Amy R. (brightknightie) wrote,
Amy R.

Why I'm Personally Not Wild About "OTP"

Last week, I answered a survey about fanfiction trope classifications when couples are designated. I commented briefly that I often find such classifications puzzling. In a flash of nostalgia for days when the conventions were different and I ~wry~ innocently believed that I understood them — "gen" was everything that was not "erotica" in my '90s world (yes, including slash, though I understand that an older convention was that "gen" was everything that was not "slash;" no, no one I knew used the term "het" yet, and we still had "couples" instead of "pairings") — I added the passing observation that the acronym "OTP" (One True Pairing) has become a pet peeve, and also that I preferred its predecessor, "OTL" (One True Love).

Peeves are tiny crochets, niggling annoyances, recurring itches. They're what Andy Roony grumped about at the end of 60 Minutes. Not big deals. I'm not trying to stop people from using "OTP"! You use it, I'll roll my eyes, and everyone's happy, right? Well, no. Some found my peeve troubling. My preference could cause 'ship wars, one said. I was a bit taken aback.

Unfortunately, I just could not find the time then to respond seriously regarding something I had meant offhandedly. I've managed to carve out the time today; I hope it serves. In my defense, here are the layers of my personal, crotchety preference for OTL over OTP:
  1. Utility: "OTP" used to stand for "Off-Topic Post." In the days of email lists, it was ubiquitous. I used it frequently. My brain still supplies the older meaning before the new one, causing a hitch every time I see it, and of course I must now spell out "off-topic post" whenever I want to use it. Thus, a peeve was born.

  2. Wordcraft: "Pairing" seems to have supplanted both "couple" and "love" in some fannish discourse. I lament the diminishment of what I consider the stronger, richer nouns, offering more scope and resonance, and also the distinctions supplied by the more precise terms. (I ♥ precise terms! I sometimes struggle with gender-neutral language over the ecstasy of supplying more information in a single, if sex-specific, word.) I personally find "pairing" a weak, distant concept where I prefer strong, intimate concepts to support strong, intimate feelings. So that stream feeds the peeve.

  3. Focus: "One True Pairing" is about what the fan prefers. "One True Love" is about what the character thinks and feels. While both are legitimate, meaningful objects of inquiry, I am, myself, frankly, much more interested in what the character thinks and feels — as revealed by close canon analysis — than in what individual fans prefer. Analysis is where I find my fannish fun! It's my delight. It's what I'm here for; please don't take it away and consign me to a shadowy netherworld of relativism. (OTL is open to canonical discussion; OTP is sealed shut.)

I was challenged on the legitimacy of the "One True Love" concept. Can there be such a thing? Should there be? In some literary genres, yes, there is and must be; that's their paradigm, their shape, their mechanism. Dante/Beatrice, please! Whether the concept applies in a specific story (television series) of course depends on that story's structure and tradition, among other factors. Whether it applies to a specific character then depends on that character's psychology and scope. (Naturally, many find the One True Love concept inherently problematic for a number of reasons — myself among them — but we must all grant its enduring place in our literature. Like it or not, our culture stamps out stories in that shape on an assembly line at great speed. The fun comes in analyzing its presence, reach and impact, perhaps deconstructing it, but always identifying it.)

For example, fandom seems widely agreed that that both Connor and Duncan MacLeod of HL are serial monogamists mainly because, in canon, they keep outliving their great beloveds; that is, only death parts them. I would submit that their natures are amenable to the "One True Love" paradigm but their circumstances are not, and that this is a brilliant part of the grand and glorious tragedy of HL. Duncan does not think Tessa (or Little Deer, or etc.) is his One True Love; he knows better... but while she lives, and while he mourns, he fervently wishes she could be, I interpret.

FK's Nick Knight, on the other hand, with a brain shaped by chivalry and presently living out an overt quest structure, repeatedly witnessed to have put his beloveds on a pedestal, may perhaps manifest the courtly love trope. Does he perceive each beloved as his One True Love at the time of that love, even though he knows better intellectually? Can he stop himself from repeating this pattern? Is it his story superstructure even if it is not his motivation?

For another FK example, Lacroix in "Be My Valentine" and "Fallen Idol" behaves, both past and present, as if he believes Fleur is his One True Love. Does he fully believe that, and, if so, what does that mean for his psychology? Or is some level a ruse against Nick, and if so, what is Lacroix's goal for that ruse? (It's all part of the fun of unknotting that knotty episode! Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we Mary Sue on screen...)

May I share a glance backward through rose-colored spectacles, at the happy glow of a moment grown golden in the rear-view mirror? Here's where I remember "One True Love" applied in discussion, usefully and gleefully. Once upon a time, before "Last Knight," some of us used to speculatively analyze FK's overall story structure. Many of us were English majors, and a few of us had tremendous fun nattering about whether FK's overall story was shaped more like a late medieval courtly love paradigm, or a nineteenth-century marriage plot, or a roman-a-clef, or an escape structure harnessed to episodic structure, or quests or transformations or... [personal profile] batdina very memorably laid out the Miltonic aspects of FK! At the time — again, before LK — I personally inclined in an N&Nerly direction, and subscribed to the "Beauty & the Beast" (close kin to courtly love) structure, in which Natalie was — consciously, unconsciously, or symbolically! open to happy debate — Nick's lady, the idealized woman whom he would honor and obey (without sex, mind) and thereby achieve and receive a higher place... in Nick's case, mortality/salvation in place of the troubadour's knightly character's battle honors and advancing rank in his lady's husband's court. Cousin Lisa P. and I chewed this over a few times, as well as others whose names I don't all remember. (Then — after LK — Ravens Batdina and Leela mustered adequate canon examples to persuade me out of my N&Nerism altogether, and I moved on to other favorite structures.)

For the record, as I trust my friends already know, I do not enjoy or respect the reductivist idea that a character (never mind a real person) may love only once in his or her life, or that a subsequent love invalidates an earlier love. That's repugnant. If you live to love again after a loss, you are greatly blessed. (That's significant in my life as well as in my fanfiction preferences.) I do not believe that the phrase One True Love enables that mistake, nor that the phrase One True Pairing defeats it.

Again, I am not asking anyone to abandon "OTP" or embrace "OTL." I just like what I like, and I was moved by nostalgia for happy hours in the computer lab after classes emailing fkspoilr via Pine, or scribbling FK notes in the margins of my class notes... I carried a dedicated FK notebook in the spring semester of my senior year of undergrad. ~grin~ I hadn't thought of that in ages, but I'm packing to move — yes, in addition to the commute and the job; I remember sleep fondly... — and happened to come upon it in a box of old papers yesterday. It contains at least two never-finished stories, but I'm not subjecting anyone to the leftovers of my '96 brain! Eeep. :-)

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