Thursday, 24 September 2020

The Problem with Problematic Creators

One thing that a lot of people have been doing during this pandemic is going back and re-watching and re-reading old favourites.  And many of us are discovering that those old favourites have not aged particularly well.

It is astounding to present-me to see how many of the shows I used to watch relied on punchlines about cross-dressing or sexuality.  Not to mention the slurs and attacks on women's sexuality.  There were shows that I used to look forward to every week that are now unwatchable.  And that makes me sad and it makes me wonder how many toxic messages they installed in my subconscious.

Because that's what problematic content does.  It reinforces toxic messages that are already present in our society.  Those messages encourage us to devalue and dismiss marginalized people and their experiences.  They also incite fear and discomfort around targeted identities.

Sometimes that content is due to the creators being unaware of their own biases and societal influences.  And sometimes, it is hard to believe that content is anything other than deliberate.

I am, of course, talking about the latest release by J.K. Rowling.  Rowling has been very vocal against trans women, questioning their right to exist and live their lives as they wish.  She has equated them with predators and claimed that recognizing trans rights somehow erase or eliminate women's rights.  Then, in her new book, she's made the villain a cis man who dresses as a woman in order to stalk and kill other women.

As was noted in Disclosure (a Netflix documentary that I strongly encourage people to watch), a cross-dressing serial killer/predator was one of the more common tropes for a very long time in books and films.  Even though, in real life, trans people are far more likely to be the victims of assault and attack rather than the perpetrators, there was a recurring message that they were somehow inherently dangerous.

I think there can be little doubt that Rowling has deliberately created this character and plot as a reinforcement of her own beliefs.  Those beliefs have already caused a great deal of questioning and hurt among fans of the Harry Potter series.  It can be difficult to reconcile one's own experience of a fictional world as a much needed escape.  I spoke in last week's post about how fans become deeply attached to their fandoms, investing pieces of themselves in these fictional worlds and making them real.  Having to repudiate those stories can feel like having to cut off a piece of themselves.

I went through this myself with another author.  As a child, Ender's Game held a special place.  It was the only book that spoke to a reality I was struggling with: that adults could deliberately lie to children and place them in painful situations.  In almost every other YA story that I was reading, the adults were absent, ignorant, or secretly supportive.  Often the misunderstandings and hard feelings between the main characters and their caregivers/guardians/parents could be resolved by both parties being honest about their feelings.

In Ender's Game, the adults are lying to the children in order to manipulate them into fighting a war.  They push the children beyond the point of endurance and eventually make them complicit in genocide.  The adults are doing this knowingly and in full understanding of the trauma they are inflicting.  In their minds, the ends justify the means.  Those with power chose to harm those without it and to pretend they were merely helping.

That meant a great deal to me when I read it.  And yet, I will not share this book with my children or recommend that anyone else read it because its author is actively encouraging harm against the LGBTQ+ community.  There are deliberately harmful messages about homosexuals in that book and many others written by him.

I've had many people argue with me about where I draw the line.  They point out other authors with problematic content, like Mark Twain or Tolkien.  They encouraged me to use "death of the author" textual analysis or to embrace the elements I found meaningful and discard the ones I found unacceptable.  They've argued that authors' works shouldn't be censored due to their personal opinions.

To which I reply: they have missed the point entirely.

Rowling and OSC are still alive (unlike Twain and Tolkien).  They are not merely repeating contemporary prejudices but are actively seeking to alter the current world.  "Death of the author" is an academic exercise for interpreting a text, not a build-your-own buffet of selective embrace.  And as both Rowling and OSC are making a comfortable living off their intellectual properties, any interpretation of criticism as censorship falls short of a reality check.

There are harmful messages all around us.  We're bombarded with them and the only way to change that is to maintain constant vigilance and awareness.  It's difficult enough to do when dealing with creators who are mindful and actively trying not to commit harm.  When a creator insists on repeatedly pushing a toxic trope or idea, then I as a consumer of media am required to make a choice as to whether or not I wish to implicitly endorse this toxicity and risk reinforcing it in my subconscious by consuming those creations.

It's not possible to entirely separate the art from the artist.  Because art is a reflection of its creator and the way they see the world.  And that view shapes how fans of that art see the world as well.

And I'd rather see a world where people are respected and included.

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Thursday, 17 September 2020

The Trouble With Fan-Fic (The Mandalorian)

 I promise this blog post is not a secret cry for help in the grand style of posting something you'd never say in order to signal that you need rescue.

I love fan fiction.  It's where I started writing and it's still my comfort go-to place when I need to recapture the fun and creativity of storytelling.  I wouldn't have gotten through my depression in the last six months without fan fiction, both reading and writing.

That doesn't mean there aren't problems.  Or rather one specific problem.

At the end of October, Season 2 of The Mandalorian will be released on Disney Plus.  Those who know me know that I adored that series.  As in "I will not shut up about it", "I have a major crush on Pablo Pascal" and "relentless search for the action figures" levels of adoration.

So, not a big surprise that the 8 episodes of Season 1 weren't enough for me.  I started doing little vignettes and scenelets almost as soon as the credits on Chapter 8: Redemption rolled.  (For the curious, I decided the story needed a romance and that a Force-sensitive Kaylee-type character (from Firefly) would be the perfect match for Din and the Child.)  But I kept it light because I'd already learned a major downside of writing fan-fic while a series is ongoing: it makes it harder to appreciate the new official material.

In ordinary times, I would be jumping up and down levels of excitement at the prospect of Season 2.  But instead I find myself hesitant.  I ended up delving deep into my own version of The Mandalorian universe because that was the only thing I ended up being able to write while I was trying to cope with the pandemic, my family, and my own mental health.  

I've got about 80k worth of a story full of adventure and romance.  I feel like I know that universe's characters as thoroughly as my own.  I have a backstory for Din, a rivalry with other members of the Order, and a slightly less than canonical view of whether the Mandalorian's vows are to never remove the helmet or to never let another living being see his face.  I made the enclave on Navarro just one of several Mandalorian sanctuaries.  I explored what the Mandalorians do with the foundlings they rescue and created my own society of masked space pirates.

So, yeah, safe to say that I invested a lot of imagination and thought into it.

But now I'm faced with knowing that the official writers will almost certainly not have created a version of the story that matches with what I wrote.  Which means mentally sundering one or the other from what I consider to be the "real" story.  (This has happened to me before.  I had some fantastic ideas for Fringe, and as a result, I don't acknowledge Season 5 in my own personal canon.  Ditto X-Men 3, which contradicted my two X-men fan-fic novels which were written after X-2.)

In the great scheme of things, it's not a huge problem.  In fact, it's a very privileged problem to have.  Oh, poor me, too many great stories.

At the same time, it's an illustration of how connected fans can become with worlds that other people have created.  Fandoms are more than just a place where people who all like a particular show, book, or movie can gather.  Those stories become real to us in a way that can be hard to explain to someone who hasn't experienced.  We integrate parts of ourselves into those universes, sometimes directly by creating characters who are stand-ins for ourselves, and sometimes by creating our own pieces of the stories.  By claiming a place for ourselves, we become a part of those universes.

Imagination and stories have always been a vital part of the human experience.  And I suspect that making ourselves part of those stories has been a part of the process from the beginning.  It's how we make sense of the world, by telling stories about our experiences and how we wish the world would be.

In my case, that's in a world with a sexy single dad bounty hunter, but your world might be different.

Previous post: Reclaiming My HEA: Choose Your Hotties

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Thursday, 10 September 2020

Reclaiming My HEA: Pick Your Hotties

 Reclaiming My HEA is a regular monthly feature on this blog, sharing my experiences as I go through the process of a divorce after twenty years of marriage and adjust to being single again in my forties.

It's been awhile since I wrote about this and I've been through a lot.  As many of you may know, due to the circumstances with our children, my ex-husband and I decided to continue to share our family home so that our kids could continue to have access to both of us.  It's been a difficult decision (though I'm still convinced it was the right one) and doing it during a pandemic has been especially challenging. (I speak about the challenges of sharing a house with my ex in the previous Reclaiming My HEA.)

One thing that has been helpful is working with a therapist to deal with the internalized messages that are stuck in my head.  It's hard for me to believe that others might find me attractive, and since I've been having to deal with just about everything at home on my own, asking for help isn't something that occurs to me.

My therapist had a good idea.  Since I am a romance writer, she suggested I try to change my internal messaging by writing little scenes that feature my own happily-ever-after.  She suggested I pick a celebrity as my hero and imagine a future where I don't have to worry about money and have a devoted and caring partner.

Imagine a hot guy hanging around my house?  Yeah, I can do that.

As I considered my options, I thought that it might be fun to share some snippets on this blog.

First step, I'll have to pick my celebrity.  This is a little odd for me.  I'm used to crushing on characters, not the people who play them.  With the character, I'm not stuck with any less than awesome real life traits and I can ignore any real-world spouses or families with a clear conscience.

(And for the record, this is meant to be inspiration and entertainment, with zero intention of making any person feel awkward or imposed on, especially the chosen celebrity or their families and friends.  If this does happen to cross anyone's screen, I hope they'll understand that I am using their likeness as a shorthand for the kind of person I am hoping to one day find love with, not a declaration of hoping for them specifically.)

That said, here are the gentlemen I'm considering.  Votes and opinions welcome!

Brendan Fraser.  He was the go-to hot and nice guy in the late nineties and early 2000s.  I absolutely developed a crush on his character in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.  And I'm probably one of the few people who absolutely loved Bedazzled.  He's a fellow Canadian and I can't recall ever hearing anyone say something bad about working with him.  I could see him as an enthusiastic, energetic guy, the sort who is always up to try something new.

Brandon Routh.  He is my all time favourite Superman, and I adore his Ray Palmer in DC's Legends of Tomorrow.  I have heard that he is a fellow geek and RPG player, which would be awesome.  In my imagination, I would assume that he shares his character's love of musicals.  Again, he's one of those actors whom everyone seems to love working with.

Keanu Reeves.  I can't think of a single Reeves role that I didn't love: Matrix, Speed, Constantine, John Wick, To The Bone, even Bill and Ted.  He is notoriously sweet and kind, to the point that Romancelandia has adopted him wholeheartedly.  I like to think of him as a curl up together in front of a fire, each with a book kind of guy.

Tempted though I am, reverse-harem is not an option for this particular exercise (I checked).

Any of these gentlemen would be a worthy romantic hero (or at least the versions of them that I'm imagining), so, readers, what do you think?

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