Friday, 17 August 2012

In praise of fanworks (or: GAH, sexist sci fi, GALATEA SMASH!)

Today is Lashings' last day in Edinburgh! BOO! It's been an amazing ride, and we can't wait to write all about the good (99%!), the bad (one incident in particular) and the downright ridiculous (pudding, anyone?). But while we're all packing away our Thatcher costumes and preparing to put on our very final Edinburgh show (8.30pm tonight, so you've still got one more chance!) here's a post cunningly written the weekend before we left...

GalateaPosted by Galatea

This post was inspired by an epic chat thread that ended up eating most of Sunday July 29 for quite a few Lashers! Many of you who've seen Lashings perform have probably seen our 'Sci-Fi Skits': basically, a set of gleefully shambolic two-minute mini-plays where we act out some of our favourite science fiction and fantasy films, TV shows and books, but with the gender ratios reversed (Nigel gets to wear the lovely pink dress and pretend to be Hermione, Kristine Kochanski, multiple Dr Who companions, etc., the rest of us get to wave swords around and shoot laser blasters at each other. It's glorious).

(Almost, but not quite, as glorious as this picture:)

 [Image descripton: Twelve people are lined up on a staircase, dressed in costume as the characters from DC Comics' Justice League -- but all male characters are played by female cosplayers, and vice versa]

The chat on Sunday started because I got furiously angry after taking a silly internet 'Which book character would you be?' quiz that asked me to state my gender as the opening question. When I put 'female', I got Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings. When I went back and changed my answer to 'male', I got Superman. (There was, quelle suprise, no non-binary or 'other' option). Well, put me in a silly-looking helmet and call me a shieldmaiden if that doesn't really sum up the reason that I wrote the Sci-Fi Skits in the first place! The exact same set of answers with one gender box ticked will score you an iconic, globally-recognised hero, the star of any number of versions of his own story, who always wins through and saves the day. Tick the other, you'll get a minor character, a failed love interest who gets to do some cool things (but only while concealing who she really is), and then finally gets her big Crowning Moment of Awesome upstaged by Legolas bullying an oliphaunt (yes, I know that's not how it happens in the books. No, I don't care). I've posted about this kind of thing before, I know -- but sulking about gender-based obnoxiousness in fictional texts isn't something I intend to quit any time soon.

So to relieve my feelings, I stomped off and wrote a new Avengers Sci Fi Skit and happiness was restored (I have a feeling that Cleopatra being the Hulk and SMASHING stuff is going to be the highlight of my Edinburgh experience this year!).

In the epic comment thread that sprang up after I posted this to the Secret Lashings Script Repository (er, Google Docs), another Lasher commented that she quite liked the idea of dressing up as Captain America, but didn't want to spend too much time playing a character with such a 1940s morality. Almost immediately, I was able to 'fix' this by pointing her towards a fanfiction where a writer sensitively manages to handle the concept of what it might actually be like to emerge from the 1940s into the second decade of the 21st century -- and in particular, what that might be like for a closeted queer person who had never had space in their former life to think about what being queer might mean.

This led to some flailing and squeeing about how Marvel fandom is one of those fandoms (like Harry Potter, for my money's worth) where the fan-generated content is just so much more interesting and worthwhile than the official canon. But honestly... to me, it's getting harder and harder to find a fandom where this isn't the case! I know that other people have managed to write about this far more eloquently and intelligently than I have, but I was surprised to realise on Sunday that although we've occasionally popped fannish things into the Links Round-Up posts, we've never actually written a Lashings post about fan-created texts!

So this is a post in praise of transformative fanworks: of stories and fan-drawn comics that correct the fucked-up gender imbalances seen in so many mainstream stories: that make the geeky texts we love into places that we can live too, that draw on the stories we all share and subvert them and gleefully mess them around. In a world where we're so rarely offered anything better than Beautiful Elven Matriarch/Interchangeable Photogenic Companion/Highly Intelligent and Extremely Studious Sidekick (and worse, where any number of our geeky brothers will try to tell us that we should be grateful for even those single-issue female characters),  it's up to us to step up to the plate and write our own stories into the gaps wherever we can.

And of course, the Sci Fi skits are a kind of fanfiction too, and so is Lashings' Dead Girlfriend -- they're critical pieces, but I wrote them with so much love. I find it very hard to parody a text that I'm not in some way attached to (which is why my every attempt to write a Katy Perry parody has gone horrible awry over the years).

To be filed under 'Extremely Pleasing Things': Did you know that there already exists an X-Men fic in which (a version of) Lashings appears as guest-stars? It was written about a year ago by our dear Lashfriend Raven, and can be read here: New Beautiful Things Come (it also features an alternative universe where Charles Xavier is a professor at NYU and Erik Lehnsherr runs a kosher bakery, so). There's also a wicked rumour circulating that Lashings itself may be nominated as a fandom for this year's Yuletide challenge: watch this space for further details...

Below, we've posted a very short selection of some of our very favourite pieces of fic: stories that use established canons to talk about issues that are important to us, whether for reasons to do with gender, sexuality, left-wing politics or others. If you've never read fanworks, I'd encourage you to give one or two of these a go -- I know there's nothing more annoying than overly-pushy fans trying to force their Very Favourite Thing upon you regardless of whether you want it or not, but if you're bored or curious, these  might be good places to start. If you are a fic writer or fan, please do link your own works or other people's in the comments -- there is a non-insignificant number of Lashers who'd like your recs too!

Galatea recommends...

New Beautiful Things Come: In a universe where things worked out slightly differently, Charles Xavier (Professor X) is a professor at NYU, Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) runs a kosher bakery, and Lashings is a mutant performance-art troupe based in the East Village. The hero and his love interest meet and bond over problems with wheelchair accessibility in Manhattan, Charles' younger sibling Raven (Mystique) finds a way to use their mutant talent to deal with trans issues, and in the end there's enough chess, love and baked goods to go around.

Team Building Activities is the Avengers fic I was referring to above: it's set in the same continuity as the 2012 film and you don't have to know the comics to follow it. It has some faily language (in keeping with the original canon), but is also a lovely portrait of a) someone coming to terms with their sexuality and its expression in the 21st century in a surprisingly graceful, accepting and open way, and b) someone else (coughcough Tony Stark) scrabbling around in a welter of confusion and self-deception in a profoundly undignified attempt to deny theirs. I know which one I identify with more! Don't worry, there is (OMG SPOILERS) a happy ending.

The Shoebox Project: the adventures of Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, James Potter, Peter Pettigrew and Lily Evans at Hogwarts and beyond in the dying days of the 1970s. Scrappy and jumpy, never actually finished, and still one of the best coming-out stories I've ever read. Jaida Jones, who went on to write professionally (which, FWIW, doesn't necessarily say anything about the quality of a person's writing -- just look at Fifty Shades of Gah), has a ridiculously finely-honed sense of interpersonal dynamics, and writes flabbergasted confusion, affectionate teasing and aching, yearning adolescent intensity with a pitch-perfect ear. (Newcomers: start here).

Fanvids (videos re-edited or put to music by fans) are critical texts too! That's Not My Name cuts together clips of heroines of colour from twelve different sci-fi shows, including BuffyTorchwood and Dr Who. I would happily watch an hour's worth of this every week.

Chromatic Casting memes: I love these so much! Fans re-cast popular films and TV shows that have all- or majority-white casts with actors of colour, and firmly thumb their noses at studios who claim that there aren't enough popular PoC actors to cast/carry a film (more here).

Sebastienne recommends... 

Doctor Who fix-it fics: This one's for Donna, and I cried and cried and cried.

Or, less traumatically, there's this cheery imagining of Doctors Who Are Not White Men OMG:

Zim recommends.... - an Angel fic that requires warning since it is essentially about the rape(s) that Cordelia suffers over S4. It's tragic and heartwrenching and this is the first time I've read it in over a year and I nearly cried, but it's one of my go to not-quite-fix-it fics, since it gives her a bit of... I hesitate to say agency, but definitely back some of herself after the tragedy that was season 4 (things I am still mad at Joss Whedon for.) I think it's pretty much perfect if you hate being happy but also love Cordelia Chase.

There's also a Doctor Who one that I keep bookmarked that I don't think really fits with what we're going for? but I'm going to share it with y'all anyway 'cause I'm a rebel. - it's a Doctor/Master fic from their academy days all about how Koschei became the Master and it's all fun and sweet and then tragic and sad and also definitely bears warning for suicide.

Carlotta recommends... 

If this includes a) multimedia and b) things that don't so much fix-it as underline-its-fail then  challenges New Who's "paging dr sherlock house" mentality A Narnia/Torchwood crossover which "fixes" Susan's denial of Narnia

Jenni recommends... 

Here is my favourite fanfic series ever: It's about Sherlock being asexual, John not caring but still being allosexual, and then eventually, they meet a pair in the form of Irene and Mary Morstan, and John gets sex with Mary in a non-romantic way, whilst Irene/Mary and John/Sherlock remain the primary, asexual couples.

kaberett recommends...

Ten Thousand Things, a series set in the universe of Avatar: The Last Airbender which takes a critical look at the way canon pairings are set up between very young characters, then *lets people grow up*... into a charming poly relationship that involves abused kids turning into adults who are terrified they won't be able to parent right, but it turns out (though it isn't simple) that they learn.

A Deeper Season, a multi-novel series set in the Vorkosiverse, in which the sociology of technology comes front and centre - and the central queer couple exploits this to the hilt in forcing a conservative planet to accept homosexuality. The entire series is also a very well-done portrayal of chronic pain, in ways that the original largely glosses over (much as I love it!).


  1. I hardly ever keep up with fanworks these days, but last night I found this excellent fix-it season plan for Matt Smith's first season as the Doctor.

    I'm especially excited about cutting out the sexism, making it clear that Toby Young was just straight-up the Valeyard, and actually... having a long-term plot that makes sense. The Pandorica and the cracks work so much better here. I was really disappointed about how badly it all hung together in the actual season after all the hype and expectation - as the writer here points out, it felt like a first draft.

    (Also, on a somewhat similar note: )

  2. This is one of the things I really love about fandom - the way that, it its best, it can comment on and critique problematic elements of the original canon, or be used as a vehicle to explore experiences and identities that mainstream fiction just doesn't touch on, or usually handles badly. Fandom is the only place I have ever found stories that deal with the parts of me that don't fit into what society considers "normal", and I think that's true of a lot more people than just me.

    One fic that came to mind as I was reading this - probably prompted by the proximity of the Doctor/Master fic and the asexual one - is Paean, which is fairly short but has a lot packed into it. It's unusual in being the only story I've ever seen where it's the Master who's asexual, and I'm particularly fond of it because it captures a very vivid sense of the sort of broken, wrong feeling I had before I came to actually accept myself. It's not a happy story, but it feels like a very true one, even when it touches on things that are definitely not part of most asexuals' experiences (like the sexual expectations people have of villains, or the problems of suddenly being a different species with a much stronger libido than you're used to).

    A content warning, though, for sex that, while consensual, is problematic in some ways and is definitely regretted (the author tags it "Consent Issues").

  3. Great recommendations! I now have a deep longing to see Lashing's Avengers skit :) There is a very cool chromatic Superman fic I would like to throw onto the list
    (part of the 'racebending' protest against the whitewashing of the terrible, no-good Avatar: The Last Airbender movie - quite a lot of the fics are worth a look).