Delusions are Grander
by Miriam Heddy
How many times have slashers had to defend themselves to genners, who can't understand how slashers can be so deluded as to think that the innocent platonic friendship we see onscreen is actually fraught with sexual desire and romantic interest? And how many times have the genners had to defend themselves to the slashers, who wonder how the genners can be so blind or repressed--in short, so deluded--as to think that what we see onscreen can possibly be platonic friendship? And how weirdly deluded are those smarmers--writing about men kissing and snuggling and stroking and insisting that these are stories of two men who just really, really like each other!
They (whoever they are--because it's certainly not me) must be--well, deluded. Right?
To take this discussion out of the realm of fanfic for a moment and into the realm of television/film genres, part of the interesting thing is that, in television/film, "The Sentinel" is a definite part of the genre: Buddy Show. As are the majority of other shows with popular followings in media fandom.
And a Buddy Show is acknowledged, by many film/tv/media critics, to be a subset of the Romance, in part because of the single-minded devotion of one man to another, to the exclusion of all other relationships. In a Buddy Show, it is not at all unusual to see two men putting their lives at risk for each other, not because they're both cops, or both co-workers, or both on the lam, but because they are "buddies." In a Buddy Show, any woman who enters into the plot must be dispatched in some way, as she is a potential threat to the main buddy pair.
What I'm trying to say, I think, is that the very concept of "Buddy Show"--and its execution--is not ever a "realistic" depiction of male friendships. And it's not meant to be. The Buddy Show isn't about real friendship any more than "Romeo and Juliet" is an accurate depiction of heterosexual romance. It's a fantasy, meant to be grounded in reality just enough that we recognize ourselves in it, while providing us with a fantasy that fulfills us as our RL doesn't.
Most men would likely be deeply uncomfortable in a true, RL "Buddy Relationship." As would most women, I imagine, if we actually had to be Thelma and Louise or Xena and Gabrielle. And everyone else in our lives would be deeply uncomfortable by that level of exclusion from our lives that the genre demands. The "Buddy Relationship" puts unusual (and some would say unhealthy) demands on its members--the kind of single-minded devotion that we sometimes experience in that first week/month/year of new love, when we drop our friends and tell ourselves we would willingly drop everything else and jump out of an airplane into the jungle if our lover asked us (recognize anyone? <g>).
Which puts us in the land of "The Sentinel" again. If we are attempting to write realism into our fanfic in any way, then Jim and Blair have to be lovers, because Buddies of the sort that Buddy Shows depict don't exist in RL (and the closest thing we have in RL is cop partners--but even that isn't quite it--and doesn't go quite as far as most Buddy Shows consistently go with the relationship). Jim and Blair aren't just partners. They're buddies. A whole 'nother world of relationship.
Back to fanfic...
If we are willing to throw realism to the wind, and want to really participate in the framework setup by the genre, we write gen, which often works to continue to show us the kind of Buddy Relationship that, by rational standards, looks odd. I would actually say that many gen writers, pulled by some tug of "realism" end up diminishing the demands that make TS a "Buddy Show."
And so mild, moderate, and extreme smarmers step in. Smarmers are somewhere in between genners and slashers, but in some ways, they may be closest to a gut-level understanding (but usually not an intellectual understanding) of what makes the Buddy Genre so damned compelling. Smarmers are compelled to push the genre farther than Television or Film allows, giving us kisses, extended hugs, caresses, and even two naked guys sleeping together. Whereas the Buddy Show generally stays within boundaries of behaviour that allow for a comfortable viewing in this "gay-conscious" time, smarm, if filmed, would send the male audience flying right out of the room. Even though smarmers do all that in the spirit of the original genre--which offers us wildly unrealistic relationships that are a wish-fulfillment fantasy. They make us feel good.
But slash, too, is wish-fulfillment, because for many of us, the smarm doesn't go far enough! We want the men to acknowledge the depths of their attraction, and our attraction to the buddy pair, and so we bring in RL rules, one of which is that men in RL are either platonic friends, or they are lovers (who may be friends), but they aren't buddies. And slashers prefer to make them lovers, because hey--it's sexy and it's real, and for me, at least, that's a real kink.
To address that age-old argument of "who's delusional"--I'd say that the delusion starts with the canonical genre of the Buddy Show. Because that's always a fantasy. Buddy Genre Canon is, by definition, deluded. So fanfic writers who begin with a buddy show always have to delude themselves, somewhat, just to play by the rules.
I think slashers really do delude themselves a bit less than anyone else, because on some level, slashers apply standards of realism to the genre that genners (who are fairly satisfied with the fantasy of friendship in the "Buddy Genre") and smarmers (who want "Buddies" to go even farther) do not. Slashers break the rules of the genre, and of the fantasy, by staying within the rules of RL. That doesn't mean that all slashers are realists (hell, you've read Yvonne McCool) or that realism (or RL) is, in and of itself, a better thing that being happy in the realm of fantasy. Fiction is, after all, all about fantasy making and wish-fulfillment. So we're all guilty--if we actually feel any guilt about engaging in fantasy--which I don't <g>.
Maybe we all need to reclaim the epithet "deluded" and acknowledge that, by even playing in the TV sandbox, we're all deluded, and--here's the important thing--we like our delusion! <g>
The litmus test of fandom should be, "Are you getting off?" Luckily, there's a sandbox for everyone (and you can always build your own; after all, it's just a few pieces of wood and a cathode t- <ahem>--I mean a bag of sand).
Notes and thanks: These thoughts did not spring fully-formed from the Muse's head. I'd like to thank Francesca for pointing out my own kink for writing slash stories that expose the boys' self-delusion, Sigmund Freud for his The Interpretation of Dreams (which provided a helpful theory of wish-fulfillment), and my Summer 2000 NYU Writing Workshop Class, to whom I introduced Starsky and Hutch.