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Slash in the Jeremiah-verse

This installment of my Jeremiad is on its slash fandom and my own perspectives on slashing the series. The impulse is understandable. In "Fathers and Sons", Aaron Severson describes the female characters as "comparatively colorless," and with the exception of Theo, he's not kidding. They're not bad, mind. They're just not very present. So you focus on the men, but getting them together is trickier than it sounds (and trickier, I think, than most of Jeremiah's slash writers give it credit for).


I feel about Jeremiah slash somewhat as I do about Starsky and Hutch slash: it's all very well if you can pull it off, but pulling it off in a way that reflects the show's universe requires engagement with some social considerations that I often find writers omitting. In the case of S&H, it's hard to get around the fact that they're in 1970s cop culture, a highly homophobic culture and a specific context in which it's against regulations to be romantically involved with your professional partner, even if you're the opposite sex. To omit those issues is to create a fantasy I find unconvincing.

The world of Jeremiah is also homophobic, albeit more subtly. I grant this doesn't come up in much of an explicit way in the series, but then, homosexuality is scarcely alluded to in any way in the series canon, which tells you something right there. Throughout the series there are a couple of jokes along the lines of, "I'm looking for a man." "Oh, I didn't know you swung that way," and it's neither here nor there, but it's obviously not meant as a compliment and it's pretty solid evidence that a cultural gay/straight divide remains.

Of course it does. This is world inherited by children. And children, at least up to their mid-teens or so, tend to be more conservative/traditional than adults. They are quicker to judgment; they see fewer shades of gray; their sense of empathy for people who seem different is less honed; they are more inclined to believe uncritically whatever stereotypes are presented by elders, TV, etc. I'm generalizing, of course. From a young age, a lot depends on family context, education, and native personality. But generally kids are more homophobic than the mainstream adult population openly admits to being. Thus, when America was inherited by a group of Americans (kind of homophobic as a culture) around age thirteen or younger, queer discourse took a step backward. (For one thing, you'd better believe that "queer" became nothing but an insult again practically overnight.)

Moreover, gender equality and gay rights are fundamentally linked. If women are viewed as inferior, men attracted to men will be viewed as inferior (i.e. "feminine"), and women attracted to women will be viewed as both inferior (being women) and wrong (being non-normative). And the socioeconomic realities of the J-verse dictate that women have lost some status. For one thing, they lack reliable means of contraception, which means they've lost a degree of reproductive power and control over their bodies in general, and you cannot have full equality across that divide. Add to that the brutality of the post-apocalyptic world, which often favors physical strength and aggression, in which rape is not uncommon (and in which its seriousness as tool for control of women is exacerbated by the lack of contraception), and women have lost a lot of power. As Michelle observes, the Steves are taken more seriously than the Michelles. She ties that stereotype to the old world, but it's even truer in the new. And when women lost power, gay men did too.

So the world Jeremiah slash inherits:
1) has a fairly strong divide between "gay" and "straight";
2) tends to look down on "gay";
3) threatens "gay" men with a "feminizing" loss of social power

Okay, so in light of this context, let's examine our pairings. The pairings I've typically seen are Jeremiah/Kurdy, Jeremiah/Markus, and Kurdy/Smith. In the world of the gay/straight divide, all these characters read as straight. Jeremiah will pretty much sleep with anything female (except Theo) but avows explicitly in the pilot that he's not interested in men. Kurdy sleeps with several women and considers Elizabeth the girl of his dreams but never makes any reference to attraction to men. Markus is in love with Meaghan and latterly at least somewhat open to a relationship with Erin, no reference to men. Smith is the most ambiguous, with no stated romantic background, but he does have a daughter, and in the absence of evidence that she is not his biological daughter (aside from the fact they look nothing alike), I'm going to assume there's at least one woman in his past.

For any of these people to get together, they'd have to get around the gay/straight thing. Unless they were very drunk (which, God knows, is possible on this show), it is not a conversation they would not have. And if they were drunk, it's a conversation they'd have later. That's not to say it couldn't happen in very plausible ways; it would just take some attention to that context--and awareness of the fact that it's fraught with fear of loss of power. Jeremiah, Kurdy, and Markus are all conventionally powerful men. They all have a lot to lose from being "feminized" by the "gay" label. Smith seems easiest to slash. He's least concerned with social norms. His power is non-traditional and not based on social prestige; in fact, he has little social prestige.

In general, to generate any of these pairings, you need a very strong attraction pulling these men together. It has to be strong enough to risk social ridicule, to overcome interpersonal embarrassment, even to redefine one's own sense of sexual orientation to accept a loss of power. And there must be a strong enough impetus toward this connection with another man that the connection wins out over the path of least resistance of being with a woman, a path all these men are open to (except just possibly Smith). I must regretfully say that I don't see this established in canon. Though all these potential pairings involve close personal relationships, that level of intensity is not evident to me.

I want to bitch about that for a moment, because I think the series dropped the ball with Jeremiah and Markus. They could have had it. In the pilot, the potential was there. Their basic dynamic, their contrast of personalities and worldviews could have been as compelling, as explosive, as Blake and Avon--but wasn't. It just never got seriously explored. That doesn't mean there's no slash potential, for them or any of these pairings. It just takes work: work to build the UST the canon left out, work to address plausibly the social dynamics the canon implies.

One final side note based on personal perceptions: I may be alone in the entire fandom in thinking that the most slashable pairing may be Markus/Lee. Lee is not a well-developed character; he's about on the level of "the women" in that regard, but there are moments when he expresses a desperation to regain Markus's good graces that reaches the intensity I don't see among any of these other gentlemen. By that token, Markus does not return this intensity, but part of that might be distance based on his feeling betrayed. Honestly, I don't see them happily in bed together, but I could see them having some very interesting angst about it.
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