Constance Penley on Fan Fiction and NASA


I got back into space and its fictions in the mid-1980s by hanging out with some very interesting women from around the country who write homoerotic, pornographic, utopian romances that take place in the Star Trek universe. Fellow academics have suggested that my “hanging out” with these female fan writers was really “doing ethnography,” but I cannot bring myself to put that more scholarly grid over the wondrous tangle of experiences and relationships that I found in that fan culture. In the “/TREK” chapter and the ones that follow I talk about everything I learned from this underground group of pseudonymous amateur writers who have ingeniously subverted and rewritten Star Trek to make it answerable to their own sexual and social desires. But what I learned most from them was an attitude that I later developed into a critical stance, a method of addressing what had become for me the increasingly entwined issues of sex, science, and popular culture. If the “slashers” (as the fans call themselves for reasons that will be revealed later) could rewrite the massive popular phenomenon that is Star Trek, why couldn’t I write NASA itself? After all, NASA has by now become popular culture–an issue I address in the “NASA/” chapter–making it without a doubt an object available to cultural criticism.

Constance Penley, NASA/TREK pp.2-3

I love the argument being put forward here (despite not really thinking that Penley rewrites NASA in the book). The idea that cultural existence equates to a kind of canon or lore that can then be reinterpreted in the same way that Spock and Kirk’s relationship is is another way of talking about speculation, and I’m 100% into the idea of speculating about the conditions of things in the world.

Parroting Marlo Stanfield (recognizing the baggage that comes with quoting The Wire in any form: “You want it to be one way, but it’s the other way.”

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