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April 7th, 2009

On Love and Slash

This is what happens when I read academic articles - I slip right back into academic argument mode.

My Opinions on Love (and Slash)

I should start this by saying that I've read and enjoyed slash-fic for over ten years. This isn't a criticism of slash in general, nor a criticism of wincest (though I don't personally care for it). I have chosen not to write slash/wincest though, for the reasons stated below. Like I said, this isn't a criticism of slash/wincest, this is a criticism of our culture.

Yesterday, I read Tosenberger's article "The Epic Love Story of Sam and Dean," in which she explores the idea that wincest isn't written in defiance of canon, but rather in support of it. I actually agree with her arguments - wincest really isn't that much of a stretch. Most stories have the boys characterisations bang-on, and the only addition to the relationship is a sexual component.

My complaint about it all is that I don't see why we have to add the sexual component at all (besides the fact, of course, that it is fun to imagine pretty men having sex with each other). Can't we just recognize that Dean and Sam have a stronger than usual sibling/friend bond and that doesn't necessarily mean that they are doing it?

My sister agrees that "without the fanfare I would have never thought of those two having sex, I would have totally accepted that after all this time together and all they have been though, they would definitely cry and hug though."

So why do we write them as having sex?

I think it stems from a (false) cultural belief that romantic love is the pinnacle/ultimate love and that all other loves are lesser. So therefore if fans want to write about how much Dean and Sam love each other, they inevitably fall back to romantic love. As Tosenberger puts it:

"While this love is not necessarily romantic, our culture codes romantic love as similarly excessive, so the show makes it very easy to read Sam and Dean's excessive love as romantic" Tosenberger 2.2

or:

"Sam and Dean's all-consuming devotion is of the kind, in our culture, usually reserved for romantic partners."
Tosenberger 4.8


I don't really see why that has to be the case though.There are so many different forms that love can take, and just because a love is non-sexual/romantic, does not make it a lesser love than a love that includes a sexual/romantic component. For instance, I have a very close friendship with someone of the opposite sex, we really would do anything for each other, yet we expect nothing in return for this level of devotion. There's no "I bought you flowers and took you out to dinner, now blow me" aspect to anything. If we do something nice, it is simply to do something nice. No expectations. (We even frequently treat each other like crap, and the other person doesn't stop being nice).

Now you could argue that not every sexual relationship involves obligation...but man, most do at some point

Furthermore, my friend and I have promised (and followed through on that promise), that if it came down to it, we would choose our friendship over a girl-/boyfriend if ever placed in such a difficult position. We've been friends for several years, we each live our own lives (currently on opposite sides of the world), yet our level of devotion to each other is at an intense level. The reaction we get from other people is often an assumption that we are secretly in romantic-love with each other, or that we are at the very least sleeping together. In reality, we don't even hug (unless one of us is crying), and the closest we've come to kissing is a peck on the cheek that I received once for making muffins.

But why can't we just be loving friends? The very phrase "I like you as more than a friend" shows what, I think, is a complete cultural misunderstanding of the nature of love and devotion. Why is romance considered MORE than friendship? The idea that love is quantifiable irks me to no end. Love does not come in quantities to be measured. My love for a best friend is different than my love for a romantic partner, but that does not make it LESS, nor does romantic-love guarantee that I will be more devoted to a romantic partner than a friend.

I believe that a major reason people write Sam/Dean, or any slash, is simply because they want to illustrate the amount of love between the two characters and romantic-love is the only instance where there is a universally recognized "act of love" - which of course, is sex, or more accurate for this discussion "making love." As a culture, we see "making love" as the ultimate expression of love and devotion - so, the easiest way to show that two people love and are devoted to one another is to have them consummate that fact through the act of "making love".

Tosenberger (4.8) again:
"Fan-fictional responses...posit Sam and Dean's romantic attachment as merely an "extension and intensification" of their already overwhelming love."

My complaint is why, in our culture, sex is seen as an "extension and intensification" of love. Can't the intensity of their devotion to each other itself be proof enough of the level of love they have for one another. You can, after all, "forsake all others" without actually being in a sexual or monogamous relationship. Of course, I'm not arguing for polyamoury either, that's a whole different beast. I'm just saying that Sam and Dean don't have to have sex to always choose each other over all others.

I suppose my main complaint is that while I enjoy slash (just not in the Supernatural fandom), I worry that our continual use of it to illustrate the amount of love between friends/siblings only serves to further the cultural belief that romantic-love is the ultimate expression of love...and I just don't think that's true.

Our use of slash for porn purposes is just fine though ;-)