At Room 801 this weekend, I – for insurance reasons – wound up working as the moderator for a debate panel that sought to answer the question Is Are Queer Canon Couples more fun than Subtle Slashy Subtext. It was a great panel, lots of fun, in part because it was that special kind of goofball debate you get at a con where both sides know that the greater point is an ambiguous one, and they’re trying to win a crowd and a judge. As that judge, I was fuckin’ awful, because at the end of it, I thought both sides had made weaker versions of their own points, and it showed, but they were all really fun.
I feel for example, that the Canon side of this argument forwarded a lot of good points regarding representation and meaning and media landscapes, which didn’t address the more fun point. That side effectively said I like being legitimised by creators, and of course, any ‘more fun’ argument isn’t going to work, because fun is subjective and relative! And of course, the subtext side avoided academic ideas like ‘does a story even exist with only one person?’ and focused instead on some points that I felt were weak in the context – that gay fandoms are bigger on tumblr, as if it was a truism, and therefore better. Oh, and the subtext side tried to argue that subtext fans were purer, because they didn’t want the sex in their stories.
Now, I at the time said I’m an author – I have a dog in this fight, and I know I have friends who have very condescending views of canon, which always rankles me a little bit. I mean, I put a lot of work into my work, it’s kind of a little dickish for people to tell me that my work is meaningless and their headcanon is superior. But I want to make a point for the Subtle Subtext side that wasn’t really in my means to do at the time.
Nobody knows the best story for you. Almost every story is a collapsing sequence of elements, like visual and spatial and temporal explosions of events. And sometimes you’ll read a story and imagine a better version, and hope the author goes where you were going in your mind. But that legitimisation by the author doesn’t make your imagination good or bad. They might show you a better idea than you knew you wanted, but that doesn’t mean they knew it was a better idea. They don’t know you. They don’t know your circumstances: They just know what they were trying to do, the messages and themes and concepts they wanted to project. Sometimes they’ll go wide – and that can be a source of subtext. Sometimes they’ll narrowly hit what they wanted to – and that too can be a source of subtext. Subtle subtext allows an author to feed potentials without having to know the best way to tell that story you imagine. An author may not know for sure what they want to tell, but the can tease at the edges – and subtext can allow you to play a game with the author, seeing if you can find what they wanted to say, but weren’t sure of.
Oh, and also, when you’re talking about committe-created media like [Basically All Anime] the idea of canon and authorial purity is basically gone so just go nuts, really.
It’s 11pm and I feel like I’ve been travelling for hours. I’m beat. The dog’s chewing his bone. I’m home. Enjoy something.