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The RPS debate

If you've been into slash for any length of time, odds are you've found yourself in the middle of a RPS debate. RPS, for those who are completely new at this, is "real person slash," or slash written about actual celebrities rather than fictional characters. In essence, it makes fictional characters of real people.

I've been in the center of scads of these debates, and every time I've participated in one, my stance has changed slightly. In my early days, the only RPS I saw were poorly-written Mary Sue's which featured the author (sometimes outright, with the author using his or her own name), and based on this, I became anti-RPS. It wasn't necessarily that I thought it was immoral or disrespectful. I just thought it was a dumb use of precious writing time. I saw it as having no literary merit, and very little originality, and the fandom equivalent of Penthouse letters that start with "It was an ordinary day, then the Avon lady knocked on the door...."

Then I was exposed to a little more RPS, this time from writers who were known and respected in their individual fandoms who had, for whatever reason, felt the pull to RPS. Authors such as Joanne Collins (group, LiveJournal), Nat Carter and denisons of the RareSlash mailing list were researching and using their noggins and treating their hobby of interpreting a real person as a realistic fiction character as a sort of artform. Seeing the seriousness and enthusiasm with which they approached this persuaded me to read more. I read Metallica slash, which makes my skin crawl if only because I find them to be so gross looking. I read the other RPS coming through the RareSlash list, and Joanne's RPSlash mailing list, and even if I couldn't fully get into what they were doing, I had some respect for it.

Boy band slash, I'm afraid, sealed my fate. Not only was it clear to me that this stuff was as literate as regular slash, but I don't really care about the virtues of Justin Timberlake, so I can't bring myself to lose sleep over how he's portrayed. In short, I took on the attitude that if Justin is portrayed as trampy and drug addicted and bratty, he probably has it coming to him through the nature of what he does and the emotions he is designed to evoke in his fans.

We have taken some heat over becoming pro-RPS. I don't mean to overestimate my importance by implying that people even care if we like RPS, but I have fielded some e-mails from people wondering what we, self-proclaimed discriminating slash readers who feel we can trumpet across Angelfire the good and bad points of the genre as a whole, are doing reading and recommending RPS. The more I have listened and responded to this, and the more I've read other people's thoughts on the subject, the more I feel the need to defend RPS. The slash fandom as a whole, I think, loves to take a stand for and against things. Perhaps it's the fact that we're all doing something illegal that makes us bond together like a group of vigilante fiction writers. Yes, we are writing stories that the world at large feels are silly and fannish, but we believe in something. We have principles, and we stick by them. And being anti-RPS, it seems, is one of the favorite principles of the mainstream slash lists.

To be honest, this bugs me a little. Slash is, and always has been, about what turns your crank. You think Beecher and Keller are hot? Great. You write about them, and you get your kicks, and you do it in the company of people who are getting their kicks in a similar way. You like the idea of Mulder and Skinner fucking, or Jim and Blair bumping uglies? Great. You're among friends. Slash, to me, has never been about right or wrong, or moral vs. immoral. We have archives for rape and torture. We write stories where the characters treat each other with such recklessness, and act with such darkness and evil, that if the real people in our lives read what came from our imaginations, they'd start sleeping with the light on. Why do we come down so hard on people who just happen to get their kicks in a slightly different way? Isn't it all slash? Don't we all deserve air time, and the outlet to write whatever turns us on? I can't help but raise an eyebrow over the slashers who pull out the "what would they think?" argument when it comes to RPS, yet torture and butcher someone else's creation beyond recognition. Let me give you something to ponder: which is worse? Someone writing sex stories about you, or someone taking and mangling your creation? Your answer to that may not be the same as another person's answer.

The long and the short of it is that as a group of people bonding over our freaky little hobby, we shouldn't divide ourselves into the good guys vs. the bad guys, or the mature ones vs. the immature ones. If you don't like RPS, fine. You don't have to read it and you don't have to allow it on your mailing list. But I do think that both forms should be treated with equal respect, and that admitting you write RPS should not be met with an "oooh, gross" face. I've read RPS writers who are better than any non-RPS writers I've read, and there's merit to what everyone is doing. And if you're worried about protecting the virtue of a celebrity, think about how many times Russell Crowe or Justin Timberlake have defended your honor. It comes with the celebrity territory.

As for the legalities surrounding RPS, I have nothing to add to the wise words of Vali, a lawyer on the RareSlashX list. (RareSlashX was the RPS-friendly list formed when members of RareSlash said with great pomp and circumstance that if RPS was allowed in the archive, they wouldn't allow their slash to be anywhere near it.) Vali's explanation of why you won't get sued points to the movie "The Hours of Times" (about a fictional love affair between John Lennon and Brian Epstein), J.G. Ballard's "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" and a couple of other RPS-like cases where no one was sued. I would also like to point to the movie "Backbeat" and Douglas Cooper's "Frisk," where he wrote a character based on the bassist for Blur.

In a nutshell, despite my personal reading preferences, you won't find me dissing RPS.

- Jane