Beneath the stones, the beach; beneath the beach, Cthulhu

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. K. Jones
    January 17, 2014 @ 8:46 am

    We're in agreement regarding slash. In a much shallower sense, switching genders for a moment, slash is actually a constant presence in a lot of heterosexual male lives, as evidenced not just by let's say all-female porn popularity, but frankly the commonality of watching any kind of fiction or non-fiction media and your archetypal friend verbalizing how swell he would find it that two female characters "start making out". Male friends certainly aren't opposed to saying it out loud. (It's testament to the progress made that I've on a handful occasions heard heteronormative guys dismiss melodrama and request two male characters just "kiss and get it over with" as well. At least the common public is starting to get pretty savvy about tropish writing and manufactured sexual tension.)

    So slash really seems to speak to the creativity of predominantly female fandom. Because guys may vocalize a desire to see two characters (or actors, or whatever) shipped, but women seem to go out and make art or write about it. But that speaks to the talent and creativity of female humans as a whole, which is hardly surprising. At art school I think our proportionate ratio was something like 10:1 female to male, and I knew many, many girls (primarily in the Communication Design department) who actually submitted and were paid for illustrating slash-fiction on whichever fan-forums and erotica sites they were associated with. Sexuality and art have always been symbiotic needs, and frankly they tend to express themselves in people the same way, so it's no surprise something that existed in the context of the late sixties should be so steeped in it.

    Wrapping up, that comment about "nothing untoward occurring off-camera" is interesting, because it also means we don't get to see as basic a human notion as Kirk say, talking to his guy friends about his love-life. Even if Shatner/Kirk is genuinely connecting with women week by week as opposed to "conquering" notches for his bedpost, even if he's a Casanova rather than a ladykiller, men talk to their friends. But it won't be until Star Trek VI, with Bones at Rura Penthe, that we finally see this happen (though there are hints of it from Gary Mitchell all the way up to Spock and Bones hearing the name "Carol Marcus" and raising a few choice eyebrows.)


  2. FlexFantastic
    January 17, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

    Both this and your last article have been brilliant. Subjects I'm mostly or wholly unfamiliar with and given engaging, thought provoking treatments. Some of your best stuff yet, well done.


  3. BerserkRL
    January 17, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

    Are you going to write about "The Procrustean Petard"?


  4. Josh Marsfelder
    January 18, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

    I was planning to look at the New Voyages series all together. Looking it up that one will probably deserve special mention.


  5. BerserkRL
    January 20, 2014 @ 8:40 pm

    That plus the Marshak/Culbreath novels is an odd set of readings. Knowing they were into Rand helps, but only a little.


  6. Daru
    February 10, 2014 @ 10:03 pm

    Yes Josh I like and agree with your conclusion here. Sexuality in many ways is indeed an experience that is generally controlled to travel down one safe channel. So then it is natural for the desires represented by slash to burst out and find expression. And in the end it still kind of feels that slash itself follows also quite narrow channels – I would like to see the day when there is ease with the possibility of a more varied and polymorphous expression of sexuality, where all of our positionalities are no longer 'marginal'. That's something to travel across the seas and stars for eh?


  7. Josh Marsfelder
    February 10, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

    Couldn't have put it better myself.


  8. Daru
    February 10, 2014 @ 11:05 pm

    Thanks man – that's why I am loving your blog, you are touching on subjects important to me. I look forwards to the journey ahead.


  9. Froborr
    October 11, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

    It's interesting to compare discussion of slash with its equivalent across the Pacific. Japanese fandoms (and, as a consequence, Anglophone anime fandom) divides fanfic about gay relationships and sex into two categories, yaoi and bara. Yaoi is written primarily by and for an audience of heterosexual women, while bara is written primarily by and for an audience of gay men.

    Notably, yaoi falls exactly into the stereotypes you discuss here. Couples are typically comrpised of a seme ("attacker"), who is taller, has more "masculine" physique, features, and speech patterns, is more dominant and aggressive, and if there's explicit anal sex, does the penetrating. By contrast the uke ("defender") is shorter, less masculine, more submissive and passive, and is penetrated.

    In other words, they re-enact stereotypical gender roles in which one is "the woman" and the other "the man"–the whole thing is spectacularly heteronormative and gender essentialist, just like the equivalent structures in by-women for-women slashfic.

    (As an aside, I'm just old enough to remember when slash meant any non-canon pairing, not just gay men. I wonder when the shift occurred–it definitely hadn't fully taken hold in the early 90s, but definitely had a decade later.)


  10. Josh Marsfelder
    October 11, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

    "(As an aside, I'm just old enough to remember when slash meant any non-canon pairing, not just gay men. I wonder when the shift occurred–it definitely hadn't fully taken hold in the early 90s, but definitely had a decade later.)"

    So am I. I'm a bit put off by terms like "femslash" as a result, but I'll use them to keep up with linguistic evolution. I'm probably not as careful in my use of the term "slash" in lieu of this as I should be, but I try.

    I'm unsure when the changeover happened myself, but just thinking now I wonder if it had something to do with the increased gender divide over the past twenty years (something that's most pronounced in, incidentally, Japan).


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