Tag Archives: fandom

Quick hit: “Mary Sue” policing

Another one bubbling up from our linkspamming hive mind: criticism of “Mary Sue” policing.

Mary Sue is a fandom term for a character who is judged to be authorial self-insert and wish fulfilment, prototypically a prominent original character in fan fiction but sometimes identified in non-fanfic. She is often derided as close to guaranteed to detract from a work. It’s a well-known enough term to be on Wikipedia as well as on TVTropes. Mary Sue policing is very old and can be very knee-jerk: you appear to have an original female character with some desirable traits! Mary Sue! Next fic please! There are snark communities dedicated to seeking out fanfic with Mary Sues and checking off their alleged Mary-Sue-ish traits.

Criticism of it is also widespread, as being essentially a tendency to mock women for having wishes to fulfil, or thinking that their own stories are worth telling.

Here’s a couple of recent critiques, first from boosette:

PPC [Protectors of the Plot Continuum] goes around bullying tweens, teens, young women and yes: older women, too — for daring to write fanfiction not up to their (dubious) standards. For writing original female characters, minor canon characters and major canon characters in a manner that is empowering to them.

For writing Tenth Walkers, for writing fourth members of the Harry Potter trio, for making Christine Chapel an Olympic-level figure skater before she entered nursing. For empowering themselves through their writing.

From niqaeli:

I actually flat-out cannot identify with plain people who have led simple lives and done nothing extraordinary. It’s not that I want to experience an exciting life through my fiction — though, yes, I do — but that my own life has not been plain or simple. If I were to write an autobiography, I’d be accused of being a Mary Sue, which what the hell. I am an actual person. Most of the people I know have led strange and interesting lives.

But even with that: so what? What the hell harm does it do for someone to write their ridiculous self-avatar? What good does policing fantasies — and particularly, these fantasies — do? All it does is create shame over the desire to, what, to be special? To be considered truly remarkable, to be loved?

What do you think? Is there an equivalent in your geekdom, where the stories of women are either marginalised or determined to be objectively poorer quality? Is it possible to avoid this sort of creep, where a term of critique becomes a way to reflexively dismiss the work of people just starting out, or not obeying the rules?

Ladies celebratin’ ladies

Like a lot of people, I think, I became an instant convert to the cult of Sady when I read her 13 Ways of Looking at Liz Lemon last week. I’m a big 30 Rock fan but not blind to the show’s problems, especially in its treatment of race and class, and I loved Sady’s trenchant take. But I think her piece on Parks and Recreation for Feministe’s Weekend Arts Section is even better. I haven’t watched the show but I sure will now. Here’s a chunk I found especially chewy:

Since your life is about your work, and about feminism — not in the abstract, Liz Lemonist sense, either, but in terms of actually and truly connecting with and helping other girls — and about your ideals and your friends and your goals for the city of Pawnee and for yourself, and very definitively not about any one dude or dudes in general, having Your Life Minus That One Dude was simply not a very big deal. It was sad, but it definitely wasn’t going to ruin you. You already had a full plate, a whole interesting life, and dudes could come in and out of your life without altering that fact. So, no matter what happens to you, dude-wise, you’re going to know that you’re pretty great. And since you put your whole self into all you do, since you care about people and it shows, other people are going to know that you’re great, too. They’ll be there for you. And that’s how you’ll get by.

I talk a lot about feminism, Leslie, and I think about feminism a lot, and I have to tell you: I think this was one of the most genuinely feminist moments on your show.

Wow. I mean wow, seriously, especially in the wake of the always-provocative Ada Lovelace Day. This made me think about how profoundly my relationships with women have changed in the last decade. I was a bad feminist in my twenties. I wanted to be the special one, the one who was into physics and maths and programming and who could talk to boys, and I saw other women as competition, and so nearly all my friends were men and nearly all women found me incredibly irritating and divisive.

I’m not claiming to be a great feminist in my thirties, but one dramatic change has been the quality and intensity of my relationships with other women. These days when I meet an awesome woman my first reaction is not, or isn’t always, to be threatened and defensive. The self-confidence that has been the single absolute best thing about growing older has made it possible for me to hold my own in awesome company, not because I think I am awesome, but because I mind less and less what other people think. And of course awesome women tend to be awesome friends, if you gather up the courage to approach them, and when you realize that you somehow without really meaning to have created this network of strong intelligent kind entertaining adults on whom you can rely – well, it makes the prospect of middle age look downright pleasant to me.

It’s what Wired magazine and the Burning Man organization used to call the shift from a scarcity economy, where people competed over constrained resources, to a surplus economy, where people just give each other gifts, because. That model looks like questionable economic theory these days but it’s certainly true that love and friendship don’t need to be constrained resources, and that the more you give, the more you get. Another economic analogy might be investment. Romantic relationships were for me always very high-risk, high-return propositions – a VC investing in a startup – and I wish I’d never risked more than I could afford to lose. (I did, of course. Oh well. I wasn’t using that dignity anyway.) Platonic friendships, in this analogy, are dividend-bearing stocks.

Among the dividends: these relationships have also improved my friendships with men – including a handful of very intense friendships left over from my single days. It’s my women friends who have taught me to shut the fuck up and listen, to not try to fix things. That sometimes all you can do is show up.

I’ve noticed these patterns at work as well as in my personal life. I’ve sought out professional mentors, and younger women have sought me out. I feel completely inadequate to offer anything to the latter, of course, but at the same time I have a strong sense of indebtedness to the older women who have given me their advice and support. I’ll always seek out qualified women for jobs, and I’ll always try to make time for younger women who seek my advice: it’s the least I owe to myself.

Bottom line, I guess: I really honestly believe that it’s true, that women can have a complete and fulfilling life made out of work and friendships, with or without a significant other. If I could go back and give my 18-year-old self advice it would be to love my friends more, and let the dudes come and go as they please. What about you? What are your hot tips for the investment of your affection and time?

On geekitude, hierarchy, and being a snob

Liz Henry’s thoughts on geekitude got me wanting to post my own half-formed thoughts on the topic. (Crossposted from my personal blog at Skud’s suggestion.)

Evidently I have the capacity to continuously raise my standard for what makes a real obsessed fan of, say, Star Trek or Cryptonomicon or whatever. I read the Memory Alpha wiki (Star Trek compendium), but I don’t contribute to it; I only know a word or two of Klingon; I haven’t *memorized* more than, say, ten lines of Cryptonomicon.
So I can always say, “oh, I’m just a regular person who happens to like this thing, there are OTHER PEOPLE who are really obsessed.” But that’s just No True Scotsman in reverse. These goalposts must be made of new space-age alloys, they’re so easy to move!

But when I come across an enthusiasm more ardent than mine, there is a kind of intellectual squick, a cooler and more abstract horror. And there’s relief — at least I’m not like that, at least there’s someone below me on this imagined hierarchy. Which makes little sense; to whom am I proving this alleged cool?

Obsession is a derogatory synonym of mastery.

Mel’s post on how she learns tickled my brain. When I learn, I like to hypothesize internally consistent systems of rules. And then I take pride in the architecture I’ve built, in my mastery of my personal social construction, and bond with new tribe members when we learn that we share intersubjectivities.

New skills are tools and catalogs of tools. If you learn what I know, then you’ll realize certain tasks are far easier than you thought. I can be uneasy with that power; it’s like the disorientation of suddenly driving an SUV, getting used to a bigger, stronger body.

But an expert also confidently says, “No. That’s far harder than you realize.” While the fairy tales usually scorn naysayers — they’re just obstacles in the hero’s way — in our real lives, over coffee and beer, we shake our heads and say, “I told him it wasn’t gonna work.”

I had a dinner with an out-of-towner once, and happened to mention that Roosevelt Island’s tram is a major means of transit for RI’s residents, and that when it gets taken down for construction/maintenance for several months (sometime soon, I believe) it’ll be a big hardship for those residents. It would suck to commute by car (that teensy bridge would get backed up real fast), and the RI stop on the F subway line will get uncomfortably crowded. She started making suggestions. Run more F trains? Well, that would probably throw the rest of the system out of whack. Get a bigger bridge? Probably not worth it for a five-month workaround, and besides, building bigger roads means asking for more traffic. She finally said in bewilderment, “Well, they should just fix it!” And I said, eh, it is complicated, isn’t it? And we moved on.

I felt very superior and sophisticated at this – scorn is shorthand for status. There’s a whole other thread here about urban systems, interdependence, respect for homeostasis. But basically, I’m ashamed of that impulse to snobbishness. Had I time, love, security, and patience enough, I’d be about sharing, not shaming.

I like being enthusiastic. I like sharing myself. My opinions, my judgments, and my ideas sometimes feel like an extension of myself, as much as my adopted culture says I should take criticism of those opinions impersonally.

But sometimes I have a snobbish geekiness, so complacent & happy to bond with one person by slamming another. Either because I have more mastery than her (e.g., re: transit), or less (e.g., re: Star Wars).

So, the Twitter version: Parallax sucks, and I love mastering worlds because I can’t master myself.

Geek Feminism interviews the OTW’s Francesca Coppa

A couple of weeks ago, we asked you to give us your questions for an interview with Dr. Francesca Coppa, one of the founders of the Organization for Transformative Works. Thanks to those of you who suggested questions, and here are her responses…

The OTW is mostly by/for women, and most of the participants in its projects seem to be women. Do you have any interest in reaching out to primarily-male parts of fandom? How might that work, if you did?

The OTW’s mission is to provide a nonprofit space, and organized advocacy, for the kinds of transformative fanworks (fanfic, fan art, vids, podfic) that are a) potential targets for commercial exploitation (as in the case of FanLib), B) being squeezed out as Web 2.0 “business models” expand (as in the case of vids on Imeem or erotic fan art on LJ), or c) subject to takedowns or other legal challenges. Many, if not most, of those fanworks were and are made by women, but gender isn’t a central criterion; we protect these sorts of fanworks when men make them, too!

That being said, there are some secondary ways in which gender seems to be influencing the populations we serve and the work we do. First, male fans are somewhat more likely than female fans to be making fanworks that have commercial implications or aspirations (e.g. some machinima, some fan films, some video game design, the commercial version of the Harry Potter Lexicon, etc). Second, not all fanworks are subject to the kinds of economic or legal challenges I’ve just described: for instance, nobody’s doing takedowns of forums or wikis or fan films; male-made movie “parodies” are more clearly understood to be fair use than female-made shipper vids; video game designers mostly approve of and even help out machinima makers, etc. Moreover, in terms of financial support, many male or mixed gender areas of fandom are more economically stable than female-dominated areas, either because more guys are willing to turn their fan-ac into a fan-run business rather than depending on external companies or services, or because they’re willing to support their sites with ads. Women making transformative works have tended, rightly or wrongly, to be wary of ads or other forms of commercial support, fearing that it would give ammunition to copyright holders who already don’t like them or their works.

So the OTW’s goal is really to focus on 1) noncommercial works that are 2) currently subject to marketplace or legal pressures. It may be socially significant that most of those works are made by women, but we want to advocate for them no matter who makes them!

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When I Became a Mom I Put Away Childish Things

Today’s guest post is by aca-fan Kristina Busse. She is the co-editor of the journal Transformative Works and Cultures and blogs at ephemeral traces.

My name is Kristina. I am a mother and a fan.

On my blog I have a variety of designators I use to try to articulate my identity–academic, teacher, wife, expatriate–and yet none of these may get as close to the center of my being these days as the two with which I started this essay. And maybe none of the others are as contested and in as much constant turmoil as these two. Oddly enough, I took on both these identities nearly simultaneously–I fell in love with my son Gabriel and with Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) at about the same time over long nights of extended nursing. It wasn’t that I hadn’t behaved fannishly in the past–the fannish gene reveals itself in different ways at different times and my fannish engagements had mostly been both more private and less creatively oriented. But my entry into fandom proper, and media fandom to be exact, coincided with my entry into motherhood.

And I found that both were strange new worlds indeed. Not worlds that can always smoothly coexist, although for me personally each of those realms have allowed me to balance and manage the other. Life with newborns and even toddlers (especially the highly difficult variety that my firstborn turned out to be) can be immensely isolating. Living in a city as I did where I knew no one, the Internet was often my one connection to the larger world. Moreover, the asynchronic conversations of email and blogs as well as the global, multi time-zoned aspect of online fandom allowed me to talk to people when I was able to find the time–be that at three in the morning or three in the afternoon, whenever the kids were asleep or otherwise occupied. This is not an unusual experience and, in fact, many a mommy blog has been created and found an audience for these very reasons.

Online fandom, however, is slightly different. I didn’t follow my fellow solitary and isolated moms as they turned to one another, via blogs or newsgroups or bulletin board, as groups revolving around the ages of their kids, parenting philosophies, or particular challenges. Those moms are sometimes chided for spending time on the computer rather than tending to their kids but they still focus on their children, thinking and talking and writing about them. I however had the gumption to be selfish and occupy my time with things that were for my own pleasure and leisure only–even if my fannish pursuits did give me balance and refuel me to better deal with motherhood.

Janice Radway, in her groundbreaking book Reading the Romance (1987), describes the anxieties and guilt many women romance readers experience for taking time away for their own enjoyment–and the small triumph and moments of resistance that pleasure can bring. Of course reading has long been a contentious issue–whether literacy and access was used to keep minorities in control (be they based on class, race, or gender) or its dangers were sexualized (there’s a long discourse that connects reading, especially among young women to masturbation as Thomas Laqueur suggests in his Solitary Sex [2003]), reading has always been dangerous.

I found that my fascination with fan fiction, and with a culture of other women reading and writing stories about fictional characters, brought together a number of issues that were in direct opposition to my role as a mom: reading to and for myself, connecting to other people on subjects unrelated to motherhood, and at times discussing non child-appropriate topics all raised the stakes in the competition of my hobby competing with my sole socially sanctioned role as wife and mother.

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Quick hit: SurveyFail, protest art, and RPS

Spend a day or two away from LJ/DW, get hopelessly behind on what’s happening in fandom’s latest Fail.

I first learnt of this new phase of the brouhaha via ivorygates’ post:

I am aware that many people don’t consider either NSFW manips such as this or RPS appropriate means with which to address the situation, due to perceived elements of “endorsement of rape as appropriate punishment”, elements of the stigmatization of sexual desire and expression as “dirty” or “perverted” or “wrong”, and elements of the marginalization and objectification of individuals for purposes of anger and hatred.

With respect for the vastly divergent spectrum of fandom opinion, I submit that whether or not these forms of fannish expression are the most situationally-useful means of changing the situation, such expressions are both firmly within the tradition of protest art, and (in the fashion of all good satires) take their specific elements from the material which they satirize.

This is all about this photoshop manip (NSFW, potentially triggery) posted by alchemia, which features the words:

Dr. Ogi hesitated before answering the survey question about which slashy fan-fic story he would most like to live out.

That one where Sai was the show host and he turned into a tentacle monster.

… and then illustrated them. Graphically. With one of the SurveyFail researcher’s face pasted on.

There’s discussion about it all over the place (and more via Linkspam on DW). Interesting and crunchy issues of consent, humiliation, protest, and humour.

GF interviews the OTW’s Francesca Coppa: question time!

Francesca Coppa is one of the founders of the Organization for Transformative Works. She’s also…

… director of film studies and associate professor of English at Muhlenberg College, where she teaches courses in dramatic literature, popular fiction, and mass media storytelling. Her writings on media fandom have been included in Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet and presented at MIT’s Media in Transition conference. Coppa has been attending conventions and buying zines since the early 1980s, when she and her friends wrote fanfiction by hand and circulated it by snail mail. She has been involved in online fandom since the mid-1990s as a writer, list administrator, vidder, archivist, and community moderator. (bio link)

If you haven’t read any of her work on the history of fan culture, take a look at Women, Star Trek, and the early development of fannish vidding or Celebrating Kandy Fong: Founder of Fannish Music Video. There’s also a great interview with her at Reason Online and another on gender and fan culture over at Henry Jenkins’ blog. There are more links to related reading at fanlore.

And now it’s time for Geek Feminism to interview her! I’d like to open this up to our readers and commenters. What would you like to ask Francesca about the OTW, fan culture, vidding, and so on? Post your suggestions in the comments, and in a few days we’ll send them through to her to answer.

Edit: I’m shutting down comments now (Wednesday 9th September) and passing your questions through to Francesca. The interview should appear soon!

Daughter of Link Roundup (August 31st, 2009)

Photo by lyrabellacqua on Flickr

Photo by lyrabellacqua on Flickr