For the present, here are a trio of mini-essays that I’ve written recently.
I’ve seen a few posts exploring the Slash phenomenon recently, and have considered commenting with some of my own thoughts; but they veered off into realms of sexual politics that I knew nothing about whatsoever and found extremely esoteric and incomprehensible, and they lost me totally. I think the explanation of the origin is much simpler.
Women writers see two hot guys on screen. They think “guy A (hetero in canon) is hot, guy B (hetero in canon) is hot, obviously guy A and guy B will fancy each other and have hot gay sex”.
This seems logical on the surface; however it does not resemble our Earth logic. Guys A & B are hot only in the eyes of women (ETA: and quite possibly gay men, but for purposes of this scenario it is canon that the two characters are het). Guy A’s previous choice of sexual partners has shown that what he finds hot is: boobs, a butt rounded with fat deposits, slim legs with smooth knees, big eyes with long lashes, a full mouth, and a soft high voice. And, most importantly, female genitalia. Guy B’s steel jaw, washboard abs, chiselled pecs, tight butt, broad shoulders, and designer stubble completely disqualify him as an object of sexual interest from Guy A.
Maybe after 3 years in an all-male prison in which even the images of women are banned Guy A might go stir-crazy enough to shag or be shagged by Guy B; but not otherwise.
Slashers also see ‘slashy sub-text’ in what to my het male eyes are perfectly normal relationships between heterosexual men. I find it slightly insulting to have it insinuated that men can’t have friendships without there being a sexual element to it. Or that men can’t dislike and argue with someone without it being proof that they secretly want to engage in sexual activity.
I must confess that the reason for my writing “Life in Shadow”, in which I made Tara straight by authorial decree, was at least partly because I had become a little irritated with the scores – hundreds - of fics that had decreed Spike, Xander, Angel, Giles, Wesley, Oz, Gunn, and Riley to be gay in defiance of canon, and I felt that it gave me carte blanche to do the reverse.
There is also a strange dynamic in many slash relationships that baffles me. A large percentage of them seem to be about submission and dominance, without any of the give and take that is part and parcel of a loving relationship in my eyes.
Consequently, the vast majority of slash fics seem to me to be totally and absolutely out of character and unrealistic, with few exceptions.
The exception that really stands out to me is shadowscast’s Fragments series. It presents a post-NFA Spike/Xander relationship that makes sense. It develops slowly, works through the baggage that both of them carry with respect to the other, and comes across as a genuine caring relationship in which both parties have an equal amount to offer.
It’s one of my favourite Buffyverse stories of all time.
Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him.
Season 6 was when he really caught my imagination.
Previously I had strongly identified with Giles. I’m the same age, similar social class, and I went through a similar phase to his ‘Ripper’ period; only mine was a little earlier, and consequently I missed out on University because, although I had cruised effortlessly through all earlier exams without necessarily needing to work for them, that doesn’t apply when you get to ‘A’ levels (or didn’t in the 1960s, anyway).
S6 changed that. I have been in two abusive relationships in my life and Spike’s situation struck deep chords within me.
I had a girlfriend who would come to me for sex but would refuse to acknowledge me as anything other than an acquaintance in public. That was a horrible, degrading, experience, and seriously damaged my sense of self-worth.
My first wife was mentally unstable and violent. She developed unreasoning dislikes of neighbours and insisted on moving house almost every year. I’m fairly sure that she was unfaithful to me on more than one occasion, but I never called her on it. She hit me and threw things at me; including solid stone ornaments that could have killed or seriously injured me had they hit me in the wrong place. I took her abuse without hitting back for six years; then, one day, after she had slammed a door into me and cut my nose, I shoved her with the box that I was holding at the time and she walked out on me. Yay!
So, I consistently write stories that are sympathetic to Spike; because I’ve been where he was, and I can totally see how he eventually cracked.
Even in “Sunnydale Passions”, in which the conditions require Spike to be a ‘malicious idiot’, I’m trying to make him sympathetic. He blunders through the story doing dodgy deals, manipulating Xander and Riley, seducing Joyce, blatantly cuckolding Riley, and playing malicious little pranks like tricking Giles into drinking urine and abandoning Riley stuck in a giant fly costume, but then, what else can he do? He’s powerless, fallen from his glory days, at the mercy of people who at best tolerate him, and is getting some small measure of revenge in the only way he can. Plus, it’s funny.
In my other works I always approach Spike from the point of view of ‘enlightened self-interest’. Spike wants respect, comradeship, and love. He wants the sentient beings he loves to be happy. As an evil, unchipped, vampire those aims were achievable through bloodshed and slaughter; once chipped he was inevitably forced into pursuing those aims through other channels, including through actions that could best be classified as ‘good’.
I write stories in which he receives positive feedback for those good actions and negative feedback, or at least the absence of positive feedback, when he backslides. In those circumstances I think that it is entirely plausible that he should develop into someone who will carry out good acts for their own sake; not necessarily because he whole-heartedly espouses the cause, but because he knows that they would be approved of by those whose opinions he values.
I also show Spike fighting evil and saving the innocent independently of their approval; still not out of moral convictions, but because fighting demons is the only game in town and what else is he going to do on a wet Tuesday night?
And, if you act the hero long enough, eventually it will get to be a habit and become part of you.
After all, Spike’s actions in holding out under Glory’s torture were totally selfless; it wasn’t going to ‘get him into Buffy’s pants’ if he was dead, was it?
And over the summer following ‘The Gift’ he proved himself in my eyes. Again, he had no ulterior motive; Buffy was dead. It had to be because he felt comradeship with the Scoobies (‘I worked beside you all summer!’) and because he was keeping his promise to protect Dawn.
The potential was there for Spike to complete the journey from villain to hero, with no need for any destructive and degrading sexual relationship to push him into the cheap short-cut of seeking out a soul.
The ME writers wanted to explore different issues. Fine; their characters, their right to go any way they want to with them. I felt that the way they explored those issues was disgracefully anti-male in S6 and disgracefully anti-female in S7, but at least they produced quite a few hours of wonderful television.
Unfortunately they also produced moronic stupidity like ‘As You Were’ and the second half of Season 7, but I blame Firefly for that.
Xander tends to come in for a lot of bashing from a certain segment of Spuffy authors. Mainly the ones who ignore all the hurdles that have to be overcome before a Spike/Buffy relationship is truly viable and just cut straight to the ‘Spuffy4eva’. Xander is accused of being xenophobic and ‘meen’ for failing to see that Spuffy is pre-destined and True Luv.
I don’t take that attitude. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for Xander to be wary of Spike, and especially to be wary of a Spike/Buffy sexual relationship. Jesse-shaped reasons and Angel-shaped reasons. Xander has learned the hard way that vampires can’t be trusted and that Buffy shagging vampires is a bad idea. Spike came close to killing Xander more than once (ETA: that was from memory, it's been pointed out to me that in fact there were very few on-screen occasions; possibly only being collateraly caught up in Spike's hiring of the Order of Tarakis was a genuine near shave for Xander that was due to Spike), kidnapped him, and thumped him over the head with a telescope.
Even so, Xander often got on reasonably well with Spike on-screen. They saved each other’s lives more than once, Spike saved Xander from possibly losing his other eye, and they worked together as a pair more than once with minimal hostility. They even occasionally socialised as a pair when avoiding the female Scoobies.
So, I believe that a writer can be pro-Spike without necessarily having to be anti-Xander.
Xander can be an ass at times. But he is rarely malicious, and he is brave and loyal and mostly honest. I like him.
Even when I write a story in which Xander is over-reacting or downright obnoxious, this is because I am focusing on a short period of time during which Xander is not at his best. It does not mean that I am bashing Xander overall.
In “Pandora’s Boxer” Xander is a close friend of Spike. Not the closest, that is Tara with Oz as best guy friend, but close. In “It’s Got To Be Perfect” Xander actually is Spike’s best guy friend, and is bitterly critical of Buffy on Spike’s behalf. And in “Angel of the Morning”, in which Xander is vehemently anti-Spike to the point of doing something extremely foolish, he saves the day in the end.
But it’s still a lot of fun portraying him as a gullible moron in “Sunnydale Passions”.
ETA: as this has been listed in su_herald, and people outside my normal readers are now seeing this post, I'd better point out that “Pandora’s Boxer” is a time-travel fic that bypasses some of the reasons for conflict between Spike and Xander, and in “It’s Got To Be Perfect” Spike has been turned human by a wish and the vampire factor is no longer relevant.
ETA 2: I'm not maintaining that Xander doesn't deserve some level of condemnation for some aspects of his treatment of Anya, nor that he isn't prone to pettiness, hypocrisy, and wanting to have his cake and eat it too. And I agree that his responsibility for Sweet's incineration of several Sunnydale citizens was glossed over far too easily and never dealt with. But overall he's a good guy and means well, and he deserves a lot of credit for being a hero without superpowers. He isn't perfect by a long way, but he's a lot less malicious and vindictive than he is sometimes portrayed.