Sunday, April 4, 2021

CoNZealand Fringe Transcript: Tubes, Pods, Tweets and Blogs: Fan Criticism in the Digital Age

During CoNZealand, a group of fans put together a set of panels, which took place outside convention hours, which would be available for free via Youtube and offer a taster of the Worldcon experience to those unable to participate in CoNZealand's programming hours, or hadn't bought a membership but were interested in the kind of content provided. The result was a set of 15 panels over 6 days, archived and available for all at

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 Tubes, Pods, Tweets and Blogs, which ran on Saturday 1 August 2020 at 4pm BST/11am EDT/8am PDT/3am NZST (next day) and is available here. Other panel transcripts are available via our transcript hub.

Tubes, Pods, Tweets and Blogs: Fan Criticism in the Digital Age

Panel Description: We live in an age with fantastic media coming at us from all angles: from ebook subscriptions to streaming services to podcasts, not to mention more traditional media. How do you write about the world of tomorrow when it’s coming at you this fast? What forms of criticism other than traditional long form reviews have evolved in the digital age? Our panel will discuss the many platforms and communities of fan criticism, from the audiovisual to the written word, and how different forms of critical discussion have evolved to create a “golden age” of fan criticism.

Host: Emily @emiloid (she/her)

Moderator: Brent Lambert (he/him)

Panellists: Claire Rousseau (she/her), Paul Weimer (he/him), Foz Meadows (they/them), Leslie Byron Pitt 

[Editor’s Note: This panel took place a day after the Hugo Award Ceremony, hosted by George R. R. Martin, which was widely criticised by the community as offensive and disrespectful to the finalists and the New Zealand SFF community. When panellists reference e.g. “the current clusterfuck”, they are talking about this ceremony.]

Emily: Alright. Alright, is everyone good?

Leslie: Very much so, yeah

Emily: Alright, awesome. Okay, so hello everybody, welcome to this livestream. My name is Emily, I go by the alias @Emiloid here on the internet. I'm a BookTuber and I talk about books and sometimes I yell about films on this channel. I was very kindly asked by Claire here -

Claire: [waving] hello

Emily: - to host this CoNZealand Fringe panel about fan criticism, critique in the Digital Age and we have an awesome panel here today. So I hope on your way in or out you also take the time to subscribe to my channel and check out my videos as well. So, shall I hand it over to you, Brent, you’re the mod here, and let’s take it away.

Brent: Yep, okay so I have a quick disclaimer, then we'll get to the panel. So: CoNZealand Fringe has been created as a complimentary programming series to the annual science fiction convention Worldcon. All our livestreams take place outside core CoNZealand programming hours and are not official CoNZealand programming items. CoNZealand Fringe is not endorsed by CoNZealand. So big disclaimer out the way, this panel is entitled Tubes, Pods, Tweets and Blogs: Fan Criticism in the Digital Age.

I am Brent Lambert, social media manager and reviews editor for (emphasises pronunciation) FIYAH literary magazine.


Brent: Just wanted to get the pronunciation right for the whole world. So now that that little bit of bitterness is out the way, I will allow each of our panellists to introduce themselves. Foz, we can start with you.

Foz: Okay, hi, I'm Foz Meadows, I'm an Australian currently resident in the US. I am a author, blogger, fan writer - I won a Hugo for fan writing last year, which was kinda cool - and generally I yell about stuff on the internet.

Brent: Alright, Leslie, we'll let you go next.

Leslie: Hi, well, I'm Leslie, I'm an English film blogger, writer, podcaster, um, photographer, just a kind of media node so to speak, um and that's it - you can find me on @Afrofilmviewer like nearly everywhere, if you Google that name, it's usually me.

Brent: Okay, alright, [laughter] Claire we will let you go, I'm sure you have a grievance there much like myself.

Claire: (laughing) Hi, I am Hugo Award loser Claire Rousseau, I have a Booktube channel, it's a fancast - fancasts: it has video now - and also, FIYAH's not hard to say. Like, I’m very white.

It's not that hard.

Brent: Okay, Paul, last but not least.

Paul: Hi, I'm Paul Weimer, I'm a fan writer, I'm also a photographer but I'm here because I write book reviews for places like Nerds of a Feather, and other places. And I'm also a Hugo Loser like Claire.

Claire: Yay, what a cool club!

Brent: Woo! Alright, so Hugo disasters aside, we are actually gonna talk about some really interesting stuff today just because you guys have all been doing some great work in terms of like criticism and fandom and just how - in the Digital Age, how does that look?

So I guess my first question would be: if someone wanted to newly enter the space of fan criticism, what considerations would you tell them to keep in mind to have a successful, fulfilling experience in it? I will start with Claire.

Claire: Well, I mean, it's interesting because I'm not sure that everything that I do on Booktube I would qualify as fan criticism. Some of what I do I certainly think of as fan criticism, but not absolutely everything, you know. I do a lot of things that are like kind of like hyping books and, you know, talking about stuff that is not out yet, I've not read it, so you know it's not really criticism, but there's also a bunch of reviewing and a bunch of talking about news that obviously will have a slant and that counts as criticism but it's a small part, you know?

But, I just - it's my favourite part, so.

Brent: And you do it well!

Claire: Thank you.

Brent: Alright so, I will go to Paul next, how would you answer this one?

Paul: I think - and I'm going to say this probably a lot during this panel - the key for someone wanting to get into this is to read widely and diversely. Expand your horizons, expand what you read, expand the authors, expand the types of media you consume. That makes you a better critic of the stuff that you might think of as your core. If you look at stuff outside of your core you can see how that reacts to your own and you can make connections, you can make parallels, you can make - you can react and look at the stuff you love in a new way and make you a stronger reviewer. I - since I've been trying to expand my reading widely over the last few years, I've learned to love the stuff I love more and learned to love and understand other things and improve my criticism and fan reviewing game immensely by trying to read as broadly and deeply as possible.

Brent: (applauding) love that answer, that's great. So, I will go to Leslie, because I know you do more film, so I'd be interested to hear how you answer the question.

Leslie: Yeah, so I kinda just will elaborate on what Paul said there. For me, it's about understanding your voice. And if anybody wanted to get into the idea of fan criticism in that way it's understanding your voice and realising it's not just about what you like and what you dislike. 

It's about trying to build - and create - how can I say this - it's trying to build and create on your opinion as more than just like really straight, rigid binary things, so to speak. So it is about kind of - um - it is about reading and writing widely, and for me one of the biggest things I found was as a film - as someone who writes a lot about film and talks about film on various podcasts, the first thing I had to do was, not watch films, so to speak (laughs)

It was - I took up a different hobby and it was about looking and building my kind of visual language and then I had to look into talking to people that have very different views on my own personal views and looking at things like politics and just trying to find a way of building and establishing that voice and understanding who you are before you kind of just rush into it and just go 'this is what I'm doing, yadda yadda yadda' that's the only way I can really kind of say. But that's me.

Brent: No, I mean, that makes sense, like finding your voice is probably an important part of any creative process so yeah, that makes total sense. Foz, I will finish off with you.

Foz: Ah, so, I think the main thing I'd say is, be prepared to be wrong sometimes, because the internet is a discursive - a discussion medium not a broadcast medium and it's interactive. So when I first started sort of yelling on the internet, it was much more disparate. You know, like it would be on a blog and it would be  - so I didn't have any readers, really, when I started, it was just something that I built - a readership is something I built up very gradually and part of that was because there wasn't really Twitter, there wasn't social media, you just sort of started having an opinion because you had an opinion. And by the time I'd sort of gotten to a point where I had an audience and I was aware of people reading me, I'd kind of learned, okay, sometimes I'm going to say something and I'm not going to be correct and there's going to be an argument about it or I'm going to think about it and come back to it later. But I think particularly now, people can often get hung up on the idea that - sometimes even just in the effort of not wanting to be problematic and people just trying to do their best - they can get paradoxically caught up in the idea that because they're trying, what they're saying must be correct. 

And nobody - a lot of people don't want to be confrontational, they don't want to have an argument, they don't want to be argued with, but it's kind of inevitable. If you're going to have an opinion on the internet where other people can see you and it's going to be about something that other people care about, sooner or later you're going to be argued with or somebody is going to disagree with you and it might be polite disagreement, it might be just casual disagreement or it might be vehement. But you have to be prepared to think “how much do I want to engage with that, even if I think about what this other person has said about my criticism, do I need to engage with them?” And I think - yeah - a lot of people have this reflexive thing that if somebody says you're wrong about this, “oh I must instantly be wrong” and they don't want to think about it they just want to do the right thing to the exclusion of having critical thought, which is kind of, to me, antithetical to the idea of criticism, in a sense where you're just 'oh I'm sorry I did the wrong thing'. And sometimes that reflex can be useful if somebody has said 'oh you've done something problematic' or ‘this is a bit racist' or 'this is a bit whatever' and so the reflex to say Ooh right I'm sorry, I'll fix that' is good, but you still need to actually think about it and not just uncritically accept everything that's said to you so that you're actually understanding what the issue is - if there is one - or alternatively if someone, if it's a point where you can actually have two different opinions co-existing at the same time, you can go 'actually, no, I respect that you have a different take on this to me but mine is still valid'. You actually need to continue to think critically about the criticism that your criticism receives.

Brent: Absolutely.

Leslie: Very true.

Brent: Yeah. Paul did you want to add something? It seemed like - 

Paul: No, no, I was just agreeing.

Brent: Okay, okay. [Laughs] Yeah, no, absolutely, that's a great thought. Um, alright so moving on to the next thing, so social media right? Social media is kinda cultivated this environment where we have media outlets that seem to just kind of be in a race with each other to be the first to provide a review or a critical critique of like a new media item or whatever. Do you feel the need to try and do that in your own work? And what do you feel like are the pros and cons of that approach of trying to be first in when a new media item comes out? I'll start with Paul.

Paul: Okay. So I do get - well until the pandemic, I was getting tons of review copies in the mail every week, it was - it was ridiculous at some point, not as many as some, but enough. Now I have to do a little more - a little more engagement with publishers and publicists to get them. I like to get stuff early because I like to talk about and think about stuff that's not come out yet so that if it's really good, it's really something that pushes the genre or pushes a subgenre or pushes a new author whose voice I think wants to be heard then I can talk about it and I can get that voice out there in front. I'm not in a race with other bloggers, other reviewers to try to get that review first, I feel like I'm trying to help uplift the boats of what's coming on the horizon. 

I think - I think there's a value since - since we're in a tsunami of so many choices, so many things, so many things we can buy, read and consume that to get on top of what someone might actually want to read, something I think might be important or valuable, or strong and put a light there like 'hey you're gonna [excited noise], this is coming out in two months you might want to read this, here - here's why' and that's the way I feel about it. I like to be that signal light to boost others and to point the way towards stuff coming in the future, so I really value being able to read stuff in advance if I can.

Brent: Alright, yeah, that's good thoughts. Foz I will go to you on this one because I know you do a whole lot of reviewing yourself too.

Foz: I think mainly - so there is some paid reviewing that I do - or I have done - for Strange Horizons - and then that case it's sort of like reading a book, getting it out there, particularly if it's a newer thing you're trying to get the review out in a in a good window for the book itself to benefit from it if it's a good review or to join the conversation if it's a more critical one. But generally for me if I consume something or I read about an incident, uh, happening in fandom and I get a little itch in my brain going 'someone is wrong on the internet!' and I have to talk about it immediately. That's the immediacy that comes to me is that when I have the opinion I want to get it off my head because the writing becomes kind of cathartic in that sense. But otherwise, I don't have that sort of drive to be first with it, because sometimes I'll be talking about something that's an older show or an older book and it's just that I've discovered it now and I think that's one of the things that's so wonderful about fandom is people can be discovering things at any time. So there are times that I'll have reviews that I wrote several years ago but I'll still get comments on them every once in a while because somebody has just discovered that book series and they were looking for an opinion about it and my review of it came up. So it's not sort of that rush. I think it's kind of, like, yes, if there's - if there's a thing happening, an event happening, that's more - like, if there's an ongoing clusterfuck in fandom or there's an ongoing thing in fandom and I have an opinion about it then that's when I have that drive to participate in the conversation as it's happening, but with works it's more - the only immediacy is just wanting to get it out. Otherwise I just kind of want to - I'm talking to myself in a - in a strange way. Like, I'm conscious of the fact that I have an audience, but generally speaking if I'm - if I'm taking the time to sit down and write something it's because I've got the little gremlin in my brain yelling that I need to - to have thoughts about a thing and not because I'm thinking 'oh this has to be new and immediate'. 

Brent: Yeah. Well I look forward to your thoughts on our current clusterfuck, so -


Brent: So Claire I will go to you next.

Claire: Sorry, did you say me?

Brent: Yes. Yes.

Claire: Okay. Um, well, the thing with social media is that it helps and it doesn't help in a lot of senses. Obviously the - the basis of the question, the immediacy of wanting to do things, yeah we do want to react to things quickly, but I think it can bite us because you need to make sure that you know what you're saying and that you are actually expressing yourself the way you want to and that you haven't rushed in a way that means you know you're putting something out that's not quite as good as you would otherwise do. That's kind of - one of my concerns is to make sure that I'm not kind of rushing to an answer and then a couple days later going like I wish I'd been more nuanced or whatever. I'm not talking about the current situation, because I don't think I need to be more nuanced about that, but just in in terms of reviewing books, movies, whatever, especially - there's a question in chat about from Shaun about reviewing things outside our lived experiences, I think especially being able to take the time to take in other point of views as well can be really really helpful. I think a lot of people feel afraid that they'll be influenced by what other people say, and I feel like you need to have confidence in your own voice, that that's not necessarily going to happen, and that you will still have something worthwhile to bring to the table, even if you're not the first out of the starting blocks and even if you are taking into account other points of view, I think it's quite important to think, you know, um -

Brent: Alright, yeah, Paul

Claire: Paul has a thing

Paul: Yeah I want to follow that, because as - if I find that someone has written a review of a book that I am about to read or I am reading, I won't read it because I am kind of a little concerned that I am going to have my opinion shifted by what the review is, especially if I really respect the reviewer and what they have to say. I don't want to have to disentangle my thoughts from their thoughts, especially if we’re kind of simpatico, I'd like to have my own relatively unfiltered approach. And then later, afterwards, I will read their review and compare it to mine and it's like “okay so this is what Claire liked and what - I didn't realise what Claire said here, but well I can see that about that book”. So after the fact I'll look at what other people thought about the same book I did, but not while - not beforehand, because I do want to have my - be able to present a experience that is mine -

Claire: Yeah

Paul: - and not actually or accidentally stealing from you. Because that would not be fair.

Claire: Well I think maybe it depends of the type of person that you are - I find, and I don't know if that makes me... I don't know what that says about me - but I oftentimes find that I find it easier to respond to other people. If I see an opinion, I'll kind of know - 'oh I agree' or I don't, - I find that easy and also I have confidence in my reaction to, I don't know, if someone has a hot take about a thing, I often find myself fairly confident in my reaction on that so I don't know if that's just maybe a different take personally that you have on how you do your work.

Paul: I think - I think it's - I think it's particularly valid. You, you have a strong central core for yourself, you don't feel like that my review is going to completely bollocks yours, that's perfectly valid.

Brent: Okay, so, Leslie, I'm gonna let you finish this one up, this is good stuff.

Leslie: [Laughing] Yeah, I don't want - I don't like chiming in, I'm loving listening to all these other opinions because it's just - it's interesting to kind of put yourself into a certain perspective.

For me, I've never been that interested in being first - which is weird, I used to be a sprinter


Leslie: I used to be quite good at it [laughs] - for me it's all about context and correlation and - and the cream rising to the top, and one of the worst thing I have found about social media and this culture of being first and hot takes and all this stuff is how - I wouldn't say it's misinformation, but how so much stuff is just... is wrong and un-nuanced. And especially for me when it comes to like writing in film, there's - it's so, so interesting to watch a film like - I'll just pick Jennifer's Body. And Jennifer's Body, when it first came out, and I remember writing about it and going, “it wasn't that great and I wasn't that impressed with this aspect and this aspect and this aspect” and then watching - we've now gone 10 years, 20? 12 years? I can't remember when it came out at this point in time - and you've seen new voices look at that movie and going oh well this is the angle to it, this is a reading to it, this is a feminist reading to it, this is a queer reading to it - this is so many different things to that film that someone like myself just missed, so being first has never really been a big thing for me because I don't think people read into everything as well as they can when they're coming at it to be first. I think it's - it's just the rush to turn around and go “I've done this first, I'm the first person to do this”, to get as many hits or clout or anything. For me it's always about trying to find the context and correlation with things, especially with what I'm talking - with what I do now in terms of writing, I write for a website called Set the Tape and I find myself writing more about the older films. I mean, at this moment in time I've got another Billy Wilder film to go in to review and I'm finding it to be so freeing to have a look at this and look at the context of the culture back then and look in the culture now and just writing at my own pace. The other thing is I'm a very very slow writer (laughs). The problem, I have this thing on where I really want to try and get the right things on the page, so to speak and the thing that really, I think, frustrates me is this kind of rush to try and deliver something out as quickly as possible because there is so much content and everyone gets lost. I mean whoever comes first these days usually gets lost in this mire of stuff um whereas if you can bring out something nuanced and interesting and with some real value that usually takes time.

And not only it takes time it takes multiple viewings of something or multiple readings of something. I know a lot of the people here are are more based in books, but because I'm more based in film so what happens to me is I hate Bridget Jones' Diary and I've watched that film three times, and the reason why I've watched that film three times is to try and gain more sense of the reading and try and gain more sense of other people's opinions and see where it actually lies in certain things. I means it's for me it's always been a big big big thing for -there was a website called The Dissolve, which was a film website, which I absolutely loved, it came up with something, I think it was Nathan Rabin I apologise if I get his name wrong -  if he's watching -  and  he used to come up with something called Forgotbusters where there was a whole bunch of movies that made a ton of money at the time and then no one talks about them any more.  They just completely forgot about them and he was delving into them and looking at them like years on and that was really interesting and that's where I think some of the best criticism comes from, where you have that time to kind of slow down, have a look at something and write at your own pace. I think it's been about five years since I've stopped writing about a lot of more modern movies, mostly because I find them boring - not the films themselves but I think the conversation around them boring and they become more interesting five years down the line, ten years down the line when you can correlate and see what other see what a body of work is doing. I mean the big thing about criticism for me was always about looking at certain things and going 'oh hang on a minute, um, isn't there a body of work, isn't that - he's doing one thing here and looking at it on a larger scale'. I've always thought that to be the most important thing. So, but again, it's my - just my opinion on it, but being first has never been interesting to me in terms of writing. I think you get a lot of hurried work that kind of gets lost in the mire. 

Brent: Yeah, so something you said had like spurred a question in my head and I'm going to save it for later, because - okay, something you said about time and, like, the putting it into the work I'm definitely going to ask you later, but we'll go through what I got planned first. 

Leslie: Okay, cool.

Brent: So in the same vein of social media, so there used to be a distance between creators and their audience. We've seen that distance kind of shrink and just become so much shorter, we have like “snitch tagging” is now part of the discourse, you know, authors expressing how they feel about being tagged in negative reviews or being attacked by trolls online for something they wrote or whatnot, so why do you believe some of these boundaries have blurred and what can be done to create better interactions between all parties involved? I want to start with Foz because I feel like they have talked about this topic before.

Foz: Yeah. I mean I think - like, the etiquette around reviewing and interacting with creators and things like that, it's something that we've kind of had to make up as we go along. 

So I remember a few years ago there was a huge discourse around Goodreads and the use of Goodreads, in particular. Because it's kind of simultaneously a feature and a bug of Goodreads as a reviewing site that if you are on there as an author you will see the reviews that come in of your book, whether they're negative or positive. And the impulse, because you are also a legitimate user of the site and you can see these things coming up is to react to what you see there. But then that becomes a very different thing where you're saying 'okay, but the review isn't for the author. The review there is for the readers’, and you would have some authors who would get very upset about the idea of having a bad review where they could see it because 'oh, that' but that's negatively impacting me' and 'somebody is wrong on the internet, and I want to respond' and it's a question about who the conversation is for. And that's something that makes Goodreads still a confused site in that matter because everybody is there legitimately and it can be distressing if you're interacting - if you're using that site as an author to suddenly come across, uh, you know to check your own books and come across - 'oh, here's a negative review' and feel like 'oh, they got something wrong in that. That's actually like a factually incorrect statement about what happens in the book’, you know, they've got a character's arc wrong or they've misinterpreted something, but it's not for you to to engage on that level. But then you've got the counterpoint where you'll get snitch tagged or you'll get tagged in on Twitter to a negative review because people - I mean, there's a range of reasons why it can happen, I mean I'm certain that I've probably done it in the past, just thoughtlessly, thinking 'oh I've reviewed this thing and I vaguely know the author and it's mostly a positive review even if it has some criticism in it' so I'll tag that person in, but you don't necessarily know… Like, they might not want to see that criticism, and you're not writing it for them, you're not trying to put your hand up and go 'hey', um, like - you're not trying to, to be like 'hey author senpai notice me' - wait, unless you're writing like a just a purely loving review, that's not what you're doing - and even then it shouldn't be for the author, it should be people who are having a conversation around the book. Um, so yeah, but social media is this thing where everybody feels like they're kind of next door to you in some sense.  Everything is accessible, everybody is accessible and particularly I feel like this is something that happens, there's like a sliding scale of accessibility because particularly newer creators or smaller creators or often authors - just because they're not behind a PR team, they're occupying social media as themselves as opposed to having an intern doing it or being part of a corporation. They're more accessible, so if you have a grievance about a particular book, it's easier to contact that author than it is to say 'hey i've got a grievance with Marvel being full of bullshit'. I can't contact Perlmutter because he's the worst and also not on Twitter -

Brent: Right, it -

Foz: So there's this frustration where you're, like, okay, who is actually accessible for me to vent to? Who do I think I have chance of convincing if I have a - if I have a grievance, if I think, uh, this particular comic or this particular movie or book or show, if I think there's something bad about it or problematic about it, or I'm angry about it, do I think I've actually got a chance of contacting somebody involved to make them understand how this has made me feel?

And the paradox - the unpleasant paradox there - which I think I talked about on the other Fringe panel I was on the other day, is you are more likely to be able to contact somebody who is marginalized, somebody who is newer in the industry, who's on Twitter as themselves as opposed to being too far up the food chain to have their own Twitter account any more or to be the one running it if they do. And it means that - also paradoxically - somebody who is most likely to care about diversity, who is most likely to care about the representations they're putting out into the world, is most likely to listen to the to the kind of criticism that comes in, but also most likely therefore to get burnt out by it, because they're more likely to get more. 

So you have these conversations where it's like 'oh this new book by an indie author is really problematic' and we're going to yell about it on Twitter, am I going to yell at them on Twitter and it's like yes, okay, that might be a legitimate complaint to make about the book, but let's not pretend there isn't also a double standard here when you've got endlessly shitty content coming out from massive, uh, Hollywood studios, but you can't yell at them. You can't - and there's also too many people involved - you can't yell at every single person involved in a Marvel movie. You can perhaps, you know, try and tag Chris Evans if you're feeling spicy,  but it's not going to achieve anything, so yeah, it just becomes this whole mess.

Brent: Yeah, absolutely. Paul, I would love to hear your thoughts on this one too.

Paul: Okay, so to extend a little bit from Foz's history, I think there's always been that creator-fan writer-critic intersectioning, back in the old days when, when dinosaurs ruled the earth it was through fanzines, but that was a very slow process. Okay: book comes out, letter comes into the fanzine next month, another letter comes back, it was a slow flame war. Now in the age of Goodreads and in Twitter and other social media, it's much more immediate, much more... much faster and so things get amplified, accelerated and become - fulminate, or fall down. The other - the other thing I want to talk about is relationships with authors. I mean, I'm friends with lots of authors on Twitter and that makes criticism and reviewing of their work interesting, in that I have to be professional and yet I want to support the author, I like the author, but I have to also be objective and - I've learned to my cost not to tag authors with reviews anymore, even authors who are my friends, or at least I think my friends, because that does blur the boundaries way too much and then it becomes where's criticism, where is just advertising and just boostering. And so I've had to learn to disconnect my reviewing from my friendship and boostering of an author so they're not inextricably and unhappily mixed together. It's something I'm still learning. I lost at least one friendship with an author because I tagged them on a review which I thought was positive. They took it very differently and very badly and I've not talked to that author since and so I don't talk - I mean, I gave a near perfect review to Kate Elliott's book Unconquerable Sun - which is awesome, you should all read it by the way - but I did not tag - 

Foz: I'm reading it now, it's great! 

Brent: I have it, so, like, I'm waiting.

Paul: I did not tag her on it even though we're friends, because I didn't want to have - I didn't want to - I wanted to pull apart that mix that I've fallen myself into and be more professional and less mixed up with it, with everybody else and I think I've gotten good results as a result. I mean, I can tell an author friend 'hey, I've made a review', but if they want to go find it, that's fine; if they can leave it alone, that's up to them, I'm not forcing it in their face like say Goodreads does, like 'here you must read my review now'.

Brent: Right. So, Leslie, I know you're coming at it from an entirely different atmosphere with like the structure of Hollywood and then, you know, film just in general is so much more - well it's not more, but it's just a different kind of collaboration - so how do you handle that distance between creators and audiences?

Leslie: Well, it's difficult. Although I think what Foz says is correct, is there is a paradox and I - to try and put it into a kind of perspective, I remember having an interview with a director and this star for a movie, and the interviews went really well, it was really nice, and I was able to take a quick picture of everything and whatnot, and then I was asked to review the film. And [laughs] the film... it was not particularly to my taste, um, and I treat - you, you look at the film and you'll be as professional as possible and you give the review as best as you can. But there is a reason why certain people just turn around and go 'you do the interview, you do the review' and just two different people, never the two should mix. I find it really, really difficult. I'm part of a podcast, a kind of new podcast called Hustlers of Culture, where what we do is we look back at certain movies and we look at it from a context of two people of colour. 

And one of the things that we do is - a lot of the movies that we look and we kind of contextualize is all - they're always kind of movies that we like and movies that we can extrapolate from. And what we have done on Twitter is we do put out at times - when the new episode comes out - if there are certain actors and, and actresses, or people within, who are on Twitter, they do get added onto a tweet and what will happen is “this is the thing” whether or not they listen to it we don't know. We've had in the past, directors actually listened to what we've had to say - and liked what we've had to say - and, and whatnot, but I don't go out to find people. I've been very very lucky to have certain people who I've reviewed certain movies from and they've found me on Twitter and they've started following me or I've had kind words and whatnot, but I don't necessarily go out of my way to do this any more. [Laughs]

Brent: Yeah

Leslie: Mostly because of the climate, but the other thing is it's not really for them. 

I mean, for me, I'm a co-host on two different podcasts, and what someone seems - what people seem to do every so often is you need the reviews in order to go up in charts and all this stuff will go into iTunes or wherever podcasts may be and whatnot... And the thing is you need those reviews to kind of go up, and every so often you will get a negative review, and the problem I have with that is I've never wanted to go out of my way to actually read negative reviews, I don't really look at the positive reviews so to speak. If someone has something nice to say about something I've done, you take it as a compliment and whatnot, but I've always felt that you do have to kind of keep a certain amount of distance, because you just can't, it's, there's a creation and it's your creation and you can have this conversation with people where you're trying to go 'well, this is my aim and this is what I was trying to do', but not everyone is going to see it eye to eye and I think that that still needs to, you still have to try and find ways of keeping that kind of separate. A part of me does feel as I go on and on that I don't think I need social media that much anymore, in that way - or well I do, but I don't respond to it in the same way as I used to and I think one of the reasons why is because of this closeness and everyone's brushing up against each other and I think opinions are getting more and more extreme and I think they - I think everyone's getting really territorial, and I think -

Foz: Particularly - sorry - particularly at the moment because of the pandemic -

Leslie: Yes!

Foz: Everybody is is stuck inside -

Brent: Right

Foz: - And I mean, I catch myself doom scrolling on Twitter and I have to stop, but at the same time I'm an extrovert who isn't getting the human socialization that I'm used to -

[general agreement]

Foz: And social media becomes like the next best thing to actually being able to go out and see a person.

Leslie: Yeah.

Foz: But there is that sort of paradox to it as well when it does - like Leslie was saying - when it does become too much, when things start to get too intense or it's going - like the conversation is going so fast - and people are arguing with each other, something I find really odd sometimes is that there becomes this double standard for what blocking means if you, if you block somebody in a conversation. Because if somebody blocks you then it's a sign that you've won the argument somehow, 'oh this so-and-so celebrity blocked me' or 'so-and-so author blocked me for - for criticizing them, therefore I'm fundamentally right and they're afraid of discourse', but if you block somebody that's you setting boundaries, natural boundaries, around your space in your time and your energy. 

Leslie: Yes.

Foz: And it's like, that disconnect still seems to exist for a lot of people where them blocking somebody is completely fine because they're the critic and they need the space and the time, but if  an author or a creator blocks them, then that's somehow a moral failing on their part. And it's like look, no, we're all just trying to use the cursed bird website as best we can -

Brent: Right.

Leslie: It's true.

Foz: And even if we happen to be wrong on the internet - still we have feelings and boundaries and past a certain number of Twitter followers - and I've got enough now that sometimes  if something I say goes slightly viral -  then it's like when will my mentions return from war, they just become unusable -

Brent: Right.

Foz: And you get this influx that you can't control and then it's like yeah, if I block somebody sometimes it's like - look, it's nothing personal, but you have - or mute somebody - it's like okay, but you have tagged me into a discourse that's going on. Like this happened a week or two ago - somebody used a tweet that I had made several weeks prior as an example, as like a response to something in this completely unrelated Twitter conversation that was like a political argument and they tagged me and like four other people in as a result of sharing this tweet and it's like I have - and it was suddenly somebody else's discourse was just taking over my mentions - and I'm like, I'm sorry, I did not ask to be introduced to this conversation you're arguing about, like, from what I can gather you're saying that some Republican is shit and I agree with you, but I didn't ask to be included in this conversation, that's all my mentions are for the next three days.

Brent: You know, I've always tried to like think of it as like you're walking into someone's house and you're having an argument without them knowing what the argument's about.

Foz: Yeah.

Brent: Like, whoa, wait, like you're a guest in my space, don't yell at each other and it's just... yeah, it can be frustrating and I hear all what you're saying, especially, like I think with every 10,000 followers, as the number grows up everything you tweet becomes that much more volatile. It could be the most innocuous thing, you could tweet a cat picture and it turns into a thing. 

Leslie: You also have to remember that we're almost, we've got this algorithm - whatever it is - and, it's not just... it's not just the fact that you get a following, you get followers and you get more followers, and more and more people can see your tweets and whatnot, it's also the fact that sometimes what's happening is Twitter will change something in the background and you'll put something completely innocuous as a tweet and then what will happen is you will get people just come through and attack. 

I remember something happening near the beginning of lockdown, where I was quite frustrated with something that was going on involving some journalism and I kind of just put an innocuous tweet out there - not to anyone in particular, not tagging in anyone - and then I get someone completely out of the blue because of a retweet come through and go 'well why don't you do this then' and becomes this massive, massive, massive, massive argument, and what I found I is like - she wasn't following me, she seemed to catch on to something that was retweeted and decided just to bound in and have this really weird argument. It's like, well, you must have a lot of time today. 

Foz: It's like somebody like banging open your front door going 'and another thing'  

Brent: it’s like the little Kool-aid man!

[laughter, crosstalk]

Leslie: Yeah. I mean, it's this thing where I - I don't mind discourse where I disagree with people or  anything else like that, but I'm very, very aware now of who I am and what pushes my buttons and I find myself being a lot more guarded on Twitter. And I don't know - I'm sure if there's people who's on my feed - they'll look at my feed and go 'you absolute liar' [laughs]

Brent: [laughs]

Leslie: But no, I feel like I'm a lot less open now to certain things, because the reason -

It's 280 characters and you do not get a sense of a person in those 280 characters, and I'm very much a person that I feel - so if you want to talk to me about certain things, talk to me in person.  And I'm finding myself, kind of pushing away from a lot of people because they're trying to have this really complex and knotty discourse in really, really small segments and it doesn't work, it really doesn't work, especially when it comes - like, I spend so much time on podcasts or a stream like this and everything, trying to pick out the right words and the right things to say and... someone will just come in with just this random 280 tweet and it's like 'okay, there's more to it than that' - I'm sorry, that - there's always more to it than that - and if you want to have a conversation about it then fine, but no, you just want to kind of get your opinion out there. 

And I think that's the problem, as much as I like how democratic the internet has made everything, there is also this thing of where people value their opinions sometimes too much in certain places. 

Um, I know that's not to say that their opinion isn't valid or anything else like that, but there is something very, very frustrating to see someone with 14 followers turn around and go to said director because they didn't like their movie and just go 'well I know what your film was about'. I saw it the other day, just one guy turning around to Bernard Rose of Candyman and trying to tell him what Candyman is and Bernard Rose is - he did that thing in Annie Hall where he just goes 'I don't think you know anything of my work' [laughs] like it's that thing where you just - you can have a reading of something, that's fine, and it's okay to try to converse with someone, that's not a problem either, even if it's the person who made it, but do remember that you're talking to the person who made it and their aims and that's so important.  As much as I love someone's opinion, it's like do remember who you're talking to and why.

Brent: Right.

Leslie: And it's not just, uh, it's not just turning around and saying ‘I have an opinion, I must say it and it's so important for me to play this thing' and it's like - 

Foz: It's - the sort of rule is: like, does this need to be said? 

Leslie: Yes.

Foz: Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me now? 

Leslie: Now, yes. 

Paul: Yeah.

Foz: And so many people fail on the second of those - it's like, maybe it needs to be said, but not by me. 

Leslie: Yeah. I fully agree - and I don't mean it to come - I don't mean myself to come out quite negatively about that, I do like to say I value other people's opinions, but it is this thing on where I think everything's become so territorial and everything's become so tribalistic and I always find it quite funny that I'm in these circles where people talk about stuff like sci-fi and - and geekdom and fandom - and you'd be surprised how much they have in common with, um, sports fans. And if you say - if you mention that, they go 'no we're not, no, not, not at all', it's like actually... 

Foz: Oh my god -

Leslie: ...actually, it's getting that way.

Brent: Absolutely.

Foz: I - this is like a total sidebar which I'll be very quick about, but I have come to adulthood without really caring about A Sport until the past couple of years and I've suddenly gotten into, uh, North American ice hockey -

Leslie: Okay

Foz: Which is absurd, it's like fighty ice chess, it's ridiculous and violent and it makes no sense and it's weirdly homoerotic and I love it. But, it's this bizarre thing of like I care about A Sport now, and that means I have to - like, I don't have to, but my Twitter is like, there are sport journalists and sport people that I follow on Twitter -  and the parallels like you're saying between the way people care about [noises offscreen] oh god, my cat's knocking things over -


Foz: The way people care about a sport and the way they care about fandom, I mean they are two fandoms basically.

Claire: Yeah.

Leslie: Yes.

Foz: The - the Jock/Nerd dynamic in that respect is not as far apart as Hollywood teen movies would have you believe.

Brent: Right. Right. Well, okay, so I did have a couple more questions, but I actually want to get to some audience questions because there's some really good ones in here so I'm going to - if we have time to - 

[Foz brings cat onscreen]

Claire: Yes, bring the cat, bring the cat 

Paul: Bring the cat, bring the cat

Brent: Yeah, bring the cat! Additional panelists - alright, so, a question from WorldsInInk. Alright, what defines a review? Styles and formats vary, so what do you think is essential to bring up in a review? And I will start with Claire on that one.

Claire: Yeah, I was actually on a panel about the art of the review at official Worldcon CoNZealand in their actual program and we did talk about that quite a bit, so I think it's available for replay now if anybody's watching and is a Worldcon member, you probably can go and see that. 

But for me, the building blocks are that you bring up the books, say who it's by, and who - you know, like, if it's illustrated don't forget the illustrator, and then just, for me, I like to talk about the - the premise of the book, and I think for me that it's quite important to talk about, to have a segment that's like, here's what this book is about to me. Because oftentimes you start, you get the blurb for it, and the marketing for it, and it goes one way and then when you read the book you get like 'oh it's - it feels like it's more about this, or it feels like it's more about that', you know, and for instance, if you take Gideon the Ninth, the whole marketing is “lesbian necromancers in space” and that's wonderful to make you pick up the book, but I think for me in my review I want to start and say like 'hey, actually, you know, Gideon is trying to leave the service of the Ninth House, but then she gets tricked into being the cavalier for the Ninth House and they have to go and do this game to become this elevated position and it's got all these other Houses, and it's quite Gothic and stuff' - like, I like to give a sense of what the book is about and I think with Gideon it's like a fairly severe, extreme example of the marketing having like this one pitch that's too good to not use ever, but I like to have a bit of that before going into critical analysis, because for me, a lot of what I do feels like here I am telling people about stuff I've read and hopefully if that sounds good they'll also pick it up too. So, that's an important bit for me, and also I find that I'm good at it, so that helps. I'm good at, like, making people invested in the story of a thing and picking it up.

Leslie: Big yourself up, I like that!

Claire: And you know, you have to be self-aware -

Leslie: Yeah

Claire: - but yeah, I mean then obviously critical analysis and I like to - when I prepare for filming a review, I usually have notes rather than the full script - but when I prepare I like to think about the writing, the characterization, the pacing, you know, how fast or slow did I read it, did it - was there any point in reading the book that I was just kind of like 'ugh do I HAVE to', you know, like, all that kind of different, um, things that can go… and sometimes... sometimes a book really annoys me so so so so much that I want to go in and like do a review that is just griping about it

Foz: Oh, same. Same.

Claire: Oh like, I thought you said name names, and I was - 

Foz: Oh no no no no no!

Brent: I was ready, I was waiting

Foz: There's like a spectrum of review things where it's like I'm really enjoying a book and I so wanted to say how much I'm enjoying it, that I finish it really quickly; there's sort of a middle ground where sometimes it's like 'oh I'm enjoying the book but I'm not hugely passionate about it' and the pressure of knowing I have to write a review can make me slow down the reading in some sense - and then that you get right through to the end of "I hate this book so much that I am hate-reading it now, because I need to explain in a lengthy review every sin that it has committed against me personally” (laughs)

Claire: And I find that for me, I mean, that's something that I want to work on, I find that because I can't really, you know, I feel that one of the differences between like the writing and video reviewing - I need to have all my ducks in a row before I sit down and film, and then sometimes I try and I, just - it doesn't work out and there's only so much editing that you can do if you feel like you haven't said all of the things. So I want to be, one of the things that I'm working on being better at, is like writing out all the things ahead of time and like spending more time in the planning stage, because I feel like oftentimes I'm, like, oh, I have this rant review to make but I don't have enough structure and I don't know what I'm gonna say and stuff, and then I end up not making it, and then it feels too late, and then and then and then... So there's also process questions as KJ pointed out in  their question, we all have different formats and that kind of plays into it as well.

Brent: Right. Alright, so we're almost at five minutes, so before we like wrap up, I want to give everybody a chance to kind of plug themselves and like where people can find you - on social media and whatnot and so forth - so I will just go around everybody and we'll do that and if we still have some time after that we can talk some more, because this has been fun. Alright, so I will start off with Leslie. 

Leslie: Right, where do I start! So, I'm on one podcast called, Hustlers of Culture. You can find that wherever podcasts may be found. I'm on another podcast called Fatal Attractions, which is about erotic thrillers... and wherever podcasts may be found on there . You’re best to find me by googling Afrofilmviewer, that's my blog site.  I also write for a website called Set the Tape as I mentioned earlier. I'm pretty much synonymous, like, everywhere with that name Afrofilmviewer on Instagram for my photography, and on Twitter for just general shower thoughts, really, more than anything else.

Brent: Alright, Paul, I will let you give us your plugs next.

Paul: Okay, I'm on Twitter as PrinceJvstin as you can see on the thing with with the V

Instead of the U, I write for Nerds of a Feather, I'm a podcaster on Skiffy & Fanty, which was a finalist this year for the Hugos, I'm a podcaster on SFFaudio, you'll find my stuff on 

Yeah, I mean, you could trip over the internet and find a review of mine someplace, but I'm most easily best found on Twitter where I talk about and link to everything I do.

Brent: Awesome. Uh, Foz?

Foz: I'm pretty much everywhere online as @FozMeadows which is distinctive enough that you don't really have to sort me out from the mass of other Foz Meadowses that don't exist. I also write novels, so my most recent two are a duology from, Angry Robot which is An Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens, which is a sort of feminist portal fantasy. But yeah, otherwise I'm sort of on Twitter, Tumblr, yelling about various things that sometimes include hockey and mostly is about fandom (laughs)

Brent: (laughs) Alright Claire, I will let you finish this up.

Claire: Yeah, I've been Claire, my YouTube channel is Claire Rousseau which is spelt the way it is here, I'm also on twitter under that same spelling @ClaireRousseau, there ARE several Claire Rousseaus, but they're all French in France, pretty much, so if you are seeing an English language Claire Rousseau it's probably me, and I talk about books and SFF and I'm probably gonna do a video about the Awards and what happened.

Brent: And I will be watching.

Claire: Working on that.

Paul: Looking forward to it, Claire.

Brent: I will be watching. 

Claire: Obviously, thank you again to our host Emily.

Paul: Thank you Emily.

Brent: Thank you Emily.

Emily: Thank you for coming on, it's an honor to have all of you and, I guess I shall, shall I close out now? So, alright. Thank you everyone for coming on, thank you - thank you to everyone who's been watching and contributing to the conversation productively, and so again this has been a panel for CoNZealand Fringe. You can find me on Twitter of course at - it's a German handle, it's @Sturm_und_Drang - Sturm und Drang if you want to do it American - with an underscoring between the words, and also please subscribe to this channel as well if you like my content! So with that, that is our live show!

Claire: Thank you everyone!

Brent: Thank you everyone.

Foz: Thank you.

Leslie: Yeah, it's been great, thanks guys.

Brent: Thanks, good, this was a great conversation.

Emily: Okay, thank you.

Special thanks to Imyril for drafting this transcript! Final responsibility for the text lies with Adri Joy - for any corrections or comments, please get in touch via Twitter.