Archive for the 'Meta' Category

License to Snark

Friday, September 5th, 2003

Word count: 0

The title is Sangerin’s term for the My Friends’ Fandoms meme, inspired by Seema’s response. CGB has a whole list of Stargate responses, but the best one is the Seema’s-eye view of Stargate:

Stargate-1 [sic] — Theirloveissocanon. Sam and Jack are there. Apparently they are in love. Or is it Daniel and Jack? Sam and/or Jack are female. I think. Someone on that show is supposed to be a hussy. They all travel through time and there are aliens because it’s in the future and it’s in space.

So here’s my view of fandom. Complaints should be directed to Seema, who incited this:

  • Alias: Like 24 Hours, but it never ends, and people never stop talking about it.
  • Angel: It’s a great show except for the title character, who still can’t act. Buffy with a side of evil lawyers.
  • Enterprise: Lots of whiny people and angsty fic, all over a show that could be used as a cheap form of anaesthesia in third-world countries.
  • Farscape/Firefly: In my mind, these two are the same show. If they were so great, why are they off the air, eh? Eh?
  • Harry Potter: A fandom in which every single pairing is equally controversial, even the twincest ones. Oh, and the people who brought us plagiarism.
  • Lord of the Rings: Nasty things done to nice hobbits and elves. JRR is spinning in his grave.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: I hope the pirate and the girl get together, because that was the only chemistry in the entire movie.
  • Pros: Cop show that’s off the air but never ends. See Alias.
  • RPS: Nasty things done to real live people. How do you sleep at night?
  • Seachange: Hey, they have TV in Australia! Who would have guessed?
  • ville: Where all fans go in the end. Annoying teen superheroes.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Worf and his woman problems, and his Angry Klingon problems, and more of his woman problems. Oh, and Garak/Bashir. Dark and icky, just like the show.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Lori is TNG.
  • X-Men: Annoying adult superheros. The one-eyed one can’t act.

Other Interests

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

My lovely sister Veronica and I share a passion for epidemiology. She emailed me the following information yesterday:

we’re all going to die, we’re all going to die

1918 Flu: 2.5% mortality

SARS: 5.6% mortality

Today’s SARS numbers are up, clocking in at 5.8% mortality. Yes, I’m a ghoul. If you’re a fellow pox or plague fan, I’d love to chat.

We all have other interests, like those college presidents and CEO’s who leave their lucrative positions to “pursue other interests.” Sometimes it seems that the praise, fame, and reams of fanmail just don’t outweigh the hassle anymore. Seema has been feeling the fandom annoyance, and Robert Beltran went so far as to name names after the controversial shutdown of the ORB.

Is there a point when fandom becomes just too inbred and you have to walk away? A time when all the joy has been sucked out of your show by vampire fans who dwell in the dark ages of Season 3? I’m voting in AAA now, and I have to wonder, is there a Last J/C Fic or will this fandom still be going on in 2103?

I’ve been tired of fandom for a while now, but I’ve learned to ignore the tiresome bits. Coming up with a new J/C plot is harder, though - I think they’ve all been done. At least I have the revisions to Colony to keep me occupied.

A prepubescent flyin’ ace

Tuesday, April 8th, 2003

I can’t believe I mentioned Anakin Skywalker without linking to Weird Al’s video of The Saga Begins. The title of this entry is taken from that epic filk of “American Pie,” and it relates to the protests of HP fans that Harry is just a normal, average wizard. I’d be more willing to believe that if he weren’t a first-year Quiddich phenomenon. (Please pardon my spelling, if I’ve gotten it wrong - I find the HP books extraordinarily forgettable, even though I just read one a couple of weeks ago.) I’m not judging HP from the perspective of a student of canon but from an overall impression of its themes. Of course, people may differ on the themes they see in a text, which brings us back to…

…subtext. When I made my off-hand comment that I don’t believe in subtext, I didn’t realize I was playing a “get out of slash free” card. I’m not complaining, by any means. Seema, in between lewd comments about my dude Weird Al, gave me this link to AJ Hall’s thoughts on subtext and backstory. Caught between an RJ and an AJ, I asked Seema whether she believed in subtext. She said she didn’t believe in J/C subtext.

I’d mentioned exactly this example before - that Janeway/Chakotay fans see J/C subtext and Chakotay/Paris fans see C/P subtext, and rarely the twain end up meeting. While certainly something happens to the story in the readers’ minds, that something has very little to do with the story itself. Thus I’ve heard J/C fans raving about all the J/C subtext, and C/7 fans raving back that J/C is the most nauseating, unbelievable, and chemistry-less pairing known to Trek - there was never any such subtext. And that’s without even involving a slash pairing!

I’m not saying there isn’t more to a story than just the words themselves, but when you get into an aspect of characterization that people violently disagree about, such as J/C vs. C/7 or C/P, then the most likely explanation is that neither one is part of the shared world of canon. I’ve been down that fanon road before, and all slash looks like to me is another fanon’s rose-colored glasses - the odd thing being the use of “subtext” in place of “fanon.”

Non-Canonical Replies

Monday, April 7th, 2003

Since they were getting long, here are some responses to the last entry’s comments:

Scrollgirl said: I’m just not ready to say that, just because we don’t see it, it is therefore uncanonical.

The definition of canon is that which appears on-screen. Anything that doesn’t appear on-screen is not canon, for my purposes. (Jeri Taylor novels are not canon.) Anything we haven’t seen, such as a sexual orientation for which there is no evidence, is therefore non-canonical. I don’t think I used the term uncanonical, which is a bit stronger. If something contradicts the actual facts of canon, such as saying Tom is exclusively gay when in fact he had heterosexual relationships in canon, that would be counter-canonical.

I’m not saying you can’t make an attempt to found a non-canonical characterization in canon facts - just that it’s still non-canonical, and therefore not what I’m after in fanfic.

Caffey said: I certainly do believe in subtext or else the only VOY pairings I would care for and/or accept as valid (for lack of better term) were P/T and C/7.

I don’t care for P/T myself - they bore me. I do like some non-canon pairings, especially J/P and J/C, but that fondness is not based on subtext. Maybe because it isn’t, I rarely find J/P or J/C fic convincing, and so I don’t read much of it.

Fay said: What puzzles me still […] is what you would consider NOT to be non-canonical, short of copying out the scripts verbatim.

The example that comes immediately to mind is my fic 148, which is a Spike monologue based on the events of Bargaining and After Life. As far as I recall, there was nothing controversial about my characterization of Spike and I just followed along with the relevant canon events for the plot.

However, I never said that I don’t read non-canonical fic. What I don’t tend to read is fic with non-canonical characterizations. Non-canonical events are fine by me, in the form of parody, AU’s, and adventures that go beyond simple novelizations of canon events.

Katta said: There are, in general, the kind of ficcers who want “more of the same” [and] there are also the kind of ficcers who want a twist - they like what they see, but something is missing.

I certainly don’t mind more of the same, but I’m more interested in twists to the canon universe and situations (AU’s). I’m not interested in major twists to the canon characters (slash, angst, etc.).

eleanorb said: The divisions for readers […] are breaking down, at least in the eyes of SF readers who read far wider than the delimited genre and recognise the themes of SF whoever writes them and whatever it is listed as in the publishers catalogues.

I don’t see any such breakdown. While I mentioned that there are stories which are hard to classify, they’re the exception that prove the rule. A similar theme doesn’t make something sci-fi, because sci-fi isn’t identified by theme any more than mysteries or westerns or thrillers are. Mass-market genres are classified by plot - they are the bastions of plot in modern literature.

On Genre

Sunday, April 6th, 2003

Previous links are in the previous post.

Fay has another essay, some of which I addressed in the comments, but not the question of my literary disinterest in slash.

First of all, for my purposes genres or subgenres are self-identifying subsets of fiction into which stories can be classified by any reasonably aware reader. When someone posts a slash story to a slash-only list, or otherwise marks a story with the classification “slash,” then it’s self-identified as slash. Most fanfiction readers will classify any story featuring a non-canonical homosexual relationship as slash. For the purpose of classification, it doesn’t matter that some stories are better than others, or that some are smuttier than others, or even that a few stories are more difficult to classify than the majority. People who want to read slash will look for fiction identified as slash in some way.

Consider, for example, the genre of science fiction. Sci-fi is a self-identifying genre, in that short stories are published in magazines that accept only science fiction, and that novels are published by sci-fi houses and/or marked “sci-fi” on the spine. Readers can identify sci-fi by content even without these clues. Most sci-fi readers will classify any story featuring futuristic science as science fiction. It doesn’t matter that certain stories fall in between sci-fi and fantasy, or in between sci-fi and thrillers - the classification is still useful for people who want to read sf, and equally useful for people who don’t.

Before the pulps, there was no genre of science fiction. If you wanted to talk about sci-fi, you would have to refer generally to, say, the works of Verne or Wells. Now we can look back and classify those pre-genre works into the genre; in fact, we can’t help classifying them. The days in which a sci-fi writer could pass for mainstream are over. Likewise, we can’t help classifying slash as slash. The genre will not go away anytime soon, and the label functions to tell people that this is a subgenre with certain known characteristics.

I have a literary reason for liking science fiction: I read sci-fi for the exploration of futures and the heroic plots. In general what I consider to have merit in fiction is the heroic and skill in the depiction of a world, whether a future world, a past one, a fantastic one, or a slightly altered version of our own (eg., in Ayn Rand). People might dismiss sci-fi for literary reasons as well: usually such critics feel that the antiheroic has more literary merit than the heroic, or they want more attention to character and less to plot and milieu. People also dislike sci-fi for non-literary reasons - they have a visceral dislike of the fantastic or of the heroic.

So, as I’ve said before, people can have a literary or a visceral disinterest in slash. I ruled out moral disapproval of non-smut slash because literary works (as opposed to erotica) are not usually judged on a moral basis. In any event, moral considerations are not literary ones, so for those who think they apply they can be lumped into the visceral dislikes.

Fanfic is about playing with canon or fanon. What you do with them is a matter or literary or visceral tastes. As with sf, my interest is in the universe and the heroic plot, and also in humor, especially at the expense of either canon or fanon. So I prefer AU stories (particularly numbers 3, 4, and 6 from the Borg AU Classification), adventures, parodies, and filk, all of which are closely based on canon characterizations, canon events, and/or the canon universe as a milieu. I don’t care for angst, fluff, or slash, all of which are based on altering canon characterizations. (In the case of Buffy, the show’s level of angst is tough to top so the real crimes against canon occur on the fluffy side.)

So I have a literary disinterest in slash, because I have a more general literary disinterest in non-canon characterizations. Someone else might have an opposite literary interest in tweaking canon characterizations - this might include slash but would not be restricted to it, there being so many other ways to alter the characters. That leaves the question, can someone have a literary interest in slash alone? I’m not going to say it isn’t possible, but the pro-slash factors people usually cite are not, on the face of them, literary in the sense I mean it. “Pretty boys” is clearly a visceral taste, and the interest in slashy subtext would have to be accompanied by comparable interest in other kinds of subtext to be a general literary interest. I don’t believe in subtext, myself, but I hear people go on at length about alleged J/C subtext in Voyager episodes, and it doesn’t seem to capture the attention of the C/P crowd.

So instead I attribute the interest in slash to modern sexual politics - the romanticization of friendship, a certain J/C author would, ironically, call it. (Ironically, because J/C is exactly the same phenomenon, right down to the alleged canon subtext - why can’t these two friends be just friends?) I would call it the homosexualization of romance - because the opposite gender is no longer “other” enough, and romance is no longer star-crossed enough, the way to recapture that old troubadour spirit is to complicate relationships by making them same-sex. This theory explains (to me) why one particular kind of alteration to canon characterizations, making them gay, is so much more popular than, say, making them Mormons, or gourmet chefs, or hermaphrodites.

None of the above is a comment on the quality of slash or on the right of slashers to slash. It’s just an explanation of what it means to have a literary disinterest in slash as a non-canonical genre, something that is frequently said to be impossible.

Pretty Boys

Saturday, April 5th, 2003

Once again, people are writing essays in my comments. One of them is easier to read here. The two previous entries which have attracted so much interest are The Morality of Reading and Agendae, but I’ll recap. In the first entry, I made an argument about why reading slash was not a moral issue in the way reading smut (of any orientation) could be - not even if the reader finds homosexuality itself immoral. I went over what being slashy says to me as a non-slasher. My second entry was directed not so much at the commenters but at some stupid remarks that were made at fandom_wank about my manifesto. I defined “gender politics” and fic agendas, and said that women writing gay male erotica was weird. My general point in all three entries is that people can dislike slash as a genre for literary, as opposed to moral or visceral, reasons.

So, on to the comments. There isn’t really a thread of argument in them, but they are interesting in their own right (and long), so I’ll address the bits that stood out. First and foremost is the “good for the gander” argument - that it’s not unusual for women to like m/m slash because it’s not unusual for men to like f/f pornography. However, men and women are different. Men fill the jails, and women fill the fanfic mailing lists. What men see in f/f videos is not, until proven otherwise, what women see in m/m fanfic. If you went out and polled a hundred non-fan men and women about their interest in homosexual erotica involving the opposite gender, you would not get the same results for both sexes. Mainstream women are not consuming m/m erotica in any appreciable numbers, while f/f pornography is a large part of the porn industry. So when I say that women writing m/m erotica is weird, and that the “pretty boys” explanation doesn’t explain anything, that’s what I’m basing my ideas of what’s unusual upon - the mainstream population. Why do slashers like pretty boys in such greater numbers than average women?

Likewise, the percentage of homosexuals in the population has been estimated at 1.5% for women and 3.5% for men. So in real life, one can assume that most people are not gay unless they indicate that they are, by word or deed, and be right most of the time. Likewise, in fiction one can assume that most characters are not gay, unless TPTB say otherwise. In fact, in most fanfictional universes there is no stigma attached to being gay, so there is even less reason to assume that a character who isn’t gay in canon is anything but heterosexual - especially since most characters are given heterosexual backgrounds in canon. For instance, every main and recurring character on Voyager except the Borg Queen was known to have had heterosexual relationships, many of which occurred on-screen. No homosexual relationships were ever mentioned or shown for any of them.

Nothing I’ve said implies that women should not or cannot write homosexual characters, or male characters, if they need to - say, if they’re writing about a canon Willow. The question is why slash writers “overpopulate” the fictional world with gay characters. Clearly, as I said, it’s not because the m/m writers are homosexual men, which would be the most obvious explanation.

By the way, by slash I mean the fanfiction self-identified as slash. Like science fiction, it’s a known and well-understood term in that sense, even if in my mind real sci-fi has more stringent requirements.

Fay said: If you are determined to believe that all slash is simply “weird” porn, or that it is all Harlequin-level writing, then I suppose you will continue to believe this whatever I say. In this you will be sorely mistaken, but perhaps it is more comfortable to cling to a preconception than it is to question its validity and risk having to reassess one’s stance.

I never said that all slash was weird porn or bad writing. I reassess my stance every time someone makes a logical argument against it. The most irritating thing about discussing slash is how it always comes back to the assumption that slash is somehow a challenge to the morality or “preconceptions” of everyone who’s not interested in it. Slash, as I’ve said before, is just another fanfic agenda. If you told me there was a wonderful subgenre out there where canon characters were suddenly Mormon, or handicapped, or axe-murderers, or gourmet chefs, I would find the existence of such a subgenre interesting, but not the fic.

Go ahead, start complaining about my preconceptions about Mormons.


Sunday, March 16th, 2003

I never did get back to the topic of sexual politics from my backblog list, but since Fay has been commenting on an old post about slash I’ve been thinking about it again.

When I said I wasn’t interested in fic driven by gender politics or an underlying agenda, I didn’t mean that I thought the purpose of slash was to convert innocent heterosexuals to homosexuality. Of course no reasonable person reading the posts would believe that, but in a game of telephone with my words on fandom_wank, some very strange misinterpretations come out.

I find the sexual politics of slash fascinating - not because they’re threatening but because they’re weird. If someone had written a sci-fi story about thousands of women getting together on the Internet and spontaneously writing gay male erotica, who would have believed it? What’s the attraction? When slashers say that it’s pretty boys, the answer answers nothing at all - it only shows that they’re so into the fad that they cannot see that it’s unusual.

Femslash, by comparison, is hardly problematic. Many femslash writers are openly bisexual, while female m/m writers clearly are not homosexual men. I wonder at the appeal of m/m slash - the social phenomenon (i.e., the sexual politics) is far more interesting than the fic. That goes for strange het subgenres as well, although when a het writer writes some unbelievable pap about a m/f couple, you can always chalk it up to an overdose of Harlequins in real life.

As for having an agenda, of course people are free to write for whatever reason they wish. However, I consider fic where the author’s motives are transparent to be bad fic. I’ll always remember one classic example of agenda-fic in which the author was writing about gun violence, with barely a nod toward the show and characters.

There’s an even simpler sense of “agenda,” though, that covers all the genres in which my interest, if I ever had one, has faded. If a fic gives the reader the impression that the author was at a meeting that the reader missed, in which it was decided that Chakotay is gay and involved with Tom Paris, or Chakotay is married to Janeway, or Chakotay and Janeway’s abandoned love children are out looking for one of them, then that’s an agenda-fic. There’s a fanon agenda from that missed meeting that the reader is assumed to know and buy into. The story doesn’t stand on its own; you have to have the fanon Cliff notes.

I lost my Cliff notes somewhere along the line, so I need the story to start from canon. Where it goes after that is up to the author.

Is There in Truth No Beauty?

Thursday, February 27th, 2003

Cool link of the day: Space Film - I can’t believe no one had tried this before.

I thought I’d never think of a fannish application of J/P, but RJ’s comments have inspired me. This is my version of her version of the difference:
INTP: It’s true because it’s beautiful.
INTJ: It’s beautiful because it’s true.

The analogy to fanfic comes immediately. Some fans love any well-written story, no matter how depressing the plot or esoteric the pairing. It is a good story because it is beautiful. There’s another camp who appreciate any story about their one true pairing with a happily-ever-after ending, even if the literary quality is questionable. It is a beautiful story because it is fanon-correct.

So far it’s just an analogy. I’d have to know more about fans’ tastes and personality types to claim that it’s a real J/P distinction. I wouldn’t do a survey just over fic tastes, though it might be interesting to find out how the personality types found in fandom differ from the proportions of the types in the general population. That sounds like a job for Seema…

On having a debate

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

Cool link of the day: Memeufacture: Weblog and Automated Trend Reporting

In some really excessive midnight geekiness, I hacked modtool, a perl script for usenet moderators, to do NNTP authentication at Earthlink. I can only assume it was a more trusting time back in 1996 when the script was last updated, when NNTP servers ran wild and free… Anyway, if you want my modified script, email me and tell me what newsgroup you moderate and I’ll send it to you.

Now, back to the meta. I was thinking about this topic even before I saw Melymbrosia’s comment, to which I hope this entry will be a sufficient answer. First of all, the purpose of a debate is not necessarily to convince the other party of the truth of your own point of view. Argument purely for the sake of winning converts is more properly called proselytization. The proselytizing mindset is most ironically seen in A’s allegation, you’ve already made up your mind. In that case, A believes that the sine qua non of argument is the potential for changing B’s mind. The possibility that B’s opposing arguments might, in fact, change A’s own mind has been completely overlooked.

There are very few cases in which I get into debates with the hope of persuading other people, and most of them involve communal activities where everyone wants a certain outcome - say, a fair set of rules for the ASC Awards, or a new XML DTD. In the case where there is a final goal the group wants to reach, you need people to be able to compromise on the outcome. Yet there is never a need for anyone in the group to actually change their mind about what they, individually, feel would have been the ideal story categorization.

Most of the time, I argue because I enjoy thinking about whatever the topic is, voicing my ever-ready opinions, and hearing what other people think. It’s entertaining. I don’t expect anyone to change their mind because of what I say, except possibly me. I don’t expect anyone to stop writing slash because I don’t care for it, any more than I expect professional SF writers to change their styles because I got bored halfway through their last book. Without a communal goal in mind, there is no pressing need for people to agree with one another.

Because it’s my personal soapbox, my blog is the biggest repository of argument for the sake of hearing what I think. I write it down because it clarifies issues for me, entertains me, and may even interest others or prod their own thoughts. If I get into a debate with another person about something as non-earthshattering as the latest fan follies, I don’t do it to convert them to the gen cause. I just find it interesting to dig down to where we truly differ. It’s fine if they’ve already made up their minds, as long as they can say how they came to that conclusion, and I can figure out where we diverged.

So where do discussions go wrong for me, so that I have to walk away? It’s never that B holds an opinion. It’s not that B doesn’t want to discuss the matter - in that case, B is the one who has walked away and I see no point in pestering her. If B is willing to argue, yet unwilling or unable to do so rationally, then I’m the one who has to walk away.

If B is incapable of expressing why she thinks X instead of Y, she’s useful as a statistical point in an opinion poll but not as an opponent in a debate. If B consistently misconstrues A’s statements or resorts to logical fallacies like ad hominem, whether out of malice or out of a simple lack of reasoning skills, it becomes impossible to have a rational discussion. Maybe other people enjoy a flamewar, but I don’t.

Is walking away from a bad B in itself itself impolite? If you’re face-to-face with someone, maybe you do owe them an explanation, but that explanation cannot be you’ve already made up your mind because there’s nothing wrong with having an opinion. That B stands by her original cause at the end could just mean that A presented no convincing arguments to the contrary that were based on premises B would accept. With a bad B, that’s not the case, but it’s logically possible. It’s not polite to tell B that she’s not as intelligent or interesting as you would prefer, so it’s probably best just to bow out of the situation gracefully and not get involved with B again.

If you’re on-line, most communication is asynchronous anyway, so there isn’t really a problem with dropping the ball when you’re tired of B. Unless B has left some outstanding question that A couldn’t answer (and this is unlikely with an irrational B), A can let her explanation stand. A could do so even with a rational opponent who hadn’t made any particularly intriguing points in the last round. Most arguments peter out one way or the other.

For instance, it could be 3 a.m. and A might need to get to bed.


On having an opinion

Sunday, February 23rd, 2003

I confess - I’m a logician. I’ve seen my share of malice in fandom, but it never bothers me as much as irrationality does. The ad nauseum disturbs me because it is an attack on the possibility of rational debate in the area which “bores” the attacker. The ad hominem likewise bothers me, not because I’m the scapegoat, but because, again, the actual debate is tossed out the window when the debater herself is attacked.

I don’t mention fan foibles unless I’ve seen them more than once. I don’t link examples when the people involved are malicious, but if it’s just something an average fan might say or agree with, I will. Maybe not this time, though. Instead of linking, let me just rephrase one of the more frequent ad hominem arguments of fandom: A tells B, You’ve already made up your mind, and walks away.

It’s an ad hominem in the literal sense of the phrase, since it’s directed not at the point at hand but at the person (B) making the opposing argument. However, it’s not used (fallaciously) to establish the truth of A’s side, but merely to excuse A from further debate.

First of all, it’s meaningless to say that B has made up her mind. Believe me when I tell you, A wouldn’t be bothering with the argument if she hadn’t also made up her mind, at least provisionally. People who don’t have an opinion in the matter don’t get involved in debates.

A’s real meaning might be taken as, even if I proved my point, you wouldn’t accept the proof, but unless A is psychic and knows for sure what B’s reaction will be, this is just a baseless allegation. It takes quite a bit of argument to get down to another person’s fundamental irrationality, if she’s fundamentally irrational - I know, I’ve done it more than once. If you haven’t done the work, you have no right to impugn someone else’s rationality.

Of course, A is always free to walk away, but not to blame her forfeit on B. People are busy, and not everyone enjoys a good debate. Some people are culturally biased against certain styles of argument, considering them frightfully impolite. I’d guess the majority of fans either don’t like to argue or can’t argue their way out of a paper bag, which makes fandom a dull place for me. Even so, I never find myself cutting off an argument with an irrational opponent by saying you’ve already made up your mind - that is hardly B’s problem. If I have the time, interest, or a sudden fit of educational zeal, I will argue until it has become quite clear that B is a hopeless case. Then I just walk away, and I don’t look back.