There’s been a lot to be outraged by recently…
If you haven’t been reading #YesAllWomen on Twitter, please do. It’s made national news, as well it should, and is heartbreaking (in that that conversations still needs to happen) and hopeful (in that since it does need to happen, it’s happening in a beautiful way and seems to be opening some eyes — even if others still seem to be willfully blind). These stories need to be heard, if only so that we know we’re not alone in living them.
But that’s not the topic I want to talk about right now; I’ve said quite a bit about feminism and humanity and my own past quite a bit already, and while it never seems to be enough — since we keep having these problems — I don’t feel like rehashing it at the moment. I’ve been a little too raw the last few weeks to do that.
Instead, I want to focus on something else that happened recently, something that may seem superficial in the wake of such violence and hate against women, but which was still hurtful to people I care about and is still important to discuss for the sake of a part of a culture I dearly love. Actually, what I want to talk about is a much bigger problem, and the thing that happened merely the starting place for my thoughts on something related.
Thus, while it is obvious to viewers of the show I’ll be discussing who is it I’m talking about, I’m not going to name the actors involved. What I have to say isn’t so much about them, as it is about using them as examples of this bigger problem they happen to have illustrated so perfectly.
The context: Two actors, the leading stars of the popular and long-running sci-fi TV show Supernatural, made some comments at a convention a few days ago that have set off quite a reaction and much controversy in the fandom (not to mention PR issues for the show itself). The comments were about a popular ‘shipping of two male characters on the show, one of which one of the actors in question portrays. [For those who don’t speak Fandom Geek, “shipping” in short-hand for seeing those characters as being in a relationship.]
Some disclaimers and background: I’ve only watched the first few seasons of Supernatural. However, I’m extremely spoilered on the show, and I have friends who are much more deeply involved in the fandom, and have seen all episodes. I speak as someone outside the fandom, but also as someone who understands it somewhat and cares about it. I watched a clip and read quotes of some of comments, and have read articles and reactions in various places online.
The event: They adamantly denied the ship would ever be canon, that it had never been intended to be hinted at, and made it clear that they did not approve of the ship, or think much of the fans who shipped them. They took it beyond simply vocalize their personal opinions and views of how they are playing their own characters, by continually mocked a large portion of loyal fanbase with disparaging remarks about the ship and the shippers, pandering to laughter in the audience about the very idea of a male/male ship on the show, and portraying the whole idea of such a ship into a joke.
The bigger problem: This is not okay. This is bullying, plain and simple.
The actors were bullying on stage, and receiving cheers and applause for it. I was uncomfortable just watching it, much less when I thought about it later and realized what I had actually seen. It was obvious the actors were uncomfortable with the idea of male/male relationships, and seemingly felt the need to air their discomfort to this receptive crowd. Their decision to give voice to such opinions in a public forum not only shows little understanding of how fandoms work in an internet age, but also gives those who would follow in their footsteps a feeling of vindication and permission to continue the bullying beyond the convention, leading to a hostile environment of people attacking those who have been supporting the ship.
This whole situation is deeply problematic on so many levels.
Many if not all of those shippers are people who badly need and want a positive non-hetro relationship involving strong and fully developed leading characters to be portrayed on a favorite sci-fi show. That’s not too much to ask for. That’s something that should already be normalized, yet never has been and is obviously still a long time in coming. This should not be something that gets turned into a joke or a punchline. This is not something that should make those fans the subject of continued online bullying and harassment, something they already had to deal with constantly.
Directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, the two actors have contributed to a culture of bullying, harassing, and threatening “otherness”. They targeted a portion of their own fans and supporters to do it. They have giving an example of behavior to the more privileged fans, showing that it is acceptable to them to continue bullying, harassing, and threatening. I hope that was not their intention, but that was the consequence.
This is disturbing and irresponsible behavior of public figures.
While I can hardly demand someone act or do things in a certain way simply because they are popular — they are still just people, after all, and have all the same rights to autonomy as anyone else — I can and do hope that those who find themselves in positions of influence would have the common sense to use that power with care and humility and at the very least, humanity. Feeding into the culture of bullying is the very antithesis of that hope.
Geek culture, sci-fi culture, and fandoms are already struggling. Not even taking into account how problematic many of the very high quality shows being produced these days are; or the fact that when those shows are called out for being problematic the reactions tend to set off powder kegs of rabid controversy and personal name-calling (at best) more than thoughtful discussion most of time; or the fact that rampant white male hetro privilege is the base norm for pretty much everything ever (even in subcultures); there’s still the basic problem of the people involved.
On one hand, they can be amazing, warm and inviting and supportive; these are subcultures where you can find your tribe and discover people who get just as passionate as you about whatever it is you love. On the other hand, the past and sometimes current reputation is as a hostile, unwelcoming, elitist, boy’s club environment. Both are true right now, and some of the leading public figures within those cultures are working hard to tip the balance into something healthy that can grow and become every greater. Some of those leaders are even white hetero males — the ones enlightened enough to be willing to listen and learn to recognize the problems, and to help try to rid our subculture of prejudices, bullying behaviors, and sometimes even rape culture.
Comments like the ones given by Supernatural‘s main co-stars are exactly the sort of negative setback we, the portion of population who support being supportive and responsible, don’t need and don’t want. There are so many examples of actors who aren’t even part of our culture, who are embraced and beloved by us for being on our favorite shows, and demonstrate such gracious and humble respect for our support — however much they might be bemused or confused by it. It makes me sad that these two men, for whatever reason, can’t seem to have followed in one of those shining examples.
These two actors made a very big, very hurtful mistake. They have alienated and bullied some of their loyal and supportive fans. They have lost viewers for a show that’s been give them a paycheck for the past decade. They have caused a rift, and didn’t seem to care one bit at the time about what they were doing and who they were attacking.
I hope they can see the fallout of this, and realize the full impact of what they did. I hope they can learn and grow from this experience. Even if they never attempt to make up for it, I hope they at least never do something like this again. I hope other actors see the hornet’s nest they stirred up among the show’s supporters and beyond, and take pause to reconsider before making such blunders themselves.
To those who have been impacted and hurt by this, I extend to you my deepest sympathies and many internet hugs. If you haven’t found it yet, check out #USSDestiel for some shipper love and fun from fellow fans. They’re showing off the best of our subculture, by rising from the bullying undaunted to become stronger and even more supportive of one another.