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(Politics) Fighting to Save the Things We Love

“That’s how we’re going to win: not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” – Rose Tico, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Gaming 150Last week, the actress who played Rose, Kelly Marie Tran, deleted her Instagram account after months of harassment rooted in racism and misogyny by trolls who hated her inclusion in the Skywalker Saga. Tran became the first Asian-American woman to join the main cast of a Star Wars film (in the ninth film of the franchise); she was the first Asian woman on the cover of Vanity Fair when the magazine did a cover story that also featured costars John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. This woman, who was the first in her family to attend college in America, who is the daughter of immigrants fleeing the Vietnam War, who got to break barriers in a franchise she had been a fan of her entire life — this was how she was accepted into the Star Wars community, with months of racist attacks from people who should have been celebrating her.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Kelly Marie Tran and what happens to the trailblazers who try to take a place at the table of fandom. Leslie Jones — the actress and SNL comedienne who joined Paul Feig’s all-woman Ghostbusters reboot — experienced much the same thing in 2016 after Milo Y. began tweeting to her directly and sharing fake posts supposedly from her account. She, too, was chased off social media for a time.

These are just the most prominent recent examples of a toxic fandom killing the joy of creation and inclusion for people. It’s happened in the fandoms for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Steven Universe, Doctor Who, and Star Trek — all genre staples for an entire generation that gives us messages of acceptance and brotherhood as part of their core tenets. Instead of proving the message of the show in their communities, the people who populate Twitter and Reddit and Tumblr and various message boards have shown time and again that they would rather punish women and people of color for being visible in their fiction than the showrunners and community leaders who have been responsible for some hideous abuses to those of us who are most vulnerable and voiceless.

It’s been a frustrating thing to watch. At precisely the point we should be celebrating the explosion of diversity in the science-fiction and fantasy fandom, we have to watch the folks gaining visibility for us for the first time get harassed out of public spaces from people who feel like only they (and the folks like them) get to own it. These folks will attempt to frame the conversation through disingenuous means and rhetorical tricks, as if the violent, emotional response to inclusion can be couched in “logical debate” and a “reasonable difference in opinion”. I think it’s important to call these reactions what they are: greed, bigotry, and hypocrisy. It’s also important to state — in no uncertain terms — that this kind of hate has no place in a fandom that’s been dedicated from the beginning towards the resistance of a tyrannical, racist power structure deciding who does and doesn’t matter. And it’s important to fight against that hate as much as we can, so we don’t allow it to take root and fester within our fandoms.

But I would argue it’s more important to support and lift up the people who’ve uplifted us within the fandom. It’s more important to let Kelly Marie Tran know that there are many, many more people who support her than it is to give visibility to the people who have worn down her love for Star Wars and its fans. It’s more important to support Leslie Jones and the new Ghostbusters by talking about why we loved it than it is to push back against the fans who can’t deal seeing women taking the helm of a favorite franchise. It’s more important to show up for the creators who are putting themselves out there, willing to be visible and show us something different, who are stepping up to represent us at a time that’s so desperately needed. I think to really turn the tide and save the reputation of our various fandoms, we need to make our love louder than their hate.

This is more than performative action. Focusing on the things we love — and expressing our support for them — changes the tone of the entire conversation. It reminds us daily why we spend so much time and energy in these spaces, keeps us focused on the positive things that fandom has brought into our lives, makes us more resilient against the never-ending tide of negativity that can overwhelm us on the Internet. Keeping the lessons of the stories we love and the attributes of our favorite characters close in our hearts can show us the way towards responding from a more positive place: we can condemn the actions of terrible people from a place of love for what we’re protecting, not hate for the people sullying it. That matters, because it leads us to make better choices in our response. It helps us to internalize the principles these stories mean to instill in us.

A few years ago, superhero movies were so concerned with spectacle that the stories forgot about the people meant to exist within those set-pieces. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed by an alien invasion or scientific accident or mythical end-game, and the camera followed each punch and counter-punch between the hero and the big bad on screen; occasionally, we could see fleeting glances of ducking, panicked citizens fleeing in the background. Once the criticism against this got loud enough, there was a (perhaps slight) course-correction: we saw more scenes of superheroes saving people, making sure the innocent were OK before going off to stop the bad guy. It’s a small detail, but it’s so important. We can’t forget why we fight. We can’t be so absorbed in defeating evil that the innocent people around us fade into the background. We can’t ignore them precisely because they’re supposed to be the most important piece of this puzzle. This is why we’re fighting in the first place.

There is no shortage of people who need to protected these days. There are people of color, LGBQTIA+ people, immigrants, the poor, the homeless, people with disabilities, children in the care of an incompetent and uncaring government. While we should absolutely be protesting the government’s policies that fail these vulnerable populations, we should also be working to help them however we can. It’s not enough to fight this administration to keep from doing harm; we have to help those who are most affected by its callous treatment. What are we doing on that side of the coin? How do we check in to make sure they’re OK?

It might not feel as glamorous or as visible or even as easy as protesting, but it’s absolutely the most important thing to do right now. Support Kelly. Support Leslie. Support one another. That’s how we win without losing ourselves.

 

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Notes From the Field: Sasquan 2015

Fandom 150The 73rd annual Worldcon was held this weekend in Spokane, WA at Sasquan 2015 and I showed up with a small posse of furry writers — Kyell Gold and my husband Ryan. It was an intense weekend; I met so many great writers and community members out there, made a few new friends, bought over a dozen books and attended panels that felt like revelations about the state of the sci-fi/fantasy fandom and my place in it. I’m still absorbing everything I’ve taken in through the convention — there are so many ideas I still have to take the time to understand properly and incorporate into my personal experience — but I wanted to talk about it here as soon as I could.

So, Worldcon works like this: it’s actually a bit of a roving convention, where different cities/conventions put in bids and those attending vote on the site that will get to host in two years. Spokane was chosen as the site for Worldcon in 2013; Kansas City (MidAmeriCon) was chosen in 2014 to host next year; and Helsinki, Finland won its bid to host in 2017 this year. I love this process, because it insures that Worldcon attendees are exposed to different flavors of fandom from year to year. Sasquan really went out of its way to highlight local fans and authors, and held panels on local myth and legends. Kansas City will do the same next year, I’m sure — and the guests of honor for Worldcon 75 feature active writers and artists based in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe.

This was my first Worldcon, and one of my first conventions in the broader sci-fi/fantasy space. The attendees were friendly, chatty, smart and open. I was pretty forthcoming about my fur, and most people didn’t seem to mind — a lot of folks personally knew furries and were totally cool about it. I know that furries have been roundly rejected by the SFF fandom before, but maybe it’s time for reconciliation; as long as we know how to take the temperature of the group we’re in and don’t shove folks into the deep end of the pool right away, I think most folks in the community are perfectly willing to accept our corner of it.

I got to meet so many wonderful people — established writers, up-and-comers, fans of all stripes and backgrounds. I wanted to give shout-outs to the folks who blew my mind especially, and who I’m really excited about reading more from now that the convention is over.

Ajani Brown is a professor at San Diego State University who gave a panel on Afro-Futurism in music and comics; his discussion on the basics and history of the movement just blew me away, and gave me a ton of places to look into so I can learn more about it. Mark Oshiro was the moderator of a “Visible Diversity in SF” panel and rocked my socks off — he talked about personal experiences with racism and homophobia, and offered insightful questions that kept the conversation productive and focused. Arthur Chu is a Jeopardy! champion that has used that experience to become a witty and wonderful voice in the fandom; he was also on the Diversity in SF panel. Cheryce Clayton is a Native American ghostwriter who has only recently started speaking about her work and experiences, and I’m so excited to see what else she comes out with.

Of course, one of the biggest highlights of the con was getting to hang out with Annie Bellet. Her short story “Goodnight Stars” was nominated for a Hugo, but she withdrew because her nomination had been corrupted by the Sad Puppies slate. She took a principled stand about the awards being about the work above all, and though her first experience with the Hugos was unquestionably sad, i have no doubt that she’ll be back in the mix. She’s just too good.

I got to meet Tananarive Due as well! She’s an amazing writer and so full of warmth and enthusiasm. She screened a short film called “Danger Word” at the convention, and talked at length about the vibrancy of short film in the SF/F space, the difficulties of putting something like this together, and the concept of “black horror” — thrilling tales that are rooted strongly in African-American culture, fears and concerns. There’s nothing really like that out there, but I’d love to imagine what it looks like or even take a crack at developing a story there. Another one for the pile, I suppose.

Jen Foehner Wells was another great friend to make! She’s been killing it on the self-publishing front, and listening to her talk about her craft and business was illuminating. She’s so smart, and focused, and intensely friendly! It’s really easy to love here and I can’t wait to read her book.

And finally, meeting Monica Villasenor was probably the best thing to happen all convention. She’s SO passionate, and our experiences and goals sync up so well. She was so amazing to talk to, and she has so many great ideas, and she’s so dedicated and hard-working. I’m just in love with her. I cannot WAIT to get to work on the goals we’ve set for ourselves through next Worldcon, and I am so looking forward to having a drink to celebrate our success in Kansas City next year.

There are so many great writers and fans out there, who are so passionate about what they love and so encouraging to others so they can pursue what they love. Coming out of Worldcon, I feel fully invested in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom, fully comfortable with my background in the furry fandom, and so excited to incorporate new and exciting ideas into my life and work.

There is so much more to read and learn, so much more to write and discuss, so much more to do. It’s just a matter of focusing the rocket fuel I’ve gathered over the weekend and making my calculations for the best trajectory. I have designs on where I want to be by Worldcon 2016, and a lot of work to do in order to get there.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2015 in Better Living Through Stories, Reading, Writing

 

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