I sometimes think: how to convey the appeal of pretty men being puppyish together? Perhaps you either like it or you don't, though I do think that screen and words can seduce people toward the
Anyway, a late-breaking puzzler of slash--more common now that HoYay is out there in canon and in prime time--seems to be whether it's essentially defined by sexual orientation or canon subversion, or whether it must inherently contain both to equal slash.** Is Queer as Folk slash, when the gayness is canon? In terms of fan-fiction we usually say yeah, because it's a convenient genre-identifying handle.
I could talk about this more in general terms, but it's pretty much one of those cocktail-party questions that we've all tossed back and forth by this point. What grabbed my thoughts today was a more personal question of where slash begins and ends, for me. What if I define slash as "that vaguely erotic and taboo thing which gives me a low-belly tickle"? Is something not slash if it doesn't excite me? Will & Grace doesn't excite me. Its commercially bland content takes no real chances. But flip back to Friends and all of a sudden, wham--look at the slash. You have Chandler and Joey relationship angst--remember "The One Where Eddie Moves In," where at the end of the episode we cut back and forth between the two of them, and they're playing "All by Myself." Pause. Rewind. They're playing ALL BY MYSELF and the guys are mooning over their unhappy solitude like broken-hearted lovers. Then you have the one where Joey and Ross develop a bizarre obsession with *sleeping* together, literally. Then you have every strangely gay moment ever scripted on that show.
So, like, what's the appeal? I mean, it's not that I get all hot and bothered over the idea of Joey/Chandler, but I do get a slash squee! moment now and then that I've never gotten from Will and whatever flavor of the week he's dating. If someone wrote Will/SomeGuy fan-fiction I'd call it slash, sure--I accept a community consensus of genre. But I guess I have to admit that slash for me, as a kinky thing, has some kind of inherently transgressive quality, because I've seen it even in certain het, canonical ships. (Hey, Buffy. Hey, Aeryn.) It *is* subtext of a kind, but it doesn't mean that the "gay" is necessarily non-textual. It's a subtext of...I don't even know. I can't drill down any further than "transgressive" to what the "is" is. Maybe my meta-kink is some kind of existential self-consciousness, of being different, or of choosing to be different. And Will, of W&G, doesn't feel different--he's a lukewarm dish, the prime-time Everyman disguised as EveryGayMan.
*Anyway.* Believe it or not, all of this insane jabber is just the corona of one little thought I had this afternoon. Rewind to, "How to convey the appeal of pretty men being puppyish together?" I was replaying over and over again this scene in my head between Spike and Xander.
Some context first. Context is everything. (Well, half the time.)
They start off thinking of themselves as just friends who sleep together, which can be so hot. The idea that a man might not consider himself gay, but might still sleep with his very male friend and be okay about it--I mean. Hotness. Especially if it starts off as comfort sex; one guy is so anguished by the pain his friend has been through that he wants to make him feel better, it's an emotional and phsyical imperative. Xander, whispering in a rough, tender voice, holding and rocking Spike as he sobs, stroking his back, easing him from grief to life: "I want to make you feel better--let me make you feel better." And then urgent sex, as if their bodies are trying to survive a crushing force of pain. It turns out they have this mutually incendiary thing that doesn't need justification, and they go with it, sort of blush and blossom around each other for days afterwards, working through a shy, sweet "getting to know you" stage all over again--a stage of friendship that they've never actually been through before, so it really *is* new, and the sex just makes it more intense.
And so things deepen; it's getting serious. And there's that slide from friendship into an aching tenderness, an attraction they don't even need to talk about, but it keeps surfacing between them whenever they're around each other, in little touches. So one day the gang is in the kitchen--say, Buffy, Willow, Giles, and then Spike and Xander. And there's some plottiness involving Spike--someone's trying to get at him, but it's not too serious. And during casual chat, Xander moves behind Spike and slides his arms around his waist, dips his head forward a bit to brush Spike's, and he responds to someone's remark by saying goofily, "I claim this vampire in the name of Xander." And Spike turns his head a little and his eyelids are lowered and he's got this tiny smile, a private smile. But nothing's forced; if you saw this acted, it wouldn't be one of those wince, avert-your-eyes moments--it would feel spontaneous and adorable, and you'd get that they really liked each other in a happy way, and couldn't help but bump up against each other, the way puppies do, with affection. Two guys, liking each other--and on one level it wouldn't be about sex at all, except of course that it would be totally fucking hot.
** On a geek tangent, I have this whole drawerful of thoughts in the back of my mind surrounding the idea of essential, defining characteristics. Few are my original thoughts; they're just collected miscellany borrowed from one of Douglas Hofstadter's pieces, "Metafont, Metamathematics, and Metaphysics" (Metamagical Themas). He talks about "mathematization of categories," or as he says, "the idea that any abstracion or Platonic concept can be so captured--that is, as a software machine with a finite number of [tunable] knobs." Translated, this more or less means the belief that you can define the common attributes (knobs) of, say, slash, and that you could tweak your definition further and further away from its abstract, Platonic ideal, but at some point you are going to hit the finite limit of how far you tweak and reach a concept that is not-slash. Which put that way sounds perfectly reasonable, but Hofstadter disagrees and says in fact there is no single defining characteristic of a concept, no "secret recipe." (Which you could also think of as "the stylistic essence of the letter a" or "some underlying "a-ness," two web quotes that refer to Hofstadter's own example of the letter A as a concept.) And though this may seem like crackheaded semantic looniness, I quote:
Well, unfortunately it is hard--very hard--to write a screening program that will retain all the 'A's [his conceptual example] in the output of this pixel-pattern program, and at the same time will reject all 'K's, pictures of frogs, octopi, grandmothers, trolleycars, and precognitive photographs of traffic accidents in the twenty-fifth century (to mention just a few of the potential outputs of the generation program). The requirement that one must stay within the bounds of a conceptual category could be called consistency--a constraint complementary to that of completeness.
That last bit just means that you should be able to define your conceptual group by including *all* members, and excluding all "impostors." Somehow this relates to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. Whatever that is. Anyway, there's all kinds of fascinating ideas he tosses off left and right like so many handfuls of intellectual candy, but an illustration of all this is a table of letter 'A's that are so wildly different, you begin to realize that the idea of "A" could be tweaked indefinitely and still be recognizable.
What that means for slash I have no idea. I kind of thought I did when I began this tangent, but really, nope. No clue. I just got the idea in my head that this was somehow relevant, and I'd waited to post until I got home, and I looked this stuff up in my book so that I could quote precisely, and damn it, I'm going to use it. But for slash...I guess what I'm thinking is, there's a subjectivity of perception that comes with the definition--to the point where *het*, even *canonical* het, which should be the polar opposite of the "slash" concept, is in fact termed "slashy." Now many people hate, hate, hate this bending of a term, because it seems to strip all meaning from it--it shatters genres, which are so useful for finding fan-fiction and for defining our own fannish identities. But in fact, I can see canonical het, and still find slash there, because one of my defining "knobs" has to do with transgression and taboo.