Thoughtful Thursday: The Great Incest Debate
So, as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve had two funerals to go to in the past week. The one yesterday was for the mother of a dear friend, who’s in my thoughts during this difficult time. (We love you, honey!)
The service on Monday was for my grandmother. She was 89, lived a good life, and went quickly. She will be missed, but remembered fondly by all who knew her.
Needless to say, I’m feeling a little fried today. So, instead of writing a mini-essay about femslash, lesbianism, and feminism (i’ll do that next week) I’m going to tell a story. About the wake. Trust me, it’s totally relevant.
First: The characters.
Me: Your guide to nerdy fannish pseudo-intellectualism
My Cousin: Lets call her Sarah Jane Smith, SJS. (It’s lore in my family that both she and I were named after Doctor Who assistants. I’m gonna keep that tradition) She is my nerdy fannish ninja philosopher, with whom I’ve had several discussions on the literary nature of fanfic, the social ramifications and influences, and the reason why this blog exists. We’ve swapped recs for years; she introduced me to the Journal of Transformative Works, CT, and Henry Jenkins; and i’m currently beta-ing her SPN Big Bang. She is also trained to argue like a philosopher.
My Cousin: Let’s call him Doubting Thomas, DT. SJS’s little brother, he is majoring in physics and sees the world in terms of hard science. Think, Rodney McKay with Shepard’s hobbies. I love him to pieces, but will willingly admit to arguing for the hell of it.
Fright Dyke: By now, you should all have been to her sight. You all know she’s my super articulate, humorous, slightly bitter, political when she needs to be, super-amazing girlfriend/partner/other half.
The stage is set, let us begin!
So, after the first viewing (there were two), we returned to my Aunt’s house for food. And it was a good thing, too, I was starving. SJS was as well, but was having a tough time of it, as she had recently had her wisdom teeth removed, and the roll was giving her trouble. Somehow, me laughing about her flailing Kermit-arms turned into a discussion on slash fic. (I think we started talking about X Men first class, and the whole “two men can love each other without sex” thing.
Then, because it’s me and SJS, talk turns to Slash and Supernatural. The “but they’re brothers!” squick is raised (by Fright Dyke and DT) and I give my “slash is filling a niche” argument, that the fact that wincest exists proves that these stories need to be told, and will be told in the face of squicky taboo.
DT argued that there are other ways to do that. And that you can have fic that fills that niche without incest, simply by using a differnt show.
SJS and I argued that, well, they do. Kinda. (To be extremely reductive) Slash exists to tell gay stories (or gay themed stories) that aren’t being told by the mainstream. Wincest, while in some respects filling that niche, is also filling a different one. SJS’s argument was much more elegant than mine, so I’m going to give the highlights/gist.
Because of the way society is structured in Supernatural, the only chance Sam and Dean have of a happy ending that involves them happy as brothers, and both in a healthy and fulfilling sexual/romantic relationship, is if they are sleeping with each other. Sam and Dean are conditioned so that the other will ALWAYS COME FIRST. Finding another that will fit into their dynamic is extremely hard (Cas does so, but only by helping/admitting that, to Dean, Sam will always come first, and pretty much everyone Sam has ever slept with is either dead, or evil and dead, so…) Add to that the life of a hunter; they remain isolated to do their job, to protect others, and are, in the eyes of the law, criminals. They can’t lead normal lives, not and be themselves. ALL THEY HAVE IS EACH OTHER. And people want a happy ending. So they write a happy ending.
DT: But…but… incest!
SJS: wincest is never, really, presented as “YAY INCEST!” It’s more “this is against society, but so are we, so we can break this rule to be happy, it’s the only way!” and it’s usually very angsty and angry and there’s shame and horror. It’s not approving of incest, it’s critiquing the society that allows for incest to be the only possible happy ending.
SJS: Think of it this way. There’s a town. It’s a horrible, evil, corrupt town. In this town there is one good man. Because of the corruption of the town, the good man is forced to do something bad. He’s hung. The story is not saying that the man was bad, the story is saying that the good man is forced to extremes because of the corruption, and the town is bad. Sam and Dean are the “good man” and “Supernatural” is the town. It’s a critique of the way society treats marginalized people in society–the outcasts.
DT: How? “Supernatual” isn’t real. It’s fiction.
ME: Just because it’s fictional doesn’t mean it’s not real. Or that it doesn’t represent reality.
DT: But it’s not a 100% correlation, how can you say it’s an accurate representation?
ME: It can represent a facet, and still be an accurate representation. Or criticize something that really exists.
(At this point Fright Dyke is watching us like a tennis match, because this is not the civil discussion you’re reading. We’re jumping up and down, yelling at each other, SJS has, several times, grabbed DT’s arm and physically shaken him, pinned him down trying to make him listen. I’m laughing like a crazy person, and I think our parents/aunts/uncles are a bit scared of us. They keep walking by and giving us strange looks because we’re shouting things like “IT’S NOT ABOUT THE INCEST!”)
SJS: “What’s the opposite of symbolic?”
And everybody looses it. But, in fanfic, if it’s not attacking something deeper, it’s just porn. SJS’s reaction was “The worst part, is that I know exactly how she got there, and I can’t really disagree. So…yes, but no.”
SJS and ME: We already explained this. SOCIAL CRITIQUE!
Much more screaming and trying to explain that you can agree with the critique, and the need for social revision, without agreeing to the methods used to highlight the need. So, you can agree that things need to change and not agree with incest, even though you’re made aware of the need though incest in a story.
Which lead, eventually, to the need to talk about the need to revise in order to get revision, to “Take Lincoln.” “What did Lincoln ever revise?” “SLAVERY!!” (We shouted that at each other for the rest of the evening)
Then, Fright Dyke stands up, says “DT, tap out. My turn,” and proceeds to argue that, even though the need for revision exists, and the stories exist to highlight that need, using the extreme case of incest will ultimately hurt the cause, because people wont look past “incest, eww!” to get the message. She used VC Andrews Flowers in the Attic, which was about child neglect, but all anyone ever remembers is that the older siblings sleep together. (Same forces at work, however. isolation, pressures, extreme reliance on one other person, etc). and that by making it gay incest, it will have the negative associations. Gays are incestuous, the same way they’re also, apparently, all pedophiles and perverts.
Therefore, Wincest, while it aims to revise society, is actually hurting it’s cause through extremism.
SJS conceded the point, if not the argument.
At this point, my aunt pokes her head in, looking very scared, and lets us know that there are cookies. We break for cookies.
Afterwards, Fright Dyke has to console me that slash fic is not going to set gay rights activism back twenty years. It’s such a marginalized thing, that nobody takes really seriously, and wincest is rare enough (kinda), that it won’t do much damage. (if any).
Then I told DT about the legalwincest!verse and broke his mind.
SJS and I sit back and enjoy an hours worth of intensive debate. Thus, the Great Incest Debate of 2011 comes to a close. In between services for my Grandmother’s wake.
I love my family.
So, I was reading this story…