A PhD project exploring intersectionality through fan podcasts

Header image with the text Marginally Fannish

Month: May 2020

Why I Love Chatting With My Co-Participants And How It Impacts My Research

I’m a couple of days away from the official (planned) half-way point of my project. By the end of May, I’ll have been working on/recording the podcast for five months, and I have another five months to go to plan, record, and publish episodes. So far, I’ve recorded twelve episodes, nine of which are available online. I’m going to write more in detail about the whole episode-process and how it contributes to my ongoing engagement with analysis and theory. However, first I wanted to outline the ways in which both I and the project have benefited from a specific aspect of the process i.e. the conversations I’ve had with my co-participants before and sometimes after the episode.

Sanjana and Aparna, my friends and co-hosts of multiple episodes, have a more regular presence on the podcast than other participants. In our case, our friendship has consisted of being excitably fannish about a lot of the things we love. In the context of the podcast, it’s forced us to examine our favourite worlds, stories and characters through a more critical lens. Before planning the episode, all three of us suggest fan texts for us to look at. After reading/listening to these, we meet to plan the episode segments based on the themes we’re each interested in exploring. Finally, while recording the episode itself, we have an informal chat guided by the structure this planning-session provides. During all these stages, we’re exposed to new ideas and interpretations – either through the texts we read, through our planning conversation, or during the episode itself. Our conversations help us think of things we wouldn’t otherwise have considered and provide multiple perspectives on the topic. We start thinking about the topics we’re exploring in new ways and they impact what ideas are at the forefront of our minds when we’re watching/reading new media. And I know this because we’re actively talking about these things in the midst of our other conversations after we record individual episodes.

With Episode 3, “Just Let Me Hug a Tree in the Woods: Wicca, Paganism, and Religion in Fantasy Media”, I learned a ton about Wicca and Neo-pagan religions thanks to Anna’s own practices and experiences. Again, this is something that I wouldn’t have considered exploring myself – as someone who isn’t religious, I have very little knowledge about even the mainstream faith traditions, let alone the lesser-known ones. I approached the episode very much as someone learning something new. Some of the texts Anna suggested also allowed me to see how a lot of Western fantasy, including the stories I’m familiar with, are underpinned by Judeo-Christian values. Our episode introduced Anna to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a podcast she ended up falling in love with and continued to listen to after the episode. Additionally, her participation on my podcast inspired Anna to begin her own podcast about LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing) which blends her academic interests in fandom, fantasy and religion with her personal interests of LARPing.

With Episode 4, “A Lot of Gold in Gringotts: Representations of Class and Considerations of Gender,” talking to someone about a British context of class using the Weasley family as a touchstone was very helpful to my own understanding of these issues both in the UK as well as back home in India. As someone who has very little experience with offline fandom (I’ve only been to one fan convention that Ali was at too), our conversation – both before and during the episode – also made me aware of the misogyny in such spaces which I’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced myself – either online or offline. That episode as well as subsequent ones which Ali has listened to have introduced her to podcasts like The Gayly Prophet as well as shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ali freely and generously shares her thoughts and recommendations of podcast episodes on Twitter and Facebook, inviting more people into the conversation.

With Episode 5, “It’s Like She’s Not Even There: Misogyny, Masculinity, and Different Cultures”, Anna’s suggested texts helped me identify, articulate, and analyse misogyny in Supernatural and Harry Potter – two fandoms we both share – in ways which I previously hadn’t. Anna is a much more active part of both fandoms than I am or indeed, was even when I was in my early 20s. The perspectives she was interested in and the ones she shared with me were ones which are part of the mainstream discourse in the fandom spaces she inhabits. While planning the episode, Anna began thinking about different cultural representations of Greece (which is where she’s from) and other countries in media after I shared my own perspectives as an Indian fan of largely Western media. Even though we didn’t end up talking about this on the episode, our prior conversations influenced our thinking and opened us up to new ideas.

With Episode 6, “Different Bodies and Different Brains: Depictions of Disability and Ageism in Media”, our conversation and position was strikingly different from our previous episode on representations of race. In this case, all three of us were part of the dominant culture that’s represented in media – both in terms of ability and age. Our conversations negotiating this raised a lot of awareness about how much we don’t know and highlighted our blind-spots. While putting the recommended texts together, and even after the episode, we kept an eye out for articles and books which explored these themes. In my own case, our research and conversations helped put both issues at the forefront of my  thoughts especially since it was such a glaring blind-spot that I hadn’t previously addressed.

With Episode 7, “There’s Never Chicken Tikka Masala At Hogwarts: Different Cultures in Fantasy Media”, we did briefly speak about the things we were interested in exploring while planning the episode (including our own individual engagements with online fandom – Aditi is more active in fanfiction spaces and Tumblr whereas I tend to stick to podcasts and memes on Facebook fan pages). However, what I loved was how much we used our episode as a diving board to talk about other things our conversation had inspired us to think about. We have sporadically been continuing our conversation about different aspects of cultural representations on WhatsApp where we’re both happy about being able to talk to someone about things which we haven’t found space for in our other personal network.

With Episode 8, “Whose Stories Are Being Told: Centering Racial Diversity in Mainstream Hollywood Movies”, I honestly probably wouldn’t have watched the movies had Hibiki not recommended them to me. Of the three, I was only familiar with Crazy Rich Asians but not in a way which made me want to watch the movie. I’m so glad I got the chance to watch all three movies because I loved them in different ways and I loved the different kinds of diverse representations they featured. With this episode, language was a barrier since Hibiki isn’t comfortable with English. I wish I had taken more steps with this because I’m afraid the episode had me monopolising the conversation – where it ended up more as a lecture than a dialogue. However, I did learn a lot about Hibiki’s perspectives both through our planning and episode as well as the essay he wrote for the children’s literature module and our chats during the module. Meeting him personally and having conversations over a period of months helped fill in the gaps the language barrier posed for me personally; however, I don’t think this is reflected in the episode itself. In this case, I think all the other conversations were just as important as the one we had on the podcast. It’s also helped me be more mindful of different language needs and accessibility both while preparing a lecture (that Hibiki was a part of) as well as digital projects in general. Our conversation also presented a different engagement with race and racism than I was personally acquainted with.

With Episode 9, “Destabilise Heterosexuality As A Default: Queer Representation in Media and Fandom”, we didn’t spend too much time planning the episode or chatting because of both our separate academic commitments. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was talking to Diana for our episode. They are much more politically aware and engaged than I am and their points really made me expand my own thinking and challenge preconceived notions I didn’t even know I had. I had a lot of fun chatting with Diana – where we were full of both rage and laughter – and it was a great way to be able to identify the gaps in my own thinking through dialogue with someone who is much more steeped in the theme than I am – both through personal experience as a queer person as well as a researcher studying queerness in fandom.

With Episode 10, (an upcoming episode about dyspraxia, autism, Doctor Who, and fandom), I’ve known Robert for a few years but we’ve never really spoken about disability and trauma before. I did learn about dyspraxia through the Medium essay he wrote about Ryan’s character in Doctor Who. I also knew Robert is steeped in online fandom and was thrilled when he offered to participate on the podcast. I loved our conversation on the podcast because it taught me a lot, including some ways in which I should be more critical of mainstream discourse I’ve encountered. Robert problematised some of the things which appear a lot within fan studies research + shone some new light on certain aspects – merely by sharing his own experiences. I loved our pre- and post-recording discussions even more both because he’s a friend that I don’t get to chat with very often but also because it taught me so many new things in such a compassionate, understanding way – including my own experiences with trauma and anxiety. It was only when Robert shared his experiences with family trauma while planning the episode, that I realised I have my own experience about that – one I hadn’t shared on the podcast or with many of my friends here. Robert also mentioned that he felt uncomfortable about being on a podcast which tries to explore marginalised identities, until our conversation made him realise that he had some experiences and perspectives that were quite marginalised too. With one of the podcast episodes we listened to while prepping for our own episode – the Witch, Please episode about disability and queerness – Robert highlighted the fact that some parts of that were quite triggering since they so closely matched his own experiences and suggested we include a trigger warning in our episode. This is something I hadn’t considered before he pointed it out, and I’m so glad to be able to include that consideration into my work now, even though I hadn’t otherwise. I’m now thinking about triggers even in terms of potential workshops, sessions and lectures I do in future too.

With Episode 11, (an upcoming episode about women warriors in science fiction and fantasy), Lisa and I had a long conversation when we met on Skype to plan our episode – the planning meeting lasted for as long as my podcast episodes usually do. We enjoyed talking to each other about our favourite media and representations of women fighters as well as our own experiences and perspectives. As someone who hasn’t really thought about this issue at all, Lisa’s own background with martial arts as well as her deep-seated love for Mockingbird shone a light on another aspect of fan engagement. It also helped me identify the representations of female fighters I had encountered in some of my favourite media – and how gender and physical ability intersected with other identities – both marginalised and privileged. As with Episode 3, I was happy to get the opportunity to explore a topic which I wouldn’t have suggested myself.

With Episode 12, (an upcoming episode about Fantastic Beasts and Nagini), my preconceived notions which had been shaped by mainstream fandom discourse were well and truly smashed and taught me to be more critical of critique. The whole Nagini controversy had put me off watching Crimes of Grindelwald and I only did because it was one of Lorrie’s recommended texts. I had only ever encountered critiques of Nagini’s arc and the stereotypical representation of East Asian women in Western media. Since I wasn’t a part of that marginalised identity, and as someone who’s grown up in India and had Bollywood movies to represent people who (more or less) looked like me, I didn’t think I had enough knowledge to comment on this issue and took the mainstream critique for granted. However, Lorrie herself is an East Asian woman in the West and she problematises the critiques by providing detailed analysis as well as an unbridled joy for the character of Nagini and Korean representation in her favourite fictional world. (I ended up loving Crimes of Grindelwald – and I don’t know if I would have allowed myself to love it so guiltlessly had Lorrie not been so unabashed in proclaiming her love for the movie while we were exchanging emails). She also pointed out that since she had read the Harry Potter books as an adult, she had always been aware of the more problematic aspects in the series – but this hadn’t diminished her enjoyment of the world and just helped her acknowledge Rowling’s own blind-spots. She proposed this was perhaps different from people who had grown up with the series and now found themselves betrayed by it on finding all these problematic representations. I don’t know about others but this theory definitely resonated with me.

Episode 9 Destabilise Heterosexuality As A Default: Queer Representation in Media and Fandom

Episode Resources:

1) Fan podcast – Queer As Fiction Harry Potter, But Gayer

2) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds Imaginary Deaths

3) Fan podcast – Imaginary World The Power of the Makeover Mage

4) Fan podcast – Witch, Please Witch, Please; Live & Unruly

5) Fan podcast – The Gayly Prophet Queer Children Are Our Future

6) Essay – Deconstructing Disney: The Princess Problem of ‘Frozen II’

Episode Transcript:

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. If you would prefer the original, unedited version, please let me know!

Photo of Diana Floegel

[Intro music]

Welcome to Marginally Fannish, a show where we aim an intersectional lens at some of our favourite media and their fandoms.

[Intro music]

My name is Parinita Shetty and you’re listening to the ninth episode of Marginally Fannish. In this episode, I chat with Diana Floegel about queer representation in media and how fandom engages with queerness.

Media industries and their cultural products reflect the structural heteronormativity prevalent in the real world. Mainstream media has popularised a more palatable version of queerness. It expects assimilation into the heteronormative default rather than exploring alternative structures. It also largely overlooks intersectional identities. Queer media representations – when they do exist – perpetuate limited narratives of being queer. They also promote troubling tropes and stereotypes which further reflect the lack of structural diversity.

Fandom can act as an alternative to mainstream media where people encounter queer ideas and content for the first time. Fan communities explore different sexual and gender identities. Fan campaigns demanding more queer representation in media can popularise fringe ideas and expand mainstream imaginations. Fan spaces feature both debates against as well as examples of the more problematic aspects of queer representation. Even fandom can reinforce dominant ideas when it features different levels of acceptance for different kinds of queerness. However, some fan communities have offered a supportive space for queer people and their experiences.

Find our conversation about all this and more in today’s episode.

Happy listening!

[Intro music]

Parinita: I’m so excited to have Diana Floegel on the podcast today. Diana is a doctoral candidate in Information Science at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University in the US. Their research generally applies a queer theoretical lens to phenomena surrounding people’s information creation practices, sociotechnical assemblages and information institutions such as libraries. And their dissertation work specifically focuses on queer people who write slash fanfiction. Diana has lifelong love-hate relationships with fandoms ranging from Harry Potter to musical theatre to Batwoman. I love it. Their research interests inspired today’s episode where we’re going to look at queer representation in media and in Harry Potter as well as how fandom engages with queerness. So to begin with, Diana, could you tell us a little bit about your own experiences with the topic either as a researcher, a fan, or even from your own personal life?

Diana: Yeah absolutely. So, hi everyone. So in terms of my personal life, I’ve been a fan since probably before I can remember. When I was younger, I was obsessed with a small selection of picture books and I started writing self-insert fanfiction.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: Which is rather embarrassing. [laughs] But I started writing self-insert fanfiction probably in elementary school. And started reading fanfiction in high school. And it was really important to read slash especially then because there was even less queer representation in media than there is now. And so that’s where I found a lot of what I wanted to see in terms of particularly lesbian and gay folks and relationships in fanfiction. And so when I started researching as a career, as a PhD student, there’s some gaps in my discipline that I think fanfiction can fill and thinking about queer-authored fanfiction can fill. Or can start to fill. I identify as a constructivist epistemically and so it made sense to me to do some work around queer-authored fanfiction.

Parinita: That sounds amazing. And it’s also really similar to my own experiences a little bit. Right from writing self-insert fanfic when I was in primary school [laughs]. But I did it in my head. So The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley, I used to read a lot of that when I was younger. And I created this new school which was very much a copy of both Sweet Valley and The Baby-Sitters Club but I just came up with new characters – all of which I wanted to be and sort of represented me a little bit.

Diana: Amazing.

Parinita: [laughs] Because that’s what you do as a kid.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: Queerness is not something that I encountered in school or my family because it’s not something that, at least in my community, nobody really broached these topics about different gender or sexual identities. So my first encounter with these ideas was in fandom as well, when as a thirteen-year-old, I discovered Harry Potter fanfiction on this website called Mugglenet. And even then I wasn’t really a romance reader but you can’t be – or at least then you couldn’t be – a part of the fanfic community even as a lurker which I was – without coming across shipping in some form. Where fans imagine which characters would end up or should end up in relationships. I know you know this, this is just for people who might not know this. [laughs]

Diana: [laughs] Oh absolutely, yeah.

Parinita: So this was before all the books had come out, so the main ships at that time that I first encountered were either Harry/Hermione or Harry/Ginny or Hermione/Ron. There were these huge shipping wars that used to happen which I used to ignore because I used to just read and write really random fic. There were no relationships in it. But it was only when I spent more time in fandom that I discovered slash shipping. So queering canonically straight characters like Harry and Draco – which again, for people who don’t know what slash is. Though when I re-read The Philosopher’s Stone a few weeks ago, I couldn’t un-see that ship now.

Diana: Oh a hundred percent. [laughs]

Fan art of Draco and Harry inter-twined in Christmas lights with Pansy on one side and Hermione on the other. Text says - Draco: I swear to Merlin Parkinson if you don't release me THIS INSTANT I will make you SUFFER I will make your whole FAMILY suffer I will murder you in your sleep and I will make sure it looks like an accident you nasty little excuse for a friend I - Pansy: Oh, DO shut up 'Potter this', 'Potter that'. it has to STOP. We'll be back in two hours. Harry: Hermione - Hermione: I'm SORRY Harry but this is the only thing she's actually right about.

Drarry fan art courtesy Pinterest

Parinita: Right?! I mean I’m not really a shipper myself, that’s not how I read books. Romance is something that’s secondary, it gets in the way of the plot mostly for me. Just in any books. But now that I read it, I was like, “Oh my god Draco definitely has a giant crush on Harry!” [laughs] Even if it’s not romantic, I feel like he definitely wants to be friends with him. Maybe watching Cursed Child – because in that same week, I watched Cursed Child in London – and maybe that had a roundabout effect on my interpretation. But I can’t un-see it now. Draco and Harry, yeah, that’s my ship. [laughs]

Photo of Palace Theatre London with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Palace Theatre, London

Diana: Yeah! Cursed Child is – so first of all, I really relate to what you said about not having any sort of conceptions or examples or representations of queerness around you in your everyday life.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: Or your non-media, non-fandom life. Because I had a very similar experience. I grew up in a family where I’m the only openly queer person.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And grew up Catholic and in a fairly conservative area and so it was really nowhere. So fandom was very key in that sense. But Cursed Child specifically is so queerbaity! So when I say queerbaiting

Parinita: Oh my god yes!

Diana: Oh my god.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: So I mean there’s this very significant, very – particularly to a lot of queer folks – very obvious subtext that these characters are more than friends, right? [laughs] Or more than … in some sort of platonic relationship that never actually comes to fruition.

Parinita: I mean not just to queer folks. I am very cisgender, I’m very heterosexual.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And Scorpius and Albus are definitely a couple. [laughs]

Diana: Oh my god yes! Jesus!

Screenshot of a tweet by @annabroges. Text says: if you're sad that it's monday just imagine all the holidays harry and draco are going to have to spend together once their sons get married

Image courtesy BuzzFeed

Parinita: Like I said, I don’t usually look for subtext in these things. And after listening to a few of the podcasts, but even otherwise through fandom, I know a lot of queer folks do queer the canon a lot – looking for subtext and things. And with disabilities as well.

Diana: Oh definitely, yeah.

Parinita: I’ve spoken about this with somebody else. Just because you don’t see yourself represented so you do that. And with racebending as well.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: But with Scorpius and Albus, it’s so obvious. There’s no subtext there. Spoilers – but whatever he has a crush on Rose which seems so crowbarred in.

Diana: Oh yeah.

Parinita: Right? Yeah, no. They’re definitely a couple. [laughs]

Diana: They are. And I will also freely admit I am a shipper. I think there’s a little bit of a misconception, particularly from folks who are outside of fandom, that all fic and all slashed or queer fic is ship-related fic.

Parinita: Hmm.

Diana: And it’s not. It’s definitely not. But I am a shipper. [laughs] And I love a good ship fic, I love tropey-ness in ships.

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah.

Diana: So I will freely admit that. And my partner and I sometimes get into very happy fun little tiffs about this. When I’ll be like, “Oh they’re definitely a couple.” And she’s like, “All they did was look at each other!”

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: No, they were meant to be. [laughs]

Parinita: I love it. I think I do this with some things, with middle-grade and young adult fantasy books sometimes. And I think a lot of fandom research does look at shipping – not shipping, but does look at a lot of fanfiction communities.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: At least the research that I’ve come across. So I feel like I’m the oddball who doesn’t ship and who’s not having – I’ve fallen into that mainstream idea.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: Because I’m usually a lurker.

Diana: Hmm.

Parinita: I used to write fanfiction as a teenager. I wrote a sitcom version of Voldemort and the Death Eaters [laughs].

Diana: Amazing.

Parinita: So there was no shipping there. But yeah, after years of being a lurker, I’ve come back into creating things with this podcast. But yeah sorry that was a sidetrack.

Diana: Oh no, no.

Parinita: So something that you mentioned as well and something I think in the Queer As Fiction episode, one of the hosts Ashly mentioned, where she shared her coming out story.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: Because she grew up super Christian as well. Which seems to be a big reason in the US for the tension with coming out and finding support. Which I was thinking is so different from India.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: Just the context – or at least the reason for why coming out would be difficult. In India, I think it’s less about religion. It’s more about just social pressures and social conditioning. It’s a very patriarchal, very heterosexual –

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: Well … not traditionally. Not thousands of years ago. But after the British Empire came, we still had their outdated, obsolete laws against homosexuality. And it was illegal and then it was legal again for a bit and then it was illegal again and now it’s legal again. So there was a big back and forth in the Supreme Court in India as well. But it’s still not very mainstream. [Recently, a queer student committed suicide in Goa, India after being forced into conversion therapy by her family]

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: In the big cities in India, we have pride parades and things. And I’d gone for a pride parade as a teenager because – again, because that’s what I discovered through fandom and I was like, “No, I have to support this now that I’m seeing it in my real  community. So I should go and support it as an ally.” With media, I know that in the West there is still a lack of representation of queerness onscreen and in books.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: But so much more than what you’d see in Indian media. Even though now there is more of a push-back against that.

Diana: Yeah. So that’s really interesting. Because I think you’re right. The US context is an interesting one because I mean first of all, we are the colonisers, right? [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: That’s sort of what the US does. But we have this … [sighs] very limited I think amount of acceptance. Where there are palatable versions of queerness that I think have gone mainstream and have hit mainstream media. And so a lot of that intersects with race, right. So white people who are queer tend to be represented more than people of colour who are queer.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And cisgender people are represented far more than trans folks and nonbinary folks. And there are very limited ways in which trans people are represented too. And so there’s a lot of this still structural cis- and heteronormativity that happens that can seep into media. And even outside of media, right? It’s always interesting to me that the most known, I would argue, landmark in LGBTQ+ rights has to do with marriage equality, right?

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And marriage is a traditionally normative institution. And some folks might say – now listen, I say this as someone who thinks that getting married is a beautiful thing for a lot of folks. And also really important in terms of being protected and being with a person that you love etc. But we have to assimilate into what the heteronormative default is rather than think about alternative or reoriented structures.

Parinita: Absolutely. That’s something I was thinking of as well. Because just in terms of all marginalised identities you know.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: This is something we’ve spoken about before on the podcast in terms of disability where even disabled folks have to assimilate into abled communities and the abled view of the world.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And racial as well. And ethnicity, national origin whatever. But especially with queerness because right now I’m thinking that the most mainstream gay couple that I can think of is in Modern Family.

Diana: Oh yeah.

Photo of Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family

Image courtesy Indie Wire. Photo by ABC-TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet

Parinita: I mean yeah you have them as this gay couple, but you could have them as a straight couple and it wouldn’t really – it’s not so different. So there’s this very fixed idea of what a family is. [An article presenting an alternative view of the importance of these characters in Modern Family]

Diana: Yup.

Parinita: And I’m trying to read more about these things because it is a blind-spot. Most of my friends are straight and most of my friends are cisgender.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: So I try and read about it because that’s how you learn about these things that you wouldn’t encounter otherwise. And I know that a lot of queer communities are trying to fight for a different way of life. It’s a feminist project as well.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: Not just what you see in the status quo. You just look at different ways of being.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: But the media then just presents this very singular narrative of being queer. So what you were saying, that there’s just one way to be queer and you have to assimilate into that.

Diana: Yeah absolutely. And it’s interesting too when you were talking about coming out stories etc., that a lot of times the dominant conception of coming out is that it’s an event rather than a process. And a never-ending process. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And always a risks/benefits analysis too, right? Always little calculations like, “Is it worth it to mention something in this context where nobody knows who I am?” Particularly because heterosexuality and being cisgender are the defaults. And also as someone who identifies as nonbinary but who very easily and sometimes frustratingly so – although I also recognize, it gives me a lot of privileges – passes as a cis woman.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: It can be a tricky calculation. It’s not just like I sit some people down on a couch once and have this sort of great confession and then we move on.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: Or I’m disowned or murdered or you know whatever the [laughs] sob story would be – but yeah.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely! And it’s also like you said, the risks and benefits. So in one of the podcasts, the Imaginary Worlds one about The Power of the Makeover Mage.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: I think a nonbinary guest was also saying the same thing. And a trans guest was saying that while playing video games, they found this ability to play with their identities – a relatively safe space within the video game to play with their identities.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And to experiment with their identity. But then when you go into the wider video gaming community, anybody who’s on the internet a little bit or in fandom research a little bit, we know about Gamergate.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: And how toxic the video game community can be.

Diana: Absolutely.

Parinita: I think one of the guests said that if you’re only going to be with this random player for five minutes, you don’t want to be – like you said – coming out or … who do you come out to and why?

Diana: Exactly.

Parinita: Because it’s still the default. If you sound like a woman, then you will have to go through this whole process that may not really be safe to do either. Forget the whole emotional labour that you have to do but it might actually be dangerous.

Diana: Yeah. Definitely.

Parinita: So media does play a role in either normalising or marginalising queerness. And it can shape mainstream imaginations which in turn can then influence culture and then even politics.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: So in terms of queerness, I know that there is more representation in Western media than in Indian media.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: But something that we came across in one of the podcasts was this whole “bury your gays” trope. And is that something that you’ve come across yourself?

Diana: Definitely. Yes. So that’s something that I’ve come across in my own personal media consumption and also that’s something that a lot of my own dissertation participants and participants in other research that I’ve done on queerness and media creation or fandom have talked about. And so it’s basically this idea that sometimes in a piece of media – on television, in a movie, in a book – there will be oftentimes one or two queer characters in a larger sea of cis-hetero characters. And oftentimes you’ll be made to love them or appreciate them or even you’re just super excited because there’s a glimpse of queerness. And then they are killed – oftentimes very violently. And so that’s where this bury your gays idea comes from. And I do think that now there is slightly more awareness that this is a thing. I feel like there was a bit of a shift, honestly when there was a character who was killed off of a television show that in the US airs on the CW that’s called The 100.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And that got a lot of attention as something that should not have happened because it was shocking and violent and the whole show had kind of built up this relationship and they finally get together and then this one character is murdered.  But what’s interesting too is that even after that happened and after there was this uproar around it, right – some people almost framed that like a last straw kind of thing – there are still a lot of examples of media that have come out after that where this has happened. Where there’s a sudden, unexpected, violent death of the only – or one of the only queer characters in the entire universe.

Parinita: Yeah and especially when there’s such little representation. So the Imaginary Worlds episode that we listened to, about Imaginary Deaths,

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: It signposted this other podcast called Lez Hang Out. And they had a Bury Your Gays episode as well. One of the hosts there, she spoke about Willow and Tara … Tara … Tara? [tries different pronunciations]

Diana: Yeah, Tara, yeah.

Photo of Willow and Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Tara and Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Image courtesy here

Parinita: Where that whole thing impacted her so much even though she acknowledged that in the scheme of the story, it made sense. And in terms of Willow’s character arc, she liked the character arc but did not like how it was done and why it was done. What she said was, “It gets better and then you die.”

Diana: That’s exactly – yes!

Parinita: It would totally be all right – obviously a lot of straight/cis/hetero characters die and you’re not – you feel an impact because they spoke about parasocial relationships that fans form with these characters that you feel like you know them. I mean even if in a show that everyone dies but if there’s one queer character and they always die – it becomes a trend – it’s very problematic.

Diana: Absolutely.

Parinita: And this is something that again – I know I keep harking back to previous episodes, but there’s such a common thread between all these marginalised representations because this happens with disabled characters as well. Where they’re killed off to propel the stories of abled characters or characters of colour who are killed off to propel the stories of white characters in Western media.

Diana: Absolutely.

Parinita: And of course bury your gays only works if there are gay characters in your story at all. You mentioned that you wanted to talk more about queerbaiting as well and how that’s a huge part of media.

Diana: Um hmm. Yeah, so totally with you on everything that you said and everything from your previous episode as well. It’s interesting to me that bury your gays got a lot of attention and has a specific name too when there are also documented trends of characters of colour who are killed off as well. And I also think there’s an intersection here. So The Wire is a good example of this. Sorry, spoiler alerts!

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: I’ll get to queerbaiting in a second – but there is another common trend that’s sometimes called a triple threat minority character or something like that.

Parinita: Oh no! [laughs]

Diana: Right. Where you put all of the quote unquote – heavy quotes here – “difference” into one character. And that one character is supposed to be #diversity.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: In your otherwise very whitewashed, very cis, very straight, very abled show. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: So that’s an interesting one too.

Parinita: And that places so much of a burden as well, right, on that one character.

Diana: Oh yeah.

Parinita: Because they are the only representations of everything then they have to be perfect. And make everybody happy.

Diana: Yes! One example that I know a lot of folks use is Sara Ramirez’s character on Grey’s Anatomy.

Parinita: Hmm oh yeah!

Gif of Sara Ramirez's character from Grey's Anatomy. Text says: So I'm bisexual. So what? It's called LGBTQ for a reason. There's a B in there and it doesn't mean Badass. Okay, it does, but it also means Bi.

Diana: [laughs] So queerbaiting is an interesting one, right. Because all of these to me are related to – I’m coming from a US context specifically – but structural problems throughout the entire society, right? So very institutionalised whiteness, heteronormativity, cisnormativity etc. And so this sort of necessarily trickles down into media industries, right. And so media industries are producing content that reflects a lot of these institutionalised violent normativities. And so queerbaiting is an interesting one because media creators know that there are queer audiences out there who are thirsty for content.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And some of them are explicit about it – that they are teasing us with these characters and will say on panels at Comic Con – they’ll make jokes about it. Or there was a video that came out – I think it was Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Holland from the newest Spider-Man movie that involves Tom Holland. There are so many Spider-Man movies!

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah.

Diana: [laughs] That’s a movie that’s been accused of baiting those two characters. And so in this little clip, they actually pretended to kiss each other and then laughed like, “Hahaha so funny! That would never happen in this mainstream Marvel movie!” But first of all, why?

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: And second of all, that’s a pretty good example of how this is a common industry practice that’s framed as a joke. And that’s pretty violent towards queer audiences and frustrating. So the Supernatural creators have pretty explicitly played into this; on Supergirl they pretty explicitly played into this, right.

Parinita: Sherlock as well.

Diana: Oh my gosh!

Parinita: And there one of the creators, Mark Gatiss, he’s gay.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: But I don’t know if it was with Sherlock or with somebody else, I’ve come across this idea that they feel like they’re doing it as a good thing for their queer fans – without recognising how, like you said, violent it is. You place so much of your emotional everything on these characters that you think are queer and then it’s snatched away from you.

Diana: Exactly!

Parinita: Even if they’re not doing it intentionally, it is such a blind-spot and it is structural, like you said. We talk a lot about the need for having diverse creators in media, so having more queer creators. And obviously it works in some instances. But in other instances – Sherlock, for example, and Doctor Who as well. I think now Doctor Who, I don’t know how familiar you are with it, but it is becoming a little more queer-friendly and in terms of diversity, a diverse cast, diverse writers and everything.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: But traditionally it has – even in the new season, it has been very … yeah like the status quo. Very much what it used to be and very much what all media used to be. Even when you have someone like Mark Gatiss, who is a gay man.

Diana: Yeah. So I’m really glad you brought up the idea of hiring practices in media because this is something that I think is really interesting. There is a good book – it’s an academic book for – to warn listeners who might not want to read that. I understand.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana:. But it’s called Race and the Cultural Industries.

Parinita: Hmm.

Diana: And one of the main points that it makes is that we can extend Audre Lorde’s ideas about having a seat at the table to talk more broadly about having a voice at the table.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so just because you have people of colour, queer people, disabled people in a room doesn’t mean that they are going to be able to have the same amount of influence in that room as folks who are more structurally socially powerful, right, because societal power dynamics are still going to be at play there. And so it is of course extremely important to diversify media industries, but at the same time, that sometimes is just a band-aid on top of this larger structural problem. Because if you’re not providing overall the equipment or the scaffolding or whatever it is that you want to call it, that marginalised people are going to need in order to succeed and also not burn-out on all of the emotional labour that they’re giving into this industry.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: That’s more than just a hiring process, right? And that sometimes also can require a totally fundamental retooling of how it is that we’re thinking about these institutions, including media institutions. If that makes sense.

Parinita: That’s such a good point. Because what you’re saying, it’s really important, of course, in media industries, but it also reminded me of what happens in fandom.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: So Rukmini Pande is a researcher who’s written Squee from the Margins.

Diana: I love that book!

Parinita: Yeah, me too. And that’s something that actually made me reorient my thinking. I started reading it at the beginning of my PhD a couple of years ago. So when fandom is so white and dominated by white and Western fans.

Diana: Yes.

Parinita: So it’s socially conditioned within you as well. Even though I wasn’t white and I wasn’t Western, like her, I still thought that there’s nobody else like me out there.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: So I’m not going to talk about my identity. Then she’s looked at the racism problem in fandom.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: Where it is the burden of fans of colour to talk about these things. And when they do talk about these things, they’re usually either listened to and then dismissed or just attacked.

Diana: Exactly.

Parinita: And even with slash ships – I know you mentioned this briefly before – but she’s done work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as Star Wars.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: She’s researched how white slash ships are more likely to be popular and there are more people who are writing about that versus any characters of colour.

Diana: Absolutely. Pande’s work is inspiring. I think that she’s brilliant. And I’m really glad that she’s publishing and that she’s talking about this because it’s vital. And this is something that’s reflected in my own dissertation data too. I have participants who have told me that they will experience more policing in fandom, for example.

Parinita: Hmm.

Diana: So if they write characters of colour, they will, for example, receive fewer kudos.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: If we’re talking about Archive Of Our Own, the fanfiction platform, kudos are like likes on Facebook. And so they feel like those fics receive fewer kudos. Or they’ll receive fewer comments or the comments won’t be as positive. Even though AO3 in general is branded as a positive environment.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: That’s not the case for fans of colour a lot of the times. And the other thing that’s interesting is – so anonymity is a really interesting concept in fandom and on the internet. I think it’s hard oftentimes to maintain, and some folks don’t want to maintain it. And so I’ve had participants of colour who have told me that they also will face harassment for writing white characters.

Parinita: Hmm.

Diana: White fans will come after them and say, “You shouldn’t be writing for these characters.” Which is ridiculous!

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Diana: And what you mentioned too about Western fandom is extremely true. And I think that because fandom or mainstream fandom spaces are predominantly English language, people who are living outside of Western societies or outside of the Global North have to do a lot more work than folks who are, for example, native English speakers. Or who are more familiar with Western cultural tropes.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: There are more language skills related to writing in English, right. And in order to get readers, oftentimes my participants say that they feel they have to write in English. And also in terms of what a lot of my participants have called “research”.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And that’s what I mean, they have to research if they want to write a story that’s set in a certain place like how would that be legible or palatable to people who are native English speakers, for example.

Parinita: Also explaining your own culture and everything.

Diana: Yes!

Parinita: What you were saying about native English speakers – for a country like India, because Western culture is now currently global culture, we get a lot of Western media and everything. And we become fans of that. And India has a huge English-speaking population in cities and things.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: But it’s just this colonised mindset still that if you don’t see yourself represented, even in fandom – forget mainstream media, but even in fandom, if you don’t see yourself represented. Which is why Rukmini Pande’s book and her work was such a shift in my perception. Because it’s not something that I’d even thought about. My whole academic fandom research started with Henry Jenkins. And I love his work.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: But then Rukmini problematises it a little bit because it is so white and Western and middle-class.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: Because he’s one of the founding members of fan studies in general, that’s how fandom has gone. And even though I still think fandom can be a progressive space in certain aspects – for me, all my experiences with fandom have been relatively positive. Which is why my project is also looking at the more positive aspects because I’ve learned a lot from fandom. But I know that there are really toxic, really terrible things, some of what you’ve mentioned as well.

Diana: Yeah!

Parinita: And I’m glad that there are more conversations that are veering towards that. But even then, I think there is so much more work to be done and I’m glad that yeah, your research is also looking at that a little bit.

Diana: Yes, no, I’m glad that yours is too. And I fully agree with you. And it’s funny too, fandom is a really useful context through which to problematise the idea of canon.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: Right? But also there is a fan studies canon. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah! Absolutely.

Diana: And fan studies canon is super white and male. I get that Henry Jenkins was a pioneer in fan studies. But also he is kind of a utopian dude and that’s just not real.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: So just to move back a little bit to what we were talking about earlier.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: I don’t even know if the retroactive reveal of Dumbledore’s gayness counts as queerbaiting. And obviously I wouldn’t have to ask this question if queerness in Harry Potter wasn’t only subtext and completely missing in actual canon.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: And that’s a problem with a lot of media, right?

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: Where fans have to queer the canon. Harry Potter, Frozen, whatever.

Diana: That’s a really good question. [laughs] So I think there is a very imperfect, very, very imperfect division right – I don’t really like binaries so I would not binarise them – but between the idea of queerbaiting and also the idea of queer-coding.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so I think that Dumbledore is a queer-coded character.

Parinita: Right.

Diana: He has some of the token, particularly media ideas around … particularly being a lonely queer character almost.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: Loneliness is sort of a common theme. So J. K. Rowling – known TERF.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: Not going to give her any credit.

Parinita: No.

Diana: For anything ever.

Parinita: No.

Diana: I have no problem believing that Dumbledore is queer particularly because one of my goals in life is to destabilise heterosexuality as a default. There’s an assumption, I think, that anyone whose sexuality is not otherwise identified is heterosexual.

Parinita: Right.

Diana: And so I would be very glad to say that Dumbledore’s sexuality is not identified and therefore he could be anything, right. He could be straight, he could be queer, he could be – this fits under a queer umbrella of course – but he could be ace [asexual], right. He could be any of these things.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: But J. K. Rowling going out there and being like, “Oh give me so much credit because I actually wrote a gay character and he was a main character. I just didn’t tell you.”

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: “Until all of the books were published and I made my millions and millions of dollars.” Absolutely not!

Parinita: But even then, with the movies, in the Witch, Please podcast they’ve said before that it’s a political choice how you represent characters on the screen. So they were talking about Ginny how her character was butchered in the movies.

Diana: Yes, totally.

Parinita: I mean I know there are three more movies in the Fantastic Beasts series that are to come out, but through all indications, it doesn’t look like his relationship with Grindelwald is going to play a role in it. Or is even going to be mentioned as a relationship.

Diana: Yup. You’re absolutely right. See and this is why, again … canon is a very sticky, loose concept. Any sort of move to say that Dumbledore is canonically gay or that J. K. Rowling gave us a gay character … I’m sorry but where’s the proof? Other than J. K. Rowling probably doing a media stunt. Sorry but I don’t see … I have a lot of anger towards her.

Parinita: Yeah, no, and I completely understand why. Because like you said, if he’s queer-coded but if that’s something that is only then picked up on by possibly queer people and queer readers but not somebody like me, then there’s such an opportunity there to very explicitly have a character there which someone like me would also recognise and love.

Diana: Yes.

Parinita: Because I don’t have the tools to be able to identify and find the codes and the subtext that’s there. I know a lot of podcasters that I’ve listened to, Witch, Please, The Gayly Prophet, they read Madam Hooch as queer as well.

Diana: Oh one hundred percent yes. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah, yeah exactly. And now of course I take that as canon. Because I love the fan interpretation. So now when I’m reading the books, that’s what I see.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: But again, if I hadn’t come across this in fandom, I wouldn’t know this. And not everybody is a giant nerd like me who goes on these fandom things.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: So what about the more mainstream readers who would love to have this representation. Even if it’s not representation of their own identities, even with race where she co-opted Hermione being black. Because oh she didn’t say anything about Hermione being any other race. But actually, all the characters of colour in Harry Potter, are identified explicitly as being of colour. So the default is white.

Diana: Yup.

Parinita: Just like the default is heterosexual.

Diana: Yup.

Parinita: So you can’t then take credit. There’s this one fan text which I love which – “If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that nobody should live in a closet.” I love that.

Diana: Yes.

Image of a person wearing a T-shirt. The text on the T-shirt says: If Harry Potter taught us anything, it's that no one should live in a closet.

A fan text included in my master’s dissertation which looked at two Facebook fan pages

Parinita: What I don’t love is J. K. Rowling co-opting it and pretending as if that that was her idea all along.

Diana: Exactly.

Parinita: And not giving credit to fandom.

Twitter exchange between @wcnderwcmann and @jk_rowling. Text says - @wcnderwcmann: @jk_rowling it's safe to assume that Hogwarts had a variety of people and I like to think it's a safe place for LGBT students. @jk_rowling: .@iaraswinn But of course. [attached image] If Harry Potter taught us anything it's that no one should live in a closet.

Diana: Exactly! So there was a video series that a blog on Tumblr ran before Tumblr died.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: It took a bunch of popular movie franchises and just spliced together all of the scenes that had characters of colour speaking.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And the Harry Potter video I think was like 40

Parinita: 6

Diana: seconds long or something

Parinita: minutes. Yeah.

Diana: Exactly. Yeah.

Parinita: Throughout the whole series. Yeah I’ve watched that video. It was quite sad.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: So in The Gayly Prophet the guest Kaeli spoke about how everyone goes through this Harry Potter phase and Percy Jackson phase while growing up. And I went through – I mean they were not phases, I still love both the book series. But Rick Riordan, even though he is very straight and an old white man basically. He’s very much the person at the top.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: But in his subsequent book series, he’s made such an effort to include diverse identities – when it comes to religion or disability or even queerness. And making it explicit.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: He’s not saying that this is subtext and you have to just figure it out yourselves and congratulations for figuring out these clues that I laid out. But he’s actually saying, no, this character is genderqueer, this character is pansexual. That I think is so much more important.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: He’s writing for middle-grade audiences as well. So he’s not writing for young adults. And he says that it’s very PG – there’s no explicit sex or anything in his books. Just the existence of a gay character or any sort of queerness doesn’t make it political. Or doesn’t make it unsuitable for children.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: Dumbledore being gay doesn’t mean that children wouldn’t come to the movie. That’s not a thing that would happen.

Diana: Right. I mean I think everything is political and so I think it is a huge political act to not represent anyone who’s queer or only represent whiteness, right.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And to me, that’s the harmful political act. And that being said too, I will say I am with you on the Fantastic Beasts franchise in particular because this is the age when Dumbledore was supposed to be in a relationship with Grindelwald. This is what we were told.

Parinita: Exactly.

Diana: So this is not delivering. I think, and this is reflected in some of my research too, that representation is never the full story, right?

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so I do not want to negate or delegitimise anyone’s experience who has found some solace or identification with Dumbledore. But in terms of the larger political consequences of Dumbledore as a character, that was an utter failure. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah, what you said is completely correct. Because I met somebody at a workshop in the university library and she was saying that her kid is nonbinary and they were so happy to find out that Dumbledore is gay.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: Because for them, it was this recognition that they exist – maybe not their specific identity – but there is a different way of being even in the wizarding world. So it didn’t matter for them that it wasn’t explicitly mentioned that Dumbledore is gay. They still found a lot of comfort and a lot of hope. So I think that’s important as well.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: But then I also think it’s important to have more representation. And these conversations are important as well, right.

Diana: Definitely.

Parinita: Because then somebody who doesn’t think about these things might then discover these things. And what I found really interesting as well – that something I hadn’t thought of and somebody mentioned on the podcast – which was magic as a metaphor for gayness.

Diana: Hmm.

Parinita: Which an idea that I had never come across. I think they mentioned it in Harry Potter as well as in Frozen. Again both, Disney and Harry Potter – massive franchises – so much good could come out of including more explicit and not metaphorical representations of gayness.

Diana: Yes.

Parinita: I think everything should be explicit and not metaphoric. Metaphor is great if you are represented all the time in all media everywhere anyway.

Diana: Right.

Parinita: But not when you have to search for your identity every time.

Diana: Definitely. Yeah and I mean Disney – Jesus.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: Disney is built on the backbone of oppression, literally. And violence. [laughs] But also recent discourse around Disney has been … fascinatingly frustrating. Because nothing drives me crazier than – I shouldn’t say crazier – nothing angers me more than when Disney gets credit for having two women kiss in the background of a school pick-up scene and that’s the first time there’s ever been a quote unquote “gay kiss” in a Disney film. Wow! We should all be so excited! I am not excited about that.

Parinita: No.

Diana: I think that’s devastating.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: I know one of the articles that we read for the podcast was about like Elsa is queer-coded and the Give Elsa a Girlfriend campaign. And that’s never going to happen. [laughs]

Parinita: I think these campaigns do play a really important role because they can make fringe ideas mainstream.

Diana: For sure, yes.

Parinita: So obviously the goal would be for media to be diverse and inclusive of different kinds of identities. But even if the end content itself isn’t impacted now, I feel like these steps would hopefully – I’m an optimist so maybe naively so – [laughs]

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: But I’m hoping that you know things like #OscarsSoWhite or #GiveElsaAGirlfriend or even the racebent Hermione thing. Which you know started in fandom with racebending Hermione but now it is canon of a sort. Which Cursed Child, the story is ridiculous and silly and absurd. And I don’t know if I actually consider it canon.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: But I love black Hermione. And also Indian – a desi Harry – I love that.

Diana: Yeah.

Fan art of Indian Harry Potter, black Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley

Parinita: He’s not Indian in the Cursed Child. But I think these fandom campaigns can have an effect even if media itself isn’t ready to go there yet.

Diana: Yeah. I think that there’s a larger structural intervention that’s required in media.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And right now a lot of times the work or burden will fall on fans to have these campaigns and to fight for this. And what’s unfortunate I think is that media, particularly in a Western context, is tied to capitalism.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so within a capitalist structure, first of all, that’s a huge contributor to these structural normativities. But also in a capitalist structure right now, queerness doesn’t really sell and the queerness that does sell is a very particular brand. And I use brand intentionally there.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so we have campaigns like Give Elsa A Girlfriend which I agree can be really good in terms of visibility and in terms of getting people to think. But we also have Disney stopping the Lizzie McGuire reboot ostensibly because the writers wrote a gay character and they were like we don’t want that on our streaming platform.

Parinita: Aaah!

Diana: And so these wider ties to profit motives etc. I think require some actual structural reorientation if we’re going to think about something like equity, for example, in media and stuff like that.

Parinita: No, absolutely. But that’s what I mean. I agree with you. I think everything is political. But just the mere existence of a diverse body or a diverse brain or a diverse anything that is not the norm shouldn’t be political. It is now because that is a fight that we’re all engaged in.

Diana: Right.

Parinita: But the idea that having a gay character on a Disney platform will what? Corrupt the children? Will turn everybody who watches them gay?

Diana: [laughs] Oh no!

Parinita: I don’t understand. Yeah because all those Harry Potter movies I’ve watched, I can do magic, I’m white.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: I don’t understand the logic behind that. Just the mere existence of a queer character shouldn’t – it is – but it shouldn’t be political. It should just be “normal” as much as I side-eye that word.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: But it should just be the norm. Right?

Diana: Yeah. I’m all for destabilising norms and stuff so it would just be nice if those avenues were more open, right? It would be nice.

Parinita: And what you said about the very specific idea of Disney’s diversity. Frozen is heralded as this feminist – and I love Frozen, I’m a sucker for a feel-good movie. And especially if it’s animated.

Diana: Sure. Oh yeah.

Parinita: But that essay Deconstructing Disney: The Princess Problem of Frozen II, I really liked how the essay spoke about even the colonisation aspect of it. I mean just because you’re a princess, doesn’t make you a feminist.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: I mean you are literally in power. You are the status quo.

Diana: Right.

Parinita: You are the privileged end of the imbalanced power structure. And not interrogating the problematic aspects of monarchy reminded me of this version of feminism which seeks for women – largely in the West – but also, for example, in urban, upper-class India, to take on the roles which men currently hold in leadership positions without interrogating the structure.

Diana: A hundred percent, yes.

Parinita: And finding new ways of being leaders. And also ignoring the lives and impacts on women from less privileged backgrounds in the same country or in other countries. For example, “leaning in” and becoming the CEO of a fast-fashion brand but ignoring the plight of women in developing countries who are making these clothes for you for nothing.

Diana: Yes!

Parinita: It’s all very – it all makes me very angry. [laughs]

Diana: Me too! [laughs] That’s my default state.

Parinita: [laughs] So something that they spoke about in The Gayly Prophet made me think about how access to queer content and ideas and people differs over different generations as well as across geographical boundaries. So one of the guests Kaeli she’s sixteen. And this is something that I’ve also read in like – I know Buzzfeed is really easy to make fun of, but I like their community-sourced responses. So they’d written this article just asking teenagers about what they wanted YA writers to know about teenage life. Because young adult writers always seem to have this perception of teenagers which the teenage respondents said like, “Nope. That doesn’t seem like our life really.” Because obviously YA writers are grown-ups. But something that they mentioned was a lot of people as well as Kaeli seem to be much more comfortable experimenting with gender and sexual identity. So it’s not as rigid as it used to be.

Diana: Hmm.

Parinita: And, of course, this obviously depends on certain schools and certain places even in the US. Some parts of the US that absolutely wouldn’t happen.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: India as well. Again, what you said about the intersections. Depending on which country you’re from or which race or even which part of the country – whether you’re in a rural area or an urban area, there’s so much of a difference in terms of what access you have.

Diana: Absolutely. And I think there is a difference in terms of access to knowledge about queerness. There’s a difference in terms of access to media and media production. And there’s also a difference in terms of access even to fandom content.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: So one of the biggest and I think most unfortunate pieces of news in fandom recently has been that China banned AO3.

Parinita: Oh really?

Diana: Yes.

Parinita: I hadn’t heard about that.

Diana: The censorship policies in the Chinese government banned AO3 and so now in China you cannot access A03.

Parinita: Oh wow.

Diana: And that’s I think really a huge loss of course for the fan community in China. But I think AO3 is so tied to queerness. And any fandom space is going to have its problems – but to not be able to access that is a loss. It’s a big loss.

Parinita: Yeah because like you said, and for me, and I’m sure for a lot of queer people all over the world, fanfiction does provide this alternative to mainstream media.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: Which provides access to these queer ideas and queer content and just that bubble is burst that, “Oh wait, this is also a way of being in the world? This is also a way of existing?” And it’s important for both, right. It’s important for queer people who are probably figuring out their identities but also for cis and hetero people for getting a glimpse into another way of life.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: And hopefully understanding and gaining empathy from that. So yeah the fact that any country doesn’t have access to that.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: Because the internet – I mean even the internet is such a privilege.

Diana: Absolutely. A hundred percent.

Parinita: Accessing the technology and the internet and even overcoming that. But then not having access to a space that you could have otherwise been happy in and found a supportive community in.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: That’s really terrible. But you also mentioned that you had noticed different levels of acceptance for queer people in fandom.

Diana: Um hmm. Definitely. So what’s interesting to me is that fandom is transforming canon media content.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so some of the limitations to canon media content make their way into fandom. And this is something I’ve noticed and this is also something that my dissertation participants have talked about. So one example that we’ve touched on already is that fandom is very whitewashed not only in terms of who are the most prominent or well-known participants but also in terms of the characters that are being written about.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: But another example is that on AO3 for example, there are far more M/M works – so in slash fic, M/M meaning male/male pairings – than femslash. Or than relationships that do not involve cis men or cis women, trans representation etc. Part of the reason here, I think, and this is also reflected in my own data is that characters who are men tend to be more fleshed out in canon media. And so you have more to draw on when you’re writing about them. Whereas female characters are sometimes just inserted as an afterthought or as a performative thing. Or they’re not as well-developed. And there just overall are more men in media content than there are women. And so there are great femslash works out there but they are few and far between compared to M/M works. Also polyamory is perhaps less represented, although interestingly in Marvel fandom, polyamory is kind of a big thing.

Parinita: Oh!

Diana: But the other thing is that there is unfortunately a tension around ace identities.

Parinita: Right.

Diana: So asexuality is a spectrum. But there are some folks in fandom, who I think they are very wrong, but who don’t include ace identities under a queer umbrella.

Parinita: Oh.

Diana: And so don’t necessarily write ace characters. Or think that ace characters should be considered under queer fic. Further, because heterosexuality is such a default, oftentimes folks won’t even necessarily think that a character is ace. They’ll just think that they’re heterosexual and not partnered or something like that.

Parinita: That’s something that I’ve thought about in terms of Elsa.

Diana: For sure.

Parinita: I mean I love that the Give Elsa A Girlfriend campaign exists. But what if she doesn’t want a girlfriend?

Diana: Exactly.

Parinita: I mean she might, she might want companionship.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: But yeah what if she’s ace? Surely that should also be something …  but yeah, what your research has found, something that people probably don’t think about.

Diana: Absolutely. That’s a really good example. The other example that I have a lot is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock in the BBC reboot.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And then the other thing that I would just want to mention is that not in terms of sexuality but in terms of gender, there are some real limitations, first of all to – right so trans is a spectrum. Being trans is a spectrum as well.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so there are some real limitations to trans characters in fandom. And so when trans characters are depicted, and this is something I’ve noticed as a nonbinary person, but also something that my participants have talked about, first of all, it’s not common to have nonbinary characters. Whether you’re queering them – so whether someone is canonically cis and you’re queering them as nonbinary or whether they are canonically nonbinary, although there are very few canonically nonbinary characters right now. But also in terms of if folks are trans women or trans men, some of the same sort of dominant narratives around trans experiences are reflected in fandom. And this can be especially interesting in explicit sex scenes. A lot of times if you have a trans man or a transmasculine person, they will have had top surgery if they’re doing a sex scene.

Parinita: Hmm.

Diana: Whereas your physical features don’t have anything to do with your gender identity.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: That’s also complicated and so some of these mainstream ideas are also, what my participants were saying, over-represented in fic – when they’re even there.

Parinita: Yeah. So it sounds like even when marginalised queer identities are included in fic, it is still this monolithic experience that everyone must fit into and full of stereotypes as well. Or there’s no exploring the nuances and complexities of these different identities.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And I think a question that you asked which was really important was – especially in the context of the series that we’re talking about – is whether we can divorce the creator from the work. So what are your thoughts about that?

Diana: Oh god that is one – that’s a really, really hard question.

Parinita: Yeah. I know I mean I’ve gone through nine – no eight episodes I think, I’ve gone through just glossing over what do we think about J. K. Rowling. But just because we’re talking especially about queerness, and since you brought it up as well.

Diana: Absolutely. And I will admit I’m someone who does have trouble divorcing the creator from the creation.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so there are things that I will no longer interact with after learning things about the creator. And there are things that I will not interact with to start because I know things about the creator.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And J. K. Rowling, I don’t like her. Right?

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: She is a … TERF. She has said things that are extremely racist like but I think that there is … and no binaries here – so I think that there’s some nuance for me at least and this is sort of very personal in that – and I’m also not going to lie, there’s some nostalgia tied up in this and that’s problematic. Nostalgia is a sometimes a real troublesome idea.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: Because it tends to actually perpetuate normativity and I recognise that. But I think that to me, the Harry Potter canon has been so deeply influenced by the fandom or the fanon. that J. K. Rowling’s original works don’t necessarily have the same significance to me as some other original works because my experience is so tied to fandom.

Parinita: Hmm.

Diana: And fandom is a vast range of creators right. Many of whom say F U to J. K. Rowling.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And so the bottom line is that even though maybe I should, I just will never cast off Harry Potter [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] No, I totally – I’m with you completely. Because like you, there’s some people like H. P. Lovecraft, for example,

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: After I discovered that he was terribly racist and things, I’m like yeah, I don’t think I need to read any of his works. I’m okay, I’m good. I have other stuff to read.

Diana: Right.

Parinita: So not entering into a relationship with anybody who I know stuff about. But J. K. Rowling – with Harry Potter, it played a really formative role – it had this huge role when I was growing up. I started reading the books when I was ten. And it was my solace during a really difficult childhood.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: So I can’t … even now as much as I don’t like J. K. Rowling, and I don’t. I’m very open about that.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: But I can’t – like you said, nostalgia can be problematic. But for me, it’s so much more also tied into I think my own sense of self and my identity.

Diana: Yes!

Parinita: And everything.

Diana: Absolutely.

Parinita: And fandom as well. What I’ve found in fandom.

Diana: Yes.

Parinita: That in that specific case, I can divorce the creator. But I really like what some fans are doing. So The Gayly Prophet is this queer Harry Potter fan podcast.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: And the hosts had appeared on this other podcast that I listen to called #WizardTeam after Rowling’s TERFy tweet.

Diana: Okay.

Rowling’s transphobic tweet

Parinita: And in response to her tweet, they said that they were going to be divorcing the series from Rowling by choosing to actively create a community which queers the series more.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And they call it the #MakeHarryPotterEvenGayer2020 campaign.

Diana: [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] And they want to leave Rowling behind and not give her any more money, so they refuse to buy official merchandise; they’re only going to buy stuff on Etsy and things that fans create. And they’re also collecting queer and trans specific Harry Potter fan works and, what they call, “angrily reclaiming our space in the fandom” Because for them, the community has played such a huge role. They’ve found so much in the community.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And their podcast, in turn, from what they mentioned, has created this space for queer fans to figure out their identities, become more comfortable, find a space for others like them

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: So I think that that’s important as well. It’s such a difficult topic. And I completely understand people who want to just throw her out and throw out Harry Potter. Because there are other book series as well, right. There are many better book series now where writers who have been inspired by her but now do better. They write better books, they write better stories.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: Yeah. Ugh it’s – it’s – it’s very

Diana: It’s a really hard one for sure [laughs]

Parinita: Especially as Harry Potter fans. Especially as people who have such a strong – and fans, right? It’s not just this obsessive squee about a thing.

Diana: Yes!

Parinita: It’s having this deep, emotional relationship with something that becomes really difficult to untie from your sense of self as well.

Diana: Absolutely.

Parinita: Just before we wrap up, you also wanted to talk about fandom and COVID-19 – the pandemic – where fandom could be a refuge or on the other side, could exacerbate inequities.

Diana: Yeah. So I think that right now, we’re in the midst of the pandemic.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so I personally believe that no good social science research will come from this until at least ten years from now. We all need some perspective.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: I don’t think that it is wise to be rushing into COVID research unless you are someone who is developing a vaccine. In which case [claps] keep going!

Parinita: Please do. Quickly! Yeah. [laughs]

Diana: But I do think that, and this is something that, without my asking, has come up in my dissertation data. And it’s an interesting context through which to think about how global events and … disruptions – I don’t think that’s really the word – affect fandom communities. And maybe online communities more generally. And so what’s interesting is that I think that – and I mean you can even get this from going on Twitter, right. For a lot of folks, fandom and fic and reading fic and writing fic are cathartic experiences.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And so that is something that becomes more salient when we are in a period of fear and uncertainty and death, right. And so this is something that’s really important. And it’s interesting to watch also infrastructurally how this is affecting things because for example Archive Of Our Own has had some issues because there are so many people overloading the server, logging on.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: And so just let me just quickly plug that if you can, donate to the Organization For Transformative Works right now.

Parinita: Yes.

Diana: Because AO3 needs it. So that’s one thing which is on the positive side, right. Not the infrastructural stuff but the cathartic nature of fandom playing a really salient role here.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: But on the other side, as much as some folks want to divorce fandom from capitalism and from any sort of monetization, that is absolutely not true. And we don’t need to get into sort of the ins and outs of that but one way that that manifests is that a lot of creators and fan creators make a living or part of their living off off selling materials right.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: Off off selling fan works. So art, fic, plushies that have to do with their fic etc. at conventions and online and things like this. And with mass cancellations of conventions and with uncertainties around the risks of having things shipped to you etc., folks are losing a lot of income.

Parinita: Yeah.

Diana: For fans who tend to be marginalised people anyway and so statistically they are going to be more socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: This is sort of a real problem.

Parinita: Yeah that’s a really good point. And also a really sad point [laughs]

Diana: I know, I know!

Parinita: No, we’re not going to end on a sad point. Do you have any media recommendations that highlight queer voices that you think do a good job of it?

Diana: Yeah. So I know you had asked about podcasts.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: So Queer As Fiction – they’re tragically not making new episodes right now. But it’s a fanfic writing podcast and it is very good.

Parinita: It is so good! I’m so glad you recommended that to me because after I heard the Harry Potter one, I heard the Disney Princesses one.

Diana: Uh huh.

Parinita: And I did not know this is a genre that I needed in my life. Where people are just writing fanfic and collectively collaborating on it and just reading it out to each other.

Diana: Um hmm. It’s so good. I love it.

Parinita: Ugh yeah. Me too.

Diana: I also really like a podcast called Queery that a comedian named Cameron Espesito runs. It’s like an interview podcast

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: And she gets some really good guests on there. There’s a podcast called Back Talk that’s run by Bitch Media. And they do a really nice job, particularly examining things from an intersectional lens. They run the gamut from media to politics etc. And there’s another called One From The Vaults that’s actually a podcast about trans history.

Parinita: Oooh!

Diana: And the woman who runs it is a really good storyteller.

Parinita: Ooh excellent.

Diana: So yeah I recommend that one. In terms of books, I mostly at this point, read academic things and so I won’t recommend those.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: But there’s a really, really sweet YA book that I read recently that’s very popular – so folks might already know. But it’s called Red, White and Royal Blue.

Parinita: Oh yeah, I’ve heard of it.

Diana: It’s kind of a private as like a real-world AU [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: So that was good. TV-wise what’s been good? Feel Good was interesting on Netflix. The Batwoman television show is a CW superhero show but it’s very enjoyable.

Parinita: [laughs]

Diana: Killing Eve just came back.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Diana: Um … of course I’m blanking. I watch so much television and I’m blanking.

Parinita: No, no I can understand. Can I add some more recommendations to that as well?

Diana: Oh please.

Parinita: Because this is somebody from the outside but loving all kinds of diversity and inclusivity.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: So TV show – She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

Diana: [gasps] I love She-Ra!

Parinita: I love it very much.

Diana: Me too!

Parinita: And podcasts The Gayly Prophet, I mentioned it before, but it’s really good because they apply this queer intersectional lens to Harry Potter and they’re reading each chapter and their commentary is really funny. Sometimes really sad, but mostly really funny.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: So that’s great. In terms of books, I’ve become obsessed with the Lumberjanes comics series.

Diana: I love Lumberjanes!

Parinita: Yeah it’s excellently queer.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And recently I also read Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe.

Diana: Yeah!

Parinita: Which was a graphic novel that was really interesting about just coming to terms with your identity, which for me was really illuminating. And it was great. And another book that I read was The Gender Games by Juno Dawson.

Diana: Um hmm.

Parinita: About her identity, about her transitioning and just coming to terms because she used to write under James Dawson.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And really popular YA books. And she’s really open about her identity and also really fun but also sometimes really sad as these things go. [laughs] But really good for I think both people who are questioning their identity but also for someone like me who’s looking to learn about different identities.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And an excellent picture book that I love is Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love because I’m a huge children’s literature nerd so I have to recommend children’s books.

Diana: Yeah!

Parinita: And just one last recommendation was something that I came across recently. It’s a fanzine called Trans Affirming Magical Care where a bunch of people came together to send contributions to it essentially as a response to J. K. Rowling’s TERF sentiments.

Diana: Yeah.

Parinita: And it’s a fanzine about trans students in Hogwarts and all the profits are going to be donated to a trans charity.

Diana: Oh I love that!

Parinita: I’ll link to it in the transcript. But yeah that’s something that I’m really excited to buy once it’s safe to send mail again, because it’s based in the US.

Diana: Yeah. And if we are talking specifically about books that I think do a good job discussing various aspects of queer experiences I recommend anything by Janet Mock. She has two memoirs out right now. They are both very, very good. Tillie Walden does some good autobiographical comics for folks who like comics. I enjoy her work a lot. Jacob Tobia just put out a memoir fairly recently. I think it’s called Sissy but I might be wrong. Their perspective is quite good. And Vivek Shraya who’s a trans musician from Canada just put out a YA book that’s supposed to be quite good.

Parinita: That’s an excellent bunch of recommendations and a great way to end the episode.

Diana: Awesome.

Parinita: Where we got really angry at some things. [laughs]

Diana: I know. [laughs]

Parinita: But in a good way. Thank you so much Diana.

Diana: Oh thank you!

Parinita: This was such a fantastic conversation. I loved chatting with you about all these things.

Diana: Same here.

Parinita: And I learned so much from your research as well.

Diana: Oh thanks! Yours as well!

Parinita: [laughs] Thank you.

[Outro music]

You’ve been listening to our episode on queer representations in media and fandom. What are some of your favourite queer media recommendations? My ever-expanding list of things to read and watch is always hungry for more! If you want to read more about Diana’s work, visit their website at dianagfloegel.com. You can look for their articles – “Write The Story You Want To Read”: World-Queering Through Slash Fanfiction Creation in the Journal of Documentation and Entertainment Media And The Information Practices Of Queer Individuals in Library and Information Science Research. Find the links to all of this in the transcript. Thanks so much for the excellent conversation and company, Diana. And thank you Jack for all the work you do with editing the episodes.

[Outro music]

You can now listen to Marginally Fannish on SpotifyAppleGoogle, or SoundCloud. I’d love to hear from you and talk to you – so any feedback, comments or critiques are very welcome! Get in touch with me on social media, leave a comment on my blog, or email me at edps@leeds.ac.uk. If you’d like to follow the podcast or the PhD project, visit my website marginallyfannish.org where you’ll find both the podcast episodes and the blog. You can also receive updates on Facebook or Instagram at Marginally Fannish or on Twitter where I’m @MarginalFannish. If you enjoyed the podcast, please share it with anyone you think will enjoy it too.

Thanks for listening! Tune in again next time for all things fannish and intersectional!

Some Notes On Episode 7 – Resources

Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode.

For Episode 7,  There’s Never Chicken Tikka Masala At Hogwarts: Different Cultures in Fantasy Media we discussed the following texts:

1) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper Cultural Traditions of Magic with Zen Cho

The fantasy fiction that exists depends on which culture is dominant in the real world. The magic systems and fictional worlds it creates and that we eventually grow used to as being the norm depends very much on this dominant culture and religion. This also means that cultures, religions, and practices which aren’t dominant are othered, exoticised and generally marginalised. Traditionally, the dominant framework in the West has been Judeo-Christian and since Western culture has been globalised, this has an impact all over the world. This is definitely true in my case where I grew up reading British and American literature and I still read largely Western fantasy, so this shapes my mind. However, I am trying to look for more diverse fantasy books now. 

My experiences are similar to the ones Malaysian-British author Zen Cho describes. As someone who grew up in a former colony, we had access to British books. She says that reading Regency fiction was like reading about a new world – different language, food, customs, technology. For me, this applies to even things like Enid Blyton or the Baby-Sitters Club, for example. It’s all a foreign world. 

Her writing is influenced by both – a mix of British fantasy traditions as well as local Malaysian folklore, as is mine (maybe less folklore, but Indian contexts for sure). What is magic like in Western fantasy? What ideas have we unwittingly internalised? When I sit to write, I don’t deliberately think about only using one or the other because I grew up in India but largely consume Western media – as did many people – so it’s a mix of both.

In Discworld the wizards were academic magic whereas the witches were community magic. There’s also a rational approach to magic versus wild magic (for example, in Uprooted by Naomi Novik where the Dragon’s magic is intellectual and bookish whereas Nishka’s magic is emotional and earth-based). Does this reflct gendered beliefs and/or Western/pagan belief where Western is academic and proper? There are elements of colonisation where non-Judeo Christian magic is almost considered to be not as good as Western conceptions of magic. Where Western ideas replace the native magic, similar to what we see in Rowling’s Magic in North America controversy. Even within the West, as Jack says, there are many Celtic beliefs which are largely overlooked. I don’t even know what an Indian idea of magic would be. I feel like my brain is so full of other ideas of magic that I’d need to do a lot of research to familiarise myself with Indian magic. Do our ideas of magic change depending on historical contexts as well? Or just what we read first and which imprinted on our mind?

Zen’s world explores cultural clashes in terms of moving to a different country and encountering the different magic systems there. But she also reversed that in a way which I find very interesting. In the True Queen, she goes from Malaysia to Britain and British systems are seen as foreign rather than what is traditionally the other way round where other countries and cultures are considered unfamiliar and exotic. Zen points out that the way the air feels, the light looks, the landscape is, the climate, the food – the default has been European and not tropical. Using Malaysian English, eating Malaysian food, the kind of drinks – all this troubles the conception of what we take for granted – no hard bread and cheese. Enid Blyton’s food has shaped SO much of my brain and Indian imaginations in general. 

As Zen points out, Western culture is more or less global culture now. And media is our glimpse into cultures you’re not familiar with – even if you are from that culture yourself, like me in India. Media shapes your ideas of the place you inhabit as well. In Western culture, it appears like the Enlightenment replaced earlier ideas of magic – we’re now rational and don’t believe in magic – except if it’s religion, I suppose. I think this is similar to my experiences as well where when I was younger I railed against any ideas which went against rational and scientific – which is basically against what is prevalent in most of India, including with my mother. It’s just a different way of understanding the world and I was very snobby about it – convinced I was correct and was so unbearably self-righteous. (Though I’m still very impatient with what I consider irrationality so maybe I’ve only changed the slightest bit). 

Magic is universal and every culture has different ideas of it – but for a lot of people, it’s no longer acceptable to believe in these ideas if you’re a certain kind of person (urban, educated, middle-class/upper-class). Shamanic magic appears in different parts of the world. You do need to be respectful of people who still practise these and believe in this. Places where they consider the world less knowable. For people in the past, religion played a much more central part of their life than it does now (though this is very contextual, of course; large parts of India are extremely religious). So perhaps writing a fantasy set in the past, or the fictional past, may include everyday engagement with religion in the background of fantastical magic – as Zen does in The True Queen where she deliberately chose to show that magic and religion co-existed. But in her world, British culture is foreign whereas Malay culture is the norm, which is why she uses Allah rather than god since Malay culture is predominantly Muslim. This seems like such a little thing but has such a significant impact. The way that god is normalised but Allah is political. As one of the hosts mentioned that in Texas, the Harry Potter books were banned because of their associations with paganism and witchcraft (whereas it clearly is based on a Christian framework). 

 

2) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper Islands in Speculative Fiction: Live from WorldCon

According to the panelists, some favourite fictional islands include Earthsea, Abarat, the Odyssey, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader in Narnia visiting different islands where the islands are different magical spaces full of different creatures and rules, Circe, the Amazons (with the last two, islands with women being more empowering and potentially feminist spaces). I can also think of Neverland, Gullstruck Island (Frances Hardinge), Lost … Terry Pratchett had one too, I think? And George R. R. Martin had his isles which were far-off and mysterious too.

Vida Cruz, a writer from the Philippines, which consists of several islands, offers a non-dominant view of the islands and cultures – centering an islander perspective rather than a mainlander one.  She points out that when most people write about islands, they write about the ocean or the sea with fear as opposed to the one in Abarat or in Moana, the sea is a friend which can sometimes be dangerous but isn’t something which you only engage with fearfully. Two panelists connect islands as mysterious and magical. Exoticising islands as someone who doesn’t come from an island culture reflects mainland stereotypes and notions about islands and the people who inhabit them.

“The view of islands as isolated and a place of exile is a very mainlander view of viewing islands.”Vida 

As Vida points out, she comes from a community which has always lived on the archipelago, so it has never occurred to her to feel like it’s isolated or fearful. The water itself isn’t considered to be something which separates the islands, but something which connects them. Constructed bridges only appeared with the colonisers. For her the island is just normal. The exoticisation of islands is something which is common with mainlanders who view the islands as an escape. However, they are dismissive of the disruption caused to the ecosystem and lives of the people who actually live on those islands. They do bring tourism and economic benefits with them but it should be in a way that is sustainable and does not destroy the island infrastructure and ecosystem. This is similar to colonisers’ view of the places unfamiliar to them as well as contemporary tourism from wealthier countries to more impoverished countries and cultures. Vida’s opinion is that for people in the West, they were the last to “conquer” water whereas other seafaring cultures saw it in terms of providing and mutual relationships with water. This reflects the former’s land-locked nature. They looked at the sea with fear since it was unknown. And this has shaped how people today also view islands versus mainlands. 

One of the panelists says that in fiction, islands are seen as spaces where rules can be amended or broken down (Lord of the Flies? Robinson Crusoe?) – “Do we need distance to imagine new ways of living?” A questionable trope because it reiterates preconceived notions of “the other” – one person’s exotic is another’s norm. As another of the panelists says, you can think of both how other cultures are different from us as well as how they are similar to us – the combination of the two can go a great way in evoking empathy for different experiences. Vida’s points educated the others on the panel – but some appeared more on board than others. 

Swiss Family Robinson is a very colonial story of island-living – I disliked the book very much, in a way which I wasn’t able to articulate why – but all of it made me very angry! I think I was expecting something very different – and I love some of these books written more than a hundred years ago – Lucy Maud Montgomery, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott. The idea of Lord of the Flies is a very limited conception of what would happen in a crisis situation with a group of white teenage boys – which goes against documented examples of what happens in real life instances where people tend to come together. The recent Guardian article about a group of boys who were stranded on an island is a popular example. Also the meme of how everyone thought a dystopian pandemic would involve looting and murder but the real-life version includes lots of free art and baking. Istead of being scared of each other, you’re helping each other and trusting each other. We’re all cut off in our own separate islands/homes but still connected to others (of course, this is speaking as someone with immense privilege which many Indian migrant labourers don’t share).

The Spanish colonisation of the Philippines ruined the egalitarian relationships between men and women – reflective of other cultures and countries. In traditional fantasy, islands are always secondary spaces whereas the focus is always on the mainland. Vida proposes that islands are places for resources, where you can steal these resources from. While I was listening to this podcast, Jack pointed out that the popular idea of islands as new frontiers comes from a Western perspective i.e. the American Wild West – somewhere where you can be a new person and have a new life. Is this similar to Western people retiring to islands in different countries? 

Islands can also be used as spaces to highlight cultural diversity, diversity of thought and lifestyles. Vida says that when she visits a local Philippines island, it had its own culture of magic and customs which are unfamiliar to her. 

As one of the panelists who is Welsh and whose husband is from Ireland points out, even within the British island, there are different countries, cultures and politics. Ireland was the first decolonised country of the British empire. She proposed that Ireland was able to retain its independent culture and customs more easily than Scotland and Wales which shares a land border with England. The water border allowed for independence – both politically and culturally – thereby making separation a positive thing. This made me think of internet islands full of different spaces with different cultures – where you can be isolated in your own bubble but can also use it as a bridge of communication with other cultures. Can fandoms be seen as islands with different cultures in different fandoms? 

 

3) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds Do You Speak Conlang?

The episode explores the history of constructed languages or “con lang”. People have been inventing languages for fun for several centuries but they usually died out because of a limited reception. With fictional worlds, imaginary languages also belong to imagined cultures which provide a more in-depth engagement with both the language and the culture. How do you encounter and get to know an unfamiliar  culture (fictional + real) through its language? Studying the language of a new culture allows us to understand the culture and the things it considers important. It also allows us to look at our own language and culture with a fresh perspective and question things we otherwise take for granted. When you’re creating a new language in a fictional world, you’re creating at a whole new history for the people through its lexicon – what is important, how the people engage with the world and with each other, their ideologies and politics. To me, moving to the UK achieved this, but not everyone can just up and move to a new country. Travel does this as well, but only if you’re inhabiting the place and engaging with the language in an active way. 

I find it interesting that people take so much effort to learn a fictional language like Elvish and Klingon to understand and engage with a fictional culture but not a real unfamiliar culture. For me, I usually have these phases of wanting to master languages I know but don’t speak super well – Hindi and Marathi is something I’ve completely lost practice with. I want to read more literature in both Hindi and Marathi and now that I’m in England, I don’t even really watch Hindi movies that much (except sometimes on Netflix and once memorably in a theatre in Leeds where I went to watch Gully Boy with Jack and, as a white Scottish man, he was the minority in this desi space). 

The politics of language is interesting – especially in India where English has so much more status than any other language. My neighbour had a school interview in an international school for her young son and she was so nervous because she doesn’t speak English much and was so ashamed of it. She was worried her lack of language skills would have a negative impact on her son’s education and future. In many cases, English is linked to intelligence. Even in my own case, my parents began speaking to me in English at home so that it helped me in school – a convent school. It worked – English is my first language, but at the cost of other languages – I am terrible at Tulu because nobody really taught me Tulu. 

 

4) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds In Defense of the Star Wars Holiday Special

Now I love The Star Wars Holiday Special very unironically because it’s such a wonderfully terrible movie. And I enjoy analysing things that I love – so this episode made me very happy. The force – as one of the religions/faiths in the Stars Wars world – this is so obvious now that I think about it; especially after watching some more Star Wars movies – Rogue One in particular – where the parallels with Buddhism are much more apparent. Throughout the movies, you get brief glimpses into different cultures. In The Holiday Special, the Wookie culture, society and religion are centered so the audience is knee-deep in this and has to navigate their own way through it. 

One of the guests reads it as a refugee story in the middle of its goofiness. The Wookie planet has been taken over by a hostile force which doesn’t care about its happiness or its civil liberties. It’s really easy to laugh at the movie for its absurdity especially the untranslated Wookie dialogue – which constitute the first twenty minutes of the movie. But then thinking about it critically, this reflects the experiences of immigrants, people with disabilities, marginalised races and religions all over the world when they’re either trying to or are forced to assimilate with the dominant culture. It reminded me a little bit of The Arrival by Shaun Tan – a wordless graphic novel featuring an immigrant to a fantastical world. But it can also be read as just an immigrant encountering a land, animals, food, and language that is alien to him – and learning to navigate this.

There’s also a parallel here where people from dominant cultures often don’t make the same effort when visiting/inhabiting another region/country/culture. For example, the group of British people living in Spain who voted for Brexit who think that foreigners who don’t speak English should be kicked out of the UK when they don’t bother learning the language of the country they are living in. The arrogance which comes with cultural imperialism. This is true of Americans as well where the culture of American exceptionalism for many means a very American-centric view of the world even when they do travel. This is certainly true in India where the dominant urban or northern group centers their own lifes, experiences and languages when travelling to other parts of the country. This also reflects such a limited view of cultural exchange – multiculturalism which means you have to assimilate to the dominant culture rather than having a mix of cultures thrive with different food, language, clothes, customs – all equally respected and valued. 

 

5) Fan podcast – Reading, Writing, Rowling Amy H Sturgis: Fantasy, Imagination and Indigenous Futurism

(I’ve already used this episode as a text for Episode 5, so I’m supplementing the notes I made then with these new ones. For the old notes, click here.)

“The radical idea that native Americans have their own intellectual history” – this reminds me of other cultures whose intellectual histories are dismissed and mocked including indigenous forms of knowledge in both western and Indian contexts. In Harry Potter, Muggle culture is much belittled.

As the episode points out, Rowling relies on tired stereotypes and centres the experiences of white European wizards. She includes Native American history and culture in a cursory way without doing proper research. People shouldn’t write about indigenous (or any unfamiliar) culture without researching them. Rowling’s article exoticises the native people and treats them as if they are no longer around. This isn’t equivalent to ancient Greek mythology whose practices aren’t around whereas native culture and lives are very much a part of contemporary contexts. They think that JKR probably wouldn’t do this with other religions – maybe not with religions, but definitely with cultures, races, and countries. It displays a British colonial perspective. Rowling doesn’t listen to critics and learn from.their point of view even when called out on her ignorance/offensive understanding of certain marginalised aspects of the real world. It exhibits a lack of empathy as well as a failure of imagination by erasing people’s cultural, historical and social experiences. 

As the episode discusses, “Magic in North America” treated native people as set-dressing in their own environment by centering the lives, perspectives and technologies of white people. It also implied that white magic is superior to native practices because that’s when magical history begins. Apart from this, it features a mishmash of Native cultures without doing any research into their actual individual and separate beliefs. Native beliefs and cultures are seen as a museum object – not something which is alive and practised by people even today. It’s disrespectful and full of tropes. While she researched things like Greek mythology in great detail and drew heavily from in the form of fantastical creatures and fantasy history, Native American experiences are not accorded the same respect. It reeks of a European coloniser attitude where native Americans eventually just disappear from her world. 

They also discussed how Native Americans were given new names and language in the residential schools, something which Anne With An E provides a heartbreaking glimpse into. I also found this similar to Chinese students in the UK, all of whom have an English name that they use. Presumably in the latter case, they have more agency that Native American children did; however, the role of cultural and social pressures isn’t to be discounted. 

As the episode asserts, parody without subversion can be harmful, especially when it’s targeting cultures and groups which are already marginalised or oppressed. “Cultural short-sightedness or cultural myopia” is born out the restrictions of your experience and imagination – which is understandable. What is less understandable is when this goes hand-in-hand with a lack of engagement or curiousity about unfamiliar cultures.

Amy and Katie – the guest and the host – are historians, so they know better than to be snobby about popular culture and popular things. What has been popular has changed and what is now popular culture was often considered high culture. Popular doesn’t necessarily mean bad. 

Towards the end of the episode, they discuss the term wonderworks as an alternative way to envision science fiction and fantasy. Wonder is a question not an answer so it provides a perfect framework for speculative fiction – what if? You don’t come with preconceived answers and are willing to go beyond your knowledge and experiences to discover things you may not have otherwise considered. Indigenous futurism and Afrofuturism which imagines indigenous people and black people as present and respected in visions of the future.

Recommended article: Amy Sturgis’s article about Rowling’s failures.  

Besides this, the episode recommends a bunch of Native American writers who write science fiction and fantasy stories.

 

6) Fan podcast – Reading, Writing, Rowling Harry Potter Voices Across Borders

The guest is in this episode is Dr. M’Balia Thomas, a scholar and fan of colour. She proposes that Harry, Hermione and Muggle-born students as foreigners and border-crossers to the wizarding world where they have to grapple with a new language, new cultural, social and political contexts and learn to navigate these as outsiders. This is similar to English language learners who have to navigate new rules sometimes in new contexts – things that they didn’t grow up knowing and have to learn. She thinks this analogy and imagined context can be used to evoke empathy in real life contexts where people have to experience this as well i.e. where people are growing accustomed to difference (in terms of race, religion, immigrants, migrants, class). Using a popular cultural text like Harry Potter where many people are familiar with the characters and the world, is very valuable. 

When Hermione enters the new magical universe, she reads ALL the books about it to understand it so that she can fit in. Of course, this does come from a place of relative social and intellectual privilege, but this privilege intersects with the lack of privilege as an outsider who is seen as lesser than by some purebloods in the community she is about to enter. Her approach is different to Harry’s who learns about the new world through an immersive experience rather than an intellectual one. Colin Creevey holds onto his camera, Dean Thomas holds onto his football posters and teams. This reveals a diversity of experiences while navigating a new world. Muggle-borns don’t represent a monolithic culture – similar to real-world English as a Second Language learners who come from different backgrounds. It can be helpful to use this as an analogy with TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) students who may not know people for whom English isn’t the first language. Delving into the personal histories and diverse contexts of the characters can be compared to the students’ own multiple experiences. 

Is Hermione such a stickler to rules because she is an immigrant to this new world and doesn’t want to mess things up? This may be similar to teachers of colour in predominantly white spaces as well. Dr. M’Balia’s experiences reflect this where she struggled to fit into these new spaces and drew on the experiences of Hermione, Harry, as well as Lupin and the challenges he faced. 

Dr M’Balia read the books through a teacher’s perspective and really identified with the teachers in Hogwarts. This especially came to the fore in her role as a teacher educator. As a teacher-educator, she and her students studied the educators and pedagogy employed at Hogwarts. It’s interesting how different this is to the Witch, Please hosts who discuss the pedagogy of Hogwarts as educators too, but they don’t think it reflects well on the teaching practices at Hogwarts. Perhaps there’s lessons to be learned from how not to do things too. There’s also an analogy between Hogwarts teachers, Muggle-borns and teachers of colour in academic spaces as border-crossing which may involve racial prejudices, doubting their ability, and fighting lots of Death Eaters in these spaces. “Mediating experiences through characters helped her find her voice.”

Western media fandom itself is a white-dominated spaces where fans of colour work to disrupt the cultural and racial hegemony through their fan works and discussions. This is similar to navigating academia as a scholar with any aspect of difference. Both the host and the guest encourage scholars studying popular culture and Harry Potter. As one of the many valuable examples, they point to wizard rock such as Harry and the Potters, a band which now engages with social and political issues and activism. This is similar to Harry Potter scholarship and fandom which is increasingly concerned with social and political activism. Fans use Harry Potter as a way to make meaning in our culture. They think that its popularity shouldn’t be held against it. I think the popularity makes it even more important because it makes the themes and discussions accessible to a larger group of people which can include people from wildly different backgrounds. 

Recommended articles:

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Pedagogy in Harry Potter: An Inquiry Into the Personal Practical Knowledge of Remus Lupin, Rubeus Hagrid, and Severus Snape by Dr. M’Balia Thomas.

Trauma, Harry Potter, and the Demented World of Academia by Dr. M’Balia Thomas

7) Article – How Knowledge About Different Cultures Is Shaking the Foundations of Psychology

The article explores how psychology, like many academic disciplines, has a Western focus and tends to apply Western studies, populations and insights as universal principles, overlooking the fact that a person’s cultural context impacts their psychology, attitudes and behaviours. The latter idea is something which psychologists have been arguing more recently – called ‘cross-cultural psychology’. 

According to the article and some research, Western participants tend to display an analytical thinking approach whereas Eastern participants display a holistic thinking approach. Of course, this is also essentialising both the West and the East without interrogating the nuances and complexities inherent within both environments – neither the West nor the East is a monolith. 

“Subsequent studies have shown that cultural differences in thinking styles are pervasive in cognition – affecting memory, attention, perception, reasoning and how we talk and think.”

Even something like mental health and what is considered “normal” differs in diverse cultural contexts – what is normal in one culture may be weird in another – what impact does this have on what is considered mental illness and how this is addressed?  This article is also as good a reason as any to question our ideas of normal and what we take for granted – it is so situationally dependent. What’s normal when I live in India is very different from my life in the UK. Even within the UK, what is normal in Scotland is different from what is normal in England – and it’s such a tiny island anyway!

 

8) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds Fantastical Feasts 

After we planned our episode, I listened to this episode which explores what food can reveal in fantasy worlds. One of the guests engages in this thought experiment when creating a new fantastical world:

Imagine how a character in your world would boil water and include all the steps in the process. Is there a well? How do you draw water? Is there engineering? A heat source? Stove/fire? 

What kind of food are you eating when you’re travelling/on the road? Not the same as when you’re stationary. 

In a scarcity economy (in fantasy or in a dystopian universe), characters will care where their food is coming from because they’re constantly hungry 

“An abundance of food can be used as a social critique” – Eric

Food in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (both scarcity in Charlie Bucket’s family and abundance in the chocolate factory), Narnia, Enid Blyton’s books which results from the rationing culture after World War II. 

In SFF, food can be used to express xenophobia where the food is unfamiliar when a person enters a new world. In the real world, the food of people from non-dominant cultures is often met with disgust and/or exocticisation. To flip this concept, the character can be made to eat this unfamiliar food and eat it badly and it’s just how you negotiate unfamiliar things rather than treat them as alien and with disgust. There was a scene showing just this with Aang in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Even food from the past is unfamiliar – not just food from different parts of the country and world. 

Food is politics – supply chain logistics – class warfare – environmental crisis – reimagining food may not just be necessary for creativity in the future but it may be important for survival. During the pandemic, we also have a different relationship with food based on what’s available – flour is disappearing – panic buying – people with resources and time can afford to panic buy – what do you make when you have the time to cook things from scratch? Or have the brainspace and energy to envision healthy meals? 

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

After reading the first Harry Potter book way back in March, I only got around to The Chamber of Secrets at the beginning of May. I’m trying to read one book every month but the pandemic-related anxiety and burnout has meddled with those plans a bit.

Book cover image of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the second book:

  • Dobby’s self-harm every time he says something against the Malfoys or breaks their rules was so much more noticeable during this reading. As a kid, Chamber of Secrets used to be my least favourite book of the series and I found Dobby mildly annoying – that is, before discovering his character arc in The Deathly Hallows and all the subsequent fan discussions about him. I felt terrible for Dobby this time around, especially for his lack of self-worth which was born out of abuse and enslavement. He’s brave enough to break the shackles of his slavery to come warn Harry even though he’s going to have to punish himself. He can’t believe Harry treats him as an equal i.e. gives him some basic respect and decency. I couldn’t help but imagine his life at the Malfoys – full of trauma and abuse – and its impact on Dobby’s mental health and sense of self. Much like Harry, he seems to have come out of his abuse with empathy and kindness for others (however misguided that sometimes may be). Harry, although annoyed by Dobby, realised that while he was having a horrid time at the Dursleys, Dobby has it much worse – even without knowing the full details of Dobby’s enslavement and what that entails. Most importantly, while Harry is able to leave the Dursleys when he goes to Hogwarts and will eventually be able to leave them altogether, Dobby has to remain with the family until he dies.
  • Dobby reminds me of all those children of refugees, migrants and poor people in general who can’t even imagine a different life – who are so grateful for the tiniest bit of kindness and attention. This may be reflected in adult attitudes too, though I wonder if you grow more cynical about other people the older you are
  • Later in the book, Dobby says that house elves had it much worse during Voldemort’s reign. But it’s not like him being defeated actually improves their lives much – albeit Dobby acknowledges other house elves largely lead better lives than he does. The magical world is very witch/wizard supremacist.
  • What a silly rule that using magic in the presence of Muggles is a serious offense. What if it’s to save them or yourself? There may be many reasons why you need to use magic. According to the history, witches and wizards decided to hide themselves to escape persecution. But after centuries of this, I think it might be time to engage in some cross-cultural relationships.
  • According to the Weasley twins, a lot of wizards think Muggle tricks like using a hairpin to unlock a door is useless. I wonder if locked doors which are charmed against magical spells can be undone with Muggle tricks. Another example of magical folks overlooking Muggle culture to their own detriment.
  • Muggle-baiting involves things like shrinking keys sold to Muggles so they eventually don’t find them. Arthur’s department tries to stamp this out which the wizard supremacists hate, as evidenced by Lucius Malfoy’s constant sneers about the department. At what stage did fear of Muggle persecution turn towards hatred and derision of them, which in turn, led to the wizard supremacist structure of the magical world? This idea not just impacts Muggles and Muggle-borns but also all magical creatures who aren’t witches and wizards.
  • When Draco calls Hermione a Mudblood, it causes an uproar among everyone except Harry and Hermione who have no idea what the word means. They do realise it’s something terrible based on the reactions. There are such different contexts of taboo and insults even in the real world. Slurs against African Americans, for example, or even in India words like ghaati – where different social and cultural contexts means that what’s insulting or terrible to some people may be something somebody else doesn’t understand at all.  In Trevor Noah’s biography, he talks about how one of his friends is called Hitler. Every country thinks their history is the most important – especially Western countries – but not everyone follows the same rules. In India, things like the swastika, Mein Kampf aren’t seen as taboo. What is taboo is both inconsequential in certain contexts but also belies the ignorance of cultural norms and customs with Muggles and magical folk.
  • Ron’s detention involves helping Filch clean the trophies in the trophy room without magic. Why??? Why is Filch doing this? Why is there no magical assistance for him?! Even Filch’s office is dingy and windowless – what sort of unending punishment does he have to endure as a part of his job?!
  • The Kwikspell correspondence course for Squibs that Filch has subscribed to – its recommendations make it sound like a learning disability than an inability to do magic. Is this just the result of poor pedagogy in Hogwarts which doesn’t make room for different learning needs? Why aren’t there schools or classes for Squibs, if so? Or is Kwikspell running a giant scam?
  • The attacks on Muggleborns in Hogwarts are reminiscent of white fascists attacking mosques, synagogues, gay nightclubs, cinemas in Western countries and Hindu nationalists targeting Muslim communities and businesses in India/Delhi.
  • After the latest attack on Hermione/Penelope, Lee Jordan suggests chucking all the Slytherins out because it’s the heir of Slytherin, it’s Slytherin’s monster, and none of the Slytherins have been murdered. His assertion is met with cheers. That reminds me of rampant Islamaphobia in the world + COVID-19 racism against east Asians and North East Indians. It’s so easy to demonise an entire group of people for the actions of an individual/handful. Even when you think you’re one of the good guys, you can fall prey to bigotry.
  • Is it so easy to suspect Hagrid not just because of his alleged past transgression but also because of his half-giant status? Some groups of people are treated with more suspicion and prejudice – ex-convicts (although Hagrid was a juvenile), werewolves (Lupin has to resign when Snape reveals he’s a werewolf and parents don’t trust him around their children), men from certain communities, Muslims, black men. Even gay men in certain historical and current geographical contexts.
  • Much like fascists and other insecure horrible ghouls, Voldemort has created his own nonsensical narrative about himself and others in his head. He hates his father for leaving his mother after finding out she was a witch. That’s not what happened. Merope love-potioned Tom Riddle into a marriage and he left when he was no longer enchanted. Even Voldemort’s glorious Slytherin family wasn’t so glorious after all; Merope and her family were reduced to abject poverty and Merope’s father and brother were horrible. It’s just like a fascist to hark back to imagined historical glories and slights.
  • Tom Riddle was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts had ever seen according to Dumbledore. Maybe until Hermione came along. It’s almost like being from a Muggle background can mean you’re valuable and have skills too, Voldemort!

Episode 8 Whose Stories Are Being Told: Centering Racial Diversity in Mainstream Hollywood Movies

Episode Resources:

1) Movie – Green Book 

2) Movie – Crazy Rich Asians 

3) Movie – Last Christmas 

4)  Essay – Racism through the BAME protagonists in Ichiro and The Hate U Give by Hibiki Hashizume

5) Fan podcast – Woke Doctor Who Crazy Rich Asians 

6) Fan podcast – Black Girl Nerds  Geek Misogyny, No Totally, and Con Coverage (listen from 1 hour 06ish minutes to 1 hour 34ish minutes)

7) Fan podcast – Black Girl Nerds Asians in Media 

8) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds Ghost In The Shell

9) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds Growing Up Avatar American 

10) Essay – In Immigrating from Japan, I Lost Language, Home, and Pokémon 

Episode Transcript:

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. If you would prefer the original, unedited version, please let me know!

Photo of Hibiki

[Intro music]

Welcome to Marginally Fannish, a show where we aim an intersectional lens at some of our favourite media and their fandoms.

[Intro music]

My name is Parinita Shetty and you’re listening to the eighth episode of Marginally Fannish. In this episode, I chat with Hibiki Hashizume about the different representations of race in three mainstream Hollywood movies. As students from India and Japan in the United Kingdom, we discuss the cultural similarities and differences that we’ve noticed. We also talk about suddenly becoming a minority in a new country and how that impacts our ideas about racial diversity.

Mainstream media can perpetuate internalised racism. Three recent movies – Green Book, Crazy Rich Asians, and Last Christmas – showcase the slow but steady strides Hollywood is taking by featuring different kinds of diversity and inclusion. Diverse representations in mainstream films is especially important since they attract and influence such huge audiences. A lack of diverse stories promotes the perception of monolithic experiences of marginalised groups which in turn creates stereotypes about these cultures. Just because you look the same doesn’t mean you share the same experiences.

Stories written by cultural insiders can challenge these narrow perceptions. They overturn stereotypes, offer more authentic representations, explore nuances and complexities within the culture, and refuse to exoticise their own culture by normalising different contexts, foods, and languages. Diverse creators rewrite the script of whose stories are centered. Normalising the food, languages, and lives of non-dominant cultures can go a long way in fixing the imbalance and addressing the feelings of inferiority.

Find our conversations about all this and more in today’s episode.

Happy listening!

[Intro music]

Parinita: Today I’m so happy to welcome Hibiki Hashizume on the podcast. Hibiki is a third-year undergraduate student studying English and English literature in Kyushu University in Japan. He did a study abroad year at the University of Leeds which is where I’m also a PhD researcher. He was there last year where he started to develop an interest in the interpretation of media. And his favourite British drama series so far is Black Mirror, a show that I also love even though it gives me a lot of nightmares about the future of technology. I met Hibiki at a children’s literature module that one of my PhD supervisors was running at the University of Leeds last year where I was also helping out. And throughout the semester, I loved talking to Hibiki about children’s books and also his opinions on race and representation in children’s literature. So I thought he’d be the perfect guest for the podcast and I’m so glad he agreed to participate. So for this episode, we’re going to be talking about representation in media, specifically looking at three movies – that’s Green Book, Crazy Rich Asians, and Last Christmas. Hibiki also wrote an essay for the course which explored racism in the young adult novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and the graphic novel Ichiro by Ryan Inzana. I got to read the essay and I really enjoyed it; so I suggested including it in our conversation today because it covers a lot of the themes that we’re both really interested in. So to begin with Hibiki, do you want to tell us how you got interested in the topic of race and representation?

Hibiki: Yes. Thank you Pari. So the reason why I got interested in race and ethnicity issues was because I actually faced racism in the UK. So the experience in the UK as an exchange student, it definitely made me interested in that subject.

Parinita: I know you’ve told me this before but even hearing you say this again just makes me feel so both angry and sad at the same time.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: I’ve been in the UK a little longer than you have because I came here to do my master’s as well. And I’ve been lucky that I’ve not really faced any racism in the way that you have. And I think that it’s gotten a little worse now in the UK, especially for East Asian people, because of the whole Coronavirus pandemic. It’s something that we’ve spoken about on previous podcast episodes. They’re the target of a lot of racism within certain corners of the UK. And of course brown people, South Asian people, have a whole other history of racism in the UK. But I’ve been lucky. And like you, I also come from a country where I’ve been the dominant race. In India and Japan, we’re both very much a part of the dominant culture. I had this fixed idea of racism when I lived in India. And it was something that happened in other countries like in the US and the UK. I didn’t think of racism within an Indian context really because everybody is the same race.

Hibiki: Yes.

Parinita: But obviously in India, too, we have issues where light-skinned Indians are preferred over dark-skinned Indians. I don’t know if that’s an issue in Japan at all, but India definitely has that. And our media also pushes this image because light and fair skin is considered to be more beautiful.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: So you know there are these fairness creams and things that have a huge market in India as well as in some countries in Africa. And we have different ethnic groups in India because it’s such a diverse country. And depending on which part of the country you’re in, there are definitely differences in terms of race and the colour of your skin, and the religion, and the language that you speak, the looks. So in your essay – when you were looking at Ichiro especially, which has a Japanese kid going from the US back to Japan and how he has trouble fitting in – I could really relate to that scene. It’s very similar to what happens in India. During the module, we spoke a little bit about the We Need Diverse Books campaign which started in the US; I think it started online. It spoke about how children’s books, especially in the West, have very white characters; most of the characters in the books are white and straight and a very specific idea of a person. And that made me start thinking about it in India as well. Even in India, there’s only a very certain group of people who are always there in the media. When I moved to the master’s, my class was really diverse. It was much more diverse than I think the children’s literature module that we were in – although even that was pretty diverse. But I think everybody was from the UK?

Hibiki: Yeah, I think so.

Parinita: Whereas my master’s class was very diverse. It had people from the UK as well as different parts of the world. But my friends there in Scotland – and Scotland is not as diverse as Leeds; Glasgow isn’t as diverse as Leeds.

Hibiki: Um hmm.

Parinita: And England is much more diverse anyway. But I was very much the minority in most places. That was the first time I’d had that experience that I was the only brown person in the room. My friends were very welcoming and inclusive, but I didn’t have the same cultural context that I could share with them. I can’t speak in Hindi or Marathi – any of the Indian languages that I know. I can’t talk to them about Bollywood movies – the movies that I watch back home in India. Or the food and things. So that was different. That’s when I think I really realised that I’m a person who is of a different race.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: So before we start discussing the movies that we watched, Hibiki, you wanted to talk about another module that you took at the University of Leeds which looked at film studies and which influenced some of your ideas of media interpretation.

Hibiki: So I took film studies in semester two in Leeds. We watched some movies – French, Italian, Japanese – very different movies from different countries. Specifically, one week we watched Terminator, Terminator 2.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: Then from the reading, I learned that the idea that white men cannot be regarded as victim –

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: It caused some filmmakers to make films which focused on white male protagonists. So the point is, I didn’t know there was this kind of idea behind the movie. ’Cause you know Terminator is very famous and popular all over the world.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: So I thought this was quite interesting to know that fact.

Parinita: Absolutely.

Hibiki: But also I thought it was quite dangerous because a huge amount of people would see this movie and would have seen this movie. But as a fact this movie has this kind of implicit meaning behind it.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely. And for me that’s why I think media representations are so important. And it’s something that I keep talking about on this podcast.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: So if people are listening to it regularly, they’ll be tired of hearing me say that. But it does, like you said right, the way that media represents something can be dangerous. It can also be powerful in a positive way, but it can also be dangerous.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: Like the way that you talk about a certain group of people.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: So currently in the US, for example, the government and the President are talking about the Coronavirus and a lot of them are still calling it the China virus.

Hibiki: Yeah. [laughs]

Parinita: You know. And that’s –

Hibiki: I was quite surprised when President Trump said that the Chinese virus on Twitter or something.

Parinita: Exactly! And I think some of the people in his cabinet advised him not to.

Hibiki: [laughs]

Parinita: But he still insisted on calling it that. And it has a very real impact on not only the Chinese people living in the US but also anybody who’s East Asian.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Like you said about the racist attack – the verbal racist attack that you’d had in Leeds. And that was because someone mistook you for a Chinese person, right?

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: The thing that they said – the really terribly racist thing that they said – was towards a Chinese person. What you say in media, not just news media but even entertainment media, is so important. Because it’s influencing so many people’s perceptions about people they wouldn’t meet in real life. Or maybe even people that they do meet in real life. And India has this huge problem as well. Because currently it’s very anti-Muslim. The whole thing about the virus and the pandemic – Muslims are being targeted in India, which is also really dangerous. But coming back to the movies that we watched, these movies were your suggestions. I hadn’t watched any of them because I’m not really super caught up with movie news anyway. I read books and I watch TV shows. And movies I watch sometimes. But I had heard about Crazy Rich Asians a lot because it was such a mainstream hit, I think. Everyone was talking about it. And I watched all three movies yesterday on the same day. Which for someone like me, who really struggles with binge-watching anything, was a lot. [laughs] But I loved the movies so much. They were so fun to watch. And I really loved them for different reasons as well. I loved that there were such different kinds of diversity and inclusion in the three movies. With the Green Book, uh Green Book, it was tackling prejudice much more directly.

Hibiki: Yes.

Movie poster of Green Book

Image courtesy IMDB

Parinita: Because racism was the crux of the movie and it was drawing attention to that. Whereas in Crazy Rich Asians, it was an all-diverse cast. I don’t think there were white people at all in the movie. It was all Asian. Different Asian backgrounds, but all Asian. And then in Last Christmas, which was a different kind of diversity, where there was a lot of different diverse groups that were represented.

Hibiki: Yes.

Movie poster of Crazy Rich Asians

Image courtesy IMDB

Parinita: But it was done in a way that didn’t call attention to that diversity. It was just a regular part of the movie. It was normalising it to such an extent that you don’t need to draw attention to it. So what did you think of the movies? I’m assuming you’re a fan of them. But you said that you chose them for specific reasons as well.

Movie poster of Last Christmas

Image courtesy IMDB

Hibiki: Yeah. So the three movies were all made very recently. I think 2018 and 19.

Parinita: Right.

Hibiki: So I think these movies represent and reflect today’s society very realistically I thought.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: So that’s one reason. And also these were made by … I think Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers. So this a very big company, I think.

Parinita: Yeah, really mainstream.

Hibiki: Yeah. So that means, I think, a very large amount of people would watch them.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely.

Hibiki: So yeah, I think they have a very strong impact on people’s perspectives.

Parinita: Yeah, that’s such a good point. I hadn’t really considered that. That they are such mainstream productions. I thought about it with Crazy Rich Asians but I thought it became mainstream. Because one of the critiques is that at least in Hollywood, people don’t cast Asian actors because they think that the movies then wouldn’t sell as well.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: They wouldn’t be as marketable. But obviously Crazy Rich Asians – I think that’s why it was such a powerful movie – because it totally proved them wrong. And similar to Black Panther as well. In the Woke Doctor Who episode where they were talking about Crazy Rich Asians, there’s a Chinese-American host and there’s a black American host. And they were both talking about how the perception is that movies that don’t have a white cast member will not sell. So I think Crazy Rich Asians is a great exception to that rule. And I hope there’s more like that. But then in Last Christmas, it had some huge movie stars in it. And the Green Book as well – I keep calling it the Green Book, it’s just Green Book!

Hibiki: [laughs]

Parinita: But that one as well had a huge star cast. So I think, yeah you’re right, that that’s really important in drawing audiences to the cinema as well.

Hibiki: Yeah. Absolutely.

Parinita: So on the Black Girl Nerds podcast, Shaun Lau pointed out that the Asian perspective isn’t this monolith which means that all Asian experiences aren’t the same. Even in Japan, I’m sure, and certainly in India. All Indians and all Japanese people don’t have the same experience, right?

Hibiki: No, no.

Parinita: Depending on which part of the country – or even within your same house, for example. Depending on the age and things, you have different interests, you have different perspectives, different personalities. Whereas so far, I think these stereotypes that you have about Asians and Indians in the West are because the movies and TV shows and books have pushed these stereotypes.

Hibiki: Yes. So while I was in the UK, I noticed that especially East Asians – all East Asians including Chinese, Korean, Japanese – all of them were … not all times but mostly regarded as Chinese.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: You know I kind of understand that because I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between British people or American or –

Parinita: Absolutely. Or German, yeah.

Hibiki: Yeah. So I understand that but um …

Parinita: No, it’s similar with me as well. South Asians, so say India or Pakistan or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, we all look really similar.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: In fact, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka uh not Sri Lanka – Bangladesh were all a part of the same country a few decades ago during colonisation. It was only post-Independence – which was about seventy years ago – that we were split into first two countries and then three countries. So I completely understand. But at the same time, it’s also really dangerous. And more than dangerous, it’s a bit insulting  that you don’t –

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: You shouldn’t make assumptions if you’re not sure, just don’t make assumptions, right? Try to get to know the person first before assuming they are from wherever or just saying that, “Oh all East Asians are the same or all Indians or South Asians are the same”. We wouldn’t say all white people are the same, for example, right? That’s not something we would think about.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: So somebody else in another podcast, the Imaginary Worlds episode, said that many white people in the West don’t see the difference between Asian films and Asian-American films.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: So basically Asian films would be a film in Japan set in Japan with Japanese people. Or set in India with Indian people. I think that difference and that nuance is important because in India or in Japan, we’re not the minorities, right?

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: In India, it’s full of Indians. In Japan, it’s full of Japanese. Whereas in the US, or even in the UK – Indians and Japanese people would be the minority. So the experiences here are very different to the experiences in a country where you are the majority. So the kind of film would be different. Which is why I really liked Crazy Rich Asians because it showed a little bit of both. It showed Rachel –

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Constance Wu’s character who is this Chinese-American who goes to Singapore. So she has this very American context. But she’s going to this country and this community which is very comfortable within its Chinese identity.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: But they always make fun of American culture. Her future mother-in-law or prospective mother-in-law, she always makes fun of the American-Chinese – just the American attitude in general. It was a really funny movie but I thought that was really interesting.

Hibiki: Hmm. So in Crazy Rich Asians, I think the main characters were Asian and Chinese-American. Rachel was Chinese-American and … I forgot his name.

Parinita: Nick, I think. Nick Young.

Hibiki: Yeah. He was … so is he also half-American, half-Chinese?

Parinita: I think he’s Chinese – he’s from Singapore. He’s grown up in Singapore but he moved to the US for university or something.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: I think that was a source of tension within the movie because they kept wanting him to move back home because he grew up in his grandmother’s house.

Hibiki: Aah.

Parinita: And I think at one point, his mother makes fun of him, “Don’t tell me you’ve gotten an American accent”. [laughs] Because that’s not something that can happen.

Hibiki: Yeah. So I think the point you made was very interesting. So I thought the fact that Crazy Rich Asians succeeded was quite um … I was feeling kind of sympathy

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: Because you know in the American film-making industry, the movie in which Asian people take a huge part of the movie itself is quite rare, I think.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: So I was very kind of feeling sympathy. Is it – is that the word?

Parinita: Yeah. Absolutely.

Hibiki: But I haven’t thought about the difference between Asian-Americans and just Asian people.

Parinita: Yeah it’s not something that I thought of either. It was something that on the Imaginary Worlds podcast, the Asian-American guest, he said. Because he was like, “White people in the West, they think all our experiences are the same. That if you look Asian, that means you have the same experience.” Which is obviously, we know, not true. In the Woke Doctor Who episode, Eugenia, one of the hosts, she said that in Crazy Rich Asians, the creators of the movie fought to cast Constance Wu – the actress who plays Rachel – as an Asian – as a Chinese-American person, because the producers wanted to cast her as a white woman.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Because they said that “oh how can it be that this Asian woman is going to Singapore and doesn’t fit in?” Obviously she would fit in because they thought, I’m sure, that oh if she looks the same then she’ll obviously have the same experiences. But that’s not true. And so they thought that the white person going to Singapore and not fitting in would be more realistic. And that totally overlooks the fact that – like even you and I. I don’t know about you but for me, after about like a year spent in Scotland, in the UK, when I went back to India, I saw the country differently. I saw myself differently. I had changed because of my experience living abroad. So somebody who’s grown up in the UK, even if their parents are from India, and they go back to India, it would be a huge culture shock. It would be so different going there, right?

Hibiki: Yeah. I also felt reverse culture shock.

Parinita: Yeah. And that’s even after both of us have been born and brought up in Japan and India respectively. But even spending a few months or a year abroad can have such a like impact on us, right?

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Yeah. But I guess I hope that there’s more room for such stories. Just because it makes it so interesting. In Crazy Rich Asians I thought Chinese culture and Indian culture have so many similarities. Because when I was watching that movie, I was like oh my god this is something that Indian mothers would do or Indian aunties would do. And the movie itself was so like a Bollywood movie without the singing and dancing. But there was music in the background. It was a fun movie to watch. And I loved Green Book as well. What did you think about it?

Hibiki: So when I finished watching the movie, I was very moved. I think I remember I was moved. But eventually I started to think that the ending – when the policeman stops them – the car which the two protagonists were in, that was the moving point.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: So the police officer says, “Happy Christmas” or something like that to them if I remember.

Parinita: Yeah, because they’d had an experience with a police officer earlier that didn’t go as well. With two white police officers. The racist police officers.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: And they were scared. And this is very true because it’s something we read in The Hate U Give as well, right? How people of colour in the US, black people or in this case … yeah Dr Stanley was black as well. That they’re so scared of the police because a lot of the police are racist and do shoot young unarmed black men. So that is very much a reality.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: But the second police officer wasn’t like that, just to place that in context.

Hibiki: Yeah. So even though that was the reality, I don’t know, but it seemed like the movie made that the last police officer as a very good person and … even though I think that is – that should be normal. You know what I mean?

Parinita: Hmm. Oh I do see what you mean. You think it was more for dramatic effect – like trying to tie up the ends neatly – rather than representing actual reality.

Hibiki: I just personally think, yeah.

Parinita: Yeah. I mean I understand. So I keep having this conversation with my boyfriend. He is very much against police officers generally because of all the history of brutality that they’ve had especially for people of not-white races and working-class people and things. Whereas I’m like, no I’m sure there are some police officers who are all right. And I think I’m more … obviously I’ve not had terrible experiences with police officers which is why I come from that place of privilege, I think, that I can give them the benefit of doubt. It’s something that I thought of as well but I thought, “Oh it’s nice that they showed this good police officer”. But yeah, you’re right. Especially in a movie that talks about racism in a very direct way, maybe we didn’t need to … but I guess because it was Christmas, they tried to put in a hopeful message.

Hibiki: Yeah. Green Book is of course a very brilliant movie. Even the black person protagonist was a host and the white guy was the driver and servant. And this structure, I haven’t seen in any movies – which has the same structure as this.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: So I appreciate this one. But still the movie was explicitly talking about and showing the racism against black persons.

Parinita: It was set in the 1960s in the southern United States which was – even now a lot of it is pretty racist. But at that time, it was really dangerous if you were black and moving around there like we saw in the movie. When you were saying that right now, it struck me that even though they say this in the beginning of the movie, that it’s based on a true story, I had completely forgotten that bit. Until the end of the movie when they show you the updates of the real-life Tony – the white driver and Dr Don Stanley, the black musician, the pianist. So what you said about this white driver and about this rich black person, it’s something that I made a note of – how even if you’re white, but if you’re poor, you can be marginalised in certain contexts. You’re not as privileged in certain contexts. Whereas even if you’re black and you’re rich, you can also be marginalised. In the South when they were travelling, Tony the driver was considered to be more respected and more worthy and more equal just because he was white. Whereas Don, because he was black, his money didn’t matter, his music skills didn’t matter. He was a black man and that’s why he was not considered to be equal to the white people.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: That’s why I liked all three movies that we watched for such different reasons. And they were such different kinds of movies. I don’t think that we can compare them for their story, but in terms of their representations of diversity. So I’m really glad you suggested these movies. When it comes to discussions of diversity or just media in general, I really like looking at whose stories are centered in terms of race and ethnicity or national origin or whatever –  whose stories are being told and whose stories are being marginalised or ignored. And these three movies, like you said, they’re new – out in 2018-2019. So I hope they’re showing a trend that we’re moving towards. Because in the Black Girl Nerds episode, the Asians in Media one, where they were talking about how otherwise movies with Asian characters are full of stereotypes. And they’ll usually center the story of the white person and not the Asian person.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: The Asian person is just a background character or just comic relief or just the best friend of the main white person. And is never in a role that is centered around them.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: And there also used to be a very limited kind of stories. Which is why again, especially Crazy Rich Asians and Last Christmas, I really liked because it wasn’t like oh these Asians are martial artists or it wasn’t about the immigrant experience that oh they’ve moved to the US and now they’re facing this difficult time. It was just a regular film. It wasn’t about their Asian experience.

Hibiki: Hmm. Yeah.

Parinita: And I think all three of them overturned stereotypes in very different ways. In Green Book I liked that the main character Dr Don Stanley – he is wealthy – and the white guy, Tony, he has all these stereotypes about him – about black people – that he keeps trying to place on him. Like the music and the food and everything.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Gif from Green Book. Tony throws an empty drinks container onto the highway. Dr Don looks back at it and makes the car go back to pick it up

Parinita: And Dr Don is like “uhhh what no I don’t like this. I’m sorry, what?” He’s this really sophisticated character. And later we find out that he’s gay as well. And he talks about the struggles of not being able to fit in to either black society or white society. It was a really interesting overturning of stereotypes. With Crazy Rich Asians as well, where Rachel is going to China and usually you make fun of Chinese culture or Asian culture or whatever. That’s the butt of jokes. Whereas here, they were making fun of American culture and were like, “Oh American-Chinese are not real Chinese” and things like that.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Had you noticed the different kinds of diversity and representations in these movies? Or Western media in general? What struck out the most to you while watching these movies in terms of the race representations?

Hibiki: Ah so you – what do you mean by different um –

Parinita: So the way races like the Asians, for example, in the three movies, the different kinds – oh well not in the three movies, in Green Book, there were no Asians. But the different races, how they were represented in the three movies. So blackness and whiteness in Green Book, different Chinese and Asian experiences in Crazy Rich Asians. I know they were not all – I don’t know in the movie, if they were all Chinese. I know the actors come from all over – there are Malaysian actors and Australian actors as well.

Hibiki: Hmm. Yeah, so as you said, I think traditionally in Hollywood or the film industry, white actors and actresses have been dominant in those movies. In Last Christmas, there was an inter-racial couple.

Parinita: Yeah. There were a couple actually. There were two or three, I think.

Hibiki: Yeah. So I think I could see the intention of the filmmakers to use different types – different race of people.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: Together in the same community.

Parinita: Yeah because London is a super diverse city, right? It draws people from all different backgrounds.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: That’s something I really liked in Last Christmas as well. Especially that these inter-racial couples were so common. It wasn’t even a matter of discussion. Maybe in another movie, that would be cause of the discomfort or the drama or whatever.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Whereas here, that didn’t matter; it’s fine, just having inter-racial couples. And also there was that one older inter-racial couple – the Chinese lady Santa who owns the Christmas shop.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: And I think he was German? I’m not sure. The older man. But they were making jokes of each other’s cultures but not in a way that was offensive. It was more like you’re making fun of yourself, kind of. I think there was also a queer relationship – Kate’s sister Marta and her girlfriend – she was black – and she [Marta] was also like a kid of an immigrant. So yeah, I thought that was a really good inclusion of representation.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: I didn’t know this but Eugenia from Woke Doctor Who mentioned this, that apparently there had been some critiques of Crazy Rich Asians that even though the movie is set in Singapore – and Singapore again, like London, is a super diverse country – because it draws people from different countries in Asia as well as Western countries. But in the movie itself, it was very much centered only on Chinese people. There were some Malay and Indian servants, I think. Like maids and drivers and things. And that was one of the critiques. And she [Eugenia] responded to it by saying that well, first of all they were super rich Chinese people. So it was another culture by itself because this is the life of the super wealthy.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: And so all the diversity was in the form of maids and guards and stuff which reflects the lives of these elite people. But also it made me think of how in movies like this, because they are so rare as you said, the expectations are that they have to be perfect. They have to tick all the boxes – like diversity and this and this and this. And it’s such an unfair burden on them. It would be better to make room for different kinds of diversity and stories so that there’ll be different stories; so one movie can tell its story and another can tell its story, rather than saying Crazy Rich Asians has to tick all these boxes. So again, like I said, I hope that this is a trend – so it’s not just that one movie has to fix all the ills and all the problems that exist in Hollywood or whatever. They can just go on and tell their story and just be fun and … yeah. It’s really unfair.

Hibiki: Hmm. And also I do not exactly know how many racial minority people work in the film industry or writing books or whatever media.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: People who create those books, movies, dramas, advertisements, or whatever should be from different identities.

Parinita: Yeah! Absolutely. I think that’s a really good point. Because I think that shows in the kind of stories then that are told, right? If you have a person from that different identity, they are going to be able to tell their story in a more realistic way than a stereotypical way.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: They won’t then be making fun of their own – or if they do make fun of their own culture, it will be in a way that is for other people of that culture. Like how Indians, we make fun of ourselves, but the audience for the joke is other Indians. It’s not white people. We’re making fun of each other within our community. And I think Crazy Rich Asians had a few examples of that where they were making fun of the culture but it was in an affectionate way. Because, like you said, I think the cast but even the creators – the writers and everybody – they were Asian. So they knew the culture that they were talking about. They were not presenting it in this exotic way. Like, “Ooh look this Far East exotic culture.” They were like no, this is just our lives. And it was also this really interesting blend of Western influence as well as Asian influences. Like the bachelorette party and the bachelor party and stuff. That’s a thing that happens in India as well now over the last ten-fifteen years, it’s become really common in big Indian cities at least. And that’s something that’s not Indian at all. It’s something that we’ve picked up from media – American media and British media. And that’s something that Crazy Rich Asians had as well which I thought was really familiar.

Hibiki: Hmm. Yeah. So Japan, as I said, is a very monocultural and racially homogenous country.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: So I consider the fact that all of the TV programmes, dramas, movies – the Japanese ones – are made by them. And almost all of the spectators are Japanese.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: So I think some stereotypical and biased images of other cultures might have been created by that media in Japan as well.

Parinita: Do you mean of different cultures within Japan or outside Japan?

Hibiki: That could be both. For example, Japan is also an island and a homogenous country.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: And people are a little bit ignorant of other cultures. ’Cause we don’t know what other cultures are. So not many people know and could know about them.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: As a fact, in Japan, it has been realised that we should become more globalised. And Japan has noticed that diversity is important and knowing about other cultures is important. But the images, the media, and books are created only by one particular race of people.

Parinita: Yeah. And like you were saying in your essay about the anti-Korean racism, a little bit of which exists in Japan, right?

Hibiki: Yeah. So we have very complicated issues with … hmm basically, so this isn’t true for everyone … but there is a kind of ideology that Westerners and white people are superior.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: But at the same time, a number of Japanese people think Japan is the greatest country.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: The right-wing people and some people regard Chinese or Korean people as inferior to themselves.

Parinita: It’s so interesting that as different as cultures are, it’s like we have the same problems everywhere. Because India is the same. And obviously like we both saw in the UK, the UK is the same where they consider white English people superior. India has the same problems that you’re saying about Japan. Even to that extent of where it considers white superior. White people in certain minds would be considered superior. Of course, we have the history of colonisation. So we were under the British Empire for a hundred and fifty years or something. And even now, a lot of the movies and things that we watch – obviously we have a lot of Indian film industries, so the media is within Hindi and different languages like Marathi, we have huge movie industries. But a lot of the English movies that we watch – the foreign movies – come from the US and the UK. So their representations influence us a lot. Even me, for example, it was only after I moved to the UK that I realised in terms of the political system, in terms of poverty and everything, I was like, “Oh the UK doesn’t have everything figured out.” When I was living in India, I was like, “Oh yeah the US and the UK are obviously …” uh but then of course they went and elected Trump. [laughs] So I was like, “Okay maybe the US doesn’t have it all figured out either.” So yeah. It’s very similar.

Hibiki: So I was thinking the UK and Japan are very similar in terms of you know both countries are islands and um …

Parinita: Hmm, yeah.

Hibiki: And I think the national character is also kind of the same.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: So it’s a bit hard to explain but we have –

Parinita: Is it based on history?

Hibiki: Hmm … I’m not really sure why that happened.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: But I noticed there are a lot of common things between Japanese and the British people living in the UK. But in terms of diversity, it’s completely the opposite. The UK is much more diverse and Japan is more homogenous.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: Did you say you realised that you became a minority when you went to Scotland for the first time?

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: So that happened to me as well. When I went to the UK last July, that was my first time being a minority.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: And I noticed I was feeling like some people around me might be looking down on me.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: As I said, I actually got discriminated against by a white British guy.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: But then I noticed why am I thinking like that way? So why am I feeling that I’m looked down on by other white people? And I thought media and what I watched and listened to in Japan for over eighteen or nineteen years might have created some kind of image and stereotype inside myself.

Parinita: Ah. That’s a really good point. You’re right. And also it has that same effect on the people from the dominant group as well, right? In the UK, you’re the minority here just like me. But for white people in the UK, they’re watching the same media as well. And maybe then that media is creating this sense of superiority amongst them. So it feeds into both the people who are the minority as well as the majority in really harmful ways.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Ugh media it’s like … you know there are a lot of people who don’t think media is that important to talk about. But media is how a lot of people get their education about different cultures and different races and classes and genders and everything.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: So we can’t dismiss the point of media. Because another thing that really stood out to me during the movies – and also just in general – was the politics and the representations of food, especially Asian food and Indian food within Western media. Have you ever come across that?

Hibiki: Hmm … so there’s a clear description of Asian food in Crazy Rich Asians but I haven’t thought that deeply about representation of food in detail.

Parinita: Yeah. And that’s a totally fair point because in a homogenous culture I suppose that is not a thing that occurs to you because everyone eats the same – not same but similar kind of food?

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: So one is not considered superior and another is not considered inferior. In the Woke Doctor Who episode, Eugenia who’s the Chinese-American host, was talking about watching Crazy Rich Asians; just seeing her food represented on the screen was such an emotional experience for her. You remember that dumpling making scene?

Hibiki: Yes.

Scene from Crazy Rich Asians in the street food market in Singapore

Parinita: Where the family come together to make the dumplings. And even that market in Singapore where they go and they eat this food, she was so happy to see that and so emotional to see that because she was starved for that representation. She hadn’t seen that in Hollywood movies. Because it was all burgers and whatever white American food would be. And she was saying that how when she was in school, when she would take her food that her Chinese mother would make. And it was made fun of. For being a different smell and a different texture and different kinds of things. Her classmates used to take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So for them, anything that was foreign was something that is made fun of and is sometimes treated with disgust. And it’s a bit similar in India because – it’s a religious, cultural thing where some people are vegetarians and some people are not. Some people eat meat in India depending on which religion you follow and which part of the country you come from. And in some schools, non-vegetarian food is not allowed at all. You’re not allowed to bring anything with meat in it to school. Whereas in other schools, including mine, when I was a kid, I had friends from different religious backgrounds. And I would have friends that if I took meat to school, they would make a face or make a fuss or be like, “No I don’t want to sit near you and eat because I don’t eat meat.” And that reminded me so much of her [Eugenia’s] conversation because as a kid, it’s something that you internalise. Then I stopped taking meat to school because I told my mom, “No, my friends turn away from it in disgust, so I don’t want to take meat to school. I don’t want to have that problem at all.”

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: It is like one food habit is better than the other. Then that’s the atmosphere that you’re creating.

Hibiki: Hmm. Yeah. I remember one thing that when I cooked in the kitchen in my flat, some of my flatmates were wondering what that food was.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: They were very curious but also um … like strange.

Parinita: Yeah. And I think curiousity about an unfamiliar thing is obviously very normal.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: If you have not met something before in whatever form – food, culture, anything – you are curious about it. But I think the way you approach it matters so much. If you just approach it in a way like, “Ew, I’m not going to … this is not worthy of my attention or respect.” Versus oh you’re just trying to find out something about another culture. You’re just curious about that culture and you’re learning from them. I had friends in Glasgow who were from the US. In their part of the US, Indian food wasn’t popular, it wasn’t available easily. So they’d never eaten Indian food before; the first time they ate Indian food was in Scotland. And they loved it. They really loved the food. And then they’d come over to my house and I’d cook Indian food for them. And they were always so respectful. They were white Americans so they were used to being in the dominant group in their country. But they were still always so respectful and so curious about it. They never made fun – or not even fun – never made a face or refused to try any Indian food. They were always really curious and that made me feel welcome. Like even if I’m in this strange country with nobody like me around … different cultures can still come together in a more positive way.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: It depends on what kind of people you meet. And, of course, with the representation and politics of food, there’s also the representation and politics of language, right? Where some languages are considered to be the correct or the superior language depending on which part of the country or world you’re in. What has been your own experiences with this?

Hibiki: Yeah so we talked about this, right?

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: So English is considered and actually used worldwide. So in Japan for example there’s this ideology that English is cool.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: So America, the UK, Australia, Canada – developed white countries which speak English. Using one language – meaning English – is very useful for everyone. For me, if I could speak English, I could talk to a lot of people from different countries.

Parinita: Yeah, like us.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: Our podcast wouldn’t have been possible if both of us didn’t speak the same language.

Hibiki: Yeah. But at the same time, this inequality of language might cause native speakers to be arrogant.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: Or create some stereotypes against non-English speaking people.

Parinita: Yeah. And like that essay that we read about Nina Coomes who moved from Japan to the US. She was this huge Pokémon fan and she wrote about that and the role Pokémon and language played in her life. She talked about how, when she moved to the US – a rural part of the country – when she was seven, it meant that she suddenly couldn’t communicate anymore. When she was back in Japan, she had all these ideas, she had all this language, all this vocabulary and she was considered smart.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: And suddenly she moves to a country where intelligence is measured by the language that you speak. And because she couldn’t speak English, she was not considered to be intelligent or cool or somebody that you want to be friends with. And she was so excited when Pokémon came to the US because she was like, “Okay maybe Pokémon is something that I could connect to people with. Use that as my common language.” And then to her horror, she realised that the words had been translated. So the Pokémon words in Japan were Japanese whereas when they came to the US, they were translated to English and she was like, “Okay even that one thing I can’t connect with.” Which I think is a very familiar experience to a lot of people who move from a country where English isn’t the dominant language to a country where English is the dominant language.

Hibiki: Um hmm.

Parinita: And yeah, India is the same; English is considered cool. English is also considered to be a language of the wealthy. In rural parts or in certain parts even in Mumbai – which is a big city – there will be communities where English isn’t spoken. But they have that sense of inferiority that they can’t speak English. So if somebody goes and speaks English, they will consider them smart and wealthy and cool even if they are smarter than this person who can speak English.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Language plays such a big role in your own self-identity. Which is sad.

Hibiki: Maybe I could talk about one episode about language in Japan.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: So compared to other countries, Japanese people seem to be not as good at speaking English or listening to or using English. Because I don’t know probably because of the difference of language. Japanese and English are very different. So it is a little bit harder for Japanese people to speak and listen to English.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: So not all wealthy and affluent people can speak or can communicate in English. So we call this is half uh like American-Asian for example … people … uh a child or children of …

Parinita: So like a mixed-race couple?

Hibiki: Mixed-race people, yeah. They’re called half. And then some of them could speak English better than other normal ordinary Japanese.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: Or people who had lived in English-speaking countries and came back to Japan later are considered as very good English speakers. So those kind of people sometimes are looked up or are like, “Oh you’re great, you speak English very well.” Or “You sound like a native speaker of English.”

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: So the situation is slightly different from the situation in India in Japan but yeah.

Parinita: Yeah. But again even though they are such different countries and contexts, you have so many similarities. The details might be different, but so many similarities. In Last Christmas, so Santa, she keeps changing her Chinese name depending on whichever job she goes to. So in the Christmas shop, she’s Santa. But when she used to work at a bakery, she was Muffin. She keeps changing it just because her Chinese name is too difficult for British people to pronounce.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Gif from Last Christmas with Santa's character. Text says: When I worked at the pet shop, I called myself Kitty

Parinita: And that reminded me of the experiences of Chinese students in the UK. I don’t know how common this is with Japanese students, but I know Chinese students – and this is something I found strange right in Scotland and even now that a lot of them, it’s like this cultural thing that they adopt an English name when they’re here.

Hibiki: Yes, yes.

Parinita: And I was really uncomfortable about it. Because I was like but it’s your name. We should be the ones who are learning how to pronounce it rather than you changing your whole name.

Hibiki: Yeah. All the Chinese students I met in Leeds also had their own English name. But that wasn’t the case with Japanese students, I think.

Parinita: Yeah. Like I was telling you my class in Scotland, in Glasgow, was really diverse. So it had people from Indonesia, Malaysia and different parts of Asia. And nobody else had this English name. It was just the Chinese students. Which made me feel even more uncomfortable. And that’s the dominance of English again. That people who speak English aren’t made to … face discomfort.

Hibiki: Hmm.

Parinita: Their – our discomfort I guess, not even their because I speak English – is not acceptable. So we don’t have to struggle to learn a name that’s unfamiliar to us. The person whose name is unfamiliar has to change their names to fit into the society, to the country and the university. Of course, I don’t know what Chinese people feel about this. I would love to find out.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: But as an outsider, it makes me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want to do that. I call myself Pari because everybody calls me Pari, not because my name is too difficult to pronounce. Even in India, my mum, my family, everybody calls me Pari. It’s just a nickname. I wouldn’t come to the UK and be expected to change my name to make it easy.

Hibiki: So I was wondering if I should have my English name or not whilst I was there.

Parinita: Oh really?

Hibiki: Yeah but my name is H-I-B-I-K-I.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: So it’s not really hard to pronounce for a native speaker.

Parinita: Yeah.

Hibiki: But every time whenever I was asked my name and I said Hibiki, I usually had to say it several times.

Parinita: Hmm yeah. That’s really interesting because I think it tells a lot about a person how they deal with unfamiliarity either with a name, or food or language or anything. How they respond to it, I think, for me it really matters in how I consider that person and how I think that person is going to treat either me or anybody who is different. Like I said, I’m pretty lucky. I’ve not faced any discrimination, at least that I’m aware of. I might have behind the scenes but everyone has been really nice and strangers have not really – but like you, when I walk on the streets, I am very aware of the colour of my skin. And I am very aware that, “Oh people might be looking at me differently”. Because you can’t tell who’s racist and who’s not right? When you’re walking on the road, you’re like, “Oh this person looks ‘normal’ in air quotes. But they might be super racist so I don’t want to take the risk.” In Last Christmas, that scene where in the bus there’s this white, I think Eastern European, couple and they’re speaking in another language.

Hibiki: Yes.

Parinita: And this white man goes up to them and tells them, “Why don’t you speak English or just get out of my country?!”

Hibiki: Yeah. [laughs]

Parinita: I haven’t faced that. I have an Indian friend in Leeds. She’s also a PhD student and we sometimes mix languages – we call it Hinglish in India. Which is a mix of Hindi and English. So we use phrases from Hindi while we’re speaking in English – mix the two languages together. And at least so far nobody has told us to go back to our own country. But yeah, it’s something that I’m very aware can happen at any time in this country just because of language. Just before we wrap up, are there any final thoughts that you had?

Hibiki: I think changing how white people think about people of different races is important, but also how minority people receive and react to the things happened to you is also very important.

Parinita: That’s such a good point. Because we talk about the effect that it has on preventing racism from the majority people or any sort of discrimination from the majority group. But like you pointed out, there is so much internalised racism and internalised discrimination that you feel inferior because of the media messages that you’ve received. And that’s so important to confront as well. When I watch movies, well for me it’s about gender but also race; race more recently while I’ve been in the UK. When I watch movies that have women creators and women in the central role, that makes such a difference for me. I feel like I’ve been represented either on the page or on screen or whatever. And especially if it’s a brown woman, which is so rare to see in Western media, I feel even more seen. If there’s Indian traditions and Indian customs or whatever on the screen or in the page, it’s so exciting to me. So yeah, you’re so right that I think that’s such an important way of dealing with both majority and minority cultures.

Hibiki: Yeah. So there was a heavyweight boxing match a couple of months ago.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: And that match was between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. Do you know them?

Parinita: No.

Hibiki: Tyson Fury is British and white. And Wilder is American and black.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Hibiki: And I found people commenting on YouTube or somewhere, I forgot. But attacking some people saying, “You support Fury because he’s white or not white” or something like that.

Parinita: Hmm.

Hibiki: And some person was saying that I support Fury just because he’s from Britain and I’m from Britain. Not because Wilder is black or something like that. So I think the minority people you know races or gender or disability or whatever, tend to feel more … tend to get easily angry. Or damaged.

Parinita: Yeah because if you’re so starved for representation … Shaun Lau, an Asian-American guy on Black Girl Nerds, he said that, “The lack of representation in media is so important because it not just affects how people see you but it also affects how you see yourself.” Which is exactly what you said. And it’s exactly the point that you made about other marginalised people, other minority people. I think that now this conversation of diversity is more present everywhere – on the internet, like you were saying in classrooms and wherever, in film studies courses and children’s literature courses in the university, just in the world at large and Hollywood – that I hope there is going to be more room for diverse creators. Not just Asians but also people with disabilities or people with different gender identities and just different religions. Everything. So just we can see all the diversity of life onscreen. Which I think would be a really good way to go moving forward.

Hibiki: Yeah.

Parinita: Thank you so much Hibiki for coming on.

Hibiki: Thank you.

Parinita: And this was such an excellent conversation. I learned a lot just about Japanese culture in general and how different and also similar it is to Indian culture and what I’m used to. So thank you so much for being a part of this project. You were fantastic.

Hibiki: Thank you. That was quite interesting to know about India and about your ideas and thoughts. Thank you.

[Outro music]

You’ve been listening to our episode on representations of race and racism in Hollywood. Have you come across any examples of mainstream movies which challenge traditional representations of diversity? I’d love to add them to my list! Get in touch to let me know. Thanks for introducing me to these movies, and for the company, Hibiki. And thanks as always to Jack for taking care of the editing in the middle of everything else.

[Outro music]

You can now listen to Marginally Fannish on SpotifyAppleGoogle, or SoundCloud. I’d love to hear from you and talk to you – so any feedback, comments or critiques are very welcome! Get in touch with me on social media, leave a comment on my blog, or email me at edps@leeds.ac.uk. If you’d like to follow the podcast or the PhD project, visit my website marginallyfannish.org where you’ll find both the podcast episodes and the blog. You can also receive updates on Facebook or Instagram at Marginally Fannish or on Twitter where I’m @MarginalFannish. If you enjoyed the podcast, please share it with anyone you think will enjoy it too.

Thanks for listening! Tune in again next time for all things fannish and intersectional!

Some Notes On Episode 6 – Resources

Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode.

For Episode 6, “Different Bodies and Different Brains: Depictions of Disability and Ageism in Media” we discussed the following texts:

DISABILITY:

1) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper Representations of Disability with Marissa Lingen

Disabled people are used as props rather than fully fleshed out characters in the media we consume. They are usually sorted into the categories of either bad disabled people or magically super-powerful disabled people. Another troubling trope of disability is the connection between disability and evil characters where even their physical characteristics become ugly to reflect their villainy. There is a severe lack of different incarnations of disabilities in media. Disabilities are always shown at the extremes and this impacts non-disabled people’s reactions to people with invisible or partially visible disabilities in the real world. For example, partially sighted people are assumed to be completely blind and when people find out they’re not, they act as if the partially blind person is lying. The “all or nothing” representation in media is problematic and has real-world impacts. 

Using magic or technology to fix disabilities in fantasy and science fiction is an uncomfortable idea and reeks of eugenics. As Marissa notes, she is aware that some people with autism don’t view it as a disability, just a difference, and don’t want it to be fixed. Marissa criticises Station Eleven for killing off all the disabled characters in a world post a flu apocalypse where people are building this hopeful new society. It’s a book I loved very much and I hadn’t even noticed this while reading it, which reflects my own biases and blind-spots. If your society in the future has no room for people with physical or mental disabilities, what sort of world is that? The characters of Bran versus Hodor in Game of Thrones also have some problematic elements. Physical disability is contrasted by mental disability and this has class implications where Bran’s experiences and life are ultimately more important than the Hodor’s. Another troubling trope is using a disability to provide characters with magical powers – something you see with Bran. 

A lot of abled writers are hesistant writing about disabled characters. The excuse to not write about them is similar to those people not wanting to write about other cultures and races; they are afraid they would inadvertently offend people or wouldn’t be able to do a good job. But researching unfamiliar cultures – such as a specific disability – would help, just like you would research anything else. As Marisa notes, many stories tend to focus on the carers and family members of people with disabilities rather than centreing the experiences of the disabled people; while the former is a valid perspective, it’s not a perspective which sheds light on the lived experience of the person with disabilities.

 

2) Fan podcast – Witch, Please Episode Rho: Live and Professional at Tufts University

One of the podcasters points out that superficial research leads to stereotyped characters with disabilities – so many similarities between race, caste, disability, age representations – basically anything that’s marginalised in mainstream media and culture. 

Neurodivergent and autistic fans read themselves into the story – much like people of the races who aren’t dominant in their society and in canon. Some fans reads Hermione and Luna as autistic. Hermione for being socially awkward who doesn’t fit in, and is a know-it-all; Luna for talking without considering the social situation, not conforming to normative ideas and conversations, being dismissed for being loony. Furthermore, one of the podcasters reads Luna as both autistic and sight-disabled – intersections of physical and mental disabilities. One of the podcasters also reads Anne of Green Gables as neurodiverse for similar reasons. I love these readings and can even identify with some of them since I identify with all three characters. 

Another similarity is how fans with disabilities find recognition and understanding in fan communities formed of similarly marginalised groups where they realise that they’re not the only one who sees themselves in a particular character, resulting in a communal understanding of fictional characters. Furthermore, it isn’t necessary that characters with mentally disabilities are only relatable to those who have similar experiences; non-disabled people also can read about different disabilities.

Marginalised people so often tend to get isolated in a dominant group when it comes to disabilities, queerness, trans folks or even race. Ableism is a form of oppression – one can draw parallels between ableism and racism.  

“Oppression dehumanises a person.” 

Disability can be seen as a culture whose members need to assimilate to the dominant culture in order to be respected as equal. This is similar to Asians, black people, indigenous and Latinx people integrating to the dominant norm the US. I never considered this idea before! There’s also intersectionality within the disability community – people who are girls, Latinx and black are identified as autistic much later due to medical biases. 

Neville’s parents are stuck in St. Mungo’s forever. Their trauma is never explored as is own thing; it’s only understood through Neville. They are dehumanised in many different ways through their loss of agency and selfhood. With Lupin, there’s the intersection of disability and queerness. He is coded as a gay man who gets the magical world version of HIV. Tonks could easily be genderfluid – again, something I never thought about – especially if Lupin and Tonks are both read as queer. 

Being a Squib in the Potterverse can be seen as a magical disability – the three Squibs we meet are Argus Filch, Mrs Figgs, Ariana Dumbledore (whose disability is implied to be trauma-induced). Filch is seen as a “defective wizard” similar to how people with disabilities are seen as defected humans by some people. Both disabled people and Squibs are stigmatised by mainstream society and culture. According to the panel, Voldemort can also be read as disabled – psychologically disabled and physically disfigured. This interpretation makes me think of mass shooters where if they’re white, people enquire into their mental background whereas people of different races and religions are held as representatives for their whole race or religion. Albeit Voldemort isn’t pure-blood. One of the panelists talks about how fans read Voldemort as asexual and draw parallels with this and his villainy. The panelist speaks of her own experiences of asexuality and how Voldemort’s coding as asexual is heteronormative. 

Education at Hogwarts isn’t at all prepared for people with different learning abilities – which is especially surprising considering that they have a fair number of Muggle-borns who aren’t used to the magical world at all. Crabbe and Goyle are just dismissed as being stupid. Not being traditionally intelligent seems to mean you’re not valued or are considered worthless. Hagrid can also be seen as an atypical learner who would have benefited from more considerations of his educational needs. Popular culture conversations can be used as a way to include diverse marginalised perspectives, particularly in education where the educator isn’t the only arbiter of knowledge.

“The assumption that if you have a disability, it’s a fate worse than death.” 

Or the assumption that if you have a disability, you must be suffering.

 

3) Video – The Gayly Prophet Disability in the Witching World

I didn’t think of the implications of making Filch the caretaker of the school who is responsible for cleaning up all the different kinds of messes when he has no magic and it would be so much easier for someone with magical abilities to do this. It is an employment opportunity, sure, but pretty terrible all things considering. Surely there would be different routes into employment which don’t involve so much work in often humiliating conditions. No wonder he hates the students! 

I believe what Lark refers to is the social model of disability – the disability itself is a social and structural problem and not the problem of the person with the disabilities. Society needs to be restructured to accommodate different kinds of bodies and brains. 

 

4) Essay – J. K. Rowling Illness and Disability

It’s interesting that Rowling says she’s considered issues of illness and disability right from the beginning of the series, because it’s not explicitly addressed in the series. However, as she herself mentions, there are parallels one can draw between characters and real-life conditions (Lupin’s lycanthropy and HIV infections and Dementors and depression, for example).

On recently rereading the first book, Neville definitely comes across as neurodiverse. He could even be read as someone with dyspraxia or vertigo. He needs a leg up through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room, he isn’t very good at balance and coordination, and is also extremely forgetful. The Gayly Prophet has read him as having ADHD and/or learning disabilities as well. Reading the first book as an adult, the Dursleys’ abuse is so much more noticeable and unsettling – very Roald Dahlesque as The Gayly Prophet pointed out. I’d never thought about the impact of this constant abuse on Harry’s mental well-being. 

Also, surely Hogwarts is terrible for any kind of disability – physical or mental! In the first year, when they are all of eleven years old, their detention not only involves going into a very dangerous forest that is literally forbidden to all students because of how risky it is but they also have to do this in the middle of the night all night?!?!? What sort of school is this?!

The article seems to imply that death, illness, and disability are sort of equivalent; which um … some illnesses sure, but not something like the common cold. The article seems to conflate an injury like a scorpion sting with illness and disability. Regular injuries can be cured but not magical injuries. However, there doesn’t seem to be any mental health provisions which allow people to live in the magical society (for example, Frank and Alice Longbottom). Other disabled characters include Mad-Eye Moody, George Weasley, Lupin with his chronic condition, and Harry’s PTSD in Order of the Phoenix.

I think it’s interesting that Rowling did explore ideas of disability and included disabled characters in her books. But I get the feeling that much like racial diversity in her series, this was very much in terms of an outsider to the culture making superficial efforts at inclusion without any serious considerations of or indeed consultations with people who experience disabilities. 

 

5) Reddit thread – How do physically disabled people travel around Hogwarts?

One commenter seems to suggest that all disabilities are magically fixed when one enters the magical world. However, as Rowling says, this seems to depend on whether the cause is magical or not. Magical effects are harder, if not impossible, to fix (much as a couple of commenters point out by citing Rowling’s Pottermore article). I’m also uncomfortable about the idea that there are magical fixes for disabilities so that they disappear rather than including disabilities and exploring them in the series itself as a way for disabled readers to see themselves in the series – there’s no magical fixes in real life, no? Like in real life, surely the magical society is lacking in making provisions for people with disabilities accessible, thereby othering them and marginalising them. This reminds me of the current Coronavirus implementations. People are now asked to work from home, lectures are moving online, some conferences are being cancelled and online options are being considered. This is what people with disabilities have always wanted – according to the disability rights activists I’ve been reading on Twitter/Facebook. Especially with the technology we have available today, people with disabilities could have easily been included by making systemic accommodations. It’s just that nobody could be bothered or were actively working against it. When forced by a pandemic, suddenly everything seems possible. 

I love all the in-depth conversations and theories that some fans have come up with on the thread to explore the missing gaps in the books:  

“But folks in wheelchairs function perfectly fine in our society for the most part, better since we started designing a lot of places to take their needs into account, and that’s just normal, non magical real life/muggleland where our solutions are limited by our technology. Wheelchairs are cheap and effective. I’d imagine that if there is any form of paraplegia in HP that can’t be magically solved, they could rig up some alternate form of locomotion fairly easily that was much better than a wheelchair (someone would surely have the necessary skills and be willing to do it for money if not out of the goodness of their heart). Like a magical set of leg braces that walked for you. Or a floaty chair, or a really comfy broom.” – noydbshield

 

“Wheelchairs are for muggles. Disabled wizards probably have broomchairs that take them wherever they want to go. Trick staircases are no match for their powers of levitation.” – TheFeury

 

“Worth mentioning that some people don’t want their disability cured. There are those, primarily those who have been disabled since birth, who see it as a part of their identity and would not take a cure if offered. It’s more common in people with high functioning autism, who see what others would consider a problem as a difference in human experience.

It’s not a viewpoint I understand, I’d chuck my wheelchair out at the first opportunity. But it exists. And presumably the magical world wouldn’t force a cure on someone who didn’t want it.” – Destruct-o-Bun

As someone else pointed out, people need glasses in Hogwarts. And it’s such a small thing but glasses not only very much help with my inability to see without them but are also very much a part of my identity. Someone thinks it’s similar to the real world where the eye lens is changing as a teenager and laser surgery is only recommended in your 20s. However, as someone else responds, Dumbledore, Flitwick and McGonagall are definitely older and they still wear glasses. 

“Maybe the children can’t get corrective charms until they stop growing. Maybe the adults that have glasses are wearing them for other purposes, like they’re enchanted to help them see other stuff.” – hybbprqag

 

“Exactly. And why is laser surgery expensive? Because it’s difficult to do.

The eye is very complicated, certainly more complicated than teeth, and there are different types of sight impairment, so I wouldn’t at all be surprised if that type of magic was very difficult to do. Even in the wizarding world, complicated enchantments make for expensive products and services.” – Drajons

 

“I think this too. Possibly medical stuff is free for kids? Dental work on my country is free until we hit 18, then they start charging. I would imagine that medical and dental work will still cost money? Just like most things. I think some people might have a talent for small charms to fix things, the way Luna fixed Harry’s nose, but bigger spells likely require years of education. If spells were so easy to learn, they wouldn’t need 7 years of schooling? They’d just need one year to master the swish and flick of their wand then could just be sent on their merry way with a spell book or two.

I like to think that if my Records hadn’t been destroyed and my Hogwarts letter had arrived, I would be a witch seamstress 🙂 is still charge for my work lol” – MelMelMax

 

I think the main reason we don’t hear about disabled students in Hogwarts is because it’s very unlikely for a child to have been cursed with such dark magic that their injury would be incurable (not counting Harry’s scar), and a curse like that would be the most likely cause for an incurable physical disability in the magical world. – earth199999citizen

 

I think this is a really interesting topic to discuss. So here’s what I’d add to what’s already been said :

  • How likely is it that disabled students would go away to a boarding school that doesn’t have specific provision for additional care needs?

  • If bad eye sight can’t be cured (Harry’s not the only one who starts glasses) can other impairments, however severe?

  • I once read a fan fiction about a student who used a wheelchair. If she needed to get somewhere inaccessible (eg up steps, into the train) she’d levitate herself (by pointing her wand at herself) then levitate the wheelchair. – caret-top 

 

Even if there are disabled wizards/witches that need to use wheelchairs, I’m sure the magic community could have easily created a product that uses hover charms and the like to help users navigate rough terrain. All a chair would need really is to hover a few inches above the ground and move that way for them to be able to get around Hogwarts and that seems easily doable. Although, like others have said, I don’t think natural physical disabilities like that are common or not curable via magic. – whatxever 

I think there does need to be more systemic and social accommodations for people with disabilities either physical or mental both in the magical world and the real world. If, as one theory says, the community comes together to help witches and wizards with disabilities, why can’t we do that too?! 

 

6) Article – Harry Potter and the Curse of Disability

What this article explores is why I love fandom so much! When fans love a world so much but also want to address its shortcomings and draw on their own experiences and interests to explore it more deeply and add more inclusivity. You can understand a disability or a person with a disability’s life and experience so much through a story they have written themselves, which is essentially what these fic writers are doing.  We’ve spoken about this before, but that’s why we need to have so much more diversity among creators of media – so far the focus has largely been on race in the West and caste in India, but physical and mental disabilities is also such a huge field to explore. There need to be all kind of stories – where the disability is just a normalised part of the story as well as how characters negotiate with their disabilities 

“La Guera, a disabled fanfic author in her mid-twenties, and author of the multi-chapter Potter fanfic Summon the Lambs to Slaughter. It introduces us to 15-year-old witch Rebecca Stanhope, who transfers to Hogwarts from the Disabled American Institute for Magical Studies. Like the author, Rebecca has CP.” 

“It occurred to me, as I read the books, that JK Rowling has representatives of every race and creed, but she has no disabled students of any kind. It struck me as very sad.”

La Guera doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable bits of cerebral palsy in her story which makes able-bodied readers understand her experiences and circumstances, all using the framework of a fictional magical world. She also doesn’t kowtow to the stereotype of a magical disabled person who has extraordinary skills to make up for their disability. The magic of a person telling their own story! Fanfiction has so much room for these different kinds of stories – people born with disabilities and those who experience disabilities after having lived as an able-bodied person. Even with Harry in canon, I don’t know how he appeared so well-adjusted despite all the abuse and trauma inflicted on him by the Dursleys. I suppose it all caught up to him in Order of the Phoenix. I didn’t even make the connection between PTSD and his anger in the series until I was researching for my master’s dissertation and analysing a Harry Potter Facebook fan page where there was a detailed conversation about this – people drawing on their own experiences and making connections between his experiences and behaviour. 

Fanfic is obviously not perfect, as La Guera acknowledges. Just like in mainstream media, lots of preconceived notions about disabilities and stereotypes may make an appearance too. Just like with writing a story for mainstream publication, if you’re writing a fic about a culture which isn’t your own, that surely warrants just as much sensitivity and research. I also like her point where she feels like able-bodied readers won’t connect with disabled characters in mainstream bookshops. Makes me think how much I’ve gone out of my way to look for characters with disabilities to expand the diversity of my reading – not much, shamefully! It’s not that I think I won’t connect with these characters. I think it’s a blind-spot I haven’t bothered addressing. The few children’s books I have read which have disability as the background, I’ve appreciated the inclusion very much … but apparently not enough to go looking for more?

 

AGE: 

7) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper Maiden, Mother, and Crone: Ageism in Genre Fiction

In children’s literature too, wouldn’t young readers read about cool old people? Even if they’re co-protagonists? Perhaps even the sole protagonist? As one of the hosts says from her own experience, children don’t mind watching TV shows featuring older characters. Reminds me of the David Walliams book Gangsta Granny which is making this idea more accessible to mainstream audiences. I also recently read and fell in love with My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises which features a brilliantly mad old grandmother and her seven-year-old granddaughter. Ostensibly it’s a book for adults; however, as one of the 11-year-old reviewers on Goodreads points out, adults shouldn’t make assumptions about whether or not kids will enjoy the book and consequently overlook it (the reviewer in question enjoyed the book). As someone on the podcast says, I do love Pratchett’s old witches – Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg – they’re some of my favourite characters. Stereotypes are presented but subverted and they very good role models too (even if we, unlike them, don’t have magic). Dumbledore is also a fascinatingly complex, flawed character whose life and experiences we understand in great depth rather than just this superficially wise older mentor. 

Can older characters not go on adventures? Surely that’s a bit of a cop-out. You don’t need to write older characters as just young people in old bodies. I think including their experiences and struggles would make for an interesting story – new challenges to explore. Someone on the podcast proposes that young people make good fantasy protagonists because they’re discovering the magical world anew. But it would be an interesting concept to flip this a bit and have older people discover a new fantasy world too when they’re pretty confident and sure of how the world works and now have to negotiate with a new world. Like if a 72-year-old discovers Hogwarts either accidentally or because, as millions of us hope, their letter was lost in the mail. Or if it’s an old Muggle who discovers it by accident. Or if it’s set in future world, perhaps an older person having to contend with a new future world and new technology and politics and social and cultural environments. I mean even with this Coronavirus pandemic, we’re all getting to know a new world right now. A world that may become increasingly common with the climate crisis and related effects. Just like young and middle-aged people, surely there are different kinds of old people too.

As one of the hosts says, old is quite contextual historically and geographically – some people live much older or die much younger based on the current social and political circumstances. Much like disability, age is also a blind-spot for me. I appreciate the inclusion of a diversity of characters but again, I haven’t really made an effort to actively go out and look for books with specifically those characters. Over the last year, I’ve been trying more or less actively to read fantasy books written by women. It started off unconsciously, then a little more actively, and now I find that I tend to be drawn to them just naturally because I’ve found that I much prefer these books written by women because I feel like they’ve centred women’s experiences at the forefront in a way which fills me with delight. 

 

8) Fan podcast – Woke Doctor Who The Women Who Waited

Ideas about age and disability are particularly pertinent to me with this COVID-19 outbreak where the fatalities are largely among older people and people with underlying health issues. Social distancing is being employed as a way to protect them; at the same time, there are people panic buying or even going on as business as usual without thinking of the ramifications of their actions or inaction on these groups. Some supermarkets in the UK are now opening the shops only to older people for an hour in the morning to avoid the masses of panic-buyers. Panic buying has SO many class, race, age implications. All the Indian and other world food aisles and shops seem strangely untouched. Qwhite interesting. 

Mainstream media, society, culture seems to value youth. Older/old women are associated with bitterness – even for someone like me who can’t wait to grow older because of all the exciting new experiences I’ll have, it’s difficult not to prey fall to a feeling of panic when everyone in society is telling you to panic – anti-ageing creams, hair dyes to hide the white hair (I’ve had white hair since I was about 13 – it’s only becoming greyer now. I don’t feel the need to dye my hair to hide the white – only to be purple or something). Most of these anti-ageing remedies seem to be marketed to women more than men. It’s even worse when you add other intersections of identities with age – queerness, race, disability, nationality, class, religion. I’m now also thinking of how this impacts participation in in-person activism like Shaheen Bagh. 

Romance between older characters is also rare in mainstream media – it’s not something I considered until they pointed it out and appreciated the relationship between Peter Capaldi and River Song. The show also initially pits Sarah Jane against Rose – age versus youth – showcasing the bitterness of older woman. Amy Pond does give birth but we don’t see her as a mother due to wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. Donna received critique as a companion on the show initially because people had grown used to “young, hot companions”. Portrayal of Donna’s attraction was played off as comedy while River’s attraction is seen as powerful. 

“We need to be comfortable as a society to see old people – older people in heroic roles.” – Eugenia 

Older people just like people with disabilities are desexualised in mainstream imagination. Older people are perceived to have outlived their attractiveness, people with disabilities are seen as defective – both are seen as lesser than people who are the norm. Life shouldn’t be seen as stopping after a certain age or if your body or brain aren’t society’s idea of perfect.

 

9) Essay – TV Tropes and Ageism: How Kids’ Pop Culture Promotes Discrimination

The essay talks specifically of popular culture’s impact on age-based discrimination, but as the whole core of this podcast and project explores, popular culture and media is responsible for influencing attitudes about so many marginalised communities. There’s also the intersection of age and gender where older women are erased or sidelined in media whereas older men still seem to retain power in society. In Doctor Who, while the Doctors began as old men (in the original series), the female companions tended to be younger and there to provide a damsel in distress character  (for the most part, according to Inside The Tardis). In the new series, we’ve had one older male Doctor but most of the companions have been young women. This is why I love both Donna and River Song who are not old but older compared to the other companions in the show. And now there’s Graham as well as well as Doctor Ruth. 

In Harry Potter, Dumbledore is the classic old white man mentor. But as one of the podcast episodes I listened to on Witch, Please said, McGonagall isn’t described to be particularly old. It’s the movies which have influenced our understanding of the character. In a children’s book, I suppose it makes sense if young people have all the agency and question the authority of older adults. As real life has shown, we adults frequently don’t know what we’re doing, especially those in charge of how the world and its systems function. In Anne With An E, great-aunt Josephine was excellently badass. I loved seeing Marilla and Matthew and Rachel’s interactions too – centering their experiences in the show. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Uncle Iroh was one of my favourites as well. 

In fandom, ageism may work the other way where younger people’s interests and practices are dismissed by older adults. However, within these platforms populated by younger people, they may not appreciate older fans in what they consider their space. 

As the article points out and as is reflected in mainstream media and culture, older women are seen as crazy for subverting expectations of how they’re supposed to behave and live. I think there’s an empowering potential here, but surely craziness should be the norm. Do what you want now that the burden of looking after others and bowing to their demands is largely unnecessary? And should this freedom not be available to younger women too? 

Again, we need to have more older people writing books for both younger readers as well as adult readers to combat stereotypes and undo ingrained social conditioning – same goes with media. Diversity of all kinds just makes life so much more interesting!

I think with the climate crisis and even now with the pandemic, we need to work together as a community, which in many cases means first developing that community and looking after those who are most vulnerable. This is both the very young and the very old and the in-between ones with disabilities and health conditions. Jack thinks the pandemic will force us to restructure our social system even in the future because we’re now being forced to do it and will see that it works. I really hope that’s true!

 

10) Doctor Who episode – Series 12 Episode 7 Can You Hear Me?

Some thoughts on the episode:

  • The show starts with a mental clinic in Syria 1380. Implies a relatively enlightened way in which they treated mental health problems. 
  • Fears being dismissed as mental illness – but turns out to be aliens. For people who are going through the anxiety or paranoia or depression or hallucinations, feels very real. I couldn’t help but think of my neighbour and how we discovered he has paranoid schizophrenia after one night where he had a breakdown and his partner had to call the police. 
  • Mental illness as metaphor – aliens representing this. 
  • But the episode also showed different expressions of illness and different ways of dealing with it
  • Ryan’s friend – good glimpse of male support and friendship when dealing with mental illness
  • Graham’s male friendships and how they’re looking after each other 
  • Mental wellness during the Coronavirus quarantine – even for otherwise healthy people is something that’s at the forefront of the discourse in many parts of the internet 
  • Yaz and Sonya celebrating the anniversary of Yaz’s recovery – or at least her first step towards recovery in being dissuaded from an implied suicide attempt  
  • The image of this old white dude being responsible for all their problems really made me laugh
  • Ryan and dyspraxia – as Robert mentioned in the episode we recorded, dyspraxia is both physical and mental 
  • Yaz’s implied suicide attempt. In the nightmare sister says, “Do it right this time. I won’t be calling anyone. No point. You’re weak.” What people’s brains say to them and the different ways your brain can be your worst enemy
  • Yaz doesn’t think anybody cares about her. She’s bullied in school. Just having someone to talk to you and say “I understand.” Asking for help can be the most difficult step
  • Graham’s double fears – cancer returning and his deceased wife Grace holding him responsible for her death and being unable to save her
  • The episode made me incredibly weepy!
  • I wonder if the metaphorical mental illness representation bothers people with mental illness the same way we complain about representations of race in metaphorical ways
  • Casual diversity – interracial villain who are actually a couple of aliens
  • Tahera’s nightmares become real so she conquers her fear and uses it against her immortal tormentors
  • Group therapy that Ryan’s friend tries out – going out to the supermarket just as an opportunity to talk to someone – the link between isolation, loneliness, and mental health – and how this is being exacerbated during the lockdown 
  • I didn’t like the ending where Jodie is so useless with Graham’s worries and him opening up to her – although I suppose that’s a risk of opening up to someone too and having someone open up to you

Growing Comfortable With Discomfort – Part 3

Even before I began the project, all my research prepared me for the fact that a lot of my initial plans will seem naive in hindsight and I’ll need to be willing to adapt and be flexible throughout all stages of the research project. I’ve tried to keep this in mind as I’ve met with unanticipated aspects throughout the project (some of which I’ve written about previously). Since this whole process is an educational one, even for myself, I’ve looked forward to learning from my mistakes – or even just learning another perspective. At the same time, whenever I first encountered an alteration in plans, my initial reaction would inadvertently be resistance. I was unsure what degree of change was allowed in my project not only based on early plans but also based on what I’d discussed with my supervisors and with the ethical review committee. However, four months in, I’ve become more comfortable and flexible changing some aspects of the project – despite what my initial thoughts were.

1) Editing out awkward bits in the episode 

When I first planned the podcast, I wanted to preserve the “authenticity” of my conversation with co-participants and not edit the episode too heavily. While I’m still onboard with this in terms of the actual content of the conversation, I’ve grown far more comfortable in marking filler phrases, pauses, stutters and fumbles to be edited out – not just my own but also of my co-participants. While my allegiance remains with the DIY aesthetic of the PhD project (where the quality of the podcast isn’t as important as the conversations themselves), I realise that making it easy to listen to is something which will help make it more accessible and approachable to more people. I’ve also become more confident in editing the transcript to filter the awkward bits out so that for those who prefer reading to listening, the experience is as easy and comfortable as possible.

2) Not doing the actual editing myself 

This is something I’ve been uncomfortable about right from the beginning – the fact that the technical editing is done by Jack, my partner. Jack offered to do this even before I launched the podcast; even though he had never edited audio before, he was confident in his abilities to experiment and figure it out. I was hesitant for two reasons – i) I didn’t want to impose on his time and hold him accountable to my self-imposed deadlines; and ii) I wasn’t sure that I should be getting outside help for any aspect of my project rather than doing everything myself. Initially, I went along with this plan purely as a time-saving exercise. I quickly learned that the podcast recording itself was the least time-consuming part of the episode process – the pre-production (wherein I shortlist texts and organise the episode) and the post-production (marking edits, transcript, intro/outro, publishing) took up much more of my time – about a week. If I added editing to the mix, my already-ambitious timescale would have been delayed and it would add to my overall stress. Lately, however, I’m growing increasingly comfortable with this. The time which is saved is still the most important bit – while I mark out the edits themselves after typing the transcript, Jack does the actual editing on Audacity – while he’s doing that, I can focus on other tasks which need to be done. Additionally, Jack responds to our conversation while editing with his own insights, examples, and experiences as a fan. As a Scottish man who grew up in a small town outside Glasgow, his perspectives and even the media examples are very different from my own knowledge. The conversations we have are interesting and illuminating – conversations which may not have happened had he not been in-charge of the editing. In Episode 7 about the representations of different cultures in fantasy media, he pointed to an episode about encountering unfamiliar food in Star Trek (which is science fiction not fantasy, but the point still held) which made it to the episode’s outro and transcript. Now, I like the idea of expanding the idea of co-creating the project by involving other perspectives than my own in the production process.

3) Using other fan podcasts

For every episode, I suggest some fan texts (mostly fan podcast episodes) for both my co-participants and I to look at to structure our own conversations. I also encourage my co-participants to share their own texts based on their interests and priorities. In the beginning, I was determined only to include those fan podcasts who had provided me with explicit permission to use their podcasts in my research in this way. However, after recording nine episodes of Marginally Fannish, I’ve realised that the ways in which we’ve included these episodes are usually only as discussion prompts to structure our episode and give us topics to talk about or to refer to when they introduce us to new ideas. While I had initially thought that we would be analysing these fan podcast episodes in our podcast, that hasn’t been the case. Furthermore, my co-participants present their own contributions of fan texts, where it isn’t feasible to garner permission from all those involved (this is excluding Breaking The Glass Slipper podcast, which one of my co-participants suggested in Episode 3, and which I then included in my research as a general fandom podcast – after getting in touch with the creators). For some of the upcoming episodes, I’ve included fan podcasts where I haven’t heard from the creators despite getting in touch with them twice before beginning my project. I believe that as far as we’re not analysing or critiquing the podcasts themselves and only using them as references or discussion prompts, it isn’t unethical to use these publicly available fan texts to inform our own ideas and discussions.

4) Co-participants not going through all the fan texts 

When I first began the podcast, I assumed it would be best for my co-participants and I to go through the same fan texts so that we have a common starting point to base our conversation on. At the same time, I was wary of giving my co-participants extra “homework” which they may not have the time or inclination for. I tried to create room for their opinions about this format after they signed participant consent forms. All of them agreed to go along with the format. However, when I started recording, I soon realised that some participants did go through the texts while others didn’t. I was initially uncomfortable about this but chose to ignore it since our conversations were still based on what both the co-participants and I were interested in talking about. After one participant revealed that they were uncomfortable about my choice of texts and the process of going through the texts themselves however, I’ve been much warier of placing the “burden” of these texts and this format on my co-participants. Since then, I’ve made it clear in emails that my co-participants are under no obligation to go through all or any of the texts I’ve suggested. If the participants prefer, we can just have an informal conversation without any resources structuring the episode. I still use the texts since they help me put my thoughts together but my co-participants are no longer required to do this, especially if they already have thoughts about the topic we’re exploring in our episode.

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