By Jerry Chandler
First, and I know this is asking a lot of you because of how much longer than usual this piece is, I’d like to ask you to go here and read this. It’s the May 17, 2018 Needless Things article I wrote. Something was happening in fandom at the time, something impacting a convention and creating a great deal of hassles and headaches. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an isolated incident. As a courtesy, I didn’t exactly address it directly back then, but I made my basic feelings about something known. If you read the piece back then and weren’t quite sure what to make of it, this is the article that’s going to make at least a little sense out of it. If you didn’t read it back then, well… You don’t have to now, but it might make references in the back end of this article make more sense. So, anyhow…
There’s a sickness in parts of fandom. In some bits of fandom, it’s nothing more than a mild fever. In other bits of fandom, it’s more like a gangrenous lower limb that needs immediate amputation. Unfortunately, while the other parts of fandom have rightly jumped up and spoken out against some of the most egregious actions by some parts of fandom acting like a gangrenous lower limb that needs immediate amputation, they’ve been, perhaps willfully, less observant and/or forceful about other parts of fandom that seem to have similar issues. We’ll be addressing both of those here.
The most recent bit of this stupidity to make a big noise has been the social media hounding of Kelly Marie Tran by Star Wars fans who were angered by her character’s inclusion in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Specifically, there is a portion of fandom that dislikes the fact that Star Wars has gotten less white centric, less male centric, and less heterosexually exclusive over the four-plus decades of its existence. Their way of showing this displeasure was to attack actress Kelly Marie Tran through a vile and vulgar social media campaign until she finally reduced her social media presence.
While the response from much of the other end of fandom was an immediate and loud denouncing of the actions of these people, many in fandom also began to try to convince themselves of something that isn’t entirely true and isn’t something any of us should let ourselves believe. They put forward the idea that the people who went after Tran so viciously weren’t really a part of fandom or weren’t really Star Wars fans at all. The notion being put forward was that these people were merely social bigots pushing their agenda and using Star Wars as their cover to do so without actually being fans. After all, the people proposing this idea would ask, how could these people really be fans of a genre filled with such diverse lifeforms and cultures and still be angered by the inclusion of people of color or homosexuals or women as major characters leading some of the action? They’re obviously faking their claimed love of the fandom in general and Star Wars specifically, right?
Well, sadly, wrong.
Look, I understand the desire to disavow something to the degree of denying that it’s a part of something you love. When it comes to fandom, I’ve been there and done that as far back as the 1980s. There were times that I’d encounter people I knew were geeks and fans of all of the same things I loved in fandom, but then they’d open their mouths and say things about the views they held with regards to actual people that looked or acted differently than they did. The things they said seemed completely out of whack when contrasted against the things they loved. The same people who thought it would be cool to have friends who were aliens with blue skin or that looked totally inhuman had far less tolerance for having real people around them who had different skin tones than they did. I’d find raving anime geeks back in the day who could talk for hours about the fantastic animated worlds they loved, but who would turn on a dime and say some amazingly vile things about blacks, Mexicans, Asians, or others who weren’t white, Christian Americans.
Now, I’m sure some people would like to write that off as isolated things I ran into or anecdotal evidence, but I can point to other things ranging from minor to major examples of this type of thing existing in fandom for a long time now. It may seem minor compared to the people who took action to attack Tran on social media, but if you’re a longtime comic book fan who knows other longtime comic book fans, the odds are good you know or knew people who have displayed certain similar reactions to comics in recent years even if not as militantly.
“People are sick of diversity.”
I’ve heard comic book fans say that. Worse still, because it takes actual thought and more time to do it, I’ve seen them type it. As Marvel comics has tried to expand its audience in recent years, they’ve tried giving more than just white male readers lead characters they can identify with. In some cases, they did it by creating new characters that had a similar appearance and power to existing Marvel characters. It’s been a common practice for decades in the industry. But some fans who didn’t blink twice at Kid Flash running around in the same universe as Flash suddenly saw issues with Miles Morales having a spider suit and powers like Spider-Man’s. Fans who talked about the wonderful days of Thor being a book with a God of Thunder that looked like an alien goat or who was a frog had conniption fits when the news broke that a woman would hold Thor’s hammer for a time. They did this even as Thor, Odin’s son was still alive and in the book and working to make himself once again worthy to hold the Mjolnir.
Longtime comics fans talked about the great Captain America stories of yesteryear with various characters other than Steve Rogers wearing the uniform and in some cases talked about how awesome it would be if Bucky became Cap on the big screen MCU. But, suddenly, they had issues with someone else wearing the uniform and being called Captain America when Sam Wilson took up the shield. Plus, I think we were all surprised when a Marvel employee declared that fans were tired of diversity, that it was diversity that was killing sales, and then saw a small army of comic book fans agreeing with him online.
Why this seemed at least a little troubling was the stated reason over and over and over again. The complaints being made were not focused on the quality of the stories being told or the overall storylines being created in the books. What it largely boiled down to time and time again was people who are in fact geeks and who are in fact longtime members of fandom declaring they were sick of reading Marvel’s books because the lead characters in the books were no longer white and/or straight males. When it was announced not long ago that Marvel might be cancelling around 30 titles, the same people who screamed about diversity killing Marvel trumpeted this as proof of their claims. But when you looked at the books being discussed as on the chopping block, only about 3 of the almost 30 titles were really books featuring the characters they had been complaining about having been replaced by being gender or race swapped and having the “real” character removed for a time. But the reason they were being cancelled as trumpeted by those members of fandom? Comic book fans were sick of seeing Marvel characters in their major books that weren’t straight white males.
These are not people who just showed up in the last few years to start complaining about diversity in the Marvel universe. We all know some of these people, and we know they’ve been longtime members of fandom. The ones we don’t know? Well, some of them have blogs or other forms of internet presence going back years, and they were talking about how much they loved various things in fandom and comics even way back when.
But, do you want an example of a fan- of a longtime member of fandom -who was deep into fandom and the convention scene and had, up until a while ago at least, proof of this fact documented all over the place? I can skip the slow build from the more minor matters of marvel fans complaining about diversity in their reading materials and give you an extreme example that shocked a lot of people.
You may or may not recognize that cosplayer, but a lot of people did recognize her when she was marching with her boyfriend in Charlottesville during the weekend of the white supremacist rallies. It made headlines on geek news sites because she wasn’t marching with the people who were protesting against the white supremacists’ march.
This was a cosplayer that had become fairly well known and become easily recognized in fandom; especially as Supergirl. How well known and recognizable? She was used as the artist’s model for both the cover and insides of an actual Supergirl comic. At conventions, she was a popular cosplayer to stop and ask to take a photo of and she was also very much a longtime member of fandom.
Some of these things extended outside of just the realm of being fans. We had a very famous creator of comics declare in response to the press photos of Jessica Alba in her Sue Storm costume that all Hispanic women who dye their hair blonde look like hookers. The creator in question never did seem to come around to understanding how that statement could be seen as even just a tad bit racist. We’ve had science fiction writers who wrote stories about fantastical worlds full of wide ranging varieties of lifeforms and cultures who in their real life have held less than great views of people who didn’t look and act like them. We have had professional creators who have been (up to very recently) outspoken advocates against things like gay rights or some aspects of religious freedoms for anyone other than Christians.
These things (other than maybe marching in a hate rally) may seem to some when compared to the vile hounding of Kelly Marie Tran somewhat minor things. In fact, despite their personal views on some matters, some of the same people who have said the types of things I’ve covered here have also condemned the hounding of Tran off social media. It is an interesting thing seeing where the lines of dislike and hate separate and where those who merely dislike something by expressing their point of view differ from those who are driven by full-fledged hate to act in vile and vulgar ways.
Don’t think for a moment that the people claiming to have been behind this most recent act of toxic fandom are not in fact members of fandom. Yes, there’s a huge difference between them and the larger segments of fandom that merely hold and occasionally express views many find as disagreeable at best or bigoted, racist, and/or hateful at worst. Yes, they are a minority fringe in what one would hope is also a minority of fandom as a whole. But, they are in fact fans, and denying that they are actual members of fandom ignores a part of the problem that has to be acknowledged to properly address the issues they bring to fandom.
So what exactly is to be done about it? Well, about the one group, the group that only grumbles but doesn’t engage in organized hate and harassment, not much. They’re a segment of fandom that holds views that (one would hope) a majority of fandom disagrees with. But the simple fact is, it’s their right to hold and think such thoughts. They are a part of fandom and they’ve been a part of fandom for as long as there has been any sort of fandom in any form. While the advent of the world wide web and the era of social media has made it easier for some to express those views and find a chorus of supporting voices to strengthen their views, they’re not at all new to fandom. So long as they do not cross the line from simply expressing a belief that many others in fandom disagree with to engaging in harassing and hounding individuals as was seen with Tran or, even worse, engaging in acts of physical intimidation, threats, and/or violence based on those views… Well, they can and will continue to walk into fan gatherings and have their personal views be as invisible as the one cosplayer’s was until she was spotted on film as a member of a white supremacist march.
Frankly, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Bigotry towards others based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. is learned behavior. In most cases, people who hold such views are taught to hate and fear others over such matters from a young age. The nice thing about learned behavior is that it can be unlearned. By allowing those who have learned such behavior to walk through the doors of a convention and find out that everything they think they know is not as they think they know it, well… There are people out there who have unlearned hate and bigotry.
On the other hand, some won’t. However, the fact is that no one knows what will cause someone to have that moment of beginning to unlearn something. The other fact is they likely won’t ever have that moment if they’re locked out of the places they might encounter the spark needed for that moment of revelation and understanding and are instead pushed towards places that will act as isolated thought bubbles to reflect and reinforce the negative views they hold.
But these guys? These trolls and jackasses who claimed they went after Tran? These guys are a whole other matter. They’ve moved beyond thoughts and words and into unacceptable actions. They’ve decided that their beliefs are so right and justified that they can act to hound, harass, and intimidate others. They believe their position is so right that it justifies them to take action against others who look or act different or who espouse beliefs contrary to their own personal beliefs. They’ve crossed that line between simply holding beliefs that (hopefully most) other people in fandom disagree with to engaging in active forms of harassment. People like this do need to be dealt with. The only question is how one deals with it.
I don’t know. Yes, obviously the idea of isolating them comes to mind. By and large, an argument could be made that these individuals may be so far gone over that line that they might be irredeemable. Although, some might argue (and have argued) that this might not be entirely true. But, regardless of whether or not a significant number of this bit of toxic fandom is irredeemable or not, their actions do seem to many to demand a response.
But, in the internet age, what is that response? Well, when they attack someone like Tran in the manner they did, we can certainly attempt to rally around their target and show our support. But, really, that’s still an after the fact action that likely doesn’t fully mitigate the damage and harm they’re doing to their target. They absolutely need to be challenged. But, as ESO’s Ashley Pauls alludes to in the piece I linked just above, there is an issue of figuring out when and where you’re actually doing something productive versus merely feeding the trolls and egging on their bad behavior online.
Do we work to get them removed from various web platforms? While I would disagree with attempting to get people banned from accounts or removed from certain platforms for only expressing views we disagree with or even find bigoted and vulgar; these guys went beyond just saying things we disagree with or simply find bigoted and vulgar. They took direct action to hunt down and hound and hurt someone because they didn’t like the idea of an Asian woman getting a prominent role in a Star Wars film. They not only expressed the ideas that having strong lead characters in Star Wars who were black, gay, Asian, female, etc. and not straight, white, and male was an affront to their fandom, but they took it a step further and acted on those ideas by targeting and attacking someone so vilely, vulgarly, and viciously that they fled their social media presence to escape the seemingly unending wave of hatred being directed at them.
These people- and certainly any who take it a step further and engage in physical acts of intimidation and/or violence beyond merely acts like cyber stalking and online harassment -need to be confronted and dealt with and very likely removed from as many online platforms as possible. They’ve gone beyond simply speaking words that we disagree with. They’ve passed well beyond the point where they can claim they’re being punished for expressions of free speech. They have engaged in organized actions designed to harass and terrorize individuals based on race, gender, and/or sexual orientation. They’ve lost any legitimate ability to even pretend to claim victimization on the basis of having their free speech rights attacked and taken away from them.
Nevertheless, in all of this ugliness, there might just be a silver lining.
What we’re seeing here with actions like this in fandom, with actions in the wider society like the rallies at Charlottesville, and with the attempts by small minded individuals to hijack local politics in order to try and roll back the march of history and acceptance is more than hate and anger. What we’re seeing is blind, stark raving fear.
Think about this for a moment. Think about the people you know who are afraid of snakes or insect or some animals. Many of them can be put into one of two categories. The one category is the group that curls up in fear and whimpers or cries. They become almost paralyzed by their fear. The other group? That’s what we’re seeing here. They see what they’re afraid of, often unreasonably afraid of, and they launch into a state that looks more like anger and hate than fear. They’re the ones who grab a hoe or a large, blunt object and not only deliver a killing blow to the snake, but rather beat on it repeatedly until the snake’s dead body looks like it was run through a blender. Their fear causes them to lash out violently.
That’s what we’re seeing here by some of these people. They’re afraid.
What are they afraid of? They know they’re being left behind and their views marginalized by the march of history. They know their numbers are shrinking with every passing generation. Oh, they will never leave us completely and we’ll always have some small amount of them in society, but for now they grow smaller and smaller in number with the passing of every few generations. They know that things are changing, and they’re afraid of change to the point of unreasoning anger.
In the United States, the majority of the population has long been white. Due to various cultural traditions, it’s also been a culture long dominated by the straight, white male. What these people don’t seem to want to understand is that as these things change in real life, these are no longer the only people who get to be fully represented in the modern entertainment media. There are a lot of other people out there these days with pocket money to spend on entertainment, and they too are allowed to see people that look like them on the big and small screens or on the printed page. The changing demographics in our society means that new creations in decades old franchises will start including major lead characters and heroes that aren’t just white, aren’t just male, aren’t just Christian, and aren’t just straight.
And this scares the shit out of them. It scares the shit out of them because they know they’ve already lost the cultural wars they wanted to fight. It scares the shit out of them because they know there’s absolutely nothing they can do about other people being given the same treatment in creative endeavors that they feel only people that look like them deserve. It scares them because things are changing, and they know deep down inside that they have no ability to stop the changes around them. So, just like the person terrified of the snake who lashes out in their moment of fear, they’re lashing out now.
They’re terrified to this point because they know their numbers are growing smaller. They know that their crusades to keep their world (at least on the noticeable surface of it) straight, white, and largely male dominated are reliant on an armada of ships that are full of holes and sinking into the depths of the sea even as they stand on the decks and give the order to attack. They are losing their declared social wars, and some of them have become like the crazed, desperate idiots that carelessly and futilely fight until the bitter end rather than accept the fact that they’ve lost.
They know the control they wish to exert over popular culture and to influence creative endeavors is waning. It’s ugly to see, and knowing they’re a mostly diminishing or dying breed doesn’t make the hurt and harm they cause any less for the people they target. They still need to be fought. They still need to be dealt with when they do things along the lines of what they did to Kelly Marie Tran. But, in order to properly deal with such things, we do need to acknowledge that they are in fact members of fandom and not just groups using fandom as cover for their actions.
But, again, hopefully, there is that silver lining. While the internet gives them seemingly greater strength at times, they are fewer in number than in past decades, and they will become fewer still as the years pass.
These people are scum. There is no sugarcoating it or other ways to say it. Stand up to them. Stop them when they can be stopped. Use smart tactics when and where you can. Try not to get dragged down to their level. Support as best you can the people they target. They’re deservedly losing so many other fights, especially their fight against the marches of civilization and history, and we can and should ensure they lose their fights with fandom as well.
Now, I should probably end this here; especially as long of a piece this has already become. But, well, I need to address the bit from the header about the things going wrong that are not just from the obvious places. There are things going wrong that are not as consciously obvious to many who immediately leapt to the defense of Kelly Marie Tran, and the reason it’s not as consciously obvious is very often because of people’s willful blindness to it. After all, it’s sometimes harder for people to notice it when someone is doing something wrong while claiming to be on your side. However, in all reality, especially considering the damage they can do, it may be just as important or even more important to take notice of it.
There have been noticeably growing segments of fandom over the last few years that parallel the segments I’ve just finished discussing. However, they’re not exactly parallel. They’re the equal but opposite numbers of the types who scream about diversity as if it were a bad thing. The problem is, in their quests for diversity and to have speculative fiction cleansed of anything offensive, they risk being a cause of long-term damage to fandom. They could maybe even do more damage than the idiots who ran Tran off social media.
You can find them being nothing more than a grumbling crew of fans saying negative things about the people they don’t like, and you can find people in this segment of fandom that, in their way, parallel the people who sought to drive Kelly Marie Tran off of social media and away from their fandom. You can find them in the fan, the fan/pro, and the professional communities in genre, and, unlike the types who are dying off more and more with every passing generation, these people are seeing something of a growth surge of late. It may or may not be a continuing growth surge, but I doubt anyone can say for sure which path their growth will or will not go in the long-term.
The reason this end of fandom’s spectrum could be more damaging to fandom than even the idiots who attacked Tran is because fewer people will stand up to them with the level of intensity they will the types who attacked Tran. The reason for this is they cloak their bad behavior under the guise of it being done for “justice” and in the service of “the right cause.” It’s easy to forcefully and publicly stand up against someone who is being vilely bigoted or racist or sexist or homophobic. After all, what’s the worst thing the people you’re standing up to are going to say about you?
But standing up against the people who (whether deliberately or accidently) go too far in their crusades to fight against what they see as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. in fandom? That’s a trickier deal for many to even know when to stand up against them, let alone to actually do it. Sure, the people that need to be stood up against may well be their cause’s version of the fanatic. However, everything we’re told about what’s right and what’s wrong as we grow up sometimes leaves out nuance and weakens the desire or ability of some to call out the fanatics for what they are doing when they generally agree with the basics of their cause.
So when someone is doing something wrong or damaging but claiming they’re doing it to fight racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. in fandom, it causes some people’s brains to throw out a gear. People may initially recognize that the actions being taken are wrong, but they suddenly become unsure of how forcefully to stand up to something the moment the people engaging in those acts declare they’re doing it for what is widely perceived as a “just” and “right” cause.
Then, for some, there are the factors of intimidation and fear. As I said a moment ago, it’s easy to stand up to someone being a racist or sexist individual without fear of being labeled by them as the opposite of them. If someone is launching into a particularly vile rant about how Star Wars needs to start being more white and less female or gay male again; people will stand up to that without thinking twice about what the people on the other side of the argument will say about them. But when the person engaging in questionable or flat out wrong behavior is doing it while claiming their cause is fighting racism or sexism or homophobia? Well, they start attacking those who stand against them as being racist, sexist, or homophobic, and a lot of people are terrified of being branded with those labels even if obviously wrongly so. This often results in people not standing up as strongly as they should, not standing up at all, or even finding ways to say that it’s probably wrong what’s being done by the fanatic but then excusing it because of reasons.
Except, they need to be told they’re wrong just as forcefully as the people who attack others by being racist, sexist, etc. because the damage that can be done to fandom by these people is every bit as bad as the damage that can be done by the people vulgarly or violently lashing out while being racist, sexist, etc. if not worse. Few people in fandom will let idiots like the ones who attacked Kelly Tran claim a victory in their crusade, let alone more than one crusade. Many of the same people balk at drawing the same line in the sand against the “Right Cause” crowd and allow them to claim victories over and over again even when they know that what is being done or how it’s being done is partially or wholly wrong.
This crowd is starting to show up in a lot of places. They’re starting to try to flex their muscles on things both small in scale and large in scale. That can create issues, because members of this seemingly growing group can be found in sizable numbers in everyday fandom, but also in the fan/pro community and the professional community.
Let me give you a few smaller examples from the last few years of what this group does that causes, well, smaller problems with less far reaching impact. I’ll then get into some larger issues they can cause that impact many people and even fandom as a whole.
A few years ago, the Capaldi era of Doctor Who had a particularly popular two-part story with the episodes The Zygon Invasion and the The Zygon Inversion. The story involved a large community of the shape-changing Zygons now living on Earth having been here for some few years due to a secret peace treaty while taking the form of humans and blending in to human society. A growing faction of Zygons comes along who wants nothing to do with the peace treaty. They want war so that they can live as Zygons without either the other Zygons or the humans around to say anything about it. They set about committing acts of war and acts of terror, and this draws the Doctor into things.
Central to the plot is a character named Osgood. Because of the events in an earlier show that set this up, there were two Osgoods for a time. One was human, the original, and the other was a Zygon disguised as Osgood. As the keepers of both the peace and a secret, no one knew which was which, and that mystery remained even after one of them was killed by Missy some few episodes prior to this story. Not even the Doctor knows which of them the remaining one is, and he frequently pushes Osgood for that answer as she just as frequently declines to answer it while saying it doesn’t matter.
That last bit becomes important in a moment.
I’m not sure how one fan theory about the story came about, and to this day I don’t personally agree with it. I have no problem with others holding this theory as their view of the story, but it just doesn’t work for me. The fan theory is that parts of this story- in particular, the bits around the Osgood/Doctor exchanges -are an analogy for (in part) being gay and that being nobody else’s business.
I saw fans and fan reviewers discussing how angered they were actually getting with the Doctor as he kept bringing up the question to Osgood throughout the story about which one she actually was, human or Zygon, and how no matter how many times she said it doesn’t matter and wouldn’t answer the question he still persisted. It was “infuriating” for them seeing the Doctor push her like that because it’s nobody’s business if your gay or not if you don’t want to discuss it.
Except, what they were bringing into the story from their social perspective wasn’t what was there for others, and, perhaps not even what was there for the writer.
A number of people saw similarities in the storyline to terrorism. Some saw the struggles of first generation children of immigrants trying to find an identity when torn between old worlds and new. Some saw analogies for the shifting cultural landscapes of America and Europe and the fears some have of that. But, no matter which of those or other things some other people saw in the story because of what they brought into it while viewing it, a number of other people saw Osgood and not the Doctor as the infuriating one. Why? Because they saw the situation from a tactical perspective.
The Doctor was walking into a war. He had his usual weapons- his wit and his ability to plan ten steps ahead -but he didn’t know what else he had. In Osgood, he either had a human by his side or an alien with an array of offensive and defensive abilities that humans don’t possesses as well as the ability to shape change. The course of action he might plan out changes on whether or not he has a human or a Zygon by his side. What he chooses to do because he has a human by his side may be a riskier bet than if he has a Zygon by his side. Either way, though, from a tactical perspective, it seemed stupid to ask the Doctor to fight in a war with you and not tell him what weapons and abilities you are or are not bringing with you.
Does this view invalidate the view of those who saw this as having some level of being an analogy for homosexuals and how homosexuals have been treated? No. However, that view also doesn’t invalidate this view. For that matter, neither of those views invalidate other views that other people may have come to because of their backgrounds and what they have experienced in their lives. That’s the thing about works of fiction. Everyone who experiences a work of fiction brings things from their own life’s worth of experiences into the process and it molds and shapes how they perceive every aspect of the work. Likewise, personal biases and the things we deem socially or culturally important can alter individual perspectives on even the simplest of scenes. All that means is that we are all going to see things in our initial viewings that others might not see, but it largely doesn’t mean any of us are more right or wrong about it.
More recently, Ready Player One became an insanely divisive film in some circles of fandom with the source of that divisiveness being Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name. I read the novel back when it came out. I found it formulaic in many story beats- almost to the level of pulp novel formulaic -but enjoyable. It was like reading a story by a 80s kid who took all of his childhood toys and threw them in a blender with many of the genre stories he grew up with and then threw in a dash of VR. It wasn’t a reinvention of the genre fiction wheel, but it was never meant to be. What it was written to be was a fun little read that hit a lot of nostalgia buttons in readership of a certain age range.
What it wasn’t written to be was misogynistic or transphobic. Yet this is how some people- from fans to reviews to editorialists on some websites –have chosen to interpret the content of the novel while demanding that others acknowledge their unquestioned rightness in this. Some have even made indirect linkage between the novel and Gamergate to buttress their opinions. If they wish to interpret aspects of the novel in that way, they’re welcome to hold those beliefs and follow their own path when it comes to their personal viewing and reading. What they’re not particularly welcome to do is attack others who don’t interpret things in the book with that spin and condemn the book as being unquestionably misogynistic or transphobic.
No single passage of the novel the people who condemn the writer, the character, and the book for being misogynistic or transphobic has a single, exclusive way of interpreting them. As a matter of fact, many have far more reasonable real world and storyline interpretations than ones based around hate and phobias.
It was apparently sexist and misogynistic because Art3mis was a better at many things than Parzival, but once Parzival arrives everyone, including eventually her, treats him as if he’s the hero who can save them all. However, that’s not sexist and misogynistic, that’s just formulaic. It’s no different than Luke Skywalker being a nothing kid from nowhere and two hours later he’s flying a major combat spacecraft in a battle and far more experienced pilots, fighters, and commanders are letting him set up to be the guy who takes the all important shot while more experienced fighter pilots sacrifice themselves protecting him. It’s no different than a thousand fantasy novels where the kid who never did anything of note suddenly becomes the one who can tame dragons, master the artifact, and save the kingdom when legions of experienced fighters and wizards before him couldn’t. It’s just template writing 101.
The same can be said of his trying to communicate with Art3mis constantly early on even as she tells him not to. Again, template 101. It’s Fox Mulder breaking the rules that Kurtzwell or Mr. X laid down for him. It’s no different than so many war/resistance stories where someone finds the person who might be their way into the rebellion and they keep at it.
Even one of the “big” cases for the book being transphobic is highly questionable.
In an exchange, even here somewhat out of context with a full page being shown, Art3mis says something to make Parzival wonder about her gender. So, he asks a very precise question about whether or not she is a woman and whether or not she was born a woman. That question, the one from this picture of a page from the book, a picture taken from a Brianna Wu Twitter post declaring the book, the character, and the writer transphobic for having that question appear in the book, isn’t actually transphobic. It’s a question that informs him about her life, her background, and who she is. There’s no hate or fear in that question unless you choose to place it there.
Now, there were once a number of fan forums where putting forward these different points of view and discussing their relative merits weren’t a problem by any means. The idea of fans from different backgrounds seeing different things in their fandom’s fiction and getting together and discussing how and why we all see different meanings in our fandom’s fiction has long been something we all enjoyed even if we didn’t agree on exactly what it was something in a story represented. We could agree to disagree and understand how, even if we initially saw something we personally felt was offensive in something, it might not be seen that way by others with different life experiences and vice versa. We frequently did that without a lot of venom being sprayed.
Honestly, it’s still like that on some fan forums. However, there are more and more places where this is becoming less and less true every day. Just as there is a toxic fandom filling some forums with the type of hatred and venom that was condemned for chasing Kelly Tran away, there’s an equally toxic part of fandom out there doing what it can to fill forums with hatred or venom and pretend it isn’t hatred and venom because it’s being done for “the right cause.” If you disagree with their position, you disagree with what is right, and you are therefore now labeled as being against what’s right and socially just. By being against what is what’s right and socially just, you are then labeled as wrong, against justice, and maybe even a racist or bigot.
Granted, people being jerks, even jerks of this nature, may seem like small change to many. It largely actually is. If these things stayed down on this level, it might even be something that could easily be written off as more of an annoyance than a problem. However, many of the people who seem to belong to this group aren’t just keeping things down at this level. If anything, they may be taking it up to a level past even the bit of toxic fandom shown by those who chased Kelly Tran off social media.
We are reaching a point in fandom where there are large (and seemingly growing) segments of fandom who are becoming the monsters we would have once said we fought. This segment of fandom is also turning to the tools many in fandom would have once decried the usage of- purity tests and blacklists –and targeting professionals, fan events, conventions, and even other fans with them.
About five years ago now, Orson Scott Card’s most famous work hit the big screen in the form of Ender’s Game. A number of members in fandom decided that the film, the book, and Card himself needed to be boycotted. The reason for this had nothing to do with the story, though. It was entirely about Orson Scott Card being a hard right conservative who was vocally against gay marriage passing into law.
However, the idea of boycotting the book and the film in order to hurt Card financially went beyond just targeting Orson Scott Card. As Peter David discussed on his own website more than once, he had been offered the job of writing for a video game called Shadow Complex. This led people who disagreed with Card- just as Peter David disagreed with Card’s political and social views –to push to boycott not only the game, but any other work of Peter David’s. The espoused philosophy was a simple one. If you associated with Card, you were now the enemy no matter your personal political beliefs and you would be punished for that association.
There were even some attempts to go after conventions for inviting Card, but the early attempts didn’t work out well for the complainers. More recent attempts have essentially started to blacklist him from various conventions. In the time since the film’s release started a huge push to boycott and blacklist Card, other writers and genre celebrities have begun facing the same treatment; sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Earlier this year, ConCarolinas found itself under fire for having John Ringo as an invited guest. The outcome was one we’re seeing more regularly these days. The convention and Ringo came to some form of terms on his no longer appearing at the convention. One would think the problem should be solved, right? Wrong.
Now there were people upset that the convention pulled a genre guest based on personal social and political beliefs held by that guest, and they were now making the same kind of pull their support threats made earlier by the anti-Ringo crowd. Additionally, even after the convention and Ringo parted ways, a number of the crowd who demanded Ringo be disinvited or else continued their actions against the convention. Now the goal was to punish the convention for having invited him at all even if they rather quickly changed course and disinvited him. Even more annoyingly, this situation then in very short order created an issue for others at another similar regional convention entirely just based on the fact that it happened at all. People involved in or around the incident were now splitting into camps to the detriment of their own convention.
Frankly, this and other acts like it make these people little better than the people who chased Kelly Tran off social media. In all reality, the reasons for the actions boil down to the same thing in each case. A group of people decided they were in the right and justified in their reasoning, they decided that someone else was wrong, they decided that the other person had no business being near their fandom, and, in both cases, the side acting wrongly used the politics of the other side as their excuse and justification.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
~ Desmond Tutu
This quote gets thrown around a lot by the people acting like this. However, there are two problems with their citing this quote.
Problem #1- There are no actual oppressors among the targets here; especially in 2018 America. All we have is people with political/social beliefs we disagree with. Oh, and theirs happen to be beliefs that are losing ground in the “culture wars” more and more with each and every passing year. One of the big issues that has been brought up to try and blacklist various creators from conventions is their longtime opposition to gay marriage, various gay rights, and trans rights. The last time I looked, gay marriage was the law of the land, we’re seeing more and more gains in homosexual couples having the same rights as heterosexual couples, and, despite occasional acts of stupidity like the North Carolina Republicans’ bathroom bill, an act already repealed by North Carolina’s new governor, America is seeing more acceptance of trans individuals and trans rights. Hell, in my state in 2017 we saw one of the most conservative and anti-gay/anti-trans rights members of our governing body ousted in an election by Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected and seated in a U.S. statehouse.
They’re losing that fight.
But even more important than that? The people being targeted are not promoting their political beliefs on convention panels. They’re not being promoted as guests for conventions to have political discussions. They’re being invited as genre writers and genre personalities to meet whatever fans want to meet them and to talk about genre, and that’s pretty much what they stick to when invited as guests.
I’ve been to conventions and fandom events where some of the targets of the new blacklist were guests and on panels and speaking to fans. Do you know what they talked about? Whatever the panel topic was. They weren’t suddenly veering off topic during a Military Strategies in Speculative Fiction panel and going into rants about their personal political beliefs. They weren’t walking through the halls of a convention shouting political slogans. They weren’t running up to people and harassing them because the people appeared to be acting in a way they didn’t socially/politically approve of. They stuck to the convention topics, genre topics, and general fandom topics.
And, do you know why they did? For the same reason most of the rest of us do even if we’re very vocal and/or active with our politics in much of our normal day to day life. That’s not what they or we are going to conventions for. Most of us are going to conventions with an eye towards getting away from the frustrations of work, the news, politics, etc. for the weekend. And by “most of us” in that sentence, I mean them as well. Save for when other people try to stir something up with them, most of the fans who come to see these creators and genre personalities have no interest in acting as anything but fans during a convention weekend. Hell, some of them aren’t even fully aware of most of the personal views held by the people they’re coming to see and they don’t care. They like the fiction being created and they want to celebrate it and see the person who created it. Despite the comments of many online fretting about their inclusion at a convention, they’re really not interested in running around in packs attacking people.
Like it or not, the people being put on the new blacklists are “guilty” of nothing more than having personal and political beliefs we disagree with. That’s not a crime, and it’s not something that merits punishment.
Now, if any individuals- creators, fan/pros, or fans on either side of the social/political divide -choose to act up and start doing things that do violate the convention policies at the convention? Then is the time they’re dealt with. If someone chooses to act in a way at a convention or fan gathering that causes issues? Then they can be removed from the convention and, if the convention so chooses, told they’re not welcome back.
But what we’re seeing now isn’t that. What we’re seeing now is people being backlisted, conventions being threatened, and fandom getting torn up because of things said outside of the walls of a convention and on the creators’ personal time. What we’re seeing now is the extreme political left in fandom acting as thought police. This isn’t a good thing, and it can only become a worse thing as time goes by. Why?
Problem #2- That Desmond Tutu quote and other quotes much like it that many in favor of these actions like to throw around on social media to justify their beliefs and actions? As much as they would wish it to apply to them, it doesn’t. Oh, there is a quote along those lines that applies to them and their actions, and it also totally covers their mindset and, frankly, the backwards arrogance they share with the person who originally spoke the line in the moments he spoke it.
"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
~ W. Bush
Because that is who and what this movement basically is. Many of the loudest voices in this may be claiming this is about what’s right and just, claiming this is about social justice, but it’s really not. For some, this is about the concept of “It’s Our Turn Now” and little more than that. It’s about- rather than winning cultural wars and moving forward -getting even instead. They’re now finding that they have the power to be the oppressor, even if only in a limited area of society, and they want to use it.
That older piece I wrote here that I asked you to look at back at the start of this article? If you didn’t, you might want to look at it now, or this next bit might not make as much sense as it could.
Some of them are just being petty. The dangerous ones are the ones who see the power in such things for what it is and they want the power. But the problem they face is power is kind of meaningless and not a lot of fun if it can’t be used. The other problem they face is they really don’t have any more terrifying, evil dragons or lesser evil not quite dragons to rally the troops behind them and slay. So, not having these around, they try to find a few slime monsters that we’ve all gotten good at dealing with without their help and convince everyone those are just as bad as the dragons. But, mostly, they try to whip people into a frenzy and convince them that little lizards are actually dragons.
And they don’t just stop at rhetorically blowing up minor things into major threats. As I said about a dozen and a half paragraphs back, they have two weapons they like to employ; purity tests and blacklists. Blacklists are bad enough, but purity tests are worse, and we’re already seeing the purity tests put to work here and now over recent issues in fandom.
In the case of John Ringo and ConCarolinas earlier this year, the people who wanted him gone were willing to not simply burn bridges but dynamite them and anyone near them into oblivion. As it was all going down, the people that wanted him gone were quite happy to declare that either you were with them or with the terrorists; a position they took even with people who shared none of the political or social beliefs Ringo held that they deemed offensive and/or evil.
When people started protesting online over the announcement of Ringo as a guest, they suggested that all good people would refuse to attend the convention- to boycott it -if he was there. However, some people, even genuinely good people by any and every measure, said they were still going.
The reasons varied from person to person, group to group. In some cases, such as some dealers and arts and crafts sellers, they were by the time of the announcement too far financially tied into the appearance. They had spent what was for a small, private business a considerable amount of money and could not write it off and give up the weekend’s chance to earn at least some of it back. Others weighed the matter against the fact that they’d given their word or made a commitment to appear; in some cases, to other people depending on them and not necessarily the convention itself. Then, of course, there were quite a few people who saw this call to arms as an overreaction. There were many who saw no need to ban a writer for having opposing political and social views or to boycott a convention for having him appear to talk about not his politics, but about writing and genre matters.
The responses directed towards many of these people, especially the last group, was immediate and intense. They were no longer good people. They were throwing their lot in with evil. They were supporting attacks on ‘X’ groups of people and ‘Y’ groups of minorities. They were in fact now deemed as little better than (if not no better than) Ringo himself in the eyes of the ones protesting his status as a guest. Which was almost funny in a sad way as many of the people they were now condemning had long been vocal supporters of- and in some cases even acting as activists for –the same social and political causes of the people now condemning them. Nevertheless, all of that was now out the window because they had chosen to attend a convention John Ringo was invited to, and this, despite years of support to people and causes that stood against everything Ringo believed in, meant they were not allies and were now traitors to the cause.
"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
~ W. Bush
This kind of purity test by this growing segment of fandom isn’t even new. As mentioned earlier, Peter David, long a supporter of gay rights and gay marriage, and his works unrelated to Orson Scott Card were targeted because of his association with and work on an OSC video game property. We saw the insanity as Joss Whedon was attacked on social media because a growing fringe didn’t like how Black Widow was used in the second Avengers film. In more than just a few comments on his twitter feed, it was stated he had proven he only supported feminist ideas and ideals so he could get behind feminism in order to stab it in the back. If you said in these threads that this was ridiculous, it was because you, no matter who you were or what you had done in the past, were now obviously a closet misogynist.
With the more recent events directly related to the outcries over convention guests, we’ve seen other writers and genre personalities targeted for blacklisting who have a long history of supporting causes and movements that placed them on the same side as the people demanding people like Ringo be blacklisted. The reason for this is they failed the purity test. They spoke up for the people being placed on blacklists and said they shouldn’t be banished from conventions for holding views and beliefs the screamers don’t agree with. Certainly, even beyond this, we’ve seen in parts of this growing fringe where they will eat their own to keep everyone else in line should someone step out of line and point out that maybe whatever is being targeted isn’t really as bad as all that.
There are social media posts out there where purity tests were put into play around the more recent incidents with Ringo and others. Members of this growing fringe- and seemingly not so much of a fringe anymore –have posted point blank that they don’t care who you are, what you’ve said or done in the past, or what you say you believe in. They just know if you think any of the blacklist targeted people deserve any place at conventions or in fandom; you can stop talking to them and unfriend them as of now. That is absolutely the mindset of the fanatic. That mindset absolutely carries the arrogance captured in the George W. Bush quote I’ve cited and carries absolutely nothing of the virtue of the Desmond Tutu quote these people like to hide behind.
Yet, as despicable as blacklists and purity tests are, a number of these people have managed to go even lower still. They’re redefining the meaning and concepts of “disagreement” in pursuit of their cause. If you are a convention organizer who invites and makes a space for the people placed on these blacklists, you’re now victimizing the people who don’t want them there. The mere fact that these people (and their fans) who disagree with their views are at the convention is an attack on their safety and wellbeing, and they are thus being victimized and made to feel unsafe just by their presence at the convention.
No, that’s not me using hyperbole to make some of their comments seem worse. A number of people who have railed against the idea of these and other blacklisted creators being at a convention have used those words. So, the idea is now that having someone who is known to hold social or political views opposing your own at the same convention you are attending is an act of victimizing you. In order to underscore this idea, some of the people promoting this concept paint a picture of a convention these creators and their fans attend as one where they’re roaming the halls in thuggish packs in order to randomly attack anyone who looks/acts/thinks differently than they do.
Now, I will say this in a partial defense of some of the people who have made such comments. In my involvement in these discussions- both online and in the real world –it seems like there are two groups where this line of thought is involved. One group comes across very much as if they don’t actually believe what they’re promoting even as they promote the idea. They come across much more as promoting the idea because (A) it makes disagreement with them by some people harder when they’re claiming victimization and (B) they’re pushing this idea as these people being an actual threat and danger as a form of fear mongering and scare tactic. It’s no different than the white supremacist who lies about homicide statistics for whites and blacks to scare people who don’t know any better into believing their image of blacks as thugs and criminals. This first group I offer no defense for.
The group I would still offer a partial defense for is the group who to greater or lesser degrees bought into the scare tactics. They should know better, but they’ve bought into the echo chamber’s fear mongering. That’s still not a reason to cave in to demands to blacklist people, though.
Part of why I say they should know better, part of why I say they should know their fears are unwarranted, is because- long before social media made it possible to fear monger on the levels we’ve seen with this and other things and to organize movements like this to blacklist people –all of these people holding such beliefs were attending conventions and not roaming the halls in groups looking for people to attack. All of the people being targeted for blacklisting and many more who share and have shared their social and political views have been a part of fandom and the convention scene for decades now. For the most part, all they’ve ever done is what the rest of us want to do when at conventions. They enjoyed themselves, they hung out with friends, and they enjoyed talking about the genre stuff that we all share a love for.
And, you know what? Many of the same people who are talking about how unsafe a convention will now feel or be if “those people” are allowed into them probably sat and talked and laughed with those people at any number of conventions in the past without even knowing it. The reason they didn’t know it was because no one was going to conventions to get into social/political debates and drag the fun of the weekend down into that. They went to have fun, laugh, and share the things we all love in fandom with other people who share a love of those things.
Beyond that, there’s the matter I mentioned some several thousand words ago now. The fact is, while disagreeable, the ideas and beliefs of many of the people that some want to see placed on convention blacklists are losing the cultural debates in America. There are hiccups along the way just as there always is when any civilization sees cultural shifts happening. But, the fact is that the positions they hold are not only losing legally in this country, but they are more and more with every new generation becoming minority positions in this country. At this point, seeking to punish and blacklist people for holding what is increasingly minority social/political opinions smacks less of justice and more of censorship and oppression. It very much comes across as people failing to heed the warning of another old saying.
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
We don’t have to be a part of doing this. We also should not let others do it. We should not be allowing people blacklisted from conventions or events because they publicly hold social/political views that the majority of fandom disagree with. There’s something else we should not be seeing from “our side” of fandom. We should not be seeing threats of violence or people promoting the idea of setting people up to be banned from a convention. Unfortunately, we’re seeing both.
The cosplayer who was in attendance in Charlottesville and walked with the supremacists? When that revelation came out, there were still several major conventions remaining in the year that she had regularly attended in the past. There were people who also regularly attended those conventions who indicated that if she were to attend she would “get hers” for showing her face there. Some heavily implied harassment at best and violence at worst. This should never be allowed to happen.
I have in my life stood against everything that march and rally stood for. I strongly disagreed with her comments about what the march was after her involvement was discovered, and I certainly disagreed in every way with the comments of her husband. But the fact is, if she were to show up at a convention as a paying attendee and wasn’t walking through the halls shouting the types of things we heard being shouted in Charlottesville; not a single person has the right to get in her face or to touch her. Doing so wouldn’t make you a champion of justice, it would only make you a harassing (possibly violent) fool and thug who was little better than the people she marched with.
Besides, there really is a better way to deal with it. If you feel strongly about her actions in Charlottesville and her presence at a convention? Shun her, ignore her, and get others to do the same. For many, there can be nothing in this world that hurts worse than going somewhere they used to feel at home in and suddenly finding themselves essentially alone in crowds of thousands.
There have also been some who have suggested organizing a group at a convention to set up a confrontation designed to look like the person they want blacklisted was actually the instigator. If you know anyone who has even joked about this idea, smack them upside the head and tell them to knock it off.
There’s an important reason we don’t want to see either of these things happening or even attempted, and not just because we shouldn’t be acting like that. If we do that, we make it harder for the conventions to do the one thing they can do if someone does decide to show up and create issues based on their social/political beliefs. See, the people that some want on convention blacklists and their fans are really not going to try to start trouble at a convention. The reason they’re not going to do this is because they just want to enjoy the convention. In some cases, they’re not going to do something to give conventions a legitimate, unbiased reason to pull their badge and add them to a list of guests no longer welcome that they can in no way pass off as political/social persecution. Because this is what will happen and this is how things should be dealt with if anyone on any side of this issue chooses to act like an ass and violate convention policies and protocols.
But the things being talked about by some to deal with or set up these individuals? Just the fact that people are talking that way will make things harder for the convention heads, and the more chatter there is the harder it will become. How does a convention know what side to believe in a he said/he said situation when people have been talking about setting a writer up for such a thing at the convention? How are they going to know who to believe when the person involved in an altercation has been part of a chorus of voices saying they were going to get in someone’s face and let them know they’re unwelcome and unwanted at “our” convention?
The only legitimate way to have someone banned from a convention is by letting the convention do it if the person legitimately violates convention policies and protocols. That’s it. Boycotts and blacklists, purity tests, threats, or over the top, hyperbolic rhetoric about someone’s mere presence being threatening or victimizing because of the thoughts they express outside of the convention walls don’t really fall under the umbrella of legitimate or reasonable motivations.
Now, you may have noticed by this point that I only spent about a third of my words on the one group and two thirds of my words here on the other. There’s a reason for that. This to me may be more important to fandom than challenging the actions of the idiots that harassed Tran even as I find challenging the actions of such fools a desirable and necessary action because these actions may be more damaging to fandom in the long run.
It’s easy to criticize the people who were behind the social media hounding of Kelly Marie Tran. This should be obvious just by the fact of how many have. It’s harder to criticize those who are technically “on your side” when it comes to social/political issues. It may also be more important to do so, to recognize when you should, and, more importantly, recognize when their actions mean that they’re not really on your side at all. Theoretically, the people trying to blacklist Card, Ringo, Correia, and others should be on “my side” in most ways. We supposedly share the same basic views on a number of social and political positions. However, when they resorted to tactics little better in their own way than what was done to Kelly Marie Tran and began to use purity tests and threats of additional blacklists when some people initially balked at supporting them? That’s when it should have become clear to many that we cannot be on the same side as them in this.
That last bit should really be a wakeup call to anyone who thinks that they can go along to get along with this crew because you believe that, well, yeah, technically what’s being said sounds good and morally correct(ish) and, yeah, they are right that certain views really aren’t nice or polite to hold. But, it doesn’t work that way with many in this particular segment of fandom, because many of them are infamous for eating their own. Anywhere they get a strong foothold, the purity tests start coming into play. If you think supporting some of these people now and in the foreseeable future will protect you the first time you do feel the need to stand up and say that, no, this new target isn’t really as bad as all that and shouldn’t be targeted… Well, you’ll very likely instead find out very quickly that it’s your turn to be eaten.
The politicization of conventions needs to stop. Fandom needs to stand up to both of these groups. Conventions are not tools or weapons to use to persecute or punish others no matter what your or their social and political beliefs are. Conventions are places where those of us who love the various things found in fandom can go, have a good time, and celebrate the love we all have for these things. If someone goes to a convention with a different agenda and then they try to act on it at the convention? Well, then the people running the convention will deal with it.
If you feel so strongly about an issue, if you are a part of either of these two groups and feel people should not be a part of a fandom you love or a convention you’re attending under any circumstances because they disagree with your political/social beliefs? Well, feel free to get people together to back the start of a new convention that’s yours and where you can control who is and is not allowed in as a guest or an attendee. In the meantime, while getting ExclusionCon 1 set up, stop threatening the conventions that are already established, stop attacking people who look different than you, think differently than you, or act differently than you and, for a change, try focusing on the things you like in fandom.
To the people that run conventions- Learn how to deal with this. It will hit you eventually if it hasn’t already. And, by learn how to deal with it, I don’t simply mean choose a side. I mean prepare and learn how to deal with the initial pressure and threats, learn how to best communicate with and handle your people during this, learn how to best neutralize some of the propaganda, and, perhaps most importantly, learn how to handle the aftermath and messaging when it’s over. I’ve seen examples of all of this handled as perfectly as things like this can be handled. I’ve seen examples of this handled so clumsily and in such a knee-jerk reactionary manner that it made the people running the convention come across as almost as bad as the people threatening the convention. Nietzsche’s advice is probably advice you may want to heed during such an incident and in its aftermath.
As for the rest of you in fandom, well… It’s your call. You can choose to not act, but, let me make this as clear as I can. When you see things like this happening and choose not to stand up because it’s not “your” convention, you’re almost guaranteeing that it will be. The tentacles will spread to “your” convention sooner rather than later; especially if it’s a small to medium sized convention with moderate attendance. When it does, you will quickly find it might be too late, and “your” convention will find itself irreparably damaged or quickly growing unrecognizable to you. What happens then? Who knows, but you could suddenly find yourself being subjected to a purity test. And the first time you’re deemed to have failed it, welcome to the blacklist.
It is past time to stand up not just against the one wrong in fandom, but against the other as well. Do so now.
Jerry Chandler has said all he has to say right now.