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Note: This is my OPINION only. And I was raised to believe that everyone's opinion is valid. I am not stating facts and setting forth some kind of "this is the way it is" rule. Again, this is my OPINION only. Thank you.
Smarm, Warm Fuzzies, and Friendship:
A Somewhat Irreverent and Rambling Essay
Written October 30, 1999
Updated November 7, 2002
What is smarm? A noun? A verb? A slimy salesman, a rib-cracking hug, or the touch of a hand. Does it matter? And do we care? ~grin~
First, a little explanation and personal background, which you may or may not care about.
A few months after I started writing, Guide Posts posted their first challenge -- the non-owie smarm fic. The word smarm was helpfully described by Kitty, a Sentinel Smarm Queen, as
(n) the visible (or audible) expression of affection between two friends, in which the non-sexual love they have for each other is momentarily glimpsed via some action. (v) to act in a manner which displays affection for a friend, esp. to do or say emotional things which would not normally be expected.
Sounded fairly normal to me, especially since at that time, I didn't know what slash was or know it existed, much less trying to wrap my mind around such a concept. However, hurt/comfort and smarm were still new things to me, so I wasn't sure I could do anything with the challenge. But I decided to try. Couldn't hurt. So I wrote Conclusions -- the title of which I still hate, but I don't like retitling something after it's been posted, so I left it. And that was the last I wrote of smarm for quite some time. Didn't really feel comfortable with writing it and I didn't understand it.
But then came the rest of the 20-some (or more) answers to the challenge. I read them all. And liked most of them a great deal. And wondered why with all the great talent floating around that I even bothered to write. ~shrug~
It wasn't until almost a year later that I tried my hand at smarm again. By then, I'd written a lot more and felt much more comfortable with the guys and how I saw them. Embrace was born, followed by many more smarm pieces. Plus by then I'd indoctrinated Robyn in the TS fandom and got her hooked as well. ~grin~ Amazing how much easier it is to write with a fellow fan as a roommate.
Back to the main question: What is smarm?
To me, smarm is that sometimes indescribable element in a story that makes me smile and go "awww..." ~grin~ I have a friend who is a smarmaholic and likes to be turned into a "puddle of smarm goo" with the stories she reads. I tend to think of smarm as part and parcel of Jim and Blair's friendship, part of the underlying basis. It can be anything from Jim telling Blair "I'm glad you came" in Flight to a touch on the shoulder to the rocking hold/hug in the garage scene in Blind Man's Bluff to the full-blown hugs so many of us write into our stories and the words the boys exchange in those same stories.
Are there levels of smarm?
Most definitely. Smarm has several levels. I know somewhere on the web, there's a rating list, but I don't know where it is at the moment and I don't feel like hunting it down. Suffice it to say, smarm can rank from a simple pat on the shoulder or maybe just a fond look to a full hug/kiss on forehead/smoothing of hair/etc., etc. Sometimes the more simple things are more effective and sweeter to read than the heavy stuff which at times feels (to me) like I'm either drowning in molasses or being hit over the head.
Granted I can't claim innocence on the "drowning in molasses" writing. I've written my share of those stories. But I think I've also written some of the softer, subtler variety as well. I try to span the curve, writing for different tastes.
Why do we use that word?
I use that word because that's the word given me when I first found myself in the fandom. I heard somewhere a long time ago that we create our own meanings to words. That if we wanted to make "flower" a swear word, we could, just by using in that way long enough to change the connotative (as opposed to denotative) meaning. So while some might find the word "smarm" as not a good word to use considering the dictionary meaning of it, I myself have no problem with it. The word has changed meaning for me, though to be honest, I never really knew the previous meaning of it since it wasn't a word I typically used. In recent months, however, the word "smarm" is beginning to leave a bad taste in my mouth because of a few undercurrents in the fandom. But until I hear something better or something that will stick, smarm it will be.
Why do I write smarm?
Mainly because I want to go for the soft, warm fuzzy feeling that I can't get anywhere else. I tend to be somewhat of a closed-off person -- which makes it strangely ironic that I would write some of the stories that I do. I'm not a hugger and never have been. I think I've always wanted to be, but I'm just not.
Light smarm vs. heavy smarm. And is there a standard?
A topic I approach with much trepidation. I see light smarm (also what I call soft or subtle smarm) as usually limited to maybe a shoulder touch or a playful cheek slap or a few honest "glad you came" words. From there it moves up the scale to hugs to cheek stroking and hair stroking (usually in hospital situations) to forehead kissing (usually in those really intense emotional situations) to the really heavy levels that Kitty and Martha's Beach is, which is beyond my vocabulary to find a proper word to describe.
I think also that the way a smarm piece is written helps define whether it's light or heavy. The denser the wording, the heavier it is sometimes. And sometimes, for me, if it's too dense, I either can't stay interested enough to read it or I just don't understand it.
And a standard? Well, for some there might be. ~stepping into very dangerous territory~ I've heard that Beach and Ann Brown's Moonglow series have become the standard, which, honestly, I have to disagree with. ~wondering if she needs to find a place to hide~ Both stories are lovely, yes, but if I tried to write smarm with them as the standard that I need to match up to, well, I might as well stop now. I can't write that way. And I don't want to. ~shrug~ I'm just me. I write like me. I don't write like other people. At least I don't think I do. ~grin~
Do I see heavy smarm as realistic between two guys?
Honestly? No, I don't. But I write it anyway sometimes. I'll be perfectly honest and say that I don't have much of a clue as to how guys or "real men" act. There aren't many men in my family. Just my dad, an uncle who I think I've seen maybe four or five times in my life, a younger male cousin who I last saw at age 14, and that's just about it. Granted I had male friends, but I never saw the type of friendship that Jim and Blair have (or are supposed to have) in any of them. So I don't have much basis for the writing of a close guy friendship and have to pull on what I know -- watching the various buddy-buddy shows, reading others' fic, and my own friendships. I could say that men are more sensitive than most women (myself included) give them credit for, but then I might be basing that on George from Alien Nation, and since he had a baby and just wasn't the average man (did I mention he's not human?), well, maybe he wouldn't count. ~grin~
Well, if you don't see it as "realistic", again why do you write it?
Because I enjoy writing it. And unless you enjoy what you write, it's not any fun. I heard somewhere that if you don't enjoy what you're writing, then most likely no one else will either. And so since I enjoy writing smarm and I like to think I'm fairly decent at it, I write it. I know there are folks who would rather read full-on action and drama plots and that's fine. It just isn't my forte, so I don't write them. I leave those stories to the authors whose talents lie in that direction. I write for the readers, not just myself. And because most the people I hear from in feedback like the smarm, well, that's what gets written a lot of the time.
Is smarm outside the "gen" genre altogether? Not slash, but not gen either.
This is another thought I've seen put forward. And sometimes, I have to think it is. There is some smarm out there which is totally different from any other smarm and falls outside the lines. I think it depends on personal preference and what each reader wants to read or see. For some, a hug is too much -- I know this from a vicious flame someone sent to Robyn on a story I considered one of her tamer smarm stories. For others, putting Jim and Blair in the same bed is tantamount to saying you've crossed over into the "dark side." ~shrug~ I grew up sharing beds with my sister, my cousins, my parents, friends on various school trips and what-not. Maybe it's okay for girls to do this and not guys? Or it's okay for family members to do this and not anyone else? Again, maybe it's just because I don't know what typical "guy behavior" is. If it's what I saw from some of the guys I went to school with back in academy, well, belching and making other rude bodily noises as a form of entertainment isn't any way to act in my book. Just where have all the gentlemen gone?
Sorry, one of my pet peeves....
The topic of genre leads us to...smarm vs. pre-slash. One of those age-old fandom questions. Does one equal the other?
For me, smarm DOES NOT equal pre-slash. If there's no sexual component, no hidden desire, no feelings that are masking themselves as something else, it is not slash or pre-slash. Period. End of discussion. I am aware that smarm does equal pre-slash for some people. Which is their right. I've heard several things from various places about this, none of which I will repeat here since I don't want to quote or paraphrase incorrectly and get called on it. Which I probably will anyhow, but...that's fandom for you.
I thought about giving some, but I have so many favorites and I wouldn't want to slight anyone. Suffice it to say, a good soft smarm story is a pleasure to read and usually I prefer the more subtle to outright dowsing, well, depending on my mood. Sometimes I like a good dunk in smarm goo. ~grin~
Recently, I came across an article on Whoosh (the main Xena resource site) that discussed "romantic friendships," specifically the one between Xena and Gabrielle. Someone else on the site describes it this way:
This new term is a loosely defined as a friendship so close that it resembles a romantic liaison. The friends are both affectionate and attentive to one another and much rather spend time with each other than others. But this is not a sexual relationship. (Source)
Hmm...interesting. I think that description could fit the sometimes intense relationship between Jim and Blair in some fanfics as well.