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Sex, desire and fanfiction

Thanks to squibstress for the link to a quite good and thought-provoking article by Foz Meadows on sex, desire and fanfiction.

Meadows' article is in rebuttal to this piece in The Guardian, which attempts to be a sort of primer for the fanfic novice by defining some common terms. It gets some of them right but some of them laughably wrong, such as attributing the origins of Mary Sue to someone named, of all things, Paula (???), alleging that the Futurians had fascist tendencies, and defining slash as "a sub-genre in which buddies from classic TV become gay lovers." Er, huh? Also his punctuation is atrocious (yes, Ewan, it's a blog but that doesn't excuse you from knowing how to use commas and remembering to pair your parentheses). Several of the comments, notably the several by EllaLeigh, are far more scholarly and intelligent than the article itself.

Meadows' article, on the other hand, though equally casual in tone, makes some singularly cogent points about the role fanfic plays for women in particular, and why it's an important one:

...while an undeniably massive proportion of fan fic deals with romance, relationships, non-canonical or otherwise impossible pairings and -- yes -- spectacularly detailed pornography, the titillating novelty of this fact is such that few people often bother to stop and ask why this is...Culturally, we've spent thousands of years either denying, curbing or vilifying the female sex drive, to the point that even now, the idea of pornography geared towards a female audience is still fundamentally radical...[and] the rest of the world still tends to find [it] ridiculous: Romance novels have always been sneered at, while the new vogue for disparaging various sexy, successful books as 'mommy porn' always makes me want to stab things -- not necessarily in defense of the books themselves, but in outrage at the need to establish adult female desire, and particularly the desires of mothers, as being somehow comic, diminutive, novel. It's a species of sexual condescension -- oh, you're 40, female and fond of orgasms? how quaint! (or how disgusting, depending on the level of misogyny involved)...

One of her most interesting points, and one I haven't seen made elsewhere, is that fanfic works for women because women want emotional investment and desire, not just the mechanics of inserting tab A into slot B. With fanfic the characters are already drawn and the emotional investment is already present -- you know who they are, you've been through adventures with them, you care about them -- which means as a writer/reader you can skip straight to the smut without the pages of buildup that a romance novel requires. I'd never thought of it that way but it makes sense:

These aren't just strangers we're perving on purely because we like their bodies (although that can certainly still be part of it); they're characters to whom we feel a strong emotional connection and in whose relationships we're invested, such that watching them have sex, regardless of the quality of the prose, is guaranteed to be about a thousand times more arousing than the sight of yet another anonymous blonde get screwed by some faceless, grunting goon on the internet.


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Aug. 23rd, 2012 05:04 pm (UTC)

I saw that article yesterday, and she makes some good points. It's great to see people who actually know fanfiction publishing in non-fannish places; eventually perhaps the mainstream will wake up to the fact that there's some really good writing here and stop just slagging it off.
Aug. 24th, 2012 12:30 am (UTC)
Yes indeed. Not to mention, as several many people have pointed out, that "fanfic" has been around literally for centuries. It's not like it's new. Isn't it cute when the media "discovers" something that's been around for ages, acts like it's a huge revelation ("Oooh, look at this new thing!!!") and then proceeds to get it all wrong?
Aug. 24th, 2012 12:36 am (UTC)
"Cute" would not be my first choice word. 'twould be amusing were it not so sad (heck, if they can be condescending so can I). But so many young people now are used to remixing in this way - once that generation is entrenched in the media I'm sure we'll see quite a shift in public attitudes. Should be interesting!

Not least, it should be interesting for libraries. I've seen suggestions that they should be moving from information access points to places where local culture can be created and uploaded, but there's a long way to go there.
Aug. 24th, 2012 12:41 am (UTC)
"Your local library: A hotbed of transformative works!" Heee...
Aug. 24th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
Actually, given the current political climate, that's probably a dangerous way to go. Funding is precarious enough as it is...
Aug. 23rd, 2012 05:58 pm (UTC)
I find the term "mommy porn" incredibly annoying, too. It's derogative, misogynist and apparently if vilifying a woman's desire doesn't work anymore in certain contexts, belittling it obviously still does.

Meadows' point about why fanfic works for women is a really good one and it makes a lot of sense :)

Aug. 24th, 2012 12:38 am (UTC)
Yes, the more I think about it the more annoying I find it. At first I thought it was just a kind of cutesy sound bite, but it IS derogatory, quite right. At least the phrase recognizes the fact that it isn't like man-porn, but why "mommy porn"? All women are not mommies (despite what certain politicians apparently wish to happen) and we are not cutesy, to be condescended to. Grrr.
Aug. 24th, 2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
Am amused/horrified to see GP Taylor's take:

"I think if you're offended by a book you shouldn't read it but because of the cultural phenomenon Fifty Shades has become and calling it "Mummy porn" to sanitise it is not right because we're not thinking of the consequences.

Mummy porn is a label that sanitises? Oh, of course, because Motherhood is a Good Thing. *headdesk*

"People have spoken out against online pornography but this book is fairly graphic - written images are just as powerful as visual ones."

Well, at least he got that last bit right. :)
Aug. 24th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
Heh -- I know, that sanitization comment is just ludicrous.Newsweek had a quite good piece on SoG a few weeks bac, by Katie Roiphe of NYU. She calls it a "watered-down, skinny-vanilla-latte version of sadomasochism" and says, at the end:

"In fact, if I were a member of the Christian right, sitting on my front porch decrying the decadent morals of working American women, what would be most alarming about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, what gives it its true edge of desperation and end-of-the-world ambience, is that millions of otherwise intelligent women are willing to tolerate prose on this level."
Aug. 24th, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
Both this and your other comment made me laugh aloud. :))

Interesting article, that, although a bit one-sided in not considering the male point of view, which would I think obviate the need for feminist soul-searching. If liberated women aren't supposed to enjoy submission, what of men who do? And a dom friend of mine once told me that he enjoyed BDSM scenes because it allowed him to play with those expectations of dominant masculinity that are at odds with a culture of equality.

Generally, perhaps it's just part of the human condition that the need to be independent doesn't sit well with the desire to merge. Mix gender inequality into that and it's not surprising that people react sexually to dominance and/or submission.

Aside from that, she confirmed all my prejudices about the book (haven't read it, wouldn't mind looking so I can judge for myself but unwilling to pay for it, and my housemate who does have a copy only has a Kindle version I can't borrow).

What I'd really like is for one of these mainstream media folk to post some links to some good erotic fanfiction. But then they'd have to admit to reading it without being able to pretend it was only to sneer.
Aug. 24th, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
haven't read it, wouldn't mind looking so I can judge for myself but unwilling to pay for it - The fanfic from whence it grew used to be available online, but it's recently mysteriously gone missing. Color me grey surprised.
Aug. 24th, 2012 12:44 am (UTC)
Likewise. I've not seen porn labelled into consumer categories before; maybe because this is the first time female-produced porn has been so massive, men don't know how to react to it and just labelling 'porn' would make them feel women were encroaching on something they have considered their own?

And I don't get the implication that only people who've had kids read these kind of books. Or do they assume too that all over 40s are mothers?
Aug. 24th, 2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
maybe because this is the first time female-produced porn has been so massive, men don't know how to react to it

Exactly! I think that's part of the article's point: labeling it implies it isn't "real" porn but rather some kind of feeble attempt at porn by women who don't know what real porn is.

I don't get the implication that only people who've had kids read these kind of books

Me neither. Maybe Todd Akin can explain it, he seems to know a lot about women, heh heh heh...
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