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

Advertisements

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.

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.

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