Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Only Amateurs

In NASA/Trek, Constance Penley proposes that Star Trek is the theory and NASA is the practice of space travel, and that the combination of the two humanizes our relation to science and technology. Penley first discussed the ways that NASA has marginalized and discriminated against women, only accepting those who could either be the "token overachiever" or mediocre enough to appear a mere amateur, an individual whose appearance and role on a shuttle reconfirms, rather than rebels against, the dismissive role of women as nurturers, teachers, mothers and inferiors. Penley then connected this to the position that women have marked for themselves in the fan-verse of Star Trek, creating a close-knit community of Kirk/Spock slash fanfic writers. However, I think that this connection has implications for Star Trek as the "theory" of NASA that Penley did not fully explore.

Penley mentions that these fanfiction writers are stubborn amateurs: "they feel free to express themselves as writers only insofar as they can conceive of their writing as a hobby and nothing more." In this way, the women that Penley discusses seem to place themselves within the amateur role within the theorizing of space travel that the female astronauts were forced to take in its practice.

Furthermore, if Star Trek is the theory of space travel, even this supposedly "female-oriented domain" of K/S pushes women away into the background. Although women are the writers, the artists, the creators, and the consumers, the product with which they are working only involves male figures. Although Penley argues that this is actually a feminist move, as it allows the writers and consumers to explore a relationship that is entirely equal (and, because it is set in the 23rd century, somehow "gender neutral"), it still reinforces the idea that masculine is the neutral gender, and that women have no visual place in the theory or practice of space travel. To what extent could we argue that some of these women become so involved in the Kirk/Spock relationship because it is the most developed relationship on the show, and that they would be more inclined to write and read about male/female pairings (or female/female pairings) if more fully-developed female characters were available to them. A comparative study to other fandoms could be useful here: for example, when considering Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the majority-female fanfiction writers do produce slash, but the presence of engaging female characters means that many heterosexual pairings are also popular. Although slash is a popular form in many fandoms, it therefore seems to be more popular, more dominant, when compelling female characters are less accessible. As they are not given a compelling entry point into the world of space travel, the female viewers identify with (and even make gender-neutral) the existing male characters, building a separate space for themselves in which they are still only "amateurs," just "hobbyists," viewing adventure from a distance dictated by their gender.


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