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In "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture" feminist thinker Constance Penley analyses "Star Trek" fanzines written by women and depicting written and visual accounts of romantic and sexual relations between Captain Kirk and Spock, written by mostly heterosexual women.
What Penley is trying to figure out in "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture" is why do these "Star Trek" fans write their sexual fantasies through the bodies of two men, and why specifically Kirk and Spock.
Penley notes that although the stories depict Kirk and Spock as having sexual relations they are not portrayed as gay. Still there is the occasional tendency to "allow" the Star Trek characters to be homosexuals. For Penley this phenomenon enables the women a wider range of identification and desire – the fantasy offers them the opportunity to be either Kirk or Spock along with the possibility of having them both as the objects of their sexual desire, since heterosexual men are not unavailable to women. The binary distinction between desire and the object of desire is not organized according to Penley along gender relations.
Penley holds that the transition from psychoanalytic interpretation models based on voyeurism and fetishism in feminist cinema theory to a model based on fantasy enables an account of a wide range of identifications that transcend gender boundaries.
The fact that women can identify with men is not new. But the question that concerns Penley's "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture" is why specifically these men, why Star Trek Kirk and Spock?
Penley answers this question my first noting that female characters in Star Trek were always disappointing to fans. This disappointment is what initially led the women who write the Star Trek fanzines to "take over" the world of Star Trek and to propel it in their own desired directions: a better formula of romance and a pornography that is attractive to women. However they were able to do so only through the characters they admired, desired and could identify with. For Penley identification in fantasy is not only with the character, but can also be directed at the situation or narrative. One of the most important aspects of the fan's identification with Kirk and Spock is according to Penley the social and political values that the world of Star Trek represents.
Penley concurs with Lamb and Veith who argued that the Star trek characters of Kirk and Spock allow women to imagine a transcendental unity which is not based on gender power relations, but rather on radical equality. But this for her still does not answer the question of why Star Trek and why Kirk and Spock?
Penly notes the women's Star Trek fanzines often contain S&M scenes between Kirk and Spock. Using the ruse of science fiction the women are able integrate S&M scenes while preserving the distinction between the real and fantasy worlds. If S&M is taking place I these stories, it is taking place in some other universe that has its own rules, among mirror doubles of the heroes, with the occasional flashback that still connects the two worlds.
Constacne Penley's "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture" and her research on Star Trek women's fanzines illustrates the complexity of relations between women and popular culture. The Star Trek fans in "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture" are not passive consumers of popular culture and they sustain a complex and creative relationship with it. They use popular culture as the basis for creative action.