Hth (hth_the_first) wrote,
Hth
hth_the_first

The Hth Field Guide to Slash & Other Assorted Strange Attractors

In my ongoing bafflement as to why I’m apparently the only person on earth who doesn’t think Sheppard and McKay are particularly slashy, I was of course taken back to ye age-olde question, What exactly *does* it take to be slashy? Well, let me answer in four parts, with the fourth part first and the third part last, and– Okay, it was admittedly funnier on Sports Night. The point, though, is that I’m trying to be critical of how I arrive at the point where I’m comfortable saying these two characters are/aren’t slashy, so I came up with some broad categories of things that set my slash bells ringing. But first, a few disclaimers:

1) For “slashy,” it’s probably more accurate to read “Weird About Each Other,” which is how I’ve mostly come to conceptualize this idea over the past few years. “Slashy” to me implies “open and/or begging to be slashed,” so definitionally it requires a certain extra-canonical reading right from the start. What I like about saying two characters are Weird About Each Other is that it can (theoretically) be a point of agreement regardless of what you think might be going on between them off-screen. So for the most part, Weird About Each Other contains and encompasses slashy, but also brings in other characters, including het pairings and sibling acts, and then allows people to believe whatever they want about their sex lives, while still all agreeing that there’s something uniquely charged and interesting about their interactions.

2) I’m thinking here primarily about subtext, but the reality of course is that sometimes on tv, what used to be subtext suddenly turns into text. So while for the most part I’ve tried to avoid using canonical couples as examples, or even people who canonically seem to want to be couples, it’s a little tricky. What about all those Veronica Mars episodes back when we were supposed to think that Veronica hated Logan, or all the good years of the X-Files? What if only half the couple’s interest is clearly canonical, a la Hex? What about when nobody’s exactly sure if their sexual relationship is canonical or not, like Stuart/Vince or Xena/Gabrielle? Those are crucial studies in subtext, so I hate to discard them, but just be aware that I’m distinguishing the textual from the subtextual elements of those relationships and, as much as I can, dealing with the latter in isolation.

3) No, I’m not doing this to be mean to McShep fans. It only had its origins in me feeling mean about McShep fans (and by “mean,” I don’t mean that I don’t love y’all, I just mean frustrated by the hard sell that is the bread and butter of this fandom). I actually really got interested in subtext, and particularly in how and why people read canon so differently. This is my attempt to nail down how *I* read canon(s), which isn’t a better or a worse way, but it is mine.

4) This is NOT NOT NOT in any way to be perceived as a guide to what people should or shouldn’t be writing or digging on. Hell, I’ve made a fan career out of writing pairings that don’t rise to my own standards of slashy/Weird About Each Other – Giles/Oz, Ray/Ray, Ronon/Rodney, and that’s not even to mention the crossovers – and I love my fellow weirdos who do the same. I truly believe that anyone is slashable, and you can get good stories and bad out of any pairing. What I see as inherent in canon affects what makes me squee as a fan, but the two aren’t synonymous, nor are they supposed to be.

Onward!

Pairings that I’m willing to accept as canonically slashy/Weird About Each Other exhibit one or more of the following traits:

1. They are life partners
In broad strokes, I mean by this that they share living arrangements, they plan to do so as far ahead as the eye can see, and that canon recognizes that any change in this situation is a moment for extreme dramatic tension – a breakup or divorce, essentially. I am, however, willing to expand the definition to people who have a shared career/mission although they maintain separate residences, but only if canon indicates that they don’t have much of a life outside the career/mission, making it the functional equivalent of “where they live.” Under the primary definition, you get Jim/Blair (The Sentinel), obviously, and Xena/Gabrielle (Xena: Warrior Princess), who are almost anyone’s gold standards for ridiculously slashy, as well as Sam/Dean (Supernatural) and Vince/Eric (Entourage). Under the second, I would include Dan/Casey (Sports Night) and Mulder/Scully (The X-Files), Joe/Billy (Hard Core Logo) and Holden/Banky (Chasing Amy). This category is complicated by the fact that a lot of shows require communal living spaces and shared “missions” by their very set-up – everyone on Firefly lives on Serenity, everyone on SGA lives on Atlantis, everyone on Angel is part of the mission. However, being part of the same team is not the same thing as being Weird About Each Other – although I might argue that the latter is basically just a refined and juiced-up version of the latter. Part of the definition of being Weird About Each Other, though, is that there’s sort of a closed system between two people, where they understand certain things as belonging to “us” and affecting “our” future. So to use the Sports Night example again, both Dan and Casey are bonded to everyone else on the show by their shared investment in Sports Night and by their friendship, but even in the pilot episode, Dan can say that the one thing he knows about his future is that he’ll remain partnered to Casey; Dan’s commitment to SN is real and meaningful, and so is his loyalty to Dana and especially Isaac, but right from the first episode, he has that priority – he can give up Sports Night if that’s what he has to do, but he won’t give up Casey. Later on we see that Casey has already gone through that process, giving up national late-night tv to work with Dan on Texas local news. Holden and Banky’s conversation on the front steps of their office building is like the Idiot’s Guide to Weird About Each Other, where Banky explains in slow, small words that his entire life rides on being the emotional centerpiece of Holden’s life, and that if he isn’t that anymore, then they aren’t just the-same-only-different, their relationship is actually broken. Being canonically equivalent to life partners requires that the characters’ decisions expressly define whether or not they’ll continue to be with/have the love of their partners – Blair *can’t go* to the jungle with his mentor because it means leaving Jim, Sam *can’t quit,* move back to California and call his brother once a week because they’ve both come to view that level of distance as unacceptable (although Dean more than Sam, which is the emotional conflict at the core of 1st season Supernatural), Billy *can’t play* with Jenifur and keep HCL around as a side-gig. This isn’t supposed to denigrate other tv relationships – obviously, lots of people on tv are friends, and the health or unhealth of their relationships with each other are a (the?) primary source of dramatic tension – but just to say that there’s another level where two people have assumed joint responsibility for a life that they realize they share.

2. They’ve mastered the art of the eyefuck
This is the most freeform category, and it’s the one people are going to try to abuse to sneak in all their favorite pairings *g* Sexual chemistry is fairly subjective, so I only permit entries under #2 if it’s at the highest possible level of stunningly obvious. And actually, even “chemistry” is probably a misleading term, because it often seems to be one character who smolders, probably because those actors just naturally bring that hypersexual element to the table. In the world of fandom, it’s like having It. Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville) has It. So does Peter Wingfield (Highlander). Take an actor like that and give them a script that calls for them to show distinct interest in another character, and that interest becomes instantaneously sexualized, whether it was supposed to be or not. If the character is supposed to be interested in an opposite-sex character, frequently the subtext is whomping enough that it eventually gets cannibalized into the text, giving rise to pairings like Logan/Veronica (Veronica Mars) and Spike/Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The world being what it is, if the intense interest is supposed to be in someone of the same sex, it tends to stay subtextual. I usually consider the subtext in this type of case canonical if non-fans notice it of their own accord. I can’t remember who told me this story, but when somebody in fandom took a totally non-slashy friend to the last Highlander movie, in the midst of trying to puzzle out wtf was going on (a common problem while watching Highlander movies), the friend leaned over during one of the three minutes Methos was on screen and said, “So is he that other guy’s boyfriend?” I mean, if you’re not even sneaking it past the newbies, then come on.

3. They touch each other in somewhat inappropriate ways
This one is a little more complicated than it originally seems. I’m basically opposed to the simple touching=sex that can be so prevalent in this culture, but I do think that a willingness to be deeply and intimately inside someone else’s personal space indicates a certain level of trust and making oneself vulnerable. This means that different levels of touch register as meaningful for different characters, depending on what their baseline is. Aaron Sorkin characters are habitually touchy; they can hug everything in sight and it doesn’t necessarily mean all that much. If something Weird is going on in a Sorkin show, you have to kick it up a notch – like having Jed kiss Leo from his hospital bed (West Wing). For the most part, a kiss on the face is a gesture that carries enormous canonical weight and totally counts for purposes of establishing Weirdness – Buffy and Faith (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) both kiss each other at different times, Krycek kisses Mulder (X-Files). I tend to view hands as intimate almost on the level of faces, so that I put a fair amount of weight on clasped hands, particularly when the cinematography emphasizes it, such as Wes/Gunn in “Thin Dead Line” (Angel). A less inherently loaded gesture, however, can locate characters in this category if one or both of the characters tend to be protective of their personal space. Pembleton and Bayliss (Homicide) are so damn slashy because Pembleton hardly touches anyone of his own free will except his wife and Bayliss, so that the physical closeness they share particularly in “Life Everlasting” with their foreheads together and his hands on Bayliss’ face, which would be pretty striking with any characters, leaves you slightly gobsmacked. Thelma and Cassie (Hex) are also frequently filmed to emphasize their physicality with each other, particularly that rather iconic shot of them lying curled toward each other inside the protective sigil. It’s an emotionally intimate posture that implies something about the relationship and makes them look Weird About Each Other. Mulder was always very touchy with Scully, these little, protective gestures like putting a hand in the small of her back and leaning over her to be nearer to her eye-level when he talked – none of them expressly sexual, but all of them highly contact- and connection-oriented.

4. There’s no one else in the world that matters as much
Again, this doesn’t mean that their friendships with other characters aren’t real, but for some characters, there’s clearly one person who is *the* person they trust and value. Due South was a slashy show because there was never more than one person at a time who had a personal friendship with Fraser. Likewise, Pembleton could hardly bear anyone’s company but Bayliss’. Sam and Dean are a closed system because of their history and their ideas about what family means; no one else can ever come into that relationship and as things stand now neither of them have any outside relationship that can rival it. To my mind, Simon/River (Firefly) fall into this category even though they both have other friends, because it’s beyond my imagining that Simon in particular would ever go as far for anyone else as he would for River (I feel the same way about River, but there’s less canonical reason for me to think so; it’s just an instinct). Logan used to have a larger stable of people he cared about, but death and felony kidnapping have thinned the herd, and he’s basically down to just Veronica. Janeway/7 (Star Trek: Voyager) were slashy because for a long time 7 didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought except Janeway. A lot of the people I’ve already discussed come in under this heading as well – who’s in Thelma’s life except Cassie? Who’s in Mulder’s except for Scully, or Joe Dick’s except for Billy? Kevin Smith is particularly fond of writing these kind of relationships between men, from Loki and Bartleby (Dogma) to Dante and Randal (Clerks), the last of which has a very affecting speech in Clerks 2 that literally boils down to, don’t leave me, you’re the only person in my universe. I always count Murphy and McManus (Oz) because, although we don’t know a ton about Sean’s private life, it doesn’t seem like he has much of one, leaving the long-standing friendship with Tim pretty much his lone emotional connection (Tim doesn’t have any *functional* relationships except Sean, either, which sort of counts).

There’s a temptation to establish a category for a canonical willingness to die for each other, but I think that’s a lot like the touching issue: it depends on the character. You can’t get mileage out of it with a character like Buffy or Sheppard, because they have self-images that require them to take burdens like that on themselves as a matter of duty. In fact, heroic/action shows tend to define their heroes by a willingness to be self-sacrificing; it’s almost SOP, and if it happens often enough, it’s hard to assign it much weight – we tend not to embrace characters at all if we think they aren’t willing to die for the people who depend on them; we’re usually not even comfortable with characters who won’t put themselves on the line for strangers/innocent bystanders, let alone anyone they even remotely like. Even McKay, who’s allegedly so self-protective, puts himself in potentially mortal danger in “Hide and Seek,” the very second episode of the series, to save Atlantis as a whole, and continues to do it on a relatively regular basis, so none of those instances strike me as particularly “for” anyone, or as meaning anything more than McKay’s essentially a brave and honorable man who doesn’t realize that about himself. Just so you don’t think I’m cheating, I rule out Thelma’s self-sacrifice on similar grounds; she doesn’t set herself up to vanish into the afterlife *for Cassie,* she does it to protect the world from the release of the Nephilim – though she dies initially in a scene where both she and Cassie offer themselves up explicitly in exchange for the other’s life. Super ultra mega bonus points, however, for self-sacrifices that aren’t even about saving the other person, but just about being willing to stand with them even through death – Simon sharing River’s pyre, Xander’s unconditional love for Willow in “Grave,” Sam and Frodo at the end of all things.

What you may notice about this is that a lot of shows I love don’t make many appearances on the list, because I tend to like ensemble casts, which by definition skew away from the focus required to make two characters canonically Weird About Each Other. I don’t think of shows like Buffy and Firefly and Stargate:Atlantis as especially slashy, because they work so hard to establish the primacy of the team-relationship over the pairing-relationship; you have to bring someone in from outside, in a sense, someone whose connections to the team are shakier (Faith, Simon and River to a large degree, although if the show had lasted longer they probably would have been further integrated into Serenity and maybe become less Weird About Each Other), in order to establish a canonically slashy pairing. West Wing has the same dynamic among the staff, although Jed’s position removes him from their camaraderie in such a way that he can be Weird About Someone without disrupting the balance within the core cast – you already can’t be all-for-one-and-one-for-all when they all serve at your pleasure. Atlantis to me is a notably un-slashy show, with every potential slash or het pairing failing on almost every count: none of them nurture a partnership over and above the general good of Atlantis, none of them are very overtly sexual, none of them tend to touch each other, and all of them have close relationships with multiple people.

All of these shows are great for fanfic, specifically because canon doesn’t push writers into one pairing at the expense of others. There’s a lot of affection running in a lot of different directions, so it’s easy to lock onto the characters you like best and build around them. That makes them slash-friendly, in a sense, without ever being slashy.
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  • trying to get Caroline to love DragonCon

    Joe -- DC '09 Originally uploaded by hth_the_firstLOOK. LOOK HOW CUTE.

  • left at Albequerque

    Three things: 1. For those of you who knew about my doctor's appointment, but that I didn't catch up with in person yesterday -- good news. The…

  • homeless on the internets

    So as many of you have noticed, the entire Gatefiction domain seems to be gone, and I haven't been able to get hold of my host there. I hung out a…