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Vulcan Love Slave

[whitespace] X-Files

Fan fiction on the Internet allows viewers to project their darkest fantasies onto their favorite shows

By Zack Stentz

"I don't know why in the world you think this is hot, Mulder," Walter Skinner laughed mockingly. "This is not hot, this is pathetic." He wrapped his arms tighter around Fox Mulder, pulling him closer, and lightly nuzzled the back of his neck. "Well, okay, just be patient, it's gonna get better, just give me a minute," Mulder pleaded. His free hand caressed the muscular thigh he was leaning against ..."

MAN, HOW COULD I have missed that episode of The X-Files? Actually, the scene described above never aired, except in the overheated imagination of a fan named J. Bast, who decided to include this moist little moment in an Internet-posted story called "Harder Than It Looks."

Welcome to the strange world of TV fan fiction, where the aficionados of various programs hijack their favorite fictional universes and describe what they'd really like to see happen within them.

Modern fan fiction ("fanfic" for short) traces its origins to the pre-TV world of written science-fiction fandom, in which the line between professional storytellers and enthusiastic story consumers was much blurrier than it is in the contemporary mass media.

Fans of the classic science-fiction authors would often try their hand at writing stories set in the fictional universes of their idols, and some even used these early efforts to launch respectable professional careers of their own. For example, Psycho author and prolific TV scribe Robert Bloch started as a teenage H.P. Lovecraft pastichist, and his adoration was duly rewarded: Lovecraft created a young hero named "Robert Blake," then gruesomely killed him off during the course of his story "The Haunter of the Dark."

Star Trek, with its devoted fan base and appeal to science-fiction enthusiasts, was the first TV show to get the large-scale fanfic treatment, and fan-written fiction played a major role in sustaining interest in the series during the 10 years that separated the show's cancellation from the kickoff of the movie series.

Fanfic stories were typically sent out over the fan grapevine or sold and traded at conventions, screenings and other events that brought lots of Spock ears-wearers under the same roof. Fanfic writers trained their sights on other shows and movie series as well, and the advent of the Internet led to an exponential growth in the field as writers could easily disseminate the fruits of their creative labors.

WHAT IS IT about a television show inspires viewers to write their own adventures for the characters? A passionate fan base and an interesting fictional universe seem to be the two major criteria. That's why many, but not all, fanfic stories are inspired by science-fiction and fantasy series.

A search through Yahoo! reveals fan-fiction sites devoted to Star Trek, Babylon 5, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena, The X-Files, Chicago Hope, Law and Order and Due South (!), among others, with none at all devoted to megahits like Seinfeld, Friends or Touched by an Angel. And it's somehow difficult to imagine a person mustering sufficient enthusiasm to sit down for several hours to crank out his own Major Dad or Full House story.

In terms of quality and content, the stories themselves vary widely. Some of the stories posted to newsgroups such as alt.tv.x-files.creative or alt.tv-star-trek.creative are downright unreadable, while some of the Due South and Star Trek: Voyager fanfic is better written than many of the actual episodes.

"Star Whores," a hilarious X-rated parody of you-know-what, has been circulating on the Net for years and has attained the status of a classic in its (admittedly disreputable) field. "Why don't the writers look at fanfic ideas to inspire them?" is a common Internet lament.

The answer to the latter question is that for legal reasons, most TV staff writers are prohibited from reading fan-written fictional treatments of their shows without explicit authorization.

"If I opened a message that had a story idea in it, I'd have to stop reading immediately," says one former Star Trek writer who often logged onto Internet discussion groups. "I could have gotten into a lot of trouble otherwise, if someone claimed that an episode we ran was ripped off from his fanfic story."

Despite the prohibition, however, it's clear that the writers of at least some of the shows are aware of what fans have done with their characters, as we'll see later.

And long before the Friends cast visited ER or detective Munch from Homicide showed up on The X-Files, fanfic writers were eager practitioners of the crossover story. There are endless scenarios, for instance, in which agent Scully meets Buffy or an Imperial Star Destroyer takes on the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Far more interesting than the crossovers or the military stories with their mind-numbing descriptions of the characters' sci-fi armaments are the fanfics that deal with the otherwise unexplored inner lives of TV characters and their relationships to one another. It's here that the speculations and longings of a show's fans come right out into the open.

One major category of fanfic is the sort practiced by "Relationshippers," enthusiasts whose main concern is that characters who remain apart on screen get together in a romantic manner.

Much has been written on the delicious sexual tension of The X-Files' Scully/Mulder relationship, and if series creator Chris Carter won't oblige fans by putting those two lonely agents in the sack together, they're happy to do it themselves. Other "relationshipper" cabals revolve around Buffy's Willow and Xander, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Odo and Kira, and Babylon 5's Sheridan and Delenn.

THEN THERE are the "Slash" enthusiasts, who are sort of like Relationshippers in leather and nipple clamps. The story quoted at the top of this article is a typical example. So named for the "/" between the characters' names, Slash fiction imagines a universe in which TV's favorite male pairs (Kirk/Spock, Starsky/Hutch, even Simon/Simon) engage in explicit, often sadomasochistic sexual encounters with each other.

Like TV fanfic in general, Slash got its start within Star Trek fanfic, with the first recorded K/S story dating from 1976. While some Slash stories are genuinely funny and/or sexy, most are mind-numbing in their repetitiveness. For example, almost all the Trek Slash stories seem to involve a situation in which Spock goes into pon farr (Vulcan heat) with Kirk as the only available sexual surrogate.

The nonconvincing nature of most of the actual gay sex in fanfic shouldn't come as a surprise. According to scholars who have studied the subculture (and the Slash culture has been a popular subject for senior theses and cultural studies doctoral dissertations with titles like "Pass the Crisco, Spock"), the literary form's main practitioners and consumers aren't gay men but rather heterosexual women.

These females with a taste for the literary rough trade even run their own annual convention, and the most popular Slash Web site is subtitled "For girls who like boys who do boys."

Explanations for the appeal of Slash fiction to some women are legion and typically involve convoluted academic natterings about female appropriation of dominance and experimentation with gender roles and the like.

What many commentators ignore is the most obvious explanation of all: many of the female fans simply get off on Slash fiction, for reasons not unlike those for the well-documented male fascination with lesbian sex. But while many men's love of girl/girl action is common enough to have become a punch line ("The lesbianism was the only reason I went to see Basic Instinct," said the late, great comedian Bill Hicks. "If I had been the one editing that movie, the only person picketing in front of the theater would have been Michael Douglas, wondering where his part had gone"), the notion that many women might have the same interest in what their male counterparts do with one another in bed still strikes many as shocking and unthinkable.

The major Slashed science-fiction franchises are well aware of what these women are writing about their trademarked characters, and the studios' reactions to this unauthorized fantasizing have been predictably hostile. Actor/professional weirdo Crispin Glover attempted a few years back to make a documentary about the Star Trek Slash subculture (tentatively titled The Captain's Log), but had to abort the project when Paramount refused to let him use copyrighted material.

Paramount also ordered Deep Space Nine actors Alexander Siddig and Andrew Robinson (Dr. Bashir and Cardassian spy Garak, respectively) to stop engaging in ribald speculation about their characters' true feelings for each other at fan conventions, while Lucasfilm several years ago launched its own crackdown against the burgeoning crop of Luke/Han, Luke/Obi-Wan and Obi-Wan/Darth Slash.

But more interesting than the heated denials (Gene Roddenberry in his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture actually had Kirk emphatically state that he and his virile, green-blooded first officer were "just friends") are the winking acknowledgments of the Slash subculture by some of the targeted shows' creative principals themselves.

Most famously, Xena's writers have made an art form out of milking the Xena/Gabrielle subtext for all it's worth. Actor David Soul once stated that he believed Starsky and Hutch was essentially "a love story about two men," while David Duchovny often riffs on the Skinner/Mulder theme in interviews.

"Yeah, he's my bitch," Duchovny recently deadpanned to a radio station in L.A. "The only problem with Mitch [Pileggi, the actor who plays Skinner] is that his bald head means there's nothing to hold onto when he starts to buck."

A MILESTONE in the annals of Slash fanfic was reached in March of this year, during the second episode of a particularly convoluted story from The X-Files' ongoing "mythology" arc. Toward the end of the show, the redoubtable agent Mulder dukes it out with his nemesis, the hunky but duplicitous double agent Alex Krycek. And in the first actually aired example of Slash, Krycek proceeded to pin Mulder to the floor and kiss him square on the lips.

Within hours, The X-Files Internet newsgroups lit up with "Did you see THAT?" messages, and screen-captured frames of the "kiss heard round the world" were posted on multiple Web sites. It was difficult to decide what was funnier, the exultations of the Slash fans and "Mulder/Krycek Romantics" or the embarrassed explanations of the show's stodgier viewers.

Some of the same viewers who rush to analyze every word spoken or glance exchanged between Scully and Mulder, as if it were the Zapruder film, brushed off the smooch as a Judas-like sign of betrayal or a cultural manifestation of Krycek's Russian heritage. A far likelier explanation is simply that Chris Carter simply enjoys screwing with the show's viewers and knew that this five seconds of screen time would be the fan equivalent of dropping an M-80 down an anthill.

Still, one might think that Slash fans would object to their fantasies actually being incorporated in the shows they love. In an age when TV production has become increasingly impersonal and remote from the viewers, fanfic in general and Slash in particular can be seen as subversive acts that tweak the characters' corporate owners, sort of like the old "Black Bart" bootleg Simpsons T-shirts.

But with the shows' own creators now hip to the game, it's unclear what role fanfic will play in the future of television viewer behavior. Again, look at the Mulder/Krycek kiss: with text like that, who needs subtext?

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From the May 7-13, 1998 issue of Metro.

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