Friday, 31 August 2012

The new thought


My parents want to redecorate their bedroom. I went with them to the hardware shop. Brigid wouldn’t let me have a turn on her playstation or even play two-player so there wasn’t much else to do. My mum put the radio on while she drove. All the songs were terrible. My seatbelt cut into my neck. I’m worried I won’t grown anymore. I hate being short. Brigid always hides my stuff on top of the wardrobe or above the bookshelf. She only does it when I annoy her. I usually don’t mean to.
The shop was busy. The kind of busy where there is always at least one person hurrying by you. Not the kind where clogs of people mean you can’t move anymore and you have to just wait and stare at the same tap fixtures for ages even though you didn’t like them in the first place.
We found the paint samples quickly enough. Mum tutted at Dad when he wandered off to look at tools. She shouted after him that he’d be no help anyway and she started asking me questions about colours. She laughed when I made a face at some horrible orange-brown she liked. I suggested turquoise. She told me I could wander off too if I liked. I don’t think I was much help either.
I found Dad looking at an electric saw he could never use. He liked to pretend he could and it’s just the price that stops him from buying one. I walked the length of the aisle a few times, dragging my feet along so they scrapped and then slapped the floor on my next step. I do that when I’m bored. I stopped doing it when a man with faded blue tattoos on his arms looked at me all angry. Dad wandered off again and then so did the angry man. By my feet was a tray of little screwdrivers with yellow handles. I thought something new. I thought, I could take one of those. I could hide it and steal it. No one would know. No one would see. I could move it from here to outside of the shop, all in secret and then it would be stolen. I knelt down and picked two up in one hand. I slid one down my sleeve and pretended to look at the other one. No one was around to see but I pretended anyway. I put down the not-secret-screwdriver and stood up with my hands in my pockets making sure to hold my sleeve closed. Then I looked around at the other things on the shelf for a while as though I cared about what they were. I walked to the end of the aisle while a boy who worked there showed a lady where the power drills are. Mum was waving at me from a till so I ran over and kept my hands in my pockets. I didn’t look at the cashier. We left.
Just before we went out the doors I almost cried. I realised how bad it would be if the alarm went off and Mum and Dad knew I was a thief and then maybe the police would come. I didn’t even want the screwdriver. Then the alarm didn’t go off and we were in the car park. I stopped to pretend to tie my shoe. I put the screwdriver in it. Once I started walking to the car I knew that was a bad idea. It hurt my foot but it was too late so I tried not to limp.
Now we’re at the last traffic light before home. The sky is orange, getting ready for sunset. That song I like, with bells at the start, is on the radio. Mum and Dad even sing along. There is a screwdriver in my shoe. My seatbelt still cuts into my neck but if I lean forward I can see a big grey cat walking across a rooftop as though it owned the world.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Is it secret? Is it safe?


I initially proposed another fiction challenge to the various contributors of this blog around the theme of ‘secrets’ but being a bit fickle and a bit sneaky, I took it upon myself to write an article similar to those we began with. The title of this post may be a tad misleading (I promise it’ll make sense eventually), but I am in fact going to talk about homoeroticism in the media, ‘queer readings’ and audience ingenuity in creating slash fiction and the like.
This article was actually inspired not by fan fiction per se, but by one particular fan made YouTube video about LOTR (which has unfortunately since been deleted - sorry folks). Some clever troll had edited together suggestive selections of footage to imply a clandestine relationship between Gandalf and Frodo. I say one particular video because as any self-respecting Ho-yay* fan will know, YouTube is rife with such videos, featuring television, literary and film characters. Objections to such material are often argued with statements such as “But the characters are obviously straight” or “The author clearly didn’t intend for it to be read that way”.  To them I say two things: where is your sense of fun? And who says there’s a right and wrong way to read things?
When describing how an audience might interpret “straight” characters as being homosexual or gain pleasure from suggesting a homoerotic viewpoint, academics adopt the phrase ‘queer reading’.  This of course opens up a whole can of worms about dominant and oppositional viewing positions and authorial intent as well as ongoing debates on heteronormativity**. Personally, I think a significant proportion of meaning is generated and owned by the audience of a text rather than the author. There is no way of embedding a message at the creative level of making a book, artwork, television programme or film and guaranteeing that it will remain intact at the level of dissemination, because of course, in the words of the immortal Monty Python, ‘We’re all individuals’. Incredible creativity is bred from people’s different displays of appreciation, so why would you possibly want to discourage potentially subversive readings anyway?
Well, perhaps now would be the time to examine some examples. First, let’s take the BBC series Merlin (2008-) which was intended as three generation television viewing, a programme you can watch with the whole family, but has found an unexpected audience with adults who claim the gay subtext is hard to miss. The central b/romance, although since the introduction of Camelot’s knights there is unfounded potential for several others, is between Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Arthur (Bradley James). Within the context of the narrative, having magic is something which is feared and punished. As such, it can be equated to being gay in that many people feel they have to hide their non-heteronormative sexuality for fear of persecution. This analogy is especially poignant in scenes when Merlin is on the brink of telling Arthur he has magic, or ‘coming out’.  However, rumours abound on the web that the programme was delayed being picked up by NBC due to all the romantic Merlin/Arthur fan tribute videos spreading across the web.
Contrastingly, Eric Kripke’s series Supernatural (Warner Bros., 2005-)  actually acknowledges the slash fanbase and he often manipulates the narrative to signal he is aware through homoerotic subtext. Season 4, episode 18, The Monster at the End of This Book, parodies the real-life fan base of the programme. The brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), realise that their lives have been recorded in a fictional book series and encounter a fan who writes slash fiction, embodying the online writers of ‘Wincest’. By including the audience of the programme within the narrative, Kripke has exposed the ‘in-joke’ that the Production Code previously kept hidden.
Of course we might also discuss why most (not all) of these fan made pairings are between men. In legitimate representations of homosexual pairings, male-male relationships arguably dominate because gay men, like straight men, have more spending power than women and they are seen as the more established, organised audience. You’ve all heard of pink money, right? Well that’s what commercial television is interested in attracting, s’all about the profit, not so much about the equality of representation. Although of course one could argue that the man-on-man image is more provocative (politically or otherwise), it’s possibly more about fears that depicting lesbianism on screen, particularly sex scenes, might be pandering to heterosexual men, displaying the woman as object. To explain this convincingly, one probably ought to be familiar with Laura Mulvey’s work Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (Originally Published in Screen 16.3 1975)*** but I’ll try to keep things simple...ish. 
Mulvey proposed that the spectator is addressed as male by the text by being asked to adopt the viewpoint of the male protagonist, aligning his control, aggression and power with the ideal ego. As such, images of homosexuality between men could be seen as a threat to the masculinity of the spectator, resulting in castration anxiety.
So why do homosexual male pairings dominate in fan made materials? Well, most creators and readers of slash fiction and its visual counterpart, appear to be women. But I can’t say definitively why that is. Speaking as someone who watches a lot of slash videos and visits many a slash Tumblr site, the ridiculously simple answer might be that there’s twice the man to ogle at. However, Musing Marvin, pointed out to me that:
the natural progression of Mulvey's argument is that women create gay pairings between men because it makes them less threatening; they are no longer a sexual threat but purely a fantasy for these women. Therefore the objectification of gay men by straight women is just as common and trivialises homosexuality just as much as the objectification of lesbians by straight men.”
My only comment here would be that in my experience, straight men who enjoy watching/reading about gay women are not only titillated by their sexual orientation, but somehow seem to think that such women also will automatically also desire them. Whereas on the other hand, my experience of women who write/read about/watch gay male pairings do so most often from the perspective of a voyeur, maintaining a sense of distance.  
Speaking about television in particular, Gwenllian Jones (2002) argues that slash originates with the distance between certain cult fictional worlds and reality which erases the dominant social processes of heterosexuality. Such texts also provide perceptual depths that invite and tolerate diverse speculation about characters’ ‘hidden’ thoughts and feelings. This perhaps chimes more with my observation of female voyeurism. Female creators of slash see and reveal to the audience those feelings that must, by the demands of an oppressive situation within the narrative, remain hidden and secret.
Whilst gay liberation and acknowledgement of the LGBT market has supposedly increased the visibility of homosexuality and improved their position in the media, does this change the reasoning behind ‘queering’ supposedly straight texts? In a time of marginalisation, ‘queer readings’ were the only way for LGBT audiences to see themselves reflected on screen, but now ‘queering’ texts seems to be less about identification and more about taking pleasure from subversion. However, there also seems to be a lingering sense of secrecy, about something not to be shared. Although there are large online communities where people can publish and discuss slash pairings, the subject still seems a bit taboo for some to share in everyday life. And then there’s the pairings themselves.
In both Merlin and Supernatural there is a sense that the slash relationships need to be kept secret because they are somehow forbidden: Merlin fears revealing his ‘magic’ to Arthur due to the threat of persecution; Sam and Dean could never be lovers in reality because of society’s attitude towards incest. It may sound clich├ęd, but there seems to be something that’s added by the threat of discovery, which makes the illicit pairings more exciting.
So Gandalf, in answer to your question, yes, your secret is safe with me... and about another billion ho-yay fans.

*Sidenote: As I’m sure Urban dictionary would tell you, Ho-yay means ‘Homoeroticism Yay!’ and is used approvingly to describe the occurrence of homoeroticism and homoromanticism within the wider media, particularly male-male pairings. This term supposedly originated in online discussions about Buffy and Angel.

**Sidenote 2: Throwing all my jargon at you now. Heteronormativity is the belief that both sexuality and gender are biologically defined, that heterosexuality and separate male and female genders are what is “normal”. This attitude contributes to under representation of LGBT identities in all cultural mainstreams.

***Sidenote 3: It is actually quite interesting and worth a read if you’re interested at all in film theory. This is the work that all other works reference, so start here.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Some things are best kept secret, but not this :)

New fiction challenge!
Well, doesn't have to be a story really, it can be anything you fancy, based around the theme of 'SECRET/S'. It's up to you where you want to go with it and I'm not putting a time limit on this one. Ready...Set...GO GO GO!