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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


"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 ;-)


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 7th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
Well done! I totally follow your train of thought in this. I'm in it for the intimacy, the more intense the better. For some writers and readers who are perhaps drawing inspiration from their own experience, that means sex, and that's fine for them. Often, that's even fine for me. I've been writing slash for years, after all, and I've been told I do it well (when I get around to it). But an awful lot of times Wincest reads to me as if the writer is just using sex as an easy way in.

There is slash fiction in other fandoms that suggests the pinnacle of devotion for writers is the mother/child bond, with the result that they infantilize one of the men (the physically smaller or prettier of the two) to degrees that take the advice "write what you know" into realms I'd rather not visit. Given the fact that Dean has been more or less Sam's surrogate mother as well as father and brother for most of his life, I'm surprised -- but not unhappily so! -- that this doesn't seem to happen much in SPN fandom. Maybe Dean's being the smaller (and arguably prettier) of the brothers turns that paradigm on its head, I dunno.

The whole subject is fascinating, isn't it?

Edited at 2009-04-07 09:35 pm (UTC)
Apr. 7th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, intimacy - that was the word I was missing when I wrote this. I also read fic for the intimacy, but you can have intimacy without sex. You can even have intimacy without touching or even talking (I know from experience), it's just an intellectual/emotional intimacy rather than a physical one.

I was going to talk about the parent/child paradigm, but as you mentioned, it's not actually very prevalent in the SPN-fandom. I'm also surprised (but not unhappy) about this. I think you see it more in underage-slash when it comes to SPN - a point in time when Sam was smaller than Dean and Dean really was fully in the parent-role....but then underage-slash gets into a whole bunch of strange kinks that I'd rather not think about.

It really is a fascinating subject and one that I've been thinking about for the last few years (mainly due to the other people's complete misunderstandings about my own close friendships).
Apr. 16th, 2009 04:21 am (UTC)
nicely put, and I totally agree. I've been talking about this ever since I found out about frodo/sam slash. That there's this weird notion that romantic love is some kind of pinacle or ideal. good to know i'm not crazy and that there are like minded people. kudos!

Apr. 16th, 2009 04:55 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad there are people who agree with me and that I'm not crazy either!
Apr. 4th, 2010 07:03 am (UTC)
Okay, so I was kind of stalking your journal and came across this, and wanted to throw in my own two cents, albeit REALLY late...

I completely agree with you on all of your points regarding how they love each other. How Isee it though, is that romance is a much more common method of showing intense love, and often times people have a hard time understanding such a strong bond that doesn't include sex-definitely in response to how our society brings us up. So to capture that crazy intense feeling, and to even magnify it, people have to bring in sex.

I, personally, ship Wincest pretty hard. I find the movement from brothers and best friends to lovers to be extremely fascinating. However, my true weakness IS examples of them loving each other without the romance, to have that bond that doesn't need the justification of sex, but it's rare. So. End rant...

On another note, I love your SPN/HP crossover, and I'll be sure to comment once I have something more than my iPod as a web browser...
Apr. 4th, 2010 07:39 am (UTC)
Yay Stalker! :-)

Thanks for weighing in. It's never too late to comment on anything I've posted, so no worries.

I completely understand the appeal of charting the journey from brother to friends to lovers...and can I also get that romance is the most common method of showing intense love. I think what I'm mainly criticizing here isn't Wincest/J2 itself, but more the fact that in our society, I feel like love that is NOT romantic love is valued as less intense than romantic love.

I enjoy the brotherly bond more than Wincest - but that doesn't mean I haven't thought about the latter (how would it happen if it did happen?) and I do enjoy J2 AUs (non-AUs make it too difficult to pretend they are not real people), so I like romance just as much as the next person too.

So, yeah...mainly, I just wish there wasn't as great a need for the sex to justify a bond. If that makes any sense anyway.

I'm glad you like the SPN/HP crossover. I look forward to hearing from you again when you upgrade from your ipod ;-)
Jan. 5th, 2012 07:32 am (UTC)
You are quite possibly my hero right now. BRB reccing like a boss.

(Re the Sam/Dean article; I also almost had a heart attack to find a fandom-related paper written in proper APA formatting and laid out in such a detailed and factual manner. It was exciting!)
Jan. 5th, 2012 07:49 am (UTC)
Aww, shucks, thank you!

Glad you liked the post!! Thanks for the reccing me to others :)

(As you can tell, intelligent conversation and academic articles are the way to my heart ;) I love this fandom.)

Jan. 6th, 2012 04:50 am (UTC)
Hi there - here via sgmajorshipper's rec, hope you don't mind a super late(/random) comment!

I just wanted to say that I agree with ALL of this. So, so much. I'm new to SPN, and came into it knowing that Sam/Dean slash was rampant. (To say the least.) So I went into the show, expecting to see it, and I definitely did. My slash goggles were definitely on.

But then in S3...I started to have issues. Dean was dying, and somehow just reducing their relationship to sex and nothing more (as I was to a certain extent, when I picked up on the UST in S1-2) just seemed to cheapen it.

So I started to ask myself the questions you're asking here. Why is it that sex makes a relationship better than another? And why do we perceive romantic love as being the epitome of all love?

I completely agree that love can't be quantified or compared. The love you feel for a friend, parent, child, sibling or spouse can't be compared, and no one can say that one is necessarily greater than any of the others.

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."
THIS. Basically, the way I've reconciled it all in my head is: you totally CAN slash Sam and Dean. To say that they're having sex, after everything they've been through in canon, isn't a stretch. They've died and gone to Hell for each other. Sex isn't going to make their relationship any stronger than that.

But it also doesn't take anything away. Sex, in and of itself, just isn't enough to affect the type of huge bond Sam and Dean doubtlessly have. So you can slash them, sure. But you don't have to in order for their love to be one of the biggest, most epic bonds imaginable.

Anyways, sorry for the super long/ramble-y comment on your super old post, but I was just too excited to see someone else having the thoughts I've had for a while! Anyway, long story short: I agree completely!
Jan. 6th, 2012 05:00 am (UTC)
Hello! It's never too late to agree with me!! ;)

When I wrote this, I think probably only 8 people saw it, because I hadn't been in fandom that long. So, the fact that people are being recced back to it, kind of pleases me.

But yes, since I wrote this, I've really come to see Dean/Sam sex as just a "visual" for the love. It doesn't add meaning (though, used incorrectly, it CAN still cheapen it)...but some people don't know how to effectively show love without there being an ACT of love involved. And that's fair.

It's funny, because I also came to this realization after S3. Mind you, it's because I only came to Supernatural in 2008, so I marathoned the first 3 seasons in one summer, then got on the internet.

Anyway, rambley reply shortened: Thanks for commenting!! I'm glad you agree, and that I'm neither of us are alone in our thoughts :)

Jan. 6th, 2012 05:38 am (UTC)
(sorry posting fail)

It doesn't add meaning (though, used incorrectly, it CAN still cheapen it)...

True. To clarify, what I meant was that - imagining the boys having sex in canon can't cheapen the bond that they have in canon. But in an OOC fic where it's just about the sex, and not the love? Oh, definitely. So long as there's both - and that the sex is an expression of their love, expressed that way because, well, it's easier to comprehend - then it makes perfect sense.

Do you mind if I friend you? I'd love to discuss the show further sometime! :)
Jan. 6th, 2012 05:51 am (UTC)
I don't mind if you friend me at all! I don't have very many rules around here, but the one I stick to is that I don't much care for negativity. I don't like having my squee harshed.

I look forward to discussing things with you!! :)

Edited at 2012-01-06 05:51 am (UTC)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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