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Whither gen?

Via metafandom: author_by_night has started what's shaping up to be an interesting discussion about the prevalence of romance and smut in fanfic. I don't know yet if I'll formulate anything worth contributing, but it's a springboard to another topic that I should really get around to ranting about properly one of these days.

Because I'd actually take the question a step further, and note that not just fic but discussion has become increasingly, and to my mind maddeningly, pairing-centric over the last several years. Part of the reason I stick to those "little corners of fandom" of mine is that they're the places I've found where I can have any kind of conversation that's not dominated entirely by who should be shagging whom. Because OMGSICKTODEATHOFIT.

By no means do I have anything against either romance or sex in fiction. I even like the occasional piece that centers on it. I mean, hello, opera singer! But to my mind, something has gone seriously wonky with the proportions in fandom.

This isn't the rant yet. Mostly I just wanted to point out the cool discussion happening. And promise the rant. :-)


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 22nd, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC)
"ship-indifferent" I like that tag! Whenever I do some meme, or friending thing and get to the 'favourite ship' part, I never have a reply. I don't really have any. And then I think there must be something wrong with me [g] Well, may be there is, but I'm just not shippy.
Jun. 22nd, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC)
"ship-indifferent" I like that tag!

I coined the phrase in some discussion last year whose content I've completely forgotten (although I'm fairly certain mrv3000 was involved in it, so maybe she can jog my memory...I think I even promised icons, which I have failed to deliver), and have used it a few times since.

I actually rather hope I won't be banging on about it enough to warrant a tag, but then again there are probably some old posts I could go back and attach it to. The driving-me-bonkers of it has been known to rear its head here in the past, I'm sure. :-)
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:36 pm (UTC)
You did call yourself ship-indifferent! Well, ship-indifferent weirdo, was the exact phrase. ;) (Hooray for searchable gmail!)

I ship only about a third of the shows (growing less all the time) I watch and like you, for the shows I don't ship I have no interest really in ship discussion. I just don't care all that much.
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:56 pm (UTC)
D'oh! Why didn't I think of that?? And it was only in January, not last year...
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
Or, actually, I think this was a later use of it. Oh, well.
Jun. 22nd, 2007 10:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Addendum
OH! I found it! 2005, baby! Pairing-indifferent!

Jun. 23rd, 2007 01:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Addendum
*smooooooch* You=genius. And I remember that now, and am changing the tag too...
Jun. 22nd, 2007 08:49 pm (UTC)
I totally agree with you here. There are a few fandoms where, I confess, I'm all about one ship or another (West Wing comes immediately to mind). But most of my fandoms, I'm generally much happier when no one's shagging anyone else, or if it's only happening in the background.

Not everything is about sex! Just tell me a story! < five-year-old whine >
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:02 pm (UTC)
Amen! When I go digging for fanfic, more often than not, I'm just looking to read a good adventure or something. Not to mention that some ships? Need to be introduced to a limpet mine. I was going to say "need to be torpedoed," but when dealing with those kinds of ships, that's just asking for trouble...
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC)
I was having this discussion with amilyn the other night. I showed her an episode of The 4400 and she agreed with me that it was a really intriguing show. Part of me can't understand why this show doesn't have more of a following. I almost never hear anyone mention it. And the only real explanation I have for that is that there is pretty much zero sexual chemistry on the show. (All of the romantic/sexual relationships that have happened on the show, have actually *happened* and run their course in a natural manner so there isn't any angsty unresolved sexual tension.) I can't really imagine wanting to read a smut fic involving any of these characters. I just think it's sad that that translates to no one wanting to squee about the show, because *plotwise* there have been lots of squee-worthy twists.
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:35 pm (UTC)
Whereas I've squeed over that show lots in the past. I just... there are just episodes that make me want to smack my head repeatedly into a desk and go "WHO HIRED THAT ACTOR!? WHO HIRED THAT WRITER!? WHY!?!?!?!" Third season pretty much killed my love for that show because I spent the whole time going "...Shawn, you're a moron and I don't want to stare at you anymore. Ever. Go away."

*pats* (Sorry?)
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, Shawn is a moron. He's always been a moron. (Not as big a moron as Lily, but that would be nearly impossible.) That character is nonetheless realistic and consistent in his idiocy. (He's a 21-year-old high school dropout. Yes?)

Basically, I find the show to be more interesting and more consistently written and acted than many, many shows that have generated much squee among fans (who are mainly aquee over how hot so-and-so is ... and, yeah, not so much hotness on this show).
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, Lily. I want to beat her with a shovel and am SO VERY GLAD she went away. For real. Just. Ew.

And I'll give that the show's interesting, but... I don't know. It's never risen above "Show Produced In Canada" to me. I like it well enough, but it's not really something that's making me want to 1. catch it every week or 2. catch up on what I've missed. But that's just me...
Jun. 23rd, 2007 12:13 am (UTC)
It's never risen above "Show Produced In Canada" to me.

Trying to think of a show that's NOT made in Canada ... all I can come up with is Doctor Who.

I marathoned the entire third season of The 4400 and loved it. Although I can imagine that if you'd missed episodes you'd lose lots of dramatic build. The thing I like about the show is that it tells a story. There is no re-set button.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 05:24 pm (UTC)
>"Part of me can't understand why this show doesn't have more of a following."

FWIW, the USA network is not on basic cable in the San Francisco Bay area. You have to shell out for the next level up to get it. I don't know how many other major metropolitan areas have that situation, which would affect the size of the following. ~shrug~
Jun. 23rd, 2007 05:33 pm (UTC)
See and that's the opposite of when I had cable. USA was one of the basic ones and Sci-Fi Channel was the next tier up.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, SciFi is also the next tier up. Basic cable here gets you the Discovery Channel, TV Land, Food Network, Pax (now "i"), three PBS stations, two religious channels, two CSPANs, and assorted foreign-language and shopping channels, in addition to the broadcast networks. That's it. Not even CNN.

Because of the hills, almost everyone needs basic cable to get any TV reception here, so they don't have to offer much to ensure most people will subscribe.

Thank goodness for our three PBS stations! :-)
Jun. 23rd, 2007 07:28 pm (UTC)
I live in the middle of the city and can't get a single channel on my TV without cable. (We don't have an antenna on the apartment building.) And because I can't afford cable, this means that TV is just for watching DVDs on. That's why I go around asking people what they think of various shows...I'm trying to decide what's worth the effort of hunting down and watching.

And then I often find that my opinions don't match those of fandom. Stuff folks have been raving about, when I finally get a hold of a copy, I find it boring. Stuff I haven't heard of or only heard dismissed as mediocre, I decide to gamble and rent (yes, I've been known to Netflix stuff I've never heard of just because it is sci-fi) and I find I think it's BRILLIANT and I can't understand why no one mentioned it to me before.

Hence, I'm confused a lot about what makes fandom all abuzz about some shows and indifferent to others and the most obvious pattern I can see is how much potential the show has for sex/romance fic.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 11:37 pm (UTC)
:: adds you to Blood Ties crack-pushing list ::
Jun. 22nd, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)
I think part of the explanation lies in the fact that women write the vast majority of fanfiction, and women love romance. They love angst and longing and unrequited desire and the course of true love never being smooth.

Me, I'm just in it for the porn. ;-) But being a woman, I like a little story and a little humor with my porn.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
I think part of the explanation lies in the fact that women write the vast majority of fanfiction, and women love romance.

Guess I'm not one, then. *wry g*

Seriously, I do actually acknowledge the value of the statement, as far as it goes. But the generalization is frustrating to me in and of itself. I don't dislike all that stuff, but it's not what I'm looking for with my fandoms. It's ironic that a lot of people say "Well, if I want gen/plot/friendship/whatever, I get it from canon." Me, if I want to focus on romance as the main course instead of a side dish, I'll get it from Puccini or Shakespeare. :-)
Jun. 23rd, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I think I'm the only woman who hates (and, yes, I do mean *hates*) romance novels and sappy romantic movies. They make me hostile. I'll honestly come out of a romantic movie being completely pissed off. And, yes, I fully acknowledge that the root is in jealousy. I can't stand watching or reading a story that just reemphasizes how happiness can only be found through true love and true love can only be found by having a perfect movie star body.

I can enjoy a romantic comedy, if the emphasis is on the story and the romance is just background detail. And I can read gloriously smutty fanfic, if it's done with humor or *exceedingly* well-written in character. But I can't stand the angsty fic, the swoony fic (especially involving characters who wouldn't swoon with a gun to their head), or the completely out-of-character sex. For the last, my example is when an established shy demure character suddenly starts spouting profanities and initiating sex in public places.

Also, there are certain fandoms where I can read erotic fanfic and certain fandoms where I just CAN'T. And I've noticed that it's the shows that I *don't* follow regularly or have great respect for the characters where I can read and enjoy the "porn" (I have this weird pet peeve about using the word porn instead of erotica when my brain says pornography, by definition, has to have pictures) probably because I'm less likely to notice when something has been written out of character. If I really follow a show regularly and really care about the characters, I'm much more averse to seeing them fiddled with in fanfic.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 11:36 pm (UTC)
how happiness can only be found through true love and true love can only be found by having a perfect movie star body.

Meanwhile, I fervently disbelieve both of these, but am afforded no credibility on either topic by most people, so I generally just don't bother mentioning it. *wry g*

Which is also why I'm just mildly-to-moderately annoyed by material that takes the first choice in particular as its premise, depending on what else the piece has going for it.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 11:38 pm (UTC)
takes the first choice

Or the first CLAUSE, even. No earthly clue where my brain/fingers pulled "choice" from...
Jun. 22nd, 2007 10:45 pm (UTC)
Might it not also have something to do with the fact that you have your own long-term 'ship IRL, whereas most fans of my acquaintance (including myself) don't?

Yet another facet of vicarious living through TV for the win, Alex.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 02:47 am (UTC)
Well, perhaps it's only proving the rule by exception, but I'm unfortunately relentlessly single, and I don't ship, either. (In fact, in my teeny, tiny circle, I've become moderately notorious for dismantling ships. 101 reasons Nick and Natalie should be platonic friends! Yes! ~g~) I love stories that read like episodes; it's my favorite kind of fanfic.

I suppose that if your fandom has enough episodes -- is that possible? -- or enough authorized novels that read like episodes, and your show is not, um, in need of repair because its PTB are nitwits, then you would turn to fanfiction for things episodes cannot hold ... ? Not sure I've ever yet loved such a blessed show! ;-)
Jun. 23rd, 2007 05:36 am (UTC)
I think you have a real point there. As an old-skool FK fan I was always fairly indifferent to Nick/Nat. There was just so much more needed and available in terms of fanfic -- plot holes to fill, continuity to repair, characters to flesh out, episode topics to explore.

But I think I've been spoiled since Buffy fandom. Since then I've had a plethora of good, solid shows that believe in characters and continuity and arcs to choose from.

The ones that are solid on their own, I definitely want to see in fanfic what will never happen on screen. (Episode-style fics are great too, but I'm not hungry for them the same way. Plus, any ep-style has to be stand-alone, because the show's continuity will go on.)

The ones that need as much help off-screen as FK did... frankly, I drop them long before that nowadays. I have too many good shows to try to follow as it is. Happily spoiled for choice these days. :)
Jun. 23rd, 2007 02:11 pm (UTC)
The ones that are solid on their own, I definitely want to see in fanfic what will never happen on screen.

ITA. I just think that's a much larger area than most people seem to. Or, more accurately, my priorities for exploring that area deviate markedly from the norm. :-)
Jun. 23rd, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)
>"Plus, any ep-style has to be stand-alone, because the show's continuity will go on."

It is true that episode-style stories that grow into series automatically become alternate universes. I don't mind that. I remember when a friend was driven to distraction by spoilers that seemed to say a yet-to-air episode would contradict a lovely novel she was writing; the experience of the spoilers probably damaged the story in some ways, but it might not have done so if she had felt more free to be episode-like and canon-fuzzing at the same time.

A story can be episode-like and still set fire to canon on the edges, I think -- for example, a happily-ever-ending doesn't necessarily revoke "episode-like" status, or even a someone-dies plot. But yes, it does wander into alternate universes, by definition.

>"Happily spoiled for choice these days. :)"

Really? Any on US network television? I've got zilch these days. I watch Heroes and NCIS, but while I like them, I'm not moved to fanfic or forums. And Bones tanked in its second season, after I was so excited by the first...
Jun. 23rd, 2007 09:07 pm (UTC)
Really? Any on US network television?

Some. I see from other comments you don't have USA or SciFi which really puts you SOL, I'm afraid. Most of my ficcing nowadays (as little as I do) is actually for Torchwood or Who (which I get from the UK (not 12 mos later on SciFi).

Heroes and Supernatural are great. Lost and Veronica Mars have pretty much gone blah for me, and Smallville has gone from popcore fun to oh-please :-p, but House and Numb3rs still rock and I adore Ugly Betty beyond all measure. While I desperately miss the old bossman, I actually loved 2nd season Bones.

Monk, Eureka, Psych, and Dead Zone (once I catch up on it) are all excellent, but all USA. I tend to keep at least an eye on both Stargates and Dresden Files is a new favorite, but those are all SciFi (I'm used to both USA and SciFi being standard basic cable nowadays, so I didn't even think of that as a problem. BBC America, as well, for Robin Hood. :-/)
Jun. 23rd, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)
And I guess I prove the exception by the rule? Because these were my tastes long before said relationship. Which, not incidentally, didn't happen because I want looking for it.

Which is generally taken as just salt in the wound (not directed at you, Dee), and amounts to yet another area where my opinion is not valid because I lucked into what everyone is apparently supposed to want. *shrug*
Jun. 23rd, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)
I did not mean to suggest that your preferences were dictated by your not being single. I meant to contest the suggestion that any relationship status dictates story preferences (but I tried to do it very gently, by invoking the old saw about exceptions and rules). I'm sorry if I was clumsy and unclear.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)
*blink* Err... I was just presenting the flip side of your response to Dee. Sorry if I was unclear.
Jun. 22nd, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
It's ironic, given that the raison d'etre of my huge sprawly fanfiction series is most definitely a pairing, but I couldn't agree with you more. And I'd go you one further and say that there's not only not enough genfic, but there's also not enough gen aspects to our pairing-based fic. If you look at what fans tend to produce, all these people tend to think about is their sex lives and their romantic relationships--but they have work lives and friendships and families as well. This trend especially bothers me in fic for workplace dramas. We KNOW that these characters care about their jobs, so SHOW us that, dammit.

Jun. 23rd, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)
And I'd go you one further and say that there's not only not enough genfic, but there's also not enough gen aspects to our pairing-based fic.

Damn straight. I like pairings/romance like I like my chilli - a little bit on the side to spice things up, but not the main course. (Okay, so sometimes you just want a jalapeno, but mostly...not.)
Jun. 23rd, 2007 02:13 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. The pairing-based fic I've enjoyed has invariably acknowledged that these people have other very important priorities, which in my fandoms are almost always what brought them together in the first place. Without that acknowledgement, I'm yawning and hitting the back button within a page.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 02:57 am (UTC)
When I was a newbie to fandom, I did some ships, but that lasted just a bit over a year, and was long ago. Since, what I want most are stories that read like episodes -- really, really good, insightful episodes! ~g~ Romance is fine, of course, and I like it, but I prefer it as a side dish, or sauce, to a main course of episode-like qualities.

I wonder if it's what draws us to fanfic that makes the difference? That is, there are shows I adore, but for which I almost never read fanfic, like Doctor Who, because all I ever need is available in the plentiful canon. On the other hand, we have poor neglected Forever Knight, where first season in its glory alone cannot sustain me, and I must have and write fanfic to help prop up the ever-in-danger-of-collapsing universe. That is, I'm coming to fanfiction with my hard-hat on and tools in hand. The people who write all-ship, all-the-time are coming with blankets and picnic baskets? Just a thought.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it's what draws us to fanfic that makes the difference?

It totally is. There's been meta galore trying to categorize it, and I never seem to fit any of them. But then I'm not sure anyone does completely.

I used to favor fic that read like an episode, but more and more I've found myself gravitating toward the "missing scene," or to character studies that examine stuff the show is dealing with in further detail. But it needs plot to make it happen.

F'rinstance, I'm 14 pages into the plot that's finally gotten me to the discussion that first blossomed in my head, for the purpose of further examination the overlap and differences between Vicki's and Henry's ethics of obligation. It's been shown as absolutely intrinsic to each of them, and they've butted heads over it, but there's a lot more to be said about it than will fit in the framework of the medium.
Jun. 23rd, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
>"</i>...but there's a lot more to be said about it than will fit in the framework of the medium.</i>"

Formulas can be excessively confining from time to time. The slide of HL from a fair diversity of plots first season to an increasingly rigid formula by third season springs to mind. As well as FK's "cop plot + flashback + personal ramifications" recipe, of course.

But even when formulas are elastic, as you note, the stages of the stretch can be very attractive! I haven't had cause to use the term in a while (and not that it's all that inspired of a term) but I used to call those between-the-scenes stories "interludes." I coined it for the Thanksgiving issues of the X-books. :-) What I like best in the best of those stories, in any genre, is the strong sense that the canon story is hovering on both ends. Mercedes Lackey at her best, in my opinion -- and since I'm not an adolescent anymore, boy, about half her books would need passports and hiking gear to get to her very best -- writes a high concentration of interludes. That is, she writes whole novels of her own universes where the great and grand sweeping plots, while tangible, vital and complete, nevertheless hover at the sides of the scenes she presents. It's a peculiar phenomenon, and I think essentially and appealingly fannish, even in an original universe, to gravitate strongly to what would be the missing scenes of conventional canon of an adventure story -- the dinner with family, the quiet afternoon, the road trip, etc. There's development there you cannot otherwise get at, but it needs both its own plot on its own scale, and the embrace of the larger plot (or formula) from a distance.

So, in short, you're quite right; I agree. :-)
Jun. 23rd, 2007 04:46 pm (UTC)
*nods* And not even formula, necessarily, but the nature of the medium itself. Series television is a particular kind of animal, and those making it would be beyond foolish to dwell on the level of character exploration I gravitate to in fic. It isn't their purpose, and it would bog them down terribly.
Jun. 24th, 2007 12:32 pm (UTC)
Heh, you know me. I unabashedly love romance and 'ship. I also love gen. But some shows seem more gen to me. Like Doctor Who (yes, even the new stuff) and Blood Ties. They're very solidly gen-feeling to me.

Am I making sense?
Jun. 24th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
You are, although I think it would surprise a lot of people. :-) Especially Who, with large chunks of it in the throes of an absurd shipwar. *eyeroll*

Considering the marketing focus for BT, I've actually been pleasantly surprised by how broad-based the meta is, at least on bloodties_tv, where I mostly go for discussion. (The Bloodlines forum is a little shallower so far, regardless of topic. Part of me thinks the threaded forum format just doesn't lend itself to more in-depth discussion as well as LJ somehow. I haven't worked out exactly why, but the fact that it more or less forces shorter posts is part of it.)

The preponderance of the fic I've seen coming out seems to be pairing-centric, but what people want to actually talk about is right in proportion with what's happening onscreen. Which is nice.
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