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Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005, 11:47 am
hederahelix: RPS: Another Persepctive

I really, really don’t want to get into the “RPS is evil” debate *again*, as I’ve seen it rehashed more often than I care to think about. Sadly, I’m pretty sure that by posting this, I’m going to get swamped with comments that I don’t have time to respond to. But no one else from the RPS world has stepped in to say anything (or they hadn’t when I started writing this), so I’m going to go ahead and rehash the basics *again*.

(I suspect that a lot of RPSers haven’t said anything mostly because we’re tired of having this conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been through all this before. And in how many different fora, and on how many different occasions, with different groups of people.)


It seems to me that a lot of the arguments against RPS stem from two key places: first, the reluctance of many people who write FPS to look at the ways in which their fiction actually isn’t all that different from RPS and secondly, the socialization process within fandom. I’ll tackle the second one first.

My own history with slash is a little odd. I first heard about it in school, where instructors told me to go check it out. I resisted and only got sucked in when I found the Phantom Menace fandom. The first fandom I was active in, the Sith Academy, was a highly meta-influenced fandom, and though I later found out the list was very anti-RPS, someone on the list wasn’t and posted a link to rockslash, which I followed being a fan of the particular group that was slashed.

Because I was reading slash on the web in my own little house and hadn’t yet met any fans face to face, I hadn’t heard the party line that RPS was the great fannish evil, and I followed the links out of curiosity.

I also must have deduced that based on that fandom, at least on some gut level, that the line between RPS and FPS isn’t as bright as people like to think it is.

That is to say, one of the stories I very much enjoyed in SW: Ep 1 slash didn’t make sense unless you’d seen the other roles Ewan McGregor had played. I can’t recall the title of the story now, and the reference to it is on my old machine whose monitor is on the fritz, but it was a story where Obi-Wan disappeared and Qui Gon went across AUs until he found Obi Wan in the body of the character that Ewan McGregor played in Velvet Goldmine played.

That story just goes to show that for all the distinctions that FPSers make about slashing the character not the actor, the actor’s body (and the other roles that actor has played) does in fact inform character slash. In the same way, Obi Wan of the Sith Academy is informed by Ewan’s role in Trainspotting. We quite probably wouldn’t have Obi Wan as a teenage delinquent who hotwired speeders and who went all punk at the Grey Side if not for those other roles. In that sense, the distinction between RPS and FPS isn’t as clear as many of the anti-RPS crowd seem to think it is.

Ask the actors who are afraid that people will think they are gay because of the slash written about characters they have played. Ask the actor from Blake’s 7< who freaked out. Ask another fen friend of mine who got an email from a relative of one of the West Wing actors after the relative found the FPS story she had written about the actor. We like to think that so long as we only slash the characters we’re not doing anything potentially harmful or upsetting. But, in fact, people who are homophobic, worried about their reputations, or just generally weirded out are just as capable of getting upset about the character slash as they are about RPS.

At the same time, I have solid anecdotal evidence that there are celebrities in several RPS fandoms who not only know about the slash, but who are at least vaguely amused by it. (There’s at least one interview with the Backstreet Boys that shows they know all about it, and they’re at least untraumatized enough to say so in an interview.)

It seems to me that a lot of the negative reaction to RPS either comes from the fact that many fans were mentored into fandom and told from the outset that RPS is the great bad evil that crosses a privacy line that shouldn’t be crossed and exposes fandom to possible legal action. Both of those points, while possible, are just as arguable as whether slash or adult het fiction do the same thing if we’re being completely honest with ourselves. I don’t object to people who personally draw the line at RPS or chanslash or incest fic because they’ve thought through all the possible ramifications of the issues, but I go batshit crazy when I hear people doing the “Oh, FPS is fine since they’re just characters, but RPS is horrible and evil and unethical because someone told me so.”

It also makes me crazy when I suspect that the negative reaction to RPS, all dressed up in the rhetoric of ethics, is really based in part on a defensive reaction. The existence of RPS raises the possibility that maybe the bodies of the actors who are being slashed are more of a part of the equation than a lot of fans are comfortable admitting, as a result, decrying RPS as the great bad evil of the universe—the one true ethical breach that cannot be tolerated—is a way of diverting attention from the more troublesome aspects of the invasion of privacy that character slash itself raises.

I’ve written both FPS and RPS. I don’t have any ethical problems with either in part because I have a job that puts me in a public role (not nearly as public as the people we write about, but public in its own small way), and I decided a long time ago that when I signed up for this gig that I gave up a piece of my right to privacy. It was part of the deal. I don’t have a problem with the idea that people from where I work might think things about me because of my public role that I wouldn’t like. So long as they aren’t throwing them in my face, I don’t have a problem in the world with them thinking them. And I don’t really, in my own mind—blame it on being raised Catholic—see a substantive distinction between thinking something and writing it. So when asked by anti-RPS people whether I wouldn’t be horrified and outraged if someone wrote RPS about me, all I can do is shrug and say that while I would be a little creeped out, I am not honestly in a position to say that I think it’s bad and horrible and unethical, no matter how weirded out I would be that anyone would spend that much time and energy thinking about me. And, frankly, I see it as a huge honking pile of hypocrisy to say that they can think it but not write it, so I’m certainly not going to complain about people writing RPS because I think if most of us who have read and or written character slash are honest, we’d have to admit that we’ve thought about the actors in the ways it would take to write RPS.

RPS has been around almost as long as FPS. Talk to the really old school fans and they’ll tell you stories about reading fic that was clearly about Shatner and Nimoy but in which the names had been changed to something else. Even so, everyone knew who it was.

RPS isn’t new. It hasn’t yet caused the decline of Western civilization or fandom, and I wish that the people who scream “Evil! Unethical!” every frakking time this debate comes around would for one moment stop and think about why they are so quick to do so. Perhaps, and I’m only suggesting that this is a perhaps, it draws attention to issues within FPS that we’re awfully hesitant to look closely at, lest we find an answer we don’t like. And if not, well then, more power to them. In the meantime, I’m going to try to live by the IDIC motto. Chanslash squicks me out. But I don’t write it, and I don’t rail against it in public. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations means that chanslash is a part of the landscape, and it’s a part of my fen world. I don’t read it, but I don’t scream “Evil! Unethical! Bad! Cast it out!” simply because I don’t want to look too closely at those desires within myself or because someone told me it was bad. I thought about the issues it raised and filed those away in my mind and let other people play in whatever playground they were happy in.

Last but not least--I’m not a lawyer. I did date a law student a long time ago, and I also once posed a question to a clerk to a Supreme Court Justice that quite impressed the clerk. What I learned from both experiences is that a layperson’s understanding of the law is always likely to be hopelessly inadequate, no matter how smart the layperson is, or how much he or she has thought about it, and/or how much he or she has read case law on the issues. With those caveats in place: the legality of both FPS and RPS is entirely up in the air. Unless there are actual court cases as precedent, we don’t know what a court is even likely to decide, and even with court cases as precedent, which none of us want, there are no guarantees. Even if the 6th Circuit or the 9th Circuit handed down an opinion that defended either FPS or RPS, one would not be relevant to the other, since they both deal with different areas of the law, and as many a lawyer will tell you, the ways that courts go one year can just as easily be turned around some time down the road. It’s not a matter of whether RPS or FPS is actually against the law, it’s a matter of how the courts interpret the law at a particular time and in a particular place. Some interpretations are more likely than others, but legal interpretations can always change over time.



So we have no law to guide us, and fandom itself doesn’t seem to agree. What are we to do? Well, I for one am going to treat people the way I would like to be treated and try my best to do harm to no one. I can only come up with my own definition of what that looks like, and for me, that means that RPS is as much fair game as FPS. I would never wave it in the faces of the objects of it, unless one asked me to (hey, man, I’ve heard of stranger things happening). And I’m not going to harsh on someone else’s playground. I don’t run around in public bashing chanslash or incest fic or darkfic or anything else because I’m pretty sure that we’re all on legally shaky ground, and I don’t claim to have the One True Ethic for all of fandom. Instead, I will think carefully about the ethical issues as I see them and behave accordingly, but that’s as good as it’s going to get. In a world where we’re making the subtext visible, I find it hard to believe in any absolutes, and I don’t feel that it’s fair that I try to impose my personal ethics on a whole group of other people.

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 07:54 pm (UTC)
hegemony

Woman (or man, I don't really know), I'm so happy that I could kiss you.

Wanna make out, you fellow RPSer? ;)

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 09:16 pm (UTC)
hederahelix

Erm, I'm a little gunshy these days about making out with online folks, but I'm glad you liked it.

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 07:56 pm (UTC)
sistercoyote

Without commentary on anything else:

What's chanslash, and what's darkfic? I know incest fic and twinslash, but not those two.

Thanks.

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC)
hederahelix

Chanslash is slash that involves underage characters. As far as I know, the term is borrowed from anime fandoms. Darkfic, is, well, fic that's dark--you know, you take the heroes and turn them into villains or whatever. Personally, I like some darkfic, just like I like some deathfic and some BDSM fic. There are versions of each of those that I don't like, but that's my thing.

Hope that helps!
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Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 07:57 pm (UTC)
q_sama

I don't have anything really intelligent to add to this... I just want to thank you for the perspective.

My fandoms all involves characters from novels or animation, so I never thought of the aspect of the physical body in relation to RPS/FPS. I'm personally not comfortable with RPS, but I'm aware that it's *my* issue, not the issue of the person writing it. :)

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 08:15 pm (UTC)
elucidate_this

*applauds*

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 08:17 pm (UTC)
figliaperduta

Loved the essay, though am not an RPSer. But cut, please?

*begs, offers bribes*

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 08:22 pm (UTC)
neadods

We like to think that so long as we only slash the characters we’re not doing anything potentially harmful or upsetting. But, in fact, people who are homophobic, worried about their reputations, or just generally weirded out are just as capable of getting upset about the character slash as they are about RPS.

At the same time, I have solid anecdotal evidence that there are celebrities in several RPS fandoms who not only know about the slash, but who are at least vaguely amused by it.


I'm not following this argument. Because some actors aren't drawing the line between themself and their characters, they can't get more upset to have their names used instead of their characters? Because some actors are amused by RPS, all actors should be?

It also makes me crazy when I suspect that the negative reaction to RPS, all dressed up in the rhetoric of ethics, is really based in part on a defensive reaction. The existence of RPS raises the possibility that maybe the bodies of the actors who are being slashed are more of a part of the equation than a lot of fans are comfortable admitting, as a result, decrying RPS as the great bad evil of the universe—the one true ethical breach that cannot be tolerated—is a way of diverting attention from the more troublesome aspects of the invasion of privacy that character slash itself raises.

Here I am following - and I disagree. Fictional characters have no privacy by definition. Most of the FPSed characters don't even have a solid "owner" as any media character is a committee construct of the actor's skills, director's choices, screenwriter's words, and series creator's imagination. Even appearance isn't solely the province of the actor, as said appearance can be altered by body language, hair dye, wigs, fake glasses, prosthetic teeth etc., etc., etc.

On the other hand, the identity of a real person is pretty clear. I personally think that I have no more right to make any personal fantasies about Person X's private activities public than I have a right to take pictures through their window and post them on the internet.

And, frankly, I see it as a huge honking pile of hypocrisy to say that they can think it but not write it

I disagree. There are a lot of things that people can think about that ought to remain out of the public sphere. Nobody has the right to crawl into another's skull and tell them "you can think this or that." But there are plenty of laws already on the books saying "you can't say this or that."

A personal example - one exboyfriend once asked me to give him permission to fantasize about me. I told him I wasn't comfortable telling anyone what they thought. This was certainly NOT the same as telling him that I wanted to know every detail of what he was thinking, much less blanket permission for him to publish his fantasies on his LJ for all his friends to read.

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 08:52 pm (UTC)
hederahelix

We like to think that so long as we only slash the characters we’re not doing anything potentially harmful or upsetting. But, in fact, people who are homophobic, worried about their reputations, or just generally weirded out are just as capable of getting upset about the character slash as they are about RPS.

At the same time, I have solid anecdotal evidence that there are celebrities in several RPS fandoms who not only know about the slash, but who are at least vaguely amused by it.

I'm not following this argument. Because some actors aren't drawing the line between themself and their characters, they can't get more upset to have their names used instead of their characters? Because some actors are amused by RPS, all actors should be?


I never said that they couldn't get upset. I was simply pointing out that most people who rail against RPS point out that actors are more likely to get upset about RPS than character slash, whereas most of the anecdotes from fandom about actors getting upset are examples of actors getting upset about character slash. The guy from Blake's 7 was upset about character slash. The rumors than Peter Wingfield was upset about Methos slash were rumors about character slash. The only rumor I've heard about actors hearing about RPS was LOTRPS, the very inappropriate example of a fan telling Ian McKellan about RPS about him resulted in him being amused. I am by no means positing that character slash is worse than RPS; I am simply pointing out that both raise ethical issues, and that anecdotal evidence shows that the actors are sometimes upset by character slash. You can't tar RPS with the brush of fear that actors will get upset without acknowledging that actors get upset about character slash too, and a lot of people seem more than willing to overlook that particular fact. I'm not arguing that actors don't get upset. I'm arguing precisely that they do. And since they do, it seems to me that to avoid upsetting anyone at all, we'd have to stop writing character slash too, which interestingly enough, I almost never hear anti RPS character slash writers offering to do. That makes it seem to me that there's a bit of displacement going on: anxiety about making actors uncomfortable with character slash gets lumped onto RPS to avoid looking at the ethical problems with character slash. I never suggested that since some objects of RPS are amused by it, all performers should be. I am, however, trying to point out that some actors are squicked by character slash, but I'm not hearing cries that character slash should be stopped or pushed further underground, and that seems a little hypocritical to me.

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Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 08:33 pm (UTC)
without_me

--and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope!
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Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 08:32 pm (UTC)
cathexys: is it that time of the year again???

thanks, hon. i guess *someone* had to do it, and I'm glad you stepped up!

i wish someone had actually done a little bit of easily available research before rehashing the same old arguments yet again...i mean, the discussion hasn't even gotten to mary's veil, to savageseraph's great post and ensuing discussion, to my post on character's bodies and character slippage or to angstslashhope's brilliant baudrillardian analysis. i'm sure it'll get there?

thanks for stepping into the fire...the rest of us seem to be too busy looking at viggo and his horses :D

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 09:46 pm (UTC)
cathexys: Re: is it that time of the year again???

and that was "someone" before *your* post, of course! good going above! you know i love your brain and i like you on my side :-)

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 09:19 pm (UTC)
annikaa

*applauds*

I <3 you.

Being a major fan of RPS, who was once pretty anti-RPS, I can kinda see where the negativity comes from. Yes, we're speculating on the private lives of real people, but we never claim that we write is true or even close to it. It's called fan fiction for a reason. Another thing that has always kinda pissed me off is the fact that most people tend to make a bigger deal about the slash stuff in the real people fic universe. Rarely do you see people getting all in arms over heterosexual real people fiction. Isn't it just as harmful to pair up, say, Orlando Bloom with Miranda Otto as it is to pair up Dominic Monaghan with Elijah Wood? Also, what about the scary number of Mary Sue fics in the BoyBand RPS fandoms? It's probably a bit more disturbing when a group of teenies start creating OFCs that are simply a thinly veiled version of themselves.

I think that all fiction, in whatever form, is valid. As long as it doesn't profess to be the truth, it's all good. And so I leave you all with a quote I found today from Alex Kapranos, member of Franz Ferdinand:

"I think it’s brilliant. It’s really, really funny. And I like that sort of thing cause it means that there’s people who have imagination who are inspired by your personality and the things that you’ve done, so it’s a good thing," he says. "There’s absolutely nothing wrong with fictionalizing a genuine character as long as you make it clear that you are fictionalizing, which I think all that slash stuff does. I think it gets dangerous when people start believing that those things are actually true, and I think for the obvious majority of people that that’s not going to be the case. There are a few people who get crazy obsessed and start imagining they’re having relationships with people that they don’t have relationships with. That sort of thing’s a little bit frightening, but I think that’s very rare."

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 09:24 pm (UTC)
hederahelix

Do you write Beatles slash? Because if you do, I know someone who'll want to meet you.

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 09:27 pm (UTC)
kuwsi_dilla: Preaching to the choir

But decided to add my two cents. I started out in the world of fandom in RPS and wass shocked because people found it offensive ??? This still confuses me. I know NOTHING about the RPS folks that I read and write about, only what they want to show to the public. I'm borrowing there "persona" just like FPS folks borrow characters from books, movies, anime, and tv shows.

I have always felt that FPS folks were in more trouble legally then us RPS folks because the FPS "characters" have been developed and you are using someone else "idea" that they created .. if anyone followed napster that is pretty much stealing .. ~smirk~ I simply borrowing a public image of a private person and have no desire to "sneek in and take pictures" of there lives I like creating my own life for them.

Ok I am done... I don't present arguments as well as hedrehelix but those of you that feel you can take her on feel free ~giggle~ she knows way more about Slash then anyone I know and that is saying something.
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Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 09:44 pm (UTC)
hederahelix

Now see, that's my point. It's that you're using internally consistent logic. I've long suspected that there are people out there who find RPS unethical and also draw the line at the "FPS" stories that are most overtly blurring the lines between RPS and FPS, but I've almost never heard from them during debates. I have nothing but respect for people who choose to draw the line there because the logic is consistent. It's the people who are all "RPS is bad and evil, but sure I'll slash the pretty boy from one fandom in the body of a character he played in another without even thinking about it because it turns my crank" that drive me batty.

And someone's earlier point about fandoms that don't involve actors is also a good one. I mean, after all, slash based on LKH's Anita Blake universe would be ethical according to that standard, and yet the author herself is rabidly anti-fanfic, so then what. (I use the Anita Blake novels as an example because they haven't been made into films and the editions of the books I have don't even have people's faces on them, so you really are just going by character description, but she's been very outspoken about her feelings on fanfic.)

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 09:54 pm (UTC)
dragonscholar

First, I'm glad to see a detailed view here. It's the kind of thing that encourages analysis.

One thing I wondered about here with RPS is this: Disapproval versus sanction.

I, as noted, don't approve of RPF as a highly public thing. Am I going to bring out the lawyers, ban people, call the cops? No. I disapprove, but I do not engange in external sanction.

Whenever RPF comes up, it seems the question of sanction, ethical imposition, etc. comes up - even in the realm of analytical discussion. Is this an issue elsewhere? Are there battles over it? As I figure RPF/RPS writers would have their own communities, I don't know where enforcement/sanction would be an issue.

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 10:01 pm (UTC)
cathexys

have you ever seen an underage discussion in HP :-) [you may have seen the GAFF discussion of an underage twincest bdsm where the members not only called the writer's parenting abilities into question but also, it seems, reported her to JKR estate???]
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Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 10:11 pm (UTC)
idlerat

I'm not convinced entirely about the lack of thought/writing distinction and the comparison to your own life; I think it's a little more circumstantial.

Say someone is a teacher; they can't and shouldn't prevent their students having sexual fantasies about them. But if the students post the fantasies on line for other students to share, it could edge over, IMO, into sexual harassment. The difference from RPS is that the RPS world does not impinge on the actor's/singer's world in any way, *unless some asshat decides to force it*. Which is one of the reasons it should not be breached: that breach is where the harassment, the invasion of privacy takes place, not the original writing or circulating of the story.

Some people think a person has a *right* to know if someone's writing stories about them, but one might as easily say they have a right *not* to know. And thinking about the teaching example, I think the line can be murky. If this was going on among students *while I was teaching them*, and was coloring their way of relating to me and my professional reputation among the student body, I do, actually, think that I would have a right to know. It is different from private fantasies- it's on a continuum with locker-room talk. It could work its way up to a point where it's a gendered (or sexual-orientation or race-based) way for people who are privileged in one way (male and/or straight, white) to use that as leverage against the authority of someone who doesn't share the first set of privileges.

If, OTOH, former students, years later, want to swap dirty stories about me (god knows why) somewhere neither I nor my current or future students or colleagues can see it, more power to them. Hence, the right to not know.
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Wed, Mar. 23rd, 2005 01:17 am (UTC)
cathexys

but that would assume that you are in complete control of your unconscious, that the fact that you saw CKR in Hard Core Logo in no way, shape or form affects how you write him in Due South, that no interview with the HP crew you have ever seen, no behind the scene footage ever shaped your thoughts, that the fact that an actor looks like your first boyfriend never taints your writing of the character.

No, not everyone does it and its blatant versions are if not rare then peculiar to certain characters and fandoms (McGregor, Nick Lea, and Callum Keith Rennie seem to be particularly transferable, though I wonder how much Col. Brandon may unconsciously inform Snape after all :-).

Heck, sometimes it's done on purpose. Firth wasn't in Bridget Jones' Diaries for nothing and Richard Hatch would probably not have played a role on the new BSG had he not been on the old crew...

Your terminology of "allowing" it places an agency on character slippage that may not be that easily controlled as you suggest...

And yes, the stories where it happens blatantly are exceptions, but they might be indicative rather than aberrations, and I think that's how hh was using them!
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Wed, Mar. 23rd, 2005 02:10 am (UTC)
degreeabsolute

Not to appear idiotic (too late), but I can't get through this article as I'm more a gamer than a ficcer; I keep parsing this article as being filled with references to first-person shooters, which is obviously not the case.