what I believe is much more appealing than the “real” thing, is the way other women present these characters. It is, after all, their cultural literacy, their sensibilities, their intelligence that is revealed in the stories. To draw an example from a recent popslash story: Do I think Justin Timberlake has read Like Water for Chocolate? No. Would he be a more interesting person to me if he had and, as a result, taught himself how to cook. Most likely. In a way, then, I, the reader, am making love to the author over the naked bodies of the boys in question. It is the other woman’s mind that I’m enchanted with much more than the actual person (or even character) the story depicts.
Having reread Lolita recently, I was stunned again by the seductive power of language throughout the novel, how very difficult it is to resist Humbert’s voice, his particular way with words, his seductive intelligence and learnedness. It is not the plot— appallingly offensive—but the style that succeeds in spellbinding its readers. Similarly, I would argue, it may be our imagining the men in question naked and doing all kinds of fun things that appeals, but it is ultimately the authorial voice that fills in the details, that transcends the pornographic slot a in slot b into something erotic and appealing. Moreover, it is the author’s version of these guys to which I as a reader am attracted. Yes, they are good-looking, attractive, even hot, but ultimately it is their character, their inner voice, their vices and virtues that fascinate me—all of which are really part of the mind of the author.
Much has been written and repeated about the appeals of slash to women; much is being said about the nature of fanfic communities and the central importance of its collective and communal spirit. What I seem to be suggesting here is that the female community may be charged erotically not only in relation to our male fantasy and identificatory objects, but also in the imaginary and imaginative relation between reader and writer and among the women within a given fan community. In this ultimate act of agency we transforms the male characters into our personal—intellectual and emotional—dress-up dolls and use them as masturbatory fantasies for an ever-widening female circle jerk.