NOTE: the final link for this month includes a piece about the fights over rape in fiction and so my response/thoughts… revolve around rape in fiction (and a little bit about it in fandom). Read carefully, please.
We started by affirming simple truths: that Black critics have been setting the record straight and engaging Black citizenry “in the making of its own story,” as Elizabeth Méndez Berry and Chi-hui Yang wrote in 2019, across the centuries, from Frederick Douglass’s sharp observations about blackface minstrelsy to the barrier-breaking journalism of theater and music columnists like Pauline Hopkins, Sylvester Russell and Lester Walton in the late 19th and early 20th century. The long Harlem Renaissance gave us figures like Nora Holt, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. And Amiri Baraka and Phyl Garland wed Black nationalist desire with fierce, experimental music criticism in the Black Arts era.
I would not be where I am now without Black critics who came before me. I think about that often.
It’s not just about reading their work and learning or growing from it, but about having that access to content and understanding that without them paving the way, there’d be nowhere for me to step.
Like many young people, I first became aware of Whedon because of Buffy. A teacher I had in high school recommended the series to me, and one summer my mom and I watched all seven seasons with rapt attention. I was drawn to a story about a misunderstood teenage superheroine, like so many other fans of the cult hit series. For a short time before I went to college, I also dipped my toe into the fandom for the show on LiveJournal and Tumblr.
In that fandom, anything Whedon touched was considered gold, so much so that it took me many years to realize that I didn’t even like a lot of what he has written. Luckily, in college I met people who loved shows like Buffy and Angel like I did, but didn’t want to revere Whedon as a god. Up until cast members from Buffy and his later projects said last year that Whedon had been abusive on set, in some parts of culture, that was hard to imagine. Whedon had been able to ride his reputation as the nerd auteur into directing Avengers and Justice League; for years, a perennially popular T-shirt you’d see at any comics convention read “Joss Whedon Is My Master Now.”
Gita is one of my favorite writers because of how she cuts to the heart of a problem and pulls the damn thing out. I don’t have much to say beyond “I’m so glad that Joss Whedon is getting some of what he deserves” because between Gita coming for his throat and that profile in New York magazine… Wow. Whedon got this far because so many people believed the hype and as a legacy writer (his dad and grandfather were both television writers, I believe) he basically got offered jobs that a newer (browner, queerer, woman-er) writer couldn’t have had access. He’s a nasty, awful, mean nepotism baby who didn’t actually have the talent at writing that we were told he had and I hope he just gives up and goes to be a hermit somewhere.
Let us be frank: Claiming that a black man only hates you because a white man told him to is racist. The things that Fisher said Whedon and other managers on the set of Justice League asked him to do and subjected him to are also obviously racially motivated. Even if Cyborg says “Booyah” in the Teen Titans cartoon, Fisher has a right to object to uttering a dated catchphrase that is rooted in black slang. It was a weird thing to add to the character in the first place, and based on Fisher’s comments to The Hollywood Reporter, it was humiliating for him to film.
We saw this back in January 2020 when Rey/Kylo shippers said John was being misled/lied to by The Fandom Menace (the racist chuds who harassed Kelly Marie Tran off of social media and did set their sights on John when he was first cast)… which ignores their role, as white women (aligned) fans, in loud and proud antiblackness.
Racists hate admitting they’re racists, but they sure do love to admit they think Black/brown people calling them out for racism are stupid little sheep. Whedon sticks to type here by denying that he’s racist… while all but saying that Ray Fisher only called him racist because of Snyder and his fandom. As in Fisher isn’t smart enough to make up his own mind about his experiences…
If Park Junhee could dive into any painting, it would be Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, the pièce de résistance of the Sistine Chapel. It carries the mark of a sculptor turned painter, a far cry from Junhee, the leader of K-pop group A.C.E, better known as Jun. “I can only draw stick figures,” he tells Teen Vogue in a video call from South Korea. But just as Michelangelo sculpted with marble and painted with lime plaster, Jun sculpts with melody and paints with body expression — both artists, united in their ability to draw others into their story.
Park Junhee is a darling and Tinted With You is a short and sensitive BL drama that I think everyone should watch. It doesn’t hurt that it’s very short, bite-sized even. You could knock it out in one afternoon if you wanted… and I think you should want to. Getting to see queer characters in a familiar drama trope – the time travel love – was just really lovely and I think… necessary. Also Junhee has a great big heart and is a good actor!!
Black women have not been particularly outspoken about Chappelle’s treatment of us in his work. Before daring to wade into this mess of a media cycle, I had been too badly burned by reactions to my criticism of actual sex offenders like Bill Cosby (whose conviction for aggravated indecent sexual assault was overturned on a technicality) and R. Kelly to risk what would come of triggering Chappelle’s sensitive audience. I suspect part of that has to do with the ways we’re socialized to make space for our men to speak, particularly through art. In the 1990s, civil rights activist (and elder) C. Delores Tucker was made the scourge of young Black people everywhere for daring to stand up to hip-hop, setting the tone for what Black women who dared to critique “the culture” could expect. While the advent of social media has given us outspoken Black bitches more of a platform than we could have ever hoped for in the past, it’s also made it easier than ever to harass and demean us.
Black feminism and queerness are often seen as oppositional to Black masculinity and that’s used to distance us from Blackness and to abuse us. If you’re keeping up with a rise of incel culture across the internet, this is probably not a surprise to you. Intersectional feminism makes monsters of us because we don’t bend our knees and bare our necks to the patriarchy. I don’t really have words, just… a deep sense of exhaustion because this has been going on for so long.
Hanya’s Boys: The novelist tends to torture her gay male characters — but only so she can swoop in to save them. (Archive Link)
This is Yanagihara’s principle: If true misery exists, then so might true love. That simple idea, childlike in its brutality, informs all her fiction. Indeed, the author appears unable, or unwilling, to conceive love outside of life support; without suffering, the inherent monstrosity of love — its greed, its destructiveness — cannot be justified. This notion is inchoate in The People in the Trees, which features several characters kept on the brink of death and ends with a rapist’s declaration of love. In A Little Life, it blossoms into the anguished figure of Jude and the saintlike circle of friends who adore him. In Yanagihara’s new novel, To Paradise, which tells three tales of people fleeing one broken utopia for another, the misery principle has become airborne, passing aerosol-like from person to person while retaining its essential purpose — to allow the author to insert herself as a sinister kind of caretaker, poisoning her characters in order to nurse them lovingly back to health.
Let’s start with how, if anyone I ever respected ever wrote about my work like this, I would probably stop writing. Like burn my notebooks, break my pens, rend my clothes, go into teaching again. This is a read and I mean that in multiple ways.
Hanya’s work is… not for everyone. I understand that. There are issues with anti/blackness in her work that jumps out endlessly (i have those issues, she writes Black people mad weird y’all) but also… imagine reading a hurt/comfort fic but then when you’re like “okay so where does the comfort come in”, the author is like “well when you close the story at least you’re not the main character. that’s the comfort”.
That’s Hanya’s approach and it’s a lot.
Really, I just love this review because it flays Hanya’s work to the spine with analysis of her approach, her content, and how she talks about the characters in her worlds. Especially how… she doesn’t really write women as main characters but when she does, I’d argue, the (internalized) misogyny jumps out. It’s very… fandom 2012 but also… fandom 2022.
Disinformation is only perceived as bad when it serves to disrupt the interests of whiteness and white power. White power sounds strong, but it fits. During Reconstruction, the country found all sorts of creative ways to keep black folk from the polls, up to and including murder. That wasn’t a problem. Du Bois documented this extensively in Black Reconstruction, but misinformation against non-whites is typically a footnote in history texts and media reports as it serves the telos of American democracy.
Similarly, when disinformation campaigns began to surface in the mid-2000s around Gamergate—or troll farms attacking Black Lives Matter activists—that wasn’t considered worthy of research. We still don’t have great academic research on Crystal Johnson and Blacktivist—two large internet troll farm campaigns that were trying to convince Black folk not to vote. What we do have, however, is a plethora of highly funded research incorporating both quantitative and computational evidence of how disinformation has affected white voters.
It’s stuck with me that things don’t matter when they’re happening to Black people… only when it has wider impact/spread. In my work, what I do doesn’t matter because I’m largely talking about antiblackness so it’s a fluke and the people doing it are outliers… but do y’all know how many times I’ve seen non-black POC who’ve trashed me on main panicked and upset because they’re like “i didn’t realize racism in fandom was this bad” once it affected them too…
In a few years, when white supremacy in queer/feminist fandom is even more visible – and I mean… people are retweeting pro-white supremacist weebs and defending bigotry in fandom as necessary to fandom so… – we’re going to see people like “who could’ve told us that this was happening” and if I’m still around, well –
I’m gonna be pissed.
To be clear, language will always be appropriated and co-opted—and social media platforms allow this process to happen much more quickly. Though political journalism has long been framed in adversarial, horse-race terms, headlines that say one politician “blasts” or “slams” or “claps back” their political opponent illustrate how online terminology affects the framing of news. With the advent of Black Lives Matter, we see “Why (Insert Topic) Matter” headlines much more often than before. There will always be pathways along which language moves from subcultures to the mainstream.
But in the context of America’s racial politics, Black speech is often co-opted in ways that delegitimize the very ideas, causes, and concerns it articulates.
There’s nothing like watching white people use “woke” as a pejorative when talking about Black and brown people talking about racism. This happens all the time in fandom spaces to where the dudebro chud and the progressive queer chick are essentially using the same language to go after the same people for the same reason. Jhonni dunked on a tweet earlier in the month that used “woke” as a pejorative and it reminded me of the September-October “we need to protect racism on the AO3” hoardes. Notably the way people claimed that being “woke” – talking about racism on any level, in any way, and expecting something beyond a “hey we’re working on it” or radio silence from the OTW board – was a precursor for people destroying fandom itself. “First the woke will come for the racists, then they’ll come for the misogynistic fic and the underage content,” people said seriously.
And no one… cared. No one in their camp, at least. No one seems to notice how, increasingly, the “anti censorship”, pro fiction/fandom/shipping sect in fandom… spews the same slippery slope, goal-post yeeting, bigot-welcoming bile as dudebros. No one notices the framing they use to where talking about racism is worse than racism in fandom and more dangerous to fans…
Patricia’s tweet has now gone viral, and I hope it opens up a door for conversation. Is it possible for Black women and White women to truly be friends? I believe it is. However, friendship between Black women and White women is not always easy. Some issues impact Black women that many White women are not ready to face. Many White women are fine being “friends” with a Black woman as long as their Black issues never bleed into their so-called friendship. Many White women are fine being friends with a Black woman until they start questioning their politics and how the politicians they support are working to disenfranchise Black people. Many White women are fine being friends with a Black woman as long as she doesn’t bring up police brutality, mass incarceration, or systemic racism. Many White women are fine being friends with a Black woman as long as they never have to face the fact that Black women and White women live in two different worlds.
One of the things I’m constantly accused of is being racist against white women in fandom. Which is of course… not true or possible. But when people point out that I do have white friends, white women that I love and adore, it becomes either that I am controlling those women or they are controlling me. And… the people saying that, for sure, do not have Black friends. They have accomplices, they have tokens they treasure until they’re not used to. They don’t know what it’s like to be a person in progress actively trying to unlearn antiblackness without dumping that weight on another person.
They can’t imagine a relationship with a Black person that isn’t transactional or that doesn’t make them feel guilty and that’s just… fucked up.
Country music insiders are fond of saying the industry is one big happy family. One look at country stages, programming and artists suggests that they take the biological implications of “family” literally. You can paint an Aryan pop art portrait gallery from country music’s favorite tropes: All the eyes are blue, all the hair is blond, all the romances are straight, all the roads are rural and the civil rights movement never happened.
Despite living on a fantasy island of its own making, the country music industry is struggling to ignore Black Lives Matter, especially the white reactionary response. Country artists, fans and critics are duking it out in culture wars over vaccines, critical race theory and conspiracy theories. The more country music ignores the social and political moment, the more disconnected from its fan base it becomes and the more culturally impotent it appears. The problem for country’s gatekeepers is that plenty of people still have a healthy appetite for the genre’s white utopianism. But that audience wants country music to reflect its political anger. A new, expanding audience dabbles in country’s artistry but detests its politics. That audience wants a country music product that does not traffic in conservative nostalgia.
I understand that I’m in my thirties, but there is some strong part of me that reads a piece from Tressie McMillan Cottom and goes “I want to write like her when I grow up”. She’s that good a writer and her work sets a standard I want to hit in my own work.
I’m also looking at how I can apply this broadly to queer/feminist fandom? Because this is a type or model of fandom that views itself as an island adrift from everything else. It’s Omelas in island form, but no one ever thinks about who gets chewed up and kept in the basement to keep the utopia running. I don’t know what the AO3 and OTW could really do to moderate racism, but mitigation is possible. Actually doing something about the ability to use slurs in meta data and comments, that’d be great. An abuse team that didn’t actually just… kiss racist ass. But because the white-adoring utopia needs to consume in order to function is… us. That’s why, even though the AO3 and OTW are who said they’d do something about racism in 2020… we’re still here without any action on their part and explicitly linking people who want them to do something with outsiders/antis.
In the summer of 2020, BTS and K-pop fans’ involvement in online #BlackLivesMatter protests was prominently featured in news media, from hijacking white supremacist hashtags, to overwhelming police surveillance apps, to raising $1 million for #BLM charities in a day (Alexander, 2020; Andrews, 2020; Kirkland, 2020; Park et al., 2021). Scholars have written extensively about “fan activism” before, succinctly defined as “the range of intentional actions by fans, or the use of fanlike strategies,” including fan fiction, remixed videos, self-published media analyses, fundraising, and event organizing, “to provoke change” (Brough & Shresthova, 2012, p. 2.4). Although there is debate concerning where the line between fan activism and actual civic engagement is drawn, it has become increasingly clear that the fanlike strategies tying digital fandom together, namely digital event organizing and fundraising, have become a blueprint for organizing toward broader social change.
I have such complicated feelings about the reactions fandom, fan studies, and media had to BTS and ARMY’s donations to BLM. Because I think both things are great and show that Black people matter more than you’d expect from the fandom/group… but it also doesn’t negate antiblackness from the fandom or “make up for” any past antiblackness from the idols. Like it shouldn’t serve as a slate wiping for either because that erases measurable growth from the group and the role of Black fans in the fandom.
We should be able to see the whole of the situation where the donation and early fan activism is good… but then there hasn’t really been growth beyond that in a way that is sustainable for the fans specifically? (BTS hasn’t done anything since to negate their donation or that makes you feel they didn’t understand the weight of their donation. In fact they’ve spoken about both BLM and the anti Asian racism they’ve been hit with so there’s extra growth and awareness there.)
From Now on I’m Taking All of My Storytelling Lessons From This Wild Epic About Love, Loyalty, and Necromancy
One of the most common bits of advice to pop up wherever writing is discussed is, “You have to know the rules before you can break them!” It shows up everywhere. It’s probably going to show up here. (I can see your fingers twitching toward the keyboard, Kevin.) Is it true? I don’t know. I’m not sure I really care. I wonder if both the assumption of rules and the condescending permission to break them miss the point. I wonder if, once again, we’re using the wrong language to talk about what we’re doing.
And so, after spending approximately four thousand hours thinking about cheerful necromancers and their armies of the dead, the scholarly conclusion is one that is both very obvious and somehow very easy to forget:
When writers get mired in seeking advice and finding refuge in rules, we can all benefit from taking a breath and asking ourselves, sincerely, without any room for internal dishonesty, exactly what we are trying to achieve and why. Then look around to find things that will help us figure out how to do it. Then do it.
(We still can’t skip that last step, alas. It remains staggeringly unfair.)
This is such a charming piece about what author Kali Wallace took from MXTX’s Mo Dao Zu Shi. I am still working my way through the first volume because I’m super busy and burnt out but I love MXTX’s writing-in-translation and believe her work is really great (especially if you’re reading the series in publication order so you can get a sense of how her grasp of plotting changes due to time and skill). This is just a cool and timely piece of writing and I think Wallace takes some really good lessons from MDZS!!
The fact is, the public defense of rape scenes is typically characterized, not by complex thought, but by plain-spoken irritation at having to consider anyone else’s feelings. One common solution is to say that artists can do whatever they like, so long as they include trigger warnings — but, no, trigger warnings are infantilizing and inconvenient and some studies say they don’t even work (unless you measure their impact on people with PTSD, which those studies don’t) and they endanger free speech, so let’s drop them. Some say the problem with many rape scenes is that they’re cheap or dehumanizing, and that stories ought to portray the aftereffects of assault — but, no, that’s a trauma plot, and we don’t like those, either. All right, we say; if we can’t get a warning, and we can’t convince you to portray it responsibly, can you just leave out the rape altogether? This, it turns out, is the most offensive request of all.
Inevitably, any boundary is unreasonable, any discomfort is hysterical, any bad review or refusal to watch something is censorship, and any call to consider survivors’ experiences is a burden that no-one can take on. We end by re-iterating that survivors should suffer in silence for the convenience of other people. That is never a radical conclusion, no matter who you are or where you began.
I have a piece that is a first person sexual assault scene. It’s part of a longer work of “drawer fic” that I’ve been using to unpack my id for five or six years now and it’s the second story in the collection. I reread the full document every so often, adding to newer stories and editing older ones the way a river wears down a stone until it’s perfectly smooth and round. Whenever I share these stories with other people, I tell them up front “Hey, just so you know, there’s a sexual assault in the second story from the survivor’s POV”. The assault in that story doesn’t bother me because a) I wrote it, b) the survivor is saved, c) and I have already plotted out what happens to the assailant and it’s exactly what he deserves.
Normally, I can handle sexual violence in fiction. If I have time to steel my spine and maybe a little drink, I can power through anything for the point of the plot. However, the sexual assault and aftermath in one of Patricia Briggs’ novels once triggered me so badly that I had a panic attack and had to call someone who I hadn’t spoken to in years to talk me down. It was bad. To this day, I can’t reread that series to try and finish a series for my site I was working on related to sexual assault because of how bad my reaction was.
My feelings on sexual violence in fiction are:
a) in television shows and films, sexual violence is usually used in ways that are harmful to some viewers and serve to titillate others
b) survivors’ relationships with that content are complicated
c) why are the only survivors that matter in these conversations the ones who see things in black and white?
It’s the last thing that gets me heated. People pick and choose who they want to listen to and it’s the person that’s on their side that they listen to, every time. For me, both extreme weenies are annoying? Being a survivor who finds sexual assault in fiction overdone and poorly handled is just as valid as being a survivor who thinks it’s a thing that provides room for them to heal or is sexy. The issue are the people who thumb their noses at survivors who aren’t doing what they want and ultimately pit two groups of hurting, traumatized people against one another.
The fact is, the public defense of rape scenes is typically characterized, not by complex thought, but by plain-spoken irritation at having to consider anyone else’s feelings.
So many people go “i’m not your mom” or “I’m not responsible for you” when these conversations come up and like… unless the person is telling you about your content, I think you can just shut the fuck up actually? Either way?
What did y’all read in January? Did you read any of the links I linked to?