Over the years, I have often been asked to explain the appeal of slash to people who really don’t have a clue what the genre is all about. The topic crops up in class as I am teaching my work on fandom; in conversations with journalists doing the now obligatory fan fiction story; and with strangers who learn what I research and want to know why. I know many other aca-fen face this same question and that a range of different strategies have emerged for talking about it. My approach has been to try to connect them with an iconic moment from the history of fandom, one where the original text clearly expresses issues of desire and affection between two men, and one which historically packs an emotional wallop even for non-fans. I reproduced my basic argument in the essay, “Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking,” which was reproduced in Fans, Gamers, and Bloggers:
When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies.
Both of them are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series. Almost everyone who watches the scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass. The glass, for me, is often more social than physical; the glass represents those aspects of traditional masculinity which prevent emotional expressiveness or physical intimacy between men, which block the possibility of true male friendship. Slash is what happens when you take away those barriers and imagine what a new kind of male friendship might look like. One of the most exciting things about slash is that it teaches us how to recognize the signs of emotional caring beneath all the masks by which traditional male culture seeks to repress or hide those feelings.
This past weekend, I was delighted to learn that the passage in question had inspired a fan vidder, thingswithwings to produce an original work based around the iconography of the glass wall.
The Glass does what the best vids do: it not only demonstrates an interpretation of the original work through the manipulation and mobilization of visual evidence; it also makes us “feel” that interpretation from the inside out by tapping the emotional power of that original imagery and upping it a few levels through its juxtaposition through editing and the soundtrack.
We’ve had several discussions here of vidding in the past for those of you who are not familiar with the form. But this is a particularly vivid example of how an idea might move from theory into artistic practice. In the process, the artist has expanded my original insight about Star Trek to show how persistent this image has become across a range of fannish texts. It seems that fans are not the only ones who find the forced isolation of characters as a situation which produces intense longing and which gives physical expression to the emotional bonds between characters. Just wanted to share this particularly interesting example of the flow of ideas within the aca-fan world.
Thanks to thingswithwings for giving me permission to share her work with you.