The Shipping News: “Fanfic Spoiler Warnings”, “Psych” OTP and MPREG’s Alien Origins

Hello, gentle AfterEltonites! It’s Aja, returning for this week’s Shipping News! Considering how much news we’ve had on the slash fandom front lately, it’s something of a relief that this week is light on slashy developments:

  • The popular annual gift exchange fanfic challenge Yuletide is fast approaching! if you’ve signed up for the challenge, but haven’t started writing yet, it’s time to get serious–the deadline is just three days away. If you haven’t signed up but think you might be interested in participating, why not join the pinch hit list? Last-minute defaults of all kinds will be going out soon, and pinch-hitting is a great way to participate in a fandom challenge without over-committing.
  • Previously on The Shipping News, Adri told you about the dishy ship that is Magnus/Alec (“Malec”) from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, whose first book, City of Bones, gets a star-studded film next year. While we don’t meet Magnus Bane until later on in the series, his character is easily the most popular of the books, a century-old warlock with a complex past. Oh, and he’s a “freewheeling bisexual.”

Last week, fans of the Mortal Instruments series got a huge surprise, when Clare, along with acclaimed Young Adult authors Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan, announced that they would be collaborating on a series of short stories that explore Magnus Bane’s past. The Bane Chronicles will be released monthly starting in February, up until the film’s release in August. While it’s not probably not quite as juicy to some fans as, say, a book devoted to Malec, it should at least keep TMI fans happy until next fall.

  • Another great week for The Sterek Campaign: after boxing and mailing 600 cookies to Jeff Davis and the crew of Teen Wolf, this week they were profiled by MTV.com for their efforts to adopt an entire wolf pack in the name of the Sterek fandom.

Slash Debate: To Warn or Not to Warn?

…That is the question which can get you wanked faster than you can say “dubious consent,” “character death,” “triggers,” or “your kink is not my kink.” These are all part of the language of warnings in fandom, where things can get pretty intense pretty quickly if you don’t know what you’re looking for and a fic hasn’t properly identified what kinds of content themes it features that you might not be into–or which might actually harm you.

Warnings are a subject of huge contention in slash and fic-based fandom because so much fic is about testing and exploring boundaries, whether it’s consent issues, personal kink fantasies that other people might not share, or any number of things. Currently, for example, werewolves are a huge kink, not just in fandom but in published erotic fiction. But in fandom, that narrative might contain a number of associated kinks that some readers might not want to read. (I won’t spell them out but I’m sure you get the idea.)

Fandom generally agrees that the best way to prevent someone from reading something they didn’t want to read is to warn them in advance. So generally, unless a kink is meant to be a plot spoiler, fans encourage one another to warn for them in advance. Where things get tricky, however, is when you aren’t sure what to warn for. In a sex scene, if a character struggles or says, “no,” briefly before giving in and obviously enjoying themselves, does that qualify as mutual consent, dubious consent (“dubcon”), or even rape? Different scenes might read differently to diffent people. If a character death is meant to be a significant plot point, could warning your readers in advance give away the impact of your story? Lots of writers think so, but others warn for everything, even minor character death, which can occasionally cause confusion for readers who are warned of a death and then brace themselves for a tragedy that never happens. And why warn for character death at all, really? You’d never get a warning before reading a book or watching a film. But that is an expectation many readers have, and breaking it might cause even more problems.

Then there are the purely unpredictable things that you can’t anticipate needing warnings for. Often I’ve seen readers demand warnings for character-bashing, when they felt a character was mistreated or denigrated by the writing, however unintentional it may have been. Once, on Tumblr, I saw a request for a warning whenever someone was posting an image of deep space. Apparently they have a phobia—though that doesn’t seem like something the average Tumblr user could predict!

How do you guys feel about warnings? Are they ever too much? Do they help?

OTP du jour: Shawn/Gus, Psych

As far as quirky detective shows on USA go, Psych is the clear successor to Monk, another show about an eccentric, Holmesian oddball with a keen eye for details. Shawn, played by James Roday, is an amateur sleuth who claims to be a psychic as a way of legitimizing his work on detective cases. Gus, played by The West Wing’s Dule Hill, is his childhood and still current best friend, who has a notable penchant for buying great clothes and following Shawn into trouble.

Dule Hill and James Roday have fabulous chemistry together. Psych is a silly, light-hearted show, and they frequently engage in visual gags and physical comedy—though somehow Gus never seems to muss his clothes, which is fine by us, because if there’s one thing we ship without question, it’s Dule Hill/Nice Suits. They do things like this:

and this:

*Images via gifshows

…and are generally adorable and tons of fun.

 

Psych is a light, zany comedy, and while it’s rare to find a large fandom for comedy-related ships, Psych is unusual in that its small fandom has been in place almost since the show began 7 seasons ago. Most of the fic, however, is for a rival pairing; as adorable as Shawn and Gus are together, the ship gets little love. Some people say this might be because comedy just doesn’t draw as much attention, even though there’s plenty of love for other ships, notably Shawn and his rival detective, Lassiter. Some fans argue they’re just a couple of dudebros, and not really shippable romantically. But, come on, have you seen Supernatural? ;)


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You were saying?

Other arguments are that it’s because Shawn isn’t good enough for Gus, even though he cares enough about Gus to earn him the role of Gus’s best friend for life. Though Shawn and Gus are known in mainstream circles as a bromance, they’re often used in fandom as an example of how racism may possibly be the only real difference between a ship that becomes super-popular, like House/Wilson, and a ship that gets totally overlooked.

All that said, if you want fic, there’s some wonderful ones. Psych fic tends to be heavy on the cute and the comedy. A Pinboard search is probably your best bet to find a bunch of recs in one place. I especially like “Growing Pains” by thingswithwings—it’s a great “starter fic” because it gives you everything: backstory, believability, cuteness, and, of course, hot sex.

 

Fic Rec of the Week: “Ten Cups of Coffee (A Love Story)“, by passe_simple;

Pairing: The Social Network RPF (Jesse Eisenberg/Andrew Garfield)


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We’ve talked before on the Shipping News about Alternate Universes and RPF/RPS—Real Person Fiction/Real Person Slash. The awesome thing about an AU for an RPF pairing is that if you’re not familiar with the two people or don’t know much about them, or you know too much about them and you just can’t make that reality to fiction leap easily, it’s super-easy to pretend that characters in an AU are just two random dudes, not actually living, breathing celebrities.

In this fic, Jesse is a stressed-out grad student who comes every day to the Starbucks where Andrew, a barista, proceeds to woo him with perfect coffee, and hearts:

These could be any two boys in any two Starbucks in the world, and this fic would still be awesome, because, come on, it’s about a cute barista wooing a frenetic dissertation student with scribbles on coffee cups. The fact that the barista/grad student are actually “Andrew” and “Jesse”, who we know are total BFFs in real life, is just the whipped cream on the extra-sweet latte. And the fact that the fic is also hand-illustrated with actual coffee cups?

That’s the dollop of syrup on top.

Read “Ten Cups of Coffee (A Love Story)” here


Some closing thoughts about mpreg:

We had a Tumblr ask last week that questioned our spotlight on mpreg 2 weeks ago:

MPREG: It’s often written poorly and comes over as feminizing a male character/assigning gender roles or comes across as mocking, but I can see the appeal. Pregnancy is a part of life and it makes sense that people would want to write about it, but it’s such an impossibility and I’ve seen it so rarely in quality fiction and so often in badfic that I have a hard time taking it seriously. I’ll still read it, occasionally, though, just in case I’m proven wrong.

Part of the reason mpreg is often written poorly is because it’s really hard to make mpreg work well in fandoms that don’t have canonical male pregnancies (Torchwood, Superman) or any elements in canon that could be used to explain how a man could get pregnant, such as alien biology (Star Trek) or magic (Harry Potter). That means mpreg in these other fandoms is usually associated with humorous crack or even bad!fic.

However! It might help to remember that there are lots and lots of literary analogues to mpreg—most notably aliens. No, seriously, think about it.

 

Literature, especially science fiction, fantasy, comics, and hybrid genres, are rife with examples of mpreg. Fandom guru Henry Jenkins once observed that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein could be considered one of the first examples of literary mpreg. It’s true! Many of the elements in literary mpreg are all there in the sad tale of Frankenstein’s monster: the science-fiction setting, issues of masculinity and social conformity, the alien or freak somehow merging with a human form or identity, the element of fear of the unknown–even the linking of “birth” to horror and death. (More on that later!) In contrast to the way in which female pregnancy is often associated with the earth, with nature, and with a common thread of humanity, there’s a fundamental connection between male pregnancy and alien identity or freakishness.

Think about it. What are the two most contemporary pop cultural images of the alien?

That’s right. Anal probing and chest bursting!

Or, to spell it out a little further, alien ass-fucking leads to alien impregnation, leads to alien labor.


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We could go on, but you get the idea.

So, if you’ve had bad experiences with mpreg, here are some “starter” mpreg recs. Two of these are fics that really deal with the “how”; one of them deals with all the gender issues that you mentioned that usually get written about in problematic ways.

  • First up is a Stargate: Atlantis, John/Rodney work by author shalott: “A Beautiful Lifetime Event“. This is an mpreg that doesn’t actually involve male pregnancy. But it’s a really important fic about everything that comes after. It’s also one of the best and most popular fics ever written, and a must-read.

These are both fantastic Harry/Draco fics, but a lot of care is taken not to just wandwave away the biology.

And with that, I think there’s only one way to end this with a Parting Gif:

Happy Holidays, AfterElton! We’ll see you in the New Year! Thank you for making The Shipping News such a blast for all of us in 2012!