(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.