Episode 22B: Race and Fandom Part 2
In the second and final installment of our “Race and Fandom” episodes, fans of color continue to speak about their experiences in fandom. Elizabeth and Flourish interview Jeffrey Lyles and Zina, then hear clips from Roz, Traci-Anne, and zvi LikesTV. Topics covered include being Black and Jewish, Star Wars weddings, cosplaying characters of color, and why kink is never divorced from the real world.
As always, the intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax!
Today’s interlude music is “Piano: Inspiring: Stirring” by our main man Paul Tyan 😍 We also use “Piano: Romantic”!
Our fourth contributor is Roz, @rozfost on Twitter and @rozf on Tumblr!
You can also find her on the Archive of Our Own as afrocurl.
Regarding the problems surrounding Erik as Jewish - notice the difference between the rules in this post, this post and this post. (Roz sez: I think this goes with the how to write Erik. It’s more a problem in that challenge than in a Big Bang.)
She couldn’t remember the ER ship, Dr Benton and Jeanie Boulet, and then did! And told us to put it in here!
Our third interviewee is Jeffrey Lyles, of http://www.lylesmoviefiles.com/ and @lylesmoviefiles on Twitter!
Some of his articles: “The Best 7 Film Series Ever” (we may have somedisagreements!) and “25 White Comic Book Characters Race Swapped in Movies and TV”. And much more at his site!
Our fifth contributor is Traci-Anne Canada, @tmcanada1 on Twitter!
After recording for us she wrote an article about this issue for Buzzfeed. (!!!!!!!)
Zina wrote extensive commentary on both Franzeska’s meta and Toast’s stats and the way Toast posted the meta. You should go read it!
She’s written many articles, including an introduction to fandom’s race issues, an examination of slash reinforcing patriarchal standards, the techniques of erasure, and co-opting experiences.
Our sixth and final contributor is zvi LikesTV! @zvilikestv and @zviltv on Twitter.
When Flourish says zvi’s writing had a big impact on her in the past, she’s talking about “Dog Whistles and Insults,” which is a blog post zvi also talks about in her statement. It documents her interaction with the Harry Potter community that used the term “miscegenation” and didn’t see the problem.
If you’re interested in the history of fandom and race, and want to see all the different posts from years and years and years ago that people have made trying to bring these issues to light, here are two links lists: http://del.icio.us/metafandom/race and http://ibarw.livejournal.com/. zvi says: “Some of the links are dead, but some of them are not, and there’s gold in them thar hills.” And she’s right!
In the outro, Elizabeth talks about “On Sylvie, and the Many Issues of Fandom and WOC Romance,” by threefeettotheleft. To quote:
Point of all of this is, it’s not a particular character, not a particular ship. You can like who you like and dislike the same. But there is a repeating pattern and pointing this out is not “causing drama,” is acknowledging a serious problem. The reaction to Sylvie is just one example and to treat it like a personal, singular attack is to miss the point entirely. As uncomfortable as that might be to accept, there’s no chance that we’re going to move forward, to do better like we’re always claiming we want to, unless we allow ourselves to listen, to understand and to examine the media we look to, our own internal reactions to it and the way in which we express those reactions in fannish spaces.
The chromatic character exchange Flourish is going to enter is the Seeing Color Exchange! You should take part too.
Flourish Klink: [laughing] Hi Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: So assuming you’ve listened to the previous installment of our first two-part episode, “Race and Fandom”… But this is Part Two.
FK: Also known as Episode 22B, who came up with this?!
ELM: 22B, I did. 22B, I’m great at naming conventions. Just see my LinkedIn.
FK: “22B: Race and Fandom Part 2,” in case you were confused, it is both B and 2.
ELM: Subsection yes. OK. Just so everyone knows, this is the second part, it’ll be hit over the head in the title.
FK: Yes. So last time we heard from Holly Quinn, Rukmini Pande, Shadowkeeper, Clio and PJ. If you’re confused about what’s going on, you should go listen to that first episode.
ELM: I think we can, in five seconds or less, explain.
FK: Are you gonna be that kind to people? I'm not.
ELM: Wow. All right. So, I’m pretty sure that if you made it here you listened to the last segment, the last installment rather. If for some reason you randomly clicked on this, this is the second part of our big “Race and Fandom” episode, which very briefly came out of our last episode, where we talked to Destination Toast, who analyzes fandom stats and did these Star Wars quotes [sic] that got a lot of traction that showed that the Finn/Poe ship, that’s Finn, John Boyega's character, and Oscar Isaac’s character Poe, which was initially seemed to be the big juggernaut, kind of lost steam pretty quickly, and now has been surpassed by Kylo Ren and General Hux, Space Nazis.
FK: Right, and there was also a meta that came out around the same time that dealt with issues of race and fandom and came under a lot of fire for that. The meta was by Franzeska. You can find information about both of these in the show notes, and we also talked about it a little more in the last episode, and our guests are gonna be taking them on too.
ELM: Yes! So if you haven’t been enmeshed—enmeshed, is that the word I want?
ELM: All right, great! Enmeshed in [laughs] this discourse and you want more context, definitely check out the show notes. But if you are, this has definitely been present on my dash, I’m assuming if we have similar dashes…I shouldn’t assume that any of us have similar dashes.
FK: You shouldn’t assume that some of our listeners—don’t have dashes! A dash is a thing on Tumblr, guys who don’t do Tumblr.
ELM: Tumblr dot com! Yes, it’s like your newsfeed for Tumblr.
FK: Look at you, reaching out to people who are not like you.
ELM: Everyone has Facebook…Tumblr users. That’s true. Look, I am an internet expert, so I really shouldn’t assume.
FK: [laughs] Anyway, we’re going to have a slate of great contributors, we’re going to have some people who’ve prepared statements and we're going to have two interviews.
ELM: So as you know from the last episode, when we talked about this with Destination Toast we put out a call for fans of color. If you listened you know that we had a big response, and so this is the second batch of people. There’s five of them.
FK: So we’re going to have statements from Roz, from Traci-Anne Canada, and from zvi LikesTV, and we're going to be interviewing Jeffrey Lyles of Lyles Movie Files and Zina, who operates Stitch Media Mix on Tumblr. So we’re really looking forward to that, we’re going to have a statement and then an interview and then a statement and then an interview and then a statement.
FK: So should we have our first statement?
ELM: [laughing] Yes, we should! We’ve laid it all out so clearly!
FK: All right. Let’s go.
ELM: It’s Roz! It’s Roz, who is my friend from college, who we’ve heard on this podcast before, I believe.
FK: I think so.
ELM: She was the one who read Carry On without having read Harry Potter! The unicorn!
FK: That was a magical—what a unicorn.
FK: Alright, let’s hear from her unicorn perspective.
Roz: Hi, Fansplaining. This is Roz. I am primarily involved in the X-Men fandom, I also was pretty heavily involved in the Veronica Mars fandom writing fic. I run challenges currently in X-Men for the most part and I also write for a website called Nice Girls TV, where I talk about a lot of other shows that I actively engage in as a fan but I’m not, like, overtly fannish in the I-need-to-create-media.
To your questions. Do I see fandom being implicitly racist? The answer is no, but I think there's another thing going on. So I’m African American and I’m Jewish and that has sort of put me in a weird spot my entire life, being a mixed-race kid who’s also Jewish, I don’t really fit into a lot of spaces. And while I’ve been in X-Men, there’s been a lot of people that take really great care to write Erik’s Jewishness as accurately as they can, but a lot of people don’t…when I’ve been running challenges, don’t necessarily want to get it wrong, and so they don’t really know how…they don’t want to write it, so that they don’t get it wrong. They’d rather not offend somebody than they would offend somebody by saying something that is not correct.
So, you know, I’ve had people ask me “How do you celebrate a birthday as a Jew” and I’m like uhh, you don’t? And I’ve had people ask me about Hanukkah and other things and I sort of say “OK here’s some information based on my specific brand of Judaism,” and I just sort of leave it alone. But those people are asking, but some people don’t ask. So we don’t necessarily know if people in fandom are trying to not write characters of color, or characters that don’t fit into the sort of stereotypic WASPy situation, or it’s just that they don’t know about something and they don’t want to get it wrong. Because I think we live in a world where we’re much quicker to be offended than we are to be consoled by the fact that somebody wants to take the time to try and get it right.
So, I can probably go look it up and find out that Tony and Steve and Steve and Bucky have way more fics in the MCU than Steve and Sam, or Tony and Rhodey. And I don’t know if that’s racism or if that’s just we like tragic backstories, or something else. In Veronica Mars with the character that was non-white and Veronica Mars, it was that the non-white guy didn’t have a whole lot of screen time. So if you were gonna write fic, you have to make a series of jumps to get your story started, whereas if you’re shipping the guys or the characters—let me be general and not think just of slash—you’re gonna write the people that you see more often. And that’s just kind of the way it is, that’s the way I’ve seen race approached: it’s a thing that exists, I know that it exists, I know I live it, but I live it in a way that's probably different living in the suburbs as a mixed kid than my cousins that grew up in Los Angeles being African American. And that’s just kind of the way it is, and I don’t know that that’s implicit racism or if it’s just they write what they know.
To your second question, do you think fandom’s perceptions on race have affected me personally. No, because there’s like three characters on the planet right now that are probably mixed-race, and even fewer of them that are Jewish, so I don’t see people like me in media and that’s not a thing that bothers me. I don’t think it’s people trying to be racist, I think it’s just Hollywood as a system casts white people a lot more, which may be implicitly racist on some sort of systemic level that I can’t figure out or that I don’t know about.
Have fandom’s attitudes on race changed over time since I’ve been involved with fandom. So I don’t know. I got involved in fandom really late, I got involved through The O.C. in 2004, but I was sort of fannish about stuff without knowing about fandom because I’m one of those old millennials who’s right on the outer edge. So I just saw TV as TV and that was kind of where it went, I saw my characters on ER or any of the other stuff I watched that looked like me—maybe—but I didn’t really think about them as, like, I wasn’t shipping people even if I loved, oh, I can’t think of the ER ship but there were two African American characters and I loved them and they were great. But I don’t necessarily think that them not getting together or them getting broken up was racist so much that it was just the way the storytelling wanted to go.
What is the best solution I think fans of color can have to improve situations where they feel like they are underrepresented? [huge sigh] I don't know that there’s an answer. I can’t think of one. And that may be that I’m part of the problem, that I write about white guys more than I write about people of color, but I think you do need to be present, you do need to talk, you do need to express your frustration if we’re talking about Hamilton and the backlash that white people were having auditioning because they couldn’t audition you’re missing the point of the play—or the musical I should say—so…you’re not gonna try out for that thing because you’re not supposed to try out for that thing.
But you have to be mindful of fitting your space and how to say that it is your space, in a way that is not destructive or hurtful but is still impactful. So it’s making the protest in a way that is not “I’m just going to be yelling from the rooftops so I can yell from the rooftops.” And making the constructive response. I guess that’s the answer I can think of. Thank you guys for letting me talk. Bye!
FK: OK, that was Roz. Next time we’re going to interview Jeffrey Lyles, who is not a fanfiction fandom person. He actually came to us, I think, through my friend Leslie, who’s a movie reviewer, and he’s a movie reviewer and a super dedicated Star Wars fan. He got his start writing reviews at Howard University’s The Hilltop, and then was the film critic for the Gazette newspapers. Now he has his own site, LylesMovieFiles.com, and he is so much of a Star Wars fan that he had a Star Wars wedding. So I hear.
ELM: So I was really pleased that Jeffrey reached out to us because I often wonder when we have discussions within transformative female-dominated fandom, and it often feels to me—well, I can’t think of Star Wars any differently, now, basically. In this particular instance. And I can think of a lot of other analogous things where I’ll see a lot of meta and I’ll go, “Well, this is the only way you can ever think about this thing.” And then I’ll go—
FK: There’s an entire world of people who are not part of fanfiction fandom who are extraordinarily dedicated to Star Wars nonetheless!
ELM: I got this a lot when I was, especially when I was living in England and I was so deep in Sherlock fandom and I’d just be like, thinking about the way that transformative or fanfiction fandom or Tumblr fandom thought about the show, and I’d talk about it with literally anyone in the street. And they’d be like, “…the fuck are you talking about?” And I’d be like, “You don’t—you’re not familiar with all this stuff?!” None of that's to say that any of the stuff that we talk about in our spaces is not important, that’s not what I’m trying to say.
FK: But there’s a lot of people who are not a part of that space, so. Let’s have them say things!
ELM: I am excited for that perspective. Yes.
FK: So should we call Jeffrey?
ELM: Yes, because I am desperate to know what non-fanfiction fandoms think of this.
FK: All right, let’s do it.
ELM: All right, we’re super excited to have Jeffrey on the podcast. Thanks so much for coming on!
Jeffrey Lyles: Definitely. Thank you for inviting me.
ELM: OK, so you are our one non-fanfiction person, so thank you for taking up that mantle. But I wanted to know if you wanted to, to start off for context, talk about—I know you’re a film critic but you’re definitely a fan too. So if you wanted to talk about your work or your fannish experience.
JL: Sure. I was sucked into Star Wars right away with the first one. I very vividly remember watching Empire Strikes Back at the drive-in, and that fully sucked me into this whole franchise. I’ve been a die-hard ever since. I’m one of the few defenders of the prequels, have all the movies, have a ton of posters, a ton of action figures, and for my wedding my wife and I came out to lightsabers for our reception.
ELM: OMG that’s amazing.
JL: My wedding ring has lightsabers and the Rebel Alliance symbol on it. So yeah. Super die hard Star Wars fan.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: Right?! This is incredible. OK. You have proven your fannish credentials. [laughing]
JL: Oh yes.
ELM: OK so die-hard fan forever, I am just gonna assume you were excited about The Force Awakens when you heard about it in the beginning, is that correct?
JL: Totally, totally. It was one of those things where I remember very vividly in the press screening for Revenge of the Sith thinking, “Oh man, this is the last time I’m gonna see a new Star Wars movie.” And just really sad and excited at the same time. And to hear that we’re actually gonna get some more movies was really exciting. I was a huge, still a huge fan of J.J. Abrams, so when he was tapped to direct it I was so excited and—I just couldn't get enough of it. But I know the way he does his movies is he doesn't reveal much of anything, which is great because you can just go in watching it cold and not know much of anything. So you know, just seeing a few images and the pictures and the trailers, every little bit that we got excited me even more about it.
ELM: When the casting stuff was announce, I’m just gonna assume you were very excited that the lead was gonna be a Black man, is that an incorrect assumption?
JL: It was really—it was really cool because, last year I went to AwesomeCon and I saw Ernie Hudson, and I just thanked him, because it was so cool growing up as a Black young man, not really seeing a lot of guys like me in sci fi in particular. We were starting to kind of branch out into action movies as far as—not necessarily the sidekick, but the partner to the other main character. That kind of plays out still now. But it was cool seeing Winston right there with the other Ghostbusters battling at the end and not getting killed off midway through the movie in the same way as it was when they introduced Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in Empire Strikes Back on a subconscious level.
I wasn’t thinking “Oh great, they’ve got a Black guy in here,” I was thinking “Oh good, there’s somebody else like me.” But growing up, looking back, you know, they really didn’t have a lot of Black guys in this kind of movies. So it was really cool when J.J. Abrams was announced as the director of Force Awakens; I love all his stuff, big fan of Lost, big fan of Mission Impossible 3, and was just really excited to see he was gonna be doing this one. When they were talking about it he was the one guy that I was like, he did amazing work with the Star Trek franchise, and I was really hoping that they could convince him to come over to the quote-unquote “big leagues.” I know the Trekkies won’t like that, but for me it’s always been Star Wars.
And then when they started revealing cast and started showing a few more promotional pictures I was really excited to see Finn, front and center, not to the side, holding a blue lightsaber, and really being prominent in all the advertising. No one knew what his role was gonna be, no one knew what he was gonna do in the movie, but it was just cool that he was right there in the mix of everything and not to the side and it was just like, “Oh man, what are they gonna do with this guy?”
ELM: And then when you saw it?
JL: [laughs] It was funny because with every J.J. Abrams movie, you never know what you’re gonna get till you’re sitting down in there watching it. So as the movie’s starting to unfold, it’s like, “Wait a second, he’s not Luke Skywalker. He’s Han Solo!” [all laugh] And it was really interesting cause it was like “Oh, okay!” And I thought it was cool, cause he got his chance to swing the lightsaber for a little bit so he wasn’t just…you know…the scoundrel, wisecracking sidekick guy. He was doing heroic things, he was right in the middle, it wasn’t false advertising, he actually was using the lightsaber. He wasn’t a Jedi Master or even a padawan, but he was trying to do his thing with it, so it was cool.
But I thought it was fine because I didn’t see that coming and I liked that he was able to be the Han Solo of this new trilogy, so. You know how when you talk to people now who grew up watching the original trilogy, Han Solo’s always their favorite character. So, maybe 20, 30 years from now Finn will be everyone’s favorite character.
ELM: What about right now?
JL: It’s so funny to me because growing up in the 80s, I watched a lot of TV and cartoons where—not to say they had a token female—but there was Scarlet on G.I. Joe and so forth.
FK: The only Smurf. How do they make baby Smurfs? No one knows.
JL: Right! The stork Smurf came by. For me it was always this thing of “Yeah, of course there’s a strong female character.” One of my favorite movies in the 80s was Aliens, and Ripley did her thing in there, and even Empire Strikes Back, Princess Leia wasn’t the damsel in distress character. She was right there shooting up all the stormtroopers and doing her thing. So it was weird to me hearing all these people going “Finally there’s a strong female character in Star Wars!” I was like, “Did everybody forget Princess Leia?”
Anyway, it was just kinda weird. I thought it was funny that people acted like Finn didn’t matter as much. There was so much outrage from the other side of humanity where it was like, you know, “I can’t believe there’s a Black stormtrooper!” And it was like, “Oh boy.” Well, anyway. These guys are… [laughs] He’s a character. If we can have a bunch of clones, we can have a Black stormtrooper! [all laugh]
I like that he had an actual story arc where he didn’t wanna do this, he didn’t like the thought of being forced into a war. And then in the end he just started trying to do the good thing. Sometimes in these movies you’ll see the Black guy being bitter and cynical and mad, he wasn’t like that. He provided a lot of the humor and was a good optimistic character. And what I liked the most about Finn was that he wasn’t a Black guy. He wasn’t an Asian guy. He wasn’t a white guy. He was just a guy. And you know, to more advanced people, he’s just a character in the Star Wars universe. Those who can’t get past the color, I don’t know what you would…especially in Star Wars, because it’s not like Lando didn't exist!
JL: And he was a pretty significant character! So I never understood people who were hating on Finn, cause it’s like, Star Wars, hello!
FK: Yeah, didn’t you watch those movies!
JL: Yeah, Lando was the guy who blew up the second Death Star! He wasn’t sitting in the background getting killed! He wasn’t Red Seven or something! So yeah, I thought it was cool and you know, and I also liked in the movie how we saw all kinds of races represented. We had an Asian X-wing fighter who’s also a female, and then we had some other races, and Rogue One looks like it’s gonna have all the races. It's crazy cause it looks like it’s gonna have so many races in it. So. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it.
But back to Finn, I just thought his fighting was cool and all the different parts to his character, like how he got the jacket—which was actually Poe’s and not his to start. It’s just cool watching his story arc progress. And I’m very excited to see how it goes forward in the next two films.
ELM: Well, OK. So I think you hear a lot of people saying, that kind of line you hear in fantasy too, “Oh, you can imagine all these fantastical elements, is it too much to imagine this universe might not only be populated by white guys?” It’s interesting cause it sounds like it’s working on multiple levels for you. You’re happy to see a Black male lead, but you’re also, he’s just a Star Wars character. Is that a fair characterization of what you’re saying?
JL: Definitely. I was in this weird time frame with the 80s where more filmmakers were trying to at least have, what in the 90s was referred to as the token Black, the token whatever. I just saw it as them including more people or being more inclusive and not just sticking to the norm. Because it would be easy, it would have been really easy for Lando to have been a white guy. No one would have batted an eye. I wouldn’t have disliked Empire Strikes Back any more from it just having white guys. But the fact that it does have a Black guy makes it so much cooler to me, just cause it expands the universe so much more.
And I think for kids who are watching Star Wars for the first time with Force Awakens, they’re gonna see it and be like, “Oh, cool.” And they're not gonna know, hey, it’s a Black guy, it’s a Latino guy, it’s a white female. They’re just gonna be like, these are Star Wars characters! But as they grow up and as they hear more of “Other races are inferior and why are they in this movie,” they’re gonna be like “Wow, that was pretty cool.” This movie was pretty groundbreaking for us in terms of being a better representation. There is no white male in this movie. Arguably the one white male in it gets killed. So. Spoiler!
JL: Yeah, sorry about that.
ELM: Although Kylo Ren is pretty white. He’s the whiniest white guy.
FK: It’s so sad.
JL: He’s the worst.
FK: Here’s a question—I guess this is really some about what you were saying before—a lot of the people we’ve been talking to in the fanfiction context, it’s been about what’s your imagination of the story after the movie itself. And a lot of people who have been disappointed that Finn and Poe have become less popular in fanfiction in comparison to the white space Nazis. I think I’m being fair to say that they’ve felt like, “Man, it’s so disappointing that people are so interested in white space Nazis that they don’t want to populate their imagination with the actual heroes of this film who are people of color and are really interesting.” But I wonder a little bit, is it just fanfiction fandom that’s having this problem? You are broadly connected to Star Wars fandom as a whole; do you feel like there’s been a general embrace of Finn and Poe that has not gone away at all?
JL: I don’t necessarily think people are down so much on Finn and Poe from what I’m seeing, I mean, the comments I get from people are just “Hey, it’s pretty cool!” But then I also get a bunch of “I can’t believe they’ve got this Black guy out here.” I remember very vividly when I got out of the movie and I was just on Twitter trying to gauge the response to the characters and seeing how everyone thought about Finn and Rey and all that, I know there were some not so nice things on Twitter, if you can believe that—
JL: About Finn and Rey—I know, everyone’s normally so polite and well-considered on there! But I’ve definitely seen both sides of it. I’ve seen it with, I don’t know if you guys watch Supergirl, but with James Olson I’ve definitely seen the side where people are upset about his changeover to a Black guy and don’t like that he’s romantically interested in Supergirl. So I definitely do see the other side. I think for the most part people just wanna see well-written characters now. It’s this huge celebration, especially if it’s a female lead, we’re changing people’s perception on race.
Like I said, I think it’s gonna be one of those deals where later on this generation of kids who are 10 or 12 are gonna be like “Wow, that was really important, that was a big deal to have all this.” Cause that's gonna be their norm. They’re gonna be “Wow, can you imagine there was a time when there were just white guys as the heroes?” So I think that’s kinda cool.
ELM: That’s encouraging! I just feel like, I don’t know, these gatekeeper-y white guys…do you just assume that’s gonna happen in this situation and it’s just a reflection of society? If you were to say that Star Wars is coming out, female lead, Black male lead, I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened. But that doesn’t mean it's not upsetting. You know what I mean? I wonder what your perception of it was…in advance there was a huge backlash. And people tweeting about "#WhiteGenocide," whatever that means, because I’m still not clear what that means.
JL: It’s just weird because it’s not like TV has lost all the white guy leads! You can look on any show, any network, Primetime, it’s not like “Woah, where’d the white guys go?” They’re all still there! At the movies, on the movie posters. They’re all predominantly still got the same faces, in some cases literally the same faces we’ve seen for the last 20 years. So it’s just weird. I think it’s more of a thing now where every person and every idiot has access to a phone, to Twitter, to Facebook, and can say stuff, where before you didn’t necessarily have to hear it. You could control more or less what you took in. You could surround yourself with people who didn’t think like that and you would never know it.
And I know I read something where Billy Dee Williams was getting a lot of flack when he was cast as Harvey Dent, in the Tim Burton Batman, and he didn’t get as much as Michael Keaton did from being cast as Batman. People were complaining “Why is Mr. Mom here?! Let's go with other white guy actor!” And I think it’s just one of those things where because since everyone has a voice, everyone feels obligated to use their voice even when they don't need to. And I think for this generation that’s coming up after us, they’re way more empowered and feel more empowered to use their voice and make their social media impressions and every thought known. So. I think we’re still gonna see a lot of those people “Wait, why are we getting rid of all the white guys,” and if there’s one movie that has a Black lead…
You know, one thing that was actually pretty encouraging after I watched Civil War, I didn’t hear a lot of people complaining about or asking about White Panther. “Where’s White Panther?!” Um, so that was good! It was like “Great!” [Elizabeth mumbling about White Panther in disbelief] I think it’s about how you present it. Finn, he’s a good character to go forward with because he’s not threatening, he’s just a dude. It's not like he’s talking about growing up on some Tatooine hood or something. He’s just a regular guy, and he’s doing his thing. And I think for even the closed minded audience members, that kind of exposure is necessary. Because those kind of connections are positive reinforcements even if they don’t see it right away. OK! He’s just a regular guy! He’s not threatening to rape all the women and take over all the corporate jobs! [all laugh] He’s just a guy!
ELM: OK, I have one last question. Because you are a super old school Star Wars fan, so I’m wondering what your take on this is. Because one of the criticisms that I see, and I’ve had it made to my face by some well-meaning nice white male friends, is that it was a bad movie because it was just a rehash of everything that had come before—and of course I give my knee-jerk liberal response of “Yes, but different people got to have their turn at this story, and that’s more valuable than you being sad.” Did you feel, if those are the two sides of the coin, complaining that it was recycled from the earlier movies, do you think that’s a valid criticism, or…?
JL: Yeah, I do. I really like Force Awakens but it’s probably my fourth favorite of the franchise.
ELM: Four out of seven.
JL: Yes. For me it’s still Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith, and then Force Awakens. Just because Force Awakens really does check off a lot of the boxes of Star Wars. Old mentor gets killed, heroes found in a sandy area, mysterious black guy who has temper issues, yeah. And that kinda thing. Cute robot that helps out, there are a lot of familiar things. I wish it was a little bit more things to help it stand out and make its own story, but I’m with you, I think it’s cool that they weren’t saying the exact same thing, Finn or Rey didn’t have to use a ship to blow up the Death Star…
I definitely get those complaints, though. And that’s for me why it’s not my favorite. I’ve heard some people say oh, it’s my favorite Star Wars film. I'm like eeeeeh…Empire Strikes Back. But. You know. I get that one.
ELM: I shouldn’t assume. I love that my immediate response is just “You’re being sexist and racist!” when dudes say this to me. Because it is true that you can have—I have no strong feelings about Star Wars so I was like, “That was entertaining,” you know.
FK: You should have seen our conversations around Star Wars. I was like “STAR WARS!!!!” and she was like “Oh, that movie, that I’ll see.”
ELM: I saw it twice, all right? I enjoyed it!
JL: Nice job.
ELM: Thanks. Thank you.
ELM: That was a delightful conversation!
FK: Extremely. I just…it was really wonderful to hear from someone in affirmational instead of transformational fandom and how they felt about Star Wars and what all this is, right?
ELM: Yeah, it makes me curious to talk to more affirmational fans, actually.
ELM: Yeah, anyone really like…Wookiees?
FK: [laughing] …all right?
ELM: Wookiees and only Wookiees? [laughing] I don’t know, what’s affirmational fandom? You’d think I was a fan culture expert, but you’d be wrong.
FK: Aww, I had this fantasy. [ELM laughs] OK. Why don’t we instead of getting—
ELM: Mired in possibly meaningless distinctions about parts of fandom?
FK: Yeah. Let’s hear from Traci-Anne Canada instead, who sent us a clip to play.
ELM: And who, on Twitter, just today I believe, said we had inspired her to write an article about race and shipping!
FK: Yeah, so we’ll repost that! Let’s hear what she has to say.
Traci-Anne Canada: I’m Traci and I’m currently in the Marvel, Teen Wolf, Check Please, Star Wars and Harry Potter fandoms. I predominantly read and write fic. How do I see racism underlying fandom’s pairing preference? I definitely see the racism. Friends to lovers is one of the biggest tropes in fandom, but when one half of that pairing or both is a person of color, then suddenly it’s not the most popular pairing anymore. In Teen Wolf Scott and Stiles are best friends. But Stiles and Derek is the most popular pairing, therefore ignoring the Hispanic kid in favor of the two white dudes. Same with Psych: you would think Gus and Sean would be the biggest pairing since it’s canon that they care for each other so much that they’re willing to move for each other, to include each other in their wedding proposals, and they can’t picture a life without each other. But it’s Sean and Lassi that are the biggest pairing. The white on white pairing, ignoring the Black dude.
How has fandom’s attitudes on race impacted me personally? I don’t know how it really has affected me personally other than making it really hard to find fic of my OTPs. But seriously, it has made it harder for me to do simple things like cosplay, because as a Black woman there are so few female Black characters that would be recognized. It’s easy to be a Sherlock, Irene or Molly, but what could you really do to cosplay Sally? It has also led me in my academic life to study race within fandom.
Has fandom’s attitudes on race changed over the time I’ve been involved in fandom? I’ve been involved in fandom for most of my life, over 15 years. During this time it has become more popular to call out the fact that fandom regularly ignores characters of color in favor of white characters, and there has been active pushback to explore why this happens and to bring more characters of color to the forefront. So yeah, there has been change, and I think the change has been a positive one.
What are the best constructive steps fans of color can make to improve the situation? What about white fans? I’m not sure there's much that we as fans can do. A lot of the power of what characters can be used comes from the Powers That Be. But as fans we do have the power to continue to push for inclusion, to continue to push for the examination behind the motives of choosing white pairings over pairings with characters of color. That is within our hands. That is something we can explore.
FK: So that was Traci-Anne. Next up we’re going to be interviewing Zina. She is Afro-Caribbean and queer, active in the DC and Marvel comics fandoms as a fic writer, and she writes a lot of meta for Star Wars, and I quote her in saying “I get my kicks out of rubbing my critical fannish hands over everything y’all love.” [ELM laughs delightedly] Which I think is amazing. I cannot wait to talk to her.
ELM: Zina wins the prize for bios. Bio prize!
FK: Shall we call her?
ELM: Yes, yes please!
FK: All right!
FK: OK, let’s welcome Zina to the podcast!
ELM: Thanks so much for coming on!
Z: [Doubtfully] Thank you…for having me?
FK: Excellent response!
ELM: That’s perfect.
FK: So we’ve been following you on Tumblr since you’ve written some really great things about the infamous meta, and we were hoping that you could share a little bit of that, you know, walk us through some of the things you’ve been critiquing about it.
Z: Really the instigating meta is not the big meta, although it’s the one that’s angering people the most. The meta writer Franzeska wrote one specifically about the shipping in the Star Wars fandom in which she lists racism, boring ships, and kinkshaming as the reasons why people are no longer shipping Finn and Poe. Except she dismisses racism right off the bat by going “I don’t think it’s as big a reason as people are saying.” Which, I mean, that’s wrong, and it’s very dismissive to say something like that, especially if you are not a person of color which I’m pretty sure she’s not. But I’m not about that identity policing, so. Anybody can fuck up.
ELM: So here’s a distinction I'm wondering, because I have read both these metas—well, I only read the first chapter of the one that was specifically about Finn/Poe cause it just got right into details about kink, and I don’t read kink, so it’s even very foreign to me. Though I respect everyone who does! My clarification, and maybe you’re gonna get to this so I don’t wanna jump the gun, is like, the dismissing of straight up racism is the suggestion that people don’t want to even go near the ship because they are not interested in people of color. Is that…? Whether that’s something blatant or systemic and internalized.
Z: I think I’d look more towards…cause nobody’s saying “I don’t like Finn and Poe as a ship or as individuals because they’re people of color.” What we’re seeing is a lot of “They’re not as interesting” or straight up “They’re boring” when compared to characters like Hux who has ten lines and all of those lines tend to be “Kylo Ren did something bad and I’m upset!” So…not really…
ELM: He does give that little Nazi speech. [laughing]
Z: That too, and the fact that people in fandom are more protective of his image. I mentioned on Tumblr last week that he’s a Nazi and someone informed me in a very condescending way that the word I was looking for was “fascist” because space Nazis aren’t nationalistic except…
ELM: Wow. That’s a “well, actually” right there. Jesus Christ.
ELM: [laughing] Oh God, I’m sorry.
Z: The image people have of racism is that they have to actively do something racist. Like, top 10, cross-burning, sheet-wearing, slur-slinging racism. But it’s really anyone can enact racism. I can be racist towards someone who’s Latino. Right now I could fuck up in a huge way, you know? And being a person of color does not mean that you can’t be racist or that you can’t enact white supremacy. Even in fandom spaces, people really don’t seem to understand that just because you’re in fandom, that doesn’t mean you’re not capable of re-coding what people of color go through in real life. You’re not exempt from racism just because you’re like, “Oh, yeah, it’s all about my ships! I’m doing this because of pleasure!” Your desire can be wrong. They’re like opinions. Everyone has something, doesn’t mean they're right.
FK: So, would you—if I’m understanding correctly, then one comparison might be to people who I don't know, go on a dating website and say “I want to date Asian women.”
FK: They say “Oh this is just my desire, I desire Asian women,” but of course that’s vastly problematic, you can talk about desire, but…you should think about where it comes from! Is that a good comparison?
Z: It is! An even better one would be Grindr: “No fats, no femmes, no rice.” The idea of it’s just my preference that I don't want people who don't look a thing like me in any way whatsoever. The idea that you can’t be judged because of what you like, one of the things you see in pushback in responses to meta like The Big One is that you're not allowed to go “This is racist. Your idea of what is OK or what is acceptable is racist,” or it’s heterocentric. And part of the issue with the meta is that it frames desire as unimpeachable. You can’t push against it. You can’t look critically at it. Fandom is fandom and it’s always going to be fandom. And if you interrupt or interject, you’re harshing someone’s squee.
ELM: Right, and people were saying “Oh, but this is my safe space where I go to get away from all that,” and it's like…
FK: Since when is fandom a safe space?
ELM: This frustrates me.
Z: The idea of safe spaces in fandom is super upsetting because it’s never for queer people, it’s never for people of color. Fandom as a safe space tends to center on straight white women, as the people who have the best experiences in fandom. If your fandom experience is a safe one, either you’re a marginalized person who just went “fuck it” and made yourself into a little group, you have your clique and you don’t interact outside of it, or you’re a straight white woman who has no idea what it actually is to be marginalized for your race or your sexuality.
I mean, not every single straight white woman in fandom is terrible. That would be really problematic to say. But in my experience, a lot of the people who are responding to posts like mine—I have a post on slash shipping, it’s very mean because I was very angry at the time that I made it, where I talk about how your slash ship isn’t inherently progressive because you have these two white dudes boning. Because that’s all fandom does, and they’re always white, they’re always cis, they’re always relatively conventionally attractive. Because I’m sorry, Tom Hardy’s not that cute all the time. [all laugh] No. He’s not.
ELM: Now we’re gonna get hate mail, man!
Z: He’s cute occasionally!
ELM: No, I agree with you and I’ve been a slasher for 15 years! And I get very frustrated when people are acting like it’s some great progressive gay rights thing that you’re writing about two, the two random dudes on your show. It’s not, you know?
Z: The framing is what pisses me off. “We’re progressive because we ship Steve and Bucky.” Although A+ ship, right, but you’re not progressive for it. Progressive stops at fandom. Because from the outside no one’s shipping these two characters. The canon is heterocentric. But from the inside, the canon is queered, but it’s queered only towards white guys. One of the arguments about shipping Steve and Bucky, when people are like “Why are you guys all shipping this, this is oversaturation,” they’re like “You’re being homophobic!” And it’s like, woah OK, but also, no one is saying don’t ship your ship.
And that’s another thing with the Star Wars meta that I’m having an issue with. People are reacting to it as if we’re saying “Don’t ship Kylo Ren and Rey,” or “Don’t ship Kylo Ren and Hux,” when it really is, look why you’re shipping them. Why is it so easy for you to look at this character who has like 10 lines and this other character who throws tantrums and go, “They’re perfect for each other!” You know? Why is it that their interactions are more interesting to you as a viewer, as a consumer of media, as a part of fandom.
Nobody’s really thinking critically when they respond. I’ve been getting a lot of “Well don’t tell me what to ship,” “Stop kinkshaming me,” which is hilarious, so hilarious. I get a lot of “Well, you have problematic ships, so you can’t tell people what to ship.” Oh my God! I do have problematic ships. I’m a problematic person! [all laugh] That’s how it works! But I’m never going to sit there and say “My problematic ship is better than your problematic ship.” It’s probably worse.
FK: One of the things that really struck me when I was looking at this, so I came out of Star Wars as everybody probably did going “Oh, Finn and Rey are probably going to get together. But Finn and Poe are so cute together! Yay!” You know. And then I didn’t really read any fic or engage with it particularly beyond that being really excited for just new Star Wars. So in preparation for this episode I decided to go through and look at some of the Finn/Poe and look at OK, what are the longest fics in Finn/Poe, shall I read a little bit in here.
I was really surprised to discover that if you go to the Archive of Our Own and sort by longest fics, the secondary pairing in basically every Finn/Poe novel-length fic is either Kylux or Reylo.
FK: Which makes perfect sense, right, because the two ships don’t actually prevent each other! It’s not like there's anybody shared within those ships.
ELM: That’s fascinating!
FK: So how is it possible then that people who really like Finn/Poe could be telling you not to do the other thing. They aren’t mutually exclusive!
Z: It’s so weird to me.
ELM: I would be really curious to know…I bet the reverse is not true, though. I bet a lot of the Kylux shippers who are doing straight up Kylux don’t have a background Finn/Poe pairing.
Z: No. You’re right.
ELM: Cause this is blowing my mind right now.
Z: The longest Kylux story I read has no other pairings. And it was…
ELM: That sounds about right.
ELM: I feel like this happens in…because I know people in Inception fandom too, the kind of, I don’t want to call them invented ships, but you know, the ones that have very little canonical…
FK: But you may have just said they were invented ships cause they kind of are.
Z: They are!
ELM: We were just discussing this! Because I love the idea of invented ships, I love that fans are like, we’re just creating some characters based on literally nothing. Obviously the problem is they’re always the same types of people who get to be in the invented ship.
Z: I’m really a huge fan of Inception and Arthur/Eames is my go-to ship. I call them my unproblematic ship. And I say that non-ironically, I usually mean it, because of the way that fandom has developed the characters. There’s a piece of meta that I can link to where some person goes, where the idea of the blank slate exists, Arthur and Eames are formed out of this blank slate wherein fandom now headcanons Arthur almost uniformly as Jewish, which is awesome. But then characters like Saito get none of that. Characters of color don’t get to be blank slates. We're written off as boring from the get-go.
We don’t get that exploration. We don't get to see characters of color with backstories fleshed out by fandom. A really good example is not actually anyone from Inception, but Darcy from Thor. Darcy is shipped with everyone. She’s shipped with Steve. She’s shipped with Bucky. She’s shipped with me, at this point! [all laugh] She’s not shipped with characters of color that she’s interacted with, she’s rarely shipped with characters of color in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She’s shipped with these characters above their canon love interests like Steve and Peggy or now Steve and Sharon—I mean Steve and Sharon has been a thing for like 50 years, but whatever. So she’s getting way more screen time.
You get Jewish headcanons which I love, that a lot of these blank slates are headcanoned Jewish, let’s have more of that, but you definitely don’t have anything similar, we don’t have fandom-wide… Darcy’s parents are, that similar sign of adoration, carried over to Sam. And that’s where the idea of blank slates and the imaginary ships fall flat. It’s not “We like minor characters, we want to build them up.” It’s “We like minor white characters and want to build them up.”
FK: One thing that’s always stunned me is there’s almost no Tony Stark and Rhodey fic, which seems to be me to be the most obvious college hookup that there could always be.
EM: Is college hookup a thing that you like? That’s interesting.
FK: No, but it seems like it’s obvious, if you’re gonna come up with a backstory for your character, like, obviously Tony and Rhodey did it at some point, right?
Z: Oh I’m sure.
FK: Slash logic! Like…
EM: Because they’re already so, it’s not like you see the friendship develop. They already are so close in the beginning. It’s true. Now I’m gonna ship them. Thanks a lot Flourish. Migratory slash. Can I ask you a question that you totally don't have to answer, but do you put any stock in the idea that white people are afraid of screwing up?
Z: I don’t. I don’t.
EM: OK, so I don’t want to turn this into a therapy session about me, but I’m writing a fic right now with a bunch of OCs and it’s set in London where I recently lived so the majority of them are people of color because that's realistic. And I am just sitting here going, I can’t think about this too much, I can’t think I’m gonna do it wrong because then I am gonna psych myself out. But like…it feels like a real fear to me and I don’t know if that’s something just irrational.
Z: The thing is, not necessarily that it’s a white people thing, it’s a writer thing. You go into your writing afraid. I have four commissions that I should be doing and I’m like, I don’t know if I can do ’em! And I’m writing about Poe, I’m writing about Finn, I’m writing about characters of color, I’m a person of color. And no matter who you are, there’s a point where if you go into something going “I 100% know what this is about, how I can make this perfect,” that's when you fuck up. This recent…it tends to be in response to writing Black characters where they go “Oh I’m so afraid of writing these characters, because I’m worried about the backlash.” They’re using it as a shield. You probably are not. You know? Because you are still writing these characters!
But the “I’m worried about social justice warriors getting angry at me so I’m not going to write characters of color” is you going, “I never intended to write characters of color so now I have an excuse.” It’s blaming the people who want representation for you not giving them representation.
ELM: Sure. You made me feel more confident even just saying that. It’s also like, you know, I’m also paranoid about, it’s set in England and there’s a lot of law and I’m paranoid about getting that wrong, too. So there’s a lot of things I’m paranoid about getting wrong, and I shouldn’t single one thing out or the other I guess, you know.
Z: And you can always do beta readers.
ELM: Right, and so.
FK: And maybe if people are only paranoid about getting characters of color wrong, they should be more paranoid about getting other things wrong in their fics because there’s probably something that they should be paranoid about also.
ELM: Like men?! I have read some unrealistic men in my years as a slasher. I don’t know, not all men, but sometimes they don’t weep all the time!
Z: I have some interesting thoughts about that! I have six brothers, three of my brothers are queer, so I definitely have experienced different levels of, or different aspects of masculinity via my brothers. So the closest thing I’d see to an unrealistic male is like when you're reading—as a horrible horrible kinky weirdo I’m reading the hell out of alpha/beta/omega fic…
ELM: [laughs] Flourish writes it!
FK: I don’t write very much of it. I’ve written a very small amount of it.
ELM: OK, she has written it. But there’s no shame here.
Z: I love it! I've written four stories and I’m never gonna write actual pregnancy because for multiple levels that’s not gonna work, but like, with the characterization where the dynamics tend to be kinda heteronormative—someone’s a protector, someone’s the pregnant-er…that’s not a word. [all laugh]
FK: I’m going with pregnant-er from now on!
Z: I’m in the DC fandom mainly, that’s actually my main fandom, I’m into the Star Wars fandom because my family is. That’s a generational thing, my mom was my age in the 70s when she took my sister to see it as a child. So when Star Wars came out in December I was all “Oh my God, small children that I live with, let’s go!” We saw it together. So it’s just generational. But I wasn’t active in writing until recently and even then it’s more like I have 50 million drafts, when will I pick one. [all laugh] With the DC fandom you have Batman and all the Robins and they’re precious and perfect. Right? And there’s one Tim Drake that everyone writes as just weepy? And there’s nothing in the text that supports that, because some characters definitely like, bawl. Like “Oh, my parents died. I’m broken!”
ELM: Some characters.
ELM: Oh, you’re saying some characterizations of him! I thought you were subtweeting Batman just there. But. That’s all of them.
Z: I might have been? I feel like sometimes I’m talking shit about Batman way more than I should. So the idea of unreal men, or weirdly—the idea of feminine men as problematic is itself problematic, when you read slash fiction and go “Oh guys don’t act like this,” well, there’s a lot of guys on the planet. The issue is when heteronormativity in slash fandoms sorta subsume actual character personalities. So if you’re writing Finn/Poe and if you have Finn always at the top as the big dicked Black guy fucking Poe who’s always gagging for it, he’s a slut, you know, you frame his sexuality in neediness, in hypersexuality, as opposed to an actual sexual identity—because hypersexuality is not porn—that's when problems come into play, not just the affect of heteronormativity but also racism.
Because as the first meta that Franzeska wrote, with the kink, actually she goes into this whole thing about how with kinkshaming it’s because people don't want to read about Finn having a gigantic penis. And it’s like, um, well, he's Black. There are really huge reasons why fandom over-focused on Finn having a huge penis and always topping. They’re not about kink, they become about race. Your size kink doesn't trump centuries of body-focused racism that framed Black men with large bodies. I’m talking not only in penis size but like, physically, as sexually aggressive, sexually open. In fact, that isn’t divorced from your kink. And also, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are both 5'9". There is no size kink there. They are the same size. Yes, John Boyega's a little thick, but…
FK: But if you want size kink you really need to get Phasma in here.
Z: Oh my God.
Z: Please don’t talk to me about my space wife!
FK: Phasma is my favorite. I love her.
ELM: OK, but I feel like that then kind of brings us back into the trap of if your thing is size kink, if you love that and you're writing porn and you just wanna write size kink, then you're just gonna write the white guys.
Z: Right. Responsibility is something that people kinda push aside, especially in kink spaces in fandom. They go, OK, I can’t write the kink I want to write in the way I want to write it so I’m not gonna write it. And that’s a disservice to fandom. You can absolutely write size kink. You can focus on, and this is gonna get not safe for work, I mean seriously not safe for work.
ELM: Good morning!
Z: You can focus on the weight of Finn's body holding Poe down, because we know John Boyega is thick. He's beefy, we got this. You focus on the physicality, the act of being bigger, not in a threatening sense the way that fandom approaches it where you have Finn just basically ripped from—I don't know if you’ve heard of the book Mandingo, my mom loved it, it's so racist. But it focuses on sexualizing Black male bodies. And this is from the 60s or the 70s, it’s really really racist. Their idea of size kink is decidedly connected to Black men being more aggressive.
Why is fandom never focusing on Poe lovingly cradling Finn, memorizing the shape of his body, the differences between their bodies? It's always “Finn is bigger, he has to fuck Poe.” There is no tenderness. And this is a generalization, when I say “there is no tenderness.” When you go through your ships, when you go through the stories for Finn and Poe, you tend to see just the same dynamic of Poe is sexually eager and open and Finn doesn’t know anything but when he figures it out, it’s off to pound town on Poe's ass.
ELM: That’s interesting, cause I haven’t read any Star Wars fic, but you would say that’s the trend you’ve read?
Z: Yes, and it’s not exclusive to the Star Wars fandom. Any fandom wherein a huge pairing is an interracial male/male ship, where one guy’s white, so Tony and Rhodey, but even with Sam and Steve, one of the earliest Sam/Steve stories I read, it’s still on Archive of our Own but I don’t remember what it’s called. It’s so bad. And it was written by a biracial Black woman and it is literally Steve has a thing for big Black penises. Just dehumanizing sex framed as kink. And all of the responses, it’s like “Oh, well, this is what gets me off.” A lot of things get people off that really shouldn’t, and that's OK!
I have a post—it’s been in progress for like four years, because I know that the pushback is gonna be really really horrible. It’s called “Your kink is not OK and that’s OK,” because of the whole fandom thing of “Your kink is not my kink but that’s OK.” It’s not how it works. Because fandom is the real world. So your desire to see a white guy held down and fucked brutally by a Black guy is tied into more than your size kink. It’s tied into societal expectations for Black masculinity. It’s the same way the few white guy/Asian guy ships you have tend to have the Asian guy framed as “submissive,” in air quotes, which didn’t come across very well! Because we expect certain things based on white supremacist society. And you don’t stop being in that society just because you’re in fandom. In fact, fandom kind of zooms in, because it’s so into it.
ELM: I don’t want to have to cut us off here, but we’re…
FK: Yeah, I think we probably should. That’s actually, I mean, that actually isn’t a bad place to end on, I don’t think. I think it’s a nice…
ELM: Depressing spot to end about how the world is problematic? It is though.
Z: It is!
ELM: It’s true though!
FK: Zina, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. We really appreciate it and we look forward to having you back on to have you talk about something that is only race-related inasmuch as everything else in our world is, I.E. DC fandom.
Z: Thanks for having me, y’all are great and this was super fun, actually.
FK: Yeah! SUCCESS!
ELM: Success! Thank you!
Z: You’re welcome!
ELM: All right, that was an awesome conversation.
FK: I feel simultaneously invigorated and also really depressed about the state of fandom.
FK: I think that’s—
ELM: Fascination and frustration?
FK: Oh, God damn you, you put your finger right on it!
ELM: I believe that was Henry.
FK: Yeah, Henry Jenkins, that’s his thing.
ELM: So that was great, we have one more statement and I believe zvi is another old friend of yours. Is that true?
FK: I wouldn’t…I’m not sure I’d go so far as “friend,” but…
ELM: Wow, wow!
FK: I don't mean that in a rude way! I just mean that I have been more of an admirer from afar of her since about 2007 when she tangled with some racist Harry Potter fandom people and unknowingly led to me beginning to think about race as a thing that went beyond, you know.
ELM: Wow, that’s a…she’s a huge part of your evolution as a human being, then!
FK: Yeah, but I don't think I’ve ever said that to her! [sheepishly] So hey zvi, congrats, now ya know! [ELM snorts, FK laughs awkwardly]
ELM: You have passed along some of zvi's writing to me so I am excited to hear what she has recorded for us.
FK: All right, let’s roll it!
zvi LikesTV: Hi, I’m zvi LikesTV, my current fandoms are the Washington Capitals of the NHL, comics, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I started out in X-files in the sixth season, and I’ve done fic, I’ve written meta, I’ve run challenges, I’ve conducted panels at cons. I’m also a short, fat, Black, cisgendered Unitarian Universalist American dyke. And I say that because all of these discussions of race and fandom are coming from people from different places, and we’re not always identifying each other, and identifying ourselves, and I think that contributes to some of the misunderstandings that we run into.
I have been writing about racism, well, not necessarily racism, but I’ve been writing about race in fandom since 2002. I wrote a piece called “Jazz in the Machine,” and a second piece called “Jazz in the Machine: Call,” both of which were about fandom just ignoring characters that I thought fit the profile, were played by Black actors, and weren’t getting any traction. The sort of thing that I mean would be Han and Lando in Star Wars, Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice, Forrest and Riley from Buffy—I believe that was the one that broke this camel’s back—Clark and Pete from Smallville, Henry from The Sentinel getting ignored in favor of Rafe. Even if you watched The Sentinel you might not remember either of those characters; they were quite minor. Sam and Gus from Psych, Danny and anybody on Teen Wolf as opposed to Sterek, Travis McCoy and Gabe Saporta in bandom, Sam and Steve in the MCU.
There’s just this pattern of characters that have relationships and situations that are traditionally slashy that slashers don’t go for. And I find that troubling, and unwelcoming. But I do think that it’s gotten better. I know it’s gotten better because people do write Finn and Poe. I realize this current imbroglio is about Finn and Poe, but it’s only about Finn and Poe because they got off to such a huge start. And they’re still, as acknowledged by everyone, a huge deal. Alex/Hardison got written in Leverage and was great, and even in a fandom as white and weird as professional hockey, P.K. Subban and Carey Price are an acknowledged—“acknowledged” in RPF—couple.
So things are different from days in the past, they’re still not perfect, but I have in the past had fandom drive me to tears on issues of race. I’ve had fandom make me incredibly furious. I wrote a piece about a Harry Potter community using the word "miscegenation" to describe Dean and Luna fic, and people were tagging human/magical creature fic and human/goat fic on the same prompt, and this was because the way they had defined “miscegenation” was so removed from the meaning of miscegenation. Which for those of you who don’t know, miscegenation is describing the relationship between a white person and a person who is not white which pollutes the whiteness. It was introduced as a word and as a concept during the American Civil War to drum up opposition to abolitionists. So it doesn’t have a neutral meaning, and they presented it as if it does.
They treated me as if I were delusional for bringing this issue to them, the runners of the community when I brought the issue to their attention. That I think is one of the things that’s changed. People don’t assume that if a person of color is bringing up a race issue they’ve somehow gone off the deep end and are seeing things that just aren’t there. That’s not everyone, but it’s not the first and default response. I think that we have finally communicated that there is racism inherent in the system.
So one of the things I think has changed about the way we talk about race is that acceptance that there is racism inherent in the system, and if I could get one thing through to white people—particularly American white people—it would be that acknowledging that you have done a racist thing is not a confession of mortal sin. It’s not a judgment that your character is besmirched and you are inexcusably irretrievably evil. It’s not a confession to a crime. Being racist is a perfectly normal thing for white people to do in the United States. White people do it all the time. And the panic and furious denial when someone points out that a white person has done a racist thing just compounds the first error and makes correcting and improving so much more difficult than it has to be.
If nothing else that people take away from this episode of your podcast, I want them to understand two things: one, fans of color keep having this conversation because we are fans. Fandom is our home. I’ve been here for fifteen years, I’ve lived with people because of fandom, I’ve fucked people because of fandom, most of my current friends came through fandom, so I live here, that’s why I keep saying this place isn’t right. This racism is affecting me. There’s violence inherent in the system that I’m not going to allow to persist, because fandom is mine and I am here. That’s why fans of color keep talking about it.
The reason we keep talking about these characters not getting enough love, not getting enough attention, is because we see these characters and they’re the kind of characters that fandom already likes. They’re in the sorts of relationships that fandom traditionally works with. We’re not trying to get people to write joyless dutyfic because they’re being politically correct, we want them to write sexy romances about these sexy dudes because that’s what fandom does. We want them to enjoy those badass super competent women, the guy with the damage. These are the toys that are on the table and we want you to play with them and we want you to play with us. And that’s why we keep talking about these characters.
ELM: First of all, what a delight that we can just literally say “Hey hey come on our podcast” and we can get like 10 incredibly smart people to come just like, I don’t know. I love fandom so much. Is that sappy? Am I being sappy?
FK: You’re not being sappy. I—
ELM: I’m supposed to be cynical!
FK: I was not cynical about the response to this episode because I felt like, holy shit. And I felt like there was so much people talk about that we could just…I don’t know, I came out of this episode feeling like I had 50 different ideas for episodes
ELM: Oh, that’s great! This was a content generator.
FK: Not like that!
ELM: [laughs] #biz. Alright. Let’s, so we actually discussed this in advance, what we were going to say at the conclusion of this because I think that it could sound trite to say “Well, here we’re the white hosts and here’s what we learned.” That being said, we learned some stuff! And it’s probably worth discussing it!
FK: Right, on the one hand it feels silly to say “Here’s what we learned” but on the other hand, one of the things that I think we both realized as we did this episode is that even though we have tried to talk and think about race, we have not done a very good job of it. The fact that we could have 10 people who we’ve never had on the podcast before all just turn up and be willing to share their thoughts and feelings and they all have incredible stuff to talk about about fandom, and yet we haven’t had very many people of color on this podcast to this point.
ELM: Well, OK, this ties into to something I’ve been thinking about though, and something I wanted to float as we discussed our takeaways. And I’m not actually sure any of it made it into the recording, but I remember distinctly—and I’m sure she won't mind me mentioning it—after I hung up with you and I talked with Clio for awhile, she was talking about, I feel like I’m reframing this sentence seventeen times so I apologize, but we’re talking a lot about the kind of cycles and flashpoints and the kind of, white people suddenly paying attention to the discourse that people of color are having constantly.
FK: It’s us.
ELM: Yes. And she was saying that she, people of color who write the most passionate stuff—and I think that she says that in something that made it into the recording, she tries to write stuff that's a little more nuanced but it’s hard because you get more response if you’re more passionate, which is something I see across the board and not just about race. But she was saying—
FK: Yeah, it’s true on every issue.
ELM: Absolutely. She was saying that she sees white people reblogging the most passionate stuff and putting in the tags “This is important.”
FK: “So important.”
ELM: And that’s it. Or, I was talking to a good friend of mine who is a person of color who was complaining about white people tweeting about—Sulagna, I hope you don’t mind me bringing this up on the air—white people tweeting about or writing posts about things that are like, “Hey other white people, don’t write about Lemonade, or Beyoncé. Beyoncé's Lemonade.” And she’s like, who are you talking to? Right? And it’s just like—
FK: As a person who wrote about Beyoncé’s Lemonade, not a single person of color wrote to me and was like, shut the fuck up. That didn’t happen.
ELM: Well, I think it’s a valid point and I don’t think white people need to talk about what Lemonade means. I think that is not—we can just shut up.
FK: But on the other hand we also probably don’t need to tell other white people to shut up.
ELM: Yeah, I saw this in action. I saw, you know, a white person that I know write “PSA: don’t write about Lemonade, fellow white people.” And then I looked at it and like seven white people liked it. I was like, great. I’m glad we all performed that. We all. I didn’t participate in this. I’m not trying to absolve myself.
FK: Only by observation did you participate in this.
ELM: [laughs] But it can feel performative, and it can feel in these flashpoints I’ll see people coming out of the woodwork being like “This is so important!" and I’m gonna own up to this, I don’t think I talk about race enough. I definitely have obviously written about it in my capacity as a liberal journalist, but even then, wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing because I was concerned that I was speaking over people’s experiences. And so then I’m like, racked with guilt and twisting myself into knots and stuff and this isn’t supposed to be my therapy session. But like…
FK: No, but I think this relates a little bit to us talking about what we wanna do with the podcast in the future, because I think saying “We don't wanna talk about race because we’re three white women” is sort of a good impulse, but on the other hand, we ought to talk about race more. Because we talk about queerness, we talk about being female, it shouldn’t be something that we just…not talk about forever.
ELM: Right, but I think the problem is I think that gender and sexuality and sex are going to, our perspectives and our positions on the bottom of those axes of privilege—as I like to use the expression “axis of privilege”—that’s gonna color everything we talk about. Right? This is the thing. And this is the conversation I’ve seen over and over again the last few weeks. Is people saying “It’s always about race,” people of color. And people, white people saying “But it’s not.” And they’re saying, “Well, for us it is!” So for you and me, it is always gonna be about the places where we do not have the privilege.
ELM: Which is in terms of sexuality and sex and gender. But what position are we in when we are in the position of privilege on that axis? And when are we allies and when are we, like, that white girl? Just like…[laughs] being very frustrating! If we are constantly engaging with race and potentially speaking over the experiences of people of color, which is something I also see white people doing. It’s just so complicated!
FK: Right. But is it fair for us to say that some of our takeaways are we need to think about this more and work on the podcast?
ELM: Takeaways! Takeaways!
FK: Yes! Takeaways! And have more people of color come on this podcast…
ELM: That I wanna do.
FK: And not about, directly about race.
ELM: Where here’s the thing, that is what I would love. And obviously I loved this episode, I loved these pair of episodes because I loved that it was just a frank discussion about race from people of color who were excited to have it, you know. This is the kind of thing where I don't think it’s the responsibility of anyone to educate anyone else, but these are people who want to educate and I love everyone involved so much.
FK: Thank you people, thank you contributors, you are the best.
ELM: Seriously. But just in the way that I'm saying gender and sexuality or sexual identity are going to color everything we talk about, with guests of color, that’s obviously going to color everything they talk about! You don’t have to come on and just talk about race, if you don’t want to. That I think is our failing. We have had a few guests of color on but I don’t think we’ve had enough, frankly.
FK: Right. So we’re going to try and do that—try and, I think, is the right way to put it, because even though it’s not really grammatical we are definitely going to make the attempt and I am going to assume that we will succeed because I think it’s really important.
ELM: And we’re confident people.
FK: And we’re confident people. But then individually....
ELM: Yeah, let’s talk about us as fans though. Because this is a fandom podcast, and everything we just said could also, we could have been a podcast about literally anything hosted by white people [laughing] so.
FK: One thing this made me think about a lot is I used to be in Sleepy Hollow fandom and I peaced out pretty hard when it became clear that, like several seasons ago when it became clear to me that Nikki Beharie, that Abbie Mills was not going to get a lot of screen time. And I sorta ran towards a bunch of really white fandoms. One Direction is not all white, but my fanfic is not about Zayn primarily, right, so there it is.
ELM: Your One Direction has been all white, Flourish, you showed up too late.
FK: Yeah I showed up after Zayn left the band. So anyway, it got me thinking about why did I leave Sleepy Hollow? Maybe I should write more fic there even though, what is fic for if not to fix the things that were messed up by Hollywood.
ELM: Sure, that’s an interesting example. Whereas I don’t have anything like that, and that’s a problem. I think that one thing I’ve taken away from this episode and also the discourse in the last few weeks, one post I really loved—did you happen to read, I don't know the title and I will put it in the show notes after I look it up. It was in the Fan Meta Reader, do you know Lori Morimoto's site? So for anyone who’s not familiar, Lori Morimoto is an acafan and she has a site where she takes, like, sometimes fandom specific and sometimes pan-fandom meta from Tumblr and with permission republishes it on a separate non-Tumblr site, which I believe she started to expose academia to the really great and rigorous writing that happens on Tumblr on a regular basis. Full disclosure she republished something I wrote that was a big subtweet to the Sherlock fandom. [all laugh] So.
FK: [in reference to a loud rush of breath on the mic] That was Hurricane Flourish coming in as I snorted there.
ELM: Anyway, she posted last week, it was a guest post from a woman talking about women of color and ships. And how people don’t wanna ship women of color, as broadly, obviously plenty of people do. But fandom, talking about people at large, tends not to ship women of color in any ships, and she was talking about all the buck-passing excuses, basically. Things like “Oh I just don’t see chemistry between that female character of color and whoever” or “She’s too good for any of these people.” Which is obviously a line I trot out all the time. I’m like “Rey doesn’t need to be with any of these clowns!” Or, like, Hermione. I’m like “Get away from these losers! Go! Go!” But you know, that’s not really fair if that’s a line that’s disproportionately applied to women of color, which I think it is.
One of my favorite things about this piece was actually the first line where she said, “This isn’t about Your Ship, capital Y capital S.” You know? She was like “I’m gonna talk about Musketeers fandom, but I’m not coming after Your Ship.” I’m paraphrasing here. Cause I think what happens is usually these conversations are framed around a certain fandom or certain ship, why does everyone like Kylux? Why does everyone like Stucky instead of—why do people like Captain America and Tony Stark and not either of them with their Black BFFs. And then you get into this hairsplitting like, “Well, I think Sam Wilson and Steve are just friends, they’re just bros can’t you tell” blah blah blah.
ELM: And I’ve edited this episode and I paraphrased some of these arguments about that particular ship, actually. And I think if we could get past that and we could say, and I think that’s a great place to start framing it too, it’s not about X or Y or Z but it’s the fact that it’s the whole alphabet over and over again. I don’t know if that was a clumsy metaphor, but like…
FK: No. It’s about a pattern—it's not even necessarily about your personal pattern of shipping, it’s about the pattern of shipping of everybody in general. So if you really wanna do something positive for this issue…
ELM: Well Flourish, I don’t know, what do I do?
FK: I don’t know! I feel like one of the things I’m doing is…
ELM: Not you, me! …go ahead, tell me about what you’re doing.
FK: Well, I’m saying about me because I don’t know how to prescribe to you! But like, Rukmini recommended an exchange for characters of color and I’m going to sign up.
FK: Because I would like to, when I get disappointed in a fandom, instead of running back to a fandom that’s all about white people, I’d like to be like “No, I’m gonna explore something else.” And try and write more fic with chromatic characters in it instead of going back to what I find as a white person to be my comfort zone.
ELM: OK, all right.
FK: Not because I think I’m necessarily through this exchange gonna find my next One True Pairing, but just because, like, how will I know if I don’t actually give myself the space to think about it? And I clearly don’t give myself the space to think about it normally, because, like, structural racism right.
ELM: Sure, sure. It’s tricky for me to think about because I’m not in the same, you know, and I think I am probably more similar to a lot of people in fandom in the sense of like, if I were to go sign up for a fic exchange it would be the first fic I ever posted ever if I wrote it.
ELM: Which is to say, I don’t know if I’m there. I don’t know if I’m a creator in that capacity. And that means I’m in the majority, and so everyone who doesn't create publicly, what can you do? Is it enough—I think it was Clio who was saying, kudo fics. Is it enough to interrogate yourself? I don’t think that... I don’t know.
FK: Well, I don’t know that we’re gonna solve this issue tonight, but…
ELM: I thought we were here to solve the issue!
FK: [laughs] Hate to break it to you, buddy.
ELM: I thought this was why we do this, you were gonna solve it for me. It’s all about me now.
FK: Forever. Once and forever.
ELM: Well, I do feel like step one is interrogating yourself, which I have been doing. A lot, you know. It’s just weird for me because I wrote something about this recently, like, yeah, I have white guy ships but only a couple…I’m not one of those migratory slash fangirls…you know? Cause that’s what it feels like when I say it, I’m not like that. But it is factually true that I have had a very tiny number of, I spend a long time wound-dwelling in just a couple of ships. That being said, they all have been white guys. So…you know, it’s easy for me to pass the buck and say “This is the media I’ve been given,” but that's lazy and sad. And I want to queer this shit so why do I accept the status quo of blanket whiteness.
FK: It sounds like you have learned things.
ELM: I mean, I think I—this is something I was aware of, but… [laughs]
FK: No, but it sounds like you have come to some internal determination about things! Which is probably a step.
ELM: It’s just one more layer to add to my sad, cynical, resigned state that I occupy in fandom. So that’s fine.
FK: Well I think actually one of the most wonderful things about this episode was that I didn’t feel cynical at the end of it, I felt really positive and like I wanted to go write some fanfic about Finn being a tortured former stormtrooper. I really want to write that now. So I might do it.
ELM: I want to read that.
FK: Right. Well, I’ve promised to write about a billion fics, so…
ELM: Yeah, I was just thinking about that.
FK: And I’ve never written any of them!
ELM: You promised so much to me! I never got “Panty Raid at Slytherin.”
FK: I don’t know what to say. I’m an over-promiser.
ELM: Since I’m back in Harry Potter, could you write Finn in Harry Potter?
FK: Yes, I’ll do that. There we go. I’ll write “Panty Raid at Slytherin” featuring Finn.
ELM: I don’t think Fin’'s a Slytherin.
ELM: He’s a Gryffindor. Hufflepuff?
FK: Right! He’s panty raiding Slytherin!
ELM: OK, OK, OK.
FK: He’s a Gryffindor who’s panty raiding Slytherin. The end.
ELM: Who’s gonna be the Slytherin that catches him?
FK: I don’t know. It’s gonna be a mystery. We’ll find out. OK guys, stay tuned in for this.
ELM: What a great outcome.
FK: But we actually should talk about what we’re doing next week, next two weeks, next episode.
ELM: So next episode…
FK: It’s gonna be the long awaited fourth wall episode! So tune in for that. In the meantime, if you guys have any responses to this episode, anybody who’s been listening, we’re gonna be trying to curate some links just of things people have said in response, on our Tumblr, so please if you write anything about it just make sure we know about it and we’ll try and curate sort of a list of people’s commentary, as we always try to do to our episodes.
ELM: OK well this has been great and we should do it again.
FK: And thank you to all of our contributors, Holly, Rukmini, Shadowkeeper, Clio, PJ, Roz, Jeffrey, Traci, Zina and zvi, and we hope to have all you guys back on the podcast, as I already said I have thought of 50 new ideas based on this. So. We’re gonna make it happen.
ELM: Yes please do and we would love to hear anyone’s thoughts about any of our contributors’ contributions.
FK: All right. I’ll talk to you next time Elizabeth!
ELM: OK bye Flourish!
FK: [over the music] The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Stratus Media Ventures, Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or our employers, or anyone’s except our own.