From Slash to Bromance — Moving Beyond Subtext
Recently, I’ve had the good fortune of having one of my hobbies turn into a freelance job. I’ll be editing translated manga into casual English for a major distributor of yaoi titles. In Japan, these homoerotic stories are sold in magazines that can be purchased almost everywhere. There are even anime versions running on TV. That there is enough of a market here for more than one distributor making money importing and translating them is pretty amazing. But times are changing for those of us who have long read and written slash fiction based on TV shows.
Despite popular opinion amongst critics, slash in fanfiction usually doesn’t spring from a vacuum. [Yes, I said usually. I am well aware of pairings that would make a stomach turn like Legolas/Sauron or even Jean-Luc Picard/Elrod the Elf guy, and I am reminded that there exists Icabod/Horseman slash. Heck, I once did quite a rant on a panel about bizarre pairings that ended with me suggesting that even Opie/Barney Fife was fair game in some Slashers' eyes]. Thankfully, this strangeness is a minor part of Slash Fanfiction. Typically, there is smoke that inspires that fire in the writers.
They call them Bromances now, but the phenomena has been around for a long, long time. It’s a combination of writers writing much stronger parts for male characters than female characters in a series and a very strong personal chemistry between the pair of male actors. For Slashers, this phenomena begins with Star Trek’s Kirk and Spock. No matter how many broads were thrown at Captain Kirk or the few that were thrown at Spock, there was never anyone closer to them than each other. Heck, Kirk more or less chose Spock over his own son. But these Bromances were not confined to Sci-fi in the 70s. Starsky and Hutch had an even hotter Bromance. Executive Producer, Aaron Spelling, called them ‘prime time homos’ [you should Google that, it's hilarious]. However, by and large, the actors told the media at the time that Dave Starsky and Ken Hutchinson loved each other – like brothers. And that era being a simpler time in mainstream America, few saw the subtext that was percolating between the characters. It was simply beyond the grasp of any regular viewer’s imagination. There was no way such subtext would move anywhere past making out after flub takes that would go on the crew gag reel.
Things got interesting in the 90s for Slashers as it seemed that subtext was inching toward the surface at the same time that the pleas for openly gay characters (who weren’t some sort of freaky serial killers) were starting to be heard. In my orbit, there was even the first signs of fan service from media in North America from one show and vehement denial in the face of the obvious from another. Sometime between the original run and 1997 season of due South , series lead and by then Executive Producer and staff writer, Paul Gross, was shown some of the slash fiction about the lead characters in the show during an interview. He was very amused by this development. That following season featured a lot of the subtext peaking through into text on the show. It even ended with the leading men literally riding off into the sunset together. Oh, here is one of those aforementioned gag reels. But that’s Canada. They actually have Gay marriage up there.
I have to think that the day is soon coming that the passion between a pair of male leads on a TV show will be subtext no longer. And then what are we fangirls going to write about??