TSB (second_batgirl) wrote in ship_manifesto,

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Spot Conlon/Racetrack Higgins (Newsies)

Title: A Spot/Race essay – Gambling, Canes, and Head Nods
Author: second_batgirl
Email: second_batgirl @ livejournal.com
Personal Website: The Refuge
Fandom: Newsies
Pairing: Spot Conlon/Racetrack Higgins (Also known as SpRace)
Spoilers: The movie.
Notes: Many thanks to poisonivory for telling me about this, encouraging me to write the SpRace essay, and beta reading. And thanks to queenitsy for helping me outline the essay and figure out how to put my SpRacey thoughts on paper. (Or you know, into an LJ entry)

Newsies: one of the slashiest Disney movies in existence. Filled with many pretty singing dancing boys who jump all over each other every five seconds.

Strangely, the two characters I’m about to talk about don’t really jump all over each other, yet their personalities are so compatible that they are my OTP, and one of the most (if not the most) popular pairings in the fandom.

Basically, the movie is very loosely based off of the 1899 newsboys' strike in New York. The movie centers around the boys’ decision to strike, and how they triumph, even against all the odds.

In the movie, both Spot and Racetrack are minor characters, but they are two of the more developed ones. Spot Conlon is the leader of the Brooklyn newsies, and Racetrack is one of the more prominent Manhattan boys. (Historically, Racetrack was also a Brooklyn newsboy, and vice president of the Newsboys' Union.)

The Characters:
Spot Conlon – The Key
The first time that Spot Conlon is mentioned, it is right after the Manhattan newsies have decided to go on strike, and they need help from the other boroughs in New York City. People quickly agree to go, as ambassadors, to the other boroughs, but when it comes to Brooklyn, nobody volunteers. One newsie by the name of Boots speaks up, saying that they aren’t scared of Brooklyn, but “Spot Conlon makes us a little nervous.”

The newsies know that they need Spot to win the strike, admitting that he’s “the key” and that they’ll fail without him. When three of the newsies eventually arrive in Brooklyn, which is filled with many larger threatening boys, Spot Conlon is a shrimpy little thing, who doesn’t look at all intimidating upon first glance. However, this will change once you see his eyes, which are very cold and calculating. (Leading to many bad fanfic authors describing them as icy blue orbs, but really, that can’t be helped.)

It does, however, make you wonder how someone who appears to be so young can be in charge of so many threatening newsboys. While Spot is talking to the leader of Manhattan, many Brooklyn newsboys are standing in the background, holding clubs, and generally just being menacing.

On top of that, Spot seems to know everything, claiming that his “little birds have been chirping in [his] ear all day.” (Personally, I choose to believe that Racetrack let him know earlier, but I have no proof of that.)

When Spot says that he isn’t sure that the newsies are serious enough for him to get involved, most of the Manhattan newsies are ready to back out, hinting that they know that without Spot, the strike will fail. In fact, they nearly all get beaten up by hired goons before a timely intervention from Spot and his newsboys.

After joining the strike, we get to see (a bit) more of Spot. After winning that first scuffle, he joins the Manhattan newsies for lunch, where they all cheer over their picture being in the paper. Spot seems to be a bit conceited, as he demands to know, “Where’s me picture?” After that moment in the song "King of New York", Spot doesn’t really have that much to do. He later shows up after Jack has turned scab, but that’s just to reinforce his temper, violent streaks, and strong emphasis on loyalty, which is made clear by his very violent reaction to Jack’s betrayal.

Spot’s conceit or arrogance is also shown at the end of the movie, where he gets paraded back to Brooklyn after their victory in Teddy Roosevelt’s coach. On my first time watching, I wasn’t even sure that Teddy Roosevelt was still in the coach, as the shot just focuses mainly on Spot. (As he leaves, if one listens carefully, it’s possible to hear one of the newsboys yell, “Yeah, go back to Brooklyn!” after him.)

When not around the Brooklyn newsies, Spot appears to be a lot more cheerful, dancing around with the Manhattan newsies, and gallivanting around like a moron when Jack returns from eventually defeating Pulitzer.

Racetrack Higgins - Nobody Told the Horse
Racetrack, while historically a Brooklyn newsie, appears as one of the oldest Manhattan boys. (Max Casella, who played him, was actually 24; but you would NEVER believe it by looking at him. Seriously, the man didn’t hit puberty until he was 30.)

Racetrack is a cigar-smoking consummate gambler. Everything to him seems to be a gamble, of which we get our first glimpse early in the movie when he is trying to place bets on the outcome of a fight between Jack and the Delancey brothers. However, nobody will take him up on this bet, telling him that it’s, “bum odds.”

He continues this when buying his papers, asking the man who sells them the papers to spot him the fifty papers for the day, claiming he has a hot tip on the fourth, and that Wiesel won’t waste his money… “Not like last time.” He also plays cards with the newsies when they have downtime during the strike.

However, Racetrack doesn’t seem to be very good at gambling - at least, not on horses. Upon returning, exhausted, to the lodging house, he asks if Jack remembers that hot tip he’d been told about. When Jack nods, Race follows up with, “Nobody told the horse.”

Outside of his gambling, which really does seem to be his defining characteristic, Racetrack is something of a smartass. He appears to like verbal sparring, and generally has a wisecrack ready. When asked by Snyder (one of the lesser villains of the movie) if anyone had seen Jack, he replies, “Yeah, he was here. But he put an egg in his shoe and beat it.” (Oh come on, what do you expect? They’re 1899 street kids!)

Racetrack also seems to have a bit of a manipulative side. Earlier I mentioned how he asked Wiesel to spot him his papers, but it turns out that he didn’t need the money, as he later loans Jack two-bits (twenty-five cents) without hesitation upon being asked. While some argue that this is a mistake in the script, I find it more likely that Racetrack was just enjoying manipulating Wiesel. He doesn’t like paying for his papers, but he doesn’t have any issues with lending money to a friend.

Racetrack also appears to be something of a loner among the boys, even though he seems to get along very well with most of them. Unlike the others, who seem to sell in pairs, Racetrack sells by himself down at the Sheepshead races. (Which you need to travel through Brooklyn to get to, just for the record). This is not explicitly stated in the movie, but Max Casella mentioned it in an interview about the character in one of the DVD’s special editions.

While he does have that loner quality, he also does have a tendency to be very touchy with the other Manhattan boys, especially Mush and Blink (who come across as a walking threesome, but that’s an entirely different essay). He’s also friends with both Jack and Crutchy, and has no concept of personal space, as he is constantly jumping on everyone, and smacking them playfully in the face. (Making him one of the fanon sluts among the newsies. He can be slashed with anyone)

Racetrack is also The Best Big Brother Ever. He’s trusted with the younger boys, and is the one who comes up with words of comfort for innocent little Les when it looks like they’re losing.

The Pairing:
Like I said before, for a movie that is full of boys who spend their time jumping all over each other, there is surprisingly little inappropriate touching between Race and Spot. They do, however, have a few moments.

The main SpRace moment is during the song King of New York. Racetrack sings, “Ain’t I pretty?” and Spot nods. Spot thinks that Racetrack is pretty! I love the boy, and I don’t think he’s that pretty! At least not compared to most of the other newsies. (This is only viewable on the widescreen DVD, because it’s CUT OUT on the full screen video.)

The other main moment of SpRace interaction comes during the courtroom scene, after they’ve all been arrested at the rally. The two of them are in the front, and are the ones who appear to be speaking for the newsies. There is definitely some competition going on between the two of them. Spot starts off, by objecting to the whole proceedings, and when asked on what grounds, he replies with, “On the grounds of Brooklyn, your honor.” After he says this, the entire group cracks up. After their sentencing, which is the choice of a fine that they can’t pay, or two weeks' confinement in the refuge, Racetrack offers to, “roll [the judge] for it, double or nothing.” (Also, the look on Spot’s face right after Racetrack says, “Double or nothing,” is utterly adorable, and it so says, “Wow, I have a crush.”)

Later on, after Jack has turned scab, Racetrack threatens to beat up Jack for being a traitor, but Spot intervenes, telling Race that he’ll handle it: “Let me get my hands dirty.”

After Jack goes scab, the two of them also occupy rather high positions within the strike leadership. David needs to turn to Racetrack to try to keep everyone under control, and Spot simply tells people to cut out their fighting.

The Interpretation:
For a movie with so many slashy pairings, my evidence seems very weak. I fully admit that. It isn’t like Jack/David, where they come thisclose to kissing every two seconds, or Blink/Mush, who just can’t stop touching each other.

Yet SpRace remains one of the most popular pairings. One has to ask why?

Because they work so well together.

Spot is someone who is presented as putting a high emphasis on his status. He couldn’t be in a relationship with someone who he feels would threaten his authority, or lower his status in any way. In fact, he is one of the characters who is hardest to slash because he seems to place such a high emphasis on his masculinity, and being with a guy would probably be a slight against it.

However, Racetrack has an intriguing quality about him. He is highly charismatic, and doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in leadership, even though he has a relatively high position. He wouldn’t be a threat to Spot in any way, but would be interesting enough to hold Spot’s attention.

As for what Racetrack gets out of the relationship, he seems to enjoy verbal sparring, and going against the odds. Spot would be an interesting challenge, one that would require Racetrack to use his various skills in holding him. Also, Spot is someone who can keep up with his wisecracks.

However, with Spot being as arrogant as he is, and Racetrack having the backbone to stand up for him, the particular dynamic of the two doesn’t lend itself particularly well to fluff, but it does lend itself very well to loads of angst, and lots of sex. It makes one of the more interesting pairings, and one with many possibilities, which is why I enjoy it so much.

The Fandom:
A year and a half ago, my best friend announced I needed to see the movie. About five minutes into it I turned to her and asked if all of the boys were supposed to be gay. She said yes, and the beginnings of my obsession were formed. She wrote in the fandom herself, as did her suitemate, and the three of us eventually formed the only slash only archive in the fandom.

Because I’m slightly… obsessive, I literally read all the slash in the fandom when I joined back in December 2003, so I can tell you with some authority that Newsies is a very strange fandom, in that modern day AUs are perfectly acceptable and are barely considered to be AU anymore.

The Fic:

There are only really two archives for fics - fanfiction.net and The Refuge.

Since SpRace is written so often, it is also unfortunately written very badly a lot of the time, with Spot as a flamer or both of them acting like teenage girls. It’s kind of painful.

But there are quite a few gems.

Vaudeville by Hilby – one of the hidden gems of the Newsies fandom. Set post movie, it features the Spot/Race relationship as both of them try to cope with Jack’s death, and the seedier side of life in the slums.

Everything You’ve Done Wrong by Sloanne - A modern day AU with sex, drugs, rock and roll… and the mafia. One of the best fics in the fandom.

Ribbon by studentnumber24601 (temira) – an 1899 era fic, containing the best portrayal of angsty SpRace out there. Very sad, but wonderful.

No Smoking, and its prequel Proceed with Caution by Poison Ivory (poisonivory) – modern day SpRace fluff. One of the very few in character fluff stories, and the best of them.

Learning to Lie by signpost (baelarion)– Also an 1899 post movie story, it is mostly Spot centric, but with beautiful unrequited SpRace.
Tags: #movie, #musical, newsies
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