Today we’re doing some note-taking over Francesca Coppa’s “Slash/Drag: Appropriation and Visibility in the Age of Hamilton” in the 2018 book Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies.
when bucky barnes comes out with dark eyes and no memory, i think of myself. of how certain words make me fall back into the places i never want to return to. of how i can’t erase everything that’s been taught to me by the people who hurt me, but i’m trying. that love, above everything, helps me ground myself to the present so i’m not sent tumbling.
Coppa uses an opening quote from Tumblr user Inkskinned that really answers some unrelated thoughts and questions I’ve had about the violence people direct towards people who criticize fandom especially in the context of “comfort characters” – which tend to be white male presenting dudes in canon who are queered and, to an extent on top of that, “feminized”. Inkskinned clearly identifies with Bucky and his trauma is familiar and used to unpack and map their own trauma and responses to triggers left behind. So what happens when someone like Inkskinned – who is probably lovely, I do not know them and did not search them out at all as I did notes – sees someone talk critically (unpacking him or jabbing at him) about Bucky? Chances are… even if it’s privately, they’re not gonna have a great reaction because he has become their emotional support damaged white man.
Why slash? The question has been asked again and again, by journalists in sensation pieces, by scholars in academic articles, and by fans themselves in essays and convention panels and blog posts: why have women created this enormous archive of romantic and erotic stories between male characters from television and film? Why Kirk/Spock? Why Holmes/Watson (retroactively dubbed “Johnlock” in the age of portmanteau pairing names)? Why do we ship Dean/Castiel on Supernatural?
Anyway, moving on from that opening quote, Coppa starts by poking at the question/s asked of slash: Why? Immediately, the whiteness jumps out because in the “whys” are revealed some “why nots”.
Why not Sulu/Chekov? Why not Luke Cage/Danny Rand? Why not Scott McCall/Stiles (or another character if you don’t multi-ship your fandom bicycle)? Why is slash fandom preoccupied with white men for the most part? (This has shifted a bit in the years after Coppa’s chapter was published but a hefty amount of East Asian people – different diasporic communities whose homeland’s source media has become popular in fandom spaces – have spoken about how they feel about the way Western fandom understands masculinity/men outside of their narrow spaces.)
Coppa defines fan fiction through a focus on bodies, saying that it “isn’t a literary form at all—or rather, that because it uses the evoked bodies and voices of mass media characters to tell new stories, it is more a kind of theatre than a kind of literature”.
I do think this… isn’t a great definition – though I do agree that fan fiction is not a literary form and it’s closer to theater – closer even to smashing your dolls together or making your sims do some wild shit for screenshot purposes. Because it’s not a literary form at all. It’s writing that pulls from established literary forms and smushes them together to make something new and then, in some cases as people get professionally published, feeds back into the literary world. (See Naomi Novik and Tamsin Muir, who both have backgrounds in fandom and writing fic.)
[the claims of fic as theater are] even more true of slash, where the beautiful male bodies of the central characters— what Joanna Russ ( 2014) calls “the passive, acted‐upon glories of male flesh”—tend to be front and center. In slash, the reader is even more aware that these famous characters are performing in scripts that are (1) different from the usual mass media fare; and (2) of a woman’s devising. Slash narratives offer us the chance both to watch and to identify with these men—or in Constance Penley’s (1992) formulation, both to be and to have them (488).1
A) Love me some Constance Penley
B) I think this is a clear marker that these men are Gender to slash writers/readers in a way I don’t think has been unpacked properly outside of a “gotcha” to shut down conversations?
Slash narratives offer us the chance both to watch and to identify with these men—or in Constance Penley’s (1992) formulation, both to be and to have them (488).1
This is Gender. This is the driving force behind how characters like Loki become popular as hell, even before the “he’s genderfluid” reveal was an ideal cypher for people. It’s why Bruno and Camilo from Encanto are extremely popular in the surprisingly large body of fanworks that exist following the film.
Unfortunately, it seems to be rare that people bring up how men can be gender for people who don’t identify as men – Coppa identifies slash repeatedly as a Thing Women Do and so do many other people even if we also tack on a “queer” in front of “women”. When we get that acknowledgement that there are people who find Gender in half of a slash ship or in a male K-pop idol, it tends to be used to be like ignore criticisms of slash fandom and slash fans? Which sucks because I’d love to see work seriously unpacking Gender in Slash Fandom that also reckons with how like… queer characters of color are treated. (Why not Jesper in Shadow and Bone?)
There are endless transmedia adaptations of characters like Sherlock Holmes or Batman, so it is clearly not appropriation that’s the issue: it is the appropriation by the other—by women, in this case.
For me, one big flaw in Coppa’s argument is that she’s viewing slash fandom as appropriation of the established order in a way that doesn’t work with slash’s evolving role in fandom for the past… 15-20 years?
It’s like… her actual argument:
My argument in this chapter is that it might be useful to compare slash to other forms of appropriative performance; drag comes powerfully to mind and, more recently, the musical Hamilton. These are forms where it’s important to see the bothness, the overlaid and blurred realities: male body/Liza Minnelli; person of color/George Washington.
But… slash fandom is not drag is not racebending.
It’s a very clumsy connection and one, because of how drag is repeatedly used by transmisogynists to claim awful things about trans women, that… isn’t a good connection to make. It’s also conflating something that we are assured is solely for entertainment purposes (slash) with two things that are tied deep into representation:
Many drag artists are trying to embrace their femininity, several in the spotlight of Drag Race have come out as trans women, and while there are critiques to be had of drag (the way there are of many things) it’s historically been a safe space for queer exploration of gender identities and performance
Hamilton’s racebending of historical figures (while, I argue immensely ineffective and somewhat offensive) exists as a way to provide non-white Americans (excluding, kind of notably, in my opinion… Indigenous Americans) to reclaim the histories of this country
How Coppa explains her examples are: “These examples are transvestite in the literal sense of people wearing the “wrong” (new, previously forbidden) clothes and taking on the “wrong” (new, previously incredible) roles”.
Here’s my thing… slash doesn’t map onto this very well.
Not in fandom, at least?
I understand that Coppa’s argument is very “the outsiders think of us like this”, but outsiders aren’t reading this sort of work? Slash fans and people wanting to understand it are and so this simplistic, partially incorrect connection doesn’t vibe well.
To see slash as a similar mode of performance—one in which a female writer animates not just one, but two deliberately contrasted and symbolically overdetermined male protagonists—is to understand slash as what Garber (1992) calls an enabling fantasy (6) and what David Halperin (2012) terms a proxy identity; that is, a performative intervention that—like drag, like Hamilton—enables something to be said that could not otherwise be said.
I also do not think that slash is “a similar mode of performance” or transgressive in media fandom the same way that drag and racebending – of Hamilton, but in general – can be overall?
However, I am absolutely here for the acknowledgement of the role that slash plays in providing readers/writers with a “proxy identity” because gender but I want to read more meticulous work on this.
Despite the fact that she literally does (attempt to, I feel) define it…I still do wonder what Coppa means by a “performative intervention” because if she means “performative” the way I would mean it, we’re cooking with gas… but I have a feeling she doesn’t mean performative as in “kinda put on and fake and ultimately meaningless like BLM in bios/display names by rabid racists online”.
Also, again in 2018, we knew that there were more nonbinary people and trans people beyond that (as some enbies don’t ID as trans) writing and reading slash so the binary reinforced across this piece where women write slash about men and men who hate on women for it…I don’t love it.
I first began thinking about the connections between slash and drag when a new generation of fans began to question whether slash was appropriative not just of male mass media characters, which it certainly is, but also of some kind of “real” gay male experience.
This has been a question posed in fandom and Romancelandia (the community of romance writers and reader across social media platforms) for about 2 decades: what do we owe queer men in fandom/romance in the stories we tell (ostensibly) about them?
And I mean, it’s complicated… Because a lot of writers see the men they’re writing about as Gender in a way they cannot explain even to themselves, a lot of the fan fiction does come from both a source refusal to flesh out female characters or provide canon queers, and I get the stated sentiment that these authors don’t want to write a world with characters who can deal with misogyny/subject to systemic misogyny.
But also the authors and audiences responding are almost always disingenuous dicks about it especially when a queer man brings up his concerns? Then it becomes this binary that actually does edge close to how “Gender Criticals” talk about feminism and “womanhood”, essentializing both slash fandom and M/M romance spaces as solely for women and therefore, men with their Reverse Cooties (Testosterone, they imply) don’t belong, aren’t the subject of those books or stories.
(See, also, the way that these discussions always bring up how some of the women writing these fictions could be/must be “eggs” – unrevealed/closeted trans people, here trans masc or dude aligned – and so criticizing how slash and M/M are lady dominated and oriented despite the subject is automatically transphobic… when trans women are for sure not given the same leeway in fandom or publishing spaces and wouldn’t be allowed to write M/F or F/F content when they’re eggs or when they’re newly hatched.)
And don’t get me started on how the “I can’t bear to write female characters because they’ll be subject to misogyny” spiel ignores how male omegas in romance and fandom are subject to in-universe misogyny as omegas are usually subject to systemic oppression that directly maps onto misogyny (eg., reduced to wombs, prone to weeping/emotional overreaction, often kept from working or ruling because of their identity).
The idea that the male protagonists of slash fiction—the “men” implied in the title of Green, Jenkins and Jenkins’s “Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking” (1998)—were bonking but not actually gay was articulated almost from the first, both among slash writers themselves and in the earliest academic articles.
When I’ve talked about homophobic histories of slash fandom and Romancelandia, people try to pretend that I’m making this shit up. Not only did people say that their characters – or the characters/celebs they were writing fucking not “actually” gay or that they were just into a single specific man – they also were publicly and openly homophobic. To this day, I’m assured by friends who have to rely on facebook for marketing, there are M/M romance groups that are full of cis (often het) women decrying queer dudes, being transphobic (both against trans dudes for having “icky” vaginas and trans femmes for being trans feminine), and a bunch of other stuff.
I don’t think fandom now is as homophobic as it used to be when I was a fetus in fandom, but Romancelandia… there I’m not so sure it’s moved forward enough as a community.
[…] Marvel’s Captain America, who canonically seems to have both a girlfriend and a boyfriend, has been championed as the bisexual hero America deserves.
I… don’t recall this. In 2016-2018, where was Steve linked with having a boyfriend and a girlfriend in canon? Because if it’s Bucky and Sharon… no. Because Bucky isn’t a canon relationship and Sharon is… also not really one either.
Okay there’s a whole huge part I want to unpack:
I sometimes tell my students that if the crime of male‐oriented pornography is objectification, the crime of slash fiction is subjectification: the erasing of differences between the self and the fictional character to the point where a fan can feel a profound identification with someone who is really quite objectively different (e.g., Jedi Master Obi‐Wan Kenobi, hockey player Jonathan Toews, Chicago police detective Ray Kowalski; fan favorites all) or that she wouldn’t like or support (e.g., Loki of Asgard, villain of The Avengers). Fandom loves Loki. I, too, love Loki. I plead guilty to the crime of subjectifying Loki, though I defend myself and other Loki‐lovers (substitute Edward Cullen, Spike from Buffy, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, etc.) by saying—look, we know that he is, in Eddie Izzard’s phrase, a mass‐murdering fuckhead. We’re not really going to marry him or anything. That’s why it’s a fantasy; we know, thanks.
Simply writing slashfic or M/M romance when not a queer dude isn’t objectification alone. In the same way that writing romance with leads who aren’t the same ethnicity as you isn’t automatically racist objectification either. What makes it objectification is how you treat other queer dude characters, queer men in mainstream media, and how you treat actual queer men.
For the most part, I’d argue that the majority of what I have read (and I have read a lot) of fandom’s M/M content isn’t objectification. However, we can’t see every author’s internal politics? We can see, sometimes, when they fight with queer dudes on twitter or snidely subtweet a man who has an opinion on M/M or when they like homophobic tweets but that happens far less in fandom than in Romancelandia (I FEEL).
Again with the whiteness, first of all: the main people who are fully subjectified by slash fandom as Coppa understands and defines it (and as fandom actually largely does it)… are white men.
As we covered with the piece on how fandom will ignore Black characters because they’re supposedly boring but make up hundreds (or thousands) of stories for random, average-to-ugly white guys (or a triangle!!): for white people in fandom, the limits of fandom mean they can identify with profoundly different characters (straight people, white men, murderers) but they hit a wall when it comes to identifying with and caring about people of color outside of very narrow limits.
(With the increase of popularity of Korean idol groups like BTS and Stray Kids alongside MXTX’s novels getting a wider fandom due to their release through Seven Seas Entertainment, we’re seeing more appreciation of people of color… but they are almost entirely East Asian and written in ways that don’t always vibe with how East Asian members of fandom appreciate or approve of.)
Secondly, to say there’s no objectification in slash fandom is… incorrect because it is what happens often when slash shippers and romance novelists write non-white men. They go with racist sexual stereotypes about what men of color must be like. That is objectification. If you reduce a character to sexual stereotypes about having big dicks (Black men), small dicks (East Asian men), or promiscuity/sexual availability (Latino or Indigenous men)… you’re objectifying them.
And you can write complicated and even transgressive sexual scenarios with male characters of color from different communities… but fandom is very open about loving racism more than they do accuracy and fans of color.
We’re onto where Coppa makes the drag connection solid and if I squint, I can get why she’s making this connection (also she does… say it here.)
Halperin argues that gay men use these female characters to articulate a gay male subjectivity which precedes and may in important ways be separate from a gay male sexual identity (or to put it another way, a boy may love show tunes before he loves men, or without ever loving men). The gay male appropriation of and performance of femininity effectively mirror—in the sense both of “reflect” and “reverse”—slash fiction’s preoccupations with and appropriations of certain (often hyper‐performatively) male characters in service of a female sensibility; in both cases, appropriation becomes a way of saying something that could not otherwise easily be said.
Halperin said that queer men used actresses like Mae West and Marilyn Monroe to figure out themselves and be themselves (utilizing drag in the process) and so Coppa argues that slash fandom, which is subjectifying men for a similar purpose… is the same thing?
But is there an erotic satisfaction in drag for queer men the way that slash fandom can have an erotic satisfaction point for the non-dudes creating it? Beyond the Gender of it all – which I get and respect to an extent – what about the fact that there is erotic and fully sexual slash fan fiction (to the point where that has become what these things are known for in internal and external audiences. (Note that a lot of the defense of racism in fanworks/on the AO3 has become “first they’ll come for the racist content, then they’ll come for your queer kinky porn” and since fandom isn’t exactly writing boatloads of femslash… what do you think they mean there?)
I have previously argued (Coppa 2008) that Spock carries within him the shadow of a displaced woman: Number One, Star Trek’s original first officer, as played by Majel Barrett (later Roddenberry). Like Spock, Number One was aloof, unemotional, and tactically brilliant, but the character was disliked by test audiences, and Spock was moved into her role.
I don’t doubt Coppa’s observation and I see merit in her argument… and this actually reveals a lot to me about early fandom being just like current fandom? Despite an audience that is assumed to be majority female, fandom doesn’t actually… like women that much? Hating female characters for things you then turn around and laud a male character for doing – especially when the female character isn’t white and the male one is – is as integral to fandom evolution as the internet.
But where we differ is that I look critically at fandom spooling from this and she celebrates fandom for what it spools from this: a love of Spock and a large disregard for future female characters (who fandom does write off for being too emotional, unlike the white guy raging out or weeping next door).
Coppa spins this out to talk about how women are used to being “strangers in a land that sees us as foreign and treats us as different and lesser, that polices our emotions (silly, bitchy, irrational, hysterical) and then claims we are hard and unfeeling” before going, kind of “ah and that’s why we connect with Vulcans and with Spock”…
She’s not wrong (few fan studies scholars are 100% wrong about what they come to observe) but this is a revealing tidbit about something that predicted what fandom continues to be like/about and I wish someone would explore how we can map fandom past and present onto each other when it comes to the misogyny and racism of slash fandom specifically.
Not Coppa’s fault, I just wanted to express that longing.
In slash, the “trying on” of ways of being and feeling involves the appropriation of some behaviors that have been culturally coded as male. Women who slash are appropriating and remixing male performances to create behavioral scripts for themselves that the culture has not otherwise provided. Gay men have been drawn to the behavior of glamor queens, divas, and women who are actively performing their gender. Similarly, slash fans tend to be drawn to characters who can be seen to be actively performing their masculinity, and so have behaviors, roles, lines, props that can easily be redeployed.
Okay so I get this… Coppa’s comparison where she’s making the connection with drag for slash fandom is tied up in performance and taking a performance onto yourself. I understand that drag isn’t merely “I will dress as a woman today’ but putting on a performance of womanhood that in some cases for impersonators, relies on replicating the actions of a woman already performing an over-performance of femininity like Madonna or Naomi Campbell.
I just… I don’t really get the fit all the way? Like I can see the answer, the connection, but it’s like looking at it through a waterfall? I can’t parse the clues out even though I figure they’re right in front of me? I need to understand why I’m not understanding this. I will revisit in the future.
But while I’m here, let’s talk about that last sentence:
Similarly, slash fans tend to be drawn to characters who can be seen to be actively performing their masculinity, and so have behaviors, roles, lines, props that can easily be redeployed.
This is… sort of true and it goes back to Gender.
Slash fans tend to be drawn to white (or white presenting/aligned) male character who can have this stuff mapped onto them. There are characters like Steve Rogers who are performing masculinity (Captain America) but… that’s not all of them? Or it’s only them if you shove them into the same box and shave off the squishy bits that spill over?
Which is what fandom does.
Next we return to the thing I have the biggest, clearest beef with in this piece: presenting white manhood/masculinity (and, implicitly, white queerness/femininity) as the ideal across this piece.
Slash features some of the most overdetermined male characters in the history of mass media. These “men” are not like our brothers and sons and fathers and husbands; they are Spock and Loki, Captain America and Tony Stark, Constable Benton Fraser and Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, Detectives Starsky and Hutch, pop stars Justin Timberlake and Harry Styles; the inimitable (read: imitable to the point of demanding imitation) Sherlock Holmes. They are aliens and werewolves and cyborgs and wizards and rock stars; they are new men and chemically enhanced men and military men with ridiculously big guns: a collection of phallic props (pointy ears, pipes, metal arms, wands, microphones) like you’ve never seen; an archive of performative masculine behaviors; men in/as uniforms and costumes.
Across this piece, the only person of color that I feel Coppa has mentioned so far is Black drag queen Ru Paul… Everyone else is white. The characters, ships, female celebrities drag queens pulled from… are all white. It is clear that across this piece and probably in her other work in fandom (I’ve read some, it’s just been a while) that Coppa doesn’t see race in fandom but she sure does see a lot of whiteness. It’s a default for her in a way she likely doesn’t recognize.
The bolded list up there Is entirely white characters. The ship list at the beginning were solely white characters. The masculinity fandom attaches to its favorite characters or sees as Gender according to this article? White.
(Spock’s Jewishness –because of Leonard Nimoy imbuing him with such – is complicated to express as whiteness/not whiteness because fandom doesn’t treat him the same as like… Finn but he’s also not treated the same as Erik Lensher in the X-Men First Class fandom or like… Captain America. It’s complicated and still fueled by whiteness so that’s why I keep calling Spock a white guy across this)
Whiteness is integral to English language slash fandom and is never addressed across this piece.
But beyond this extra‐textual problem of performance itself, the male characters that fandom is drawn to tend to be conflicted and divided subjects within the text; they have a visible bothness that makes thematic and central to their stories the idea of personhood as performance. Mr. Spock is half‐human, half‐Vulcan; Holmes is a mind visibly struggling with a burdensome body (Coppa 2012). Werewolves and vampires are divided souls by nature; celebrities struggle with negotiating their public performances and private selves.
Yes and no? The examples Coppa uses (again white men entirely) are complicated and conflicted in some parts but this isn’t true for every popular ship? What is the bothness that Taehyung and Jungkook have in BTS RPF? What is it for Stiles from Teen Wolf? What about Poe in that brief period where Finn/Poe was super popular? The examples that Coppa uses are super limited (like the Steve/Captain America performance of masculinity) and ignore the vast reality of what content fandom is creating and why they actually say they’re doing a lot of it.
The idea of “personhood as performance” is interesting but I also do not think it applies truly to a lot of whom fandom deems worthy of interest and introspection.
These are the kinds of characters that fandom is drawn to, and slash fandom doubles down: it wants them in sets of two, partnered and paired as two halves of a whole. Regardless of depth and complexity, a male character will be largely ignored by slash fandom if there’s no foil character available: up until recently, this was the fate of James Bond, Spiderman, and The Doctor. It should also be noted that the need for pairs as well as for doubleness/performativity is often given as a reason why female characters are less slashed than male ones: with whom could one reasonably slash Princess Leia or Wonder Woman?
Leia, I get, because the Star Wars films fail the Bechdel Test as-used. But Wonder Woman? Diana lives on an island of Amazons who have been textually queer from day one, works with the hottest and toughest female characters ever and you go “who could we reasonably slash with them”?
Are you kidding me?
(Meanwhile, I have managed to ship Wonder Woman with loads of women including Lois Lane??)
Also: Felix Leiter is present and Black for at least two Bond films and fandom never got into him… there are actually other examples of white characters being close to men of color, especially Black men, and fandom going “nah… we’ll wait for the right (white) guy to slash him with”.
I am so tired.
Slash fiction is unusual for insisting on a kind of joint protagonist within a single text7: the pairing itself is the star. The foils make visible each other’s qualities and characteristics: if one is blonde, the other will be dark; if they’re sunny, their partner will be brooding; if they’re cerebral, the partner will be physical: Kirk and Spock, Starsky and Hutch, Lex and Clark. They’re both made whole by being brought together and are incomplete apart; this is sex in the Lawrencian sense, calling, calling for the complement.
Again, pointing out the whiteness afoot. Once again the ships are white, the characteristics fandom defines and makes visible are commonly linked with white people, the wholeness is two white men meeting in the bedroom. That’s all that Coppa – and much of fandom – can imagine.
In diametrical opposition, a character like Bucky Barnes a.k.a. the Winter Soldier gives women a symbol of containment: straitjacketed, controlled, and masked to the point where only his eyes are visible; abused but yet terrifically menacing. Crawford in her “Mommy Dearest” persona—tight headband, face cream, and red lipstick (Figure 12.1)—is one kind of icon; the Winter Soldier with his smeared camouflage makeup, haunted eyes, and face mask (Figure 12.2), is another. This is the modern epic theatre; this is kabuki.
This insistence that Bucky serves as a handy receptacle for female trauma – more so than any of the traumatized women the MCU does actually dump on you – has been going around for like six years at this point? I dislike it a bit because it’s again this extension of personhood that doesn’t get applied to anyone else? No female character of color gets this treatment. Bucky Barnes is in in a film with Sam Wilson – multiple films and a TV show actually – and he has never gotten an ounce of what fandom does even when we are shown his trauma and his tragedies in the recent Disney+ show they shared.
Also, I’m gonna be real, this is a reach. Yes, Bucky and Joan Crawford are both iconic in those images she uses I the piece, but… fandom is not writing (and has long since stopped drawing) Bucky in his Winter Soldier fit.
I also think… it’s kinda incorrect (and a little racist) to make this comparison for Bucky and kabuki??
Slash fandom has made meaning from and around Bucky Barnes in his Winter Soldier drag (Figure 12.2).
Reader, when I say I recoiled…
Frankly, this piece from Coppa is just… it’s trying to explain things fandom does almost exclusively to and for white men in a way that justifies what it doesn’t and does do to/about characters and people of color.
There’s a point around page 198 where I just… got up and went to do the dishes. Because note-taking for the academic equivalent of those sad girl justifying their sole interest in white dude slash ships was so tedious that I wanted to do a chore to break up the monotony.
Bucky is sad. Bucky has eyeliner/a mask that runs when he’s sad. Bucky’s torture at Hydra’s hands is just like the systemic misogyny that harms women. Bucky is embodying feminine trauma. Bucky Bucky Bucky… I love the guy but this entire section about why Bucky is appealing that boils down to he appeals to traumatized white women in fandom is just… exhausting on multiple levels. I don’t even think it’s wrong. I am just tired of this.
Again, fandom doesn’t do any of this for characters or celebs of color – especially Black ones. I cannot imagine a noted scholar actually talking about whiteness in fandom and what we lose by focusing on it exclusively. Dr Pande names whiteness as fuel for fandom repeatedly and she is punished for it but this piece is like “white men are the most appealing men to queer feminists in fandom” with no self awareness and uh… I don’t love that.
A Brief Note on the Power of the “Healing Cock”
I skipped this part. I didn’t care. I couldn’t.
I would argue that slash offers something similar—that queer female space, as well as the ability to escape the outline of the identity that you are forced to carry every day—and that for gay men and slash fans both, the suggestion that you would restrict your identification to those characters with whom you share an identity feels limiting.
I don’t think people should solely write what they know or have experienced but I will also say that again, these people largely aren’t writing Black and brown characters outside of racist sexual stereotypes or as sexless supporters of what really matters: the white dude ship. So arguing for them to keep doing what they’re already doing – a thing that is hostile to and erases people/characters of color – isn’t great to me.
The World Turned Upside Down
Coppa saves the Hamilton stuff for the end…
Like slash, like drag, Hamilton appropriates famous characters to tell a story it would be difficult to tell otherwise and articulates the subjectivity of people of color (see also Hills’s Chapter 30 in this volume).
As a former Hamilfan, I disagree firmly and fiercely with the connection Coppa attempts to make here. I cannot even begin to unpack why this is teeth-grindingly frustrating to read as a queer Black person with a history degree and who read everything possible on Hamilton when the musical started running. But one beef to grill is how Coppa keeps comparing these things – slash, drag, and now Hamilton – to cultural appropriation. That’s what the appropriation is linked to repeatedly in her text. This is… not how that works.
Also, Coppa gives Hamilton way too much credit. It’s not a play about characters of color, not truly. It is a play about white people played by people of color. Lin Manuel Miranda isn’t… actually doing anything special with this. There’s next to no introspection about the world reimagined outside of the cast/creator interviews.
Yes, the Founding Fathers are now brown… what does that change for the atrocities they committed on Black and Native populations? Am I supposed to feel represented by a silent Sally Hemmings dancing up to Thomas Jefferson in “What Did I Miss” because they’re both Black now?
And I promise I’m not actually reading too much into this. Coppa actually drops in a segment where she engages with criticism and, as a white woman with some level of privilege… dismisses the criticism that was coming largely from Black people?
But when Gordon‐Reed talks of feeling “discomfited” at hearing the Schuyler Sisters proclaim “how ‘lucky’ they were ‘to be alive’ during a time of African chattel slavery,” there is a serious disconnect between her reading of the play and mine. Because I don’t think Hamilton is actually about the founding fathers any more than I think that drag is about women and slash is about men. In fact, I think it’s about the least interesting take you could have on it, like it’s fifth grade social studies. Hamilton is doing something far more interesting: appropriating history to tell a story about contemporary multicultural America; more specifically, it situates the story of an individual within the context of a massive shift of structural political power.
Coppa misses that what Hamilton was trying to do and what it succeeds in doing (as well as its effect on white liberals like herself) are different things. Lin Manuel Miranda claims one thing, casts for it, but ultimately the story is about white men reimagined. It is shallow use of racebending that doesn’t tell us anything about what it meant to be a person of color then… or what it means to be one now.
I recommend Ishmael Reed’s The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda just for the way it unpacks the sensation around Hamilton and its response from many, more left-leaning people of color.
I also do not think Hamilton is particularly radical. Certainly not as radical as Coppa and many others thinks.
Or to put it another way: Hamilton is about the founders like Watership Down is about rabbits, or Animal Farm is about pigs. If you think the show is first and foremost about Alexander Hamilton in the context of eighteenth‐century American history, you’re missing it.
I have spent the entire last section of this getting increasingly condescending so I know that when you’re getting to the end of a piece, sometimes the ornery leaps out. But y’all, this is some shit. I don’t think that whole section fuctionally defending the play from critique should’ve even been in here? It’s inconsequential to the argument that Coppa insists on making about how these things are all connected and the same and… no they’re really fucking not.
(Also, this has become the actual only segment ostensibly about people of color… and a lot of it is her defending a megapopular musical against criticism (from people of color) because it stars POC as long-dead enslavers.)
Anyway, I did this because I had the time and I have been meaning to go through Coppa’s work in this book for a while. I think Coppa’s work has value and is interesting, but it is also colored, no joke, by whiteness. Her view of media and media fandoms is that of a white person moving through nominally white spaces. Even her perception of Hamilton and its fandom mis tinted with that and it is frustrating to unpack.