Considering the “bad object”: fandom and/as social justice

8 08 2012

Fellow fans and aca-friends, lend me your ears and send me your comments!

This weekend, I’m headed to Geek Girl Con to participate in a roundtable with Anita Sarkeesian and Alejandra Espino titled “Let’s Get Critical: Fans, Creators, and Social Justice.”  Here’s the official description:

As fans and creators interested in gender equality and social justice, there are times when our political views seem to interfere with media engagement and media creation. Actions like acknowledging one’s privilege or discovering the systemic misogynist/racist/ableist structures prevalent in our favorite shows, movies, comic books, and video games can be a source of tension. This panel will address the complexities of engaging with media through the lens of social justice, both as fans and as creators.

 As I’ve been thinking through this topic as an acafan, and considering my personal “bad objects”…of which, I’m quickly realizing, there are many…

Smart is the new sexy…unless you’re a woman. Then you should rub your boobs on a chalkboard.

A couple of questions popped immediately to mind, and I’d love to crowdsource some feedback on any of these issues before heading into the roundtable:
  • What is your personal “bad object,” or text (maybe one you abandoned and one you still consider yourself a fan of despite finding it problematic)?
  • Where do we “draw the line,” and how we draw them (e.g. do we just stop watching/playing/financially supporting?  Do we avoid future work from those creators?  Do we create/disseminate critical commentary and/or advocate for others to “draw the line,” etc.).
  • Transformative fan texts are powerful devices to express one’s own personal politics, and speak back to problematic media representations, but how might we accomplish a broader transformative shifts within media industries?  What are the most effective channels/platforms/tactics for raising these issues and encouraging systemic change?
Even better, if you attend this panel, I’d love to hear from you!



2 responses

8 08 2012

Some “bad object” texts mentioned by my twitter followers:
– America’s Next Top Model
– Gone with the Wind
– 70s/80s slasher films
– Supernatural
– The Dark Knight Returns
– Early Ice Cube records

19 12 2012

Even though GeekGirlCon is over and you don’t need any input for the panel (about which I’d love to hear more), I figured I might as well share my experience in “bad object fandom.”

I come from the Whedon fandom. There are two ways of seeing the work of Joss Whedon (and by extension, the man): you either applaud him for being such a staunch feminist and creating all these strong female characters and making a girl the hero of his best known work (up until The Avengers, of course). Or, you can think of him as a poseur – he has an obsession with rape and rape culture that you can see through all four of his television shows, and if fan rumor is correct, he fired an actress for getting pregnant and planned for his favorite show to go even more rape culture-y than it already was.

There are very few fans like me, who think he’s human and that he tries, but his feminism is very second wave and his male privilege often doesn’t let him see how bad some of the messages of his work can be. Anything he has created can be a “bad object” at some point: Buffy had few people of color and had an attempted rape scene that was filmed badly and in which you sympathized far too much with the attempted rapist. Angel – well, just the character of Angel has “patriarchy” stamped on his forehead, not even getting started with the way Cordelia was treated in season 4. Firefly had a sex-positive courtesan constantly belittled by the show’s hero, and Joss’ thing for waif-like women with Issues who kick ass became evident. Dollhouse was an entire metaphor for rape culture, and you could color it good or bad depending on your reading. Dr. Horrible has Penny fridged. Before that she was an object more than a character, but she still had to die to complete Billy’s transformation into someone who can get into the Evil League of Evil.

The Avengers is a bit of a different story, because it has source material that he’s working from, so you can’t blame him for Black Widow being the only female character of note (though I did love that Maria Hill got to kick ass in the opening sequence), or that the movie, as one of my friends put it “all about white dudes.”

I have recently stepped away from the Buffy fandom on LiveJournal, but while I was there the issues of feminism and racism and homophobia were all thoroughly dissected, and each person had a different view of Joss. My paper for an independent study class last year focused on whether or not the Buffy fandom as a whole was aware of the problematic issues in the Buffy and Angel shows, and most gave him a pass on issues of rape culture or alien pregnancy because of the “strong female characters.” It was a very superficial assessment of Joss’ feminism, and even having issues pointed out to them, people figured it was more important to have well-crafted female characters with agency than to worry if a magic spell could be considered dubious consent.

So Joss Whedon is my “bad object.” I really like him, love most of his works (the character of Angel and I don’t get along well), but I acknowledge that he is problematic, and that that isn’t recognized in most mainstream media.

Two fan works that I feel are Important for different reasons are “Origin Stories” , a vid that challenges the narrative of the people of color on Buffy and, to a degree, Angel, which has a fascinating origin story in and of itself , and “Bachelorette” . which I challenge anyone to watch and not come out saying that Buffy isn’t about fighting the patriarchy.

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