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18 May 2007 @ 04:37 pm
Discovering "Smarm"  
Not the obsequious kind, either.

Yesterday, wandering through metafandom, I happened on a discussion of "smarm" fic. thelana is probably laughing her butt off right about now...


So, "smarm" is what one really might consider sexless slash. Proponents don't see it that way, and it doesn't always cross that line, but sometimes the manLove is more than brotherly, you know?

What thelana's going to laugh about is that I have unwittingly written "smarm" on occasion. Sometimes I still think of it as Gen (the manLove is typically brief and doesn't go on and on), and other times it's supposed to be Slash but doesn't get as far as I'd intended (in which case, I really consider it "light Slash").

A very thorough definition/argument of what constitutes "smarm" can be found here. The audience for it is readers who want big manLove and affection and often touching and cuddling, but no sex. Slash lovers may wonder what the point of that is, but I clearly remember that my first Slashy desires were around age 13/14, and I would have been perfectly happy to fade out with romantic kissing and snuggling together in bed. Obviously, I've expanded my horizons since then, but you get my point. The thing is, though, that's still Slash to me.

So, case in point there is this Sentinel story, Beach by two very big fans of smarm, and for me that is definitely slash. Check out this chapter here, where there is kissing, tonguing, and I believe also declarations of love.

Looking at the larger story (I wasted some 3 hours at work reading this thing, and hating myself afterwards), if you look past the buckets of crying in the story it is a big hurt/comfort-fest of touching, cuddling, kissing, hair-petting, declared love, romanticizing of the other person, pondering on "joined souls" and "owning each others' hearts". There are also some 11 installments of naked showering, and some 6+ of naked bed-cuddling before it wanders off into a dream sequence (still a WIP).

See, now, that is clearly romantic love to me-- it might be brotherly love if they were actual brothers (though if there's tonguing, I think some misunderstandings are going to arise!), but how is that NOT light Slash? The fact that there's no mention of arousal when they're mooshing their groins up against each other? (Seriously. And as the rest of the story is written, if you're that emotionally thrilled by someone I don't see a physical reaction not happening, especially for men).

So, I read some more in that genre last night (could not help myself-- and I never even watched the Sentinel!). Some of it is just a hug, a touch here and there. But there are loads of what can only be called cuddling, honestly.

I don't know. I can definitely see why there would be an audience for stories that cut off at the pre-sexual point, but most of what I read I'd still say is Slash or Slashy.

And that particular story, 70+ installments and not yet finished... I have to call that emo-Porn, because it totally is. Not a bad thing, but that definitely describes it.

Clarification: I totally forgot about the range of canon behavior. I.e., if we're talking "Starsky and Hutch" even a single kiss on the mouth might just be Gen smarm, depending on how romantically skewed that was. Virtually everthing else was already canon. NOT that I have any complaints about that...

What do all of you think? Probably many of you were already aware of it long before me!

So, thanks to the time wasted on the story in the cut zone above, I never did get out to exercise yesterday. :( Which means that today, I had legs and then some! In other words:

Cycling: 34 miles for speed today! Whoo! Plus a couple more to warm down. I did nearly get hit by a van, making a U-turn right into the bike lane where I was progressing, and she stopped right in front of me. I was pissed. I smacked one of her back windows with my fist and came around to discuss this with her, but she was already stumbling through an apology and was honestly so horrified with herself that I relented, and thanked her for apologizing. Yikes!

No interesting animals today-- not even the pygmy goats were out! Earlier this week, along this same route (the office, not the bike path), I caused a mini cattle-stampede. \o/ On the plus side, the roadkill count is still down.

Got a drabble to post this weekend for bluesister, if I can force it to be 100 words and not keep creeping up. Almost there...



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julchen56 on May 20th, 2007 09:30 am (UTC)
I personally believe that there are a lot of women who do not really like sex - or rather the 'messier' parts of sex, like penetration, exchange of body fluids etc. Of course, hardly anybody likes to admit that - because it's natural and the body is beautiful! - especially as 'being good in bed' is a qualitative statement everybody likes to claim for themselves. So, writing smarm they describe their ideal form of sex. Sex lite with all the good bits (like intimacy and cuddling and a little tongue etc.) but withouth the messier parts (as mentioned above). Also, it very nicely prepares the ground for 'we are not gay! we just love each other!' Homosexual sex being even a bit messier. YMMV, but that's my opinion.
Helen W.wneleh on May 20th, 2007 11:29 am (UTC)
Well, speaking for myself - I like sex quite a bit; and I'm always astounded when a slasher writes in her LJ about being a virgin or being long-term single because if you're that into sex I'd think you'd find someone interesting to have it with.

And, as a mom, I have a lot of experience with bodily fluids. Lots of different forms, inconveniently timed. Semen just doesn't hold a candle to most of them in terms of volume and containability issues! But I don't know how many smarm writers are moms, and me loving smarm far predates motherhood.

As for the WNGWJLEO - I dunno. I think about this a lot. When I first started grooving on smarm, as a pre-teen in the 70s, I don't think homosexuality was at all in my worldview. That changed, of course; and now I live in Eastern Massachusetts. But still, I think the 'purity' of nonsexual, platonic love was part of the initial pull for me. Maybe. Or maybe I just hoped someone would love and love and love me at a time I didn't even know sex existed, and that imprinted, and decades of being a pretty normal, friend-and-lover-having person haven't made a real dent in this? Again, I don't know; could be.

- Helen
julchen56 on May 21st, 2007 12:10 pm (UTC)
And, as a mom, I have a lot of experience with bodily fluids. Lots of different forms, inconveniently timed. Semen just doesn't hold a candle to most of them in terms of volume and containability issues! But I don't know how many smarm writers are moms, and me loving smarm far predates motherhood.

Well, having to deal with different forms of inconveniently timed body fluids as a mom doesn't say anything about being okay - or even loving - the exchange of spit, sweat, semen, vaginal secretions etc. during the sex act.

And I of course can't say anything about you, but I swear to god that just about every woman I ever encountered who *showed* reactions of finding sex icky *claimed* to love it a lot. It's as I said above, everyone follows today's societal norm of having a 'sound' attitude towards sex.
Helen W.wneleh on May 21st, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC)
Well, this is a sort of silly conversation to be having with a stranger over the internet! I'll just leave it with, I haven't noticed a correlation between sexual activity/sexual interest/fanfic writing and reading habits; and I'm pretty good at noticing correlations and figuring out causality and interrelationships.

- Helen
julchen56 on May 22nd, 2007 07:47 am (UTC)
No problem with leaving this conversation aside, silly or no.

I'll just leave it with, I haven't noticed a correlation between sexual activity/sexual interest/fanfic writing and reading habits; and I'm pretty good at noticing correlations and figuring out causality and interrelationships.

You truly think subject and style of what people write/red don't make a statement about them? I'm of the totally opposite opinion. Show me what you read/write and I can tell who/what you are.

Helen W.wneleh on May 22nd, 2007 10:09 am (UTC)
Okay, I guess I'm not leaving this off! Because, no, I don't think you can tell much about a person from their reading and writing. There is no woman in my life that it would surprise me to find out wrote NC-17 PWPs or poetry about daffodils or NC-!7 PWPs about daffodils...

And I think even less can be told about someone by their reading. Or... huh. Knowing someone has a reading disability can be a piece of the puzzle when trying to figure out why she or he is pretty uptight about certain things, but beyond that, nope, for me at least!
julchen56 on May 22nd, 2007 12:11 pm (UTC)
How/with what do you think then profilers work or - even better - anthropologists? Everything a person does - this way or that - makes a statement about them that can (and will) be interpreted.
Helen W.wneleh on May 22nd, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC)
I agree things can and will be interpretted, but IME that someone likes to read mysteries means: that person likes to read mysteries. If someone likes to write slash, it means she likes to write slash (though I'd lay good odds that the person was a woman!)

I think this sort of information about someone *does* inform you about them - a glimpse of parts tells more about the sum. But I think writing is a really hard thing to judge by. I actually find how someone presents their writing to be pretty informative, though; for instance, the handful of people who use their full names in association with their fanfic are, I feel, making a statement about their relationship to their fic and thier emotional ownership of their creative output in general. OTOH, these people all write very different types of stories.

RE: profilers - it's a subject I know very little about. My sense is it doesn't work very well, or, more, it's useful in the way that being told what someone's Myers-Briggs type is is useful.

- Helen
julchen56 on May 22nd, 2007 06:28 pm (UTC)
I agree things can and will be interpretted, but IME that someone likes to read mysteries means: that person likes to read mysteries. If someone likes to write slash, it means she likes to write slash (though I'd lay good odds that the person was a woman!)

Well, yes and if someone likes to take drugs they just like to take drugs - no problem involved, I see. :-P

I think this sort of information about someone *does* inform you about them - a glimpse of parts tells more about the sum.

Which is especially true about writing - and even of reading preferences - as it is such an intensely personal undertaking.

But I think writing is a really hard thing to judge by.

I do stand by my totally contrary opinion. What/how someone writes is very informative.

I actually find how someone presents their writing to be pretty informative, though; for instance, the handful of people who use their full names in association with their fanfic are, I feel, making a statement about their relationship to their fic and thier emotional ownership of their creative output in general. OTOH, these people all write very different types of stories.

I agree.

RE: profilers - it's a subject I know very little about. My sense is it doesn't work very well, or, more, it's useful in the way that being told what someone's Myers-Briggs type is is useful.

If it wouldn't work I very much doubt anyone would bother applying these sciences - which, of course, always only work as well as the one applying them.
(no subject) - wneleh on May 22nd, 2007 09:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - julchen56 on May 23rd, 2007 11:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - wneleh on May 23rd, 2007 12:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - julchen56 on May 23rd, 2007 02:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Venushalfshellvenus on May 21st, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC)
Without getting TMI over all this, while I adore sex and don't have too many issues with the aftereffects/etc. of it, let me just say that writing Slash is freeing in that I can pretend that semen doesn't taste/feel icky and not have to worry about it.

They're guys, they both have it, they can deal with it. ;)

But I'd have trouble selling that attitude if I were writing Het...
julchen56 on May 24th, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)
I'm always astounded when a slasher writes in her LJ about being a virgin or being long-term single because if you're that into sex I'd think you'd find someone interesting to have it with.

http://community.livejournal.com/writing_sex/68849.html?thread=946417&format=light#t946417

;-)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Venushalfshellvenus on May 20th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
So, writing smarm they describe their ideal form of sex. Sex lite with all the good bits (like intimacy and cuddling and a little tongue etc.) but withouth the messier parts (as mentioned above).
Oh, I agree-- especially in not so much women but in teenagers. The sex might be threatening, or messy, or just TMI as I said upthread somewhere. "Smarm" does take the place of Slash-light for that audience.

Among adult women, I'm sure that there are some that don't care for the messiness, and some that really just aren't that comfortable with explicit sex scenes in general. I used to find NC-17 stuff embarassing in the extreme! I've progressed to the point where I can write it now as well as read it, but it wasn't easy. Some people can't or don't want to ever reach that point.

And there's nothing wrong with that!
julchen56 on May 21st, 2007 12:13 pm (UTC)
Well, TS-fandom consists mainly of middle-aged women and I know for sure that Martha is not a teenager.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Venushalfshellvenus on May 21st, 2007 04:30 pm (UTC)
Martha also writes Slash, and that essay is her co-author anyway. I'm not thinking primarily of her.

You have to remember, this is a discussion about "smarm" as a whole-- it goes far beyond The Sentinel, and is popular in pretty much every part of fanfic.

That I happened to use The Sentinel as an example (based on being linked to the fic in question via someone else's comments in another journal), and then got this post randomly picked up by metafandom, well... this isn't the direction I'd expected the conversation to turn, let us say! :)
julchen56 on May 22nd, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
Martha also writes Slash, and that essay is her co-author anyway. I'm not thinking primarily of her.

I know she does (though neither explicit nor very convincing imo) and I just named her because you've brought up 'Beach' as an example.

You have to remember, this is a discussion about "smarm" as a whole-- it goes far beyond The Sentinel, and is popular in pretty much every part of fanfic.

I'm not really sure about that. Though I cannot claim to know all fandoms - or even a lot - I have the impression that smarm is rather fandom specific for ST (where the term was coined IIRC), SH, dS and TS. I'm not sure that there's Boyband smarm? Or Buffy, Smallville, HP smarm (any of the 'younger' fandoms)? I don't think that smarm specifically attracts teenaged readers - I perceive it more as a middle-aged preference. Teen fic does stand out through its terribly unrealistic sex scenes where you can tell the writer isn't sure what part goes where - or even what parts are involved in the first place. ;-)

That I happened to use The Sentinel as an example (based on being linked to the fic in question via someone else's comments in another journal), and then got this post randomly picked up by metafandom, well... this isn't the direction I'd expected the conversation to turn, let us say!

Well, I'm sorry - but TS *is* a good example for the occurance of smarm in ff.