This weekend, on Twitter…

Dear Cyber-Friends,

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.

Love,

GeGi.

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Talking about Privileges.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today I want to talk about privilege. I’ve mentioned various types of privilege in several previous posts, so I think it would be good to define and describe it a bit for those readers who may be unfamiliar with thinking about the lenses through which they view and interact with the world.

There are basically as many types of privilege as there are different types of people in the world. To my understanding, “privilege” is just a shorthand way of saying: This type of person fits societal standards of “normal/ideal” in this aspect. Of course, this has a lot of hidden and obvious negatives towards those who are not that type of person, and a lot of hidden and obvious benefits for those that do. Let me give some examples…

Cis-gender privilege: Cis-gender is a shorthand way of saying that the gender of the body (sex) matches the gender in the head (gender). If your body’s gender/sex was born matching with what you know you are inside as a person, then you are probably cis-gender. If there’s a difference (transgendered, genderqueer, genderfluid, androgynous, etc), you are probably not cis-gendered. I use the word “probably” because I try not to tell people they ARE this way or that way due to a definition. I respect whatever label you feel most comfortable with; it’s always your choice.

So here’s a scenario of cis-gendered privilege: you think of yourself as male, and look male, and have always been that way. If someone called “sir” you probably wouldn’t think twice about it. So imagine if you felt exactly the same way about your identity as male, but were born into and currently have a female body? Getting called “sir” would be thrilling, but rare at best. You would be surrounded by constant reminders that you are different, that you are not privileged to the same forms of automatic treatment as the guy next to you. If you are not cis-gendered, your life is filled with battles and struggles on a daily basis, from paperwork to public bathrooms. And it doesn’t usually end even if you fully transition to being perceived by others as the matching gender (called “passing”). The act of trying to pass or transition itself is often a result of being outside the privilege of being cis-gendered, requiring extraordinary amounts of time, expense, effort, and sacrifice.

Male privilege: Those who appear male have crazy amounts of privilege in this society, especially if they are also white (which is a whole other category of privilege, of course). Being female-bodied myself, I recognize and envy their privilege of not living in this society as a women; trust me, it’s often difficult and rage-inducing at the best of times. Men have the privilege of automatic respect, of not being forced in a position of fearing or even preventing rape (note how pretty much all the advice about preventing rape is directed towards WOMEN), of having basically any body type be okay, of having a bad day without getting called a bitch, of being sexual without being called a slut, of basically any less-than-ideal human behavior without being shamed for it. The list of male privilege goes on, but it’s rough being a feminist and talking about this, so I’m going to stop before I induce too much rage in myself.

White privilege: This is one of the privileges I DO have, although I’m currently living in a place where that makes me a minority. Obviously I can’t speak from authority from the unprivileged side of the lens on this one, but I can still think about some of the more obvious privileges I receive from it. This includes things like; media portrayal (my race is not automatically the “bad guy”, or forced into a role of beneficial wise adviser. My race is not restricted to a few portrayals and generalities in news footage, or used for fear-mongering on a daily basis.); how I’m treated in random interactions with strangers (without automatic suspicion, or invasive personal questions.); interactions with positions of authority (I won’t harassed by security, my word will be believed equally against another, I will be trusted, I will get hired.); and so on.

There are many many more types of privilege — straight privilege springs to mind immediately — but these examples should be enough to start helping you to thinking about this issue and see more of them on your own. For the RPG-minded of you, remember that privilege stacks the more of them you have. A perfect example of this is the frequent use of “white cis-gendered straight male” as the automatic assumption in any hypothetical person in a conversation or media. If the hypothetical person is not one of those things, that variation must be stated, otherwise it doesn’t exist. The above described person in real life will also enjoy the most benefits from society, and can basically get away with being completely evil. (Which is NOT to say that all those fitting that description are evil. Just that they could probably get away with it IF they were, based on how many of them seem to when they are.)

Basically all privileges pretty much boil down to how people (including media, ect) treat you based on their assumptions and your outward appearance. This is why the whole mess privilege creates is so inaccurate and unfair, and why it can be so difficult to deal with. It’s something we’re all raised with. It starts the moment we come into this world and are slapped with our first set of labels. From that moment on, we are indoctrinated with the expectations of those labels, and all the privileges and disadvantages that go along with them.

It can be a long hard struggle to fight free of those labels, and the lenses they give the world, but I think it’s worth it. Even if you are the most privileged of people, recognizing your position and realizing what the world is like for others can only benefit everyone. The more we can work towards understanding the world through the experiences and eyes of others, the more tolerance and change we can bring into reality. That’s my dream, anyway.

As always, please leave any comments or questions you might have, and I’ll try to respond ASAP!

Love,

GeGi.

“I contain multitudes.”

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve mentioned before that I am genderqueer. In case that interests any of you, I thought that today I’ll talk about it a little more.

When I was a kid, I never heard of any options outside the gender binary (male/female). I was female-bodied, so I figured that meant I was female. I grew up in the country, and I was either by myself or tagging after older kids a lot. My favorite game was coming up with fantasy scenarios — usually along the lines of my being an elf ranger with a stick for a sword and an imaginary bow, fighting orcs and having epic adventure quests. I was quiet and and uncomfortable around girls my age, because I couldn’t relate to them. They were interested in love stories and playing mommy and being mean towards other girls, and I wasn’t. I was more interested in trying to prove that I could be as good or better than boys at anything, being physically strong, and having fantasy adventures alone in the woods.

As I got older and the other girls started reaching the ‘boy-crazy’ phase, I related less and less. I swore to myself that I would NEVER become obsessed with make-up and skin and clothes and especially with boys. It all seemed like such a waste of time to me, when there were so many other interesting things to do and think about — like reading, and fantasy games, and archery lessons, and riding horses, and running around in the woods.

As I entered teenhood, I got more and more uncomfortable with my body. I wore baggy boyish clothes, because anything more feminine or revealing felt awkward and wrong. I spent more time online, looking for things that would help me understand why I had slowly stopped feeling the pride I had felt as a child in my body and gender. I started fantasizing about being a boy, and experimented with binding my chest. I imagined what I would have been like had I been born male. I started writing stories with male narration. Yet I didn’t quite feel comfortable with claiming a transgender identity. Being a girl still didn’t feel right, but I didn’t quite feel like a boy either. I started identifying with androgyny, and the idea of being “both” and “other” at the same time.

When I first came across the terms “genderqueer”  and “genderfluid”– the idea that gender is a spectrum and one’s position on it can be outside the usual categories, and can even change dependent solely on how one feels at any given moment — I knew I had finally found the answer I’d been so desperately looking for. It was freeing and liberating; suddenly I could let go of the guilt I felt at “failing” to be a girl, or at “failing” to be a transboy. I wasn’t either, and I didn’t have to choice between them. I could just choose to be ME, free of gender labels that didn’t fit anyway and had been feeling more and more like they were full of constraints and expectations.

Some days I want to be a bit girly. Some days I want to be a boy. Some days I’m still horribly uncomfortable in my own body, because it is so very female. Some days I don’t care. Mostly, I wish society in general knew that gender wasn’t always binary, so people would see me as my actual gender rather than just my female body.

I worry sometimes that telling people about all this will make them think that I hate or fear being female, or that I have “penis envy”, or some other completely error-filled assumption that helps them invalidate my feelings in their world-view. My response to these and similar claims: I believe those feelings are probably normal reactions in a society that creates a world where being female is a bad thing, and being male is a good thing, and it speaks vastly more about the problems with such a society than it does the invalidity of those feelings. I don’t know how much of what I feel about my personal gender is in reaction to living in an insidiously patriarchal culture. Even if the answer was “100%”, should that really make a difference? We don’t exist in a vacuum, so why should my influences make what I feel less valid? It’s still how I feel.

If we lived in a more equal society, I would hope that it would also be more equal towards a less binary view of things like gender and sexuality. I want to live in a society where the person I know I am is accepted as valid without explanation or defense, where discussion is surrounded by genuine interest instead of attacks, and I would be able to check the box that says “fluid”. All those things should be basic freedoms for all people.

At the end of the day, how I feel about ANYTHING when it comes to identity — gender and sexuality included — tends to be in constant flux. It’s part of being alive, at least for me. It’s part of my growth and change and exploration. Fluidity is part of my identity. I call myself genderqueer because that’s who I am. I know it the same way others know they are male or female.

Love,

GeGi.

Shining a Light.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today’s review isn’t about a particular creation of media; it’s about helping to shine a light on a particular issue in media that gets more and more obvious and infuriating the more aware of it I become: how women are treated.

To those who may be triggered by something in this topic: I do not talk about specific examples or cases to illustrate my point. However at one point I do list, in general terms, some of the various forms of violence — physical and non — against women commonly shown in media. Read or not as needed to take care of YOU, and know that my best wishes are with you.

Continue reading

Uhhh, what was that again?

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today I’m gonna talk about a little movie with a big idea: Primer (2004).

This low-budget sci-fi deals with the old standard of time travel in an amazingly refreshing, realistic, and complex way. Staying true to the pattern of many historical scientific breakthroughs, within the movie the time travel is an accidental side-effect of what the engineers are actually trying to invent. Also grounded in reality is: how this machine is built, what it looks like, how it functions, and (as far as this non-engineer geek girl can tell) the tech-talk-filled conversations about it.

All well and good, and if you pay close attention you can even follow the plot this far. It takes about half an hour of this 1:17 length movie before the time travel even comes into play, and nearly as long again before the plot goes well and truly off the rails into the land of “What.” and “I’m so confused”. Seriously, I had to go read a plot summery online before I felt I could even attempt to follow the twists, much less understand what actually just happened in that last 20+/- minutes.

Despite that, I was still left with the impression that this was a brilliant movie overall. I love the concept of a reality-based time travel that doesn’t use paradoxes and worm holes and contrivance and exposition to try and explain away all the things the writers couldn’t be bothered to figure out. I love the use of un-watered-down tech talk, because I grew up around engineers and I know what their conversations are actually like. I love how they built the machine, how they stumbled onto the discover, and the rules they make for themselves using it. All of that comes off so refreshingly believable and realistic to me. This is a very grounded movie.

While I might have been confused and blindsided near the end, that had very little to do with the machines or in-movie theories of time travel, and all to do with trying to follow the actions and choices of the characters — and the storytelling choices of how and what to reveal when. Those are story problems, and really I don’t think the concept suffered at all because of them. Honestly, I’ll have to re-watch a few times to decide if the story problems are actual problems, or if it’s just so complex and tight that I couldn’t break into it on the first go. I suspect it’s the latter, and that more watching will reveal deeper layers upon layers upon clues.

Primer is kind of a reverse of the usual sci-fi time travel plot; typically, the concept and theory is sacrificed at the alter of the story the writer wants to tell. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it gets frustrating to see the science part of sci-fi ignored or underdeveloped over and over. I watched this movie on the warning and recommendation that it is the most well-thought-out time travel put to film, and that because of that it would take several views of paying strict attention to even kinda-sorta start to understand it all. At the time, that sounded appealing to me. It still does, and it definitely lived up to both sides of that hype.

I’m not going to re-watch it right away, but this movie is definitely going to be kept around. I can see myself re-watching every once in a while, and breaking it out to show to especially engineer-type geeky friends to get their impressions and discussions. I’m particularly thinking of my brother-in-law for this, actually. And my brother. And probably my dad. Did I mention I come from a geeky sometimes-engineering-centric family?

This was a good movie. I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending, but I’m sure after a few more times I’ll start to form an opinion. Overall, it was a really great concept and it kept me interested. Well done, Shane Carruth. I’m glad you finished your film.

Love,

GeGi.

Television Done Right.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I have a confession to make. I’ve never watched Mad Men. Not because of any particular reason — my sister watches and likes it — but just because I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I have, however, watched The Hour.

The Hour is a short-lived BBC drama set in the mid-1950’s, centered around the people involved with a television current-affairs news program called, of course, The Hour. It ran from 2011-2012, lasting only two six-episode-long seasons (a total of twelve episodes), before it was canceled by the BBC due the viewing figures being under their threshold for renewal.

The soundtrack alone — especially the opening title, brilliantly composed by Daniel Giorgetti —  would be enough reason for me to recommend checking out this show. It sets the mood and the era seamlessly, and I could listen to it all day.

The cast is full of talented British actors, including Ben Whishaw (the newest Q in Skyfall, among other credits), Romola Garai (whom I most fondly know from I Capture The Castle), Dominic West (in practically everything), Anna Chancellor (also in practically everything), Oona Chaplin (in Game of Thrones, among other credits), and joining them in the second season, Peter Capaldi (of recent Doctor Who fame, among much else).

The real star of The Hour, however, is the storytelling. There are so many plots and threads and clues throughout each season that new layers will be discovered on each re-watch (something I love), yet still each episode has enough on the surface to draw you in and capture your attention on the first viewing. The pacing in each episode is slow, and it can take awhile to get drawn into the show, but it’s such an exciting and rich story within that it’s worth the effort.

The first episode of The Hour left me feeling like this show had potential, but I wasn’t quite sold on it. I watched the next, and immediately told my sister and parents they had to start watching it. I didn’t need to see any more to know I was on to something special. I started over with my parents (and got so much more out the pilot now that I had an idea where things were headed). They weren’t quite as convinced about it, but were willing to give it a chance. By the fourth episode, they were hooked and as eager as me to watch more.

I don’t want to go into too much details since I like to keep things spoiler-free, and also because I want you to go experience The Hour knowing as little as I did when I started, so you can enjoy seeing the plots unfold as they were meant to. What I will say is that the first season has the overarching storyline of trying to launch and run a cutting-edge format for news program, with a background of actual historical events, and a plot of investigating a conspiracy and murder with a dash of spy-verses-spy. If that doesn’t sound like a fantastic mix, then we obviously have very different tastes. The second season deals with various forms of fall-out, more historical events, different conspiracies of corruption, and so on. It’s just as excellent and exciting.

The producers of The Hour said they had plans for the third season after the cancellation was announced, and it’s clear in the final episode that there are a lot of interesting ways they could have gone with it. However, I think they managed to get the stories and characters to a point where the audience isn’t left completely hanging by never knowing what happened next — always a relief when watching a canceled show. It still feels like an open-ended chapter, but it does have a sense of that chapter having concluded rather than feeling like a cliff-hanger.

The Hour is interesting, intelligent, exciting, well-paced and well-plotted. It has an amazing cast and a perfect soundtrack. It deals with serious issues in a way that is thought-provoking and realistic. There’s very little black-and-white/right-and-wrong in the bigger picture; there’s a lot of conflicting points of view and morals clashing between educated and passionate characters. It’s a compelling program, and it’s good storytelling. If you haven’t yet, you really ought to watch it.

Love,

GeGi.

Meanwhile, In Middle Earth…

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’m a huge Tolkien fan; grew up watching the cartoons, listen to the BBC dramatizations, and of course reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy annually. I was endlessly excited about the first movies, dressed up with friends to go to the theater (something we sometimes did anyway, just for fun), and I even went to Trilogy Tuesday when The Return of the King was released. I could go on for hours discussing passionately why it bothered me every time they showed an elf using tack on a horse, or the character assassination they did of Faramir in The Two Towers, or how perfect Sean Bean was as Boromir, or…well, you get the idea.

There’s a situation every fan of an original work faces when an adaptation is made: how forgiving will you be of changes to the source material? As a geek, I tend to obsess and analyze pretty much everything. While there is nothing wrong with that approach and while it can be quite enjoyable, sometimes that can get in the way of appreciating the storytelling that is being offered.

It can be hard to separate the feelings and emotions and nostalgia you might have for the original from the adaptation, especially if it’s a story that has a lot of personal history for you. Seeing the adaptation, you might spend the whole time arguing in your head with the choices the creators made, picking apart every flaw and alteration. This can be a good exercise in critical analysis, but it’s not exactly a helpful frame of mind for losing yourself in a story.

My approach lately, thanks to the Bardic training over the last two years, is to think about adaptations in terms of oral storytelling traditions. The heart of the story is always present, but the details and events will evolve with each retelling and each storytelling, altered and embellished to become the most compelling it can be, the most meaningful or exciting, to that particular audience at that particular time. The idea that there’s only “one right way” to tell a certain story comes from having written accounts, but that’s an illusion. The old stories grew and changed as much as the people telling them; they were living things. Seen that way, new adaptations of original stories are simply the latest fashion in a very ancient and honored tradition.

With that line of thought, I can separate the original story — which is still whole and complete and able to be revisited at any time — from the evolved version, and enjoy it for what it is. I can compare the different versions from a position where my emotional investment isn’t at stake. I can see it from the viewpoint of a storyteller, and judge it accordingly.

That said, I’m really enjoying the Hobbit movies so far.

Yes, there’s a lot of changes and additions from the source material — even more that The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in certain respects — but I honestly don’t have issue with that. They have kept a lot of little details while I get a thrill out of seeing (the blue butterflies above Murkwood spring to mind). I loved that they used some of the songs in the first movie, by the way, because the books are so full of songs and poems that it seems a shame not to include them. Parts of the first movie came off a bit silly for some people, but The Hobbit was a story for a child. It’s meant to have silly bits.

Of course, making one short book into a trilogy is a bit of an ambitious move, to say the least. However, I personally thing that a lot of the material they added was actually a very appropriate move. Including events Tolkien wrote about in the Indexes gives the story a broader picture of that time in Middle Earth. It’s still drawing from the same source, and it ties the story back into The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as setting up for the epic conclusion.

There are things they added that have no basis in the original writings, of course, but again I can see them as a product of both the medium (what works better in a movie than in a book), and of the times (what current storytelling requires in this era, as apposed to that era). There are very few changes that do not fall into one or the other of those categories.

It’s like the way the story of King Arthur grew and changed over the years and continents, adding the Round Table, adding the Holy Grail, added the love triangle, adding the sister and bastard son. Those parts can tell you so much about the society and politics, about the cultural priorities and beliefs. They become the rings of a tree, that can tell you the age and conditions of the original tale, and map out the path it took to get to you.

The words Tolkien wrote will always be center in my heart. The movies will join the cartoons and the BBC dramatizations to become part of the tale, to add to my experience and pleasure, to creating new paths and new places where I can immerse myself in Middle Earth. And for that gift, I will always be grateful.

Love,

GeGi.