This episode is like of a retrospective of internet fanfiction starting for the early days of late 80’s with UserNet to modern day social media and how that has influenced fannish behaviors. I talk to my friend Tara O’Shea who is like a fandom OG, bard and storyteller. She is a Award-winning editor, journalist, illustrator, and designer. She co-edited the Hugo Award-winning book “Chicks Love Time Lords”, has been on the planning committee of conventions all over the country and currently works as a graphic designer. From message boards to fanfiction.net, to Archive of Our Own, to Fanlore… Tara has been there, so gather ’round fans old and new, and we will tell you the tale of where we have been.
Author Archives: Latisha Jones
Farpoint Convention Review
For my first convention review, I’m joined by journalist, Dean Rogers of pop culture news site, The Rogers Revue. Together, we discuss our collective and separate experiences at the convention as well as some general best practices for going to a convention. As a frequent comic con attendee myself, I was struck by the differences and similarities that I experienced in this convention space. Dean and I cover subjects from the current state of fandom to the emotional experience of celebrity interactions and between all that, I give Farpoint my convention score with my new “convention rubic”. Have a listen and I can’t wait to hear what you think.
Spotlight on Tranquil Ashes
Anita aka Tranquil Ashes has crafted her own cosplay brand and business in nerdy/blerdy game for a decade. Using her connections and influence to create more inclusive spaces for other black and brown artists and creators, she has become positive force in the cosplay space, encouraging others to full their dreams and setting an example by being an ambitious and bold plus-size creator herself. Also, as the creator of Black Mermaid Day, she is passionate about not only creating a safe aquatic fantasy space, but also encouraging more black families to take up swimming as a life skill and develop a positive relationship with the water.
Evolving the Sci-Fi Narrative
Recorded in March of 2022, in this episode, Dr. Maria DeBlassie and I discuss the ways that sci-fi media has responded to the calls for diversity, inclusion and authenticity in television and if we think they have been able to meet the moment. We discuss the ways that social media has influenced the conversation both positively and negatively as well as how certain television shows have had to evolve their narrative to adapt to the social consciousness of their audience. Television shows discussed include: Supernatural, Flash, Charmed, Charmed (2018 reboot), The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Wheel of Time and Star Trek: Discovery.
Guest Blog: Representatives Are Not Representation
A note from Latisha:
I met Jer the way a lot of us meet new friends these days, passionately discussing topics on Twitter. What has always impressed me about Jer is how thoughtful and insightful they are about the topics that they care about. This also seems to be a family traits because Jer’s sister, Jezzelyn, has been a guest on my podcast twice and has shown a similar understanding of complex topics just like her beloved sibling. The Interspectional episode, “Asian Representation in Media” was release on April 9, 2021. I’m honored that Jer agreed to write this piece for my blog so we can go deeper into that conversation. You can find more information about them at the end of this article.
“Representatives Are Not Representation”
by Jer Torres
Wanting to be an actor used to be a deeply embarrassing secret of mine for years. Part of it was because I had absolutely no idea how to act. The other more important part was that the possibility of seeing someone who looked like me telling stories about people like me, a non-binary Filipino lesbian, in mainstream media was so unlikely that it was laughable. It still seems quite unlikely as I have yet to see such representation today, but I am actively pursuing an acting career. I finally chose to make this embarrassing secret into an explicit goal of mine because I was tired of feeling inhuman.
I’m from a small town outside of Toronto, I grew up in the mid 90’s-early 2000’s, so Neopets and RuneScape was about the extent of my internet capabilities at the time. It definitely was not scouting out good Filipino or Asian representation in media. I was surrounded by a lot of white people and almost everyone I saw on tv and in movies in my formative years was white as well. I was unaware that I didn’t see people that looked like me just living life; going to school, teaching, driving the buses, working at the mall or any restaurants, the pharmacy, the banks; they weren’t walking around town or up and down aisles at the grocery store; they just weren’t there in my real life. Asians, and specifically Filipinos, were hardly there on screen and on the rare occasions they were they didn’t feel life-sized. It took me until my early 20’s to understand that bad representation and no representation had erased me from myself.
When I say bad representation I mean the obvious things like Yellowface, Speekee Engrish, the Silent Asian, The Interchangeable Asian, The Mystical Asian/The Yellow Peril, The Hairstreak Asian, etc. I also mean the way Asian identities and cultures are flattened to exist in relation to whiteness on screen. Whiteness at the center of a story reduces any characters of colour down to representatives, especially because there can only ever be one or two (tops) of them at a time. The one has to be easy to identify without being too ethnically different or specific. Representatives are not representation because they’re not people, they are white liberal ideas of inclusion. Characters like Arthie Premkumar and Jenny Chey in GLOW or Tina Cohen-Chang and Mike Chang in GLEE for example, are just peripherals. They’re meant to showcase diversity without actually committing to making them more than just a non-white face in a crowd. Giving them storylines felt like an afterthought once the white characters had established the world and the main attraction.
Now they may be few and far between, but I’ve seen that with a cast of all Asians or specifically stories that center people of colour, no one is responsible for carrying the weight of The One, because they’re not the only one. When we remove that responsibility and get more specific, we humanize; we see people living and experiencing a human life.
Saving Face is about Wil Pang, a Chinese-American closeted lesbian whose widowed pregnant mother, Hwei-Lan, moves in with her. Not only is Wil not out to her mother, but also Hwei-Lan refuses to reveal the father of her baby so their relationship is tense and their living situation complicates Wil’s budding romance. It’s a unique plot that shows how life can change in ways that you never expect. The story focuses on mending the relationship between a mother and daughter and reckoning with the impact of hurtful family decisions. In the script, neither Wil Pang nor Hwei-Lan are asked to represent all Chinese-Americans. We just zoom in on their relationship and see how secrecy, ambition, first love, forbidden love, and second chances all play a part in how we did or did not show love in the past and how we will choose to express our love in the future.
In Turning Red we follow Meilin, a 13 year-old Chinese-Canadian girl, as she is thrown into puberty and a generational curse. It is a coming of age story that explores the absolute chaos of being a teenager and how the relationship between a daughter and her mother changes as she grows. From the fact that Meilin turns into a red panda to the community she grows up in and the relatives that play a huge part in her life, so many aspects of Chinese culture and heritage are just normal realities of Meilin’s life. The normalcy of Chinese culture in her world allows us to see the world as she does without demanding that the story of a 13 year old girl be everything to everyone. We follow Meilin in her journey to become an individual and how that journey can heal generational hurts, be supported by friendships, and allow all of us to accept and celebrate the parts of ourselves that are supposed to be “ugly” or “unwanted”.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is about Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American woman who runs a struggling laundromat with her husband as she cares for her elderly father. Her relationship with her daughter is strained, they keep trying to reach each other but just can’t seem to make it work. In this movie, we again have a story of individuals centered in their own story battling the hurts, traumas and difficulties that come with life. These characters define themselves for themselves in all of their messiness and that is a beautiful thing. With Everything Everywhere All At Once, we experience a story about lovers, generational trauma, loneliness, nihilism, failure, reconnection and hope.
These stories are so special, not because I came away from them thinking “Wow, Asians can be in movies, too!” or “Whoa! There’s a market for us out there!” They’re special to me because they tell incredibly human stories. We tell stories and we consume stories to communicate, to understand and be understood, to learn, to gain vocabulary for our experiences, and to connect to one another. Decades of being told stories that exclude specific identities has manipulated us into believing certain people cannot participate in the human condition. But these movies suggest otherwise. Media that is hyper specific about cultural identities invites everyone to experience life and the human condition through people not ideas or quotas. That is what representation is to me.
About Jer Torres:
Jer Torres (They/Them), a non-binary Filipino-Canadian lesbian, is an actor, tv binger, sometimes writer, and confetti cannon full of tears. They began doing background work for Toronto film productions in 2018 and started taking acting classes in January 2021 with Winnie Hiller. Jer is currently in their second semester studying drama at Seneca College. They have a passion for writing poetry, short scripts, and they hope to one day create the representation they’ve been longing to see in mainstream media.
These Are The Voyages… of Hope
What do you do when you have a crisis of faith or you’ve lost hope? This is the question that most of the new Trek series ask of their characters and of the audience in their series premieres. In Discovery, Michael’s faith in herself and her future have been shattered. She’s gone from being the golden child, molded for command into a mutineer; scorned, rejected and dealing with the fact that she has to rebuild her trust in herself and her reputation as a whole. In Picard, we see Jean-Luc Picard after he has lost faith in Starfleet and the Federation. He feels that they have turned their back on their ideals and doesn’t know how to fight for ideals that no one seems to be believe in anymore. Even in Prodigy, we see children who have been told time and time again, that there is no reason to hope for something more than what they have. They are abandoned and forgotten, according to their everyday reality. In the series premiere, we literally see Dal reach for the stars, just to have his hopes dashed away.
Now in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, we have Captain Pike, literally running from his future, trying to figure out how to have hope when your fate has already been written… and you’re terrified of it. In Pike’s character, you have one version an ideal leader, a man of unshakable integrity and a sense of humor, and yet when we meet him, he’s trying to run his future by hiding in the past.
When it comes to the mission of Star Trek as a storytelling legacy, it is a story ultimately about hope. The original series theorized on a time where an American, a Scotsman, a Russian, a Japanese man, an East African woman and a being from a different world could work, learn and affect positive change in the galaxy together. It’s important to remember that in September 1966, when the show premiered, a crew such as the one on the Enterprise was utterly radical. In 1966, the United States of America was still deep into what we should probably call the 1st Cold War with the Soviet Union and almost everyone in the cast and crew would have come into adulthood during World War 2 and the nuclear arms race that followed. President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 was still a recent and raw memory as well as Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had just passed to both great joy and to great backlash as tends to happen with civil and human rights gains. The Vietnam War was in its 11th year with no signs of stopping anytime soon. And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., facing violence and opposition that he would later say was worse than what he had faced in the south, had been hit by a heavy rock in Chicago while leading a protest against housing discrimination the month before Star Trek’s premiere.
This was the world that Star Trek was birthed into. It was against this historical backdrop that Star Trek dared to tell stories about coming together despite racial and ethnic differences, challenging and growing past a history of violence and the power of communication, connection and empathy. Now Star Trek is not a perfect series by any means. As hard as it tries (and succeeds) at being forward thinking, it is also a product of its time and subject to the imaginative limitations of its creators. But the ambition to hope and strive for something better than what was… than what is, is a fundamental building block of what has helped Star Trek maintain its relevance for over 50 years.
In the Interspectional episode linked to the top of this post, “Sci-Fi and Spirituality”, Episcopal priest, Reverend Rachel Kessler, podcast host of “The Sacred Now”, Jay Jackson and I talk at length about Star Trek and other sci-fi properties as they relate to faith. Ultimately, one of the conclusions that we come to is that one of the things that we love about science fiction is its ability to help us imagine a more positive future or at the very least, give us a vision of how to hold on to a sliver of hope even when things seem the darkest. These are lessons that Star Trek teaches us again and again. In the Strange New Worlds premiere, this lesson is taught in a new way. The premiere asks the question: When your fate has been written as Captain Pike’s has, when you can see your own destruction barreling toward you, how do you have hope and faith for the future?
With the Supreme Court opinion leak and the epic rollback of civil rights protections that could come down following an overturn of Roe v. Wade, the question posed by the premiere episode of this series seem oddly prescient, especially when you consider the fact that the episode was written over three years ago. How did they know that we might need this kind of story? One that reminds us that the utopic future of Star Trek was birthed out of pain and suffering. One that doesn’t skip over the hard parts and reminds us that we have to work for the future that we want and that it won’t come easy. People forget that World War III, nuclear fallout and the destruction of 30% of Earth’s population was established in Star Trek’s canon decades ago. It is the history of the future. It is the destruction that we see coming our way, a darkness that might have seemed inevitable from where Gene Rodenberry was standing in the 1960’s. But even in that, there is a sliver of hope that is worth holding on to. There are lives that you will affect and change in the meantime. There are children whose lives you save and whose future will be brighter because you kept fighting even though it felt like end.
The lesson that we learn by the end of series premiere is that it’s not about believing that you won’t die or hoping against hope that destruction isn’t possible; it’s about believing that while you are here, you can make a difference. You can make a change and that your influence can last far longer than the thing that scares you. It’s about accepting death and defeat as a possibility and leading with integrity and vision anyway. It’s The Kobayashi Maru and realizing that the fight matters, even if it doesn’t end in an easy victory. It’s another chapter in the sometimes complicated story of hope.
Sci-Fi and Spirituality
In this episode, host of the podcast The Sacred Now, Jay Jackson and Episcopal priest, Reverend Rachel Kessler aka @nerdypriest on TikTok, join me as we discuss the different places were faith and science fiction meet. We discuss faiths within sci-fi universes as well as how our collective interests in science fiction has complimented or contradicted our beliefs. But ultimately *spoiler alert* this conversation is about the ways that science fiction can continue to give a us hope for a better future. In this episode, we discuss everything from Star Trek, to Blade Runner to Children of Men and more. I hope you enjoy it.
Latisha: Hi everybody. And welcome back to Interspectional. I am so excited for this episode. On this episode, we will be talking about the connection between science fiction and spirituality. So I know I have my own thoughts on this coming from a faith background myself, but I’m also really delighted to have two incredibly informed and fun guests to talk about this with.
Cause I think it’s a topic that is not really delved into a lot, but is actually critical into why so many of us find ourselves drawn to science fiction and fantasy properties. I want to get into this and so let me have my guests introduce themselves starting first with Rachel. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and a little about your area of expertise.
Rachel: Hello. I’m Rachel Kessler. I’m an Episcopal priest. I’m a college chaplain at Kenyon college in the middle of absolutely nowhere, Ohio. I don’t know that I have necessarily areas of expertise other than I consume a whole lot of media. And I have very many thoughts about it from the lens of my faith background which has been a journey from being raised very conservative, evangelical to more progressive versions of Christianity and working in a lot of interfaith spaces as well.
So I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Latisha: Awesome. So delighted to have you here. I know Rachel, mostly through her TikToks ,The Nerdy Priest. You should absolutely follow her because she has so many great insights. And so I’m delighted that she is coming on this platform to share her insights with this particular audience.
Yay! Jay, can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your expertise?
Jay Jackson: Yes, I’d be happy to. My name is Jay Jackson. I am based out of central Arkansas. I am a writer, actor, producer, standup comedian, musician. I’m a part-time stripper. I do hair. I’m all about getting that bag. I do whatever it takes to get this money.
That’s what I’m trying to do to varying degrees of success. I may start an “Only Fans” here, but that’s where I’m at. As far as my backgrounds I know I looked like a pretty stereotypical jock, but my nerd cred runs deep.
I’m a huge Captain America fan is as evidenced by the Captain America swag in my background here. But I was raised on science fiction, raised on comic books, from a very young age .Star Trek in particular holds a very special place in my heart from the next generation on, but also a big fan of the original series and all of that. As I got older, I started to really get into different genres, detective stories. I was a big fan of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle and all of that. But also the classic literary science fiction. Asimov, Bester, Heinlein. All of those guys.
And so that’s where I started cutting my teeth with delving into some of the bigger questions that science fiction asks around the human condition and also about the way we understand the world around us and what we believe. Excited to be here to delve into that.
Latisha: Awesome. So happy to have you here. And Jay also has a podcast called “The Sacred Now”. Can you summarize really quickly what that podcast is about?
Jay Jackson: Yes. I like to tell people that “The Sacred Now” is a podcast where we talk about not just religious, but philosophical metaphysical ideals through the lens of pop culture and current events. So we talk about Superman as a messianic figure. Our very first episode was a two-part episode where we talked about how Star Trek has tackled the idea of God or images of god-like figures and how the Trek universe has approached that, which you could make a podcast just on that subject alone. There’s a lot to uncover with that. But that’s the kind of thing that we do.
Latisha: That’s awesome. I know when I think about Trek and the concepts of God and faith that are explored through it, what’s really fascinating is because it is a sci-fi media, and you’re going through space.
You end up with different peoples and, in different planets and thus different gods both in the regional religions in that area. And also you were literally on different planets. How do they define their world in reference to their faith? And does your faith expand outside of your own planet?
It’s a fair question. And so there’s just so many really interesting things when it comes to like Star Trek franchise, of course. We’ll get into that a little bit more deeply and actually. Going back to your podcast and also Rachel’s work.
What inspired you both to develop those online personas of both like The Nerdy Priest and the podcast, “The Sacred Now”. Jay, can you share a little bit more about what inspired you to even make the podcast in the first place?
Jay Jackson: Sure. Like you said, I was also raised in a very deeply religious household.
My father was a deacon in the church. My mother taught Sunday school and the whole nine. We had a key to the church. All of this. There literally eight days a week. So the church and the church community was the nexus of our life outside of our family.
Anything that we did outside of the family was pretty much centered around the church. If we weren’t at school. I was also, raised on star Trek and comic books, like I said. And my parents were actually the ones who introduced us to that.
I am told, I don’t know how much veracity there is to this story, but I am told that my mother originally wanted to name me, Jedi. My father talks her out of it. Because she wanted to stylize it as like the word jet dash, and then the symbol for an eye, like an eye that you blink that was going to be named that.
And my dad was like, you know what? That’s a little too much. But yeah, so my parents were both nerds, like super uber nerds about Star Trek and Star Wars and, Spider-man and all of this, and also deeply religious. I came from those roots. My family also whenever we went to the movies or had to do reports for school; we’d like to talk about it.
We’d like to dissect things. We’d like to really go into like how this particular episode made us feel or really delve into what was the history of things like that. And as I got older, I found myself around people who are less interested in doing that. And some people were, but I found myself missing being able to talk with people about those ideas and take deep dives into subjects and things like that.
I also caveat with this. I am significantly less religious now than I was when I was younger. I consider myself now, if you were to put me in a box, I would consider myself a reverent agnostic. But that idea of being able to examine our perspectives on things and how the media that we experience makes this feel and what we’re actually taking away from that is something that was ingrained in me at a young age and always has stuck with me.
So “The Sacred Now” is a n effort to carry that forward because we live in a scary world sometimes. There’s a lot happening and there are episodes of “The Sacred Now” that we don’t get to really talk about nerdy stuff. There’s a lot of things happening where sometimes we just have to express our ourselves and just be able to get that out. the black lives matter movement was really getting hot and heavy during the Brianna Taylor protests and the George Ford protests. We dedicated episodes to that. We are dedicated episodes to COVID and unpacking that. And so I think that for me, this show’s been a way to help really unpack and unfold and really dissect and process the world we actually live in, in addition to the fun science fiction- type worlds that we enjoy. I feel like I rambled there.
Latisha: No I can guarantee you that there are so many elements in your story that not only people need to hear, but that we’re validating. So I appreciate that so much. Rachel, same question. And also you look like you want respond a little bit to some things that Jay said.
Rachel: Talk about resonating, right? That idea of being raised in a household that was both very religious. My dad was a pastor. My brother is a pastor. That was our life, our world. But also, I think being raised in a household where my family weren’t really readers.
But in terms of like movies and media, like I joked that the most consistent things in my life have been Jesus and Star Wars. And my relationship to Star Wars has been much more consistent than my relationship with Jesus, if I’m very honest without it. So I get that dichotomy. And yet I do think that like the ways that I dug into scifi and fantasy and literature, and we’re actually ways that opened up my very limited and sheltered worldview, right? I have told this story on TikTok before, but I was a horse girl. I was a horse girl. We can talk about that whole phase of my life.
But I was going through this school library, finding any books that had anything to do with horses, which is how I found The Horse And His Boy by CS Lewis and ended up finding the Narnia books. And that really opened up my little fourth grade mind to fantasy and other worlds, and really started me down like this whole road to geekdom and being raised in an environment where everything was viewed through the lens of faith. It just became natural that’s the lens that I would apply to everything else that I was reading and consuming. And really, it was a lot of, and these are more explicitly Christian writers, but it was people like CS Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle who really started opening up and expanding how I understood my faith and my religious worldview.
And eventually led me down this like strange road where I suddenly, I woke up one day and I was an Episcopal priest. And I’m still not entirely sure how that happened, but this is where we are. And as far as the TikTok thing, right? Like realizing that there was an outlet for, just expressing these thoughts and these connections out into the internet and finding out that there are people that resonate with them and want to have these conversations as well.
I think it was great. And then I know Latisha, you and I have talked about Farscape quite a lot. And Farscape is the show that like, from this conversation we have about deconstructing Christianity and moving outside of very closed worldviews into worlds that are bigger and more expansive than what we would imagine. As someone who is like a broadly understood deconstructed Christian. I think we should always be in the process of deconstructing. That show resonates with me so profoundly. So I can’t get up in my pulpit, my poor congregation puts up with a lot for me.
I subject them to a lot of things that are unfortunate. I still don’t know that they’ve recovered from my sermon on WandaVision. Farscape and space Muppets is like a little bit too far to try to give the context for a sermon. If my church understood how much I restrained myself, appreciate that. This is what it is. So the internet could get subjected to my thoughts.
Latisha: I don’t know if anyone has recovered from WandaVision, Loki and all of the collected, “I’m just going to activate all of your PTSD and childhood trauma” of Marvel TV shows. One of my favorite TikTokkers is Nique Marina. She just always goes in on like,” This is how Marvel is activating all your unresolved trauma today.”
Rachel: I love it.
Latisha: And it’s great. And great in this like “There is a piece of media that is showing a character or several characters going through something that is difficult and doing it in such a way that if you were also going through something that is difficult or had been doing that, you can see yourself reflected in that in a way that you might not have been aware of previously.”
That is really special. The really interesting thing I find about WandaVision is when it first started, people were like,” Who is the villain? What is the problem? What are we doing?” And it’s the villain is grief!
That’s the villain. Okay. And how we deal with that. Okay. That’s what it is. And somewhat related Elizabeth Olsen, she also did a show on Facebook like the few years previous called, Sorry For Your Loss, which is also about a woman who lost her husband and the process that she’s going through dealing with that grief.
Jay Jackson: Never heard of that.
Latisha: Yeah it’s a really incredible show. A friend of mine, Kitt, she actually was the showrunner for that show. But I know for me, it was really interesting having watched her for your loss first and then watching WandaVision and not that the show isn’t good on its own cause absolutely was, but it was interesting seeing Elizabeth Olsen as an actress, having gone through like that journey once and then seeing how that journey had been like refined and also in this like larger medium. So it was just really fascinating.
Jay Jackson: So when you mentioned WandaVision, it’s a little personal for me because at the time when WandaVision came out I was personally dealing with a lot of loss.
And watching that show took a little bit out of me, but it was like necessary because this was like right after 2020, the pandemic was in full swing. And processing all of the loss of that year. And some of the other loss that we’ve gone through. Many years prior, but around that same time, like that time of year is always hard for me.
So like WandaVision came out the exact right time for me because watching Wanda process her trauma and her grief really helped me, no lie, process my own. And I know on some level outside, it’s “Oh, like really a superhero show helps you do that?”
And yeah. Yeah. There are people who aren’t in these fandoms don’t realize, or at least undervalue how powerful these messages are. How much that these stories affect us and help us understand what it is about the world around us. I think that is one of the key things that good science fiction does really well. The ideas to help us understand, A., I want to understand what is, and then 2. Understand what is possible.
And I think that is one of the most important things that I’ve taken away from my fandoms. Do I necessarily believe that God exists in the Christian sense? No, but is it possible? Could be. I don’t know, God could look like the prophets of Bajor or something closer to that.
Opportunities abound, I guess. My mind can’t really comprehend that, but I have to consider the possibilities that there are things about this universe that I don’t know. And that’s what science fiction does for me.
Latisha: I love that you mention that. I know for me, there’s something to the comfort I feel with the idea that I might not be able to understand. And the comfort that I feel in, I might not be able to comprehend. And that is okay. And I feel like for a lot of people, the idea of not knowing or not being able to control it or not being able to get your head around is so terrifying. Which I get, but it also feel as someone who’s been in fandoms, I’ve gotten practice with the idea. I remember like randomly I was watching a Doctor Who episode where people are going mad because they realized that they were in a simulation and that they weren’t real and they just like, “oh my God, I can’t handle it. Can’t process it.” And I’m like, “I’ve accepted that it could be a figment of someone else’s imagination for a while now.” So sometimes I’m just like, can you just get all of the plot, but that’s because I have practice with that thought process.
Rachel: We call it speculative fiction for a reason, right?
These fandoms and these worlds allow us to raise questions and speculate at what might be true and what other things would be true if this were true and how we can navigate different possibilities and ways of being in the world. It trains our minds to ask these questions.
Bringing up the Prophets of Bajor, I think is like such a fascinating one because I think. Deep Space Nine is one of my absolutely favorite shows. And I think it deals with religion on such an interesting level. Like not just philosophically and theologically, but like sociologically. What are the ways that our religious society would structure itself and what are the conflicts that they would have and what would the power structures be and what would happen when that world comes into conflict with other worldviews and how they integrate?
It’s a way of taking a “fictional” religion and allowing it to play out how religious societies function and come into contact with each other. And I don’t know, it’s just fascinating.
Latisha: Oh yeah. And then speaking the prophets of Bajor and how that religion works.
There’s also this question of how does religion work in a society that has been oppressed by another group? And also how someone both can use religion as a source of strength and also rebel against that and being like, “How could my gods let this happen to me?”
And that both of them are valid reactions to the same stimuli and how faith interacts with that. And it’s interesting to see, okay, how does this work? That exploration of humanity which I think is really fascinating. Speaking of the relationship of science fiction and faith, has something ever like really conflicted, with your faith and something that you’ve watched or really complemented it.
Rachel: Pause to think.
Latisha: I was actually at a Comicon event, and this guy who was in like the Star Trek uniform, and all, but he also was like,” Yeah, I’m also a Christian.” and he’s like “I know what you get ask.”
I’m like, “What ?””How am I a Christian and Star Trek fan?” I’m like, “I actually am going to ask that, but not from the point of me criticizing you and saying that like your faith conflicts with this enjoyment, but as I am also someone of that dual identity and I’m wondering how does it land with you in possibly a different way that lands with me?”
But that being said. Clearly he expected that I was someone who would be like, “You’re a Christian, there’s no way you could be into Star Trek. How dare you with the Spock devil ears!” Or something like that? I don’t know.
Rachel: I come across this a lot. Like I’m struggling to think of a specific example within science fiction, where I feel that dichotomy precisely because of the things that we have spoken about, the ways that science fiction opens questions and opens our mind to broader possibilities which should absolutely in 100% include possibilities and speculations around questions of faith.
My husband and I joke about this. Cause what I cannot deal with in media is anything that is like deeply nihilistic. Like that period of peak TV, when it was all like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, right.
Latisha: I skipped all of those.
Rachel: Right. I have no interest. I have no interest like even Game Of Thrones, right? I was like, “This is a world in which grace does not exist and everyone is terrible.” And those questions don’t interest me because I don’t see what the value is.
I joke a lot because I love the show Hannibal. I absolutely love the TV show Hannibal precisely because… okay. Hannibal Lecter is a Satan figure. And it’s incredibly gruesome, lots of very gruesomely depicted murder.
But it’s also a world where beauty and goodness exist. They exist and are perverted, but they exist. And so it’s not a nihilistic world. It’s a world where there is goodness, that goodness is perverted and twisted and warped, but I find it interesting to watch and what I just can’t enter into are speculative universes, where it’s just bleakness and nihilism. Maybe the world’s broken enough and I just don’t need to like speculatively enter it through fiction.
Jay Jackson: You made me think about Douglas Adams. If I were to answer the question about whether I can think of a science fiction that challenged my worldview or possibly reinforced or helped me process it, I would point to Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Particularly as I started coming into my own in my own faith journey and started really questioning, some of the ways that I felt the church was behaving and some of the experiences that I had. My faith was being questioned, in and of its own.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide kind of came to me like in that moment too. And Douglas Adams, as we all know, was pretty irreverent. And reading Hitchhiker’s Guide kind of made that okay. I found it to be less nihilistic.
Rachel: I feel like absurdity is different than nihilism.
Latisha: Yes, very much so.
Jay Jackson: Yes. It’s okay. Nothing matters. Everything ridiculous. Fine. Let’s just get this like impossible warp drive and let’s like turn whales into potted plants or whatever the case may be. I think that was the first time that there was a science fiction that I can consciously remember that helps me like, “That’s okay. I don’t have to have the answers. I don’t have to have the universe explained to me. It doesn’t have to be fair even. I just have to-
Latisha: That’s a hard lesson.
Jay Jackson: -Learn how to… It is a very hard lesson. And it was, “Okay, I can still take vet value and enjoy the people around me, even as everything falls apart, even here at the end of time. I’m still here with my chosen family.” The character Marvin in the book, I feel some type of way about spoiling a 40, 50 year old book, but the scene in the book where Marvin dies. I still remember that. And if you read the scene of the book, basically he’s wearing down after all of this. Everything that they’ve been through. And Arthur and Trillian are basically taking him up this mountain.
And it is an arduous journey for him. He has to stop several times. Marvin is an Android by the way, for those unfamiliar. And his attitude has always been like one of fatalism. He’s incredibly sarcastic. Marvin, the paranoid Android is his actual title in the book, but he’s more just “Nothing matters. Everything’s shite.” And he’s voiced in the movies by Alan Rickman. If that gives you any kind of a clue to his character. When they get him to the summit of this mountain, there’s a message that he’s able to see. At the end of his life, he reads this message and he’s like “Oh, maybe it’s not so bad after all. And I’m here with my friends and that’s nice.” And then he shuts down and that’s how he dies.
But moments like that, I think about whenever I’m having a hard time and I’m like, “Okay what’s it all for? How could it kind and just and loving God do this to me? How could this be allowed to happen?” And the answer that I’ve landed on, thanks to, processing through science fiction, is just ” Hey, just kind roll with it.”
It is. In a very Vonnegut/Tralfamadorian sort of way. It is what it is. And so you can roll with it or you can not. And that’s where I landed with that.
Rachel: And I think that’s what makes whatever we want to put under this broader umbrella of speculative fiction, that it’s holding up a mirror to the world, staring at the world, asking where we find meaning. Again, it’s the asking of the questions and posing of hypothesis that I think is what keeps the genre interesting and evocative, right? Which is why I don’t think there was any contradiction in being a person of faith and being really into various fandoms and various forms of media.
And why, I think there’s actually a lot of resonance. I think that’s what it comes down to. Does your faith, wherever you are on whatever spectrum of religious identity, is there enough elasticity to be interested in posing these questions and engaging with other viewpoints and ideas, right?
Or I think there only becomes a contrast if you have a faith identity or worldview of any kind, that’s like in a box that says,” I have the answers. And so whatever I take in and consume has to fit within my parameters of how I understand the world, God, to function.” I hope that makes sense.
Latisha: No, it does make sense because it’s like, you know, what is your faith journey and is the way you conceptualize your faith? Is it very rigid? Is it that “It must be this way. It is always this way and there’s nothing outside of it,” as opposed to a faith journey as we’ve expressed that embraces the possibility of the unknown. Embraces the idea of, “I know as much as I know, and based on the information available, here’s my hypothesis and I could be wrong. And that is okay because I am on the journey like everybody else.” And I think some people have this conflict of like, “How can you have such strong convictions and still think you could be wrong?”
And it’s like, because this works for now. And it’s worked for other people and allows me to help others. And as I am affirmed in my journey with the other humans that I encounter in a positive way, I’m just going to keep on going and we’ll see what happens next, and that’s just an interesting place to be.
Yes. Scary. I will not deny that it can be absolutely scary. But it’s really interesting. And one thing I was thinking about as you’re talking and this doesn’t not fall into the sci-fi genre, but I was thinking about the movie Dogma, and I really enjoyed that movie. But also what I like about it as a irreverent as it is to the Christian faith. It is written in such a way that the only way those jokes could have been written is by somebody who knows the Bible. The only way so many things make sense is if you actually have a faith background and have read this stuff. And so what I see in that is the opportunity to ask more questions into expand the idea, and I can see how someone would be offended by it, but also if you watch the movie to its conclusion, it actually is quite affirming in the Christian faith, which you have to be willing to go on the journey to get there.
And it’s one of the things I find really fascinating. But I love what you said about the question around nihilism in the SciFi spaces. And this everything sucks and nothing matters. And what you can process with that. Cause I know I personally speaking of sci-fi properties, I have a really hard time with Blade Runner, like a really hard time with Blade Runner.
Rachel: I still haven’t forgiven my husband for the time he got me Blade Runner for Christmas. I had never seen before. And he was like, “Oh, I’ll buy my wife Blade Runner for Christmas that she’s never seen. And I watched it and I’m like, “I hate this.”
Jay Jackson: My father stole my copy of Blade Runner. He was just like, yeah, he didn’t steal it. He saw that I had it. And it was like, “Hey, Blade Runner, that’s one of my favorite movies. If I borrow this?” I’m like, “Sure.” And he never gave it back.
Rachel: So why do you hate Blade Runner, Latisha?
Latisha: Okay. So I have no clue from the very beginning of this film, why I’m supposed to like Harrison Ford’s character. He starts with no redeeming qualities and then continues this journey of lack of redeeming qualities … and there’s… okay. There are certain questions that Blade Runner does ask about reality and sentience and how we define what is and who can be human.
And these are really interesting questions, but the way that it asks these questions… Did we really have to go there? Was it necessary for you to do this thing to ask this question? And so it’s… It’s also a very eighties movie, like many movies in the eighties are, so it also asks this question from a often sexist, xenophobic, often racist perspective that I’m just supposed to go along with without even investigating its own xenophobia, sexism. If you’re going to put that in the story, I need you to investigate that in yourself.
Rachel: I’m just agreeing with all of the things. I’m just agreeing and I’m watching your face, Jay
Jay Jackson: I’m gonna let you finish, but I have a counter argument.
Latisha: Okay. Okay. Okay. And what I do accept about Blade Runner is it’s level and it’s place in the scifi patheon. What I do accept about it is that it had this role, this massive influence on much of the science fiction/ fantasy after.
And in order to understand some of what we got later, it is “worth it” to watch Blade Runner, at least once to get that genealogy, that history. But there are some things that I have to read or watch only once and never return to it. On the other end of the spectrum, Bridge To Terabithia is one of those things.
I only need to read it once. And then the movie came out. I thought, what are you doing to the children? But I think it’s a good text that I only need to see once like Fox And The Hound. Anyway, please.
Jay Jackson: I hear you and Blade Runner. It is not a perfect movie. It is very eighties. I understand the concern, a couple of things and see me warming up. So the thing about Blade Runner, like I said, it’s not a perfect movie. It’s supposed to be both science fiction, but it’s supposed to be, I think at least my reading of it was that it’s more noir than anything else. And if you look at the elements of film noir and that whole type of genre.
You’re not supposed to like Decker. He’s supposed to be kind of a jerk . And I’m being generous with the term jerk. But that whole mentality that he’s in, puts him in the mode of a skeptic. And it allows those questions that you’re talking about.
Since we’re viewing this world through his lens and he’s the character that we’re following. that’s our window into this world now. As with the other point, as far as the other things, the sexism, the xenophobia, the, is it necessary to ask those questions in the way that blade runner asked them?
Probably not, again, kind of a product of its time there you have it. I submit that almost beat for beat the first season of Star Trek: Picard does almost exactly the same thing. We’re not really supposed to like Picard that much at the beginning of the Picard. We see throughout that season, all of these characters that he’s made all these promises to, and those promises have been broken. And so for 20 years or so that we’ve known like Picard, the hero. Now we get to see Picard the asshole and, the flip side of that. And then we take him through this journey where he meets this woman who is an android or in Blade Runner, a replicant, who has her reality questioned.
Her reality has been turned completely upside down because of the nature of what she is. There’s a religious element to that as well. Soji as the destroyer, who, according to Romulan prophecy will bring about the destruction of the universe. There’s that religious element to that as well.
But which I don’t think that Blade Runner had that element to it. But, for the purposes of relating it to today’s topic there you have it. But there’s that as well. When we talk about the xenophobia, at least a piece of the window into why the Romulans are so insular and why they are so at best standoffish with the Federation at this point and all of these things, and you want to talk about faith.
We see in Picard whose faith in everything that this man has worked for the past 20, 30 years that we’ve seen him do has been shattered. My counter argument is that Picard’s kind of doing the same thing, and in terms of seeing what this does for these characters and what it says about us now, again, it’s not a one-to-one correlation
And I think that Picard does do a better job of handling those questions. But I would posit that… I’m not going to say that… what I started to say you wouldn’t have the Picard without Blade Runner. I think that might be a little strong to say
Rachel: This is where I jumped in and say that I couldn’t finish Picard either. I stopped like half way and I was like, I got no time for this.
Latisha: Okay. Being someone who has finished both properties. I will accept your proposal, Jay. I will. Cause I do see Blade Runner DNA in Picard. So I will accept that proposal. I will say, because you’re right, there isn’t a one-to-one, there is something interesting in Picard’s journey, in Picard as a person who has lost their faith and someone who is attempting to enter a world that has moved on without him. And he never quite expected that to happen. So there, there is something interesting in that.
And then also, and I’ll do respect to Patrick Stewart. The pacing of Picard is interesting, but I also feel like you had to deal with the pacing that’s your lead could handle.
So I feel like I can’t be mad at it, even if I wanted it to be because you have an audience that you brought in for this particular actor, you need a pace that he can handle. And in order to balance that you have all these other character stories that need to do some work and still not over shine your lead, who can only work at a certain pace.
Jay Jackson: That’s fair.
Latisha: It’s complicated. But I feel like given possible constraints, is it the best thing that was ever made? Of course not. Is it decent enough that I was able to finish the season. Though it did take me some tries. I am going to watch the second season, but I will admit, it wasn’t a binge.
Rachel: I want to throw out another kind of on this subject to veer just a little bit, but this question of an unlikeable protagonist who has potentially lost their faith in a world that may be nihilistic : Children Of Men.
Having read both the book and seen the movie, I actually think this is an instance where like I prefer the movie to the book, although they asked different questions. But you have Theo, you have Clive Owen’s character, who has given up hope. He is definitely someone who has lost his faith. He has gone through tragedy. You have a world where hope literally does not exist in this world because there are no children, right? Like this idea of living in a world that has no future. And yet it’s very captivating. There is this question of what does it mean to claim some desperation of hope in a world that seems to not have any. I feel like that’s a counterexample to what maybe I found so lacking and uncompelling, and I take the point about the noir genre and what’s going on there.
We can also go on about how much I hate The Expanse and didn’t enjoy the first season of The Expanse so I think I just have issues with the noir genre as a thing.
But I say, I don’t like nihilistic things. This feels like a movie that is in a very nihilistic world. Clive Owen’s character is not particularly likable. And yet I find it deeply captivating. And I would say it’s probably one of my favorite movies. So I don’t know. I’m just throwing that out there for conversation.
Jay Jackson: I think that the difference there is the idea that you can still see that hope. We can live in these universes that are pretty dark. Our own. The real world is pretty dark.
But when we look at these stories and we can see that there is some light somewhere. I brought up the example of Hitchhiker’s Guide and the character of Marvin on his death scene. And I looked it up, what they were looking for was God’s final message to his creation.
And when they get to the summit and Marvin is able to read the message is: We apologize for the inconvenience. And in that moment, Marvin… what does he say? ” I think I… I think I feel good about it. I think I feel good about that.” And that’s when he dies. Even though it’s a death scene, he was able to find some sort of validation or something to hold onto.
That’s, ” Okay, this is worth it. All this effort and all this pain that we’ve been going through has been worth it.” I think that’s the difference between Children Of Men and Blade Runner because the whole conceit of Children Of Men is that you have this woman who is pregnant in a world where people have stopped having children.
So there’s an effort and there’s mission and, yes, it is very bleak, but there is still this hope that the human race can continue. You don’t really see that with Blade Runner. You do see it with Picard as well. Picard does the Picard thing that he does and holds onto his values and things like that and inspires people.
It’s very that. Whereas Blade Runner, just okay… the Rutger Hauer character is dead. Now tears in the rain. Death. And then what does that mean? So you don’t really go anywhere with that. There’s not a whole lot of hope to be gleaned from that.
I think like we were saying earlier one of the reasons that we love science fiction, speculative fiction is that it shows us what is possible. That in this world that is so bleak and so dark, so dystopian and everything falling apart around us, there is still something that we can hold on to.
Latisha: Yeah. And I think even in Children of Men, yes, Clive Owen is not initially a likable character and all that. But when he is given a mission, what we find is that, despite everything, he still wants to hope for something. And having that in a character in our universe, it may be the smallest thing, but it changes everything. Sometimes it isn’t even” I have hope”, but “I want to hope.” It’s ” I want to believe everything can be okay. I want to believe.”
Rachel: Even if everything can’t be okay, something. I want to believe something.
Latisha: Something can be. I’m actually thinking about Idiocracy actually. Which is just such a fascinating, dystopian future But what I love is that, when you get to like the big climax of the movie where you have Luke Wilson scared or being like, ” No, this works.”
The thing that shows that this little thing can work is a little plant.” Look, the plant. It’s tiny, but it’s here and it’s growing and this is possible. I may not be able to fix everything. Maybe not everything can change, but we have lettuce.”
Rachel: Here’s another one of my all time favorite movies is Mad Max: Fury Road. Have we seen this? So like incredibly bleak worldview, but I think ends on a note of, everything is not made better. Everything isn’t fixed. Everything isn’t right. But it ends on like a possibility of renewal. It ends on that possibility of redemption which I find fascinating. What does it mean to stare into the abyss and see the possibility of hope? Which I think is something the scifi genre has the capacity to do well.
Latisha: I love that. I love that. And actually that kind of answers my final question, which was, what messages or morals do you think a person can take from scifi media in general? And also specifically anything, we answered this question already, but diving in deep, do you think there are lessons to be learned about faith in general that can be gleaned through the lens of sci-fi and fantasy media?
Rachel: I think a lot of what we’ve already talked about. The reason that science fiction resonates with my faith is, and I think really it’s more that science fiction I think has influenced my faith. And we talked about at the beginning, right? The things that I was reading, the things that I was watching, challenged me and inspired me and gave me a capacity to think creatively and expansively and openly in a way that my religious upbringing absolutely did not. And I think at its best, science fiction gives us, again, a language and a reference point for exploring different possibilities and different worldviews if we can be open to that. Faith, at its best, should be about, right, a speculation of what we believe about the world and how we want to have those values and that outlook and that comprehension of God and meaning in the universe, how those things should shape our lives and the way that we interact with the world.
And so I think science fiction is a, I don’t want to say testing ground because that undermines the beauty of science fiction on its own, but I think the way that we enter into stories and imaginative worlds is there’s a lot of resonance for me in that, in how we think about faith. As I mentioned before, I work in an interfaith context. So while I certainly have things that I believe about my faith or about the world or my understanding of God, I am someone who is genuinely interested in how other people see the world. Being a person of faith myself makes me genuinely interested in what other people’s faith perspectives are and how they understand the world.
And I think science fiction is a pallet on which writers and creative people can speculate about these questions. I don’t know if that answers your question or not, but that’s my rambling.
Latisha: I feel like it does. Jay, your thoughts?
Jay Jackson: Yeah. I echo and co-sign everything Rachel just said. I do want to like, say to that last point about interfaith and being able to associate with people of different faith backgrounds and on different points in their journey, like yes, that is in the context of what we’re talking about. That is absolutely, I think, one of the most important lessons that good science fiction gives us with the due process that the subject needs. When you think about the Trek universe, you have all of these different cultures that are able to work together.
And I know that I’m going to get a little sappy about it. I know that’s how it sounds like. But the whole idea of infinite diversity in infinite combinations includes faith backgrounds in that. And one of the things that I love about Star Trek when we discuss issues of faith within the Trek universe, is that one of the greatest values of the characters that we see is the ability to be able to work with and live with and not just coexist with people with different faiths, but come together and actually thrive in a society where if you believe that logic is the foundation of all things, then okay, that’s you. If you believe that your honor code and things of that nature are tantamount.
Okay, cool. So be it. That does not mean that we can’t come together. That does not mean that we can’t still be people together. And I think that for me is one of the most important lessons to take away from science fiction, especially, living in a real world where people will block and unfriend you because you like a different brand of toothpaste than they do. I realized that I am exaggerating a little bit, but it’s almost to that point where we have a society that is so fractured and at least in American society. We have a culture that is so fractured and tribalistic even that it can be hard to see that at the end of the day, we really all want the same thing which is to be safe and happy and protected and have our families provided for and to live a dignified life.
I think that is a lesson that we can take away regardless of whether I believe in the same God as you do or not. Just because we have different religions, just because we have different faiths that does not mean that we are less valid as people, as humans. And we should conduct ourselves as such.
Latisha: I completely agree. And what I love is that at least at this moment until proven otherwise, even though I believe the Pentagon recently just said, yes, aliens are actual thing. At the moment we are all human beings. We’re all carbon based life forms.
Our basic functions are all the same, we all breathe in a mixture of chemicals called air and breathe out carbon dioxide and take the oxygen from it, et cetera, et cetera. And so there is a connection that we all do have universally. And I think that is something that science fiction that does have that possibility of hope or connection or whatever that does draw from.
And what I really do love about the work is that it also shows that it’s complicated. And that it’s really hard and that it’s not easy. And sometimes there are no simple answers and you have to be able to hold two conflicting truths at once. And sometimes you can reconcile those things and sometimes you can’t and the lack of absolutes is okay.
And I think sometimes when we’re in a society, where seems like everything’s going off the rails, people cling to something that they feel is absolute and they cling to “This must be!” And yeah, it can be challenging. And like I said, scary to be like, I release the need of having to know everything.
I release the need of absolute surety which expands the world for me. And that can be hard, but it’s also really great to explore. And so I think, yes there’s science fiction does have that positive world view. There’s absolutely science fiction that has a negative and highly problematic worldview.
I’m not denying that those things exist cause they do! That is also the nature of humanity. You’re going to find something amazing and you’re going to find something absolutely horrific and both of those are extremely human. And I so appreciate this conversation I’ve had with you both. It’s been a lot of fun.
Can you share with those people across the interwebs where they can find you on these internet and social media streets starting with you, Rachel.
Rachel: Yeah, I am @nerdypriest on the clock app, TikTok.. I also do Farscape content sometimes when I get around to it @whatthefrell. I’ve been a little lax on that at the moment, but if you want some space Muppets in your life. I’m also @revrachelk on Twitter.
Jay Jackson: Oh, ah, so many things
Latisha: Let us know all the things cause I’m delighted with you. We must find you.
Jay Jackson: I appreciate that. The most pertinent things I’ll say as far as The Sacred Now. There’s a Twitter for The Sacred Now and there’s a Facebook. You can find both of those @sacrednowpod.
You can find me personally @just_jayjackson. Also working on an intersectional video game working on some other projects, got some music coming out and things like that. We have our own website now sacrednowpod.com. Yeah. You can catch all the episodes there like, share, subscribe, all that good stuff.
We’re working on season three at the moment. I would normally have put it out about this time of year. Not full disclosure, your boy’s had a hard couple of months. Some mental health stuff going on. Some personal stuff going on. It was delayed, but it is coming.
I’m expecting to release the first episode of season three in June. We’re going to go back and pick up some things that we didn’t get around to releasing last season, but we’re going to pick up some conversations there. We’re also going to feature a series on the seven deadly sins. We’re going to discuss each of the seven deadlies in media, we’re going to take a really hard look at them and we’re going to discuss whether or not they are even really sins. We’ll talk about all that coming up on The Sacred Now.
Latisha: I just want to time you out right now, for those of you who don’t know what the seven deadly sins aren’t actually in the Bible and we keep on referencing them over and over again. They have a choke hold on something, where it’s not actually there. Okay. I’m done with the PSA, please return to your regularly scheduled self insert awesomeness. Just as technically the preacher’s kid that I am. I just need to say that.
Jay Jackson: Oh yeah. Oh, we go into that to o!
Rachel: You’re getting into my Tik TOK content. If you want to know why St. Augustine is responsible, for everything bad in Christianity, come to my Tik TOK. We talk about that.
Jay Jackson: Listen, Rachel, you and I going to have to get together cause this is this is exactly the type of crowd discussion that we try to have.
Rachel: I just followed you on Twitter
Jay Jackson: Oh, awesome. Outstanding. Follow back.
Latisha: My friends are making friends! That will be the end of today’s conversation. Thank you so much, Jay. Thank you so much, Rachel, for joining me. Thank you to you for listening. I hope everyone has a fantastic day and I’ll see you next time. On the next episode of Interspectional!
What Role Does Whimsy Play In Survival?
Earlier this year, I interviewed Jasmine La Fleur, the founder of Black Fae Day (her picture is at the top of this blog post). It was so great to not only learn about the events and people that inspired her, but also how #BlackFaeDay itself became an inspiration to so many people across the globe. And now, after much preparation and excitement, Black Fae Day and Black MerMay Day (which was created by cosplayer Tranquil Ashes) are coming! Are you ready? Black Fae Day will be the weekend of May 14th and May 15. Black MerMay Day will be on May 28th. All in all, it’s looking to be a Fantastical, Magical May 2022! I feel like both Black Fae Day and Black MerMay Day make two important statements:
- That Black people have the right to be as whimsical and magical as they want to be. That Black existence is not solely defined by struggle, trauma, pain and “trying to get over”. Sometimes we can just be.
- That Black people have a place in fantasy worlds. The realm of fantasy is not solely restricted to a European-American construction. This also means that magic, monsters and myth as well as swords and sorcery has a place for all unlike many movies, television shows and books would have you believe.
In looking at the first statement that I feel these events are making, I’m reminded that for generations, the Black experience in America has been centered around survival. During “slavery times” as my grandmother used to call it, it was about surviving work conditions in unforgiving heat, family separation, beatings, assaults and having almost no control over their lives. Survival required “remembering your place” and many were punished or killed for reading, talking or even trying to dream for something more in their lives; for a different reality from what they saw day after day. For those enslaved people who ran away, bought their freedom, developed skilled trades or defiantly learned how to read, we rarely give them credit for the incredible level of focus, imagination and determination that they must have had for those goals to be accomplished. They were dreamers. Even in places were slavery has been abolished, Black success and aspiration were tempered with the understanding that at any time Solomon Northup’s kidnapped-and-sold-into-slavery story could become theirs.
In the eight years after the end of the Civil War, America saw an explosion of Black businesses, Black congressmen and Black education. The first round of successful Black towns were built across the nation. Historic Black Colleges like Clark Atlanta University, Bowie State University and Fisk University were founded. And Black men voted for the first time in US History. These eight years were full of dreams, whimsy and aspirations. But then much of it was taken. Burned out, drowned, paved over and flat out destroyed in many cases. Many dreams and dreamers were decimated for daring to try to be great, fantastic… magical.
And so the cycle continues in America, of dreamers who make it and those who are defeated. Those who are able rise to great heights and those who are crushed by the limits society places on those who dare to dream. For every Jackie Robinson, there were hundreds of Troy Maxsons whose dreams had been dashed and who used that disappointment to limit the aspirations of their own children. Sometimes it’s out of jealousy, sometimes it’s out of protection; but the question in the Black community for so long was who has the time and energy for dreams, self-care, whimsy and really doing anything outside the norm when it is a struggle to just survive?
But with every generation, there have been dreamers and innovators that had to not only defy convention, but also defy a world that was ready, willing and able to “put them in their place”. The defiance is in the dream and the whimsy. In the poetry and the art. In the dance and the song. In the music and in the theater. The defiance is to dare that there is more than just survival. And conversely, that we need to hold on to the dream in order to make survival worth it.
It might seem foolish to see all of this meaning in a day where Black people are encouraged to put on wings and glitter and frolic in a meadow or put on a tail and bikini and swim in the sea. But you see, there are so many days when we are still fighting for survival. It would be foolish to think that because we seek out moments of whimsy or days of being carefree, that we forget about voter suppression. Or that we don’t remember the tragic maternal mortality rates in America for Black women. We know. We just also know that pain and struggle and strife isn’t all there is to us. We know that many of our ancestors didn’t get the chance to rest or celebrate. We know members of our older generation who never had the chance to put on their fairy wings and wanted to do so, oh so badly. We know generations of Black people who were terrified to swim because fear of the water was beaten into them. By embracing our dreams, we break generational curses. By dancing and daring, we invite others to do the same. So whether it’s arts, writing, costuming or giving yourself a little dance party, I invite you to embrace your whimsy this May, and know that we will all be dancing and singing alongside you.
Interspectional Rewind: Celebrity, Social Media and the Responsibility of Fandom Leadership
So you’ve answered the call to be an active fan. You’ve fought the trolls and won. You’ve stood by your friends when they fought their own battles and together you are all standing strong. But now, they come to you, saying that they need last thing from you. As these are the friends that have become your family, of course you reply, “Anything.” And then they say one of the scariest things you have ever heard.
“We need you to lead us.” I, myself, have never answered that call, although I do trying to be responsible with how I use my voice and share my opinion. In the last episode of my first season, I wanted to interview people who had answered that call and built fandom spaces that were open to difficult conversations around mental health and social justice as well as explicitly sought to protect its members of marginalized identities.
In part 2 of the episode, “Building Communities in Fandom” to Bianca Hernandez-Knight of The Jane Austen Universe and Virtual Jane Con, Jaycee Dubyuh of GAPOC: Gaymer Allied People of Color and Neisha Mulchan, MPH of Diversely Geek discuss the dark side of fandom and what exactly does it mean to be a leader in the fandom space. It’s a role that is both hard to define and incredibly important. A position can be extremely powerful and yet easily dismissed. Those of us who have been members of those communities know that its not an easy job. Between moderating people, creating your own content and possibly being contacted by the corporate media machine yourself, it’s a lot to take on.
One of the most interesting things about fandom leadership is that it’s a job that many have had, from ages as young as 12 or 13 and yet it is a responsibility no one expects and a job few can prepare you for. One minute you are nerding out with your best friends, the next minute you are building a website, creating community guidelines, handling interpersonal conflicts and someone asked you to be the moderator at a con. You are no longer just a fan, you’re a Big Name Fan (BNF). And being apart of the fandom is no longer just about seeing the movie, buying the merch and scouring the internet for sneak previews. Now people are LISTENING to you, your opinions have lasting consequences and there is a pressure to protect those who have sought safety in the community you built as well as the power to unleash your fans and followers at a target if necessary. And as any comic book fan knows:
It can be hard for people outside if the fandom community to understand the power that one can hold in a fandom. But it would be foolish to ignore the lasting impact that a person can have in the online space. In fact, it can be argued that one of the watershed moments of our modern era, Gamergate, is an example of the destructive dark side fandom and fandom leadership.
In this world of influencers, social media gurus and viral TikTok stars, it seems like a person can gain a platform and an audience nearly overnight. But unlike actors, directors and professional writers, the personalities on interactive platforms have a more intimate relationship with their audience. Traditional celebrities have never really had to ask themselves about their responsibility to the public or the image they create until very recently. As a child of the 90’s, I have vivid memories of celebrities often claiming that they “weren’t role models” in an attempt to distance themselves from the impact of their influence. Corporations like Disney, Paramount or Warner Bros. have largely stayed out of the communities that have evolved from the content that they have put out the public. But those aren’t the rules in the fandom space. As the public has grown more accustom to having a level of intimacy with the people that create their entertainment, the lines of separation have blurred in the traditional media space as well, especially with celebrities and creators becoming a presence on social media platforms themselves. So the questions becomes when a community is built around yourself or something you create, are you responsible for leading them?
On the TikTok and Twitter-verse, I’ve seen two responses to this. One response is that as people starting gaining followers, they put out a PSA or community guidelines along the lines of “Hey. This is what I talk about. This is what I expect from your engagement. This is how I expect you to engage with each other. Violate this and you will be blocked/dismissed from the conversation.” While this response is responsible in my opinion, time and experience have shown that this is not the way to get a million followers overnight. It seems like gaining an audience while trying to maintain a level of integrity is a quick way to a slow trickle of notoriety. To be fair, it can be done as shown by the creators such as TheBlerdGurl, Women At Warp and Angry Asian Man. But as the algorithms of social media sites tend thrive on controversy, the content creators that get a large platform fairly quickly tend to sound more like, “Do what you want. I don’t care. Wanna watch me start a fight?!!”, when they address their community.
Celebrities seems to be torn these days about what the proper response is. Some have thrown caution to the wind and let the fallout, be the fallout. It would be foolish to ignore that fact that there is a vocal section of the internet that will embrace every hateful thing that a person could put out there. And what someone loses in respect, they can gain in notoriety and to some, that’s a fair exchange. For others, being or standing up for an underrepresented or marginalize communities comes with its own challenges. In a career where your viability is often based on how “likable” you are; it can be difficult to make a decision to maintain your affable distance or make a statement that could turn the dark side of fandom against you.
Both the hesitation and baptism by fire of celebrities dealing with the dark side of fandom are exemplified by Flash‘s Grant Gustin and Candice Patton. Grant Gustin plays the superhero, Barry Allen aka Flash, and Candice Patton plays his main love interest-now wife in the show, Iris West-Allen. In 2014, when Candace Patton, an African-American actress, was cast to play Iris, a traditionally white character in the comics, the online backlash was loud, abusive and unabating. While much of it has cooled in the subsequent years, the negative and racist messages sent to both Grant and Candice were frequent enough that blocking trolls and defending themselves against people online has become a constant in their lives. For Candice, this experience put her in a leadership position by default because she was the first in what is now a long line of Black women to be cast in television and movie comic book adaptations. She has been the guide both in her industry and to the women of color who have watched her and been inspired by her strength and tenacity if the face of vitriol and prejudice.
Grant Gustin, on the other hand, took a long time to be vocal about his support of his castmate. He’s previously stated that he blocks these problematic folks, but they are not worth additional energy. He has since evolved to attack some of these issues head on, but it took time. This can also be seen as a question of leadership. Fans have pointed out that an earlier and vocal defense of Candice Patton could have lessened the racist remarks that she received. Was it his role as an actor to push the fandom that had been built around his character into a more positive, less hateful space? Many would say “yes”, some would say “no”, but the fact is Candice Patton had no choice in the matter. So it would make sense for the leading man to take on the leadership role even if he never asked for it.
Grant has stated that him being an introvert was part of his reason for not getting into the fray, but I also think that part of it is his image of being a fun, likable and non-threatening actor. Standing up for other people requires that you break the image that people project on to you and suddenly you are standing there as person with principles. And these principles might be the reason that some fans turn against you. One only needs to look at some of the comments in Grant Gustin’s Instagram post below to see some problematic people making themselves known.
And finally you have the leaders that created a community purposefully. Those who saw a need, saw people yearning to have a place to belong and took it upon themselves to make that place a reality. The kind of leadership doesn’t necessarily get notoriety, but a leader can get a level of power and influence that can be used for good or for ill. Sometimes those communities have a leader who is focused on service to the people themselves and others times a cult of personality evolve. There’s also added level of intensity that occurs when when BNFs and fandom leadership feel a responsibility to call out the prejudice, racism, sexism, transphobia, fatphobia etc. that shows up in both the media that created the fandom and within the fandom itself.
The road of responsibility and leadership is not an easy one. It can be full of peril and strife, of making mistakes and causing accidental harm. It can also be one of beauty, love and putting something out there in the world that can help another person and make them feel seen. Positive leadership is challenging, complex and I respect everyone who tries to do it. We all have our role to play in making our corner of the world just a little bit better, brighter and humane. And to those of you who answer that call in the fandom space that is both highly overexposed and still massively misunderstood: I salute you.
Interspectional Rewind: The Hero’s Journey of Fandom
Much like the heroes that many of us follow, the journey from Fandom Neophyte to Fandom Veteran is incredible, exciting and full of danger. It is truly a hero’s journey in and of itself. For those who don’t know, “The Hero’s Journey” is a template or pattern of storytelling that shows up in everything from the ancient stories of Odysseus to The Hobbit to Pixar’s Turning Red. The Hero’s Journey as described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero Of A Thousand Faces looks like this:
So how does this apply to fandom? First, I want to mention that almost everyone has a combination of both passive and active fandoms. You can be passionate about football and only casually interested in Star Wars. Or the Marvel Cinematic Universe lives in your blood, but you’ll sit through Lord Of The Rings if someone forces you. But the journey from passive to active fan and then from fan neophyte to fan veteran is an interesting one. So we start this journey where all of these stories start… With the Call to Action
Typically, I think, something in the book we’re reading, show we’re watching, game we’re playing etc.. calls to us. Something that we are experiencing speaks to where we are in that moment of our lives or we see a story that makes us feel powerful or magical because we connect to the characters. Something about what we are seeing or doing makes us FEEL seen and valued. Suddenly, we are no longer just entertained, we’re excited, we’re involved, and we want more. Thus begins the journey of seeking out more and seeking out others like you.
Crossing the Threshold
Do you remember when you joined your first fan community? Logged into a group chat where people were talking about YOUR THING? Maybe you joined a meetup or facebook group? Or did you go to an event. No matter how you did it, at some point, we all cross the threshold into the world of the FANS. It’s loud and numerous and overwhelming. It’s a wonder to realize that there are so many other people like you. And in the beginning, it can feel like coming home.
Meet the Mentor
If you’re lucky, you can often find a veteran fan to take you in and show you the ropes. Much like the breakdown of groups in a high school lunchroom, you’ve got to learn who’s sitting where, what the feuds are and how to navigate a new space. It’s around this time where you realize that this might not be the utopia you were expecting, but it’s still exciting.
Join The Community
This is the training montage. You’re learning quickly. Laughing loudly and feeling comfort and trust among the people who may just become your new found family.
The First Challenge
You’ve gone through the training montage of your fandom experience. Your mentor has shown you the things that they love. You’ve been introduced to your first community. You’ve observed the trials and the trolls that your new friends have fought and conquered in this new fandom realm. And suddenly, it’s your turn. Either you have been called out or you found a battle that you cannot ignore. Either way, you feel ready to ride into the fray!
The Work Continues
Whether or not you succeed in your first battle, the result is the same. You have now become KNOWN. Some other factions might start to see you as a challenge to conquer or target practice. Either way, their goal is to push you into silence.
The Abyss and the Dark Night of the Mind
The days you wonder if the fandom is worth it. You are challenged again and again. Battle after battle. You’ve seen friendships break. Trolls attack and maybe even a traitor or two in the community. What once brought you hope is now painful. There is no way that it is worth it.
Your mentor tries, but can’t quite convince you that it’ll all be okay. Your community wants to support you and you’re grateful, but maybe it is still time to hide.
But then you get a message:
“Hey. You don’t know me, but I wanted to let you know that your fic really meant a lot to me.”
“Thank you so much for standing up to that person. The fandom can be a trash-fire, but it helps knowing that people like you are around.”
“I’m OBSESSED with your fanart. Please tell me you have t-shirts or posters!”
Suddenly you realize that it’s not just the movie, the book, the tv show, the sport that is affecting people, you are too. In your tiny sphere of influence, your work is special to someone, maybe many someones. And maybe the positivity that you get from the media, the sport or the activity and the positivity that you put in the world as a result is more important than the negativity that you receive in between. Maybe it is worth it to get up and keep on going.
You’re ready to teach what you have learned. And keep on learning yourself. It might even be time to find your own mentee or take an even bigger leap, and move on to leadership yourself. And THAT is its own journey.
Fans. Sometimes, we get to be our own heroes.
The next post in this series will be about Fandom Leadership. In the meantime, if you like this blog and/or the Interspectional Podcast, please support our Kickstarter to help us continue this work: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/interspectional/interspectional-season-2