Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Get Your Kit Off...

Real Person Slash: fan-written fiction featuring two or more celebrities in a homosexual relationship.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way (because some people still don’t know of the joy of slash), let’s take a deeper look at this. Westlife slash is just one form of real person slash fanfiction (RPS). RPS is not as pervasive as regular slash (stories featuring television, film, or book characters in a homosexual relationship), mostly due to the dubious moral issues involved in writing a story about people who do actually exist in real life. Some real-life subjects of slash endorse it fully or consider it a bit of a laugh, while others are outspoken against it. But this article isn’t about the ethical legitimacy of slash-writing. No, it’s about how the members of the slash writing world draft their ‘characters’, and the intentions and inspirations behind their slashing. But first, I’d like to outline a few points before I hit the main drag (no pun intended).

When pairing two or more characters into a homosexual relationship, the names are generally ‘smooshed’ together (eg. A relationship between Mark and Kian is termed ‘Markian’). This bears a difference to when characters’ names are listed separately, as this indicates those characters as the individual focus of the story, and not necessarily as part of a physical/romantic relationship within the story. I will often use smooshed terms within this article, but will define them accordingly. Just be aware that a smooshed name does indicate a homosexual relationship. Also, let me make it clear that this article will focus chiefly on relationships thoughtfully designed between the characters and how they interact with each other in the literature, not silly pornographic pieces more concerned with how many ways the ‘built blonde’ can take ‘Shane’s thick hard rod’. I’d like to pretend that kind of crap doesn’t exist, just for my own sanity. Now, on with the show.

If you trace Westlife slash right back to the early days, you’ll find one pairing stands vastly above the others in frequency. The obviously close relationship between Shane and Nicky spawned some of the original slash writings in the Westlife fandom. Because no, they’re not just close friends. ‘Shnicky’ are the dynamic duo. They touch, they hold hands, they hug, they slap each other on the back more than is strictly necessary... and they even call themselves Shnicky! The original big hint is from 2000, when Nicky was quoted as saying: “Me and Shane started this thing in Sydney called the ‘Shnicky night’ where just us two would go out drinking all night!” Now, after all you Aussies congratulate yourself for spawning the Shnicky, let’s take a look at the quote. It’s nothing particularly suspicious. They’re lads, they go out drinking together. But it was all the fodder Westlife fans needed, and suddenly subtext abounded. They go out drinking without the others? Alone? And (most obviously)… Shnicky?

Ah yes, Shnicky was alive and breeding rapidly. Not a large amount of imagination was needed to create their relationship, because everything was already laid out. How they made each other laugh, what they liked in each other and what they didn’t… everything was accessible. Even their sexual relationship could be extrapolated from what fans knew about their individual personalities and how they interacted. And the characterisations are kept almost identical to this day, only becoming more mature or adapting slightly to changes in their personal lives. As both Nicky and Shane got married and Shane’s wife gave birth, the canon switched slightly, often to omit their real-life heterosexual relationships completely, where previously the ‘westwives’ might have been cheated on in order to advance the story. This showed remarkable sensitivity on the authors’ parts, recognising Westlife as real people and avoiding defaming relationships with their wives or children.

Around the same time, there was a small fuss surrounding Shane and Kian. Childhood friends, surely their friendship and comfort with each other could develop into something more? While not quite as popular as Shnicky, Shian drew special interest for the different personal dynamics the relationship presented. Where Shane and Nicky were often portrayed as equal in power, Kian was commonly the submissive, flirty one. It also held interest for including an alternate to the dominating force of Shnicky within the Westlife fandom – readers now had a choice, especially those who identified Kian as their favourite member.

The fact that it was the three most popular members being slashed was no accident. They were the most represented by the media, and so the easiest to characterise – fans knew the most about them, compared to Mark and Bryan who flew fairly under the radar. And by the time Bryan was flying high in the spotlight, it was as part of a couple. Bryan and Kerry were a much-publicised media ‘unit’. Bryan no longer had an individual public face, and so fans found it difficult to write him as his own character. Because of this, he was often designated the job of comic relief, or as an impartial shoulder to cry out. Similarly, Mark was often dropped at the bottom of the slash pile because of his low popularity. He didn’t have the good looks of the others, nor the public persona. His private life was largely a mystery.

But as the years progressed, sources became more varied. The media began to focus on Westlife as a whole, instead of their most popular members. Official DVDs were released, with a more in-depth view of each member, instead of the superficial representation they often received in print media. Westlife were people now, not just pretty faces, and fans became more interested in their personalities than which ones they fancied physically. Mark began to show more of a presence in fics by selected writers as his sense of humour and caring nature became more recognised, usually as the partner of Nicky or Kian. With Kian, he generally became the doting mother hen, a balm for the blonde’s quick temper and business-like single-mindedness. With Nicky (Marcky), he was a worthy equal, the banter between them a device used frequently.

A strange point to note is the lack of Shark (Shane/Mark) and Kinicky (Kian/Nicky) fics available. Most writers admit to only writing stories involving their favourite member, and both Kian and Nicky have been considered very popular for great lengths of time. The reason is a complicated one. It may be true that many writers are not fans of both Nicky and Kian, and so have no interest in including one or the other in their stories. Another suggestion is that Shark and Kinicky are not seen as compatible pairings; but Shane has been friends with Mark almost as long as Kian, although Kian and Nicky’s friendships with each other are not as obvious as the ones they share with Shane or Mark.

But there’s another big theory: they don’t look right together. It’s an odd fact that many writers prefer to pair a blonde with a brunette, simply for aesthetic reasons. But it is also a coincidence that the two blondes and the two brunettes do not give off the same kind of spark that others do. Kian and Nicky, for example, are often portrayed as clashing, their diva-like natures leading to tantrums, and often to rough sex. While this is not necessarily a drawback, the romantic nature of most slash fics cancels this out as a legitimate basis for a story, unless it’s one based mostly on sex. Shane and Mark are often portrayed as a little boring together, unless the writer is exceptional, and often seem to be twiddling their thumbs looking for something to do. This, of course, does not speak for every writer or reader; there are many who find the thought of Kinicky or Shark titillating. But this is a very small amount compared to other pairings.

Finally, returning to the point of Bryan’s place in slash, another feature to note is his lack of a specific friendship with another member of the band. During his time in Westlife, Bryan was seen generally as having a uniform sense of friendship with each member of the band. While there were strong bonds there, there were no relationships that stood out as a definite potential couple. By the time he left there were two definite accepted pairings. Shnicky had not diminished in popularity, but had pushed Shian to the side; Mark’s added popularity had brought him forward, and finally his friendships with both Kian and Nicky were noted. But Nicky was with Shane, of course, so suddenly it was Markian and Shnicky all the way, and Bryan was left on the outskirts. The few instances of Bryan-centric slash paired him with Kian (BryKi), with whom the relationship was said to be good-naturedly volatile, resulting in the repetition of similar story arcs to Kinicky fics. They would fight, they would make up. Not a bad thing, but it never had the support to take off as its own sub-genre. Pairings involving Bryan with Mark (Markyan), Shane (Shyan), or Nicky (Nickyan) are almost non-existant. In fics involving group sex, Bryan was never at the centre, always left watching and relieving himself, or serviced by the others once they’d had their own fun.

Relationships, gay and straight, may have flourished outside the band, but as with Shane and Nicky’s wives, the real-life partners are generally disregarded. Fans feel that they are disrespecting the partners by including them, and so disrespecting the linked Westlifer. This has resulted in a large number of AU fics (Alternate Universe – a fanfiction that makes major changes to the canonical storyline or premise (nicked that from wikipedia – thankyou!)), in which partners can be killed off (tastefully, of course, and the grieving is often a catalyst to the slash relationship occuring), broken up with, or never allowed to exist in the ‘universe’ at all.

Slash fans design their work with the utmost care and admiration possible. Rather than slander them as gay, the stories are generally heartfelt and sensitive, even if they do have juicy, naughty bits. The sex is often secondary though, a single facet of a complicated relationship the author is endeared to. If anything, it’s a tribute, a sign that fans care enough about their subject matter to get to know their idiosyncrasies, their likes and dislikes, and their outlook on life. Each writer writes differently, the instances detailed in this article are broad generalisations, and obviously there are hundreds of exceptions to the rules, but these are the most common characterisations and relationship quirks outlined by authors and shown by the media.

For a broad range of Westlife slash fanfiction, check out the archive for the Dreams Come True yahoo group.


Zoe Holmes said...

I am so incredibly tempted to reference you in my long essay. While I'm mainly focusing on BSB and NSync, it'd be awesome to put your blog as an academic reference.

It was really interesting to read your perspective on RPS and slash in general. (Yay slash!) Good luck!

Grace Suter said...

Feel free! I wouldn't mind in the slightest :-)

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Anonymous said...

i have to agree with you

im a mark and bryan`s Fan but cuz the lack of writers who writes about them i read a shnicky slash cuz lets face it there are plenty ;p but when i read a mark and bryan i feel more ... ummmm ... exciting than the from the others .
sometimes i like mark and kian but not all the story hook me up there are certain writers who conivnce me abouit this couple and there is some of them who really maek me hated lol

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