It’s safe to assume that anyone that has access to the Internet and has visited Entertainment Websites in the last year or so has probably heard of slash. Gone are the days when fans could use the term as a code without outsiders knowing what we were talking about. The cat is well and truly out of the bag. That’s not to say that non-fans actually understand slash – chances are they don’t, because the mainstream media’s portrayal of slash and slash fandom is not often favorable.
Needless to say many fans are not exactly happy about the increasing visibility of slash but whether they like it or not people are talking about slash and they’re not going to stop. Why would they? Discussions of slash are pretty much guaranteed click bait. Fans want to see what people are saying about them and non-fans are fascinated (and kind of confused) by the slash phenomenon. As long as people want to read about it, they will keep writing about it.
On top of that, many networks have finally discovered the power that comes from an active and involved following like slash fandom. As online buzz becomes an increasingly important part of measuring the success of media texts, the Powers That Be are all too willing to call on the vocal and engaged slash fans to get people talking. One has to look no further than Teen Wolf to see that it works.
This increasing visibility has created a divide among slash fans. Some fans are all too happy to jump into the conversation while others are desperate the hide behind the last vestiges of the fourth wall. This divide is never more apparent than in fan interactions with celebrities – whether it’s via twitter or at conventions. Fans that want to maintain the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude to fan practices are frustrated by fans that force creators/actors to talk about slash while those fans are annoyed at being pushed back into the closet.
The arguments on both sides are fairly extreme and there seems to an assumption that it is all or nothing. Either we open everything up for discussion or we ban the topic all together. This extreme dichotomy is actually more harmful to slash fans than anything else, because it causes us to fight amongst ourselves rather than working together to combat the negative and misguided representations the mainstream media presents.
Here’s the thing: as temping as it might seem there is no hiding behind the fourth wall because it doesn’t exist. It never did. Despite the fact that slash fandom feels like a closed community, it’s actually open to anyone that wants to Google it. Like I said earlier, people are talking about slash and they’re not likely to stop talking about it any time soon. The best we can hope for is to try to control the conversation.
That said, it’s important to remember that most of the time slash lives outside of canon. By engaging with slash we are essentially ignoring the intended interpretation and creating our own. That’s actually one of the things that makes slash so wonderful, but it also makes it somewhat difficult for actors/creators to talk about because they’re selling a message and they’re not really allowed to deviate from that message.
Of course, as I have said before, if the Powers That Be choose to engage slash fans to create buzz then they need to learn how to answer the questions. But fans also need to remember that there is only so much TPTB can say about fandom interpretations. The real problem here is that neither fans nor TPTB know how to talk to each other about slash and it creates an environment of fear that doesn’t help anyone.
Actors/writers/producers are afraid because they don’t know how to answer questions about slash and fans are afraid of being judged for what they enjoy. Despite what many people think, neither side wants the whole conversation to be overtaken by slash. Unfortunately until we become comfortable talking about it, it will continue to dominate the conversation because controversy sells.
As long as we treat slash like a dirty little secret, journalists will keep using it to make celebrities uncomfortable, people will continue to have misguided assumptions about slashing, and fans will continue to be ashamed for something they love. There is no point in covering our eyes and pretending it’s not happening because it is. We need to figure out how to talk about slash in a way that works for both fans and creators. The only way to do that is talk about it.
Slash fans need to stop the people who don’t understand or appreciate slash from dominating the conversation and start speaking for ourselves.
Author: Undie Girl
Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.
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