Keeping it in the Family: Fan Videos and the Eroticization of the Brotherly Bond

Media fandom encompasses fan cultures surrounding multiple texts. It is an “amorphous but still identifiable grouping” of people who are fans of mass media products such as film, television and books (Jenkins 1). Thus, media fandom embraces this multiplicity of texts instead of a single text or even a single genre, and media fans move fluidly between these texts, often producing their own art responding to different texts at the same time. With the lack of a single, consolidating text, media fandom is identified mainly through its style of cultural consumption and creation (Jenkins 1). Fans are incredibly prolific in their creation, and their art takes many forms including, but not limited to, visual art (through drawing or digital photo manipulation), fan fiction (original stories using appropriated media characters) and fan videos (music videos which create new narratives using cut and edited clips of their source material).

Substantial scholarship has been done on these works of art generated by media fans. While much of this scholarship has centered on slash art in general (the creation of works of art in which characters appropriated from the media are involved in a same-sex relationship) and fan fiction in particular, very little study has been done on fan videos or a particular sub-genre of slash: slash in which the romantic and sexual relationships are between brothers. While some in fandom have coined the term “BroYay” to refer to these ships (fan-shortened term for “relationship”), I am going to refer to them here as “sibships” a term borrowed from Glenda Hudson. Hudson, a Jane Austen scholar, uses the term to apply to incestuously close sibling relationships in Jane Austen’s novels and other 18th and 19th fiction (2).

These sibships are incredibly popular in particular fandoms, sometimes moreso than any other pairing in the fandom. Considering them through the genre of the fan video, I attempt to begin to remedy the lack of scholarship on fandom sibships here. In order to attempt to provide some explanation for the phenomenon, my exploration combines comparisons drawn to 18th century and Romantic literature and sibling incest obsession with particular reception theory of mass media which has been offered as a possible method of decoding done by slash fans. Then with this background, I analyze a few examples of these fan videos to recognize patterns within them and to delineate the way in which the alternate narratives are constructed.

As a starting point, here is some background to clarify terms and parameters. Both fan fiction and fan videos use appropriated material, usually from mass media sources, to create new narratives about the characters in the source text (by “source text” I mean the original material). These new narratives can stay very close to the source text, or they can branch into areas never anticipated by the canon (“the events presented in the media source that provide the universe, setting and characters”) of the source text (Busse and Hellekson). Where fan fiction is textual in nature, fan videos are instead multimedia endeavors which are created using clips from the source text set to music in such a way as to tell a story. The song chosen is what tells us how to interpret the images we’re seeing (Coppa 108).

While some videos are just montages which support the dominant understanding of the source materials, others construct an alternate narrative, including slash and sibship narratives (Textual Poachers 231). These music videos should not be confused with most commercial videos made for MTV and VH1, which often use just borrowed images to create a hodgepodge that refuses to make sense of anything. It is about style and sensation rather than meaning, usually (Textual Poachers 237). Instead, fan videos truly can be classed under literature—they carry a narrative structure which tells a short story or provides a character analysis. There is purpose and conclusion (Textual Poachers 238).

As I will discuss in more depth later, slash fans, writers and vidders have a certain way of decoding the text which tends to interpret the cues seen as homosocial by the mainstream audience as homoerotic. Whether this is a resistive reading or not, it can definitely be seen as a subversive narrative, when the text is basically queered and fluid sexuality is addressed. However, beyond the homoeroticism that is central to all slash art, sibship art adds an additional layer of subversiveness to the storytelling by challenging the incest taboo. Given the high prevalence of the taboo, and the mainstream reaction to it even in fandom, this decoding of the material is far more easily seen as subversive. Instead of decrying it, incest in sibships is generally portrayed something freely chosen by consenting adult siblings—more than chosen, it is something they cannot deny or bring themselves to walk away from. Even among other slashers, an affection for these pairings can draw censure on the sibshipper (a person who is a fan of sibships). But they create, anyway, despite all the flames (insulting Internet postings on their art) and misunderstanding of their viewpoint.

For the sake of time and coherence, I have chosen to focus in this paper solely on fan videos drawn from the fantasy fandoms Heroes, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, which promote sibships between the main brother-pairs of the shows (Nathan and Peter Petrelli, Dean and Sam Winchester, Damon and Stefan Salvatore, and Elijah and Klaus Mikaelson). I have centralized my focus on the fan videos rather than fan fiction here because unlike the pure text of fan fiction that can wander delightfully into the land of pure imagination, fan videos draw directly upon their source material in order to construct their new narratives. In constructing this new narrative through video, fan vidders take perceived subtextual elements in the source text and turn them into the dominant text in the new work of art.

Fan videos have been circulating at fan conventions and via underground circuits since the use of VCRs allowed fans to tape their favorite shows, break them into varying clips and recombine them in their own sequences. In the early days, they were pieced together by literally recording one clip onto a new tape, pausing it, then finding another clip to record there. Vidders had to be incredibly organized and making a video required a great deal of patience and planning (“How to Watch a FanVid”). It still does, but these days digitized media and computer software allows for the rapid clipping of scenes and recombination in various ways, testing and trying things out until the right sequence hits, and allowing for faster scene shifts and special effects.

Before discussing fanvids and these videos, I would like to address the looming elephant in the room:“why incest?” Why are these incestuous pairings so popular within their respective fandoms? For example, the main Supernatural fan fiction community on LiveJournal (one of the main gathering sites for Internet fandom) currently has 3,553 members (sn-fic). This community allows fan fiction of any sort, and therefore should offer the widest selection of stories. In contrast, the main Supernatural fan fiction community on LiveJournal devoted solely to Sam/Dean sibship (termed “Wincest”) fic has 4,937 members (wincest). Likewise, the main slash community for The Vampire Diaries has 352 members (tvd_slash). The community which carries only Damon/Stefan slash has 616 (salvatoreslash).

Do the constructed narratives in these sibships contain seeds of inherent plausibility? More specifically, why are incestuous narratives constructed with these particular brother-pairs: what do they have in common, if anything, that may drive this construction that other brother-pairs lack?

Keeping It In The Family

To understand the appeal of sibships, or to at least get past the issue of incest so that a critical look can be taken at the art sibships produce, first requires an understanding that our society’s current conception of incest as always destructive, always abusive, or evidence of an “unnatural” desire is not how things always have been—even when the act of consummating the incestuous desire was still seen as taboo. The taboo is a social one, not a given fact naturally repellant by all “right-minded” people. We are taught the taboo by our society, not by our genes.

A fascination with sibling incest, while socially taboo, is not a new thing. In the 18th and 19th centuries, novelists and poets explored the topic and possibility frequently. The social taboo certainly existed—brothers and sisters should not act on these feelings—but erotic desire between siblings was seen as to be almost expected (Hudson 14-16). Where today the reaction of those not in the know is “oh, gross,” then it was more, “It’s understandable, but you must resist temptation or be lost to sin.”

One reason these sibships were seen as so inevitable was the social and familial relationships of the day. Children were distanced from their parents both physically and psychologically, often raised by nannies. Therefore the siblings had to turn to each other for love and companionship. In larger families, it was easy for a single child to get lost in the shuffle, and so the children would turn to each other form love. In a repressive household where love was withheld and discipline was strict, children likewise banded together with their siblings in search of consolation (Hudson 4). Given that not many families traveled far, the siblings were even more isolated and dependent on each other.

Sibling love was seen by many (including Jane Austen) as one of the highest forms of love—a love that should be imitated within marriage. Sibships were based on mutual respect, individual worth and mutual concerns and beliefs (Hudson 2). Siblings did not have to play games with one another—they were free to be themselves, intimate in their confidences and without the supervision given to interactions with those outside the family circle (Hudson 16). The bonds between siblings were pure, spiritual and often the idea of soulmates that we might have today was attributed to siblings. The attraction of the familiar was well understood, and relationships grounded in similar backgrounds, worldviews and temperaments were seen to be ideal. Indeed, unable to marry each other, siblings often sought partners who most resembled their favorite brother or sister (Hudson 13-16). This is a basic premise of a great deal of Jane Austen’s fiction, even, with Fanny marrying Edmund with whom she was raised as siblings in Mansfield Park, and all the marrying of in-laws and cousins that goes on in Sense and Sensibility (Hudson 3).

This rich possibility of transgression appealed to the writers of the time. Percy Shelley called it a “poetical circumstance” (Hudson 15). Speaking about the writers of the time in her biography of Frances Burney, Margaret Doody writes, “The incest-fixated eighteenth century found in incest a complex symbolism for sexuality outside conventional social structures and free of the hierarchies and estrangements of customary heterosexuality” (qtd in Hudson 15). Like many sibshippers, Byron and Shelley both used sibling incest prolifically in their work (and possibly in their lives, as well) in order to break accepted social norms and explore new boundaries; it was a symbol for expression a larger rebellion (Hudson 23). Also similar to most sibshippers today, the Romantics and other writers of the time made a clear distinction between sibling incest and parent/child incest. The romanticization of incest was came from the love and understanding the siblings had for one another. “They are attracted to each other because they are similar in personality and appearance; they are two parts of one self” (Hudson 23). Parent/child incest, on the other hand, was seen as we see it today: as abusive and a betrayal of trust.

In a less literary mode, and looking at human sexuality, Michel Foucault argues that sexuality itself is incestuous from its inception, and the incest taboo does not come from an unnatural attraction but because of social necessity. “[F]amily has become an obligatory locus of affects, feelings and love; that sexuality has its privileged point of development in the family; that for this reason, sexuality is incestuous from the start” (Foucault 108). In other words, since we first become aware of our own sexuality within the family, and family members are the model for it, it is natural that initial sexuality, at least, is focused on the family. However, since the family also serves as a seat for the deployment of alliance—a system of marriage and kinship ties for transmitting names and possessions—incest becomes taboo. Yet, Foucault claims, it occupies a central place: always solicited and refused, an object of both attraction and obsession (107, 109). Incest would close a family in on itself and keep it from looking outward, expanding society and connections among families, and therefore society made it taboo as a self-defense measure: not because incestuous desire was unnatural, but because it was not (Foucault 109).

From a psychological angle, and an alternate point of view that sees sibling incest as a symptom of a problem, if not unnatural, consensual adult sibling incest has been seen to occur most often in cases where a family is dysfunctional with no clear boundaries. If parental love is withheld, siblings will seek it from one another (Vontress and Epp). “When either or both parents are not available physically or emotionally, the siblings[,] lacking an object for rivalry and love[,] may turn to each other instead to meet their dependency and erotic demands” (Santiago 7). In discussing a case of two brothers in just this situation who were engaged in an incestuous relationship, psychiatrists Clemmont Vontress and Lawrence Epp declared:

If these two brothers honestly loved each other, enjoyed each others’ intimate company, and functioned successfully as a couple without the specter of abuse or ongoing conflict, their relationship is as viable as any. Our “gut feeling” may oppose an incestuous relationship, but it is not our feeling of comfort that is important, rather the clients’.

In considering these particular brothers, however, Vontress and Epp concluded, however, that “[t]heir family has left them so needy for love that they survive only through their mutual support. They are incomplete as persons and are figuratively Siamese twins, existing symbiotically by sharing love. If love had been provided sufficiently by their parents, it would have allowed them to grow and explore separately.”

These theories and underpinnings of sibling incest, from 18th century literary traditions and social understandings to modern psychiatric analysis, both healthy and affirming and not, can be applied to each of the four main brother-pairs in Heroes, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries. While there is no evidence that the majority of sibship fans are consciously aware of the research and theories regarding sibling incest, nevertheless all of these theories make these pairings psychologically and socially plausible, and it is possible that fans subconsciously key into elements in the brothers’ relationships and histories that set them up for bonds more than fraternal. My analysis here potentially reads as a justificatory defense of the relationships, which it is not meant to be, but the similarities between these brother-pairs and the conventions and indicators surrounding sibling incest are too important to understanding the phenomenon of fandom sibships to be overlooked.

First, all four sets of siblings had a father who was either abusive, absent or overly authoritarian and withholding of love. John Winchester, father of Sam and Dean on Supernatural, was a demon hunter, and he was always on the road searching out evil to fight. When he did not take the boys with them, training them as hunters, as well, he often left them alone to fend for themselves, depending only on one another. On Heroes, Arthur Petrelli was portrayed both on television and in the accompanying graphic novels as verbally and physically abusive to both Nathan and Peter. He refused to approve of anything they did, and left Nathan as the only place Peter could turn for approbation.

In The Vampire Diaries, Giuseppe Salvatore was portrayed as a cold and distant father. In the television version of the series, he ultimately shot both of his sons for their involvement with a vampire, accidentally transforming them into vampires. In the book series, he was a drunk who was more tolerant of Stefan, but verbally and physically abusive to Damon. Also from the televised version of The Vampire Diaries, Mikael was a strict, distant and critical father when Klaus and Elijah were human, often berating Klaus for not being enough of a man. Rebekah, Klaus and Elijah’s younger sister, claims he had a temper all his children feared. After the family’s transformation into vampires, which Mikael forced on his children to save them, but without consent, he then spent the next 1000 years trying to kill them for being the very thing he helped create.

Secondly, beyond their difficult paternal relationships, all four sets of siblings had an absent or emotionally distant mother. Mary Winchester and Mrs. Salvatore both died when their sons were young, leaving them bereft of any maternal influence. While her sons do seem fond of her when Heroes starts, Angela Petrelli is shown to be ruthless and amoral and through the series tries to get her sons to destroy the world and when that does not work, she continues to manipulate them for her own, not so good, reasons. On The Vampire Diaries, Esther turned her children into vampires, took away (and likely killed) the first girl Klaus and Elijah both loved, even after the boys had decided family was more important than a girl, placed a curse on Klaus, and then tried to kill all her children 1,000 years later.

Thirdly, because of this traumatic or neglectful parenting, the siblings formed intense bonds with each other. There is a sense for all of them that no one else matters nearly as much as each does to the other. In the case of the vampires, these bonds stretch over centuries—when others around them died or left, the siblings still had each other. Indeed, sometimes their siblings were all they had. Despite Klaus being the villain of the series, the more morally neutral Elijah, has been unable to kill or leave him repeatedly. He tries to, but he always gets pulled back. Likewise, Damon and Stefan recently made their own vow to put their relationship above all else—to do whatever is necessary to keep their relationship solid, despite challenges to it. On Heroes, Nathan and Peter had their own unique way of looking at the world, of taking care of each other when their parents keep trying to turn them against each other. No matter what happens, they came back together, to cement the relationship. Finally, Supernatural has positioned Sam and Dean forever as outsiders in society. They have no home, no jobs besides hunting and hustling, and no normal relationships. Any relationships they do form outside of each other are doomed—inevitably the potential love interest dies.

Finally, because of all of these things, these brothers are often presented in their own canons in the light of 18th century sibships. As mentioned before, the acceptability of the emotional part of sibships in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the patterning of appropriate romantic relationships on them, came from ideas of absent parents, social isolation and siblings’ dependence on each other for love, companionship and approbation. Siblings were seen to understand each other in ways no one else could match. Each of these brother-pairs fits those categories and the canonical relationships they have formed as are close as they are troubled. The brothers are each others’ yin/yang. They complete each other and function as a unit. And the bonds of family trump all others.

Both the brothers themselves and those around them grasp this overarching closeness between brothers. Elena says to Damon, regarding saving Stefan from the self-destructive path he’s on, “I think you’re going to be the one who saves him from himself. It won’t be because he loves me; it will be because he loves you” (“Ordinary People,” ep 03×08). Elijah and Klaus reflect back on their path through life with all its ups and downs, and vow both “Always and forever” and “Family above all” (“Ordinary People,” ep 03×08; “Bringing Out the Dead,” ep 03×13). Zachariah, an angel, when trying to convince someone not to help Sam and Dean declares, “So you know you can’t trust them, right? You know Sam and Dean Winchester are psychotically, irrationally, erotically codependent on each other, right?” (“Point of No Return,” ep 05×18). And Lisa, Dean’s ex-girlfriend, declares, as Dean is leaving her to rejoin Sam, “You two have the most unhealthy, tangled up, crazy thing that I’ve ever seen” (“You Can’t Handle the Truth,” ep 06×06).

Lisa is not the only lover who has been left behind by a brother in order to be with his brother. Of the four pairs, only Peter and Nathan have not actively chosen their brother over a lover at some point in their lives. Damon even chose to live, as a vampire, for eternity when he wanted to die, solely because Stefan asked it of him, because Stefan could not handle eternity without his brother. Without his supposed love interest, Stefan was fine. But never without his brother. And when asked why he wants Klaus back after all the evil he had done, the lives he has destroyed, the betrayal he has committed against Elijah, Elijah replies simply, “He is my brother. We remain together” (“The Departed,” ep 03×22). That could be the credo for all four of these sibships.

Theories of Fandom

With the incest angle addressed, I would like to briefly situate fan videos in their place in the continuum of fan art and discuss the encoding/decoding theory of reception that may account for how sibshippers decode these source texts to find material and support for their narratives.

In “From Work to Text,” Roland Barthes made a distinction between two terms which are often otherwise interchangeable. A work has a beginning and an end. It has a shape and a form. It is finished, after a great deal of hard work, and it stands as it is to be evaluated. It is a commodity with two levels of meaning: literal and symbolic. Text, on the other hand, is a process, the action of production. It is an event, paradoxical and subversive. It has no beginning nor any end. In many ways it is a network of works, and what we are reading when we read a work in a collaborative manner. The text is what came before, what a work echoes, and what will come later, what a work will spawn. It is the conversation the work has entered into. Signifiers mean more than one thing within a text; a text allows for multiple meanings (“From Work to Text”). All of this combines with his declaration that “the Author is dead” and to announce the birth of the reader (“Death of the Author” 147).

Fans are most definitely readers in Barthes sense of the word. The source text is more a “work” in his sense of terms, but the works that fans add to the conversation become part of the larger text. Fans do not believe in any one particular meaning, no authorial intention. This is something that writers and directors do not appreciate, of course. Nor do readers who find a different meaning within the source text. Often that is the cry you hear from people who just do not get a fan’s work, “That isn’t what was meant by that look!” But if there is no author, and works resonate in various texts and the reader is the one in charge of making meaning…then there is no “meant” to be disputed. Likewise, fan works respond to each other in many ways, drawing on conventions of the form, themes and tropes of similar works to create their own work, and create a textual interplay between source text, fan videos and fan fiction throughout the community. Fans are very insistent on giving “credit,” but the idea of an absolute author, an arbiter of meaning is not something to which most subscribe—the meaning is there in the source text, but they acknowledge that even the actors may not realize it.

Since romantic pairings between brothers are a sub-genre of slash, it’s appropriate to take a look at some of the theory underpinning slash fan fiction in order to have a basis for analysis of sibship fan vids. There have been a wide variety of theories offered for the “why” behind slash fan practices. It has been theorized as being a form of cultural resistance; a way for women to find characters to identify with due to the lack of feminine role models in media texts; a textual interpretation responding to homosocial or homoerotic overtones or subtext; a model for more egalitarian relationships than can be found in heterosexual fiction; a way for women to identify with and dream of having both characters in the pairing; and a simple sexual equation stating if one hot guy in bed is good, two are better (Lothian, Busse and Reid 106).

Truthfully, any answer likely combines all of these and meets somewhere in the spaces between. Tendencies can be traced and analyzed within the group, but none of these theories captures the entirety of the reasons, and some may be completely off base for whole sections of the group. Reasons may even vary in one fan from pairing to pairing. As fascinating as the debate of “why?” can be, it is ultimately pointless to focus on subconscious motivations, because they are impossible to substantiate. Instead, a researcher should focus on the interpretive strategies practiced by fans (Woledge 237). Elizabeth Woledge provides an analysis of such interpretive practices which is focused on Kirk/Spock fans for explication, but the framework she provides is helpful in interpreting all slash, including sibships.

Like the academic critics they often mimic, fans do not want their interpretations to be considered a misreading, or worse, something where the source of the interpretation is the fan, not the text itself. If the source for the creation of meaning is the text itself, then the meaning must be a true—even if nonobvious—one, that anyone can see it if they only know how to read it right and pick up on the proper codes (Allington 46-47).

Slashers, thus, are often looking for ways to legitimize their interpretation and ground it in the text, and none do this moreso than incest slashers. This legitimizing comes mostly through the discursive practices undertaken in decoding a text, and discussing that decoding. By decoding, I mean the method of analyzing media messages by seeing how the message or “codes” that are encoded into media messages at production are understood by the audience. Decodings can be dominant, negotiated or oppositional depending on how much they diverge from the initial encoding. Of course, any attempt to figure out the original encoding is like figuring out authorial intent—and just as problematic, because it just involves yet another decoding. Thus fans generally shy away from trying to figure out what the writer/actor/director “meant” and stick to their own decoding processes (Woledge 237). Decoding in this model has four stages: recognition, comprehension, interpretation and response (Woledge 245).

The majority of codes used by fans in their decoding process are looks and gestures by and between characters, as well as ambiguous moments in dialogue. In the recognition phase, fans see codes in the text which can be ambiguous—a clasp of a hand that holds a bit too long; a glance from one brother to another while the other looks down or shoots a coy glance, before looking away again; a gaze held, intent and fraught with emotion. These looks and gestures transgress what is socially expected about the ways in which brothers look at and touch each other (Woledge 244).

When these same looks and gestures are observed between a heterosexual pair, they are immediately recognized as codes for flirtation, emotional attachment and heterosexual desire (Woledge 244-45). When they happen between two brothers, the dominant decoding done says these are two brothers, and therefore these codes decode for as close fraternal love, nothing more. The negotiated decoding done by a slasher says that more is going on here than we are being told. The slasher recognizes that taken-for-granted knowledge that proper fraternal behavior decrees that gazes and hands do not linger any longer than necessary (Woledge 245). Beyond visual codes, fans also recognize and comprehend audio codes from ambiguous dialogue which either directly points toward an emeshed relationship, or offers cues that there could be more than fraternal bonds involved.

With this recognition and comprehension, the slasher moves on to interpretation and interprets the homosocial and fraternal moments as transgressing brotherhood and moving toward homoerotic desire. The final phase of decoding—response–occurs when the fan creates a piece of fan art in which the homoerotic desire is explicitly a textual element (Woledge 247).

Because the codes are explicitly rendered and put forth for fan audience consumption, compiled and collected into a cohesive narrative instead of scattered across multiple episodes and seasons, this process of decoding is made even more explicit in fan videos than fan fiction. Both more mainstream slash fanvids and sibship vids are videos known as “constructed reality videos”: videos which create and build an original narrative through the recontexualization of appropriated images (Textual Poachers 234). In many ways this is also a remediation—from television to digital clips, remixed and taken to mean something not overt in the original narrative. The music also is then used to serve a new goal, to tell a story, and while most of these videos are not just changing television show into music video, the pieces of their construction do come from these other sources. Often there is a textual story, at least in the vidder’s head, and it is this narrative, constructed from the decoding process, that finds itself remediated into a digital form and shared coherently.

Most vidders have large selections of clips extricated from their media sources, however certain scenes tend to be used again and again, because they are already saturated with meaning from the program from which they are drawn (Textual Poachers 242). Not only are the images chosen latent with meaning, the music selection carries its own meaning to add to the text. Oftentimes the lyrics are used to express the characters’ inner thoughts, providing an inner monologue, or, conversely, a musical dialogue which changes or enhances the already laden images to help construct the new narrative (Textual Poachers 241). A Peter/Nathan Heroes video, “Lost Without You” illustrates this point well (Dreamsparkle). The song is by Delta Goodream and the opening lyrics are “I know I can be a little stubborn sometimes/A little righteous and too proud/I just want to find a way to compromise/Cause I believe that we can work things out.” While the lyrics seem to indicate a single speaker, the video creates them as a dialogue, with Peter staring off with “I know I can be a little stubborn sometimes,” and a visual clip of him looking a bit bashful, then it cuts to Nathan, well known for his righteousness and pride. Back to Peter, in a scene where he and Nathan are vaguely arguing, and then Nathan showing up at Peter’s door to try and make it right. The juxtaposition of the scenes switching from one of them to the other clearly shows a dialogue is intended, and it serves to create tension and move the narrative of the story forward—no matter how difficult these brothers find being together, they know they’re lost without each other.

Scenes in which the gestural, visual and dialogic codes decode as homoerotic desire are often reused in multiple fanvids. Some scenes become so fraught with meaning for those in the community that you can be sure to see them in nearly every video featuring the brothers. For instance, both “Better Than I Know Myself” and “Not Strong Enough” use scenes of Klaus and Elijah teasing each other during swordplay when they were human, as well as a tender moment by the firelight in 1492, when Elijah settles behind Klaus’s chair, running his hand over his brother’s chest in an intimately soothing gesture (squishgurl and Aurelie1610). These scenes are juxtaposed with more violent imagery of them being slammed into walls, and stabbing/staking each other to highlight the angst-filled nature of the relationship, as well.

“Better Than I Know Myself,” explicitly contrasts these moments of tenderness and the contrasting violence. Since the fan watching the video also knows the original context for the scenes, they become overlaid with that meaning, as well. In addition, this video shifts perspective—the first verse and chorus are clearly to be read from Elijah’s point of view, the second from Klaus’s. The video opens with Elijah throwing a naked Klaus his clothes in the woods, as Adam Lambert’s lyrics play, “Cold as ice/and more bitter than a December night.” The next scene is one of swordplay that the fan knows was done in play, but it is the clip where the fan knows Elijah is doing some Viking-style trash talking, as the lyrics continue: “That’s how I treated you.” The video shifts back to the present day, with the return of Elijah to the series after being immobilized for the first fifteen episodes of season 3. He is pretty upset with Klaus, given he was the one who trapped him in a coffin (so he could not leave him), and the scene they play is the two brothers basically tearing apart Klaus’s newly renovated home in a vampire-style fist fight, as Adam sings, “And I know that I/I sometimes tend to lose my temper/And I cross the line/Yeah that’s the truth” (squishgurl).

The lyrics shift to the bridge, and the video cuts back to 1,000 years ago, and we see more playful sword fighting, but less trash talking as Klaus takes the edge, and Elijah laughs, clearly not minding: “I know it gets hard sometimes/But I could never/Leave your side/No matter what I say.” As the video shifts into the musical chorus, we cut forward to 1492, and the aforementioned quiet time before the fire, “Cause if I wanted to go I would have gone by now/But I really need you near me to/Keep my mind off the edge.” Another scene follows from 1492, where Klaus is leading away the girl Elijah has a bit of a thing for, and Elijah just sort of shrugs it off—fans know that despite caring for the girl, she is the key to breaking the curse placed on his brother, and he will let him kill her if necessary, no matter the pain it causes Elijah, and the second half of the chorus gives us the answer why: “If I wanted to leave I would have left by now/But you’re the only one that knows me/Better than I know myself” (squishgurl).

The second verse is from Klaus’s point of view, and I will not break it down so line by line, but it plays very much with the idea we have seen throughout the third season of the show that he cannot stand to be alone. He will betray his family repeatedly, but only to keep them “safe” and near him. And with the lyrics playing, coming from his point of view over these scenes, we are shown how much Klaus needs Elijah: “All along/I tried to pretend it didn’t matter/If I was alone/But deep down I know/If you were gone/For even a day I wouldn’t know/which way to turn/Cause I’m lost without you” (squishgurl). The scenes that are shown throughout can tell a cohesive narrative even without fan knowledge, but when the series knowledge is added to the viewing, the varied layers of meaning begin to arise. Despite occasional violence, this is, overall, a very touching video.

They are not all so overly gentle. In fact, a lot of sibship videos contain a great deal of violence. While slash fanvids in general can run the gamut from parody to fluff to angst, incest vids are almost always fraught with a greater level of tension, possibly due to the transgression of the taboo. The brothers do not want to admit their feelings or have bee torn apart by circumstance or their own choices, and finding their way back to each other is their only chance for happiness—but if it were easy, the journey would not be worthwhile. Here is where song choices are used carefully to recast the anger the mainstream decodes as something fraught with unacknowledged desire. (Textual Poachers 241). Because the canonical stories of all four of these brother-pairs includes a great deal of fighting, separation and reconciliation, these violent scenes also become fraught for the fan.

In particular, vids of both brother-pairs in The Vampire Diaries include a lot of instances of stabbing and staking, while Sam and Dean and Nathan and Peter are seen beating each other up, a lot. Given the sexual connotation of penetration given to stabbing by criminologists (at least according to Criminal Minds and CSI, which are intertextual sources upon which good media fans easily draw), it is easy to see why these would become codes for incestuous desire on the part of fans decoding the images—especially with all the declarations of love that interlace the violence. After all, Klaus sticks a dagger in Elijah’s heart to immobilize him, not for vengeance and not in anger, but so that Elijah will not leave him. He promptly sticks him in a coffin and carts him around the country in a truck for the next few months. No one ever claimed these relationships were functional and healthy.

It is not just scenes which become fraught with meaning for a fan. Often times, songs themselves become invested with meaning, beyond the narrative of one video, simply because of their use across fandoms or by many fans using them to interpret the same relationship. “Tainted Love” is a highly popular song with sibling incest vids. Among the relationships under consideration, “Tainted Love” is used in vids for Nathan/Peter, Sam/Dean and Damon/Stefan (drewsarichfangirl, extremediva19 and ReaSilvia). All three of these videos, via the use of the lyrics and somewhat violent images, key in to the angst of the relationships (“Sometimes I feel I’ve got to/Run away/I’ve got to/Get away/From the pain that you drive into the heart of me/The love we share/Seems to go nowhere/I’ve lost my lights/I toss and turn I can’t sleep at night”). Moreso than the other two, the Damon/Stefan video, however, particularly plays up the eroticism. Partly this is done by stringing together scenes where Damon and Stefan are standing far too close to each other, with Damon purposely invading Stefan’s space to murmur tauntingly in his ear, and in one clip used, even non-sibshippers blinked at the original airing thinking that Damon was about to kiss Stefan. The video also uses another ploy which some slash and sibships employ to heighten the eroticism—video clips of sex scenes, carefully manipulated to look as if they are the the characters having sex (ReaSilvia). Some of these are more graphic than others. They can just be a flash of flesh one might see on prime time television, but others use clips of softcore gay porn to make their point.

The popularity of songs across pairings and fandoms adds an extra layer of intertextuality to the videos. Rather than just for the video dissected above, Adam Lambert’s “Better Than I Know Myself,” with its lyrics of being caught up in someone so much that you cannot walk away because you would die without them, is also used for a video examining both Elijah/Klaus and Damon/Stefan, and is also used for at least two Sam/Dean videos (BroodyandCheery323, ElectroPop1993 and rofire9). As a side note, the song is also used for just about every other pairing on The Vampire Diaries, slash and otherwise, to the point it is becoming overused, but the only ones it truly makes sense for, the only people with that level of dependency are the brothers. Had the song come out at the height of Heroes video making, undoubtedly it would have show up there, as well.

The other song used a lot in sibship vids is “All This Time” by One Republic. Both Sam/Dean and Damon/Stefan have videos to it (Doode25 and shewillbehome). Given the themes in the song of separation and reunion and realization of the importance of the relationship, it is easy to see why—these themes are redolent throughout the relationships of the brothers. Part of the poignant lyrics go, “Oh, I would travel so far/I would travel so far/To get back where you are/All this time we were waiting for each other/All this time I was waiting for you/Got all this love, can’t waste it on another/So I’m straight in a straight line running back to you.” Since this encapsulates part of the dynamic these sibshippers see, it’s no wonder the song has been used in videos.

In conclusion, the fans who ascribe to these sibship pairings use many of the same interpretive and rhetorical strategies in decoding the texts and composing their art as both more mainstream slashers and literary critics do. While the pairings likely will never cease to cause controversy among those who cannot get past “the squick factor,” they offer an interesting insight into fan reception and production that warrants further study. That brother-pairs are chosen who offer the potential plausibility for being a “real” pairing, given their upbringings and earlier centuries’ understandings of sibling-bonds, indicates a potential level of reading subtext and interpersonal relationships on the part of fans that has been left unexplored until now. While creating their own narratives with varying levels of intertextuality, sibship vidders are also exploring fundamental human questions of love, intimacy and social norms. These questions are ones explored throughout fiction, and despite the controversial nature of the violation of taboos, the ways in which fans are attempting to ask them warrants deeper study. Tied up within the music and video clips, these narratives are shared publicly in an effort to both share creativity and to form connections with others. And as with mainstream slash art, sibship videos use their constructed realities to ask of viewers one of the most important questions asked in attempts to justify a slasher or sibship identity: “Do you see it now?”


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