Goodreads Review: Fan Art.

Fan ArtFan Art by Sarah Tregay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like flail-worthy queer fluff about adorable boys who need to just get a clue and/or take a chance, throughout most of a strangely-hard-to-put-down book, this is the story for you! So, basically, in the same category as Simon Vs…

There’s a lot to love about this book. I literally spent the entire last ten pages in a state of constant fangirling flail and squee, for example. Jamie is easy to like and is mostly intelligent (always a nice trait in YA protagonists). I like that he’s out to his family but not to his school or friends, because that’s a little different than a lot of set-ups in this genre. Mason is compelling as his best friend/secret crush, and the high school has some pretty interesting kids and clubs. It was a quick read, and definitely felt like fluff, but was very engaging and compelling fluff with real heart and dealing with real issues. It didn’t feel meaningless at all, and I ended it feeling both satisfied and wanting to read it again (and also interested in reading more and/or fanfic about them).

The only things that kinda pulled me out of the story a couple times were:
1) It takes place in Idaho, my old homestate where I grew up, and reading names of places I know in fiction tends to throw me a little and make me more critical about descriptions of places.
2) Certain slang that’s incredibly common in certain online circles gets used a lot at various points, which I pretty much loved except for the times when it felt like it was being used slightly…off. Like, saying “slash them together” instead of “shipping them” or “slash-shipping them”. Like, it’s almost right and I understand why it’s being used that way, but it’s not the way I tend to see it used these days, so it felt…off. It’s not a huge thing, and it’s entirely acceptable in context, but it feels…not quite right.

Regardless of these two minor issues, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to pretty much everyone. Well, everyone who doesn’t hate cute queer YA, anyway!

View all my reviews

Storytelling is a superpower, and other thoughts.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve said (written) a lot of positive things on here about fanfiction. I stand by everything I’ve said before, but due to some recent discussions I’ve been seeing on Twitter lately, I wanted to add a little complexity to my position on some of the issues surrounding fanfic.

Storytelling is important. How we tell the story, what we choose to focus on, and what we do with it afterward, all matter very deeply. These things effect people in a very real way, with very real consequences to their lives. This post is going to talk about some topics that you might not want to expose yourself to right now. I talk about them in pretty general terms, but if even hearing (reading) the name of an issue will adversely effect you, please take care of yourself first and not read this post until/unless you’re in a mentally and emotionally safe place to do so.

The discussions that sparked my own thoughts into wanting to write this post was about toxic shipping in fandom and fanfics. The release of Jessica Jones on Netflix is starting lots of very awesome powerful dialogue due to the incredible handling of PTSD, abuse, rape, misogyny, and other relevant topics for today’s culture. It’s also brought out some less awesome behavior with those people who seem to see romantic tragedy where others see abuse, manipulation, and rape. These are people who ship Kilgrave/Jessica Jones, ignoring all evidence that that’s about the most sickening and unhealthy thing they could possible do. That’s not even touching on the fact that shipping an abusive one-sided relationship is triggering for survivors of such, and also the fact that it’s showing support and/or excusing that kind of behavior in the real world.

The things we create in fiction don’t live in a vacuum, safe and away from all “real world” consequences. It doesn’t matter if we’re creating TV shows, best-selling YA fiction, or internet-only fanfic. All it takes is other people, even just one other person, seeing it. The moment that happens, it’s effecting the real world. It has become part of the world, released into the wild to spawn and grown and change in someone’s mind, becoming part of their thoughts and ideas. So us storytellers must, MUST, be responsible about what we say. But we also have to let go after it’s out there. The time for us to make sure we’re getting it as right as we can is while we’re creating it. After that, it’s too late. It’s already out there, and we don’t get a second change to fix our mistakes.

So when the story is about an abusive relationship, it needs to be called out on being an abusive relationship IN THE NARRATIVE. This is something Jessica Jones did. My skin crawled seeing Kilgrave, despite how much I adore David Tennant. They never shrank away from the fact he was a horrible awful person, even when they gave him complexity and backstory and explanations (and please note: these were NEVER framed as excuses except by Kilgrave). Not all narratives do this; in fact, very few of them do at all. They turn abusers into someone misunderstood, broken but fixable through love and sacrifice. That’s the lessons learned by people who ship Kilgrave/Jessica, because like Kilgrave, they learned about love by seeing it in movies and TV shows. That kind of narrative about love not how the real world works, and survivors of abusive relationships know it.

People who buy into the toxic narrative and defend it are hurting the survivors. They’re also hurting themselves and anyone else who listens to that narrative, because it makes it easier for the myth to perpetuate. They’re giving confusion and uncertainty to people who won’t always recognize abuse because it’s been dressed up as romance. They’re giving excuses and justification to those who will use romanticized abuse to get what they want from other people, consciously or not. They’re supporting a culture that doesn’t acknowledge rape, abuse, misogynist, violence against women. They’re supporting a culture that can’t tell the difference between what’s okay and what isn’t. They’re supporting a culture that devalues the abused and their experiences.

I’m not saying the people who ship these things are bad, necessarily. They might be. I don’t know, because I don’t know them at all. All I can tell is that they’re certainly misinformed and in desperate need of some feminist education. I’m sure a lot of them would disagree with me and call me a lot of horrible things if they read this. I’m sure a lot of them wouldn’t even realize the irony of doing that, how it would in fact prove my point better than my own words can. This happens all the time, both on the internet and in the “real world”. Despite all progress, we’re still living in a toxic culture, one where just telling the truth about it on the internet can, and often does, lead to death threats, rape threats, and verbal abuse.

Which is why storytelling is so desperately important. The real world hurts, and a lot of us use escapism to survive it — I certainly do. The thing is, it isn’t really escapism. It’s just a different way to change and explore the very same narrative we’re living in day after day. The way that narrative is framed will either make our wounds bleed more, or help them to heal. If someone is telling a story with toxic relationships, framing them as tragic romance is adding to the very thing that’s hurting us in the first place. But framing them with in-your-face honest realism, showing just how bad and awful and insidious they are, makes them become something we can then point to and say, “See, this is what’s really going on. This is what it feels like to be stalked and manipulated and trapped and then survive. It’s not romantic. It’s not something you get over by the next episode. It’s scary as hell, and it changes you for life. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you strong. It’s awful, and it’s happening every day. But we can still fight back.”

There was another conversation happening a few days ago. It was about how J.K. Rowling was continuing to tell people the right and wrong ways to interpret her characters. These people were talking about how hurtful it was for an author to do that. They had bonded with the people in these stories because the characters resonated with real life experiences and people. The characters were real to them, like all our favorite fiction characters are real to us. They had claimed them, had written and read fanfiction about them, had created their own narrative and framing about them, both by using what was in the text and by going beyond it. These people were offended and outraged at the author telling them they were wrong in their own interpretations.

So how are those people different from the people shipping Kilgrave/Jessica Jones?

They’re different for a very simple reason: the framing and narrative created by toxic shipping is ADDING to a toxic culture. But these outraged fans are creating interpretations to DISMANTLE toxic culture. They’re creating narrative to add POC, to add queer relationships, to call out abusers, and other important issues that were overlooked or deemed unimportant in the original text. No work of fiction is perfect, even Harry Potter, and it can certainly be hard to tackling every issue at once. So these people are taking something they love, something profoundly important to our generation, a touchstone of our culture, and they’re adding this framing to it. They’re doing it because they love it, and because they have the real life experiences and knowledge to understand where the failings and shortcomings are, and they have the passion to try and fix them. This is something I love and adore about fandom, by the way.

J.K. Rowling coming along and telling them that no, those things are wrong, is hugely upsetting. Harry Potter and co are her creations, but as soon as she published the stories, their names and experience became ours, too. They’re part of everyone who reads the books or watches the movies or listens to the audiotapes. They’re part of our culture, a lexicon in our ongoing dialogue about the world. She doesn’t get to invalidate that by telling us we’re doing it wrong. She can and does try, but it doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. She had her chance to tell that story, and now it’s our turn. Which means the responsibility in how the story is framed falls to us, too.

A storyteller gets one shot to get it right. And, regardless of if they do or not, everyone who received that story then gets their own shot to get it right. And on, and on, and on. Stories never really die or go away. They keep mutating, traveling, forming and breaking apart and reforming, over and over and over. Stories are alive, even the ones pinned down with print or film or tape. They’re alive in our minds, as soon as we read them or watch them or listen to them. They never leave us, and they never stop changing our thoughts and feelings and actions. They get passed on, warping themselves through the lens of our perceptions and experiences, and again through those same things of the ones who receive it from us.

How we tell the stories is so important. They can literally change the world for someone, for good or bad. The moment we’ve told the story, we’ve lost the chance to tell it better. So we’d better get it the best we can the first time, because that’s all we get, and with that one chance we can heal or break someone else. It’s scary and huge and real, and it’s powerful and beautiful and magic. Storytelling is the ultimate superpower. It doesn’t matter if you think you have an audience or not. Chances are, someone somewhere is still listening. You’re touching their life. So you can either add to the toxic culture that’s probably already hurting them, or you can use that superpower to help create dialogue to dismantle it, and let them know they’re not alone.

We all have our own experiences, our own truths and struggles and wounds and insights. Storytelling is how we can share those things, finding the common ground with others and opening the eyes and minds of those who never realized what life was like for us. It’s a chance create understanding, compassion, empathy, outrage, revelation, and a myriad of other things that are extremely hard to pass on without the wonder that is storytelling. Storytelling is how we learn about other people, it’s how we can grow to understand the world, how we remember the past, and how we can shape the future.

That’s one reason why I think fanfiction is so important. Not everyone has the same experiences (obviously), so when someone can take a beloved narrative like the Harry Potter books and flesh it out even more by drawing on their own unique view, that adds to both the story as a whole, and to my own views of other people. I can become a little more aware of other peoples’ realities in the real world, and the world of Harry Potter gets a little closer to being complete because more than one voice is adding to it. The more voices and the more diversity gets added to it, the better it gets at breaking down toxic culture for more people. No one is going to get things 100% right, but the more people who add to it, the better the chances get for the overlap to make up the difference. Not to mention how cathartic it can be to add to that narrative and framing yourself, which is exactly what I experienced the first time I venture into writing fanfic as an angsty teen.

I’m a storyteller myself. Not just in this blog, either. I recently finished a first draft of a novel I hope to actually publish in the next year or so, and I’ve started on a sequel already. I’ve been world-building fantasy and sci-fi worlds for stories since I was about twelve or so, and do it by playing Let’s Pretend for as long as I can remember. Saying I love it is kind of a “does not compute” understatement moment for me, because it’s just part of who I am. It’s not something I’m passionate about, because it’s synonymous with passion for me. I breath, I blink, my heart beats, I create people and worlds and scenarios in my head. It just is. Obviously, thinking about getting to share one of those worlds and some of those characters is exciting and cool. But you know what the thing I’m most excited about is? It’s seeing what other people will do with them.

I want to see my own stories get out there, because I want to see how they grow and change with each new interpretation. I want to see what other stories get told with these characters who are real to me, because that means they’re real enough to someone else to inspire those other stories. I want to see what will happen when someone else uses them to tell personal stories, uses them to explore other issues, uses them fulfill other dreams and hopes. I want to see how someone else thinks the story should end. I want those things because seeing them will make me a better storyteller, and a better person. Those are the things that will help me understand someone else, and help me to understand the world and the cultures and all those other things I’m not going to experience as myself. I don’t know what it’s like to live the world as someone else, but using stories like this helps me get closer to that. Especially if they’re using the power of storytelling for good.

Stay strong, cyber-friends, and keep telling stories that help to heal and dismantle those toxic cultures.

Love,

GeGi.

Talking about: @shipitmovie and fandom.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today I want to talk about a script I just read. Let’s back up just a bit first before I get into it, though.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll have seen posts about various fandoms, how canon treats fan ships, queerness, sexuality and gender, etc. I’ve even talked about how fanfic is so very important, and why. I might not always be the most eloquent on a subject, but it’s probably pretty clear that these things are important to me, that I’m passionate about them, and that I like to gently educate and explain them to others.

I haven’t been doing that lately, though. Lately, I’ve either not been blogging at all, or I’ve been blogging about my travels — which, fair enough, that’s what I started this blog for in the first place. Hence the name, and all. Blogging about my travels is fun, and it’s a good way to share parts of my non-cyber life with everyone, but I’m realizing how much I miss the other kinds of blogging I do. I miss geeking out about stuff that excites me, and I miss talking through a subject to myself in an attempt to make it accessible and interesting and informative to all of you. I’m going to try to do that kind of blogging more often; we’ll see if that actually happens.

It’s going to happen today at least, though. Like I say, I just read this script that I want to talk about to everyone. It’s called Ship It, and it’s written by an amazing person called Britta Lundin, a filmmaker and writer based in L.A. I’ve been following Britta on Twitter for a while now, not knowing any of this.

I followed Britta at first because I was following anyone who had interesting or feelsy things to say about Destiel and the Destiel corner of the Supernatural fandom. I’ve mentioned the Destiel fandom before on my blog; it’s the shipping of Dean and Cas, and it’s what made me start watching Supernatural in the first place. I heard and found so much that was so compelling about it online, that it made me curious about the canon (the actual show).

Even before that, back in the days of angsty teenhood with dial-up internet in Backwoods, North Idaho, I was emotionally invested in fanfic and shipping. At that time it mostly revolved around Harry Potter fics, from what I can remember. Oh, and Lord of the Rings, whose corners of fandom were my first real interactions and friendships with other fans. There were a few others, but that’s what I remember most: going through pages and pages of HP on fanfic sites, even writing some myself, and late night chat rooms with LotR fans who shared their fics with me.

I’d stopping being around fandom for years since then, but then I had a conversation with my cousin about Supernatural (she was watching it, and telling me about it), and then I started looking it up, and I found rediscovering the wonderful things that exist down that particular internet rabbit hole. Not just Supernatural, either, of course. There’s numerous fandoms and ships out there, something for everyone, and it’s that the point? The magic of fandom is that we don’t have to stick to canon; we can create new things that speak to us using an already establish language, if you will. We all know the origin, so we can take each other on journeys into unexplored territories or deeper into familiar ground. But I digress, and I’ve also talked about all this before.

The point is, it was the fandom and a slash ship that seemingly only exists in canon as queerbaiting that got me to start watching a show. It doesn’t really matter what show that was, because it’s a formula that’s repeated over and over on TV right now, and has been for years.

See, this whole queerbaiting-the-fandom-to-create-interest-without-committing-to-queerness thing is just plain wrong. Yes, it does get people to watch and keep watching the show. But then they stop watching it after a while. They get sick of being yanked around by the creators, actors, or show itself. They get sick of being bullied by the other kind of fans, the mean and entitled ones. They find shows with real actual representation instead, which is what they were looking for in the first place. But they keep the friendships, in the end. They keep the parts they love, which are usually all fandom-based, and ditch the bits that just hurt them over and over, which is usual the canon (and the fans who are actually bullies more than fans).

Enter this script I keep mentioned, for a movie trying to get made, called Ship It.

Ship It is about a teenage girl from a small town, a huge fan of a first-season CW show and a fanfic slash writer. She doesn’t have friends because she doesn’t have common ground or interests with the other more “typical” kids around. But online, she’s hugely popular because she writes really good fic. Raise your hand if you can already relate to her… *raises my own hand*.

She goes to a convention for her favorite show, and as the last person to ask a question, she asks the one all slash-shippers want to know the answer to: will the two super-hot leads with explosive on-screen chemistry and compelling story arcs finally kiss already? The answer gets badly fumbled, which instantly leads to bad PR online because, well, online fandom is everything these days. This is a first-season show, after all, and they’re trying to get renewed. They can’t afford their fandom’s wrath or scorn.

This leads to her getting invited along the rest of the con tour to help with their online PR, despite the fact that the show creator doesn’t want her there and one of the lead actors is dismissive of both her and the rest of the fan base. Events transpire from there, including a budding relationship for our heroine with another fan and fanartist of the show.

What unfolds is a relatively simple plot with a deeply resonant and compelling emotional journey for not only our heroine, but also the resistant lead actor. It’s a tale of self-discovery with gentle and not-so-gentle help from others. It touches on a lot of issues, both lightly and more in-depth, with the care and understanding of someone who is actually part of that world and who gets it, because of course, that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s truly a movie about fandom, by someone actually in fandom, and it’s a movie for everyone, not just fans. It’s about people.

Because that’s what fandom is: it’s people. People who are passionate, people who are creative, people who share common loves and dreams and hopes and joys. People who are inspired by something, and who inspire others in return. It’s a vast and wondrous thing, when we let it. It can also be vicious and mean and awful, because people can be like that sometimes, when we get focused on the bad, on the fears, on the power-trips. But the differences and the common ground can both be cause for growth. It can inspire us to be better, do better, act better. It can teach us compassion, and can open our minds to the realities of other people. It can spark a creative spirit onto new and exciting heights. It can imagine a way to make the world better.

And yes, I may have gotten a little off-topic there, but that’s kind of my point. There’s so much potential in every form of media we consume, that there’s no way all of it can be explored by one person or even a team of people. When something we create gets shared with the world, it becomes exponentially bigger, with each possible path being explored leading to another maze of paths and even more potential. The explosive creative energy fandom generates is because people are all storytellers in our own ways, and we latch on to the things we feel passionate about.

Ship It makes me feel passionate. It does because I hear it speaking to me when I read it. It’s a story that badly needs to be out there, to get hear, to inspire others. It’s a story of what might be possible, in some way, some how. It’s a story of the hope in many fans’ hearts, that someday, someone with the power to make a difference will actually listen to us as we explain over and over how to do it better. It’s a story of fan’s journey, and an actor’s journey, but really it’s the story of fandom itself, as it evolves into the amazing and beautiful creative thing I love so much. It’s a personal story, speaking straight to each and every one of us.

Oh, and there’s lots of slash. And non-binary representation, which, if you know me at all, you know I fucking adore that.

If you want to know more about the awesomeness that is Ship It, check out and follow @shipitmovie and shipitmovie.tumblr.com. If you write to Britta (email on tumblr), you can even get to read the script yourself! And please make sure to spread the word about this hopefully-soon-to-be-made film; Britta is trying to make sure finances know just how much interest there is out there about this project, and I’m betting there’s a lot of us who’d love to see and support it.

Much love, and stay creative!

GeGi.

Fan Fiction.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about writing a post on for a while now, and a moment ago a twitter-friend told me to do it, so here it goes…

Fan fiction, for those who don’t know, is not-for-profit original stories using various elements from established works. Basically it’s a way to play in someone else’s sandbox, use their toys, and giving them back afterwards. There’s fanfic of books, movies, tv shows, video games, songs, real people…basically anything. There’s cross-over fanfic that combines elements from separate works, alternate universe fic that takes elements (for example: characters) and places them in a completely new setting, slash fic that explores potential relationships between various characters, and on and on. Again, it’s whatever the author can think of. There are really no limits when it comes to fanfic (except maybe legal ones).

There’s a huge stigma about fanfic; basically that it’s a shameful and shallow no-talent thing, often full of porn and/or “Mary-Sues” [the author inserts themselves as a “perfect” original character in order to be loved by their favorite characters]. While some fanfic can indeed have these things, there’s so much more to it than that. Even if there weren’t, I’d argue that fanfic can still be an important expression of creativity.

First, the big picture: as a storyteller/bard and druid-in-study, here’s my take on fanfic in general.

Stories are meant to be alive. They are meant to grow and evolve and change with each new telling, with each teller of the tale. We are suppose to be able to make each telling of a story relevant to ourselves and our audience, adding or changing or taking away as we are moved to. We are suppose to explore and connect with our stories. Taking familiar characters and putting them in new situations is a story-telling tradition as old as stories themselves. Some of our most famous and beloved tales are basically fan fiction: retelling someone else’s story with new elements. From King Arther and his Knights of the Round Table seeking the Grail and having love triangles and bastard kids, to the fairy tales we all grew up listening to and watching, our culture is seeped in retold tales that have evolved beyond recognition of the original versions.

I’ve said before on this blog, it’s only because we humans started writing down stories that we started believing there was “one true version”. Even if having a true version is important to you, fanfic still doesn’t take away from the original; on the contrary, it can often add to it and even draw in a new audience to the original work. There are several examples I could use from my own personal life in which I gained an interest in a new show or found new value in something I was already familiar with, all thanks to concepts from well-written fanfic. It can give someone insight into a character they can’t otherwise relate to, or fill in missing scenes, or point out a subtext you may have overlooked. At the same time, the original work is still there, intact and unharmed by these new ideas surrounding it.

Second: let’s look at fanfic from a writing angle.

Writing something completely original can be huge and overwhelming. You might get lost in the little fiddly details of world-building, or struggle with creating multifaceted complex realistic characters. Original writing is a great skill to have, and it needs a lot of practice to hone it. It’s also a hard sell; there’s a lot of competition out there for getting your original stories into the market. Internet and social networking is opening up new ways to do that, but using those tools is practically a full-time job on its own.

Writing with someone else’s creations is a whole other beast. It takes a lot of attention to detail and tone to create accuracy and authenticity with an established character and/or world. It takes a lot of imagination to create new scenarios and figure out how these well-known and beloved characters would react to them. Playing in someone else’s world means playing by their established rules, or at least knowing them well enough to figure out how to break them. There’s a lot of dedication and passion involved, especially since it’s done out of love rather than hope of profit.

There’s several points I’d like to make about this. One is that writing fanfic is an amazingly powerful exercise as a writer; it trains not only better writing skills, but also an ability to write with someone else’s voice. This is exactly what a lot of markets call for (tv shows and franchises being only two examples). The other point is that both writing and reading fanfic can be hugely therapeutic.

Let me give a personal example here for what I mean. When I was a teenager, I self-injured. I couldn’t deal with the feelings I was experiencing, and I scared myself by not understanding why I felt the need to hurt myself. So I wrote fan fiction, and I placed those feelings and urges into an already-familiar character, giving myself an outlet for exploring and putting into words what I felt and why I did what I did. It was a safe place for me to figure out something that scared and confused me, and I was able to understand myself better after I did. I published the story anonymously, where I was given positive feedback from other fanfic writers. I felt accepted into part of a community, and it gave me more confidence in my own talent. I still self-injured, but I didn’t feel as alone or afraid, and I understood why I did what I did a little better. I was able to start helping myself. I started to heal, and as I did, so did the character in my fanfic.

As an adult, I’ve had a lot of traumatic emotional experiences. I tend to bottle those feelings up rather than process them (a bad habit I’ve had since childhood, that I’m actively working on breaking), and then they burst out in unhealthy ways. If I read fanfic about characters I already feel connected to, and go through similar experiences with them while I read, it helps me draw out those emotions, dwell in them, and express them. Then the overwhelming feelings become something manageable, and I can process and move on. The fact that it’s characters I’m already familiar with makes the whole thing easier and more accessible, especially when I’m feeling run down or mentally fatigued. I don’t have to work as hard to connect to them, and the journey they go through can therefore have more impact quicker. I don’t have to commit to a novel, but I can often get the same effect.

Same goes for fluff, the lighter feel-good pieces of fan fiction. If I need something distracting or that will give me warm-fuzzy feelings, and I don’t have the time or energy to invest in something completely new, and I don’t feel like re-reading something I’ve already read, I can turn to fanfic. You know that feeling when you finish a favorite book and you wish you could just keep reading about those characters who have become your best friends, and you don’t care if they’re having adventures or just hanging out? Fanfic can make that dream a reality.

Alright, for my third point, let’s look at those stereotypes I talked about at the beginning of this post. What value lies in badly-written Mary Sues and porn? Well, for one thing, every aspiring writer has to start somewhere, and a Mary-Sue is often a jumping-off point for someone’s first attempt. There is no reason in the world not to encourage someone’s passion for writing, and eventually they might evolve beyond those Mary-Sue stories. Also, see my above point about therapy; maybe the writer is at a point in their life where they need that kind of escapism to survive whatever it is that’s going on. There’s no call or need to shame them for it. (This doesn’t mean I don’t support clever parodies of the Mary-Sue troupe. Writing those is a valuable practice for hopeful comedians and satirists. Being funny is amazingly difficult to pull off. Being dismissive and/or hurtful, however, is a talentless and useless non-skill.)

As for the porn, well, that’s easily avoided if it’s not your cup of tea, and if it is, a lot of the fanfic is better than the stuff making money. Fanfic means it can be exactly to your tastes, and involving the characters you might really want to see in those positions (as it were). It’s not hurting anyone, and it might even be helping some people figure out what really turns them on — something that can be difficult to safely explore given some of the issues and stigmas our society still has ingrained.

So that’s my take on fan fiction. Let me know if I missed anything, or what your own thoughts are on the subject!

Love,

GeGi.

6

A Rather Long Post About Being A Fan.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve talked a little before at about fandom, and in particular about the way a fandom can either become a very bullying or very supportive place. If you’ve been following my Twitter account the last couple days, you probably won’t be surprised I’m going to talk about fandom again right now. Everything I’m going to say is from a personal point of view; I don’t pretend I’m speaking for anyone but myself, and I certainly can’t comment about anyone else’s experiences, goals, desires, dislikes, etc.

Okay, disclaimer over, now for the backstory. I’ve never really been a “group” sort of person. Even among close friends, I tend to keep to the edges, watching and listening more than talking and participating. I generally go with the flow, and tend to form strong opinions only after much thought and comparison to other opinions, and only once they seem to make sense. I’m certainly not very vocally, and when I am, I try to be pretty fair and balanced about it. Even on my own personal soap box of this blog, I still try to use positive language to try and educate rather than alienate. When interacting with other people, I look at things from as many sides as possible and keep my observations to myself except for a few occasional pointed comments if I think they are warranted or if I’m particularly passionate about the subject.

Make no mistake, I DO have loyalties and preferences, and in the right environment I’m as susceptible to “fan-flailing” as the next excited and passionate person. But more often than not, I simply don’t want to get dragged into arguments if someone disagrees with me. I have very little patience for that sort of thing, having been constantly exposed to it growing up. Those kinds of things very often have little to do with actually sharing different points of view for mutual education and enlightenment, and more to do with “THIS IS WHY YOU’RE SO WRONG AND SUCK AS A PERSON”, especially when they happen in most places on the internet. I’d much rather have conversations that go more like “YOU ARE AN AWESOME PERSON AND I’M SO GLAD WE GOT TO SHARE THESE THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS”.

So usually, my fandom interaction goes something like this: there will be a thing I like, and I’ll see some other people liking that same thing, and they might have different things to say about it, and I’ll listen and go “oh, cool, I totally see that now” or “oh, cool, never thought of that before” and I may or may not actually agree with those things, but it doesn’t matter because we’re all enjoying this things and learning from each other and sharing our passions. I love that kind of stuff. And if I really like you, I might even start ranting about cinematography or something!

And then sometimes someone will come along and tell all the people sharing and liking this one thing why that thing is a X Y or Z bad thing, and it will escalate back and forth, and sometimes the cool people rally, and something the not-cool people will make death threats, and it’s all just very unpleasant and nasty and often enabled by a lot of the cultural problems we’re dealing with more and more these days. I’ve talked about some of those problems before on the blog. Check the archives.

Anyway.

In fandom, these two scenarios are pretty frequently played out. However, I’m relatively new to being active enough to observe it happening in the moment. I’ve been a fan of various things all my life, but due to the aforementioned “sticking to the edges”, I never really interacted with other fans all that much. I might read articles, but would skip the discussion boards and comment sections due to all the arguing and insulting and hating and bullying it often seemed to degrade into. I’d rather just enjoy the thing I loved on my own and keep all the excitement and theories to myself, rather than risk being attacked online. I had enough going on my life already, and made the choice not to add more stress.

That all started to change a year or two ago, with the oh-so-excellent Snark Squad, who run a website with one of the most polite, intelligent, respectful comments sections I’ve ever heard of. To be sure, they’re had their difficulties with hate and threats and insults and bullies too, but the Snark Ladies are some truly classy women, and they — with the help of the regulars — would always address the problems and bring the discussion back from the explosive potential.

I finally had a place where I could venture out of my shell and leave comments, without the fear of attack from all sides. It was a revelation. I created a Twitter account solely to be able to interact more with these incredibly awesome people. I started a blog because they had shown me how meaningful someone can make their own little corner of the internet, and how supportive an online community can be. They inspired me, and helped me feel safe putting myself out there. Even if I was attacked or threatened, I knew they would have my back.

I’ve branched out a bit since then; the last few days on Twitter, as I mentioned, have been full of fandom posts for a particular ‘shipper corner of the internet connected to the TV show Supernatural. Actually, my semi-involvement with them has been going on a bit longer. It started with the earlier blog post here (linked above in the intro to this post), when I talked about how divided and hurt the fandom was, and how irresponsible some of the actors had been about the issues causing it.

Things flared up again more recently when an online journalist was falsely flagged as a security threat and escorted from the convention she was reporting at, all without any investigation into the matter. Turns out, a bully with an agenda and a friendship with the actors’ bodyguard had sent an out-of-context screencap of the journalist tweeting a quote from a different show. Some “threat”, huh?

Some fans rallied to her defense, and others continued to attack. Look for the hashtags #IStandWithEmily and #EmilyDeservesAnswers for those who support her. The matter still hasn’t been fully settled; the convention apologized and refunded her, but their hands had been tied anyway during the whole thing. The show, the network, the stars and the bodyguard involved all still have yet to address the incident, apart from some vicious tweets from the bodyguard immediately after that he’s since erased.

To add insult to injury, the same journalist had been organizing and fundraising commemorative mugs and gift baskets for the cast and crew, to celebrate their tenth season and 200th episode (aired earlier this week).

The 200th episode itself was another touchy subject. Supernatural seems to have no qualms about meta commentary and breaking the fourth wall on occasion, and has multiple entire episodes pretty much centered around doing just that. The results are…mixed, to put it diplomatically. Reception among the fans depends greatly on who you talk to.

It’s not surprising; the show has a history of not understanding fandom, of not handling PR well, and of inadvertently condoning or deliberately ignoring bullying behavior of some of the fans towards many others. Of course they’re going to be a little “off” when it comes to trying to break the fourth wall on the show and have meta commentary on something they don’t actually seem to understand all that well. They give us broad strokes, and the reality is very nuanced. It’s an obvious and understandable mistake, but one they could have handled much better in the past if they’d not been so blind to their own privileges and the damage they were causing.

It’s understandable that fans who have had a painful experience at the hands of the people in charge of a thing they love, and at the hands of other people proclaiming to love that thing, might be a bit wary, a little mistrustful, and just too tired to keep hoping and fighting for what they love. It’s understandable they might not feel safe in the general fandom. It’s understandable they might decide they need a break, or some reassurance from people like them, before they risk exposing themselves again.

If the thing you love has been a cause of pain, betrayal, attacks, threats, and all manner of not feeling welcome or safe, and if the people perpetuating that behavior feel vindicated doing so due to comments made by the people who are ACTUALLY in charge of that thing, then yes, taking a break or even leaving it forever are totally legit options. That’s kind of obvious.

I’m new to this fandom, and while I do already have some pretty strong loyalties, I haven’t been on the front lines of this fight. I haven’t been attacked for years, as some have. I haven’t had to go through the roller-coaster of hints and hopes and disappointment. I went into this thing pretty late in the run, and I was pretty heavily aware of exactly what to expect from it. I went in, but I did it with my eyes open and my guard up. The fans I’ve paid attention to are fabulous people. I avoid the ones who aren’t adding to my experience of the show, the ones who are attacking those things I feel loyalty towards, the ones who are bullies. It’s a survival method. I get to bask in the good stuff, while aware enough of the bad to try and avoid stepping in it. I stick to the edges still, but now there’s some interaction going on, too.

Back to the 200th episode. It was promoted as a “love letter to the fans”, which made some of those fans very nervous. Not only is the fandom heavily divided and antagonistic with a history of bullying, but the show itself has a track record during some of those meta episodes AND in the real world of belittling and insulting many of the very fans who’ve supported it and kept it on the air for those ten years. There was a very strong and skeptical “wait and see” vibe on my Twitter feed.

Then people started live-tweeting as they watched the episode.

Reports trickled in that sounded more hopeful, and then some started doing that “fan-flailing” sort of excited all-caps tweets that are probably about half the reason I love being around fandoms. The show had actually given the fans something they could enjoy, to various degrees. Not everyone loved it, of course, and like everything in life it could have been even better. Yes, all those other issues still existed. Yes, there is still all the baggage and bullying to contend with. But the 200th was far better than a lot of us had feared, and it gave those who analyze the meta a lot of new material to work with (which is probably another quarter of the reason I love fandom — meta analysis is addictive when you’re already an over-thinking geek who loves mythos and the process and ideas behind storytelling).

I’m not holding my breath for things to get any better in the fandom or the show. Despite what all my positivity may suggest, I’m much more pragmatic than optimistic. But because I stick to the edges, because I went in with my eyes open and never had to have the painful process of disappointment and attacks, I can set all the politics and social issues and bigger picture to one side for a moment, and just enjoy the ride of the 200th as a stand-alone, isolating it for the moment from this history attached to it and enjoying it at face-value only. From that point of view, it was a pretty fantastic episode; full of giggles and nods and surprisingly insightful yet utterly ridiculous songs. There were plenty of things to flail over, even if they turn out not to be as meaningful in that bigger picture in the future. For one hour, I could just enjoy being a fangirl.

The episode is called Fan Fiction, and I think what I want to take away from it as the moral of the story is this: the story belongs to anyone who loves it enough to care about it, to anyone with the passion to fight for it and believe in it, even if the story they’re focused on is slightly (or very) different than someone else’s. It’s not about what’s “canon” and what isn’t. It’s about the heart of storytelling — drawing people together, taking them into someone else’s life and bringing them on a journey, letting them experience emotions and situations they wouldn’t otherwise, and leave them feeling a little more connected to the people around them afterwards. Fanfic or canon doesn’t matter; at this level, all good storytelling becomes equal. It’s the story that’s valid, not the origins. And good storytellers are valuable, whatever they’re credentials, because they’re how stories stay alive and relevant and able to grow.

In that respect, I’d say the little corner of fandom I’ve been on the edges of is doing things exactly right. Storytelling and fiction exist to be shared. Studies show that people who are exposed to fiction develop more empathy for others, because it helps them understand who are different than them, people whose lives look nothing like their own but whose emotions and struggles are just as real. Clearly it isn’t a magic cure, or else no one in a fandom would be bullying anyone else, but it’s a good starting place. The friendships and support that can come out of shared storytelling and fandom can last a lifetime, and are the foundation of a functioning society of any size. We need empathy to survive as a people, and we certainly need it to thrive and grow ourselves.

Be kind to each other, and read more. Both acts are good for you.

Love,
GeGi.

Read Your Book Case

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.