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Saturday, October 20, 2007

From A Debate On Sexuality

The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without
ships, dreams dry up,
espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place
of pirates.
(Michel Foucault, 1986, 27)

Slash is a wonderfully subversive voice whispering or shouting around
the edges and into
the cracks of mainstream culture. It abounds in unconventional
thinking. It's fraught with
danger for the status quo, filled with temptingly perilous notions of
self-determination and
successful defiance of social norms.
(Joan Martin, 1992, 101).

Introduction: The Crisis in Alternative Media

This paper stems from two assertions. The first is that of John
Downing who, on
the occasion of a keynote address for the 2006 Media Democracy Day in
Montréal, stated that what radical media truly needed to catch more of
an
audience than the already-converted was to start reporting more than
just the
cycle of protest and repression, to be more aware of what radical
media forms
do for the subjects that consume them, and to not be imbricated in the
notion
that the "counter-informational model" is the beginning and end of
radical
media production.1 What he meant by these statements is that rather
than
assume (and rail against) the dominance of mainstream media, radical
media
should self-consciously take part in building an alternative public
sphere that
could then grow to rival the mainstream. In mediating more than just
reports on
protests or oppressive, hegemonic forms of governance, and by
including
aspects that addressed humour and emotion (for example), a radical
public
sphere (as Downing considers it) could catch the attention of the
general public,
who would then be exposed to the more significant radical messages
therein. In
short, his suggestion is that perhaps the way to real change is
through a radical
alternative world-building that, in its breadth and subtlety, might
have the force
to shake an oppressive media system to its foundations more
effectively than the
blunt force of oppositional media incursions alone.

The second assertion is a more diffuse one made by various activists
and
academics who have held up the example of the Temporary Autonomous
Zone
(hereafter, TAZ) as a possible model for such a world-building. The
assertion,
which stems from the writing of the elusive Hakim Bey2, is that
through autonomous media spaces-spaces that attempt to bracket various
oppressive qualities of mainstream media-the progressive circulation
of messages and ideas has at least a provisional degree of freedom to
occur.3

But if we accept these two assertions for the sake of argument-that to
be more
effective, radical media need to speak to broader concerns and
audiences,
and that one way to accomplish this is to take up the potential of
autonomous
space-must we not also ask if this is already happening? Perhaps the
frame
with which we view radical media (and alternative media more broadly)
is so
conditioned to only see certain things (things, for example, keyed as
radical due
to motive and content, like protest reporting) that we are missing the
bigger
picture: a slowly encroaching counterpublic (to use Michael Warner's
term4) that
is becoming less "subaltern" by the year. Perhaps the variegated
radical
contents and methods in multiple media spheres are growing daily and
are all
but aggregated as such. Perhaps the current crisis in the media is no
longer the
hegemony of the mainstream; perhaps it is that the massive amount of
radical
media content already circulating is not viewed as part of a similar
movement
for changing the way we represent reality to ourselves, circulate
meaning, and
communicate ideas.

This paper will explore the above propositions in two interlocking
sections. The
first section will explore the notion of autonomous media space as
related to
Michel Foucault's concept of heterotopic space (or space that
functions as
"other"), and assess how such spaces could be seen as progressive
venues for
those with a view toward the notion of radical world-building. The
second
section is an abbreviated case study that tries to tie some of these
issues to a
material example. The specific example I have chosen is that of slash
fiction
networks.

I'm going to make a fairly radical assumption that knowledge about
slash and
slash writing has seeped far enough into both academic and popular
culture
that I can move right into using it as a case study without much of
the usual
expository explanation of what slash is with respect to mainstream
popular
culture. A few aspects of it are worth highlighting however. The term
"slash
fiction" (male-male sexual fan fiction that appropriates characters
from preexisting
fictional narratives) is derived from the "/" between K/S (or Kirk/
Spock),
the first recognized such fan community. Though the meaning of "slash"
sometimes drifts to included female-female pairings or groupings and
even
heterosexual sex-related fan fiction, the more proper fan terms for
such forms are
"lesbian slash/fem(me)slash" and "het" (or "shipping"-short for
"relationship
fiction") respectively. For the purposes of this paper, I will be
using slash in the
broader sense as denoting the range of various types of
counterpublical fiction
engaged in under the sign of "slash". Though any insights from these
arguments
could be applied to "het" and other non-slash forms of fan fiction,
such
extensions would likely have diminishing returns the closer the sites
discussed (and
narratives therein-produced) stayed to the originary, and mainstream,
media
texts. If for anyone the general contours of slash fiction are less
familiar, I suggest
you take advantage of the rhizomatic nature of online texts to follow
the link to
the rough, but evolving and engaging, popular history and definition
of slash on
Wikipedia, or simply explore Whispered Words (fictionresource.com), a
popular
slash site. For additional context, you could also consult the useful
glossary of
fan-fiction-related terms compiled in The Fan Fiction Glossary at
.

I chose this example for two reasons. The first is that it strikes me
that the networks
that circulate slash might have affinities (if not overt alliances)
with the
alternative world-building project that Downing endorses. The second
is
because some of the theorizing around slash fiction communities arcs
into
considerations of alternative media-especially in relation to its
roles and
functions for subjects. Though a full consideration of these
connections is
beyond the scope of this paper, as a preliminary work it might act as
a
rapprochement from which both streams of thinking might gain some
insight.
This is more an inquiry to see if in considering these two phenomena
(one
theoretico-ideological, one empirco-practical) together we might see
something new, than a position paper proffering slash as the ultimate
in
alternative or radical media. Through considering the autonomous media
spaces that accrue to what I will term the "queer" heterotopias of
slash writing, I
am attempting to mount an argument for broadening our perspective, in
line
with Downing's proposition, of what it is radical media can or should
be (or are)
doing. Call it a journey through a varied landscape, call it an
experiment in
paradigmal affinity, call it an essay (in the French or formal sense
of the word: an
attempt) at isolating the meanings that might be held in common
between
these two somewhat broad and disparate (though as I will come to
argue,
somewhat continuous) fields of endeavor.

>From Autonomous Media to Heterotopias
To begin, I think it is worth considering how the project of radical
or alternative
world-building might already be happening (and might, in fact, be a
mode of
societal participation that has been existent for as long as
humanity). To speak
of alternative media as if they are the results of a new process that
arose whole
out of a reaction to mainstream media (i.e., to treat them as co-
extensive with
the growing movement and discourse that shares their name), is to
treat the
world as if it came already formed in one big hegemonic lump that
contains no
process, no history, no alterity. Similarly, to treat the concept of
"radical media"
as if it originated with John Downing's 1984 collection of the same
name is to
ignore that what these ways of conceptualizing media (or mediation)
signify,
more than anything, are modes of interaction with the social.
In this light, we can then define the desire to engage with
alternative media
(and remember, 'media' is a plural term) as the seeking of modes and
spaces of
representation that speak to matter-and allow us to speak to matter-
perhaps
not otherwise present in (or differently compiled-or represented-in)
more
conventional media forms. Similarly, we can define radical media, in
line with
Downing, as forms of media that seek to get to the root of various
oppressions or
distortions in society and re-build a more nuanced and democratic
portrait of
the world for itself.5 Such a way of acting can be seen as a mode of
inhabiting
space, of creating spaces where certain types of activity can occur.
Two ways
of elucidating this spatial angle of the issue are to mobilize the
concepts of the
TAZ and the heterotopia.Though Hakim Bey resists defining the TAZ,
intending it more as inspiration than"political dogma", as "a
suggestion, almost a political fancy" that would beunderstood through
its workings rather than as a strict philosophy,6 those who
take up its derivative concepts are often happy to make concrete
propositions
about them. For example, in the introduction to their book Autonomous
Media:
Activating Resistance and Dissent, Andrea Langlois and Frédéric Dubois
define
autonomous media as follows:

Autonomous media are the vehicles of social movements. They are
attempts to subvert the social order by reclaiming the means of
communication. What defines these media [...] is that they, first and
foremost, undertake to amplify the voices of people and groups
normally
without access to the media. They seek to work autonomously from
dominant institutions (e.g., the state, corporations, the church, the
military,
corporatist unions), and they encourage the participation of audiences
within their projects. Autonomous media therefore produce
communication that is not one-way, from media-makers to media
consumers, but instead involves the bilateral participation of people
as
producers and recipients of information.7
In this conception, autonomous media are forms of alternative media
that
perform a sort of "active resistance", which is to say, they resist
mainstream
media forms by being "other" to them. In as much as mainstream media
forms
are hierarchical, autonomous media strive to be horizontal; in as much
as
mainstream media forms are controlled by money, autonomous media
attempt
to be non-profit; in as much as mainstream media forms exclude voices,
autonomous media aim at inclusivity. As such, there could be seen to
be as
many forms or sub-forms of autonomous media as elements of
"mainstream"
media one found oppressive.8 The one thread that seems to hold these
various
notions together though, is that of inhabiting a phenomenological zone
of
separation or otherness from those spaces where what they contest is
produced.
This sense of operating in a different space (even if it is
provisionally or
temporarily) has marked similarities to Michel Foucault's concept of
the
heterotopia.
In "Of Other Spaces" (1986), Foucault defines the heterotopia as
follows. In
contrast to utopias, Foucault writes:

There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real
places-
places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of
society-
which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted
utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be
found
within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and
inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though
it may
be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these
places are
absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak
about, I
shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias.9
The fact that Foucault underscores the difference between the concepts
of
"utopia" and "heterotopia" is significant here (and will be later when
we will
examine a critique of the TAZ as an overly utopian [and therefore,
useless]
concept or political strategy). As heterotopias are actual spaces10,
rather than
romantic ideals, they have a substantive place in politics as spaces
where actual
things can happen.

Both Foucault and Bey mention piracy and pirate utopianism/
heterotopianism as
metaphors and models for their respective frameworks. Of the two,
Foucault is
more directly critical of the idea of the utopia as a by-definition
non-realizable
space, drawing on one of the formal meanings of utopias as "[s]ites
with no real
place."11 But the heterotopia is something different, and this
difference is
embodied in the metaphor of the ship. The idea of a (pirate) ship that
has the
ability to float beyond the reach of authority and restriction is one
that has often
found its way into romantic fantasies and anti-authoritarian visions.
But the
significant thing about pirates and their ships is not the romantic
ideal they
represent, but rather that they did exist. Their ships and enclaves
were spaces
where certain rules, conventions and assumptions did not apply. This
was both
progressive in some ways even as it was devastating in others, as
pirates-real
pirates-created space where, for example, race and class and gender
might
be redefined, but also where theft, violence, and murder might be de
rigeur. It is
thus vitally important, as both Bey and Foucault neglect, not to
romanticize
pirates or piracy, but it is equally important to realize that the
spaces of piracy
were not utopic ones, but rather heterotopic ones: spaces that
actually existed,
at least partially autonomous or other to the spaces of mainstream
society.
But if autonomous media spaces are heterotopic, other, then are they
in fact
progressive? If it is the case that they receive their autonomy by
being apart,
removed from society and normative frames, does this form of living
actually
contribute to a progressive project of changing mainstream culture?
There are
two, conflicting, conventional answers to this question, and perhaps a
third
answer that mediates the two.
A first response could be one rooted in an approach to thinking about
autonomous media space that takes its cues from Michel de Certeau's
engagement with the difference between strategies and tactics in The
Practice
of Everyday Life.12 According to de Certeau, one cannot simply look at
what
powerful actors in society are producing and shaping without also
exploring
what those with less (or different kinds) of power are doing with
those products.13
>From what subversive uses people make of salaried time spent at work,
to how
they move idiosyncratically through cities, to how they find ways
around some
oppressive rules in their lives, de Certeau gleans that top-down power
is not
always successfully hegemonic and that the power of "making do" 14 is
a
tactical power that, though it might not always be directly engaging
the macro
structures of society by way of strategies, is doing something.
As Igor Markovic elaborates, the use of tactical media forms allows
for the
circulation of messages and meanings in ways that might not be
possible if one
were to wait for ideal conditions of production.15 Markovic sees such
media as
praxis-oriented rather than ideologically perfect or perfectible,16 as
spaces that
can allow certain types of behaviour and organizing, and that as such
can be
"powerful all[ies] of social movements".17 Though de Certeau figures
tactical
intervention as the sort of intervention that steals moments,
privileging the
temporal dimension rather than the spatial one,18 he does see in
tactical
intervention a spatial aspect. It is in the taking of spaces created
and specified
by others and diverting them to more tactical goals that he sees this
spatial
power occurring.19 It is in their "contexts of use"20 that the
placeness of these
places becomes significant, even if that use is only a temporary or
constrained
form of placeness.21 But not everyone agrees with this assessment of
the
usefulness of autonomous space.
A second response might be the direct opposite, that autonomous media
forms
carry little or no progressive potential. John Armitage mounts a
direct critique on
Bey's early writings and by extension the progressive potential of
autonomous
spaces. He argues that as Bey speaks to the establishment of a utopian
ideal of
autonomy, his framework ignores (or simply sidesteps) oppressive
realities, and
especially the reality of class divisions.22 He argues that Bey's
writings, and
especially the concept of the TAZ, work only to retrench oppressive
divisions,
since those who can already "act autonomously" can do so because they
are
holding some form of privilege that others do not (122). In this he is
not wrong,
and there is an undercurrent of too-easy libertarian thinking in Bey's
work. But
what this critique also does is assume that the only form of autonomy
framed in
Bey's writing (and the possibilities of his writing) is a utopian
elitist separatism,
rather than recognizing that the TAZ as a more modest, and productive,
tactical
intervention is possible as well. As such, Armitage mistakenly figures
the TAZ as a
bid towards an impossible utopianism, one that has no bearing on
substantive
matters of oppression. He concludes his paper by positing that "the
utopian
movement of the TAZ has passed [...] and that the new radical politics
of
cyberculture23 will, of necessity, have to recognise that the
overwhelming force
of presence or solidarity really does arise from the reality of
class."24
Taking both of these arguments back to a media context, the question
could be
asked as to what the goals of an alternative or radical media should
be.
Working from the notion of autonomous media-making outlined earlier,
their
main goal could be seen as the "ampli[fication of] voices of people
and groups
normally without access to the media", with a view to furthering
social
movements.25 This broad notion of the importance and goals of such
mediamaking
shows that Armitage's worthy critique might be limited by a point of
view
that privileges certain social movements over others, seeing only
those with an
immediate, direct and revolutionary impact on class inequality as
productive.
Though these sorts of intervention are crucial, it cannot be argued
that other
forms of intervention (and we can add for our specific concerns, media
intervention) are by extension without importance. As such, the frame
for
radical media I am trying to articulate here is perhaps closer to
Clemencia
Rodriguez's paradigm of a "citizens' media". Citizens' media's more
modest
claims as to where the threshold of progressive social goals begins
(including
such things as individual and community expression, representation and
transformation-as well as the goals Armitage speaks of),26 are perhaps
more in
line with what autonomous media space seeks to create: a heterotopic
space
of possibility where new realities and understandings may emerge and
be
practiced. It is armed with this provisional understanding of what
might make up
the extended space of radical (progressive)27 media that we can now
move to
consider whether it is productive to consider slash an alternative
medium.

Slash Networks as Queer Heterotopias
In Cyberspaces of Their Own: Female Fandoms Online, Rhiannon Bury28
explores
fan fiction communities run by (and catering predominantly to) women.
In this
project she draws on a tradition of feminist thought that can be
traced back to
Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own,29 which sees separate space as
an
essential pre-requisite for certain types of autonomous action,
especially for
women in a patriachically structured society. In looking at online fan
networks in
this way, she forwards an "understanding of such cyberspaces as
potentially
heterotopic in their reworking and transgressing of normative spatial
practices
and relations".30 In her study, she explores two such spaces as
"virtual
heterotopia[s]:"31 alternative spatial orderings where gender, power
relations,
sexuality and even nationality could be differently organized. Though
such
spaces were not "utopias", and certainly not isolated from oppressive
societal
elements such as beauty myths, classist stereotypes and traditional
gendering in
some cases,32 they did offer a different form of mediation to that
which was
available as part of mainstream culture.33 This is perhaps especially
true for the
slash network she explores as part of her study. Marginal to the
already-marginal
fan fiction world, slash fiction writing can be seen as a practice
that produces an
even more rarified space: that of a "queer" heterotopia.
The slash world is a space that actually exists within the frameworks
made
possible by mainstream culture, but is also a space in which many
assumptions
and patterns of conventional culture are reversed or parodied. In that
many of
these inversions are in relation to traditional sex and gender
pairings and
orderings, such a space can be seen as a queer space.34 It is also,
like many
radical media spaces, a space of controversy and risk.
According to Kelly Simca Boyd, being a slash writer has a lot to do
with
negotiating the risks involved with producing and sharing such forms
of writing:
those of censorship or legal action by copyright holders, censure and
misunderstanding by friends and family members, even potential loss of
employment or social status.35 Perhaps then these practices might be
best
understood as forms of tactical media-making, in that the dangers of
copyright
infringement and discovery don't allow these (mainly) women to own
their
spaces outright, forcing them to use tactical strategies such as
disclaimers and
pseudonyms to protect themselves from the potential negative
connotations of
their work. Edi Bjorklund seems to concur with this perspective when
she writes:
"Slash is not just a new kind of women's literature. It is a means
whereby we may
defy a wide variety of social conventions and taboos.[...] Slash
fandom is, to sum
up, a tactic of subversion for women".36 From this perspective, slash
could be
seen as meeting the requirements for an autonomous media form: it is
giving
women more of a voice in an arena in which they have previously been
relatively marginalized (the creation and manipulation of the meaning-
laden
mediated characters and images that surround them), with a view
towards the
propagation of a social movement (the redefinition of societal
conventions
around sexuality and gender).

In his Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture,
Henry Jenkins,
drawing on Eve Sedgwick's work in Between Men, argues that beyond
trying to
represent desires they would like to see, the writers of male-male
slash may be
actively working out the taboos they see on the expression of male
homosocial
desire in popular culture.37 "[S]uch an account," he continues, "may
also explain
the relative scarcity of lesbian slash since [...] women have
historically enjoyed a
more fluid movement through the homosocial continuum."38 As such, as a
nonheteronormative39space of reflection, creation and comment, there
might be a
relatively smaller need to reproduce narratives of women together
romantically.40 Finally, in the essay "Pornography By Women, for
Women, With
Love," Joanna Russ argues that "[t]he writers and readers of these
fantasies can
do what most of us can't do in reality (certainly not heterosexual
reality), that is,
they can act sexually at their own pace and under conditions they
themselves
have chosen."41 As such, the participants within this space of media
creation
are circulating fluid perspectives upon gender and sexuality that are
seen as
lacking, or are at the very least under-represented, in mainstream
media culture.
Others, such as Constance Penley, while still arguing for the highly
political nature
of slash writing, argue that the majority of the women involved are
just getting off
on the process. She positions the majority of slash writers as simply
having fun
with male characters and male bodies by creating pornographic
situations
involving them.42 Though she does see the fans' writing practices as
exploratory
and as "creating pleasures found lacking in original products,"43 she
rejects the
view of previous writers that slash writing is searching for a
redefined or
androgynous masculinity.44

Perhaps, though, the comments on the potential androgyny of male
characters
in slash fiction are more valid than some commentators (such as Penley
and
Boyd) might allow. The concept of "androgyny" here might often be read
by
individual slashers as still within a heteronormative frame. Within
this frame if a
man were coded as "androgynous" he could no longer be "masculine",
"active", or a "man". But if we look within these stories, as do, for
example, Russ
and Jenkins, one can see male characters that articulate active and
passive,
traditionally male and traditionally female roles, but in ways that
are de-linked
from their normative codings. As sexual "subjects" they are simply
that: sexual,
rather than playing pre-determined roles. To this some earlier authors
attached
terms like "bisexual" (Jenkins) and "androgynous" (Russ), but we might
rearticulate
those observations by calling them fluid practices45 within a queered
figurative space, where the play of non-heteronormative intimacies,
using
material poached from the mainstream public sphere, becomes possible.
But if this case can be made, and the spaces of slash production are
partially
autonomous zones-"queer" heterotopias of specific scope and interest-
doesn't that just make them limited realms of social action, rather
than
alternative or radical media spaces? Put another way, why might we
want to
consider these spaces as part of an alternative media movement? What
is so
compelling about slash that might deem it part of a radical world-
building effort?
Bury argues that sometimes these spaces (which usually double as women-
only
spaces)46 are less about the slash per se than about women having a
space free
of certain heteronormative conditionings in which to converse and
share
meaning, reflect on life, politics, the world.47 As such, a shared
appreciation of
stories where the (gay) male body is being, one might even argue,
objectified,
acts as a shield that keeps other aspects of normative culture at bay.
Because
these spaces are queered, they are non-heteronormative and therefore
are (for
certain subjects) safer spaces of connection and reflection.
Another perspective that might see these spaces as significant is that
of figures
such as Nancy Fraser and Michael Warner, who argue for the importance
and
maintenance of spaces in the public sphere where alternative
identities can be
reflected. It is necessary to the maintenance of subcultural
formations to have
spaces and zones-physical or otherwise-that one can inhabit with
certain
identities, or that allow for the circulation of messages and meanings
with a view
to the cultural propagation, enjoyment, political presence, or
circulation of
subcultural capital with reference to that specific culture.
Warner, for example, analyzes how zoning laws in New York that would
limit the
number, size and proximity of sex-related businesses in any area that
also
contained residences were threatening the gay neighborhood around
Christopher Street. 48 But his argument goes beyond simply valuing
easy access
to porn and bathhouses. He argues that such zoning laws-ones highly
steeped
in heteronormative figurings of sexuality, publicness, and what is
appropriate for
residential neighborhoods or citizenship-limit and constrain those
with non
heteronormative identities to the margins where no-one lives: to
outskirts, the
quayside, out of site and out of mind.49 For Warner, "[a] public
sexual culture
changes the nature of sex, much as a public intellectual culture
changes the
nature of thought."50 In line with this argument, I have argued
elsewhere for the
importance of the Internet in the circulation of subcultural capital
with relation to
modern BDSM51 identity. The Internet-mediated sadomasochistic public
sphere,
itself a queer (or at the very least, non-heteronormative)
heterotopia, allows the
freer circulation of sex-radical discourse, and changes the dynamic
relation
between sexual subcultures and the mainstream public sphere.
Taking such arguments into consideration, it is perhaps easier to see
how slash
could be considered part of a radical world-building effort: as a
space in which
non-heteronormative figurings of desire have more freedom to
circulate. But is
this enough to consider it as a useful ally in the struggle for
alternative media?
One could argue that no, it's not, because it is a set of
individualistic projects
that does nothing but mobilize the power of certain elites to move
"outside the
system", or else because it is a conglomeration of the powerless-the
weak-
who continue to be nothing but powerless. This is certainly in line
with Armitage's
critique of Bey and those who use his thinking as political strategy.
But slash writers are producing something significant: a proliferation
of nonheteronormative spaces. As Penley puts it, they are not just
"making do" but
making,52 engaging in original and impactful cultural production that
in fact
influences the mainstream and the types of images and messages
dominant
cultural producers are circulating.53 This space is protean, and
within protean
space a new kind of thought emerges.

Anti-normative thought is a powerful tool that can be mobilized in
other quarters.
So, in addition to autonomous or heterotopic spaces being not-
necessarilyclosed
with respect to their potential use for practical and engaged
politics,
even such spaces that have no specifically-progressive political ends-
and slash
communities might be seen as a case in point54-might be part of an
antinormative
world-building effort that makes them part of something progressive
nonetheless. Similarly, one could argue that this is just another
libertarian thread
of alternative culture-and it might be that too-but who is to say that
energy for
change cannot come from multiple quarters, or that certain quarters
might not
be the source of multiple types of action? As with anything, it is
what is made
with the consciousnesses formed and nourished-allowed to grow-in such
spaces that counts; and isn't this one of the major reasons why
alternative media
are important in the first place?
Thinking of such models as alternative media allows for acknowledging
what can
occur in imperfect systems-in enemy territory, as it were. Using such
a tactical
perspective it is important that major social issues such as class not
fade from the
horizon of analysis and engagement, but they should also not obscure
the fact
that there are multiple struggles being fought that are variously
using and
refusing "the master's tools" to forward their projects. It is also
important to recognize that not all of these things are, in fact, even
struggles, or are struggles
only in as much as they come up against resistance. A case-in-point is
the
relationship of slash-producing to feminist identification and
practice.
Penley writes about the original K/S slashers diligently making do and
circulating
their cultural productions by using office equipment from their
workplaces to
produce their zines. Many of these women did not identify as
"feminists", even
though their writings and practices were often very feminist ones.
They
encountered oppression, and fought against it, yet they did not
identify with their
oppression nor were they (for the most part) self-consciously
political.55
They were however bucking the heteronormative system of desire,
introducing a
fog of particles, movements, ideas and stories-in-motion that have
been
reinserted into the "mainstream" social in numerous ways. This set of
collective
tactical movements-what de Certeau calls "Brownian motion"-is exactly
the
form of chaos that Bey speaks about. A creative chaos, a chaos of non-
predetermined
action and reaction that is not the antithesis of order but rather the
raw stuff that order is built out of.56 As touched on earlier, Penley
picks up on the
idea of Brownian motion to posit that such making do (in the hands of
slash
writers) is not making do in a soft sense of "making the best out of a
bad
situation" but a making in its own right.57 As cultural producers,
slash writers don't
so much transcend feminist (and one could add by extension, queer)
politics as
complement them, through "finding alternative and unexpected ways of
thinking and speaking about women's [and one could add, men's]
relation to
the new technologies of science, the body, and the mind",58 not as a
"pre- or
protopolitical language that could then be evaluated from the
perspective of
"authentic" feminist thought",59 but as part of this very same radical
worldmaking
that some are groping for through alternative mediation projects. Boyd
writes that:
It is important that feminists participate in slash fiction. Writers
of slash are
women on the frontlines of the pornography debates. Every day they
look
at what popular culture gives them and twist it around until they
create
something that they like better. While [many] slash writers do not set
out
with a "feminist agenda," their writing works to resist, and
reconceptualize
popular notions of sex, sexuality, pornography and romance.60
One of the most significant movements in Boyd's thesis is when she
notes that
regardless of the way they identified,61 the women surveyed in her
study
believed in the equity of women in social, cultural and economic
spheres.62 This
is worth dwelling upon. It seems that regardless of ideology, slash
seemed to
promote a space for progressive affinities. As such, though we might,
in the final
analysis, be wary of calling the space of slash production a queer
space (as that
could have identitarian implications), it is certainly not
heteronormative space.
Though we might not be able to call it a feminist space, or a space
devoid of all
sexism, it is a space that has strong affinities with feminist
principles.

Conclusion: Alternative Media and Radical World Building
As Donna Haraway reminds us, the politics of affinity have strong
potentials to
move us beyond some of the limitations of identity politics.63 As
spaces such as
those of slash media production are "other", or heterotopic, they do
offer a
potential as zones where other practices, discourses, and
consciousnesses can
form or circulate with partial autonomy from the constraints upon
those
practices, discourses and consciousnesses in other societal spheres.
It is in this way that such practices might be seen as having
affinities with an
alternative media movement-perhaps not in "pure" ways that are
completely
autonomous or other, that seek a utopic solution to all major
problematic
aspects of society at once-but partially, tactically, and modestly,
gaining some
ground on the monopoly of life images and messages shown and
circulated in
mainstream media.
Perhaps there is not one "alternative", just as there is not one world-
societal
problem that needs to be addressed. If this is the case then maybe
there are
specific modes of struggle for specific battles which are variously
radical,
reformist, tactical, citizen-oriented, democratic, or identity-
political as the
specific case requires. And just as a unitary "alternative media" is
not the answer
to all social issues, perhaps the variegated types of alternative
media
(understood in its proper sense as a plural term, as the collective
term for
multiple, different, media alternatives) do not all point in the same
direction.
And perhaps, just perhaps, this is their strength.




References
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(September15, 2006). URL: http://www.zmag.org/whatmakesalti.htm
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and the Politics of Cyberculture: A Critique of Hakim Bey." Angelaki:
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Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism. Brooklyn: Autonomedia.
Boyd, Kelly. S. (2001). "One Index Finger on the Mouse Scroll Bar and
the Other
On My Clit": Slash Writers' Views of Pornography, Censorship,
Feminism,
and Risk. (Unpublished MA Thesis). Simon Fraser, Burnaby B.C.
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Bury, Rhiannon. (2005). Cyberspaces of their Own: Female Fandoms
Online. New
York: Peter Lang.
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Problems and Prospects." Keynote Address, Media Democracy Day 4.
Concordia University, Montréal. October 18.
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http://www.subreality.com/glossary/terms.htm (October 1, 2006).
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Foucault, Michel. (1990, [orig. 1976]). The History of Sexuality: An
Introduction.
Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.
Fraser, Nancy. (1992). "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution
to the
Critique of Actually Existing Democracy." Habermas and the Public
Sphere. Craig Calhoun, (Ed.). London: MIT Press. 109-142.
Haraway, Donna. (1992) "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and
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and
Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. 149-182.
Jenkins, Henry. (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans &
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London: Routledge.
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War Zone."
Polygraph 11: 115-125.
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in Constance Penley and Andrew Ross for the Social Text Collective
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Technoculture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 135-161.
Rambukkana, Nathan. (Forthcoming, 2007) "Taking the Leather Out of
Leathersex: The Internet, Identity and the Sadomasochistic Public
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David Phillips (Eds.). New York: Peter Lang.
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International Study
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"Slash Fiction." Wikipedia. (September 15, 2006). URL:
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Notes

With special thanks to Monika Kin Gagnon for her enlightening Ph.D.
seminar on
Alternative Media, which was the venue where many of the
considerations contained in
this paper originated. Thanks also to Monika for her thoughtful
comments on an early
draft of this paper, and to the rest of the class for productive
conversation and
argument.
1 Downing & Rodriguez, 2005.
2 A writer who may or may not be just one person, or several people,
or a name of
convenience for certain radical writers, but certainly is at the very
least the pseudonym
of writer Peter Lamborn Wilson.
3 Though this "assertion" is gleaned from several places, the most
sustained version of it
can be seen throughout the 2005 collection Autonomous Media:
Activating Resistance &
Dissent, Andrea Langlois and Frédéric Dubois, eds.
4 Warner bases his term "counterpublic" on Nancy Fraser's mobilization
of the term
"subaltern counterpublic" as a conceptual way to account for public
spheres that exist
outside, adjacent or tangentially to the unitary mainstream
(bourgeois) public sphere of
Habermas's writing. For more detail see Michael Warner's (2002)
Publics and
Is Slash an Alternative Medium?
83
Counterpublics and Nancy Fraser's (1992) essay "Rethinking the Public
Sphere: A
Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy."
5 Thanks to Fabiana Pereira for this insight about the root of the
word "radical" being,
well, "of or related to roots."
6 Bey, 1991, p. 99.
7 Dubois and Langlois, 2005, p. 9.
8 A fact which echoes Michael Albert's prognostications in his article
"What Makes
Alternative Media Alternative?"
9 Foucault, 1986, 24.
10 Just what counts as a heterotopic space could be up for debate, but
by way of
example: pirate ships, rooftop vegetable gardens in corporate
neighborhoods, studentrun
soup kitchens on corporatized campuses, resistance cells of movements,
warchalked
WiFi space in urban areas, libraries, affinity groups at large
protests, protests of all kinds,
free stores, marxist feminist reading circles, bike paths, recycling
boxes, the underground
rave scene, downloading sites on the Internet, a culturejammed or
détourned billboard,
the PIRG movement...
11 Foucault, 1986, 24. The slippage of the word utopia between its two
possible meanings
stems linguistically and symbolically from its etymology in the Greek.
It could either be a
transliteration of ou topos (or "no place"), or rather of eutopia
("happy" or "fortunate
place") (Logan and Adams 1). Thomas More's punning points out the role
of such ideal
spaces: perfect but non-existent they are as guides without flaws, but
could never be
inhabitable precisely for that reason.
12 De Certeau, 1984.
13 Ibid, 32
14 Ibid, 35.
15 Markovitch, 1999, 116.
16 Ibid, 118,
17 Ibid, 123.
18 Ibid, 37.
19 Ibid, 29.
20 Ibid, 33.
21 Which definitely puts de Certeau in line with Bey, since, for Bey,
the "Temporary" part
of the Temporary Autonomous Zone was the key aspect, in fact the thing
that enabled
the zone's autonomy. A temporary aspect allowed a zone the ability to
operate "under
the radar" like a covert resistance cell that moves around and
surfaces only when it
wants to perform a public action (Bey 99).
22 Armitage, 1999, 115.
23 Armitage conflates Bey's use of the terms "Net" and "Web" (in
combination with the
popular appropriation of his work by cybertheorists), with an
understanding of the TAZ
and ontological anarchy as being only "virtual" phenomena not
connected to real
world-and especially, class-struggle (see Armitage 118 and 124).
Beyond this literal
reading of a metaphor (as Bey points out, he is referring more to
societal structures than
to any specific technology (Bey 110)), there is also in Armitage a
less-than-nuanced
reading of the politics of "the virtual" that misses that the virtual
is a space of figuring and
possibility that bleeds into-and, in part, comes to structure-actual
reality.
24 Ibid, 124.
25 Langlois & Dubois, 9.
26 Rodriguez, 2001, 20.
27 It goes without saying that not all radical, autonomous, or
alternative media are
progressive. This is one of the internal problematics of people who
seek to provide these
spaces as fora. For more detailed accounts of issues that arise when
confronting the
repressive side of alternative media see Andrea Langlois, "How Open is
Open? The
Politics of Open Publishing" in Autonomous Media: Activating
Resistance and Dissent; Les
Back, "Aryans Reading Adorno: Cyber Culture and 21st Century Racism."
in Ethnic and
Racial Studies; and John Downing et al.'s chapter on "Repressive
Radical Media" in
Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements.
28 Bury, 2005.
29 Woolf, 1929.
30 Bury, 18.
31 Ibid, 167.
32 Ibid, 36.
33 And, in certain cases, more than in more male-oriented fan-culture
spaces as well
(Bury 34).
34 There is a politics to calling something a "queer" space, and one
that I touch on
below. Suffice it to say that there is a space between saying that we
could "see
something" as a queer space, and calling-naming-it as such. This paper
inhabits that
peculiar and slippage-ridden space. A heterotopia in a different
register, perhaps.
35 Boyd, 2001, 86.
36 Cited in Ibid, 19.
37 Jenkins, 1992, 204.
38 Ibid, 205.
39 Heteronormative means the normative structures that accrue around a
certain
conception of what "normal" or "natural" intimate behaviour is or
should be about. It
includes things like compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory normative
gendering and a
compulsory "heterosexual" life-narrative (meet-get married-have kids-
grow old togetherdie).
It is a handy term because it is not heterosexuality, per se (or
gendered relations, or
monogamy, etc.), which is problematic. It is when those frames for
living are imposed on
everybody without choice or distinction, it is when social structures
and institutions (and
people) only recognize one way of being a person as right or proper,
it is when those
positions are seen as having no fluidity or possible overlap, or when
they come with
attendant social statuses, that they become cumbersome and often
oppressive.
40 Ibid, 205. Such representation might even feed into preferred
heteronormative
representations of the desirable, as the controversial "lesbian"
television show The L-Word
(that contains a very heteronormatively slanted view of what "real
lesbian culture" looks
like, and that is marketed towards men) speaks to.
41 Russ, 1985, 90.
42 Penley, 1991, 137.
43 Ibid, 139.
44 Ibid, 155.
45 A terminology also mobilized by Jenkins (189).
46 Though this aspect might be changing, as more men begin to engage
with the
practice of slash reading and writing.
47 Bury, 71.
48 Warner, 1999, 139.
49 Ibid, 149.
50 Ibid, 178.
51 A shortened acronym for the culture surrounding Bondage and
Discipline, Domination
and Submission, Sadism and Masochism.
52 Penley, 1991, 140.
53 Ibid, 135. This is becoming more and more prevalent as media
producers realize that
there is a "market" for subversive voices and their inclusion. Such
feature films such as
the later adaptations of the very-slashed Harry Potter book series;
and such television
programs such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and even CSI play
off of the
knowledge of their own slash universes, incorporating threads, plots
and scenes that
speak to multiple possibilities for their interpretation as texts.
(Which is a fancy way of
saying they play up the slash premise, often for campy effect, but in
ways that promote,
rather than hinder, the circulation of alternative messages and
meanings.)
54 Even given some theorist-practitioners such as Penley attempting to
key them as
deeply political.
55 Penley, Ibid, 137-140.
56 Bey, Ibid,18.
57 Penley, Ibid, 140. Thanks to my students in COMS 240 for showing me
how, in a sense,
the notion of "making do" contains that ambiguity, and can be read in
both ways,
depending on if you see de Certeau as a defeatist, or a tactician.
58 Penley, Ibid, 319.
59 Ibid,139.
60 Boyd, 102
61 Approximately 58% as Feminist; 10% as "humanist/equalist; and 25%
as anti or postfeminist,
based on an online survey administered to 200 women and 10 men. It is
unclear
from the methodology how the men's responses factored into the
statistics, if at all.
62 Boyd, Ibid, 71.
63 Haraway, 1991, 180.

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always want to defend peace, justice, peoples' right to love each other and live with dignity,struggles against parochial visions and hatred;instinctively a defender of socialist and democratic values  

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