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The 'creative, non-fictional' confessions of a formerly closeted Star Trek fan

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January 3, 2009 by Carley Smith

I am not entirely sure what Creative Non-Fiction is. When our Creative Industrial Matrix Convenor, Dr Leanne McRae, announced a project in it I did not want to appear as obtuse as I felt. I pulled the phrase apart. Creative — I can do that — I did that in my honours thesis where I provided "derogatory and offensive" anecdotal evidence of my own and other women's experiences in the workplace. Non-fiction was — as I understood it — critique and analysis. So, using my powers of deduction Creative Non-Fiction is inventive, social commentary. It is Cultural Studies — a style of reading, writing and studying that is widely interdisciplinary and instructive in translating between disparate experiences and ideas.

Taking Cultural Studies as the trope for my higher degree scholarship resulted in an Honours thesis devoted (though not explicitly) to interpreting some creative non-fiction styles. What are presented here are the reworked ramblings from the introduction of this Honours thesis. I hope you enjoy my "Dirty Tales from the Back Seat".

Sometime in the late 90s, when I was a lot younger and less jaded than I am, now my friend was driving us into town to meet some people at the pub. She was in dark spirits because she could not drink. Today she was paying back years of my taxiing services. Another friend, Bec, tired of our driver's mood, turned to me in the back of the car and handed over a large foolscap file full of paper. It was covered with cheap contact and filled with dog-eared scraps. Some leaves were stapled together. Most were haphazardly sticking out the sides of the file.

"Have you read any of this?" She tentatively asked, as she lowered her head in an uncomfortable manner, then quickly raised her eyes and shot me a quirky grin, angry with herself for admitting embarrassment in her mannerisms.

I took the dishevelled file and opened it carefully so as not to disturb its contents. I met her gaze. "What is this?" I warily picked up the first bundle of paper and read the top line, 'Burn, by Carolyn Taylor'.

"It's J/C fic."
"What?"
"It's fanfiction about Janeway and Chakotay from Voyager."

Two weeks back somebody at work had told her I liked Star Trek. I imagine they had passed this information on with a rather large smirk. The next time we were on shift together she rushed up eagerly and asked me if I watched Voyager. We had a lengthy discussion — most of it at an excited, high-pitch — about our love for the show, its characters, and how irritating it was that we were three years behind American television and had to buy or rent tapes to keep up. However, we talked mostly about how much we loved Captain Kathryn Janeway and her First Officer, Commander Chakotay.

"Fanfiction?" Okay, she had my attention. I had written (or rewritten) stories about television and novel plots that had not gone the way I had wanted them to — but there was no way I would show them to anyone. Judging by the author's name on the top of the page I was holding, Bec had just given me a file full of stories that people actually wanted others to read.

I scanned the first page, "Chakotay leaned towards Kathryn and whispered in her ear conspiratorially…" I flipped the pages, "Kathryn was having difficulty concentrating … the muscles under his uniform seemed to ripple more enticingly than before … throbbing heat … ragged breathing".

I raised an eyebrow.
And reached for the next story;
it took every ounce of self control Kathryn Janeway had …
both of them sweating profusely …
he grasped her shoulders …
smiling with satisfaction as she cried out[.]

Bec climbed into the back of the car with me and animatedly observed as I read story after story. We spent the rest of the journey annoying our driver; unapologetic with our childish giggling.

My favourite of the pieces was 'Protocol' by 'Becca O'. It dealt with what I could see was the only reason the show's writers had not paired the two characters earlier: they would be breaking protocol with any "indiscreet shipboard fraternization (sic)". The most essential component 'Protocol' included was what I would later learn is one of the most important elements in J/C: plenty of smut.

I did try my hand at some J/C shortly after this. Most readers do and either decide to continue writing or retire early and just read others' work. I retired early. There is a certain point when every fanfiction writer (hopefully) realises that there are not as many pronouns for genitalia and analogies for the way Chakotay looks naked as may be assumed. My pronoun-challenged stories are available — pseudonymed in a deep, dark, cavernous corner of the Internet where no one will ever read them.

I know the author of 'Burn', Carolyn Taylor, now. I happened upon her one day in a forum. She took a shine to me and extended an invitation to join the JetC8 pond. There I also met 'Protocol' author, Becca O. She has since semi-retired from J/C; she now plays in other ponds and, much to our amusement, writes Back Street Boys slash. She does still send us small, amusing J/C pieces occasionally. In my wanderings I have met many talented writers. The most pleasing part was seeing some of their work and names published in the only refereed article on J/C fan fiction, "Complexity of desire," by Victoria Somogyi.

I begin with these memories because this is where my 'extra curricular' interest first began with Voyager, Janeway and Chakotay. Countless books, articles, novelisations and fanfictions have been written about the Star Trek franchise, as have many graduate and postgraduate theses. It is important to acknowledge the voice and space of fans and to question their place and function in academic research.

I am one of the archetypal students Australian parliamentarians mention in their inflammatory speeches about education in the humanities. I supposedly waste money conducting trivial, research on media ephemera. Popular culture is not trivial; nor the study of it a waste of money. My project offers contextualised arguments and discussions of studies that have created a voice and space for those who ponder, adore and interact with popular culture. These interactions through science fiction in particular are effective ways of examining current cultural problems, contradictions and ambivalences. These invented futures capture the desires, hopes and fears of the present. Science fiction writers project societal complexities into a fictional context so that they can be examined whilst supposedly (safely) removed from a recognisable reality.

The role and place of identity theories within popular culture are brought to the forefront through Voyager. Captain Janeway is a postfeminist representation and Commander Chakotay is a postcolonial construction. Together they configure a model — mediated through 'the post' — that questions and problematises notions of equality, social justice and sexual plurality. As such, these characters 'legitimise' the study of popular culture by constructing a space where historical notions of sex, gender, race and colonialism can be critiqued. As partners in the post, they perform and occupy the ambivalent, unstable but productive spaces between binaries and modernist categories.

Captain Janeway is a popular cultural representation of what a naturalised and feminised power could be. Her authority over Voyager's crew was established in the first episode and from that point was rarely questioned. Janeway's inherent importance in a workplace context rests in the structural lack of strong women in influential and authoritative roles on television and in feature films. Her significance has much to do with the position she occupies within the masculine sphere of science, technology and upper management. Unlike many popular cultural representations of women in positions of power, Janeway's feminine-coded expressions of authority do not mimic masculine organisational structure. She is not a science fictional drag queen. Janeway activates a new representation of non-spectacled, feminine-coded authority.

Chakotay enters this poststructural sphere when Janeway takes his suddenly homeless crew onboard, making him her Second in Command. Like Janeway, who uses her command to reinterpret a masculinised working environment, Chakotay uses his newfound position on Voyager to change shipboard colonial structures. He is not a "Hollywood Plastic Medicine Man". New age practices have not consumed this character's indigenous beliefs and customs; the key into his ability to implement change through a colonising organisation like Star Trek's Federation. His character has a rich past, immersed in racial conflict and insurgent alliances. He brings to the Star Trek franchise a representation of indigeneity that both refigures the stereotypical Medicine Man and highlights what can be achieved when race is dealt with in carefully considered fashion. At times, his representation and role on Voyager is disturbing. That is the point. Instability and discomfort provoke questioning, change and dialogue.

The dissertation concludes with an examination of what is both loathed and celebrated within popular culture — the fan. In Voyager's second season episode, 'Resolutions', a brief flirtation was shared by Janeway and Chakotay. When the episode ended, so did their 'entanglement'. Canonically, the characters remained apart. Chakotay had a few relationships throughout the series and settled with another, much younger member of the crew in the final episode. Janeway also had a few romances — all disastrous — and she remained alone, resigned to the isolation of her situation. However, in fanfiction they enjoy more than a healthy relationship. Their many and varied fictional pairings facilitate a way for Janeway to have a relationship with her First Officer and retain her authority and 'morality', something the writers and producers feared she would lose if she was to 'submit' to a subordinate. What is fascinating — and has triggered my interest — is how fans naturalised and managed Janeway's power and leadership, while concurrently allowing her to express desire and be sexually active. The rationale for the show's producers separating the pair after so much fan lobbying is also examined. Much has been written on the politics of slash fiction. Little attention has been turned to heterosexual fanfiction because it is considered a restatement of the heterosexual romance model. J/C writers' mutual refiguring of power relationships does not reinforce the dominant heterosexual romance model. This critique is made possible because Somogyi's crucial article on J/C fanfiction emerged in 2002. This one small, yet thorough, investigation provides a frame and impetus for researching ideologies of heterosexual romance and other transgressive explorations enacted by Janeway and Chakotay.

A reshaping of texts at the hands of Janeway and Chakotay fans, and the enthusiasm with which they acknowledge Janeway as a self-starting woman and Chakotay as a postcolonial man moves Trek beyond its originary discursive frame. Captain Kirk set out on his five-year mission to:

explore strange new worlds — to seek out new life and new civilizations — to boldly go where no man has gone before.

This 1960s American sensibility did not hint or suggest that thirty years after these words were spoken a commanding woman with big hair and a remarkably supportive male First Officer would be boldly seeking new structures of power and leadership. Voyager moves beyond the final frontier. The Cold War is over and the space race has slowed to a crawl. (Outer) space is no longer the final frontier. Voyager, Janeway, Chakotay and their fans move Star Trek, science fiction and popular culture beyond spatial limits into a postfeminist and postcolonial state. With tumultuous opening sequence fanfare, I present two characters and thousands of fans who have changed the way many look at issues of gender and power, race and postcolonialism and the model of heterosexual romance. This is revelatory popular culture and 'boldly goes' where few have feared to tread.

AdaptiveThemes