DERAILING THE VOYAGE
by Michelle Erica Green
15 March 1998
A few weeks ago, as many of you know, I was completely and totally fed up with Voyager, with fandom, with fan clubs, with television, even with fan fiction. I posted an outline for a story with an introduction that's been building really for two years; I made a bitchy, misogynistic statement I am now ashamed of, expressing my current extreme dislike for Janeway and Chakotay, and I announced that I was never writing any more fan fiction. At around the same time, I made a necessary break with the fan club I founded, Now Voyager. I know that some of you have wondered whether my decision to leave had anything to do with my relationship with Kate Mulgrew, and the answer is no. I still like Kate and respect her as an actress. My leaving had more to do with fan politics and professional conflicts than anything else.
I have had an extraordinary thing happen since I decided to gafiate. (For those of you not familiar with that term, it's an anagram for Get Away From It All, which goes back to Classic Trek fandom and possibly before that.) I have received an unbelievable number of letters telling me not to go. I relate this not to brag, because while some of the letters were about my stories, most were about something more general: the J/C net community, the need for fanfic to counteract canon, the obligation we have as writers and as feminists to one another to challenge the claptrap put before us on the screen. It made me think about what I'm doing here, and why I'm going to risk exposing myself by linking my public and private fan personas.
I started reading a.s.c. and what was then known as a.s.f.s. a few weeks before Voyager went on the air. At the time, Christine Faltz was in the midst of posting her TNG opus "O Captain My Captain," and Janis Cortese and GG-MEE were in the midst of posting some terrific stories which made me appreciate Julian Bashir for the first time. The only fanfic I'd written since high school was a Kira/Odo story, on a dare from Kimberley Junius, the editor of Deep Spaces. I was a little uncomfortable about the idea of just plunging in and posting on the internet. But when the new series came on the air, and the only stories about it seemed to be either mindless smut or political epics, I decided I really wanted to know what Kathryn Janeway might be like when she wasn't acting as captain of Voyager. My first thought -- don't shoot me, folks -- was to write a Janeway/Paris story. I was intrigued by her backstory with his father and the obvious tension between them. Plus someone was posting dares to get Janeway laid before the end of the pilot. But during the week after "Caretaker," I couldn't quite get a handle on it, and then I saw "Parallax" and noticed what I hadn't noticed in Chakotay the week before. I wrote "Uniform" that night. I believe it was the first serious J/C story posted to a.s.c.
The feedback was amazing. I'd like to believe it was my writing that people enjoyed, but I know better; the PWP, sketchily characterized since we knew almost nothing about Janeway and Chakotay at that point, with lots of unreasonable assumptions (that Janeway never loved Mark, that Chakotay missed Starfleet), had virtually nothing to do with the people the characters had become even a few weeks later. Not that that mattered. People just wanted stories about these characters and the chemistry between them. The movement seemed already to have started; when, a few weeks later, Janet Coleman wrote "Remember Us" and Ruth Gifford came up with "Kathryn," it already seemed pretty much settled. J/C was going to be as big as P/C -- bigger even, because it had the net to power it all along.
I have never enjoyed any reading experience as much as I enjoyed the explosion of fanfic in those early months of Voyager, and I'm including graduate school in English literature in that experience. I don't just mean the J/C -- I mean all the love affairs with Voyager, C/P and J/B and even some of the P/T in those days. I also read stories which were not at all relationship-driven, but I'll confess that those didn't hold as much appeal for me. I've never watched Trek for the science fiction; I read Gibson and Kress and watch movies for that. I dig the character interaction, always have, I was a K/S fan before I knew there was a term for it (and boy was it a relief to attend my first con and discover that it was not merely my personal perversion but a full-blown phenomenon!) Nonetheless, I was a latecomer to TOS, and even though I belonged to a DS9 fan club from early on, I never had the emotional attachment to Kira that I had to Janeway. It was a lot like falling in love, except that in this case I could share the experience with a hundred other like-minded people who understood completely.
I should know by now never to say "never," particularly about writing; I suppose it is possible that on some later date, a Voyager story will sieze me by the throat and demand to be written, so that I can get no other writing done until I commit the words to print, and then I will feel guilty enough or egotistical enough to post them just to see if people are glad to see them. So I eat my words, I don't swear beyond a shadow of doubt that I will never write another Voyager story. But I wish I could.
It's interesting how many people have written the past few days to tell me that they are entirely down on the show, and only watching because of the fanfic. Do you all realize that if we had turned our television sets off at the beginning of this season, declared that we were NOT watching a show about an ineffectual captain and a babe in a catsuit, left the franchise and made a dent in the new, improved ratings (which were actually lower for the month of January this year than ever in the history of the franchise, but that is another rant entirely), TPTB might actually have done something to improve the show instead of taking it for granted they could put out whatever shit they wanted in the name of the young male demographic and we all would watch anyway, and rehash and rewrite if we felt compelled to do so? (If you need to know my opinion on Voyager's fourth season, check out my reviews; I have written up every single Voyager episode, so you can also read my extremely lengthy "Resolutions" review, my wishy-washy "Coda" review, and assorted columns, rants, and songs of praise.)
Of course I have read Henry Jenkins, Constance Penley, and Janet Murray -- Henry's a friend from ACAFEN-L, the Academic Study of Fandom list, and he introduced me to Janet -- so I know all the theories that fanfic is a process similar to the construction of oral collective myth, that we are writing legends which will resonate through the mass consciousness of our descendants, siezing our society's myths from the evil corporate minds which claim ownership and returning it to the hands of the consumer, etc. Sounds very progressive and Marxist and feminist and radical and all those good things, but I don't really think it happens. We write fanfic for a miniscule segment of the viewing audience. The rest of the audience members probably do some rewriting of their own, and talk about the show with their friends and complain and occasionally write to TPTB or to their local papers, but we're not really hooked up in an idealized net beyond the JetC groups and a handful of other interconnected fan groups, several of which have opposing goals anyway in terms of what we'd like to see in canon. The Chakotay/Paris Support Group, for instance, whose existence I support entirely in theory because I love anyone who tries to rewrite a show in her own mental image, nevertheless tends to promote the ongoing pairing of two characters I cannot abide together beyond the occasional PWP. I wouldn't complain if I heard that the producers were pairing up Chakotay and Paris in canon because I would be so damn delighted to see an ongoing gay relationship on Star Trek, but I wouldn't get excited about it in a visceral sense, either -- you see what I mean?
I wanted Janeway and Chakotay together for a number of reasons, most of which have been belabored in the essays which are linked at the bottom of this page. Some were ideological, and had to do with how I view female sexuality and women in power. Some were purely personal -- I like the way Kate Mulgrew and Robert Beltran look together, I like the chemistry between their characters. Some undoubtedly stem from the horrible backwards evil romance novelist in my subconscious who gets off on the idea of a Starfleet captain and a Maquis rebel getting it on, against all odds, an ingrained heterosexist stereotype that I'd love to get rid of but it's been in my head a lot longer than intellectual resistance to it. The problem is that that Janeway and Chakotay no longer exist. I'm not sure they've existed since early second season, though I was willing to rationalize a lot before and after "Resolutions." In truth, "Coda," the most J/C-filled episode of the third season, was dreadful writing, cliched, typical damsel in distress crap. If that's what it's going to mean to have J/C, then I don't think I want J/C. And if it's going to mean contrived, badly executed disagreements like the one in "Scorpion," or rationalizing Chakotay's alien-of-the-week amnesiac episodes like "Unity" and the upcoming "Unforgettable" -- well, forget it. Who needs this pairing? And, more to the point, who needs this half-baked, oft-boring show?
What we need are a new version of Janeway and Chakotay -- not Janeway and Chakotay, who are dead for me now, but different characters on a different show with producers who give a shit about relationships and characterization and depth. I'm inclined to suggest X Files, but Carter's universe is such a dark one, so antithecal to traditional optimistic Trek, that I understand why people don't see it as any sort of substitute. If we want better women characters on television, better romantic pairings, better relationships, we have to demand them by NOT settling for what we're given as if it's acceptable. We need to write our own for the screen, not just for one another, to try to create them someplace where EVERYONE can see them. I can't justify putting out for the system anymore; I feel like Benjamin Sisko in "Far Beyond the Stars" when his editor told him to self-publish his stories if no one wanted to read about a black captain in mainstream pulp fiction. If a tiny group of internet fans are really the only people in the world who believe that a female captain can have sexuality and humor and power at the same time, then something's really fucked up. The actress who plays Kathryn Janeway says she doesn't believe it. The executive producer who created the character seems not to believe it, if Mosaic and "Coda" are any indication. This is a pretty fundamental problem.
I wish we could choose whom we fell in love with: I wish I were infatuated enough with Xena to write about her, or with Scully (well, I have written about her, but nothing I would dare post, since I tend to write as darkly for her universe as her universe seems to call for). I wish the interior lives of men interested me so much that I could retreat happily into slash fandom and not worry about the way women are characterized on television. For some perverse reason, though I disavow Kate's fan club and all of Kate's stupid comments about feminism, and though I disavow Taylor's sniveling Kathryn with her crushes on father figures and her lack of confidence in her place in the universe, I haven't got my own ideal of Kathryn Janeway completely out of my system, or I wouldn't feel this upset, this betrayed, this compelled to do something to right the injustices of her universe.
Rewriting the fictional 24th century isn't going to accomplish that, though. It's what we do in the here and now that is going to count -- what we write for ourselves and for one another, how we raise our children, what we do with our work and volunteer efforts. Maybe television is the wrong medium to get the message across, or maybe it's just the Trek franchise, the optimism based on life in an ideal world where prejudices have miraculously been eradicated and suffering is no more. I don't have any answers. I just know that I'm not going to find them in Voyager.
Michelle, Your Cruise Director
Founder, Now Voyager
Oldest surviving member of the RBLS
Veteran of The J/C Clinic and The Janeway/Chakotay Fold on AOL
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