As a fringe event in the tradition of Edinburgh Fringe and other international collateral events, CoNZealand Fringe was conducted entirely outside core programming hours and spaces, and panels were not official CoNZealand programming. CoNZealand Fringe is not endorsed by CoNZealand.
Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is pleased to host the transcripts of CoNZealand Fringe panels for fans who are unable to watch the videos or prefer a written format. This is the transcript for Your Fave is Problematic, which ran on Wednesday 29 July 2020 at 6pm BST/1pm EDT/10am PDT/5am NZST (next day) and is available here. Other panel transcripts are available via our transcript hub.
Host/Moderator: Noria (she/her)
Panelists: Shaun Duke (he/him), Foz Meadows (any), Russell A Smith (he/him), Jeannette Ng (she/they)
Noria: … I know like, I'm just like it's so cute the screening...
Shaun: [two thumbs up]
Russell: And we're live!
Noria: We're live! [laughs]
Noria: Yes we are! Yay! [laughs] Hi everybody, welcome, welcome!
Shaun and Foz: [wave]
Noria: I wish I could say welcome in various language. But I know welcome in Yoruba. [laughs] And that's it, so we are going to just stop at welcome. Hello everybody. [audio issues] It's nice to see everybody here.
[Pop-up from Sky5angel: hi guys!]
[Pop-up from Miklis Writes: hello!!]
Noria: OK so everyone can see. Good, we're good. We are good. So I would say once again hello everybody I am certain you already saw the title so you know why we're here, we are here to talk about y'know: our problematic faves. Your problematic faves. Our problematic faves. Some people's problematic faves where we are like, nope, this is some trash fire garbage and we're walking away from it. You know. You know it. So. I'm Noria. [laugh] You're on my channel, it's Noria Reads, I tend to talk a lot but I'm moderating today so we're going to keep the talking to a minimum. I have amazing guests as you can see, we're all here to talk about it, and I'm just going to leave them have them introduce themselves to you. To the world. Because, you know, it works best that way. So you have the floor. Who wants to go first? [laughs]
Shaun: [raises hand]
Noria: Okay. Okay.
Shaun: So hi, I'm Shaun Duke, I'm one of the hosts and producers of the Skiffy and Fanty Show which is up for a Hugo this year.
Noria: [silent clap]
Shaun: Thank you, very cool. It's pretty neat. And I guess other than that, I'm also a teacher, I work as a professor in digital rhetoric and writing. And I have studied many things by very racist people, so I think I will have much to say today.
Foz: Hi, I'm Foz Meadows, I'm an Australian living in California, I'm an author, blogger, fanwriter, fanfiction writer, and I have a Hugo that I won last year for best fan writer -
Noria, Shaun, Jeannette: [silent claps]
Foz: so I don't entirely suck at ranting on the internet apparently! [laughs]
[Pop-up from Ellana Rose Thornton-Wheybrew: "I have studied things by many racist people" – I think that sums up academia so well.]
Russell: Hi, my name's Russell, I write books I have jumped into weird history investigations. I have been working on various head heritage bits and pieces as well, and I'm one of the co-presenters on the Brave New Words podcast, and sometimes we also do books. Other than that, yeah, I'm a fan, I sometimes read things, I watch lots, and play stuff too.
Jeannette: Hello, my name is Jeannette Ng, I wrote a book called Under the Pendulum Sun, it's about missionaries in fairyland, and it's all right. I got up on stage and called Campbell a racist - a fascist last year and apparently that was a big deal
Shaun: [silent cheering]
Foz: [silent claps]
Jeannette: I most recently wrote an article about Korra, which I'll probably reference here.
Noria: That is awesome, okay. Like. Wow. I feel like such a fan, just because it's just I'm surrounded by people who very vocal especially with the problematic aspects of fandom and being able to call them out and that just brings me so much joy
[Pop-up from socrates: Call them out!!!]
Noria: And yes we have people in the chat who are very, very down for that, so I think we're gonna have a lot of fun. I think to start off the conversation, because - especially because, Shaun, you started by talking about the fact that you have had experience in calling out racist shit in academia, and I remember when I was first looking at this panel the first thing that came to mind was: it's so funny, when was the first time right that you recognised a problematic aspect in a fandom? And say recognise, you know while we're kids and we're enjoying stuff, we don't see because it's always so layered and we never get that chance to have that experience. So when was the first time that it actually hit you that "Yo, this is some racist bullshit." [laughs] I'll just ask that! So yes.
Shaun: Okay. So I think for me -
Noria: Maybe I should go first -
Shaun: Oh okay, whichever direction.
Noria: No no no, please, Shaun please. You have the floor.
Shaun: The first time I think I realised that there was a racism problem in science fiction fandom more broadly was probably when I took an American Studies course in college about African science fiction, African-American science fiction, and realising that was a thing that existed. Which is a bizarre thing to realise, but y'know when you're reading and you don't really pay attention to what you read and you're just picking up books that's got spaceships on it, when you're a kid you don't really think about who's writing this, you don't go "Oh who's this Asimov guy or who is so-and-so" and then taking that class taught me that these problems exist in this community and there's a whole other world of stuff to explore, and then that just takes you down a rabbit hole. Especially if you're in academia, where you're just suddenly going down all of these bizarre holes into some of the most racist problems that exist within fandom more broadly. Jeannette has obviously raised some of those problems as well - and actually, all of us, I think, probably have. So, that was the moment that I realised that there was an issue, and it took me a few years to realise what to call that issue, beyond saying that this stuff isn't being given attention. So. I'll kind of stop there.
Noria: Thank you.
Foz: If I can jump in, I don't know if anyone's listening to this instead of watching it, but I am a white people. And I grew up with the obliviousness of a white people -
[Pop-up from Scott Edelman: I was glad I was able to thank you for that, Jeanette, at the Hugo afterparty!]
Foz: - about being a white people. And you just have that thing of, what you are is the default that you have in your head, and when you're broadly represented like whiteness is in everything, it doesn't occur to you that something's missing, because it's not something that's personal to you. So I'm genderqueer, but I will also talk about being a woman or growing up as a girl, and that was the thing that I noticed, was that "Oh here's a story that is all guys and no girls," or girls are there but they're doing a very specific restricted thing, or "Oh hey, let me internalise that sort of misogyny of not all girls, but just me: I'm special and exceptional because I have a sword." Which is annoyingly prevalent in certain parts of even modern fantasy sometimes, which is very weird. So I was, like, embarrassingly adult before I realised the - before I really even became conscious about social justice issues frankly. Even having come out as bi at high school... Australia, or the part of Australia that I grew up in, it's a very different racial mix, to for instance, where I live at the moment or where I lived in the UK. It's very white, the predominant non-white population is Chinese-Australian of varying generations. Essentially from my personal experience black people were mythical, basically, because I had never encountered anybody in real life. That was, just from where I lived, and so it was I was an embarrassingly adult age before I was at the point to look at science fiction and fantasy or fandom or anything that I loved and be like "Oh hey, this is super white and maybe that should be examined and poked at and called out." And then since then I've been trying to educate myself about it, but I think I have to acknowledge that where I come from is a position of privilege in that regard and failing to notice it is common for a lot of people who grow up similarly. And it's the blind spots don't transfer, so I could be recognising "oh hey this is really straight, that I'm reading" or "really male", but that doesn't make the leap to oh that's really white because that's the part of you that you're seeing represented. So
Russell: Yeah. Just jumping in a bit on that, just to add really, I think even if you are one of the minorities affected, depending on the system and institutions you grow up in and around, it can be difficult even to notice when things are coming at you as well. I mean just a bit of background on me, I went to a fairly posh secondary school, which was I got in by passing a couple of lucky exams and possibly charming a couple of the teachers, I don't know. I had a rough time in that school from day one, and I never - and it was years -
[Pop-up from The Book Finch: Foz, I definitely relate to that experience, having grown up in an extremely homogenous country.]
Russell: It was years after I left that I even half began to look at why I thought the entire time it was me. But yeah, growing up in that, and there's kind of some pathway onto a factory of a - going into further school system from that I was never really comfortable being a part of and I didn't know this at the time. It's amazing what you are trained to not notice. So.
Foz: Yeah, particularly in posh school environments, so for my last three years of high school I was able to go to private school because a rich relative died and left us money, literally that was the reason why. And it was a very white school, I did have some friends who were people of colour there, and there were like Chinese-Australians or Vietnamese Australians and Australians of various other... people of colour in the school. But, my god, the racism was just constant for them. When I look... And of course most of them weren't in a position to call it out, or if they did call it out it couldn't - it wouldn't change because the institution was so white. And I look back now and I'm horrified by how much I even participated at times just by not knowing that that's what it was or not thinking it mattered and you look at it now like "Oooh, burn that to the ground." It's not a good environment when that happens.
Jeannette: I think there's a certain itch, because I grew up in Hong Kong which was a British colony, so I'm both incredibly British but also have - but also grew up in a society that was not majority white, and produced a lot of media starring characters and people and written by people who weren't white. But also I had a very different - Hong Kong media and English media are very different to me because I'm not fluent in Chinese. I can speak and understand Cantonese but I can't read it, so I can't, didn't grow up reading novels for example. But, not the point. The point I'm trying to make is, [sigh], I've always been very interested in that little itch, of that feeling of like "this thing is set in Hong Kong, but it doesn't read like the Hong Kong I recognise, why is that? This reads wrong to me." And I think I've always been kind of interested in the tropes, the kind of fallacies that stories get into. We used to [laughs] play a drinking game whilst reading, like, trashy romance novels. It's kind of like a Mystery Science Theatre but we would drink alcohol - it was a thing we did at uni, OK - and one of the categories was that "Did not wiki it" kind of feeling of "You're an American, you've clearly not been to London, this is not what people in London sound like, this is not what people in Ireland sound like, this is not what Irish people sound like, this is not what Hong Kong people sound like," and so forth. And very much we grouped all of them into the same box at the time, and this kinda feeling, and I think that we didn't have a term for why it feels bad to be represented in a way that you felt was untrue, and not all of the things in that box were racism or sexism and so forth, but they all felt a certain way, and now I'm kind of untangling them again. But that itch was there for a long time. And I like prodding it, I like trying to pull that apart and undersatnd it, and yeah. Drinking games.
Russell: I mean even, yeah -
Jeannette: We were called Lord Sin's Loinfire Club. We had a blog.
Shaun, Foz: [Laugh, silent clap]
Russell: I mean even with London, or name just about any city, there's many Londons depending on who's looking and where. Some of the stuff you see on TV or books.
Jeannette: Even looking at the BBC. I mean, Ben Aaronovitch, wrote Rivers of London, he loves saying that you know, it's all written from white people from the provinces imagining this all-white London and it drives him nuts. I remember him saying I think he quit writing for them or got stuck out because he called some producer very racist and also a swear word.
Russell: Yeah, I think that's -
Foz: Oh no, a swear word! The worst word!
Foz: I said "Oh no, a swear word."
Jeannette: The other thing I think which is quite interesting to me is that I encountered a discourse early on written by Asian-Americans and obviously their experience of racism and anti-Asian racism is very different from that which I am familiar with. Or and - perhaps to my shame, for a long time, I didn't really understand their experiences, because they would be sensitive to topics and issues that I did not respond to. And, some of those things I still kinda think they're wrong, but also appreciate that they have a very different lived experience to me, because they didn't grow up in Hong Kong, they don't have this background, and their culture and things that are racist and stereotypical in an America centred way are very different from what they would be in the UK or Hong Kong.
[Pop-up from Ellana Rose Thornton-Wheybrew: I read the first Rivers of London novel, and it's so local to me I was like "Oh I've been to that exact shop!" but it still didn't match my experience – too straight, abled, white, etc.]
Foz: One of the biggest problems fandom can have sometimes - I think I saw a post about it recently on tumblr - but the idea of competing needs basically, within fandom. Whereas - it just confuses me that a whole concept, particularly around something like shipping but more generally, where the whole point of fandom in a plurality of opinions and a plurality of interpretations, but people will get bogged down in the idea of the one true interpretation or the one correct way to argue a thing or what is right and what is problematic. And it'll be like, OK, yeah, sometimes there's a more clear-cut argument about, for instance, who is the bad guy in a piece of media, but that's a really simplistic example. You look at something like "Is this good representation of a particular group?" and say "Well, yeah for a diaspora community this particular representation is really really powerful and really really important, but from someone from, say, the mainland group they're looking at it like "This is really American." I mean =
Jeannette: I mean, Crazy Rich Asians is probably one of the archetypal examples.
Jeannette: Of something that a lot of the - especially the American diaspora community really connected with, and is problematic for a whole host of reasons
Jeannette: Because of how it depicts Singapore and how South Asian people are in it basically as a punchline, and [sigh] but and I think kinda spooling back to my thing about the itch you feel, sometimes we feel that itch and sometimes we try to apply language to explain that feeling. Something is wrong and I need to explain it, the problem is that sometimes the label we apply to the thing that is wrong is not the correct label. Like, this ship really squicks me out. Is it squicking me out in a way that means no one should ever ship it ever again and no one should ever mention it in the universe, or is it an "OK, people, tag your thing", or even a level of "it squicks me but that doesn't mean -"
Foz: It squicks everyone out.
Jeannette: "-producing content about it is always bad?"
Russell: If you're watching or reading -
Russell: Something is bugging you, but you're not necessarily -
Jeannette: What is bugging you, what is it, why, and what should you do about it. An obviously the power as well, because people who write fanfic is very different from people who are making the show itself or writing the book itself or financially benefiting from these things, and the problem is within fandom, I think when we're calling out problematic things, there is a slight tendency to prioritise targets that you can actually affect.
Jeannette: So getting another fan to take down their fanart or fanfic, that is a thing that you genuinely meaningfully do, you can indeed harass them off the internet, but you probably can't get the writers of Supernatural to make your ship canon.
Foz: It's exactly that, and it has that has the paradoxical effect if once again if you're trying to support marginalised representation and marginalised creators, you end up punching down more often than you punch up, because the people who are actually trying even if they get it wrong are more likely to listen to the criticism, or those who are new to the industry, or those who are, as you say, fan artists or fan writers or individuals, they're more accessible because they're not behind several levels of corporate bullshit in order for you to talk to them on the internet. And if they actually care, they're more likely to say "Oh maybe I should take the thing down, maybe I should stop." Whereas somebody like the absolutely vile human that is, like, Perlmutter, head of Marvel, nobody's going to stop watching Marvel or reading Marvel because of him even though he's literally the worst and he's the one ultimately deriving heaps of financial benefit from it, but he's inaccessible. You might as well try to punch god because it doesn't do anything.
Jeannette: I'm not trying to make it out that you know, small creators or fandoms or fantartists are beyond critique, but I think it becomes it becomes very frustrating that you feel like you're not actually wanting to punch this specific artist, you're actually - they are standing in for the larger system that you are feeling powerless to affect.
Jeannette: And sometimes we're talking about trends and spaces, which kind of goes into fandom and how - like, Tumblr's tagging system was very bad for developing tag communities.
Foz: It's still bad.
Jeannette: It's still bad, but if you click on the tag you will see everything.
Foz: No you won't see everything, that's half the problem, you'll click in the tag and it's like, I know this is mentioned but it's -
Jeannette: In all the wrong ways! In precisely the wrong ways! But in the sense that I'm given to understand the anti communities because people felt they couldn't escape from certain types of content or couldn't hide themselves away to a place where - to not see it.
Foz: There is that, but I also think there's an element to it of people taking discourse - the dread Disc Horse like we're having now - that people taking the view that if something is criticised and the criticism is reasonable, therefore it should be a hard rule, and it completely erodes nuance and it completely erodes the the idea that actually people have competing needs and competing investments in fandom. So what is good for one person might be bad for another and you can actually examine things on a case-by-case basis, and instead you've got this thing saying, you've now got these groups arguing "Oh, absolutely anything that does X and if one bad person is involved in a thing, then the whole thing's bad," and just attempting this very evangelical idea of moral purity, where you can't be touched by anything bad, or you are bad. And it just doesn't work functionally and becomes very frustrating to deal with that.
Russell: As a result of that, it can get absolutely crushing to have any kind of discussion on fandom in a large audience because somebody will jump on your for nothing. Which probably isn't nothing, you know. So yeah. I mean, on that note, and seeing if they're talking about, y'know, a very very obvious example a very obvious example would be Star Wars, especially the shall we say divisive nature of the recent trilogy.
Jeannette: Fuck Star Wars.
Russell: Where do we stand on Star Wars? I realise that each of those movies is its own panel and I realise -
Jeannette: Russell I'm not going to talk about Star Wars.
Russell: - I can't, I can't, I'm sorry I've been sitting on this because I've gotta go. I mean yeah we could have, there's panels on any of the last three, but yeah, but sorry, Jeannette I know what it is as well it's... yeah. What did they do with that last episode? I mean, it's relevant to this, because - it's entirely relevant to this panel, because problematic plus toxic fandom can lead to some quite extreme back dialling of characters we need to see more of.
Shaun: This gets to the bigger problem of that dreaded word discourse, where the idea is that in a fandom you're not all necessarily agreed but you're having conversations and disagreements and you're supposed to be working through things, and maybe you hit a point where you're like "we don't agree on this but that's fine", but in some fandom communities the arguments over the things different groups think are controversial get to that point where it's like Russell was saying, you either mention something and it's suddenly like a sea of people coming to destroy you with their tridents, and it gets to the point where the fandom seems so toxic that it's exactly what Russell was saying, there can then be suddenly very potentially problematic things being suggested in a certain fandom suddenly appearing in the actual materials. From the official canon. And Star Wars is one possible -
Jeannette: Yes, but —
Shaun: Sorry, go ahead Jeannette
Jeannette: So I was on a "Women of Star Wars" panel... before the third film came out, it was after Last Jedi, I was in Rey cosplay, it was great. It was a great panel but right at the end, during questions, a white women in the audience basically got up and said "please condemn Reylo shipping. This is a bad ship and I want you to condemn it, it's very bad." And I was startled, because, dark secret, I do ship that ship, I'm not [air quotes] "active in the community" or anything but that is a ship I like, I like dark princes, I like bullshit. No secret I am trash for this kind of thing but the thing is - and I was really taken aback, it was very intimidating to be just put in the spot, and go "Oh, okay, is that where we're at now?" It felt very confrontational. And I don't want to make it out that Reylo shippers are the most beleaguered people on the internet, because they're they're not, and they kind of, [air quotes] "kind of" got what they wanted in the last film so whatever, but the point is it's still kind of weird to have had that - I'm not over that moment, it was not pleasant.
Russell: It's almost like you were put in a position whereby you were given authority as a gatekeeper.
Jeannette: I'm not a -
Russell: But in a really sort of loaded way, it's just -
Jeannette: Yeah, and you know one of the other panelists was like "Why would you ship this, it's stupid, there's these other attractive men on the cast," and it's like "Well, I appreciate that, but I thought we having a nice positive like - don't kinkshame me for having very basic tastes!"
Foz: It's like the pumpkin-spice latte of ships, let me have it.
Russell: We are here to -
Jeannette: I have I have other ships that are perhaps that are less mainstream, but not the point.
Russell: Yeah -
Jeannette: My point it was just a really... and I think that was the kind of interaction I would like fandom to not have?
Russell: We are here to discuss why our fave is problematic, but at the same time we must allow people to enjoy things. Especially with ALL OF THIS. [gestures]
Foz: Before this there was a period where the word problematic first started being used in fan discourse and everyone kinda ran away with it for a while to mean-
Foz: It's a good word! It's a good word! But it's like, everybody was using it to mean "Oh this is problematic therefore you shouldn't like it," or whatever and I feel like we've graduated to the point now of saying "well everything is kind of a little bit, or potentially problematic", there's a question of degree. But you can't get away from the problematic. At a certain point your only alternative, because the ultimate problematic thing being society, the only alternative is to go and live in a cabin in the woods, but not in the Thoreau way where your mum still does your laundry for you. You can't perfectly extract yourself from everything you don't agree with from media and society, so while there's examples where you can say this thing really upset me for these reasons and I'm just going to stop, you can't expect everybody to share that.
Jeannette: I mean, so, when I saw this panel title, the two fandoms I really wanted to talk about was old Norse, because I am an old Norse scholar back in the day, I have a stupid degree in this, and for the last decade, every time it's come up, I have to say "I'm into old Norse but not like that." I remember googling for essays, I was like "Oh no, like I don't have a copy of the Poetic Edda, better check on the internet," and it's like, three sites down or three pages into google you're like "Wait, isn't this a neo-Nazi website? Hosting the Poetic Edda for some reason?" And yeah, in case you're not aware, that's a thing that certain types of neo-Nazis are really into. And in fact so were actual Nazis quite into it. And they are responsible for quite a bit of early research and it's very bound into the field, and it's like well I am into this but also these other things, and that's - you know, the Vikings themselves and old Norse people were not an idealised society either, they were also very sexist, queer but also kinda homophobic at the same time, they had a different set of -
Foz: Like hockey.
Jeannette: It was it was not the same as -
Jeannette: - As we would have here now in this moment which kind of makes them interesting. Not the point. One of my gay professors would not shut up about the way that they were pro gay sex but only very specific sorts of gay sex.
[Pop-up from alliecat1019: Can you like without condoning? I don't know the answer to this but I am searching for the answer.]
Noria: Allie is wondering, and I think this is a very interesting question to consider because can you like without condoning? Because I think that's a question that a lot of people have in hand. And just like you Jeannette I do have a couple of ships that people have been proud to tell me "Yo, your ship is abusive!" and I'm like "I know that. Your point being?"
Jeannette: But that's why it's hot! I'm sorry!
Noria: But you know [laughs]
Jeannette: I think I'm okay!
Noria: Yeah. But like, how do you cross that divide? How do you say that yes, because my personal answer is just because I like something doesn't mean that I condone that behaviour. But a lot of people in fandom just can't wrap their head around that. They can't see liking something without wanting it and I'm what I'm wondering is, "Yo, all the movies you watch? You know, the revenge fantasy movies? Some of you might not want to admit, but a lot of us really do love because there's just something very satisfying about watching a character being like "I am going to get my revenge in the most bloody way possible". Equaliser, we bow at the magnificence that is Denzel Washington, and what I'm wondering is I can enjoy a good revenge fantasy, but it doesn't mean I'm going to go buy a gun and say "yo I'm going to start shooting everybody". It doesn't work like that. So how do you navigate these conversations, explaining to people that you can like something without necessarily wanting to condone or promote that behaviour.
Russell: Yeah, it doesn't work like that for most of us. Obviously we've had some really tragic high-profile examples of when that has not been the case, but well, The Equalisers a great one, because would that have been as awesome without Denzel? But yeah, sorry, going back a little to the previous point whilst answering this, skating a little further in history, hang on I was leading onto two points here. Let me cancel that one and start again. I don't remember but someone made a brilliant - there was a brilliant discussion I was on with some friends of mine, not a month or two ago about – about that old Michael Douglas film, Falling Down. Now I remember being introduced to this by my dad, because he was laughing so hard at some of the, certainly the scene where he goes into McDonalds and y'know Michael Douglas plays this angry white guy who just completely loses his shit one day, and goes into McDonalds and threatens to shoot it up because it's like a minute or two past them serving breakfast. Sorry. Where it comes obviously not condoning it, the more you watch, I think it's one of those films that weirdly holds up but has a different - but gets a different feeling for it next time. He is presented clearly as an anti-hero, but the more it goes on, the more it tips into "this is harder and harder to excuse". It's a really cleverly done film, because it's also the bit that we don't see so much, is the completely understated performance Robert Duvall puts in as the cop trying to deal with him. He's just the opposite. In the same way the guy's been through some stuff and seen some stuff, but he's also kinda "I see how you get there, I'm one or two bad days from this happening to me, but we can't be you mate", and yeah, it's that came across a lot, I dunno, I could hear Duvall's part a lot louder.
Jeannette: I feel like complexity and nuance aren't necessarily the answers to having problematic themes in your content, in some ways because... So Hunters, Amazon, it's the one on Amazon, it's the one about Nazi hunters set in the seventies, it's really good, but it kind of starts off being basically "Let's kill Nazis as revenge for the holocaust" and its kind of tagline is "revenge is the best revenge" and it promises you a revenge fantasy, and the revenge fantasy bits are great! And then later on it kinda tries to introduce more more complexity into the story, it's basically about is revenge really the thing you want? Is revenge too much? And in some ways it got in the way? I kinda just wanted it to be a simple exuberant violence, that it becomes this thesis on the morality of vengeance and the complexity of that makes it a less good revenge fantasy. And it's like, well, if you're trying to say revenge is bad, you've still spent so much time enjoying revenge that now you're trying to guilt me for it? I'm a bit like
Foz: Yes, because I'm not here for the philosophy of revenge, I'm here for the revenge.
Russell: Are you saying go watch John Wick instead?
Jeannette: I know when to [indistinct] out.
Foz: I think that's, just going to the question of one of the things - because we were saying earlier that people having different needs and getting different things from fandom or whatever, I feel when it comes to this, the question of how do you enjoy something problematic without endorsing it or how do you like something by a problematic person without endorsing them, I think the uncomfortable answer a lot of the time is that everybody has to draw their own lines and we're not always going to draw them in the same place, and a lot of the anxiety in fandom around this is that - and I understand this fear in the age of internet dogpiling, that a lot of people don't want to be seen to have the wrong opinion and to potentially get dogpiled for it. Or people are just terrified of being disagreed with to a certain extent, or being told that they're morally in the wrong. And the difficulty, I think the fear of that a lot of what the anti rhetoric, that "We're promising you that as long as you agree with us about everything you'll always be right and anybody who disagrees with you will be the bad guy" and there's a simplistic moral safety to that. But it's -
Jeannette: The problem with the anti-ship is like you can always say I am better than those guys
Jeannette: I ship this thing which is bad, but as long as I dogpile onto this ship, I'm still pure.
Foz: Yes, yeah, it's exactly like that, and I think people, we don't like to admit that there's always going to be a potential disagreement over something that we care about, that there might be someone who for perfectly legitimate reasons says "Hey, I really dislike this, or hey, I like this thing that you hate," or, there's no one perfect position to take, that you have to potentially - you don't have to be willing to argue every single point, because you don't owe people that engagement even if they want it from you, I think as long as you can just sort of back up your own position, but also not even necessarily back it up, but just to be able to say "Yeah, you're right, I know this this I like is trash, I'm not morally defending it," because that's the thing, I think we often conflate watching a thing or liking a thing with morally endorsing it, and it's not always the case, and that's why in the fandom we talk a lot about "I am in the dumpster. This is my trash, I am a racoon person, shower me with garbage." We admit that. And at the same time of that, we still try to hold some kind of moral point around it.
Russell: Y'know - Sorry Jeannette, go on.
Jeannette: I was going to bring up The Untamed as quite an interesting example, especially of people wanting different things from their media. One of the things I find quite interesting in art more in general is that people who want to do - art from different cultures reflects unsurprisingly their own prejudices and there is no, to my knowledge, completely unprejudiced creator or culture, but however because people do have subtly different prejudices, that thing from another culture can scratch your itch in a way that nothing from your own culture can.
Foz: The thing with - something with The Untamed, the two things that I hold in my head constantly and for anyone who hasn't just seen it, it's on Netflix, it's a live drama adaptation of what started out as a queer web novel -
Jeannette: [indistinct] is better by the way
Foz: Oh yeah, I've heard that, I need to watch the Viki translation. But basically it's everybody involved in creating this tv show, the producers - I've got very far down the rabbit hole of looking at the behind the scenes stuff for this by the way, it's a little tragic
Jeannette: For the record it's about a gay necromancer who's in love with this ritualist -
Foz: Handsome sword boy.
Jeannette: - handsome sword boy and they're -
Noria: They're trying to make their love work.
Jeannette: - a lot in the TV show.
Foz: Yes. But the thing is that everybody involved in creating in the tv show, has gone "Okay, because of chinese censorship, we can't openly depict this as a queer relationship, but my god we're going to put as much sub in that text as possible, and we're basically going to play chicken with the censors and get as close to doing this as we can."
Jeannette: Unlike some, what was it, Goblin? There was another tv series -
Foz: Guardian, Guardian.
Jeannette: Because webnovels are very popular in China, slash webnovels -
Jeannette; - "boys love", the genre.
Jeannette: But much like slash in fanfic it's primarily written and consumed by cis straight women. About queer love. Or some of them may well be less straight than they think.
Foz: Yeah. There was guardian that was the one that came first, and that was based on a queer webnovel, and that success of Guardian and The Untamed so now there's like a subgenre of cdramas based on queer content, but what I'm sort of getting at is, you're watching this as Western person, well I'm watching it as a western person, going the fact that I know it's subtextually supposed to be a queer romance and knowing that everyone involved in making it were making as a queer romance -
Jeannette: But -
Foz: - Is really meaningful to me. The fact that on-screen the straight relationships that are there aren't like kissing and swooning and everything, there's exactly the same amount of romantic tension between the straight characters as the queer characters, but I can also understand how someone would look at that and go "That's actually worse in a way that the queerness has been erased, that they're not able to show that" and getting really frustrated by it, but I'm looking at going OK, but the thing that I crave, my personal catnip is something like a fantasy story that just happens to have a queer romance in it where that's the main emotional throughline, and the west isn't producing that in tv long-game form. If they do, it's like a side couple or something, it's not the main emotional throughline and so I'm looking at The Untamed going "Okay I know that this is meant to be gay, I know that everybody making it wanted it to be gay and I know why it's not so even though I can politically object to the censorship -
Jeannette: and I think they're [indistinct]
Jeannette: Unlike in Guardian where they wrote in extra love interests. I believe it's Guardian they wrote in female love interests so it's more obviously censored.
Noria: And in fact there was a whole - because I was also following the untamed when they were shooting in regards to them actually making it, and there was a lot of uproar that started because initially it seemed like Wei Wuxian was going to end up with MianMian
Jeannette: MianMian? Really?
Noria: And everyone was all like "Yo, these characters are gay!" I'm saying it was a big deal, people singed petitions! Fandom was like "nope, this boy is gay" actually he's bi but he's not meant to be, he only has one person he's ending up with so yeah, so I can't get that.
Jeannette: But because The Untamed is also really interesting because one of its actors was personally involved in getting Archive Of Our Own banned in China.
Foz: Okay, yes and no though, because it was like... Basically there was an RPF fic with the two main actors from The Untamed, which is Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, and this particular fic was written in Chinese, it got circulated on Weibo, and it was this huge backlash of Xiao Zhan fans who objected to his depiction in this fic.
Foz: Because it was sort of like sex work but -
Noria: no he was depicted as being a trans woman, so they - it was messy, yes.
Foz: It's alright, sorry, the thing that I've heard subsequently is that the Archive was probably going to be banned anyway at some point, this became the pretext -
Jeannette: Sure -
Foz: But the actor copped a lot of backlash for something that was not his fault.
Jeannette: Sure, but -
Foz: But apparently there was a whole expectation that he managed the fans who objected to it who started harassing other people, and it was this whole thing -
Jeannette: I think that The Untamed isn't - it's that problem with The Untamed though I'm trying to get is the wider context of China and, y'know, China: not the good guys right now. I watched Eternal Love and it's like oh, oh it's cool, it's that Uyghur actress that I like and oh yeah Uyghurs, they're still being imprisoned and culturally genocided.
Russell: To be fair we have a worryingly short list of good guys right now.
Jeannette: That is also true, and The Untamed hits that weird spot where has this - its also mentioned in quite a few fascinating conversations, such as people trying to argue that chaste queer romance is superior to not-chaste romance, because it's kinda fed into that argument of [air quotes] "clean" and the kink at pride conversations, where a certain subsection of people, queer people who are not comfortable with overt, depictions of kink, sexuality, kind of look at the Untamed and say "This is how it should be," and it's sort of like the "I'm glad you're getting the content you want, but also, where that comes from is is an uncomfortable place for a lot of other people, because it is born from censorship, not a desire to depict a squeamishness about sexuality in general.
Jeannette: So yeah. It's -
Foz: Shaun, you had a -
Shaun: I wanted to jump in because I think it's really interesting, because we've been talking about works and problematic content that's in in works, and there's only been a couple of mentions of works created by problematic people. A little bit in this latest example
Jeannette: The entirety of china got brought up, Shaun!
Shaun: Yeah, but before, I got it, but what I'm saying that the question that led us to this point about "can you like something without condoning it", and it seems like that the answer we've come to with the works themselves: yes. You can enjoy something that is problematic without condoning what makes it problematic, but for me I wonder, the other side of this, which is about the people who may be behind it -and it was in the comments, the reference of JK Rowling, because she's one of the latest of the high profile examples of someone who's become extremely problematic, or as some people would say outright a bigot and a TERF.
Russell: And not even that recent, but yes.
Shaun: Fair point, I would say, for a lot of people it suddenly became very public, but it certainly wasn't recent, you're right Russell. And I think that the answer for the people who are problematic who create the things that we enjoy, the answer to this question is a lot harder -
Foz: I think -
Shaun: Can you enjoy Rowling without condoning Rowling?
Foz: I think this is a specific example where the medium matters a lot, because when you're looking at say an author, the author is the single person who creates the book, or sometimes it's two people writing together. But it's a much more one-to-one relationship between consuming the thing and supporting that person, depending on how you buy. If I go out today for whatever reason and decide to buy a second-hand copy of Rowling, she wouldn't get any money from it, because it's already been purchased
Foz: So there are ways to engage where you can financially disengage from it, you can buy something secondhand. But when you're looking at something like a TV show, there are so many people involved so you say OK, do we go by the prominence of the person involved? Do we really care if an Assistant Director gets brought up on criminal charges because - or like are we concerned if it's the director, are we concerned if it's the producer, are we concerned if it's one of the actors, if it's a minor actor,
Russell: I mean there's a big difference in positioning between Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, for example, so -
Foz: Yeah, and I mean, they're both atrocious, but the thing is, if you say "I'm going to stop watching", for instance, this tv show, because of one person involved in it, you're also disconnecting from everyone else involved in it who you might want to support whose fault this isn't. So I think it's kind of like a false - in a lot of contexts it can be like a false dichotomy to set up where you're saying watching the thing or not watching the thing is the way to express your disapproval of that person -
Russell: Sure -
Foz: - I feel like the more effective mechanism, because let's be honest, the big societal failing, the reason this is a conversation a lot of the time is that people with social power, people who are celebrities, people who are prominent within their industry, they don't suffer any consequences, so it feels like it's put on you as a fan and a consumer to try and demonstrate the consequences, but that's not how it should be. We're not the ones who should be holding for instance Warren Ellis accountable, or Harvey Weinstein accountable, that should be a legal thing, and there's a whole other conversation about the failings of the police and the law department everywhere. But what I'm getting at is that it's a fundamentally - I feel like fandom has taken this burden on itself, especially when it comes to stuff that's actually literally criminal, and not just "oh that person is a bit toxic or a bit dicey". Fandom has had this burden put on it to try and morally - to be responsible in some sense, emotionally for whether or not bad people make a living from the stuff that they do, particularly in context where they're not the only ones creating it, and where cancelling that entire show or thing would have an impact on the livelihood of other innocent people, and that shouldn't be on us
Russell: No -
Jeannette: Can I just -
Foz: - we should have a better -
Jeannette: - bring up an example, of something that came up very recently, because a new season is about to drop -
Foz: Of what sorry?
Jeannette: The Dragon Prince?
Russell: Oh yeah.
Jeannette: It's a TV show
Shaun: I was thinking Sleepy Hollow would be another good example.
Jeannette: Where the people who are saying the allegations are saying "we want change, we don't want fans to boycott the show, we want the company to be less sexist. We want to have our jobs -"
Russell: I need to mention Brooklyn 99 as well at this point because obviously it's a show babout cops, at the centre of it all, and for all of the goodwill it's had from - and quite a massive fanbase, one thing I would note recently that they've done, apparently they had the entire of the next season ready to go, more or less, or at least a large chunk of it, but because of recent events, they've basically canned the entire thing and said "Right, look, we're going to have to take a whole new approach on this." And that was not, I don't think that was anything the fans specifically asked for, I think that was possibly an expectation that the people on the show had on themselves, to give to the fans as to what they thought would be the right thing to do.
Foz: I hadn't heard that, I'm impressed to hear that, but I feel like it's a thing where ideally in a perfect world we would have better mechanisms for when stuff is criminal conduct as opposed to just skeevy grossness as opposed to something you can argue about or disagree, we would have better mechanisms at least for fandom not having to be the arbiters and be the ones advocating and saying "Hey, maybe the serial rapist should not have a TV show anymore and should maybe go to jail a little?" We shouldn't have to be the ones doing that. And yet the world is imperfect and that often falls to -
Jeannette: But I do think on that level, for some of us at least, it becomes a matter of, you can't see that person's face without thinking about it. If that person's behind the camera or in the writer's room or a producer you're like "Okay, I don't have to look at their face."
Noria: Was that not the reason why they replaced Kevin Spacey and had the entire last season centre Claire?
Foz: Yeah, but that's a fairly clear-cut example, because it's like, hey, dude's a rapist.
Shaun: It's an individual. It's an individual too, yeah.
Foz: And it's not just, oh, dude had some shady comments on the internet where people can argue "free speech ra ra ra," whatever, it's like legitimately -
Russell: A whole thing, yeah
Foz: - a go directly to jail, do not stop, do not pass go moment. But it's more or less -
Jeannette: An interesting comment from the - like about separating the artist from the art I think is quite interesting -
[Pop-up from Nikolas Fox: I personally don't think you can separate the art from the artist when it comes to authors because they inherently write it into their books. They are writing from their experience.]
Jeannette: Because in some ways it's very hard to separate the two, there's also a level to me where you could be getting something from the art that they didn't put there intentionally.
Foz: Yeah, there is -
Jeannette: So there is something there that that is actually an accident, is a happy coincidence because you come from different, a slightly different cultural background cultures or you have different set of life experiences, and you see yourself echoed there in a way that you don't see yourself echoed elsewhere and that's that can be very frustrating and you can be like
Foz: And sometimes when we talk about writing from experience, I think at a certain point - and again this is a your mileage may vary thing - when people are, I think it makes a difference to me personally when people are writing from a blind spot they might not have considered as opposed to deliberately, purposefully putting forward a view I find objectionable. So if I'm looking at somebody who has a story and there's no queer characters in it for instance, and I'm like "Oh, this is super straight and heterosexual," that's disappointing to me, particularly if I'm looking at the narrative and going "Oh I can see so many opportunities for queerness in this world" if it's a fantasy setting and I want to know how that works. And it might just be that the author, being straight, hasn't considered that. But if then I'm looking at somebody and they are actively bigoted and it's not in their work, that makes a difference to me. But again, its like a your mileage may vary thing, because - talking about trash piles and rolling around therein: I've watched most of supernatural and often that's garbage. And often it's complete garbage in ways that personally irritate me, but the bits that I like are what keep me coming back and the reason that I yell about the bad bits at all is because I care about the good bits, and I feel like that's the quintessential fandom experience often gets lost in it. Yes I'm yelling about this thing and the ways that it sucks, because I love it, or I love parts of it. And I wouldn't care, I wouldn't be invested in fixing the shitty aspects of it if it didn't have something that I thought worth engaging with.
Shaun: Yeah I think that part of what you're saying is that there's sort of like a difference between something that's irredeemably harmful, and something that has harmful elements but at its core maybe has something that's worth redeeming. So I can't speak for all of Supernatural because I'm about twelve seasons behind but - but right
Foz: There are so many seasons!
Shaun: There are so many seasons but there are so many aspects -
Jeannette: You're at least half-way through then.
Shaun: I'm getting there, I'm closing in, but there's aspects of the show that are certainly problematic, but you also have these really fascinating brother to brother love, these two brothers, not that kind of brother love, just to be clear, I know I know about some of the community, so I mean in terms of this family dynamic and these things and there those things I think are largely very positive about the show, and then you have the other problems that sometimes crop up, sexism and other things that Dean is a bit of a playboy and other kinds of stuff, but there is something at the core that I would argue -
Shaun: Compelling, yeah. Whereas if you look at some other works and you might end up with a work that, like for example the Gor novels, which is, there's really nothing redeemable about the Gor novels. They're explicitly sexist, they sort of imagine a horrifying future in which women are essentially subservient and slaves and all these kinds of things, and those are largely irredeemable and they're obviously directly tied to the author in a way that -
Jeannette: But if for some reason you really want to wank to them, I'm not going to stop you, is what I'm trying to say.
Shaun: Sure, yeah, absolutely, there's a difference between you personally saying these are my lines and I don't cross them, and so like my rule is basically if somebody is very bigoted in public, I just wait till they're dead and then I can read their work. But that's my personal rule.
Shaun: Now I made that rule -
Noria: I like that rule!
Foz: Sorry Shaun, I just have this image of you like looking at a watch waiting - with JK Rowling like tick-tock!
Russell: That's a very special watch you have there.
Shaun: There's nothing Rowling's released that I need to wait on, there are other authors that are still alive that I - that might die soon. But part of it is also like the scale of publishing, right? So, any given year there's thousands and thousands and thousands of just science fiction and fantasy books, and I don't have the time to read all of them, I'm gonna die before I read the ones that come out this year alone, that's just impossible, so I have to make decisions about what I cut out, and if you've made the conscious decision as an author or whatever to go around saying horrifying things and whatever, for me it's an easy decision. I can't read read all these things anyway, so [chopping gesture], gone. And maybe if the work's really important one day and I need to write like a fricking dissertation on it, maybe I'll wait till you're dead and I'm 95, and then I'll write about it. But otherwise there's tons of other stuff that's worth my time.
Foz: I think that's the thing. You have reasons for picking and choosing. You only have a finite amount of energy, you have a finite amount of time, and if you want to say say "Hey I don't want to read or watch or support this thing because of x character or x arc,"... sure! Nobody is standing over you saying "I'm sorry, you haven't fulfilled your quota of bullshit trash misogynist fantasy for the month."
Jeannette: Wait -
Foz: Nobody's doing that.
Jeannette: - But that comes with the problem that in certain circumstances you're told where in order to participate in this community you have to read the greats of SFF -
Foz: Ugggggggggggggggh MEN
Jeannette: - You know, you show up and then they're like "oh yes, you should totally have to read Asimov", and I'm like "Well no you don't?"
Foz: Kiss my Asimov.
Jeannette: Read literally anything else? You could find some of your A level maths problems and read those, that would simulate reading Asimov! There I said it.
Russell: Yeah, I had some friends at school who absolutely loved - good friends as well – loved Asimov.
Jeannette: - maths problems! For longer!
Russell: I was listening to them trying to pitch it and not quite my tempo, but as long as you're enjoying it that's cool but not, yeah.
Jeannette: But I think there's this unfortunate gatekeeping element to, these are the works that you should read to engage with this community. And I think that that can get very uncomfortable picking on the example there with the Gor novel, apparently endorsed by someone in both the SF and BDSM community in the comments. I stress this is not an endorsement, it's just that if for some reason you find it sexy I'm not gonna stop you, but be aware of why it's problematic! But those people most people here are aware of it already so I'm not gonna lecture you. I want
Noria: I think -
Jeannette: I -
Noria: No sorry Jeannette, please go on.
Jeannette: One of the things I find really fascinating I suppose is the idea of cultures having this slightly different set of things that they are bigoted about, and how that can create things, accidentally create things you find enlightening or illuminating. To get really pretentious, Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, when he travelled to the UK to Ireland, he was like "Huh, I previously thought that segregation was very normal, that white people, even "anti-racist" white people don't want to be in the same space as black people that's just how people work", and he went to the UK, to Ireland and he was like "Oh, people people are still very racist here", but segregation wasn't normal. People would assume they're gonna share a cab, because rich people are cheap like that, and it was suddenly a moment of like "Oh. Maybe that's something to this, it's not a thing, the idea that white people just cannot exist in the same space as, and it would be better to be in a separate place, maybe that's not a natural one" and it's not like he saw a completely not-racist world, he saw a slightly different racist world.
Russell: This might -
Jeannette: And I think that's important, and that to me sometimes why experiencing anime even though it can be sexist punches different sexism buttons and it's like oh, how refreshing! A different set of ridiculous sexism.
Foz: And one I don't have to live with every day!
Noria: I honestly think that -
Jeannette: You need to be open to why those things are also bad.
Noria: Sorry Jeannette -
Jeannette: Whilst you're embracing like, like whilst I'm sitting here going "Oh anime has all these female characters" I kind of also have to say, yes, but they're also pandering to a certain demographic and that's why they exist."
Jeannette: But look! Different boob sizes!
Russell: You know how you say Frederick Douglass had that conversation when he went to Dublin, I had that conversation, I've had that people have had that conversation with me as recently as last year, so yes.
Foz: How are we for time?
Shaun: We're technically over.
[Pop-up from AllieCat1019: Being open to criticism is healthy. If something you love is problematic, take the criticism and think about your blindspots.]
Noria: I think we're over, I think we've actually technically we've overshot, but I don't think anybody was complaining especially in comments and I do think that having in-depth conversations about this is important.
Noria: Because ultimately we're having this conversation on a booktube channel, and we're all involved in fandom, we've been involved in fandom for years, so I think that in itself, in its way this conversation has been essential and important in helping people understand just how to better navigate those spaces. I do know I have to do the update, but I'll definitely put the update links to all your twitter handles and ways people can still come reach you and continue that conversation, because I do think this was not a conversation that we can have in an hour. It's something that you know is continuous because fandom is ever changing, it's every growing! Authors keep doing stupid shit! Creators keep doing dumb-ass fuck shit! So this conversation -
Russell: And really smart stuff sometimes as well.
Noria: And sometimes really smart stuff, so smart that you're like "Yo, are you from another planet? Are you a different species? Have you not seen the stupidity that the rest of your kind have been doing?" Or, then we start giving them all the cards for doing the barest minimum, but I think it says a lot about us in fandom that we're so used to receiving garbage that you're like [gasp] "This person did something wonderful!" And I'm just shocked. So. [laughs]
Jeannette: I think -
Noria: I do love that.
Jeannette: I really want to talk about the different, the changing standard, the shifting standards of what is problematic and how that's both good and bad.
Noria: Yes, I think we can, you can have that conversation, I'll just wrap up this part of the liveshow with that
Jeannette: I'll take it to twitter.
Noria: Okay, okay, but I told everybody in the chat, I will have the updated links in the description box, so go check everyone out, follow them, @ them and tell them "Yo! I was part of the Your Fave is Problematic panel, in the comments and I had this thought" I'm sure they will be willing to respond. Please do it. Don't be like all those fans that are like "I'm bugging you I'm bugging you, answer me now!" Take time, be cool about it, some of us can be cool in fandom, so.
Russell: I mean you can if you like. But I'm not gonna promise I'm gonna answer you in a hurry if you do that.
Noria: Okay, Russell is already given you the heads up about it [laughs]
Russell: I'm just kidding, I probably will, I don't get like bombed with thousands and thousands of tweets a day so don't worry about it. Come at me.
Noria: Okay. I'm certain that we'll take you up, I know that I'll take you up on that. You've been warned but I don't think you mind, so that works, But I want to say a huge thank you, thank you so much for coming on this panel, thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions with us, I know I'm going to replay this panel over and over because there's so many nuggets that my mind is like "yo, everything, oversaturation" sometimes. It affects me like that. So thank you so much for coming, and thank you all for joining me in the audience and we're going to have still cool panels for the rest of today and tomorrow, so you can just please please follow and we'll see you soon, so bye everybody! Thank you!
Russell: Lovely to see you all, take care!
Jeannette: Oh god why are there so many people, are there even that -