Joseph Brennan, Ph.D. is an Independent Scholar working in Sydney, Australia. He writes on male sexuality in the fields of porn, fan, and celebrity studies, and his work has been published in leading scholarly journals. Joseph is currently editing a special issue on ‘queerbaiting,’ to appear in Journal of Fandom Studies in 2018, and is also assembling a book collection on the topic for a university press. He has worked previously as Lecturer of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney, where he received his Ph.D. and is a University Medalist. He is editorial board member on the Routledge journal Psychology & Sexuality. On this website you will find information on his published work, which is organised according to particular areas of interest, with descriptions of topics studied, along with accompanying publications. It is also a place to find the latest news on his research projects, conference presentations, and media appearances.
Queerbaiting is a fan-conceived term that describes a tactic whereby media producers suggest homoerotic subtext between characters in popular television that is never intended to be actualised on screen. It has decidedly negative connotations and has attained a degree of cultural currency in the popular sphere, the pervasiveness of which makes scholarly consideration important.
Title: Queerbaiting: The ‘playful’ possibilities of homoeroticism
Abstract: This article explores the concept of ‘queerbaiting’, a term employed by media fans to criticise homoerotic suggestiveness in contemporary television when this suggestiveness is not actualised in the program narrative. I confront the negative connotations of the term and point to the agency of audiences, using the practices of ‘slash fans’ within the Merlin fandom as my case study. I trace definitions of queerbaiting in recent scholarly work and suggest comparison with another term, ‘hoyay’, which has more positive connotations. My central argument is that as this concept begins its inevitable permeation into academic work, worth considering are the queer readings that ‘queerbaiting’ in fact make possible, even plausible, which is an understanding of the term that is in line with the ‘poaching’ and ‘playful’ spirit of media fandom.
Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2016. Queerbaiting: The ‘playful’ possibilities of homoeroticism. International Journal of Cultural Studies Online before print. doi: 10.1177/1367877916631050
Slash refers to a practice whereby fans homoeroticize the bonds between male media characters and personalities, creating texts (including fiction, video, and art) for distribution within communities of likeminded fans. My concept of the ‘politics of slash’ considers issues of representation, visibility, and identity that underpin the practice.
Title: ‘Jensen Ackles is a (homophobic) douchebag’: The ‘politics of slash’ in debates on a TV star’s homophobia
Abstract: This article analyses discourse on the DataLounge LGBT Internet forum that debates whether Jensen Ackles (star of The CW’s Supernatural) is homophobic. Textual analysis is performed on five relevant threads created between 2007 and 2014, which have attracted in excess of 1150 responses. This discourse is considered in conjunction with existing scholarship on Supernatural as a cult phenomenon, in particular Ackles’ portrayal of the character Dean Winchester, who has been read by scholars (and members of the DataLounge forum) in relation to a certain hegemonic view of masculinity and heterosexuality, often at odds with the popularity of the series among ‘slash fans’, who undertake homoerotic readings. In light of this, I argue that the defensive and offensive posturing of participants on DataLounge can be understood as a case study of what I term the ‘politics of slash’. Such politics underscore some of the main pieces of presented ‘evidence’ for Ackles’ homophobia, such as unwillingness to discuss subtext at fan conventions. While Ackles is the catalyst for the discourse created, I argue that what is most interesting is the insight offered into ‘slash’ as a fan practice, and the subcultural groups most affected and energised by this debate, namely male homosexuals and slash fans. The study brings to bear new insight into understandings of slash and subcultural celebrity by considering the practice as it is constructed through the debate of a TV star’s supposed homophobia, a debate that is itself framed by certain ‘politics’ of representation, visibility, and identity.
Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2016. ‘Jensen Ackles is a (homophobic) douchebag’: The ‘politics of slash’ in debates on a TV star’s homophobia. Celebrity Studies Online before print. doi: 10.1080/19392397.2016.1249897
Slash manips describe a form of remix culture in which fans layer images of male characters from popular media with gay, and often pornographic, material. Photos are typically remixed by way of image manipulation software.
Title: ‘Fandom is full of pearl clutching old ladies’: Nonnies in the online slash closet Abstract: This article examines cultures of anonymity (or ‘nonnies’) and secrecy in online slash fandom through textual analysis of fannish reaction to gay magazine DNA publishing slash content. I use the experiences of infamous slash manip artist mythagowood from the Supernatural fandom community to read this critical moment of online discourse creation. Specific cases on LiveJournal communities spnanonhaven and fandomsecrets are examined to reveal pockets of conservatism, or ‘pearl clutching’, online. Within the context of male slash production, I examine the implications of nonnies and their efforts to keep slash secret, which is the enactment of an online ‘slash closet’; and conclude by considering what cultures of anonymity and secrecy mean for male slashers, many whose slash practice is inextricably linked to direct identity construction. Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2014. ‘Fandom is full of pearl clutching old ladies’: Nonnies in the online slash closet. International Journal of Cultural Studies 17.4: 363–380. doi: 10.1177/1367877913496200
Title: ‘If Duchamp’s toilet can be a masterpiece…’: Slash manips as fannish readymades Abstract: This article performs textual analysis of works from two slash manip artists – Tumblr’s wandsinhand and LiveJournal’s mythagowood – to argue that the form can be understood as a fannish form of ‘readymades’. I perform a comparative analysis of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain and the use of the toilet as a central sign in wandsinhand’s practice. The works of mythagowood are then examined. I use excerpts from various interviews with the artist to explore his practice, its connection with the Supernatural canon and his unique construction, ‘Sammy’. I compare his practice to that of figurative painter Francis Bacon and the statements his art makes on meat, beasts and sexuality. Framing my reading of the oeuvres of wandsinhand and mythagowood around Duchamp’s concept of ‘readymades’ and Bacon’s representation of meat demonstrates the potential for slash manips to explore the instability and malleability of the male sexed body, highlighting these objects’ aesthetic, artistic and cultural significance. Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2016. ‘If Duchamp’s toilet can be a masterpiece...’: Slash manips as fannish readymades. Journal of Fandom Studies 4.1: 3–21. doi: 10.1386/jfs.4.1.3_1
Title: Not ‘from my hot little ovaries’: How slash manips pierce reductive assumptions Abstract: Slash, a fannish practice, has been celebrated both for its transgression of male heterosexual representations and its female producers. Despite this recognition, slash manips – a form of slash photomontage – have yet to receive sustained scholarly attention. This paper argues that were slash manips to be taken seriously by researchers as objects of study, reductive cultural assumptions concerning gender, genre, medium and intent would be subject to critique. I detail what constitutes a manip and how it differs from the male celebrity fake. I also explore a similar process occurring at a commercial level and marketed to gay men, which I term ‘corporate slash’. The paper concludes with an analysis of the manips of LiveJournal artist mythagowood, which are prime examples of slash works not served by current definitions of the practice. Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2014. Not ‘from my hot little ovaries’: How slash manips pierce reductive assumptions. Continuum 28.2: 247–264. doi: 10.1080/10304312.2013.854872
Title: Slash manips: Remixing popular media with gay pornography Abstract: This article explores the value of slash manips as a form that offers new avenues for slash scholars, such as consideration of photo remix and male production, while also considering the importance of gay pornography to slash. I perform textual analysis from an aca–fan (academic and fan) position of two Merlin slash manips by male Tumblr artist wandsinhand. My interviews reveal, via the artist’s own assessment of the ‘value’ of his practice, a tendency to devalue or overlook the significance of this particular slash form, affirming a real need for further critical engagement with this under-examined practice.
Fanfic are written fan works posted online without the consent of the rights-holder and produced exclusively for an audience of other fans. My research has focused on the ethics of a particular practice within the fanfic community, namely ‘pulling-to-publish’: the process of rewriting and republishing for profit a work that was inspired by another’s intellectual property.
Title: ‘Let’s get a bit of context’: Fifty Shades and the phenomenon of ‘pulling to publish’ in Twilight fan fiction Abstract: The publishing success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, a series with origins as Twilight fan fiction, has energised popular interest in the practice of writing fan fiction (or ‘fanfics’). Equally, however, the series’ popularity has fuelled debate on the ethics of its commercial publication. This article highlights the divisive and polarising phenomenon of ‘pulling to publish’ in the Twilight fandom. ‘Pulling to publish’ refers to the process of rewriting and republishing for profit a work that was inspired by another’s intellectual property, and collaboratively edited by unpaid volunteers – the majority of whom would have expected the edited work to be freely available in perpetuity. Among other relevant case studies, this article examines a critical instance of pseudonymous online protest, challenge and defence between James and another well-known fanfic writer, coinciding with the March 2011 announcement that Fifty Shades would be commercially published. Several critiques of fanfic commercialisation are contextualised by a critical reading of the ‘official’ publication history of Fifty Shades, revealing the incompatibility of two self-constructed fan identities: the faithful and the opportunistic. Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph, and David Large. 2014. ‘Let’s get a bit of context’: Fifty Shades and the phenomenon of ‘pulling to publish’ in Twilight fan fiction. Media International Australia 152.1: 27–39. doi: 10.1177/1329878X1415200105
Merlin (2008–2012) is a BBC reimagining of the Arthurian legend that focuses on the coming-of-age of Arthur and his close bond with his manservant Merlin. I have primarily been interested in the application of queer theory to its male characters, namely Lancelot and Mordred, and reaction to its ending.
Title: ‘Is this what you call a break-up?’: The cancellation of Merlin, perceived producer disloyalty, and ‘television-as-lover’ fandom Abstract: This chapter uses this announcement and the subsequent fan and cast response as a case study of perceived producer disloyalty, and as what I term “television-as-lover” fandom, adapted from a concept by Brian L. Ott (2007). I argue that the case study demonstrates that television fans have an intimate attachment to the programs they love, which resembles a romantic relationship. And as such, that leaving fans out of the loop and promoting false hope — rather than acknowledging fans’ need for “a proper chance to prepare” for cancellation, or to lobby for a program’s continuation — was a betrayal of the tacit codes that exist between contemporary television and its fandoms.Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2018. ‘Is this what you call a break-up?’: The cancellation of Merlin, perceived producer disloyalty, and ‘television-as-lover’. In Everybody Hurts: Transitions, Endings, and Resurrections in Fan Cultures, edited by Rebecca Williams (pp. 101–112). Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
Title: ‘You could shame the great Arthur himself’: A queer reading of Lancelot from BBC’s Merlin with respect to the character in Malory, White, and Bradley Abstract: A queer reading of the Lancelot character as he appears in BBC television series Merlin (2008–12) and the works of Malory, White, and Bradley, situates the cult series in the long heritage of Arthurian adaptation and reveals a s ecretive and troubled figure with a personal connection to his adaptors. Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2015. ‘You could shame the great Arthur himself’: A queer reading of Lancelot from BBC’s Merlin with respect to the character in Malory, White, and Bradley. Arthuriana 25.2: 20–43. doi: 10.1353/art.2015.0030
Title: ‘You gave me no choice’: A queer reading of Mordred’s journey to villainy and struggle for identity in BBC’s Merlin Abstract: This essay performs a queer reading of the Mordred character—that great archetype of the treacherous villain—from BBC’s Merlin (2008–2012) so as to examine his role in a series that garnered a devoted following among ‘slash fans,’ who homoeroticise male pairings. By charting the various catalysts that set this villain on his path, we are privy to insights into the representations and (queer) metaphors of this popular British series and what these elements have to tell us about this reimagined legendary villain. This reading is supported by analysis of slash fanart (known as ‘slash manips’), which support my reading and delve into typologies that help examine the construction and journey of Mordred as the archetypal villain, as well as his multiple identities of knight and magician, and queer associations of his struggle for self. This reading offers insight into the reimagining of an iconic villain, as well as the various types and queer metaphors the character’s journey in this popular series illuminates. Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2015. ‘You gave me no choice’: A queer reading of Mordred’s journey to villainy and struggle for identity in BBC’s Merlin. Refractory 26. http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2015/10/07/brennan/
Aca-fandom is a research approach within fan studies that straddles academic and fan positions. My research into slash is situated within the cultural studies, textual tradition within which I speak from the position of an aca–fan, drawing on participant–observation and my active involvement in the fan community as a slash manip artist.
Title: The fannish parergon: Aca–fandom and the decentred canon
Abstract: Aca–fandom, as popularized by Jenkins, forefronts reciprocity and dialogue between researcher and subject and has become the method of choice for many fan studies scholars. This article critiques the centrality of canon in the aca–fan tradition, using Derrida’s work on the parergon. I raise various issues for consideration, such as aca–fandom’s emphasis on identity, and the potential implications of a researcher presuming commonalities with fan communities. These issues are discussed with regard to my own practice-led research approach. I examine the aca–fan position in relation to ‘reflexive’ and ‘native anthropology’, the latter of which highlights advocacy dimensions of the position. I also make a case for the importance of managing responsibilities to academy and community (public or fannish) and distinctions between autonomous and public or political intellectualism. My discussion of the various implications of the aca–fan position leads to my central argument, which is that the aca–fan researcher in the textual tradition would do well to avoid the temptation to fixate on canon at the expense of the fan works themselves.
Suggested citation: Brennan, Joseph. 2014. The fannish parergon: Aca–fandom and the decentred canon. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture 3.2: 217–232. doi: 10.1386/ajpc.3.2.217_1