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David Hines [userpic]

everything old is new again, except when it's not

July 3rd, 2009 (06:31 pm)
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I just realized something that amused me: Gaila, the Orion gal who's Uhura's Starfleet Academy roommate, has been surprisingly prominent in STXI fanfic, considering that she's got a very small part in the film. I was a little surprised by this, because my default expectation is that modern fanfic-producing fandom will ignore pretty much everything that the small subset it defines as hot.* But then I realized that I shouldn't be surprised, because it was a dynamic I'd seen before.

Gaila's importance has been elevated in fanfic for a few reasons, but one big one is that she's extraordinarily useful. Arguably the biggest ship in STXI is Uhura/Spock, and since fandom loves the first times and beginning relationships, there's going to be a lot of Uhura getting to know Spock. Spock, however, is a very closed person. Uhura is not going to jump right into heart-to-heart stuff right away. She will be frustrated. So she will need someone to talk to. That's Gaila.

Hmmm. Very minor character in film elevated to major supporting role in fanfic, in large part because she offers a way to get at the feelings of major film character who is romantically interested in emotionally distant male lead. Why does that seem --

Yup. It's X-MEN movieverse all over again. Gaila is Jubilee.

I mean, the fic is better, but Gaila's promotion partially involves a similar dynamic, and that amuses me.

(* Amusing footnote: I was rummaging in my archives recently and happened across a ten-year-old Usenet post in which I argued very cogently that the ratio of porn to gen in a fandom's fic was a barometer of the quality of the original material: i.e., if the original is good, fans try to emulate it; if it is crappy, their attention wanders and they do stuff that's radically different, like, oh, say, porn. I don't know if I was as right then as I thought I was -- it would sound bizarre to say something like that today, but younger fen should realize that ten years ago the level of sexually-oriented fanfic was way, way, WAY below the amount now -- but even if I was dead-on in 1999, that sure isn't true anymore, because large numbers of folks are very specifically here for the porn. Case in point: the folks writing STXI are turning out lots and lots of fic, lots of really good gen fic, even -- and what was the first big explosion of fannish creativity in that fandom? The kink meme. People came out of the theater and went straight home to write the porn! (That a gen meme followed, I think, says very good things about that fandom. It is not my fandom, and I don't think it is likely to become so, but it looks like it's going to be a positive influence on a hell of a lot of up-and-coming fan writers. I'd much rather neofens cut their teeth in a fandom where there's a healthy mixture of story types and character interactions than in, say, McShep.)

Comments

Posted by: amonitrate (amonitrate)
Posted at: July 4th, 2009 01:07 am (UTC)

Your footnote is right on. There wasn't much porn when I first got into fandom. At least in X-Files fandom, it was mostly gen at the time. And now it's pretty much the opposite:)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: July 4th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC)
commies

I actually blame X-FILES fandom for this, really a lot. That's where relationshipping took off, and fandom has suffered from that vile and detestable plague ever since. DAMN YOU CHRIS CARTER.

Posted by: amonitrate (amonitrate)
Posted at: July 5th, 2009 01:16 am (UTC)

well, he has a lot of other things to answer for.

Posted by: leftarrow (leftarrow)
Posted at: July 4th, 2009 01:53 am (UTC)
In which it turns out that I'm sort of a Gaila fangirl, who knew.

All interesting. I have a whole huge set of theories and formulas for what inspires quantity/quality/various types of fic, but that probably needs it's own post, so: Gaila.

I had exactly zero participation in X-Men movieverse fandom, so I can't address the parallels there. However, one thing you might be overlooking is that Gaila is one of *four* women with speaking roles in the entire huge film. She's only on screen for a very short time, true, but she's got almost as much of a presence as *Amanda* for heaven's sake.

So, I think if you're a writer looking for more women to include and bravely resisting the urge to use an OFC, Gaila's your girl. (Which is sort of what you said, but I think it applies more broadly than just in the context of Uhura/Spock.)

*deep breath*

Aaaaaalso, during Gaila's incredibly brief screentime, we learn several fascinating things about her, and among them is the fact that she's apparently more promiscuous than *Kirk* by several orders of magnitude, and completely unashamed of it. Now, set that tidbit in front of a large group of women who are (at least in their fandom identities) pro-sex feminists, who are very interested in diversity and gender politics and who are very capable of producing insightful, funny, sexy stories about all of the above. Turns out that Gaila is the fuse on a big chunk of fanfic *dynomite.*

She's hot, she doesn't have a set-in-stone canon personality to limit possibilities, and she's a fantastic character to use in an exploration of some incredibly complex and important hot-button issues.

Although having said all of that, it's possible that I've only read the thinky-est, most sophisticated Gaila fic, and am thus giving fandom at large more credit than it deserves. (I can rec a couple of the stories I have based this on if it seems to conflict significantly with what you've experienced. Or, you know, not . . . whichever.)

And WOW this is a huge comment.
/lengthy rambling.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: July 4th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)
Re: In which it turns out that I'm sort of a Gaila fangirl, who knew.
peej rated pg

This is a really great comment; you make so many terrific points. I think the ideological component of Gaila's success is one of the most interesting bits, fanhistory-wise. It seems to me that this has really developed over the last several years. Ten years ago there was essentially no ideologically-motivated fic, and even three or four years ago the most I saw (even on my flist, which runs pretty feminist and sex-positive) was occasional annoyance/self-blame for writing too much fanfic focusing on white males. Before, y'know, going back to writing lots of fanfic focusing on white males.

(Feel free to yell at me and tell me I'm totally wrong here, but from the sidelines that's what it's looked like to me.)

My personal theory is that the genre glut and the vast broadening of fandom have really promoted this: when you've only got one show on the air and whatever old fandoms have survived, you're glad for what meager crumbs you've got. When you've got a ton of options, not only do you, um, have a ton of options but it's much easier to see patterns, fannish or source-wise, that piss you off. (Like: "man, why does nobody write [character of color] in [fandom]? Or [other character of color] in [other fandom]? And why do [female character] and [female character] never talk about anything but [male character] in [third fandom]? It's just like [two other female characters] in [fourth fandom]... oh.") Multiple irritations provide regular stimulus. Also, it makes the subject a topic of regular discussion.

(Personal note, in terms of my particular activism: if I have a debate with someone about guns online, I do not expect to convert the other person to my point of view. I'm not having the debate for *them.* I'm having it for the people who are reading and aren't saying a damn thing, but will mull it over later.)

Also noteworthy is one of your smaller comments: "she doesn't have a set-in-stone personality." This is underappreciated, but it's a longtime fannish delight. *rummages* Sharon Saye, from WOOKIEE COMMODE #2, 1985, on Han Solo:

He has been depicted as everything from the "other" to a prince. He has been Darth Vader's son and his brother, Luke Skywalker's uncle and
even his father; Leia Organa's childhood rescuer and her murderer. He has been beaten, tortured, wounded, killed, maimed, blinded and drugged. He has fan-created sisters, mothers, father, brothers,
grandparents and children. Women of every race and occupation have been involved with him . . .

One of the advantages Han Solo presents to writers is his lack of a past. Except for the information in Dale Pollock' biography of George Lucas, Skywalking, there are precious few keys to Han Solo. Even his alleged heritage as a Corellian is nowhere verified in the movies. He can be anyone. What more could a fan writer want?


Also, as you accurately observe, Gaila is in a position of maximum leverage. She knows Uhura and Kirk, which makes her doubly useful as a confidante.

Posted by: DUCKS CAN'T TALK. (very_improbable)
Posted at: July 4th, 2009 06:12 am (UTC)
scully

I see leftarrow has already addressed this much more thoroughly, but yeah--I think a major contributing factor to all this Gaila fic is the large-scale awesome fannish reaction to the ratio of dicks : not dicks on the dance floor.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: July 4th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
snoop

Which I find really fascinating, because STAR TREK has *always* had a huge ratio of dicks/not dicks on the dance floor. It's just that previous iterations spent a lot more time writing about the dicks. (See also: damn near every other fandom in the last forever.) To me, this groundswell is new and very interesting, because it isn't just (say) one or two people I know grumbling that there's not enough Teyla fic: it's as if people suddenly started writing tons of Teyla fic.

Posted by: Coaster (coasterchild)
Posted at: July 4th, 2009 07:12 am (UTC)
Uhura and Spock

Agreeing very much with what leftarrow said. Gaila's a character who's very much okay with having rather a lot of sex, even if Kirk, playboy that he is, is shocked by it. That was the very first thing that struck me about her. Hooray, a girl who enjoys sex and isn't evil or braindead! I think that, and the fact that she's one of the few ladies with speaking parts, really contributes to the amount of fic she's gotten. Hell, I've written about her, and I hardly ever even write fic.

I also think, much like her being a friend that Uhura can talk to about Spock (and I'm not familiar enough with X-men fandom to comment on the Jubilee comparison), she's also a (non-Spock) link between Uhura and Kirk, which allows for more exploration of their dynamic.

Also, she's green. How cool is that?

Edited at 2009-07-04 07:13 am (UTC)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: July 4th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
unfair to batgirl

one of the few ladies with speaking parts

I hadn't actually sat down and counted, but leftarrow pointed out that there are four speaking parts in the flick for women: Uhura (to whom fandom has very much taken), Spock's mom (who gets fridged), Kirk's mom (whose activities after Kirk's birth are a blank), and Gaila (knows both Kirk and Uhura, and is in Starfleet, and likes sex a lot if writing that or using character humor based on that is your thing). Yeah, GAILA'S PRETTY MUCH YOUR GO-TO GAL.

Posted by: PROBE UNIVERSE (liviapenn)
Posted at: July 6th, 2009 04:45 am (UTC)
fandom st: brb fangirling


And the other thing is, if you're a Trek newfan who isn't familiar with all the accumulated canon/fanon about Federation history, Spock & Kirk's childhoods, their family history, etc., then writing Winona and/or Amanda can be a bit intimidating-- whereas Gaila is an "OFC", kinda. If you've seen the movie, you effectively know all there is to know about Gaila, and can feel totally confident writing her without worrying that someone is going to pop up and say, "ACTUALLY, Gaila's uncle was a dentist, not a moon shuttle conductor, and it was established that she can't ride horses in the animated series episode blahblahblah."

(And it also helps that she's an Orion and you can sum up pretty much all the canon ever on Orions with "they're skeezy, nobody likes them." Whereas if they'd made her, say, a Betazoid, everyone would be like "oh man now I have to do all the research on Memory Alpha and read 'Imzadi' and watch the TNG eps with Troi's mom again" and have to deal with all the accumulated fanon about Betazoids and so on.)

Gaila is also totally your go-to gal if you want to write two women actually *interacting*. (Unless you go the pre-movie "Amanda visits Spock at the Academy so that she can meet this nice girl he keeps talking about" route, but only Spock/Uhura 'shippers really have a reason to write that.) Whereas you can write Gaila-Uhura interaction into a gen story ("how Gaila and Uhura became BFFs," or "Gaila tackles intolerance" or "Post-movie mourning everybody") as well as an actual Gaila/Uhura femslash or Gaila/Kirk het or Gaila/anybody 'shippy story.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: July 6th, 2009 05:09 am (UTC)
donuts?

...and now I kind of want the pre-movie fic where Amanda visits Spock at the Academy and somehow winds up hanging out with Gaila and then Amanda and Gaila go into town and get into nineteen kinds of trouble and Spock has to bail them out of jail.

Posted by: PROBE UNIVERSE (liviapenn)
Posted at: July 6th, 2009 05:31 am (UTC)
fandom st: brb fangirling


BAH HA HA HA OH MY GAWD.

No, no, you know what would be better? Oh my god. Okay, so Spock has been really close-lipped in his letters home about this mysterious person that he's been spending all his free time with and, you know, Highly Esteems, and Amanda is like "who is she?" and Spock is all "I never specified a gender, mom," and Amanda is like "A MOM KNOWS THESE THINGS, it is illogical but it is often true," and Spock is like "NO COMMENT."

So Amanda drops it, but when she comes to the Academy to visit him, she gets stuck in his office for a while and something happens to make her think that GAILA is Spock's secret girlfriend. (OK, maybe Spock mentioned that his gender-unspecified study partner borrowed a book or something, and meanwhile Uhura is running late so she asks Gaila to drop off the book for her, so Amanda sees Gaila show up with the book all, "Oh, can you give this back to Spock for me, ma'am?" And Amanda is like (internally) "OMG, this is why he wouldn't tell me. SHE'S AN ORION! No, be cool!" and tries to be all nice and they end up having lunch together and then, SHENANIGANS ENSUE. :D :D :D

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: July 6th, 2009 05:40 am (UTC)

THIS IS NOT MY FANDOM AND I STILL LOVE YOU.

(Okay, so Amanda becomes convinced that Gaila is Spock's sekrit girlfriend and so she's determined to make sure Gaila and Spock know that she is TOTALLY OKAY with their forbidden deeply weird love. And she starts inviting Gaila to everything that she and Spock were doing as mother-son time. But to Spock and Gaila it's like Amanda is totally trying to make them hook up, which is just nineteen kinds of weird.)

Edited at 2009-07-06 05:40 am (UTC)

Posted by: PROBE UNIVERSE (liviapenn)
Posted at: July 6th, 2009 09:48 am (UTC)
fandom st: brb fangirling


AHAHAHAA SO AWKWARD.

And Gaila probably wouldn't even know that Spock and Uhura have been dating sitting in the same room pretending to do school things and pining desperately for each other. So she'd be all confiding in Uhura: "Wow, I've never been approved of by someone's mom before! Really pro-actively approved of, even! It was so sweet! Who even knew he liked me? But he even told his mom! I guess that's how Vulcans do things, you get your family to arrange it, huh? And I totally always thought he was kinda cute, you know, in that nerdy way--" and Uhura is all "WHAT."

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: July 6th, 2009 01:07 pm (UTC)
rex the wonder dog on skis

And Uhura keeps trying to make a good impression on Amanda and TOTALLY BLOWING IT in appalling and yet hilarious ways. Embarrassment squick galore!

Um, and in the end all the women are in jail and Gaila realizes what's going on and plops Uhura down in front of Amanda, explains things briefly, and then wanders off. And Uhura and Amanda sort everything out and they're all smiles and they realize they should really thank Gaila and they look over and they realize she's Totally Doing It with their cellmate, a hermaphroditic escort who was arrested for disorderly conduct, and they're all, "GAILA!" and she's all, "What?"

And then Spock shows up to bail them out, but Gaila is having fun so she elects to stay in till morning and then Uhura and Amanda and Spock go somewhere for late-night cocoa or something.

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