Kurt Cobain is alive. And he’s banging Dave Grohl.
In an online phenomenon known as “bandslash” or “bandfic,” thousands of people, mostly women, have been quietly building thriving online communities by writing and sharing largely homoerotic fictional stories about their favorite bands.
Community members at websites like Rockfic.com can log in and find members of Panic at the Disco making out on a casino roof, or Sting and Stewart Copeland of the Police having sex in greenrooms. These sites serve as an online fantasy exchange—a way for members to bond, play with their sexuality in a way that may be more difficult in real life, and, ultimately, get off. The phenomenon provides not only a new means of being a music fan, but also insight into the nature of fantasy itself.
“Slash” is so named for the punctuation between erotic pairings (Cobain/Grohl). It all began in the ’60s when some Star Trek fans, sensing something unspoken between Captain Kirk and Spock, began writing and distributing short stories with new story lines that weren’t suitable for broadcast television. Pairings from other universes started to propagate, first through fanzines, then online through Livejournals and blogs: Potter/Malfoy, Obi-Wan/Anakin, Frodo/Sam. Eventually, the characters came to include rock stars who were doing not drugs or groupies, but each other.
Despite its rise, bandslash has remained a virtually unexplored trend outside of its own communities and a few in academia. The sometimes shocking nature of the material, combined with fear of legal hassles, a desire to maintain close-knit communities, and the lack of a central organizing body, have kept it relatively free of scrutiny.
“We try to keep it a little quiet,” says bandfic writer “sidewinder,” who did not want her real name used. “They’ll say, ‘You’re sick and twisted and being disrespectful.’ ”
Many mainstream fan fiction sites, where Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy frequently go at it atop the Astronomy Tower, frown upon “real person slash” because the characters are based on celebrities and sometimes even their families.
On the other side of the coin, argues Seattle-based bandfic writer Leah Claire, “We’re not writing about real people,” she says, “because we’ve fictionalized them.”
Reality isn’t what it used to be. This is an era of the copy of the copy of the copy, when celebrities are projected into dozens of different media in a dizzying number of ways, their images gradually distorting until they become a shadow of themselves. It’s a game of telephone, but at cable modem speed. Playing with and shaping reality has never been easier, and fictionalized versions of real celebrities were perhaps inevitable.
Fictionalized characters have long acted as surrogates for our hopes, fears, loves, and losses. And now, in an era when cameras are constantly trained on celebrities, perhaps fictional characters are becoming less necessary. We can play with images of real people to serve our cultural and personal needs.
And for many women, part of that psychic need is served by . . . man sex.
Homosexuality, especially male homosexuality, is still considered relatively taboo, and, like so many taboos, is therefore more conducive to fantasy.
Keeping it strictly between men, says sidewinder, makes the fantasy easier to share. Including a woman in a bandfic fantasy, presumably a surrogate of the author, makes it too specific, too personal. By writing only about male rock stars, she says, “I can stay detached. I’m the observer, the reporter.”
Women don’t need to be a part of the fantasy to make it potent, says Pepper Schwartz, a sex columnist, author, and sociology professor at the University of Washington. “Women can genuinely imagine that men prefer each other,” she says.
But while the focus is on the masculine, many of the men in bandslash take on a distinctly androgynous glow. Stories proliferate about groups like Panic at the Disco and Fall Out Boy, whose heterosexual members aren’t afraid to don makeup and even occasionally kiss their male bandmates onstage. In the world of bandslash, it’s all about girls who like boys who prefer boys who look like girls.
This mild androgyny is attractive to many women, says Schwartz, because more sexually ambiguous men “don’t cross the line. The ability to submit as well as dominate is an attractive cover for them.” Many women find male-on-male erotica attractive because “most of the time it depicts an equal relationship,” says bandfic writer Claire.
In an online world where rock stars become fictionalized and turned into fantasy, the instant ability to communicate those fantasies has become a bonding tool for many women.
“Women are better communicators—they play with language more,” says Schwartz, but “fantasy is a fairly new thing to talk about among women. It’s the next new frontier.”
Reprinted from Seattle Sound(Feb. 2008). Subscriptions: $12/yr. (12 issues) from Box 24365, Seattle, WA 98124; www.seattlesoundmag.com.