Fascination/Frustration: Slash Fandom, Genre, and Queer Uptake

Boulware, Taylor. Fascination/Frustration: Slash Fandom, Genre, and Queer Uptake. 2017. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation examines contemporary television slash fandom, in which fans write and circulate creative texts that dramatize non-canonical queer relationships between canonically heterosexual male characters. These texts contribute to the creation of global networks of affective and social relations, critique the specific corporate media texts from which they emerge, and undermine homophobic ideologies that prevent authentic queer representation in mainstream media. Intervening in dominant scholarly and popular arguments about slash fans, I maintain a rigorous distinction between the act of reading homoerotic subtexts in TV shows and writing fiction that makes that homoeroticism explicit, in every sense of the word. This emphasis on writing and the circulation of responsive, recursive texts can best be understood, I argue, through the framework of Rhetorical Genre Studies, which theorizes genres and the ways in which they are deployed, modified, and circulated as ideological and social action. I nuance the RGS concept of uptake, which names the generic dimensions of utterance and response, and define my concept of queer uptake, in which writers respond to a text in ways that refuse its generic boundaries and status, motivated by an ideological resistance to both genre and sexual normativity. To complement and further develop queer uptake, I draw on Queer Theory and Affect Studies to propose a wholly new theoretical approach to understanding slash fandom as a site of queer subversion, in which writers critique heteronormativity and homophobia - ideologies that are, to varying degrees, perpetuated by their chosen source texts. Central to my argument is the increase in fan-canon interaction and communication that largely defines our contemporary convergent mediascape, as well the heightened visibility of slash fandom in mainstream media discourse that demands producers acknowledge their slash fandoms in some capacity. I explore two of the most popular relationships in contemporary fandom, Sterek (Stiles/Derek) from MTV's Teen Wolf (2011 - 2017) and Destiel, (Dean/Castiel) from the CW's Supernatural (2005 - present) for how they embody different dimensions of queer uptake. My analysis of Sterek explores how the canon's initially positive responses to the slash fandom ultimately proved to be blatant queerbaiting, and, how as a result, the fandom has largely rejected the canon - but not the characters, still creating art and writing fics that offer pointed criticisms and celebrate the queer relationship. My analysis of Destiel focuses on Supernatural's unique use of metanarrative and self-referentiality, as together with a nuanced understanding of genre, to canonically respond to its fandom, resulting in a much more positive and productive fan-canon dynamic. I also consider how slash fandom's preoccupation with sexual explicitness rejects heteronormative politics of shame in order to imagine male intimacy and the male body unbound from traditional masculinity. I conclude that the texts produced by fan writers are at once complexly critical of the corporate media texts that motivate them, and that the queer uptakes fan writers perform are rich with possibility for understanding the increasingly-important dynamics between producers and audiences, and as a site where those who are not fairly represented in popular media can offer each other sustenance.

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