Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Shakespeare/Star Trek Slash Vid, Academic Paper on

"SHAKESPEARE IN STAR TREK SLASH FICTION"
by Laura Campillo Arnaiz, Shakespeare scholar on the faculty at the University of Murcia, Spain [n.d., 2010?]

Given as a talk at a conference, here: Cached online

That cached article has screwy formatting^. For the original doc, go to this google search and select the first result. It'll look like this:
FRESCA NOTES: I tried to contact Laura Campillo Arnaiz to ask about sharing her article, the first part of which is about my fanvid (below), but she's on medical leave. 
Since it's an academic article available online, and since it's about my fanwork that I discussed with her in emails in 2010, I figure it's not only OK but great to share it.  

"Kirk/Spock: The Marriage of True Minds (Shakespeare Sonnet 116)", by Fresca (me), uploaded on Apr 23, 2009:

 



ARTICLE, Part 1:  
1. AIM
The aim of this paper is to discuss the way Shakespeare has been appropriated in the Star Trek (ST) slash fandom. In order to do so, I will analyse two ST slash fan fiction examples (video and macro story) to determine (1) what Shakespearian texts have been appropriated and (2) what role Shakespeare plays with regard to the Kirk/Spock slash dynamics.

2. INTRODUCTION


2.1. FANFICTION AND SLASH
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, fan fiction can be defined as: “Stories involving popular fictional characters that are written by fans and often posted on the Internet”.
Typically, this fan labor originates in a feeling of admiration for characters appearing in TV shows or movies, and explores themes and ideas that are not developed in the originating medium. These works are almost never authorized by the owner of the original work, so although they relate closely to its fictional canonical universe, they exist outside it.

Fan fiction hardly gets published professionally, and it can mostly be found in fanzines and the Internet. It is an extremely productive and popular activity- a quick Google search introducing the terms “Harry Potter” and “fan fiction” returns almost 6 million results, the stories archived under this category in fanfiction.net alone surpassing the 400k mark.


Scholar Henry Jenkins reflects about this phenomenon in the following way:

"Readers […] have a strong incentive to continue to elaborate on these story elements, working them over through their speculations, until they take on a life of their own. Fan fiction can be seen as an unauthorized expansion of these media franchises into new directions which reflect the reader's desire to "fill in the gaps" they have discovered in the commercially produced material."--http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html
One of the most popular sub-genres of fan fiction is slash. The shortest and most classical way to define it would be saying slash is fan fiction in which two males are in a relationship. A lengthier and more detailed would be the following:
"Slash is a genre of fanfic which deals almost exclusively with same sex homoerotic relationships. Research has suggested it is written and read primarily by heterosexual females. As previously stated, slash began in the 70s with Kirk/Spock fiction. The term "slash" came from the slash mark between the names of the characters. In this way, the particular pairing of characters is articulated. It has spread to all kinds of TV and movie characters." --http://www.lyricalmagic.com/fanficFAQ.html#slash
Indeed, there’s hardly any popular TV series, film or book without a slash fandom in its trail, among the most popular being Supernatural (Dean/Sam), Sherlock Holmes (Holmes/Watson) and Lord of the Rings (Frodo/Sam), to name a few.
However, as it is pointed out in the previous quotation, the term slash was coined during the early 70s, and the first characters ever being slashed were captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from the Star Trek original series (TOS). The appeal of this series and its characters has hardly decayed throughout the decades, if the reruns and later incarnations of the franchise are any indication of its success.


Although the franchise has never been one to enjoy an unwavering success, with some series and movies rating well-below the expected standards, the interest for the Kirk/Spock dynamics has stood the test of time. Although each reader and writer will give their own reasons for liking this pair, the friendship between the characters, their willingness to sacrifice their lives and careers to save the other and the mutual devotion they feel for each other are the basis of a relationship slash fans everywhere unquestioningly define as ‘love’.

LEFT. Still from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
RIGHT. Motivational K/S poster by Aevylonya reads:
“CANON. Because if you don’t see it, you’re blind.”

--http://aevylonya.deviantart.com/art/Kirk-Spock-motivational-nr-1-159253812

Gene Roddenberry, creator of the ST franchise and its original characters, never objected to the slash writing of Kirk and Spock, although he was concerned at times that this revelation reached the mainstream and it could so hurt the series. However, he was open to the idea of a love relationship between Kirk and Spock:

"Yes, there's certainly some of that—certainly with love overtones. Deep love. The only difference being, the Greek ideal—we never suggested in the series—physical love between the two. But it's the—we certainly had the feeling that the affection was sufficient for that, if that were the particular style of the 23rd century."
--Shatner, William, et al. Where No Man... The Authorized Biography of William Shatner, Ace Books, 1979, p. 148.
[Fresca notes: A scan of the chapter is online here: http://aconitum-napellus.deviantart.com/art/Shatner-Where-No-Man-extract-198721545]"
In the following section, I will focus on the way slash fans have appropriated Shakespeare to comment on the Kirk/Spock relationship. In order to do so, I will centre my analysis on two examples of slash fan work, “The Marriage of True Minds” and “My Captain Eyes are Nothing like the Sun”.

2.1. KIRK/SPOCK: THE MARRIAGE OF TRUE MINDS

Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments”) is the only slash video around which focuses on the Kirk/Spock (K/S) relationship with a Shakespearian background. When I first encountered it, I contacted the author, Fresca, who granted me permission to quote the video and also reproduce the macros she used in its making. 

[macros here on l'astronave]

Fresca’s sonnet 116 is part of a series of videos where the author uses different poems to comment on the K/S relationship. Among the poems used are “I sing the body electric” by Walt Whitman, “The Definition of Love” by Andrew Marvell, excerpts from Virgil’s Book IV of The Aeneid and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116.

When I asked Fresca why she had chosen this sonnet in particular, she told me: “My mother had me memorize this poem when I was about nine”, emphasizing it was [not] one of the poems young kids were taught as part of their academic education. As she grew older and became a fan of ST, Fresca realized it suited the K/S interaction very well, and decided it would be one of the texts she would use for her “Poetry in Space” project. In the comments to the YouTube upload, she further comments:

"I made this one because with the new movie opening soon, it seems behoovy to remember that love survives time, alterations, and even near doom--and what better reminder than Shakespeare's Sonnet 116? (It was only after I uploaded this that someone told me April 23 is Shakespeare's birthday.)"
Indeed, as we shall see, Sonnet 116 was not particularly chosen because it is part of the group of sonnets addressed to a young man (so making the point of a homoerotic K/S relationship obvious), but because it defines love as unaltered and unalterable, emphasizing its constancy in a world of change.
The video opens in the following way:


The setting is relaxed and free of any sense of impending danger, something somehow striking since the crew of the Enterprise hardly spends a lazy day in their exploration of the universe. However, in this particularly idle afternoon, Spock has an idea to amuse his captain and spend time together.
 

Rather than suggesting a game of the 3-D chess both like to play, Spock brings a poem to Kirk. Both characters are known to quote Shakespeare in the original series, so their interest in the Bard shouldn’t really come as a surprise. As a matter of fact, Kirk quotes sonnet LVII (Being your slave, what should I do but tend/ Upon the hours and times of your desire?) in Plato’s Stepchildren, so we may assume he knows Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Interestingly, Spock offers to read the poem, therefore assuming the role of the I voice, what leaves Kirk as the addressee. What follows is a series of screencaps from the ST original series (TOS), the ST motion pictures (I to VI) and the new 2009 ST movie (Reboot), which illustrate each of the lines from the sonnet:

These stills from The City on the Edge of Forever (TOS: 1x28) couldn’t have fit this first line better. The true minds are obviously Kirk and Spock, who manage to overcome the risks of a time travel to the 20th century which could have altered humanity’s future. In macro 6 Kirk and Spock are at the beginning of the episode facing the time portal, and in the following one, they’ve successfully returned to their point of origin.


 If there was an “impediment” in this episode threatening the “marriage” of these two characters, that was Edith Keeler, with whom Kirk falls in love. Regrettably, for the timeline of historical events not to be upset, Kirk must let Keeler die, which he does, returning to his ship and to his usual self at the end of the episode.  
 


Turnabout Intruder (TOS: 3x79) is a clever choice for these lines. Using alien technology, the demented Dr. Janice Lester achieves a successful body and personality swap with Kirk. Lester-in-Kirk will try to take command of the Enterprise, while Kirk-in-Lester becomes desperate in his attempt to demonstrate who he really is. The only one who believes the captain’s story is Spock, who mind-melds with him as the image in macro 9 shows, and is convinced that, despite the feminine body, the consciousness inhabiting it is Kirk’s.

Shakespeare’s lines highlight Spock’s unwavering loyalty to Kirk and his determination to help him regain his real body at the cost of a court martial and his own life.

The choice of stills 10 and 11 seems to have been made following the allusion to “ever-fixed mark” in line 5 and the moment when Kirk is preparing to shoot an arrow.
More interesting is image 12, where a calmed Spock overpowers a deranged Kirk in The Enemy Within (TOS 1x5). Following a transporter malfunction, Kirk’s persona is split in two halves inhabiting two different bodies. When the evil doppelganger attempts to take control of the Enterprise, Spock overpowers him restoring Captain Kirk to his own and unique self.


[Fresca notes: Laura is wrong here, though in a way that improves the story. Macro 12 is from the Cloud Minders and has no such wonderful extension to it. (Meaning no disrespect, but doesn't everyone knows Kirk wore his green wrap-around in the Enemy Within?)]

Throughout these examples, Spock epitomizes the idea of love as defined by Shakespeare, remaining immutable in the face of “impediments”, “alterations” and “tempests”.
The comparison will wittily continue in images 13 and 14, where love is compared to the star which guides a ship in its journey through the ocean, preventing it from getting lost or shipwrecked:


As science officer of the Enterprise, it is Spock who is in charge of supervising the flying parameters and stellar charts before they’re fed to the computer of the Enterprise, therefore effectively assuring the ship’s course. In this way, Spock appears as the “star” to the Enterprise (the “wandering bark” adrift in the universe) but also as Kirk’s personal “star”, since his logical and rational arguments anchor the captain’s reckless nature and allow him to take informed decisions that safeguard the well-being of everybody aboard the Enterprise.
Macro 14 was probably chosen because Spock is pointing at something which may look to a viewer to be a star in the distant heaven.


Image 15 provides a very funny moment which is cleverly used in conjunction with the Shakespearean line. During the first episodes of TOS (“The Cage” and “Where Man Has Gone Before”) the characters’ make-up and uniforms where very different from those that became well-known and established throughout the rest of the seasons.
These lapses in continuity have been used as joking material by the ST fans for many years, but in the context of line “Love’s not time’s fool”, Spock’s weird make-up and yellow uniform become more serious. Indeed, in the context of a poem where love is defined as immutable, these external changes are merely superficial- we may think Spock looks like a fool, but his nature is not affected by his outward appearance, in the same way that Kirk’s many changes (physical and psychological) do not alter Spock’s feelings for his captain.
Further proof of this is found in images 16 and 17, where a youthful Kirk is compared to his older self, artificially and unnaturally grown old in The Deadly Years (TOS 2, 11).

So far in the video, the love between these two characters has stood many proofs within the TOS universe- no matter what dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations they encounter, Kirk and Spock are always restored to their usual selves, growing in wisdom and experience.
However, the video moves now to illustrate Shakespeare’s lines with images from the ST movies. The point here is that the characters are not artificially transformed as per script requirements, but are truly changed as the actors portraying them have aged. However, despite the change from TOS to the movies’ universe, Kirk and Spock still harbor the same feelings for each other:

 

Not only has their love been kept intact despite the passing of the years, but Kirk and Spock’s relationship in the ST movies is even closer and stronger than in the TOS episodes, with Kirk risking his life and professional career for the sake of Spock and Spock saving Kirk from the “edge of doom”, referenced in macro 19 as Sha-Ka-Ree, a planet hiding an evil entity which almost kills Kirk in ST:V.
The unchanging nature of Kirk and Spock’s love is made evident in image 20, where the two characters are now portrayed by different actors in the recent ST movie (Reboot):



These two alternative versions of the characters’ younger selves inhabit a parallel universe where things are very different from the canonical TOS and ST films. Still, despite the initial hostility between the young Kirk and Spock, they will eventually come to terms with each other and develop the friendship which has been a trademark of the characters for the past four decades.

Shakespeare’s line “If this be error” highlights Fresca’s -and so many other ST fans’- anxiety about the performance of actor Chris Pine in the role of the new Captain Kirk. The video was uploaded a month before ST Reboot’s opening, and although the fans’ unease proved misplaced, image 20 is proof of how concerned the fan community felt when they learnt a new ST movie was retaking the TOS characters with a different cast.

Macro 21 concludes the sonnet and takes us back to the beginning of the story, where Spock was reading the poem to Kirk during an uneventful afternoon in the Enterprise.
Kirk’s reaction to the poetry reading is playful and apparently oblivious to the sonnet -and Spock’s- message:

Ship here is used with the double meaning of Kirk’s ship (the Enterprise) and his ‘ship’ (derived from ‘relationship’, and implying the concept of a “fictional couple” in the slash fandom) with Spock. Image 22 belies Kirk’s feigned ignorance about the real meaning of Spock’s reading, as much as image 23 shows Spock hasn’t been fooled by his captain’s comment, but prefers to let it rest.
The video ends with a final image crediting the author and a dedication to her best friend. Fresca and Bink’s friendship is depicted in image 25 through Kirk and Spock’s friendship in one of the final scenes of ST: IV, where they actually seem to be holding hands:

Fresca chose to score the video to Bach’s Suite for Cello No.1 in G Major without realizing this choice would add another layer of homoeroticism to her macro story.
As some viewers pointed out to her via private comments, this suite is a favorite of captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin from the Patrick O’Brian Master and Commander novels. These two male characters develop an unbreakable friendship throughout the novels, and they bear certain similarities with Kirk and Spock, for both couples spend most part of their lives relatively isolated in a ship fulfilling military missions. Needless to say, Aubrey and Maturin have been slashed to no end since the publication of O’Brian’s first novel.

Anyway, what I find interesting about this video is that, after four decades of K/S slash, the relationship between these two is so blatantly obvious to the slash fandom that it would be ludicrous to think it needs authorization in Shakespeare. This is why I consider Shakespeare is not here appropriated to grant “cultural capital” (Bourdieu, 1984: 53-57) or credibility to the K/S relationship, but quite the opposite- it is Kirk and Spock’s love what proves Shakespeare right. If there were ever a couple of fictional sci-fi characters who could exemplify the veracity of sonnet 116, it would undoubtedly be them, as Fresca succeeds in demonstrating.

End of Part 1 of "SHAKESPEARE IN STAR TREK SLASH FICTION" by Laura Campillo Arnaiz, University of Murcia

The article continues with Part 2
Brief excerpt:
2.1. "MY CAPTAIN’S EYES ARE NOTHING LIKE THE SUN"
See original macro story here:  
http://ladyblahblah.livejournal.com/53073.html

A very different but even more intriguing situation is the one we find in ladyblahblah’s macro story. Uploaded to her LiveJournal a couple of weeks after ST Reboot was released, it followed a discussion with a friend about “how certain poems just fit certain characters really well”.

As it was the case with Fresca’s video, I don’t think Shakespeare here is appropriated to grant credibility to or authorize the K/S relationship; in my opinion, his poem is used to illustrate the characters’ personalities in the new ST movie, and to tell a love story which both in the film and in the poem seemed unlikely at best, but which reached a successful resolution despite the many impediments on the way. In this way, Shakespeare’s use by the ST slash fandom is more documented and fully developed than the random Shakespearean quotations which pepper TOS and the films- occurrences as witty as inconsequential in their definition of the characters.
 _________________
End of article, "SHAKESPEARE IN STAR TREK SLASH FICTION," by Laura Campillo Arnaiz

4 comments:

The Crow said...

Wow, Fresca! What hidden depths thy soul doth reveal.

(In other words, "Damn, you're good!")

Frex said...

Hey, CROW!
The author Laura Campillo did a bang-up job bringing out the profundity, but yeah, I really do see Star Trek as deep.
As well as definitely in that "green valley of silliness" I'd quoted from Wittgenstein! :)

Bink said...

This is wild--to see your art explained academically! It's super fun. And yet one has to wonder--are academics unable to follow plots without explanation? 😸

Frex said...

haha, bink! To be fair, I think this was a slide show Laura C-A gave at a conference of Shakespeare scholars.