Episkopos Rev. Alixtii O'Krul V, TRL (alixtii) wrote,
Episkopos Rev. Alixtii O'Krul V, TRL

Mmm, 'Cesty: Incest and the Adolescent Fantasy

Consider some texts, all of which count as fannish on my flist (if nowhere else):
  • Veronica Mars: A sixteen-year-old girl defies parental authority in many ways including, but not limited to, having sexual relations with three different individuals. (Admittedly this behavior led to her death, but the show consistently portrayed Lilly Kane in a mostly positive light.) After her death, her best friend defies parental and civil authorities by engaging in a series of investigations bringing many things to light. Ultimately, these authorities learn that the best course of action is to let Veronica run her course: upon finding his daughter in a coat closet, Keith remarks, "Yep, that's mine," and upon her graduation Van Clemens admits that he doesn't know if her absence will make his life easier or harder.
  • Matilda: A six-year-old (in bookverse) girl defies parental authority by playing a series of practical jokes on her parents and, when they are forced to flee the country, convincing them to sign over guardianship to a Miss Jennifer Honey, with whom in movieverse Matilda has a relationship of equals.
  • The Secret Garden: Defying the parental authority of her uncle and guardian Archibald Craven, as well as his surrogates Mrs. Medlock and Dr. Craven, Mary Lennox enters a forbidden girl garden and carries on a secret relationship with her cousin Colin, effecting his cure in the process.
  • A Little Princess: Even before Sarah Crewe is forced to withstand the authority of Miss Minchin, the text takes pains to underscore the girl's adult nature and the egalitarian character of her relationship with her father, who treats her as a miniature adult. It also uses the word "queer" a lot.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Four children defy the authority of the parental surrogates by hiding in a wardrobe, where they wage a war against the evil witch Jadis and save a magical world, becoming Kings and Queens in the process.
  • The Parent Trap: Two twin eleven-year-old girls defy parental authority by secretly switching places and living each others' lives. In the process, they manipulate their parents into meeting and falling in love again.
  • As You Like It: Two cousins defy parental and civil authority when they enter the forest to escape the rule of the evil Duke Frederick.
  • Harry Potter: Not that I've ever read the books, but a twelve-year-old boy defies the parental authority of his aunt and uncle by becoming a wizard. At the school of wizardry, three children operate outside of the school authority, continually disobeying the explicit directives of their professors, and in the process triumph again and again, presumably culminating in the defeat of the Dark Lord. While what the professors were thinking is debated, one theory is that it was their plan from the beginning to let these children run loose, recognizing they would be able to succeed where adults would fail. In any event, the disobedience of these children is celebrated by the professors as the children win the House Cup year after year.
  • Robert A. Heinlein: Where to begin? From Podkayne to Peewee to Laz and Lor, this is a multiverse chock full of supercompetent teenagers who either operate outside the bounds of, or are forced to defy, parental authority.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Another case of "Do I really need to say anything here?"
All of these texts act out a specific type of wish-fulfillment fantasy: the usurpation of parental authority by a child who is revealed to be more intellectually mature than her adult counterparts. It is a fantasy that pings powerfully for me (as well as many others), even now that I am no longer quite a teenager. It is an especially potent expression of the will to power, being beyond all authorities because one is just that good, ubermensch.

It is no coincidence that Sunnydale and Neptune each has one good parent, Joyce Summers and Keith Mars respectively. (Actually Neptune, while including a huge number of bad parents, isn't quite so bad as Sunnydale. Both Wallace and Jackie have parents who all, in the whole, good parents, and the Mackenzies and Sinclairs are not really bad parents despite their inability to meaningfully engage their respective [adopted] daughters.) Parents in this type of fantasy are like governments: King Log is to be preferred to King Stork, and the parent who parents least parents best.

This is the context in which fictional incest thrives. While "in the real world" (how I loathe that phrase!) incest, cross-gen, and mentor/teacher relationships all are problematic due to issues of consent, these difficulties disappear in the face of the radically autonomous children of the adolescent fantasy. Of course Lilly, Veronica, Matilda, Mary, Sara, Susan, Annie, Hallie, Rosalind, Celia, Hermione, Podkayne, Peewee, Laz, Lor, Dawn, and all the rest are capable of consent--the very nature of the fantastic world in which they exist assures they are capable of anything.

Keith/Veronica, Matilda/Jenny, Mary/Neville, Crewecest, Peter/Susan, Annie/Hallie, Rosalind/Celia, Hermione/McGonagall, Laz/Lor, Dawn/Giles: these are not pairings that Ari and I invented in our minds. For me (I won't speak for anyone else), the sexualization of these relationships is a response to--and a reaffirmation of--the fantastic element which attracted me to these texts in the first place: the radical autonomy of the pre/teen characters.


And I really should finish that "Buffy as Nietzschean Ubermensch" essay.
Tags: buffy, harry potter, heinlein, lit & history 1902-1950, meta, nothing to see here, parent trap, textual analysis, veronica mars, will-to-poweriness
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enters a forbidden girl

Yeah, I noticed that when I was adding the tags. That's my secret fantasy version of The Secret Garden, I guess. I'm about to go fix it.
Mary Lennox enters a forbidden girl and carries on a secret relationship

So beautifully easy to take out of context. But a fascinating discussion and train of thought.
I meant garden, I swear!

'Tis fixed now. Sort of.
"Of course [the girls] are capable of consent--the very nature of the fantastic world in which they exist assures they are capable of anything."

That idea makes a lot of sense -- about their radical autonomy, etc. -- though I hadn't thought of it that way before. I think my readings of various texts doesn't treat those autonomies as radical because I was always very independent and very comfortable with adults, so I saw/see myself (admittedly an idealized version thereof) in these characters. (As something of a corollary, the absence of parents/parent-figures never pinged me powerfully because I was always allowed to live my own life to a large extent, but I also got along with my parents really well so a lack of parents didn't ping as a fantasy.)
Well, as a result of my social awkwardness/anxiety and general asociality, my parents were able to adopt a fairly laissez-faire style of parenting--I was never out of the house to get in trouble. I was still strongly pinged by narratives of radical autonomy because they were so often far above what I could expect as an independent child or even as an adult, for example the "taking over the world" sequences in Ender's Game. Which is why they still ping for me very strongly now. It's a will to power thing (which may well be a gendered phenomenon in our society.)

I wanted to be a superhero as a kid, then a ship captain who could discover a land full of superheroes, then a scientist who create a Jekyllian potion to create superheroes, and then a writer who could deal with those creatures in my own way.
wooh wooh wooh, Veronica Mars lives in Neptune? O_o
And in S3, she drives a Saturn.
Establishing their precociousness and adult-nature and how much easier it is to sexualize them is a far cry from establishing incest. I'm totally confused. I just don't get it.

ALSO. I'm in from flist o flist...o flist, I think.
First off, welcome to the discussion: I'm always eager to find ways to make my arguments more articulate and persuasive, and so love it when someone chimes in they don't understand or don't agree. I'm also very flattered that you found this post from such far-off reaches and found it worthy of critical engagement. Perhaps I can add some context and/or make my argument in a clearer way.

To start, I'm not sure what you mean by "establishing incest," though. If you mean "establishing incest to be canon," then I agree with you that I haven't done so, as that was never my project in the first place. At most, I've claimed to establish the existence within canon (that is to say, within the source text) of a subtext of incest: 'cestiness. Ari (wisdomeagle) and I both agree that Keith Mars isn't really shagging his daughter, if for no other reason that Keith Mars isn't "really" doing anything at all; he is a fictional character in a television show, played by an actor.

Now sometimes it is useful, especially in a fannish context, to play "How many children had Lady Macbeth?" (thus my icon), to try to find the least-hypothesis, most logical extrapolation of canon. That isn't however, what we are doing when we are looking for 'cest. With the exception of Laz/Lor, I don't think any of the pairings given above qualify as canon. But then, I don't think Sam/Frodo is canon either.

I do think the given pairings are 'cesty (or rather, those pairings between relatives are), that is there is a real, demonstrable element of the text such that these pairings lend themselves to being read as incestuous, just as Frodo/Sam is slashy, lending itself to being read as homoerotic. This is what I mean when I say that "[t]his is the context in which fictional incest thrives."

The listing of pairings, including both incest and cross-gen, is a list of some of Ari's and my (and others') favorite pairings. The question, then, was why do we 'ship these mostly extracanonical pairings, what elements of the relationships in canon cry out to us to sexualize them. This post was an attempt to answer that question, to place our 'shipping in a context of a more extensive fannish hermeneutic. You could say that I am an articulating a strategy of reading, a strategy which is admittedly nonstandard (in the way in which slash strategies are nonstandard) but not--I would argue--as far from more standard strategies as one might think, especially in fandom. The claim was, and is, that we did not just "invent them in our minds"--that there was a real characteristic of the text to which we were responding, which (in part) consists of the precociousness/adult-nature of the pre/teen characters to which you allude. (Indeed, going back to Laz/Lor, the canonical incest in Heinlein's text stems from exactly this dynamic, I'd argue.)

There have been plenty of meta posts asking "why slash?" and "why het?"--this post was mostly intended to partially answer "why incest?" and "why cross-gen?" and not really do all that much more.

I'd further developed what exactly it is I mean when I claim that a text is 'cesty, or 'slashy, or het-tastic, or whatever, in this post, "Reality's Subtext".

Does any of that make things more clear, or have I just further confused the issue for you?
I'm just saying there are two separate taboos here. Child sexuality and incest. And one made plausible does not create a direct bridge to the other. So I still don't get why you seemed to explain the pairing plausibility, in fiction, through proving child precociousness and sexuality.

ALSO. Why does child-sexuality have to exist for their to be incest? Most of the incest pairings I've seen have been between two consenting adults. So...I don't know, dude! I'm still confused. I'll read this again in a little bit, after I've had some coffee.
Child-sexuality doesn't have to exist for there to be incest, but a problematization of consent is at work in both instances, which is why they are able to be lumped together for the purposes of this argument. (I'm assuming that the problem with incest is that it problematizes consent, and yes, I'll admit that this is an assumption, that I'm sure it is possible to have an objection to fictional depictions of incest based solely on genetic grounds, but those are not objections to which I am particularly interested in replying.)

For example, to go back to the example of Veronica Mars (since we don't really seem to have many fandoms in common), the first time we see Veronica she is 16, above the age of consent. So it is only in response to a short list of individuals--her father, her principal, arguably the county sheriff--that her power of consent is really meaningfully problematized. So the incest creates the possibility of the dynamic I'm talking about when the taboo of childhood sexuality cannot do so on its own (and this becomes more and more true as each season passes and Veronica gets older and more mature).

And one made plausible does not create a direct bridge to the other.

I'm not quite sure what you mean here, but what I'm trying to argue is that they're both made plausible in the same way: by showing that the problematization of consent which would ordinarily act as an obstacle does not actually apply. This is the case whether it is a case of incest, of childhood sexuality, or both.
Oddly enough, I was literally *just* having a conversation about this kind of thing in a story I'm writing, in which a 16yo girl is very definitely not freaked out (as she probably would [should?] be in 'the real world') by the idea of having sex with her older brother (who, it should be noted, was likely her primary caregiver growing up), trying to figure out why she wouldn't be freaked, and you're onto something, I think, with the idea that Of course [the girls] are capable of consent--the very nature of the fantastic world in which they exist assures they are capable of anything.


Otoh, I'd be interested in what you think of River, as someone of age, and obviously special, but so damaged as to make consent a serious issue for a long, long time.
I've been thinking of the problematic cases ever since I wrote this post, particularly Simon/River and Peter/Valentine. These are cases, it seems, in which while we do have a protagonist who has many of the signs of being radically autonomous--both River and Val are brilliant geniuses--this autonomy is undercut and the other member of the pairing is placed in a position of authority. River is insane and Simon is her doctor; Peter is just as bright as Val, plus beyond good and evil when she isn't.

The first thing to note that these instances aren't particularly unique. If one reads the texts with a slightly different lens than the one I used, they all include elements capable of undercutting the character's autonomy. Veronica, for example, is often reckless and frequently requires rescuing by her father, her boyfriend, etc. In many crossgen pairings, especially teacher!kink, it is usually very easy to shift the focus away from the younger partner's autonomy and to the elder's position of authority, if one chooses to do so. Or one can have a story hover somewhere in between, in ambiguity, as I do in my Fred/River fic.

The issue is, then, one of emphasis. At one extreme, one can emphasize the way in which River continues to be autonomous and capable of consent, and the way in which Simon can be bumbling and overwhelmed by situations, which is I believe what much of Simon/Rivern fic does. Or, in a darker fic, one can emphasize her brokenness and Simon's power over her and write dubcon or noncon--although Simon raping his sister is hardly in character. (Peter raping Val, OTOH, very much is IMO, at least with the right build-up.) I can enjoy both types of stories (since both are rooted in a type of will to power), as well as the range in between. Indeed, much of the best fics make use of the ambiguity to great effect, and one can't quite decide if what one is reading is wonderfully beautiful or tragically horrible.

Indeed the narrative logic which demands that River must be insane--because otherwise she'd be too powerful a Mary Sue with too few limitations--applies to her relationship with Simon as well; it'd become too easy for the subtext to become text. Joss uses her insanity (the most obvious case being the deleted scene in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" but it's also true in the canon proper) as a way of creating subtext with which he wouldn't otherwise be able to get away. Indeed, I know I've read a few Simon/River fics (and it's a pairing I don't read much of as I can't stand to see it being done badly) which establish their sexual relationship before River going to the Academy--because a sane River at, say, 13 or 14 years old being capable of consent seems intuitively quite plausible.
much of the best fics make use of the ambiguity to great effect, and one can't quite decide if what one is reading is wonderfully beautiful or tragically horrible.

Had to comment on this, just to say: yes. Those are the stories that makes you go back and read them, the stories that stay with you. The ambiguity is what makes the difference, and the shades-of-grey bridge between fictional fantasies and reality horrors.
here via metafandom :)

I find your argument very interesting, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I arrived to incest/cross-gen writing&reading mostly because I 'saw' it as a fictional possibility in the relationship that was offered to me on-screen, and a great part of that relationship is exactly what you discussed above: a pre/teen character that doesn't behave as such, that has autonomy in ways other teens don't have. (you said it better, I'm just thinking about it as I type). The road of the teen I have in mind is somewhat different from those you quote, but the main point is the same, I think.

Sorry if I'm not making much sense, as I said, I'm thinking :D
Thanks for sharing this. Hope it's okay if I link it around.
"Of course [the girls] are capable of consent--the very nature of the fantastic world in which they exist assures they are capable of anything."

This makes a surprising amount of sense. I don't ship any incest pairings, but the idea of incest in fic has never in itself squicked me. And now I understand why.
I am in the process of slashing Matilda/Jenny of Matilda and I have slashed Anne/Hallie of Parent trap. So I totally get what you mean by seeing these relationships as being capable of being romantic even if in real life I'd not necessarily condone them.
User alixtii referenced to your post from Meta Discussion Rec saying: [...] This poll is priceless, not only because it relates so directly to the thoughts in my Mmm, 'Cesty: Incest and the Adolescent Fantasyessay, but because it has so many people (including me!) going, "Well, in real life, it'd be bad for a ... [...]