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Tue, Jun. 9th, 2009, 03:49 pm

an ordered list and an unordered list

I want to start a discussion about something, and I'm having a hell of a time framing my question effectively. Bear with me if I flail a bit here.

Here's two things I've been thinking a lot about lately:

  1. What is "realism" in fiction? How desirable is it, how important? What are the different things we are referring to when we use that label? Is there anything distinctive about our standards for realism in porn, as distinct from other genres of storytelling?

  2. What is identification, and how does it work? The usual model (at least in a pornographic fiction context) goes something like this: You start reading a story. You pick a character whose role best matches your tastes, either by gender or some other criterion, and then you project yourself into the story thus, imagining yourself doing and done-to as that character is.

    I think what actually happens is more complex and subtle than that. I'm not sure how eccentric that is of me, and therefore how much work I should actually be putting in to being persuasive on this point.

These are old. What's new is trying to bring these lines of thought together. I had a conversation with a friend lately where she talked about how certain failures of realism blocked her from identifying with female characters, and therefore from enjoying those stories. She cited this as one of the advantages, for her, of reading M/M slash over heterosexual fanfiction.

Previous attempts to write this post foundered 'cause I have a lot of thoughts and ideas here, but an uncharacteristic lack of grand unified theories, so the posts ended up meandering for a while before trailing off in mid-paragraph. I want to try starting some discussion here instead, and see if that brings stuff together. Here are some questions...

  • What kinds of realism are important to you? Are your expectations different depending on the genre you're reading* in?
  • What makes a character compelling to you? What have you encountered that drove you out of the text?
  • If you enjoy both porn that includes your gender and porn that doesn't, does that divide color the way you approach the characters?

I'll probably have more as I try to pull these threads apart.

* or watching movies or listening to podcasts or what have you

Wed, Jun. 10th, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)

Realism as such isn't important to me. I like fantasy (high fantasy, urban fantasy, magical realism, interstitial fiction, "weird-boiled," experimental, surrealism), plus I like humor, which is often pretty highly exaggerated and unrealistic. I don't expect everyday realism in porn (even unlikely acrobatics may not throw me out of a story) and actually get kind of irritated when people complain about it not being realistic. Why should it be? There's another genre for realistic sex: it's called "sex manuals."

However, I do feel the same way your friend does about "certain failures of realism" that block me from identifying with female characters (in porn and in other fiction). But thinking about it, this seems to be more of a failure of imagination. Your example about the schlub with the harem of beautiful women is to the point. If women characters aren't characters at all but cardboard -- no wait, V. Woolf's mirrors that reflect the male character/author at twice his size -- then I'll definitely be thrown out of a story.

Also, a lot of m/f porn, and until recently, *all* romances, pretty much force the reader to identify with the woman character as the one being "done to," even when ostensibly she's the one "doing." All gazes lead to the female body (I've written about this before), and if I want to focus on a male character being "done to", it pretty much has to be m/m.

And... hm. At least when reading m/m fanfiction, I identify with both characters (even though most slash is written in an almost airtight third person limited, there's something about it that lets you move between the characters... I need to think about this more). It's much harder for me to do this with m/f porn, either because I don't like the thing with mirrors or because I feel coerced into identifying with the woman -- and resist it!

Then again, with something like The Story of the Schlub, I'd be backing out of the story at light-speed, since I for damn sure don't want to be identifying with such a horrible cheeseball. 8-) Again, not because he's unrealistic but because he's a irritating cliche.

So, erm, short version: for me it's not so much a matter of realistic vs. unrealistic as imaginative vs. cliche? Something like that?

Wed, Jun. 10th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC)

There's a lot of good stuff to discuss here; I'll try to break up my responses into pieces.

I recently read Delany's The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, wherein he argues that writing non-sexist novels at this point in history requires featuring female characters who make active choices that have consequences, in pursuit of goals that are not romantic. This is of course as interesting in what it implies as in what it says, and it echoes a lot of your point about how even female protaganists end up more object than subject in our literary tradition.

It also helped me put my finger on a lot of what bugged me about the famously "girl-positive" Girl Genius.