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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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The Good, The Bad and The Lanathelana on May 20th, 2007 04:59 pm (UTC)
Re: *curious*
I don't think that sex is the ultimate culmination of any intense relationship in which there is some affection.

Oh, I don't think so either. It's just that I think sexual climax is often used to also work as story climax (there was an essay on metafandom ages ago suggesting that slash and romantic stories in general are so popular because we use them as a metapher and use to bring emotional climax to any relationship; even if the relationship was originally a mentor/student, siblings, enemies or friend-relationship).

Or that it works as sex=good, love=good, sex+love=good+good=2xgood. Basically a love climax is great, a sex (story-)climax is great and combining both is even more "perfection".

I liked XFiles smarm back in the day

I loved Mulder/Scully smarm or generally dramatic gen fic. And yeah, I totally actually cares less about the stories that actually had sex. They were just a couple for me that worked even better on the smarm level though that certainly doesn't hold true for all couples (slash or het).
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Venushalfshellvenus on May 20th, 2007 06:48 pm (UTC)
Re: *curious*
They were just a couple for me that worked even better on the smarm level though that certainly doesn't hold true for all couples (slash or het).
Hah! I never liked them as a romantic pairing (they had this bickering sibling dynamic), but I like them as friends.

I don't think they'd do well as a couple at all-- Scully's very rigidly Catholic and Mulder's agnostic or atheist, and that's a terrible mix. And then there's the problem of me finding Mulder kind of insufferable to begin with. :0
The Good, The Bad and The Lanathelana on May 20th, 2007 07:21 pm (UTC)
Re: *curious*
I don't know why M&S worked well for me in dramatic stories, but I didn't love them as much in romantic stories. I mean, there are some I like (usually with strong plots), but on the whole, I liked them "Gen". I think it's because both are such strong POVs (and the show hinged on that heavily), it always felt like at least one of them would get swallowed up in a romantic story. And in the end, it just wasn't necessary to me in order for something to be a good story.

Another problem is that I'm actually not really into that helplessness/asking for help aspect of a lot of H/C. It's actually kind of hard to describe. There are some scenarios where it works for me. And when it works it makes for great emotional stories. But a bunch of times it doesn't work for me and it certainly doesn't for for me just for its own sake.

And there's just the aspect where there are certain characters I just don't want to see broken. Like, I could never read weepy Krycek stories because to me that undercut his attractiveness. His attractiveness to me was based on him being sneaky and cunning and dangerous. So having him injured and asking for help was just the opposite of attractive to me.
Helen W.wneleh on May 21st, 2007 01:42 am (UTC)
Re: *curious*
My very first slash was Kirk/Spock. Mulder/Scully felt a lot like this - a romantic pairing that I didn't really see much of in canon, but that sort of popped out of the intensity of their relationship. OTOH, I just didn't get the point of Mulder/Skinner or Mulder/Krycek; and I think that's what seperates me from a het/slasher - I get no joy out of pairings that I can't see in canon; a sexual resolution for the relationship does nothing for me.

At the same time, when I see UST, be it m/m or m/f (never felt it f/f), I really don't have that much interest in smarm, or stories in which the relationship isn't important. So, in SGA, I pretty much only read McShep, and I've never read a DS non-slash story that I liked.

As for XFiles - well, I didn't read slash, but I read about everything else, because all the non-slash was all about the Mulder-Scully relationship, be it het, or just angsty, or h/c, or case-based. I was less invested in them, I guess, than I am in Blair and Jim (I've written 20 or 30 TS stories, so I feel a bit possessive I think), so I didn't mind that Mulder and Scully were probably terrible for each other (can't think of a person on earth who'd deserve poor Mulder!)

- Helen

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Venushalfshellvenus on May 21st, 2007 02:22 am (UTC)
Re: *curious*
so I didn't mind that Mulder and Scully were probably terrible for each other (can't think of a person on earth who'd deserve poor Mulder!)

WORD. ;)

The know-it-all boy-genius archetype really rubs me the wrong way, almost regardless of who it is: Wesley Crusher, Mulder, Goran on L&O: CI, Reed on Criminal Minds.

And Mulder... can't see him in a successful romantic relationship at all. He'd be kind of hard to be real friends with too, I think. :0
The Good, The Bad and The Lanathelana on May 21st, 2007 07:12 am (UTC)
Re: *curious*
Awwww, I loved Mulder :) Re: Mulder/Scully, I guess I always felt that with them, it was just much more of a statement for Scully to stay with him and support him without being in love with him than it would have been if she suppported him because she is in love with him.

With a lot of slash, people of the same sex who support each other, but aren't in love aren't much of a statement because those kind of relationships are actually the norm in the media.

Which doesn't mean that I can't enjoy same sex couples who aren't in love or that I can't stand M/S stories where they are in love, it's just that sometimes certain things just have a certain edge (as in: some relationships receive special bonus points; but there are just one among many aspects that make a story). I actually wouldn't say that I prefer m/f pairings if they aren't romantic. I'd actually say that M/S are pretty unique, because they reached very high levels of intensity without a sexual component and it was believable. Something that I find quite rare. Most relationships either don't have that intensity or they reach it through a sexual component (Buffy/Angel or Buffy/Spike for example).

I do think with a lot of potentially smarmy couples it's the problem that I have a hard time believing that they would be happy without sex on the long run. Even if the sex isn't with each other. For example, I had no problem seeing M/S as the non-sexual OTP while at the same time having them have sexual relationships with other people that just work on a seperate level. For example Scully finding somebody for herself (even if that somebody doesn't play a major role) and still having Mulder as her main emotional relationship (and maybe torn between two duties) totally works for me.

Basically I can see an intense emotional relationship between two people totally consume them and make sex unimportant between *them*. But I wouldn't expect it to kill their interest in sex alltogether. Yet for some people it hurts the OTPness, the supposed completeness of the love, if the sexual component part is fulfilled by somebody else.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Helen W.wneleh on May 22nd, 2007 01:47 am (UTC)
Re: *curious*
I do think with a lot of potentially smarmy couples it's the problem that I have a hard time believing that they would be happy without sex on the long run. Even if the sex isn't with each other.

I can see Mulder and Scully being too freaked for sex - IMO any normal person would be rocking back and forth in a corner full-time by halfway through the first season.

Yet for some people it hurts the OTPness, the supposed completeness of the love, if the sexual component part is fulfilled by somebody else.

Especially for characters with more normal lives, I really see them long-term involved with other people; and not just for sex but for the normal richness of life. In fact, one of my principle clues that I'm not a slasher is that when I start pondering Blair and Jim as bi or gay I start trying to figure out what sort of men they'd each be attracted to, and imagine them discussing and critiquing each others choices. Not a fic I'd ever write - it would have no audience whatsoever!

(And I hardly ever read stories with OCs - but what I read and what I write are pretty different.)

- Helen
The Good, The Bad and The Lanathelana on May 22nd, 2007 06:20 am (UTC)
Re: *curious*
It's less that I would except OCs to be part of the story itself. It's more about how I would view the characters. I'm the kind of person who always needs to think ahead with characters. Who always asks "Then what?". Or who generally pictures what the characters (with this particular characterisation by the author) are going to be like in situations not covered by this particular story.

So some characters might give me the vibe of "Yeah, he/she is eventually going to get married. Maybe 1 year, 5 years, 20 years in the future, but eventually they would find somebody.". On the other hand, a lot of characters don't give me that vibe because most of these intense platonic relationships are forged by some sort of special circumstances. So I could never picture them get married it's usually because it doesn't work for their high risk job as a cop/spy/vampire avenger. But usually I still picture them of having a string of boyfriend or girlfriends that they might not care too deeply about, but they would still have them.

I have to say, I don't really find platonic relationships any less dysfunctional than sexual relationships. Mostly because I have seen some really freaky dysfunctional or co-dependent friendships in my surroundings. So if the relationship is obsessive or 100% focused, it would probably be dysfunctional to me, whether it is sexual or not. And I think that as a purely fictional "tool" people actually use sex as a way to release that kind of tension or emotional drama and focus that might exist between two characters. Which of course can sometimes be a cop out. And counter-productive if it's precisely that high drama that one wants :D