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Day "let's finish this bastard" 30

I realise it's been a while, but back at the beginning, one of the reasons I decided to do this meme was as a way to grapple with the myriad (and to me, murky) issues surrounding the treatment and reception of women in fiction. My starting point being:

After at least a year or two's concerted musing on the subject, I have come to the conclusion that I am desperately out of sync with what constitutes misogyny on the various forms of shows I actually watch. The shows that seem to get the most outcry that I've encountered around fandom, I'm basically fine with, and the ones that are lauded to the skies piss me off like you wouldn't believe. (point 8)

Considering how long it's taken me, and how much I've bitched and whined over it, I'm sure it will come as a great relief to all concerned that doing this meme has indeed helped me sort through and finally get a functional handle on the situation. Mission Accomplished! We can all go home now.

Day Thirty: Whatever you’d like!

For at least several weeks, I have struggled to figure out what to say about the misogyny-related conclusions I've reached doing this meme. Finally I just realised there's just not all that much I want to say right now. Here is what is left of what I do. It's still tl;dr because this is, well, me. It's ... not so much about female characters, but more about the millieu in which they are written and received. (Sorry, female-character-themed-meme. I know I've been argumentative and contrary, but to be fair, I just don't think it was ever going to work between us. I want you to know that despite appearances, I have enjoyed our time together, and I value the things I've learned. I wish you the best in your future endeavours.)

"If I'm King, where's my power? Can I form a government? Can I levy a tax, declare a war? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority. Why? Because the nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them."
The King's Speech

"George Miller
says that cinema is the church for the 20th century and we all flock there and sit in the dark to try and understand who we are."
At the Movies
interview with Catriona McKenzie, director of Satellite Boy

I saw that interview with McKenzie somewhere in the second half of doing this meme, and the realisation – not just that the dominant narratives of our culture(s) have shifted to the entertainment industry's purview (which is obvious), but how much authority it has accrued in the process to speak for and to its "constituents" – was a major turning point in giving me a framework for understanding this stuff. As could be seen in my day four answer, I didn't get that; I'd never experienced it like that, and it just made no sense to me whatsoever that people could be so personally invested to such an extent in how they perceived pop media expressed their identities (be it gender, sexuality, race, religion, politics, etc).

It finally made sense where all this anger and defensiveness about shows "getting it wrong", about being misrepresented, underrepresented, was coming from; there is nothing more fundamentally threatening than your very identity being deemed not valuable. If some stranger on the street does it, it can sting; if a voice with authority (personal or societal; parent, friend, lover, politician, priest, popular media, etc) does it, it can be utterly savage.

Add that to the way individual value is treated, for all intents and purposes, as a zero-sum game with never enough to go around (despite a whole slew of acclaimed ideologies saying it shouldn't be), and voilà, desperate aggression and tribal us-vs-them competition, these days usually under the war cry of "justice!" or "equality!" or whatever ideal nominally can be made to support their cause. It's not that I'm not sympathetic, because I am, very much – but just because it's the obvious, instinctive reaction doesn't mean it works. Even a legitimate grievance does not automatically confer legitimacy to the reaction. And the stakes seem to be too high for people to take a step back and ask themselves questions about that.

Back to pop media: it really does seem to be filling the void being left by the decline of traditional religion and royalty in the public consciousness.* The major problem for looking to it to fill that role being that it's not geared for it. Religion and royalty both represent and embody their particular narratives within their culture, but when they speak, it tends to be prescriptively: we will do this, we will not do that. The storytellers in a culture tend to be speaking descriptively: this is what we do. They are close enough to be easily confused in interpretation, especially since human beings instinctively seek out meaning and are very inclined to learn by example, so that descriptive (we did this, this is what happened) frequently gets prescriptive values applied (you should do this, you shouldn't do that, or this will happen), regardless of whether that was the intent.**

The brilliant thing about story is that it can be interacted with in as many individual ways as there are individuals. But while a story can get its audience to think, question, reflect, explore, learn, it's not its responsibility to make them do so. It is the individual's responsibility to evaluate the validity of what they're watching, to accept or reject or qualify whatever values are being expressed in the characters and the narrative.

The ability to do this well is a function of maturity; awareness of self and awareness of others. And this is where things really begin to get gnarly. A capitalist economic system can function on enlightened, mature customers; a consumerist system cannot, and unfortunately we're in one. Thus, we get the mismatch of a largely immature, uncritical consuming audience and narrative being assigned pulpit duties that it is not designed for and cannot ultimately perform. And in the middle, people crying out for the powerful cultural voices to affirm them as valuable in the great big societal scrum of I matter, and lashing out when such voices of popular media narratives (inevitably) fail them in this.

Which is further compounded by the fact that the entertainment industry functions within that same consumerist system. Stories do have enormous capacity to critically engage their societies; stories that can be produced and widely distributed enough to influence them are limited by what's profitable to do so, and what's profitable is limited by what will be consumed. In an immature, uncritical audience, this will usually not include things that push them too far outside their comfort zone of (im)maturity, because growing up is not appealing and will typically be avoided if there is another choice – which, in a consumerist society, is rewarded for both parties, the one who provides the choice and the ones who take it. (Pushing customers outside their comfort zone to produce kneejerk, unquestioning fear, on the other hand, can be extremely profitable. But that doesn't lend itself to measured introspection and personal growth, either.)

And so product that does not appeal to the majority is, within that system, an unethical risk to produce. Voices in politics and religion can represent agendas that go against majority views, because in theory they speak for and answer to higher ideals. Popular media answer to popular consumption – and nothing else. What they "should" do is governed by that alone. And while Fandom is a very noisy part of that popular consumption, especially to us who dwell within the echo chamber that it is, those who produce the narratives we consume are still trying to figure out how to translate that in terms of profit.

The other night I tumbled down the well of con clips of SPN peeps on YouTube, and came across this clip of rare and delightful actual adult conversation touching on a lot of what I was thinking about regarding this. Since I've blithered for a while now, I'll give us all a break and let Mark Sheppard and Richard Speight Jr chime in for five minutes because they are so sexy:

[Eta: It's not starting at the right place because embedding is haaard, y'all; the relevant section is around 4:50-10:00. Thanks ozthemysterycat for the heads-up!]

Yes, a lot of popular media is being made these days by people who are Fannish, whose stories are those that Fandom identifies deeply with. But in some ways, that only confuses the issue more, because it comes across as confirmation of Fans' myopia that telling their stories is the controlling priority of those shows, when it's not – it's to be profitable. They have to answer to the "suits" first, because if they don't, they no longer get made; that's the way it works. And in the current model, Fandom still lives on the fringe of calulating a show's profitability. Yes, Fandom's enthusiasm for SPN was one of the major factors in it surviving its early years, but only because their enthusiasm generated the wider interest that did matter, which the show then sustained. If the wider interest is there, Fans can righteously denounce and complain and flounce as much as they like, it won't factor into a show's viability.

(Anecdata, in proof of absolutely nothing but it amuses me: I have only ever come across three fellow SPN-fans "in the wild", and each one was a male in his twenties, two American, one Australian; one white, one black, one Filipino. And by "fans", I mean the following exchange: "Sam and Dean?" "Sam and Dean!" "Yeah!" "They're awesome!" *fistbump*. And by "the following exchange", I mean that is nearly verbatim what happened every time. I guarantee you none of them, while genuine fans of the show, are in Fandom. With one of them I actually got into a conversation about the show another time, and mentioned something barely scratching the surface of what gets fought about in our little echo chamber, and had to stop. His expression was so freaked out it was freaking me out, poor dear. But the point is, you're not going to lose them – or the Fandom-silent majority of the audience – by failing to deliver perfectly-judged commentary on social justice issues.)

My conclusion being, I have little interest in that conversation of ~!FAIL, mostly for that reason: even with the most righteous intentions, it is myopic, misplaced, by its own standards usually hypocritical, and largely ineffective. I am in theory very interested in the conversation, not of what a show should say, but what it's actually saying, except that in practice it generally gets derailed into ~!FAIL terms because we can't have nice things that's the only thing most people can see, assuming that's what the conversation is, or if not that it should be. Remember, there is fundamental identity and value under threat here; who can critically analyse at a time like this!? (See, for example, this post by fannishliss where she discusses how SPN engages sexist tropes, and then where the conversation goes in the comments, both of which are very interesting.)

I do love story. That shouldn't be a surprise if you read this journal. I love it, I love experiencing it, I love sharing and celebrating it, I love dissecting and analysing it, I love crafting it. I adore every part of that conversation. I have no interest in seeing story get misappropriated as a tool in the fight for individual worth. I have no interest in the way the first casualty of us-vs-them is compassion for "them" (but that is another whole tl;dr in itself). What I am is grateful that we are such creatures of story that it is astonishingly profitable to tell them at all, and I am grateful for the ones that are able to tell themselves well within the constraints upon their telling. Those are why I'm here, why I bitch and whine my way through do memes, why I love talking with you people who hang around here.


*The prominence of the entertainment industry's elite in America relative to the same in Britain and other comparable Western members of the Commonwealth has a lot to do with this, I'm pretty sure. And that's without even getting into the pomp and pageantry of Hollywood holding court and voting its Prom King and Queen each year, which can be similarly compared to awards shows in other countries. There are other factors, of course; the sheer volume it produces is another major factor, for example.

**The difference between whether something is prescriptive or descriptive plays a maaaaajor role in arguments over interpreting bible passages, especially since most of the bible is either narrative or poetic in form. Is this passage just telling us that they did this, or that we should do this too? And if so, how is what they did then applicable to what we can do now? And the answer, of course, is no, the passage is telling you this so you can get to know God better, and figure out for yourself what he wants you to do.

master list


( 2 speakses — have a speak )
Aug. 7th, 2013 02:42 pm (UTC)
The Video Starts at the Start for Me :(
Hello, I'm Oz, the Mystery Cat. First time poster, long time reader :)

When you showed me this post yesterday, we thought I had done something to make the video start at the beginning, but it's still doing it. Something's wrong! Halp!

Also, I'm letting you know because I figure others might have the same problem. And that would be sad because it's an amazing little clip. For teh future readers, the really interesting part starts at 4:50.

Or, if you're really lazy, here's a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pFavzDJoUc&t=290

Edited at 2013-08-07 04:09 pm (UTC)
Aug. 8th, 2013 01:06 am (UTC)
Re: The Video Starts at the Start for Me :(
Aurgh, really? It was futzing around for me even when I posted it, but it's been working for me since then. Grrrr. I will add a note in the post, which I probably should have thought of at the time, but end-of-meme madness had set in by then....

But thank you for the catch! And hi! And welcome! I'm glad you commented! :)

It IS an amazing little clip. Con clips can be great fun and everything, but I don't usually spend much time watching them – but if there were more like this, I would be all over them. Measured, insightful, adult conversation? Give it to me, baby! *grabby hands*

( 2 speakses — have a speak )

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