on what makes a couple slashy
, and liviapenn
responding (not really rebutting) with "normal behavior isn't slashy."
See, the thing is: yeah, normal life is
slashy. It's 'cesty. It's a lot of things, some of them things which even fandom doesn't have words for, that we don't see because we're not used to looking at a life-text that way. I've lived in an appartment with two other men, and I've lived in a house with my family members. And there have been perfectly innocuous events (doing the dishes even!) that if they were to appear on a television screen then yeah, I would read them as slashy or 'cesty.
Which is not to say that I wanted to sex with my roommates or my family members, or that they wanted to have sex with me. When we're looking at life, we tend to get caught up in the ding an sich
, in issues of "what really happened." It seems perfectly sensible to wonder "How many children had Lady Macbeth?" when you've just had Lady Macbeth over for tea.
But literary texts don't work that way. Lady Macbeth has a dozen children and no children at the same time. The cat is both dead and alive. (Fanfic opens the box and collapses the eigenstates, so to speak. And this metaphor is so
not my own; I remember wisdomeagle
using it, but I doubt that it's hers either.) While for the most part we conveniently and deliberately forget that our life-text is a floating signifier (which doesn't mean that it isn't real or is radically modifiable or any other pomo nonsense, just that it's eternally cut off from the thing-in-itself), we can't forget that about our fannish texts. We can (and possibly should) argue over what is the most straight-forward interpretation of canon, or even the best interpretation, but not the right one. "It's just a story." (Real life is sort of story, too, but we don't usually look for morals in it, do we? And if I said, "The rain outside is a metaphor for racist intolerance" people would look at me funny, wouldn't they?) (Of course, sometimes we do treat life events as metaphors, like with tarot cards. But this is seen as an unorthodox response--and just not plain understood by some people.)
I mean, this is half the reason why RPF exists. Because John Kerry and John Edwards were
slashy. Because William Moseley and Anna Popplewell really are het-tastic sometimes. (Sometimes as a deliberate choice on the part of the photographer, least as I construct the photographer-function.) Sometimes the subtext is a hint to "what really lies beneath" the floating signifier, as in the Lance Bass case, but I think that for the most case we (for at least the "my flist" value of "we") recognize that Kerry and Edwards weren't sexually attracted to each other, and that Will and Anna have almost certainly never had sex with each other. But because the signifier is floating, we can imagine it being attached to a completely different "what lies beneath," like Anna being a Vampire Slayer or Jason Dohring and Krsistin Bell breaking Katie Holmes out of a Scientologist fortress
. (And OMG there's a sequel?! *goes to read*)
Do we really think that the only reason Simon could possibly have done what he did for his sister was if he were sexually attracted to River? And if we don't think this, does that mean their relationship isn't 'cesty? Because I think we can all agree that their relationship is 'cesty as hell and, if you privelege authorial intent or use interviews when constructing the author-function, deliberately so.
Reading subtext/slashiness/'cestiness isn't like finding out whodunit in a detective novel
. Because whodunit is revealed at the end of detective novel (although I'm sure there's some postmodern detective novel out there that doesn't reveal whodunit) and, y'know, that's text
. It's only subtext if there is no explicitly right or wrong answer.
Cinematic texts have elements like the camera work and the soundtrack which influence the way we read a text without changing one whit "what really happened." But these elements are objective features of the text, and part of the communicative mechanisms which make up the medium. Reading a text is more complicated than just figuring out "what is really going on."
So reading subtext/slashiness/'cestiness into/out of a text is a response to the floating signifier, to the text qua
text, not to the Events Themselves. In Real LifeTM
, if a brother accidentally enters a bathroom while his sister is getting out of the shower, that doesn't mean he wants to jump her bones (or vice versa). It just means they live in a house together and she forgot to lock the door and he neglected to knock or she didn't hear him and so he, completely by accident, saw his sister naked. That's what "really happened" (we say). And it happens. No big deal, although the sister probably isn't going to be very happy.
(Nor the brother, probably, who's likely to be actively repulsed by a combination of social taboos and the Westermarck effect
. But we
can read that repulsion as a performative act, either a deliberate dissimilation and pretense or as a less conscious Freudian denial. And of course this is why Freudian analysis is so much more popular in literary analysis than in, y'know, empirical psychology.)
And then, that evening, in the course of doing his wash, that brother takes his sisters' bras and panties out of the dryer and he puts them in a laundry basket. Hell, maybe he even folds them. This is Standard Operating Procedure in pretty much every family across the world that has its own washer and dryer.
But if I'm watching a forty-minute show and thirty seconds of it is devoted to each of these events, then yeah, it Means Something. Because things don't "just happen" when read as part of a literary text. Because we--if you let me channel Jubal Early for a moment--imbue them with meaning. We give it a purpose. We construct an author-function, and we decode a message, and yes, the decoder ring is jury-rigged so the message will be sex, sex, sex
. The mechanism of literary (and within literary I include cinematic and other modes of artistic criticism) criticism is predisposed to read sex out of a scene, in large part because literary critics like thinking about sex. And so do writers, so they play along.
Let they who are without sin throw the first stone.
A long expositionary dialogue conducted while two female characters are dressed in towels in the girls' locker room is
femslashy. Because yes, Virginia, the all-female space does queer the relationship, despite the fact that this is Perfectly Common Behavior and having conversations dressed in a towel in a locker room doesn't make one a lesbian. (I have doubts as a het male how often this type of behavior actually happens outside of television, but that's neither here nor there. Because, as I've said, "actually happens" isn't the point--there 's a system of cinematic signification and realism doesn't really play into it all that much at all.) (Plus we can't forget the camera as a placeholder for the het male gaze, which sexualizes things even further. I should probably have used two male characters in a boy's locker room, but that's not so much fun for me to visualize. But the point would be the same.)
When I watch Buffy and Faith in season 3 and see them as femslashy as hell, when the heart that Faith draws isn't a love-heart at all but really a vampire heart (with a stake through it), and besides teenage girls use that sort of heart imagery to each other all the time without meaning anything at all sexual by it (although I still think those interactions are femslashy as hell too), I'm not illegitimately reading my own interpretation into the text. (Although if I were
reading my own interpretation into the text I don't see necessarily why that should be illegitimate, but I probably wouldn't write an essay for a grade
on the Anne/Violet 'cest in Man and Superman
just because there's not a lot of textual evidence.)
I'm using a more-or-less agreed-upon system of deciphering textual cues, regardless of whether cues were intentionally put in by the writer. (Are Rosalind/Celia so gay on purpose? Probably, but who cares if it's not deliberate? It's a facet of the text that's there
. It even meets the non-visual criteria of hth_the_first
's slash texts--and when I imagine it, it meets the visual criteria as well. Which is not to say that we would at all assume that two cousins who were that devoted to each other had
to be sexually attracted to each other if it were happening in "the real world.")
And when someone points out that hermeneutic I'm using to interrogate the fictional text isn't the same one I'd use to interrogate real life, I answer: whyever the hell should
And then I imagine them making out with their sister.