Ever heard of Sterek, Stanno, Merthur, or Wincest? These are all portmanteaus to designate popular subtextual male “slash” couples.
Slash fans can be a pretty intense breed, but for film and television projects looking for a dedicated and highly involved fanbase, the kind of audience that will explode a project’s social media footprint, the fangirls and fanboys who obsess over slash are a valuable market to court, and Hollywood might just be waking up to slash’s potential.
What is slash? Let’s start with some definitions. Slash is a subset of “shipping” which is simply a keen interest in the pairing of two characters. Shipping can focus on almost any kind of pairing. Heterosexual, same-sex, platonic, romantic, bromantic, erotic, etc. Fans who engage in this sort of thing are called “shippers” and, let’s face it, we’re all shippers to some extent. If you pined for Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler to get back together – then that makes you a shipper.
Using the popular TV show Glee as an example, you could be a Rachel and Finn shipper (Finchel) and/or a Blaine and Kurt shipper (Klaine) – and you’d have a lot of source material to obsess over, since both of those relationships are actually supported by the show’s “canon” (i.e. its accepted universe as constructed by Ryan Murphy‘s series).
But what if you fantasize about the pairing of two characters that aren’t actually a couple within the canon?
For example, what if you thrill to the thought of your two favorite Glee guys, Mike and Sam, falling in love? Then you’d be a slasher.
Star Trek‘s Kirk and Spock were an early slash obsession
Slashers are folks that focus on a subtextual relationship between two characters, usually of the same sex. For instance – an early slash obsession was Star Trek‘s Kirk and Spock. Or, Kirk/Spock, hence the term “slash”. For our purposes we’ll say slash is generally about a non-canonical relationship between two male characters, whereas “femslash” focuses on relationships between female characters. (Our sister site, AfterEllen, knows a little something about that.)
Some very creative slash fans write stories about their favorite pairings, others post artwork online (slashart) and still others take advantage of YouTube to post slashvid montages for their favorite couples.
Mainstream audiences might be a little surprised (and, in the case of your grandmother, probably disturbed) by some popular slash couplings. For instance, forget about Bella, there’s a huge contingent of Twihards who’d actually prefer to see Edward and Jacob ride off into the twilight together. And these fans really don’t care if Twilight author Stephenie Meyers never intended that pairing.
And she most certainly didn’t.
Slash pairings can be insanely improbable. They can even involve real people. If you think Team Jakeward is freaky, then your mind will really be blown by the recent phenomenon that is Phelps&Lochte slash.
Is Michael Phelps amused? Would Ryan Lochte say “Jeah” to this slash pairing? Who knows. (Someone really needs to ask those guys.)
Now, lest you think this is a “gay” thing, we should point out that the majority of slash fans appear to be women, straight women who happen to like the idea of two guys together. That’s a far larger population than most people imagine.
Slashers might create a slash relationship out of thin air, with nothing at all in the original source material to support it, but sometimes a film or TV show will slyly encourage the slashers. After all, as long as the acknowledgment of the slash relationship – the slashwink – isn’t overt, more staid audience members won’t notice to be offended. And you still get the benefit of rabid online chatter for your project when the eagle-eyed slash fans take to dissecting that slashwink via Tumblr, YouTube and other online venues.
For example, CBS’ Hawaii Five-O is certainly aware that there are passionate fans out there who like to fantasize that Steve McGarrett and Danno are something more than work buddies. Consequently they’ll throw the occasional ambiguous scene or bit of dialogue for the Stanno fangirls to play with. The network even released an official promo that played up the relationship between the show’s two handsome leads, and actor Alex O’Laughlin has joked that Steve and Danno would be the “bromance of the decade.”
Fans of Steve and Danny can’t get enough of the two characters interacting like a married couple. And therein lies the problem. They can’t get enough. There’s always going to be a tension between what a film or TV project can offer to slashers and what the slashers want.