1. Introduction

1.1 Fans & Fan fiction

Jenkins (1992) provides a detailed description of the origins and subsequent meanings of the term ‘fan.’ He points out that although its longer form, fanatic, was originally used to describe someone devoted to a temple, it soon acquired negative connotations. Fans were seen as overeager, misguided, socially maladjusted, and mentally suspect. Furthermore, such negative connotations persist into modern culture where the interests of fans may be seen as going against acceptable norms. However, Jenkins argues against this conception of fans. In terms of media fans, he describes fans as:

...readers who appropriate popular texts and reread them in a fashion that serves different interests, as spectators who transform the experience of watching television into a rich and participatory culture.… Fans construct their cultural and social identity through borrowing and inflecting mass culture images, articulating concerns which often go unvoiced within the dominant media. (23)

He adds that such activities defy the attempts of media producers to control the generation and circulation of meanings that deviate from the original texts. Therefore, it can be understood that fans are not individuals or groups of people who passively enjoy various media texts in a one-way direction from media producers to media consumers; rather, fans are people who interact with the texts produced by the media and actively bring their own meanings to these texts. Of course there may be fans who are content to enjoy what is provided at face value and wait for the next installment, however, in many cases, there are fans who would rather produce the next installment than wait for it. This is especially true when they know that, due to social constraints, the next version they will be provided with is not likely to go in all the directions, or in as many, as they would like it to. Thus, reading and writing fan fiction becomes a way for fans to explore new dimensions of the original work.

Textual Poachers vs Textual Extenders

‘Textual poachers’ is a term that has been applied to fan writers and is the title of the book by Henry Jenkins on media fans. This implies that something is stolen, that it is taken away and claimed as one’s own. However, slash writers and general fan fiction writers are careful to credit the original characters and setting to the appropriate authors. Jenkins (1992) also comments that the nature of fan fiction writing is not the mere reproduction of the original work. He states:

...fan writers do not so much reproduce the primary text, as they rework and rewrite it, repairing or dismissing unsatisfying aspects, developing interests not sufficiently explored. (162)

Perhaps a more positive description of fan fiction writers would be ‘textual extenders.’ In some cases, much of the created story is not from the original work. In this sense the original work is being extended and something new is being created rather than poached.

1.2 Slash Fan Fiction

One of the ways in which fan fiction writers explore new dimensions of the original works is by focusing on the sexual directions in which the story line could go. Therefore, romances and / or sexual behavior between characters can happen when they were not present in the original work, or they can be more developed when such pairings were only hinted at within the original. Within this dimension of exploration, some writers focus on the relationships between same sex characters. This genre of fan fiction writing is known as slash. Jenkins (1992) describes the history of slash writing as a genre of writing that developed within fan fiction writing back in the 1970’s. The central characteristic of this genre is the focus on the homoerotic bonds between same sex characters. He points out that the term ‘slash’ refers to the way of symbolizing a same sex relationship, for example, Kirk/Spock (abbreviated to K/S).

Jenkins (1992) described the method of story circulation among fans in the early 1990’s. Fans could have work published through fan magazines called Zines or pass their stories around between themselves via the post or at conferences. These non-profit magazines accepted both accomplished work and work from more inexperienced writers, as importance was placed on encouraging all writers.

The development of the Internet has added a further forum for readers and writers to access and contribute material. Several sites that include slash stories or are devoted to exclusively to it have appeared in recent years. The description of openness that Jenkins used to describe the Zine publishing industry can also be applied to the work accepted for posting on many Internet sites. There are some sites, however, that require that a standard must be reached before work will be accepted.

The development of Internet based slash sites has resulted in the creation of a number of virtual communities of slash readers, writers, and drawers. In addition, this provides an opportunity to contact many of the members in order to investigate more about the people who contribute to these communities. This study reports the results of an Internet based survey of slash readers and writers.

1.3 Intentions of this study

Booth, Colomb, and Williams (1995) mention that students may use research assignments as a method of gathering information about an area they want to get some control of. Therefore, more focused research questions may be pursued later. This study is not for the purposes of obtaining a university degree. I was a member of this community before I decided to research it. Like many others, there were not many people I could talk to in real life about this interest. My knowledge of such communities was minimal; it was based on a few introductory pages of slash web sites. A personal crisis impelled me to find out more about the community and, in turn, about myself. Instead of an exhaustive literature review and carefully constructed set of research questions that is typical of research procedures, the questionnaire used in this study was composed of the questions I wanted to ask as a slasher. I brought no assumptions of what I was looking for in this first study. After reading the responses, I used my academic self to write this report. Therefore, this is research for my heart.

The aims of this study were as follows:

1.4 Limitations of this study

This study contains the data from a group of people who responded to this questionnaire posted on-line on one site only during a three week period (plus a couple of latecomers who begged for inclusion). There is no way to determine if this is a representative sample of all slashers, or to even know what percentage of all slashers this represents.

Therefore, when reading the findings of this study, it should not be thought that, “This is what all slashers are like.” This study reports only what the group of slashers who responded to this questionnaire are like in a general sense. It should also become clear that there is a great diversity of individuals even within this community.

1.5 Ethics

When doing research involving people, it is ethical to obtain informed consent of those who participate. Such consent is obtained from parents or guardians when the research involves minors. Internet based research, however, poses a problem in this respect. It is assumed that adults responding to the survey have given their consent by the act of replying. However, many of the participants in this research were under the age of 18. Considering that many slashers do not tell others of their involvement, gaining consent according to traditional procedures is often impossible. It could be considered prudent to exclude such respondents from the research.

The exclusion of under age participants, however, leaves a vital part of the community out of the study. Young people are on the Internet, and they do explore sites that warn them to stay away. The inclusion of young people can provide the opportunity to understand their experiences and to possibly offer positive information and advice.

1.6 Method

A general questionnaire was posted on the Library of Moria slash site from February 12th until March 5th, 2003, with permission and assistance from the site moderators. The Library of Moria is a large, well-known, Lord of the Rings (LOTR) slash archive with frequent updates of new stories. The main page of this site received between 3106 and 4834 hits per day (average = 3908) between a sample period of May15th to June 4th, 2003. This sample period was chosen as it occurred midway between the release of the first two LOTR movies and thus was less likely to be influenced by a recent or upcoming release of a new film (Sobiesky, 2003).

The moderators checked the questionnaire for clarity. The questionnaire invited participants to contribute information about themselves for a study of slash readers and writers. Initially, the closing deadline was scheduled for April 1st; however, the large number of responses required that the closing date be brought forward. The invitation identified the purpose of the study and assured participants that their privacy would be protected. The invitation can be seen in Appendix A. The questionnaire, included as Appendix B, asked participants to provide information on the following:

As the results were being written, a few participants, who had given permission, were contacted again about either their answers or invited to speculate on interpretations.

In this study, nobody was approached directly to participate, therefore it is taken that only those who wanted to take part did so. The study procedure also involved protecting the privacy of participants. All participants in this study were assured that they would not be identified in the report. Indeed, all e-mail addresses not included in the actual reply were deleted after the reply was copied to a separate file. Those who did not supply their e-mail address in their reply but gave written permission to be contacted had their e-mail address copied into the saved reply. The use of the supplied information in the study also protected privacy. The participants were only referred to with a response number (e.g. R6). Even when people gave permission to use their pen names or real names, these were not used. Thus, considering the voluntary nature of the study and the measures to protect privacy, it is hoped that no negative effects have resulted from participation in this study. On the contrary, it is hoped that the insights gained from this research will benefit the participants and also the other members of the community.

The supplied information was copied from the e-mails to files for analysis. The analysis for each question is described in detail in the relevant sections of this study. For the most part, quotes are presented in their original form. Spelling and grammar corrections were made on some occasions for ease of reading. Numerous quotes were often used to support a point in order to give readers a better sense of hearing more of the voices in the community.

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