Literature 5-10-2006

Letters from a Writer: Creepy/Understandable

Jean Sramek writes about "slash fiction." (Okay, we didn't know what it was either.) Is it better to want more and thus get more, or to want only the right things?

Jean Sramek

One thing leads to another, and sometimes you end up thinking kind thoughts about rock-n-roll tribute bands.

People all over the world have been shot in the heart by the film Brokeback Mountain; I am one of them. It’s become nothing short of a phenomenon. The DVD, made available while the film was still playing in theaters, sold 1.4 million copies on its first day of release. It has been enormously popular, the kind of film that people see, not once but several times. There are dozens of internet discussion forums devoted to the film, the short story upon which it is based, and the confused, overwhelming emotions it has evoked in its fans.

“No film has EVER had this effect on me.” I put that in quotes because I have seen this sentence about a million times on the internet, in reference to Brokeback. Like a complete idiot, I have actually read many of these online discussions, because no film has ever had this effect on me, either. I have good news and bad news about my devotion to the ruined, perfect love between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist.

The good news: it’s not just me.
The bad news: it’s not just me.

I thought I was special; apparently I’m not. Also, those other people are creepy. I can handle discussions about the symbolism of the dead sheep, character analysis of Ennis Del Mar, interpretations of the phone call flashback, comparisons to Annie Proulx’s short story, and speculation about Ang Lee’s next project. I can handle the “Oh God, I can’t stop thinking about this film” blubbering and the accompanying confessions and epiphanies. I can even handle blogs devoted entirely to paparazzi shots of Jake Gyllenhaal. What I can’t handle is the slash fiction.

Slash fiction is homoerotic fan fiction. Fan fiction is fiction, based on characters in existing fiction and/or drama, written by fans, all of whom are utterly without talent, and read by other fans, all of whom are utterly without the ability to recognize just how bad fan fiction is. “Slash” refers to man/man or woman/woman.

[Now, you’re probably thinking, “Jean, I can’t believe you are just discovering this. Are you telling me that you’re so naïve and sheltered that you did not, prior to your love for Brokeback Mountain, know about slash? Ha ha. What a dork. You’re just like that girl in high school who didn’t know what a, you know, b.j. was.” Let me assure you that I know all that and a bag of chips, and since seeing The Aristocrats, I know way more than I need to, but yes—I just recently learned about slash fiction. And if I could un-learn it, I would.]

Most of the Brokeback slash is predictable: details of what went on that second night in the tent; descriptions of the idyllic week at Don Wroe’s cabin; fantasies about what might have happened if Ennis had moved to Lightning Flat with Jack instead of marrying Alma; alternate happy endings where we discover that Jack faked his own death so he could be with Ennis. All featuring relentless man-slash-man action and supermarket bodice-ripper narrative like “his cock strained against the fabric of his tight Levi’s, yearning to be set free.” It is dreadful. It’s not so-bad-it’s-good; it’s just bad.

I can’t stop looking at it. “Horrible car accident” is the operative phrase here. Eventually, I’m going to need therapy, which will be a waste of time, since the deepest, darkest secret about me is apparently that I get some kind of pain-slash-pleasure from reading the literary equivalent of a weekend in Branson, Missouri. Which is not exactly a secret anymore. Nor is it unique, so it will do nothing to help me achieve my minor life goal of having a disease named after me.

Each new piece of fanfic dreck is accompanied by reader comments: “You are such an awesome writer, Brokeback4ever!!! Is it hot in here or just me!!! Can’t wait to read more!!!” I hate these people. I hate them because they are stupid, but also because they are happier than me. They want more, they get more. For me, there is no more. I’m destined to watch Ennis weep into that denim shirt over and over and over again, because I think I’m better than they are.

A friend went to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band last week. It was a lark, and the tickets were free. I asked him whether it was as bad as he expected it to be. “Robert Plant with man-boobs,” he grimaced. For those of you who don’t know what a tribute band is (I suspect you are fewer in number than those who don’t know about slash fiction) it’s a rock band made up of civilian musicians whose sole purpose is to dress, act, sing, and play exactly like the band they are tribute-ing. It’s creepy-slash-sad. But their fans are legion, particularly when the band in question, e.g. Led Zeppelin, is gone forever. I’d sooner eat at Applebee’s than go see a tribute band, but I know why they do it, and why people watch them do it. The real thing felt so good that any facsimile will do. The people in the bands can pretend to know what it’s like—to be those people who made that music, the music that caused those feelings.

Basically, it’s fan fiction. I shouldn’t be so hard on Brokeback4ever and her stupid, talentless ilk. They love Jack and Ennis and they want more. They want it so bad they’ll do anything to get it, even if it means having to build it themselves. Meanwhile, the rest of us will wait, miserable, for something better to come along.