Welcome back to The Shipping News, Backlotters! Thank you for joining me for another week of sheer epic-news-in-fandom madness. Seriously, can fandom be any more mainstream at this point?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Amazon has dropped the bombshell otherwise known as Kindle Worlds, a new partnership with Alloy Entertainment (and soon other franchise owners) to allow--”allow”--fans to write tie-in novels and get paid for them if they sell.
This scheme is being touted as a way to allow fanfiction authors to write and get paid for approved fanfic, but make no mistake: fans would be writing series tie-ins and would have as little control over their own stories as any other tie-in novelist. The content guidelines are strict--no crossovers with outside universes, or stories with too much hanky panky--and authors would have absolutely no ability to retain their copyright for their own work. Anyone writing in Alloy’s 3 available fandoms--The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, and Pretty Little Liars--would rescind their copyright and be giving the company permission to take any elements of their story, work it into their shows, and make money off of it for eternity, without ever owing the original author another cent.
Don’t think Alloy won’t do it, either. In the 90’s, they hired author LJ Smith to write The Vampire Diaries novel series--and got her to sign over her copyright to her own works. In 2011, after two decades of a successful franchise, they fired her from her own series and brought in ghostwriters to keep it going.
Kids, seriously, don’t fall for this B.S. You can write transformative fanfiction without using the Kindle Worlds model. Fic responsibly, and don’t get scammed by corporations and bookstores that just want to exploit you and your love for canon.
Matt Smith is Leaving Doctor Who
If you’re a Doctor Who fan then the news is everywhere: we’re getting a new Doctor. Matt Smith is leaving after the 50th anniversary special, and as rumors about the new Doctor swirl, reports are that the newest Doctor could be.... a woman! Naturally this news is proving controversial and jumpstarting heated debates about whether creator Stephen Moffat is just bowing to political correctness. But Doctor Who, which has long had problems with sexism and racism, has had lots of vocal proponents for a female Doctor--including superhero Helen Mirren--for a long time.
Why would a female Doctor be important to slash fans? The Daily Mail helpfully gives us a rundown in its terrible opinion on why the Doctor should remain male:
"Why must the Doctor fall victim to a politically correct trend for ‘gender neutral’ childhoods? It may come as a surprise to many in these liberated times, but most little boys still grow up wanting to be men....After five decades, the Doctor remains unique in the pantheon of boys’ own heroes."
So... the Doctor needs to stay male because otherwise little boys might grow up to be GIRLY? And it’s okay for the Doctor to be a kooky bisexual space alien who can occasionally wipe out entire alien civilizations, but it’s not okay for him to EVER regenerate as something other than a white male human? EVER? And it’s important, even necessary, for little boys to have heroes and role models but girls who emulate the doctor can go stuff themselves?
This is why we need the Doctor to challenge the status quo. Sticking to hoary gender policing like this hurts all little boys and girls, and tells women that they aren’t good enough to be anything more than a sidekick.
Not only that, but if #12 is a woman, then we can get epic Doctor/Tardis femslash. (It’s canon!)
Let’s Talk About Gay Serial Killers.
Perhaps because everyone's still trying to process Yahoo buying Tumblr and Amazon announcing they're going to let people sell fanfic (just typing that still makes me shudder), this has been a slow news week on the slash fandom front. The biggest news is coming out of the Hannibal fandom.
Seems the killer team of Hannibal the Cannibal and naive detective Will Graham are becoming dads, at least if a crack by Hannibal made on the latest ep is any indication. Rumor has it that he told the unsuspecting Will that the two of them needed to take Abigail, the easily manipulated orphan daughter of another serial killer, under their wing. Operative word being their. “We are her fathers now,” Hannibal told Will on the latest episode. Which, inevitably, has led to a fandom full of this:
Hannibal is shaping up to be Tumblr’s hottest new fandom, its latest summer fling and home to its most passionately doomed-to-end-up-getting-eaten OTP, Hannibal/Will. We’ve already told you about the chemistry these two (played by Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy) have together; but today on The Shipping News we’re going to talk about why this pairing is taking over Tumblr.
Is it just because they’re really hot and have scorching eye sex a lot? Or is there something else at work? Well, friends, it just so happens that I have Strong Opinions about gay serial killers and the way they work as a narrative trope. And the subtext that all of fandom is responding to right now between Will and Hannibal is actually one that plays out--for better or worse, usually for worse--in almost all fictional serial killer narratives.
The gay serial killer trope is one of two super-problematic holdovers from the celluloid closet that still shows up constantly in narratives today. The other one is the dead lesbian. Both are designed to allow the general public to briefly sympathize and be repelled by the “other” of the gay character, who’s usually represented as either pathologically predatory/dangerous or deeply mentally ill. The dead lesbian’s arc always ends in destruction, typically a metaphor of her self-loathing. But the gay serial killer trope is complicated a bit by the fact that the gay serial killer is meant to be secretly desired as much as he is meant to be feared and repelled from society.
As a straight-up trope it’s impossible to take the myth of the predatory gay killer seriously; but as a manifestation of forbidden sexual desire, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of stories. Those of us who love stories about serial killers aren’t psychologically disturbed--we’re just responding to the strong subtext of desire that permeates these narratives. And Hannibal is no exception.
From Strangers on a Train to Sleepaway Camp, the gay (or subtextually gay) serial killer always, always manifests a psychological double. This is most usually the person who’s trying to catch him, but sometimes it’s the guy who’s caught up in murder with him, like Guy Haines in Strangers on a Train, his victim (Dickie in Talented Mr Ripley), or an actual co-partner (Leopold and Loeb in Rope and those two gay serial killers in The Following). Or Hannibal and Will in Hannibal.
According to the trope, the double then *always* has to be simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by the gay serial killer. The undertone of the cat-and-mouse that the serial killer/doppel embark upon is always queer--
Strangers on a Train, 1951; Source
Hannibal, 2013; Source
-- and the subtext of the narrative is always that the gay serial killer has to be stopped because he’s operating outside the rules, unleashing his sexuality upon the world. At their shallowest level, gay serial killer narratives are about confronting repressed homosexual desire and then murdering it, because it’s the most evil thing you can be / creates social chaos / leads to death.
The classic of all gay serial killer narratives is Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Penned by queer novelist Patricia Highsmith (who also gave us that other talented gay serial killer, Mr. Ripley), this is a story whose film adaptation is shadowy and brilliant and full of doubled images everywhere to reinforce the doppelganger subtext.
Played by queer actor Farley Granger, tennis player Guy Haines is sucked completely into the schemes of the brilliant Robert Walker as charming sociopath Bruno Anthony. When anyone else would have called the police or fled weeks earlier, Guy’s subtle attraction to Bruno keeps him hamstrung through the finish line--which finds him cradling Bruno’s head in his hands.
There are a few notable exceptions to the “attract and repel” narrative that Strangers on a Train epitomizes. The first one that deserves a mention is Cruising. I’ve always felt this controversial 1980 film was attacked unfairly by the queer community when it came out; I think it’s doing something a little different than the average serial killer film, because even though on the surface it hits every trope in the gay serial killer notebook, it also implies that the social ostracism of and systemic prejudice against the queer community is the real evil.
What’s even more fascinating: the film never definitively gives a face to “the gay serial killer”, if in fact there is just one. The film strongly implies that the doppelganger, a cop played by Al Pacino, and the killer could be one and the same, or that Pacino has, at the very least, let the real killer get away due to a subconscious fascination with his work and/or a wish to keep doing it himself. You can read Cruising as a story of how the doppelganger, in failing to fully repress his own sexuality, can’t reintegrate into a flawed society that has no room for him.
Another fantastic example of this trope going totally off the rails is Kurosawa’s Cure. Cure is a fantastic example of the many groundbreaking late 90’s Japanese horror films, but even more, it’s a completely self-aware, homoerotic example of the serial killer narrative in which all of the things all those other movies just hint at--social anarchy, rebellion, freedom from social constraints, and the ultimate seduction of the doppel to the dark side--actually happen on screen.
What Hannibal knows so well about this trope is that when you focus on the mutual fascination that the two central male figures have with each other, from Death Note to Strangers on a Train, you instantly gain all kinds of social implications; because if the attraction is mutual, if the doppelganger is so close to becoming the pathological gay social outcast, then what does that say about us as a society? It’s an endless, sexually charged ouroboros in which the othering of homosexuality becomes the real evil, and also one in which the othering is ultimately a lie. Why? Because we made the gay serial killer and he is us.
When done well, the gay serial killer narrative inevitably subverts its human/monster dichotomy by revealing that the monsters are us. When “Fannibals” root for The Will/Hannibal ship (Hannigram), they’re responding to all that sexually charged mutual knowledge--as well as to the baseline out-of-control freedom that Hannibal has always offered his many fans. We are always going to be drawn to agents of chaos and anarchy, and part of us always wants the serial killer to win and seduce the detective into a life of crime.
Arrested Development is Back!
A little birdie told us that the long (long, long)-awaited Season 4 of AD on Netflix, which dropped Sunday, has a surprise bombshell of a gay pairing! We won’t spoil you guys, but if you’re really really curious, here’s an episode recap featuring the big gay reveal.
Next page... Classic Yaoi recs
In our last column, I promised you guys a list of epically slashy anime, but I thought it’d be nice to start with something a little more basic for people who may not be familiar with yaoi tropes in Japanese entertainment. We’ve talked about yaoi a few times here already, but we haven’t actually given you guys any examples. Let’s remedy that by looking at a few formative classics from the late 90’s and 2000s, the ones that are still influencing yaoi today.
We've already mentioned the scorching yaoi classic Viewfinder, which everyone really ought to read at least once. And last week we recced the English yaoi Starfighter, which is a web comic that's so, so much more. But if you've sampled those two and still aren't satisfied, here are 5 other classicyaoi titles that everyone ought to read at least once.
Warning: the content of the YouTube videos linked below is NSFW!
It’s easy to hate Gravi, but this game-changing classic was one of the first mainstream anime to reach western anime fans and teach them how much fun yaoi tropes can be. Gravitation has it all: the distant emotionally tortured seme (top/dom character) who secretly writes romance novels, and the free wheeling magenta-haired uke (bottom/submissive character) who sings in a band, occasionally turns into a puppy (it’s a Japanese thing), and teaches him to love again through music, chibi faces, and shoujo sparkles. Gravitation isn’t the best anime you’ll ever see, but it’s one of the most formative, and if you were a teen looking for anime in the late 90’s or early 2000s, you couldn’t avoid the influence of this series. And really, it’s like Velvet Goldmine had babies with Sailor Moon. Why would you even want to? Watch the first episode here.
2) Ai no Kusabi
This angsty story set in a gloomy sci-fi dystopia is unusual in that it was originally a Japanese serial novel rather than a manga. But the original 2-part movie in 2001 was a tearjerker that still has a huge fan following today--which is probably why a whole new 12-part series was released last year. Watch it here.
A yaoi manga about two New York City cops, FAKE was notable for sidestepping a lot of the “stern seme/weeping uke” yaoi conventions, and for playing around with buddy cop story conventions. Also, who doesn’t love a good tale of queer love in the Big Apple? Watch it here.
Ah, being closeted in the workplace. You might think of My Sexual Harassment as a kind of Fifty Shades of Working Through Sexual Repression. With lots of kinky sex and lots of sexual identity crises, this love story between a boss and his office lackey was one of the most popular and influential yaoi of its day. Watch the first chapter here.
The artist Kazuma Kadoka is one of the earliest and most influential yaoi artists of the 90’s. Kizuna was the work that put her, and her influential yaoi style, on the map. She would later go on to do the artwork for Boku no Sexual Harassment, but Kizuna is all her own. A story about two soulmates tragically torn apart by the yakuza (Japanese mafia), Kizuna is not only the grandfather of a metric ton of yaoi tropes, but one of the longest-running series, starting in 1992 and concluding in 2008. In the meantime, Kadoka’s art style became a running staple of the yaoi genre. Watch the first chapter of Kizuna here.
What are some of your favorite classic yaoi? From Eroica with Love? Mirage of Blaze? Let us know! :D
Next page... Bromance Schmomance!
Art Rec of the Week: FishGhost
The great thing about yaoi art style is that it’s worked its way into so many Western fandoms as well, and our artist of the week combines comic characters with gorgeous yaoi-influenced fanart.
If you love the Batman and Superman universes, then you definitely should follow fishghost, whose pin-up flavored artwork could easily helm a bestselling yaoi of her own.
Recently I got an interesting anonymous ask on my Tumblr, and I figured I’d address it here, since it seemed more fitting for The Shipping News here at Backlot:
"I've been wondering about something, and you seem like the right person to ask: why do I keep seeing journalists using slash to mean sexually explicit fanwork, and "bromance" as a coy way of referencing homoerotic overtones or slash couples? Is it just me, and is there some place in fandom where those terms are accurate? I don't have any links handy, but mostly I'm referring to stuff on kindle worlds and the mainstream reporting on Sterek."
I can’t speak for all journalists, of course, but I can speak as a fan who’s spent over a decade watching well-meaning journalists make mistakes when reporting about slash fandom. Honestly, it’s not that journalists are deliberately misapplying the term--it’s more likely that they don’t know enough about slash to know that the term applies to any and all male/male fanfiction, not just the porn. This is probably a result of a) not enough research, b) too much stereotypical misinformation flying around about slash, and c) the tendency that fans themselves have to equate “slash” with “porn.” Don’t tell me you’ve never seen that happen among fans. I’ve even seen newer fans try and only use slash to refer to explicit fanfiction. So while I think journalists who make that mistake when writing about fandom should be looking a little closer, it’s an understandable one.
The "bromance" question is a separate can of worms. The entire point of the word "bromance" is to trivialize homoeroticism. That’s literally why the word was invented, to catch the flavor of the “hey, i love you man, but no homo” kind of intimacy that develops between straight dudes.
The way “bromance” is used in the media has developed largely independent of its acknowledgment of slash fandom. The more widespread use of the word is, I could be wrong here, but I think it’s more closely connected to the development of concepts like “metrosexuality” in the mid-2000s, and with popular celebrity male friendships like Matt Damon/Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt/George Clooney.
To me, it just makes sense that as a way of making sense of the homoerotic vibes that fuel slash fandom, the media is using “bromance” as a fallback way of describing male/male relationships. Personally, the concept has never applied to any of my ships, though I’ve seen the media apply it to Arthur and Eames from Inception. The problem, of course, is that often when the word is used, it’s not only trivializing the fictional relationships that slash fans are drawn to, but it’s trivializing all the different ways that real men can express intimacy with each other, regardless of sexuality.
What do you guys think? Is “bromance” an acceptable way of describing the pairings you ship?
The K-pop phenomenon known as the boy band Exo made its huge worldwide debut this weekend with its first full-length album! So to celebrate with the huge contingent of Exo slashers out there, here’s a bro-fist of love from band member Baekhyun!