A PhD project exploring intersectionality through fan podcasts

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Tag: Cultural imperialism

Episode 18 We’ve Been Featured! Finally!: Questioning Cultural Norms in Mainstream Fantasy Books

Episode Resources:

1) Fan podcast – Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: Special Edition Owl Post and Marya Bangee (listen from 19 minutes 40 seconds till the end of the episode)

2) Tumblr post – Imagine A Muslim Witch

3) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper: Cultural Traditions of Magic

4) Article – Through Sci-fi And Fantasy, Muslim Women Authors Are Building New Worlds

 

Episode Transcript

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

Illustration of a brown girl with blue glasses dressed in Ravenclaw house robes. She's holding an open book and looking up at a black cat on her shoulder

[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 eighteenth episode of Marginally Fannish. In this episode, I talk to Aisha about diverse cultures in some of our favourite fantasy media. As fangirls from the UAE and India, we also explore a non-Western perspective of the Potterverse.

A lot of popular fantasy has emerged from the UK and taken over our imaginations. However, the dominance of English in these globally popular books can act as a barrier for non-native speakers of the language. This language barrier also exists in fandom where limited English-language abilities restrict your access to online fan spaces. The politics of language and traditions in mainstream SFF and fandom – specifically what’s the norm and what’s othered – has broad cultural implications. Readers from non-Eurocentric cultures often have to work extra hard to understand unfamiliar contexts and references. Moreover, a diet of primarily Western books with meagre diversity leaves many fans unable to imagine ourselves in our favourite worlds.

Increasingly, however, fans from different countries and cultures are beginning to question ideas of which languages and cultures are automatically deemed superior. Fans navigate linguistic and technological limitations to carve out local-language fan spaces which bring together their multiple identities. Discussions about cultural imperialism and cultural assimilation in fictional worlds like Harry Potter encourage fans to draw parallels between the tokenistic ways in which Western media depicts diverse groups. Conversations about which cultural norms are respected and what we’d like to see more of allow fans to challenge textual limitations and decolonise our minds. A growing number of writers are creating narratives which move beyond the Eurocentric norm in mainstream SFF. Normalising cultural diversity can disrupt previously taken-for-granted assumptions and enable fans to imagine ourselves in fantastical worlds.

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

Happy listening!

[Intro music]

Parinita: Today I’m so thrilled to welcome fellow bookworm and Harry Potter fangirl Aisha to the podcast. Aisha is a fan from Dubai who has always identified herself as a reader. She loves reading everything from classics to fantasy to manga and comic books. She’s a fan of a lot of media but she mostly identifies with the Harry Potter fandom. She also loves Japanese anime and manga. As someone who’s grown up in India, I’m so excited to be able to talk to someone who comes from such a different background from me but we still have so many things in common. I’m also a huge reader, I used to write fanfiction, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and I’m into fandom. So in this episode, we’re going to be focusing on different cultural identities in fantasy worlds. But before we get to that, Aisha, could you tell us about some of your encounters as a fan in Dubai?

Aisha: Yes, absolutely. I’m very happy to be in this interview as well and to find someone who has the same passion for fandoms and who has the same passion for reading that is not exactly from let’s say the Western world or from the United States or from the UK and so on.

Parinita: Absolutely!

Aisha: So I’m very happy to meet you. Let me talk to you a little bit about my encounter with Harry Potter in specific. So my brother used to go to a private school where the medium of instruction was English. His English teacher actually recommended the kids to read Harry Potter when it just came out. I think it was back in 1998. He got the book but he didn’t get into it really. I was older than him and at the time I was probably in seventh grade. I tried to read the book but I couldn’t. It was a bit difficult for me as a non-native speaker of English, so I stopped reading. I remember the first chapter having to do with owls and so on. But I really couldn’t get what was the whole point. And with English sometimes if something is too difficult to read or too difficult to understand, it really demotivates you from reading.

Parinita: Yeah and the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is particularly difficult

Aisha: Yes.

Parinita: I did this reading programme in a school in Mumbai and a lot of the kids there were first-generation English speakers so a lot of them weren’t very comfortable with the language. And they knew I was a huge Harry Potter fangirl because I have a 9 ¾ tattoo on my wrist as well.

Aisha: [laughs]

Parinita: So they’d want to know what that meant. And I had introduced them to Harry Potter. And I’d tell them to stick with the book past the first chapter because the first chapter, especially if you know nothing about the world, if you know nothing about the UK or British culture, it’s really difficult to get through.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Or British references and things, it’s really difficult.

Aisha: No absolutely. I agree. I wish I had someone who would tell me that.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: I would have been reading it earlier. It was that and it was also me not really knowing that it’s okay not to understand every word and every vocabulary. I remember trying to look up words in the dictionary while I was reading.

Parinita: Oh!

Aisha: For me it was just that difficult. It wasn’t within my English language abilities.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: And at the time, I really didn’t know or I didn’t really realise that sometimes it’s okay not to understand each and every word. You have to understand the context not necessarily each vocabulary or each term that you see.

Parinita: Just based on that, sorry I’ll let you get back to your Harry Potter origin story, but do you find that – this is something that I find a lot because I’m the same as you even though English is my first language. I’ve been reading since I was five or six years old, and I read a lot of British children’s books as well. So I grew up reading Enid Blyton who’s this really popular English author and she’s also really popular in India. So by the time I’d encountered Harry Potter when I was about ten, I had an idea of the culture even though it was all foreign to me. The words and the food – everything. They call sweaters jumpers.

Aisha: Yeah. [laughs]

Parinita: Which took me many years to realise what that means. But I would just read it and when I encountered those words in many different books, I could sort of build a contextual understanding of it. So I’d have a vague idea of what it means but I wouldn’t know how to pronounce unfamiliar words. Even if I knew what the word meant through the books that I read but because I encountered those words through books and not through someone telling me, there’s still so many English words that I mispronounce.

Aisha: No I get you. I think with Harry Potter particularly there are also some made-up words.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Aisha: Or words that are influenced by Latin or by other languages which is particularly difficult if there’s no equivalence to it in the dictionary.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: So pronouncing it, reading it – yeah I get why I didn’t get into reading it at the very beginning when it first stared. It wasn’t within my ability honestly to read it. I feel even if I had continued beyond the first chapter, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it or understood it.

Parinita: Yeah. So how then did you return to Harry Potter and fall in love with it?

Aisha: So how did I return … Basically, we ignored the book. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: It was sitting on our shelf [laughs] for a couple of more years until the first movie came out back in 2001.

Parinita:  Aaah! Yeah.

Aisha: And my dad who remembered that he got us the book that we didn’t read –

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: He was like okay let me take you to the movie. So we watched the first movie and I absolutely loved it. And I was like, “You know what? Now I understand the context, let me go and check out the book. I might actually enjoy it.” And I found it much easier to understand. I mean to be honest, I was also older. Probably my English had also improved by that time.

Parinita: Right.

Aisha: So I gave it a shot. It was really easy reading; it was a breeze to be honest. Especially after seeing the movie and knowing all those terms – what did they mean and so on.  And then within that one year, I read up to where the books were published, which I believe were the fourth book?

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: I read until the fourth book in 2001. And I’ve been a fan ever since.

Parinita: That’s amazing! So I’m wondering whether you had the experience then of waiting really excitedly for the fifth book.

Aisha: Yes!

Parinita: Is that something you experienced as well?

Aisha: See I was a little bit lucky because I think when I read the fourth book, it was 2001. And I think the fifth book came out in 2002. Am I right? I remember not waiting too long for the fifth book.

Parinita: Yeah. I don’t remember the exact year but I yeah I’d also caught up with it because I started reading when I was ten, and then I think for a few more years like the second and third and fourth book. And the fifth book wasn’t yet out. And I have this very firm memory of growing up with Harry.

Aisha: Hmm.

Parinita: He was the same age as I was when I started reading the books so he turned eleven and when I was eleven and then twelve and thirteen. So I think it might have been like mid-2000s or early 2000s for sure because I was so excited to know what was going to happen in The Order of the Phoenix.

Aisha: Yeah. Because I remember not waiting that long. I only waited a year probably.

Parinita: So was it really popular in Dubai, the books?

Aisha: By that time it was popular. It was very easy to find the books in English and so on. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was read by Arabs in Dubai.

Parinita: Hmm.

Aisha: Most of the people who read it were also Native speakers of English.

Parinita: You mean the international immigrants in Dubai were reading it?

Aisha: Yeah. The international residents mostly. But it was probably also different because I was in a public school where English was taught as a foreign language rather than as a medium

Parinita: Aaah!

Aisha: of ???

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: From my experience I didn’t have anyone at school who used to read the book. Except for one friend who I pushed her to read it. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah.

Aisha: Other than that I don’t remember any other classmates

Parinita: Oh I have this same experience of pushing people in my school to read the books because I wanted someone to talk to about these books and just nobody seemed to love the books as much as I did. I was obsessed with these books and I wanted to play with people like games that were inspired from the books or talk about theories and things. Because now there’s so much that we take for granted in Harry Potter and especially kids who are starting to read it now, they have all seven books.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: There’s no mystery that they have to wait for to find out what happens. I remember all the theories that I had and I wanted someone to share them with. But everyone seemed to just read the books and then get on with their life.

Aisha: Yeah. [laughs]

Parinita: Whereas for me, I wanted to read the books and make that a part of my life.

Aisha: Exactly! No, exactly, I get you. Yes.

Parinita: Which is why online fandom was such a revelation to me. So we had these things called cyber cafes in Mumbai.

Aisha: Yeah, I remember.

Parinita: I didn’t have a computer at home when I was thirteen. I got my first computer when I was sixteen. Me and my friend, we used to go to this cyber café for half an hour, an hour. And I just randomly stumbled onto this chat room which was dedicated to Harry Potter. And I was like oh my god there are other people who love Harry Potter as much as me! But they were all foreigners. They were all Western – at least from my understanding. Because they also all seemed American, not even British.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Yeah so that was my first encounter with online fandom.

Aisha: I found myself stumbling across online fandoms as well. But I also had people within my own network who also read the books but mostly family. I have a cousin actually who started reading it before me. And I had a family friend, a daughter of a family friend who also used to read the book. And she read it before the movie was out. And they actually got me into reading it as well. So I wouldn’t say I necessarily didn’t have any face to face networking fandoms.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: I did have that but if we’re talking about school in specific or friends my age and so on, no I really didn’t have. Except for that friend whom I urged to read.

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah.

Aisha: So I did stumble upon Harry Potter forums. One of them is still going on by the way.

Parinita: Oh really?

Aisha: Yeah I still receive emails from them.

Parinita: Oh amazing.

Aisha: Like you said, it was mostly an international forum and I felt like the people who were there, the way in which they discussed things were not necessarily things that I understood. Maybe because again I wasn’t very confident with the level of English that I had.

Parinita: And it’s not just the English, right? It’s the cultural references and all these things that make up a language. It’s not just the vocabulary. You might be great at the vocabulary but not able to hold a conversation that includes all the cultural aspects as well.

Aisha: Yeah, no I get it. For example sometimes people would do jokes or puns and I wouldn’t necessarily understand where those are coming from. I mean it took me forever to understand what Potterhead means. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah I’m completely with you. So I know we’re going to be talking about fandom more a little bit later. But just before we get to that, I wanted to talk about how while popular Western fantasy has taken over the world and our imaginations – not just you and me, but a lot of global imaginations.

Aisha: Um hmm.

Parinita: In our day-to-day lives, we tend to encounter our own cultural traditions of fantasy and storytelling as well and mix that with magic from our favourite fictional worlds. So I was really curious, what are some of the stories and ideas of magic that you grew up with in Dubai?

Aisha: Mostly magic had to do with stories of One Thousand and One Nights. Like Arabian Nights where there’s magic and you have the magic lamp or the magic carpet and you have stories of genies and so on. But I would say those are not also not necessarily contextual, those are more like broad Arab stories. I mean they’re not necessarily local inspired. If I’m talking about my Emirati or Dubai local inspired stories, we have a lot of stories that have to do with ghosts and spirits, some stories about witches or wizards and so on. But usually it’s a bit dark. It has to do with dark magic and black magic. Usually those fables or those folklore stories were told to children so that they would either listen to their moms and dads or they would not trust strangers and so on.

Parinita: Yeah!

Aisha: They’re as dark as the Grim Reaper kind of stuff.

Parinita: So similar again to India. Because I grew up with the Arabian Nights as well so magic carpets and all didn’t seem exotic [laughs] like this foreign thing. I was just re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire recently. There’s this person called Ali Bashir who wants to import flying carpets to the UK because he thinks there’s a market for a family vehicle. But in the UK, it’s illegal because obviously British magicians prefer uncomfortable Portkeys and Floo Networks and things. A magic carpet would be so comfortable! It would be like taking an aeroplane from one place to another. But yeah we had the same where ghosts and witches and things were not these friendly Harry Potter ghosts and witches.

Aisha: Yeah!

A scene featuring a Portkey from the Fantastic Beasts films

A scene of Harry using Floo powder to travel in the Chamber of Secrets movie

Parinita: They were used to scare children. Not only adults scared children but we scared each other as well.

Aisha: [laughs]

Parinita: These witches with feet backwards who would –

Aisha: Yeah! We had similar things. One of the most famous stories is … I don’t know if it’s a ghost story or even a spirit that is half-woman and half-donkey.

Parinita: Oh! Interesting.

Aisha: Who kidnaps kids during afternoon – I don’t know in India, do you have siesta or napping? Afternoon napping?

Parinita: In some parts of the country, yeah.

Aisha: Because it’s part of our culture as well. And so to make sure that children don’t run out of the house during those times –

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: They would tell children those stories. So usually you’d think an evil spirit would come at night, right?

Parinita: Yeah!

Aisha: But no, this one comes at around 12 noon.

Parinita: [laughs] Oh my god.

Aisha: So those were the stories, yeah.

Parinita: I think Asian parents, whichever country you’re from, are the same. [laughs] Because India has this as well … I guess Western parents might be or maybe it’s also a generational thing where now they don’t want to damage the child’s psychological wellbeing.

Aisha: [laughs]

Parinita: Whereas with us, it was like, “No, no. A ghost will kidnap you or eat you. Or this vampire in a tree will take you away and feast on your body.”

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: It was all a part of childhood. And even now, my boyfriend is Scottish and he’s a very rational sort of person. Doesn’t believe in ghosts and things. And I’m like look, rationally I can say that ghosts don’t exist but I am scared of ghosts.

Aisha: [laughs]

Parinita: Because what if they don’t know they’re supposed to not exist you know? And what if they come up to me … it’s very difficult to unlearn these things that you grow up with.

Aisha: Yeah! No, I get you. If we’re talking about fantasy, those are the sort of stories that we grew up with. Mostly folktales.

Parinita: Yeah. We had folktales as well with a lot of talking animals and things.

Aisha: Hmm!

Parinita: That was a huge part of our folktales and these oral storytelling traditions that have been around, at least in India, since two thousand years or so. And they’re being passed down and now they’ve become stories for children which I don’t think they originally were. But now folktales in India as well as fairy tales in the West, they’re very much seen to be a children’s storytelling thing.

Aisha: Yeah. I mean when you look at Brothers what do you call it – is it Brothers Grimm?

Parinita: Um hmm.

Aisha: If you look at the original stories, you won’t necessarily think that the audience are kids, right? Or children. It’s so dark.

Parinita: Yeah. And I think they had a similar purpose as well like what you were saying about kids, but in the fairy tales with the Brothers Grimm and stuff I think it was for everybody. Warnings to be careful of the world around you basically but using stories to impart that message. I don’t know if it was similar in Dubai, but in India, these stories I wouldn’t really think of as fantasy. I mean it’s not like a history of fantasy traditions as much as just a part of our cultural tradition.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: There’s no distinction between one or the other. It’s just something that we grow up with. At some points I don’t even know where I got these ideas from, these stories from. It’s just something that in day-to-day life adults or friends, whoever, would tell me these things.

Aisha: Yeah, I get you absolutely. And that’s why sometimes, like you said, are they really fantasy or are they just fairy tales or folktales? I don’t really know, yeah.

Parinita: Yeah, it’s difficult to bifurcate it like that. Just getting back a little to what we spoke about earlier about language and how language is political. So obviously which language dominates and which traditions are considered “normal” in mainstream science fiction and fantasy as well as in fandom, they obviously have a lot of cultural implications, right? Because currently English and Western culture have a huge influence globally. But Muslim history and Indian history has also contributed to global social and political events and scientific and technological advancements and art and culture as well. Though this is largely overlooked on the world stage. When we talk about these things, we don’t really talk so much about Indian or Muslim contributions. So in terms of the dominance of language specifically what have you observed in fandom and media?

Aisha: Oh again like you said, in order to access those platforms, the language that is spoken is English. If you have good English, then you have access to those outlets. And if your English is limited, then there’s a limitation for you to get into those fandoms, to get access into those things, to fandoms basically. I feel you have to be a speaker of English specifically.

Parinita: And also you have this then sense of – and this is something I’m still unlearning – this sense of English being equated with being a superior language just because of the kind of influence that it has. So when I was growing up, we would get a lot of American TV shows as well as some anime shows from Japan. The American shows used to be English so Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. And the Japanese anime used to be dubbed in English as well when I was younger. But then when I grew up a little, when I was an older kid, it used to start being dubbed into Hindi – which is one of the national languages, but because India is such a huge country with so many different languages, there’s politics in that as well where Hindi plays the role in India that English plays all over the world. So Hindi is marginalising these other languages. But anyway, these cartoons used to be dubbed into Hindi and I used to hate it. I used to prefer it in English. At that time obviously I couldn’t articulate why but I think as a kid I must have imbibed these ideas of English just being a better language and Hindi not being as cool or as fashionable I guess. I don’t know. And even afterwards, even today, English is the language of social mobility as well. If you go to an English-medium school, that’s seen to be more respectable in India than if you go to a local-language school. And you won’t have as many opportunities if you don’t know English.

Aisha: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is what English is. And that’s why a lot of people all over the world are so keen on learning the language because of those different opportunities that comes with English. I was on Twitter the other day and I came across a tweet by someone saying that even though, for example, they are from a different country but because they use English so much and now they think in English. And it’s this whole idea of with yourself, do you think in English or do you think in your own native language? And there was this whole big debate with a lot of people saying yeah because we use it so much in reading and in writing, we now think in English. And there was also some debate about whether people dream in English [laughs] or in their first language. So yeah English has taken up such a big space, if we’re talking about media.

Parinita: So the Harry Potter movies in Dubai, would they be translated into Arabic or did they have the English versions playing in theatres?

Aisha: No our theatres are subtitled. We have subtitles, not dubbed.

Parinita: Okay. So they’d have Arabic subtitles in them?

Aisha: Yes.

Parinita: Okay. We had both. We used to have English playing as well as Hindi. And I remember me and my friends, we used to laugh so much. I think the movies made Harry Potter more accessible to more kids than the books did. Like you were saying, you got into it again through the movies.

Aisha: Yes.

Parinita: Even in India, the movies were so popular that a lot of kids who didn’t read the books even afterwards, they were still a fan of the Harry Potter movies.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: And me and my friends, we used to make fun of the Hindi translations of the Houses and the titles and things. And now I feel so bad about it. It’s just something that you don’t really know where you’ve learned these things from. Where you’ve learned to make fun of languages that are not English. I still find the translations a bit hilarious. But that’s just because it’s not a language that I’m used to. So it sounds really dramatic. Like Gryffindor is Garuddwar and things like that which would be really difficult to translate into a non-Hindi language.

The Hindi cover of the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Harry Potter Aur Maut Ke Taufe

Aisha: Yeah. No, ours are subtitled. They’re not dubbed over. They played in the original language in theatres.

Parinita: Yeah. I wonder if in India there were other translations as well. Because in Mumbai, which is where I’m from, Marathi is the predominant language and Hindi is more like a Northern language but I grew up speaking Hindi, Marathi and English as well. But in the south, Hindi it’s a political thing again where they reject Hindi because they think it’s this language imperialism of sorts. So they cling on to their local language identity. So I wonder if Harry Potter would have been dubbed into these other languages as well. [They were]

Aisha: Aah.

Parinita: I should look this up, it would be interesting. You have some experience using local languages to expand the reach of your favourite stories and fandoms, right?

Aisha: Yeah. I don’t know when exactly I came across an Arabic forum of Harry Potter and that was also very early on; I believe it was 2002 or 2003 when I was still in school, I stumbled upon a forum. I believe one of my friends told me about it. And it was a specific forum dedicated to Harry Potter but it was in Arabic. And altogether I think we were like five-six members only. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: So in that big forum … but it was so nice you know. It was finally meeting up people from within the region who were also fans of the book. I don’t remember specifically if we used to communicate in Arabic or in English on that website. It was probably a mix of two. I think it was mostly English.

Parinita: I don’t know if you have this in Dubai, but we have a version of English called Hinglish which is a mix of Hindi and English.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: So it’s a dual thing; we use Hindi words and we use English words.

Aisha: Exactly. This is what I wanted to tell you as well. So we didn’t have a sort of Hinglish like for example an Aralish or something like that.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: It was more like us writing in Arabic but using English letters. Does that make sense?

Parinita: Oh right. Yes.

Aisha: And for specific letters that were not translated to English, because we have a lot of sounds in Arabic like [makes an Arabic sound]. They don’t have the equivalency of those in English.

Parinita: Right.

Aisha: We would actually use numbers. But this was agreed upon like everyone throughout the Arab world would use the same sort of numbers to convey sounds.

Parinita: Oh!

Aisha: Yeah so we would use that a lot during those times. Especially since back at that time I think not a lot of keyboards had Arabic. Not a lot of mobile phones actually. It was back when we had Nokia and so on. Not a lot of mobile phones had Arabic characters so I think this is where it originated from but I could be mistaken. But this is the language that we used to write in for chatting, for texting. So it was basically Arabic but using English letters.

Parinita: Oh that’s amazing.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: So the fanfiction that you wrote, was that in a similar language?

Aisha: Oh no the fanfiction that I wrote that was in standard Arabic.

Parinita: Aaah.

Aisha: We have different variations of Arabic. The standard, that’s the language that is used in writing, reading, in newspapers and books. It’s not really spoken much. You wouldn’t see people speaking standard Arabic in their daily lives, their lived experiences. But it’s the language that you see on interviews, for example. In teaching, teachers would use it with students. But it’s not a very widely spoken language and community. It’s the language of writing. This is what we use when we write. And there was another forum; unfortunately that forum had to be closed down. Because the guy who was managing it, who was the moderator and was also the one who was paying for it. And he’s like we don’t have enough members and we don’t have enough activities and I can’t really pay that much for it. So it had to be shut down.

Parinita: Oh that’s such a pity!

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: And that’s so amazing that you had that space and you found that space. I can just imagine as a teenager, if I’d found a space online – a Harry Potter fan website or forum or whatever that had Indian fans or even South Asian fans.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Because we share a lot of the same cultural references and things like movies and songs and food and clothes and things. it would have been so amazing that I wouldn’t have to explain myself; everyone would just understand. We’d be on the same page.

Aisha: Yeah, no, I get you, absolutely. And it was amazing as well that not only were they people online, but I knew most of the people on that forum. Two of them were already my friends and I got to meet one other who later on I discovered she went to the same university that I did.

Parinita: Oh amazing.

Aisha: Yeah. So it was a very close-knit community. We were such a like-minded group. It was so easy to chat about things without, like you said, without having to explain things.

Parinita: Yeah because I found myself a part of two different worlds almost. In my regular everyday day-to-day life, my Harry Potter fandom was a weird thing that people didn’t really understand. They were like, oh okay Harry Potter is nice and all but okay. So there I’d have to speak a language differently than I would online. I mean not language in terms of it would be English in both spaces but just in terms of the references that I was making and things, I could just use Harry Potter spells and things.

Aisha: [laughs]

Parinita: I couldn’t just make jokes out of that which I could online but in online spaces, I couldn’t use my Indian jokes and references and contexts and things. So that’s amazing that you found that space where you could do a mix of both.

Aisha: It was amazing but unfortunately it was closed down. And then I think during my first year of university, I found another forum in Arabic. I was so excited that I found another forum and I was very active. I got to be a moderator of something … I don’t know of a House maybe.

Parinita: Oooh!

Aisha: Yeah. I had an administrative role. [laughs]

Parinita: Amazing!

Aisha: I was that active. It was during that time when I was active on that forum that there was a short story writing competition. They just said that it had to be in Arabic, it had to be blah blah blah, this length and so on and so forth and try to submit it within these timings and so on. So I read the guidelines well and I thought okay this is my opportunity. So I wrote a fanfiction about Harry Potter. It had to do with his parents, Lupin, Sirius Black

Parinita: Ah Sirius!

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: My first email id just to put my embarrassing past in context, even though I’m still proud of it, was siriusfan138@mugglenet.com. I still have [laughs] a very clear memory of this. And I wanted to keep giving people my email id. But nobody emailed at that time, I was thirteen so like 2003 when none of my friends emailed. Ah Sirius! Yeah.

Aisha: So it was about them. It was when they discovered Lupin was a werewolf.

Parinita: Oh yeah!

Aisha: ???

Parinita: So Marauders era fanfic.

Aisha: [laughs] Yeah.

Parinita: Oh amazing.

Aisha: What was it called? Animagus? Something like that?

Parinita: Yeah. Animagus. Ooh.

Aisha: So Lily was helping them to find a solution or a potion or whatever it was. I was so excited. I wrote it in Arabic and usually I don’t write things in Arabic. Mostly I write in English. And I remember I showed it to one of my other cousins who’s also a fan and she was blown away. She was like oh my goodness this is amazing, it feels like it comes from J. K. Rowling and blah blah blah.

Parinita: Oh! Amazing. Do you still have the story?

Aisha: I have the story, I think somewhere, yeah.

Parinita: Oh you’re so lucky. I remember I wrote a thing which was a much sillier thing than what you’ve written. It was sort of a sitcom version of Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

Aisha: Aah!

Parinita: Where everybody was wildly out of character. [laughs] And there were lots of jokes in there, there was lots of silliness and goofiness. But I feel like that helped me practise my writing as well. Just getting to the core of storytelling because those are the kind of stories I write now. I write books for children in India. And they’re full of silliness and madness and just all around people behaving in really weird ways. So I feel like my Voldemort and the Death Eater fanfic really helped me. But I don’t have a copy of it. I wish I did.

Aisha: Yeah. I think I have it saved somewhere.

Parinita: Amazing!

Aisha: So then I submitted it to the website, to the forum. And I was so excited! I was like you know what, I’m sure I’m going to win this competition. I was so sure that I was going to win it. And then when I read the other entries, I noticed that they weren’t necessarily writing fanfiction. It wasn’t a fanfiction competition.

Parinita: Ohhh!

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: It was a general short story competition. And I misinterpreted that. I thought because this is a Harry Potter forum, the stories have to be related to Harry Potter. But it wasn’t. And I didn’t win. [laughs]

Parinita: Oh! [laughs] Oh no! I’m glad that even though you misinterpreted the prompt, you managed to write a story that you and your cousin both loved and had fun with. I think a lot of fanfiction, people just write for themselves as well. So even though you wrote it for a competition, I’m glad you had fun writing it.

Aisha: Yeah. Oh actually that’s very true. A lot of people do write for themselves. I’ve written a couple of other fanfiction for anime. And I’ve never really published it. I have one published but not the others.

Parinita: What anime world did you write it in?

Aisha: One was for Slam Dunk and a couple were for Fruit Basket. But one of them was already shared. Back in the days, I remember we didn’t have fanfiction.net. There were Yahoo groups – I don’t know if you remember.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: I subscribed to Yahoo groups. And I remember there was a group about those anime – there was one on Fruit Basket and I published my story there. And I think it was only one or two people who read it as well.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: So

Parinita: Amazing.

Aisha: ???

Parinita: It’s making me so nostalgic for … it makes me feel so old now – those days of yore.

Aisha: [laughs]

Parinita: So now maybe we can move on to talking about Harry Potter specifically. We’ve briefly spoken about how Western fantasy is dominant and Western characters and cultures and contexts are dominant. But still we both get really excited when we find characters and elements which are familiar to us or which reflect us in our favourite worlds. And specifically talking about Harry Potter, you’d mentioned something similar as well, right?

Aisha: Yes. Exactly. The fact that there was one Arab character in the book and that was in the fourth book. There was an Egyptian referee by the name of Mostafa if I’m not mistaken.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Aisha: And it was so exciting that oh my goodness finally there is an Arab character in this whole wizarding world. It was so exciting for us that when me and my cousins got to this point, we all texted each other, “Hahaha! So funny look at them – look at the character.” [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: We’ve been featured! Finally! [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] I know we were the same – well I don’t know if we – I was the same just internally I was excited when I saw Parvati and Padma Patil.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Parvati has been a part of it right from the beginning. So for me it was like oh my god this is a name that I recognise. She could be my neighbour. But then of course, there was nothing else about her, nothing about her culture or her Indianness or if she was British-Indian or whatever. So I had to just be happy with [laughs] the name. And then she had a twin, Padma, and I was like oh yay! Another of us there.

Aisha: I mean yeah if you compare it to what diversity means today, [laughs] it’s not really diverse.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: But we were so happy. I remember myself and my cousins, we were so happy that there was some sort of link that we could be part of this world.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: We could be part of this fantasy as well.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely. And for me because I started reading the first book when I was ten, when I was going to turn eleven, I was like, oh I really hope I get my Hogwarts letter today. So I was one of those kids.

Aisha: I’m still waiting for mine! [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah. So yeah, you’re so right. Just seeing someone that you recognise in that world allows you access to imagine yourself in that world as well. Which is what I think like a lot of more creative fans than me have done where they took Parvati and made her a central part of the story, like written stories about her. I wouldn’t even have thought of doing that at that time.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Because my mind was so very much caught up in that oh no I can’t. Even though she is there, but still Western society largely means white people and British people. So I couldn’t even imagine writing a story that would feature her or that would even feature an Indian person. I remember when I used to write stories for fun when I was younger, not fanfic, just general stories, they all used to be set in the US or the UK.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Because those are the kind of books that I was reading. So even though I lived in India, in Mumbai, and travelled in India and around Mumbai, all my characters were either blonde or had blue eyes or had names like John and Emily and things.

Aisha: No, no I get you. One hundred percent. I mean I used to write stories as well and it was all set in the United States.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Aisha: I mean I wouldn’t even think someone like me or someone with a different name or with a different feature could be featured in those books. I guess maybe because I read so many English books. Or so many other stories where diverse characters were not at all included. I thought maybe subconsciously that nobody else belongs in a book except for

Parinita: Yeah!

Aisha: American or Western or whatever. Yeah.

Parinita: It’s so strange thinking about that now because now that I live in the UK, I’m currently living here for my PhD, and I see so many British people who are not white. People who were born in the UK who are not white, who are either black or brown or East Asian. And I just wonder how they must have felt when this idea of Britishness excluded them. They couldn’t even recognise themselves in the stories. Because at least for me I had Bollywood and things. There were Hindi movies that I used to watch a lot while growing up, which had people who looked like me and had the same places and things. Maybe not the stories that I read but I did have media that reflected me. So it must be so difficult to live in a Western country but not see yourself reflected in any media. That must be so much more difficult as well.

Aisha: Yeah, no I get you. Yeah. Absolutely.

Parinita: Which is why I’m happy there’s more of a push now for diverse literature and own voices. People writing about their own experiences and stuff. I think a lot of people must have gotten their practice in fandom.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Because fandom is full of it, right? It’s full of own voices and diversity.

Aisha: Yes. And cross-writing as well. Like writing across different genres.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: Including characters from here and there. So yeah absolutely.

Parinita: Yeah what is that genre called?

Aisha: ???

Parinita: Yeah basically

Aisha: Something like crossing or crossover?

Parinita: Yeah. And AU [Alternate Universe] and things where one character is in a different world just basically melding all your things together. Yeah. So speaking of Harry Potter and cultures in Harry Potter, we find plenty of diverse cultures there as well. So both real-world and what we mentioned, because there’s … well a handful, not that many.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: But there are more magical cultures there which seem to be more marginalised in the grand scheme of things. And which is something that I hadn’t picked up on while reading it when I was a kid. Or even earlier as an adult, I used to reread the series quite regularly. And I never used to think about how much the emphasis seems to be on witches and wizards and not on anybody else. Like I said, I was rereading The Goblet of Fire and I just realised – and this is something that they spoke about in the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text episode as well – where Muggles and Muggle-borns are seen to be such a – seem to be belonging to such an inferior kind of culture.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: So Hermione when she comes into the wizarding world – and Hermione – she’s clever and she’s amazing, she’s brilliant. She’s all these things. But even she has to leave her Muggle culture behind and assimilate into the magical world. And all these witches and wizards have these strange stereotypes about Muggles. And she has to just grin and bear it like, “Haha yeah I guess. Muggles are funny.” Even though her parents are non-magical. And her whole extended family or whatever, her friends that she had as a kid. But she seems to have completely put that behind and she doesn’t make any references really. Or nothing that anybody else takes seriously.

Aisha: Yeah. I didn’t necessarily think of Hermione’s point of view. But I thought of Harry like why wasn’t he into his Muggle culture? Because he lived with his aunt and uncle, right? And I thought maybe because he just psychologically wants to distance himself from his relatives because of all the abuse. But now that you’re talking about Hermione, I’m like yes, she lived in a loving home, right?

Parinita: Exactly.

Aisha: Her parents were very … yeah so why did she put behind completely that world?

Parinita: And the thing is that all these witches and wizards, they live very closely in the Muggle world. They’re not a dominant culture in the Muggle world. Muggles outnumber magical people. But even then, I don’t think there’s any sort of effort to try and understand Muggles in a way that actually looks at their technology and their culture and their art and literature or whatever. It’s just all very wizard-centric. Imagine how great it would be … like I know they explain away things like technology doesn’t work in Hogwarts because there’s too much magic in the air, so technology just fails. But has anybody tried to make this better? Or have they just been like, oh who needs Muggle technology anyway? We can get along without … even though they seem to be living in the 17th century. [laughs]

Aisha: [laughs] Yeah.

Screenshot from Tumblr. contradictingmultitudes: I want to read a fic where some tech savvy muggleborn manages to patch wifi into Hogwarts cause lets be honest the anti-muggle-technology chams were done by some ministry wanker 50 yrs ago who knew jackshit about electronics beyond radios much less microprocessors so the Hufflepuffs are all binge watching Netflix before exams and it takes months for the profs to figure anything out.

Parinita: The wizards and witches.

Aisha: And all those quills, yeah exactly.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Aisha: You brought up a really interesting thing. I haven’t really thought of it this way.

Parinita: Yeah, it’s not something I thought of myself. It’s just something I thought of because I’ve been hearing about it a lot in fan podcasts and things about how Muggles seem to be looked down upon. Even Arthur Weasley who really likes Muggles, even he is only looking at them almost like they’re museum exhibits.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Like oooh so fancy! You use these telephones? Oooh what are telephones? He’s not actually trying to get to know Hermione’s culture. It’s just like it looks all foreign and exotic so he’s trying to figure it out. Which is very British. Speaking as someone who was colonised by them.

Aisha: Which is also interesting because when you look at other cultures and mainly dominant Western media, this is also what [laughs] sometimes

Parinita: Yup!

Aisha: Unfortunately sometimes how international people or people from different cultures are featured. Very, very superficially.

Parinita: Absolutely.

Aisha: Yeah. And probably if we really look at Harry Potter I mean I know that I’m a fan, a very loyal fan but again this is how they’ve included those cultures like with Padma and with Mustafa and all of those characters. They seem to have been very assimilated into the wizarding culture and very little of who they are, what is their background is really brought up in the story.

Parinita: Yeah and very British wizarding culture as well like we saw in one of those Tumblr posts, Imagine a Muslim Witch which has a headcanon of a Muslim Muggle-born witch in Hogwarts. And I love that not just because it was imagining a Muslim witch, but because of all the potential possibilities that opened up in my brain.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: The post mentioned that she would use Arabic spells and Parvati would use Punjabi spells, Anthony Goldstein would use Hebrew spells – all these different languages. And they just would have a separate club where all this religious diversity as well as cultural diversity would come into play and they would just borrow from each other’s different cultures and make something better out of it. Which is what you want, right?

Aisha: And that’s why I loved it. I thought it was brilliant. Not only because of the culture and the cultural insertion. A lot of fanfiction would do that. They would include characters from different cultures into the story. But this one seemed believable. It actually added to the story. It was relevant. It was very, very connected to the plot of fantasy and spells and all of these things.

Parinita: Absolutely. And something what you said about Latin words being used, that’s also in the spells and things as well as you know the place names and the people names in the British magical world. But I know now and we know now that Britain is much more diverse than that.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: It’s not all white, Eurocentric and Western. We have lots of immigrants now here and things. So what sort of impact would that have on different things? Food and language and festivals and things. I know we’re going to be talking about that a little bit more but just that Imagine a Muslim Witch headcanon – it just blew my mind open to all the different possibilities.

Aisha: No, exactly.

Parinita: And another thing that I thought of in Goblet of Fire was that it’s not just like different real-world cultures, but within the magical world as well there are so many different cultures. So it’s not just witches and wizards. It’s House-elves and Goblins and Giants and Werewolves and Centaurs. These kind of things are kind of mentioned in Order of the Phoenix, there’s this centaur problem that happens.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: And goblins in the last book. But they all seem to be so living so separately from each other. And even in The Goblet of Fire, what struck me during the second task, when Harry goes to the bottom of the lake and he doesn’t know that Merpeople live there. And he discovers this even though the lake is on Hogwarts grounds so you would think that this sort of information would have been shared. But he doesn’t know whether they eat humans or whether they’re murderous. He knows nothing about them. Even though they share the same environment. And they seem to be lovely people. [laughs]

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: They come up with him and they’re really happy that he tried to save the other champions’ person. Why isn’t there more of a cross-cultural exchange? Obviously goblins are also very resentful of the witches and wizards as well.

Some Other Magical Beings from the Potterverse. Image courtesy Babbel

Aisha: Yeah. No, exactly, yeah. That maybe also shows that how again the idea of diversity was so superficial even in a fantasy you know.

Parinita: Yeah!

Aisha: Oftentimes, for example, I would honestly be wary if I see an Arab character in a movie or in a book. ’Cause usually it comes from – instead of it coming from the point of view of the character, instead of it coming from within, it comes from how Westerns or how others see Arabs, for example

Parinita: Absolutely.

Aisha: Sometimes they exotify like ooh those exotic costumes and those exotic food and this exotic music. Or sometimes it’s just even the opposite, which is worse as well.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Aisha: So I guess that’s how maybe the different characters and different species in Harry Potter are also included. Or they are included only to help with the plot, not really to mingle with each other.

Parinita: Yeah! They’re just to show a little bit of the wizarding world politics but not in any way that actually changes those politics. Because Ron has grown up in the magical world, he has a lot of the biases and assumptions that Hermione and Harry, for example, don’t. Just because they are outsiders in this culture so they’ve not really learned these things, they’re not conditioned in them. So Ron has some very problematic ideas about werewolves and House-elves and things.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: But I’m sure a lot of wizarding students would have that as well either out of bigotry that you grow up with or just ignorance. Like Harry with the merpeople, he was just ignorant of their existence and their culture or whatever. So wouldn’t it be amazing if Hogwarts in some fanfiction or in some sequel or something, welcomed in non-human creatures within its walls too?

Aisha: Hmm yeah!

Parinita: So they have different magical things that they could contribute, their different magical things that the witches and wizards can learn from and then they can share. So centaurs and merpeople and giants and werewolves and goblins – maybe they can do things that don’t always require magic as well. Like Potions doesn’t really seem to require magic.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: It just needs knowledge and the ingredients, almost.

Aisha: Oooh that would have been really nice.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: If they had all these characters going to school alongside the wizards and the witches.

Parinita: Right? Even Muggle Studies I feel like it should be a compulsory part of the curriculum. It shouldn’t be this optional third-year fourth-year thing. Because they live with Muggles and in a Muggle society. They need to understand Muggles. And they also need to have teachers who actually know about Muggles and not just in this academic way. But actually have lived and know these things so that there’s a more authentic picture of Muggles rather than just, “Oh telephones! Weird! Why do you use telephones and not owls?”

Aisha: Even that! I mean I don’t remember very well, I could be mistaken you can correct me if I am. But in the third book when Hermione takes up Muggle Studies, doesn’t Ron really question her purpose?

Parinita: Um hmm.

Aisha: And she said – I don’t know, I could be mistaken, but she said something along the lines of she wants to see how the wizards and the witches and the wizarding world looks at Muggles from their point of view.

Parinita: Oh that’s exactly right, yeah. Because she’s this enthu cutlet who [laughs] wants to do all the things. So obviously she would be the kind of person who does Muggle Studies even though she is from a Muggle background. But I think her point is very interesting that it would be interesting to know what wizards and witches think of Muggles.

Aisha: Yeah. But then again it also shows you that it’s sort of not like own voice sort of study.

Parinita: Um hmm.

Aisha: Like it’s coming from the wizards or the witches’ point of view. Of how they see Muggles.

Parinita: Yeah it would be like a white person in the UK who has who only knows India through its maybe literature and through the films or something but hasn’t actually lived there teaching other British people about India.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Or similar things with Dubai. Which has happened historically! All these weird stories in the West about the East where we have like four hands and [laughs] lots of eyes – more eyes than possible for humans and these exotic birds and animals and things. So obviously that was historically there but the magical society seems to be there still. Even though it’s 1990s – 2000s, yeah. And even the food, language and things, right? Food, language and fashion are all important aspects – the clothes you wear, the things you eat, the language that you speak, you share your ideas in, they’re all important aspects of different cultures. But in the magical world, these aspects are quite limited. They all only seem to speak English, there’s again that dominance of English. I think Dumbledore and Barty Crouch Sr. are the only people who are known to speak hundreds of different languages. In Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore goes and speaks to the Merpeople in Mermish.

Aisha: Oh! Okay.

Parinita: I usually have a very terrible memory but I just finished reading this book a few days ago which is why I remember. And even Barty Crouch Sr. he’s known to speak to goblins and he speaks different languages. Whereas everyone else in the wizarding world only seems to know English.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: In Hogwarts, there are no language studies classes that we come across.

Aisha: Yeah, that’s very interesting. And again this is where the fanfiction we talked about comes into play. What if they had different classes teaching spells in different languages?

Parinita: Yeah!

Aisha: Different spells of different cultures or …

Parinita: Yeah or have an exchange programme. For a semester, have an Arabic witch who comes in or an Arabic wizard who comes in and teaches their culture or an Indian witch or wizard who teaches. So not just magic but also the stories and all the cultural things that come with being a part of another country. The food and the clothes and things as well. How cool would Hogwarts be then? We thought Hogwarts was very cool when we were growing up because it was this magical world but now in 2020 we want Hogwarts to be much better.

Aisha: Yeah, no, exactly. I remember reading the first book … or was it the movie, I’m not sure. Remember when they’re in the train and Harry asks Ron what he’s eating or something like that. And he says corned beef.

Parinita: Yeah!

Aisha: I remember wondering what is corned beef?

Parinita: [laughs] I know! Oh my god the different food in the British magical world. And it’s all very British. Like I said, because I grew up reading Enid Blyton – who has written hundreds of books and who’s very English – so I knew some of these foods. But they all also seemed very foreign and exotic to me. Like corned beef? Hmm doesn’t sound super appetising, but okay, you do you. I would rather have like beef curry or something. Because I’m Indian, we need spices in everything. [laughs] But yeah that reminds me of another thing. So again, sorry, Goblet of Fire [laughs] I’m giving you so much attention but when the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students come in and they have a feast and Ron makes fun of this weird looking French food which I don’t know how to pronounce, it’s some sort of fish soup. And he’s like ugh what’s this? And Hermione tells him that, oh no, I had this in France, it’s quite nice. And Ron is like, okay I I don’t want any. You can have this. And then that just got me thinking about the other food in Hogwarts as well. In Imagine a Muslim Witch, they mentioned that a little as well. If you’re a vegetarian in Hogwarts or you’re vegan, or you’re Muslim who can only eat some food or you’re Hindu who can only eat meat on some days and some kinds of food, depending on your cultural background, how do you survive in Hogwarts?

Aisha: Yeah that’s a very important question. Exactly!

Parinita: It’s not just the food but it’s also in Potions and Charms and Transfiguration classes as well. If you’re ethically against using animals or using some sort of animals based on your religious tradition, you wouldn’t want to use them in any part of your life, right?

Aisha: Right, exactly! Yeah that’s a very interesting discussion.

Parinita: I would love to read fanfiction about this. [laughs] I mean I know we read Imagine a Muslim Witch but I want to read a proper story about it.

Aisha: Yeah, exactly. I know. I mean like you said, back in the day, Harry Potter was very diverse. It was such a diverse book because you had so many different characters from different cultures or from different nationalities. But now when we talk about it and we really dissect it, it’s more like a melting pot you know. Oh you came from here, you need to melt with the rest of the people.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: Or you need to ???

Parinita: And you need to leave all your everything behind.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Like Parvati and Padma Patil may as well have been white. Apart from their names, they don’t do anything. They don’t celebrate any festivals. We were talking about this on a previous episode with someone but they don’t eat any food that has spices in it. I live in the UK and my boyfriend is white. He doesn’t like a lot of spicy food and I need spicy food with everything. So we have to always try and come in the middle. So I can’t imagine Parvati and Padma Patil eating corned beef all the time.

Aisha: [laughs] Or even those people coming from different cities in the UK, right? Like the students. Wouldn’t they bring something from home

Parinita: Yeah, absolutely.

Aisha: ??? maybe or a chutney of some kind.

Parinita: Yeah because they do have different foods. Now that I know more about the UK food, they have different regional food. And, of course, Scotland has its own different food. Similar to England but different and we don’t really see that. Until I moved to the UK, I wouldn’t have known these Scottish reference. That Hogwarts is in Scotland first of all, I only discovered this [laughs] when I came here. And knowing all the Scottish politics and stuff within the UK or even the cultural influences, you don’t really get in the books at all. Apart from one bit, I made a note of this, where in the Yule Ball, because they’re all dressed up in these fancy outfits, Minerva McGonagall wears tartan. I don’t know if you know what tartan is.

Aisha: Oh yeah, the Scottish plaid, right?

Parinita: Yeah. So she wears tartan dress robes yeah and she has a thistle on her hat. So a thistle is the Scottish national flower which is like this really aggressive looking flower because it has a lot of nettles. So it’s basically a stabby flower. [laughs] Which is very Scottish. But they don’t mention that obviously in the books. They just mention the tartan and the thistles. And I’m like, “Oh! I see! Now I know that McGonagall is Scottish.” So yeah it’s just things that I guess if you’re not a part of that culture, you won’t pick up on these things.

Aisha: No.

Parinita: Until it is directly mentioned.

Image courtesy Wikipedia: fir0002flagstaffotos [at] gmail.com Canon 20D + Sigma 150mm f/2.8 – Own work, GFDL 1.2

Aisha: A couple of years back I went to the play [Harry Potter and the Cursed Child] which was in London. And there were different accents; people speaking different dialects or different British accents. For someone who is not from that culture, you wouldn’t really know this person is from which part of the UK.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: Or this person is ??? Because we’re not part of that. But now that you mentioned how Minerva McGonagall was wearing the tartan, oh you know what, she was actually speaking in a Scottish accent in the play.

Parinita: Yeah! That’s such a good point. Because these accents, these regional accents, they also have class implications. So working class people versus posh people or middle class people have different kinds of ways of talking. It’s all English but it’s different kinds of English. And historically I think most of British media used to have a very specific kind of English. So people who didn’t live in the UK, like you and I, we didn’t grow up in the UK, we have this very specific idea of a British accent.

Aisha: Hmm.

Parinita: And I wasn’t really very familiar with the fact that there are so many different kinds of British accents and there’s like a political element in that as well because the northern English accents and things are sometimes looked down upon by different parts of the country. Because of historic, economic, social all these different contexts. And Scottish accents as well, they’ll be made fun of or Irish accents will be looked at differently. And all these things you don’t know until you know, I guess. Until you’re here.

Aisha: You can correct me as well because my memory is a little bit foggy. I haven’t re-read the book in a very long time. But I think Hagrid also had an accent in the book. So some letters were purposefully taken off, right?

Parinita: Yeah. Hagrid and also Stan Shunpike who was the Knight Bus driver. He had a different accent as well.

Aisha: See, as a non-native speaker of English, I had trouble reading Hagrid’s parts.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: Even, yes exactly, the bus driver in the third book as well. I didn’t understand that they were doing that on purpose or they had some sort of maybe speech impairment or some sort of thing. Until later on I understood that ah okay different people in the UK just have different accents according to the regions they’re from.

Parinita: That’s also a way of othering, right?

Aisha: Exactly!

Parinita: If you only have Hagrid and Stan Shunpike, both of whom are on the margins of the magical society, and you’re only othering – because I’m sure that there are different students. Like Seamus he’s Irish so he would also have a different accent. But we don’t know that by reading the books except sometimes he says “me” instead of “my”. [laughs] That’s all the difference that you get.

Aisha: Yeah. Now I’m thinking about it and I’m like maybe that was purposefully done. Just to show supposedly that oh because Hagrid did not complete his education at Hogwarts or because of such and such you know.

Parinita: Oh yeah, you’re right! I didn’t think about the education aspect at all. But yeah, you’re so right.

Aisha: So I’m thinking okay did they mention the accent only when characters were seen like you said like it was an othering of the characters. Who are seen as outsiders because Hagrid literally also lives outside the school.

Parinita: Yeah! And he’s a half-giant so he’s outside the like “normal” wizarding society or magical society. And Stan Shunpike as well, he’s not … I don’t know his educational anything.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Did he go to school? Or what?

Aisha: Yeah, exactly.

Parinita: Just going to the fashion part or the clothing parts of the magical world and inspired by the magical world, you said that Muslim fans have a much easier time cosplaying as Harry Potter characters. It’s an idea which I loved so much.

Aisha: Yeah. I think because of the loose-fitted clothes that they wear. A lot of characters wear robes which is something very similar to what female Muslims or Arabs wear like loose-fitted cloaks or robes so it’s very easy to replicate that.

Parinita: And black as well, right? They’re all black.

Aisha: They’re all black so whenever I got to Comic Con here in Dubai, in every Comic Con, I would definitely see someone wearing a Harry Potter costume with the black robe, the neck tie and the colour of the House.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: And headscarf as well. And it doesn’t seem out of character to be honest. It seems like ah this is very similar to the culture, to what we really wear. So when we were young and reading Harry Potter – I’m talking about myself in particular – I could easily imagine myself in Hogwarts.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: Because my clothing wasn’t so different from what they used to wear in the school.

Parinita: Yeah! That’s true. So you identified yourself through the clothes as well.

Aisha: Exactly. And there was also the first movie or in the first book there was Professor Squirrel uh was it? Quirrell?

Parinita: Quirrell, yeah.

Aisha: Yeah. He would wear a turban.

Parinita: Yeah!

Aisha: And that’s something also culturally relevant.

Parinita: Yeah to me as well. Because that’s something that we grew up with. Of course, he was evil – spoiler alert for The Philosopher’s Stone!

Aisha: Yeah exactly. [laughs]

Parinita: But he had Voldemort hiding in his turban. But yeah, I was like, oooh a turban. Like you were saying when we were talking about this during our meeting, oh maybe he was brown.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: It wasn’t weird because he could pass for this Sikh person in Hogwarts. Which would have been really cool. Although I don’t know any Sikh people called Quentin Quirrell. [laughs] Which seems like a very English name. But that would be amazing.

Aisha: Even in the first movie, I don’t know if you remember because it’s merely seconds – milliseconds. But when there was like a snapshot of Ron’s summer vacation in Egypt. Do you remember that part?

Parinita: Oh yeah.

Aisha: So Ron and his family were wearing Arab clothes. Like they were –

Parinita: Yeah! They were wearing robes, right? I do remember.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Because it was a photograph, right?

Aisha: Yeah it was a photograph.

Parinita: Yeah in The Daily Prophet.

Aisha: It was like merely a second but I remember being really excited in the movie theatre. Finally there’s a character who’s wearing something similar.

Parinita: Well I’m glad that you had a positive experience of finding your clothes in the movies. Because let me tell you the tragedy that was Parvati and Padma’s Yule Ball outfits in the Goblet of Fire movie. It disappointed millions of Indian fans all over the world because we were like we have such beautiful clothes. For us at weddings or festivals and things, wearing these clothes is very much a part of our lives. We don’t need a Yule Ball to dress up. We find any excuse to dress up in these fancy clothes, saris and lehengas and things.

Aisha: Hmm.

Parinita: So we always have these things in the house. We don’t need to buy new things for weddings and things. We wear these things. And even the cheapest whatever, like a budget-conscious outfit for a wedding or for a festival would be so much prettier than the nonsense that they wore in the Yule Ball. I’m still bitter.

Aisha: Yeah. By comparison it was just so plain!

Parinita: Yeah. There was no embroidery, there were no beads – there was nothing! It was pink and orange. It was atrocious.

Aisha: Here in Dubai, we have a district called ??? Dubai and it’s almost like a big district that has all Indian clothing stores.

Parinita: Yeah?

Aisha: And my goodness the fabrics are just dazzling.

Parinita: Yeah! Even just plain cotton fabrics with block print would have been so much prettier than whatever rubbish that they wore which someone has called bargain rack lehengas on Twitter because it’s not just me. A lot of us are still bitter, to this day. There are fans who have made these Tumblr gifsets of much better looking outfits than what Padma and Parvati wore.

Fan interpretations of Parvati and Padma’s Yule Ball outfits. Image courtesy @anumationart

Aisha: I mean I get you. It’s a very sort of Western sari. It was so plain, it was so … I remember it being one solid colour. One was pink, the other was red. Was that right? Something like that?

Parinita: Yeah. I’m going to be watching the movies again after I’m done reading the books, and I’m going to sit with anger in my heart [laughs] just waiting for it like Ah! This is all you could do. And everyone else was wearing such nice clothes. And it’s almost like what you were saying earlier about superficial diversity. Having them dress differently just to show that oh look at Hogwarts, how diverse we are. But without making any actual effort or research into it.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: If it had been a desi or a South Asian or a brown costume designer, I’m sure they wouldn’t have chosen that. They would have chosen a much better outfit because they would know the context, right? They would know the kind of clothes that we would wear. No Indian parent would allow their child to go to this fancy ball in such plain clothes.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: When I was a kid, I had to fight with my mum because I didn’t like wearing all the very heavy clothes just because it used to be such a pain. It used to irritate the skin and I couldn’t go running about with it. So I used to fight with my mom and she’d be like, no, no don’t wear such plain clothes. You need to wear something nicer and fancier.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: So I don’t know how Parvati and Padma Patil’s mother let them go to the Yule Ball like that.

Aisha: Yeah same. We have similar things as well. I don’t know if it’s the same in India – but if there’s a wedding, even the children need to be to wear a little bit of gold.

Parinita: Yeah. Oh gold is a big part of it.

Aisha: Even though we don’t want to because either it hurts or it’s uncomfortable and there’s this constant fight. Where, “No! I don’t want to wear it!”

Parinita: Yeah. And I don’t even like gold! It’s too bright and shiny for me. So just aesthetically, it’s against my [laughs] aesthetic principles. But sometimes especially when you’re younger, you just have to listen to your parents. [laughs] To get on with your life. Whereas now as an adult you can fight back a little bit against these expectations. Just before we wrap up the episode I did want to give you a chance – plus I wanted to do this as well – to talk about some of your favourite fantasy worlds. Either books or just TV shows or movies or anything, which don’t have a primarily Western focus.  Have you come across that since Harry Potter or even while you were reading Harry Potter?

Aisha: Ah other than Harry Potter … no, to be honest. When I started reading, I started reading books called – a series called Zack Finns (?). I don’t know if you’ve heard of it but they were made into a Disney series as well.

Parinita: Oh right.

Aisha: It was sort of paranormal things that happens to a little boy who is in sixth or fifth grade. So I started reading that and it was set in the United States, I remember. And I read The Sleepover Club. Not The Baby-Sitters Club. The Sleepover

Parinita: Oh yeah! I had the Sleepover Club.

Aisha: Oh you did?!

Parinita: I was much more of a Babysitters Club fan myself but I did find random Sleepover Club book as well, yeah.

Aisha: Yes. And it was British, mainly. It was set in Britain and the characters were mostly Western. And then I think from there on I started to get into Harry Potter. Which, in comparison, it was far more diverse than those other books.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: And then I was also into a lot of mystery. I read a lot of Christopher Pike books which was predominantly set in the United States. So no, unfortunately most of the books that I read and the things that I was a fan of were mainly set in the Western world. That’s why I was so excited. When I was a kid in the 90s and the early 2000s, Harry Potter was the most diverse book that I had come across.

Parinita: That’s true, I didn’t think about that. That there was more diversity, especially in comparison to the other things. Like I was saying Enid Blyton and I used to read the Famous Five and things that she wrote – they’re this mystery series. And very white. Very Western. No diversity. And she’s in trouble for this now but in her books, all the foreigners are either criminals or smugglers or kidnappers [laughs] and they’re all suspicious and you shouldn’t really trust them.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: So yeah not the greatest of examples. What about now? Have you come across any more or are you a fan of or have you enjoyed any more diversity as an adult?

Aisha: I have come across a lot of novels especially Young Adult novels. I read a lot of Young Adult novels. Nowadays yes, there is a lot of diversity. I have read a lot of books.

Parinita: Do you have any favourites that you’d like to recommend?

Aisha: No. To be very honest I usually finish reading not liking them either because in most cases like you said those cultures and characters are inserted just for the sake of diversity. Usually they have a very marginal role. Sometimes I feel it’s just to cross that box.

Parinita: Yeah because oh look now we have now this brown character or this religious character so let’s tick off this diversity box.

Aisha: Absolutely. We have a female character, we have like you said a brown character, we have an Arab character from this culture from that culture – sometimes I feel it’s just to check those boxes, not really to talk about the culture. Or sometimes when they are included, they’re too assimilated into the –  mostly it’s American – into the American culture.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: That you don’t really see glimpses of their culture. But recently, probably a year ago, I read this book … gosh I can’t remember the name. Basically it’s about this Pakistani female who lives in the UK and who works in the UK who’s actually writing a story about the marriage of Pakistani families in the UK and so on.

Parinita: Oooh!

Aisha: So this is one I really, really liked. It’s called Sofia something. Because her name is Sofia.

Parinita: Oh I’ll look it up. Or if you remember it, just send it to me and I’ll –

Aisha: Yes I’ll send it to you. I have that on my Goodreads.

Parinita: Oh. Yeah this is how I keep track of the books that I read as well because my memory is non-existent. So I have to have Goodreads to refer to what books I love and read. But I did make a note of a couple of books that I wanted to recommend to … well you, as well as people who are listening. And these are just fantasy books that I read recently that I really liked. So one of them is called Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. She’s a Malaysian British writer and she was featured in the Cultural Traditions of Magic episode as well of Breaking The Glass Slipper. It is very British. It’s a fantasy and it has a British magical system. But it so organically incorporates both British and Asian magical cultures and creatures. And I think a large part of that is because she is Malaysian. So for her she grew up with these things, so what she’s writing about is not exotic. She normalises both. It’s not just like a diversity thing. There were some references to India as well and Indonesia and things. So apart from exploring race, different races and national identities because it’s set in the 18th or 19th century or something so obviously the British are very suspicious about anybody who’s black or brown or doesn’t look like them. Like oh how can they have magic and things. But yeah it’s just a really fun book. It’s funny. She talks about these different things but it’s not an issue-based book, if that makes sense. It’s just incorporated very naturally into the story.

Aisha: Yeah.

Parinita: Which is really fun. And a book that I’m reading currently based on the article that we read about Muslim women writers of science fiction and fantasy or stories set in Muslim worlds and how that’s becoming a big thing.

Aisha: Yeah!

Parinita: And this one is so fun. It’s called The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty. It started off in Cairo and then moves to another part of Africa – a made-up part of Africa. But it has references to India as well. They have different names in this according to the map. But so many familiar elements. Things like djinn and carpets and the swords like talvar and the daggers and they’re all things I’m used to. Because in India, we had Mughal rulers a few hundred years ago, so we’ve grown up with these references as well. And the food and even the setting the kind of atmosphere that you’re describing, the kind of people, clothes everything. And religion is very much a part of the novel but without it being a big deal. You’ll just have people going to the mosque to pray. Or the main character Nahri, she’s wearing an abaya. And that’s just not a big deal. That’s just her culture. So you’re not exoticising it at all. You’re normalising it, which I love.

Aisha: Actually now that you’re talking about it, I remember a book that I had read maybe last year or the year before. It’s called We Hunt The Flame and it’s by an Arab writer.  I don’t know if she’s Arab to be honest, but I know she’s Muslim writer. Her name is Hafsah Faizal. And her setting is supposedly in Arabia without really specifying the region. Again, it’s a fantasy. So a lot of elements are also taken from Arab folktales and so on. But it’s not religious. It’s not a Muslim story. It’s just an Arab story.

Parinita: Yeah. Same.

Aisha: So there’s that, yeah. What else have I read? I’ve read some Asian inspired fantasy.

Parinita: Oooh!

Aisha: Mostly Japanese I would say.

Parinita: Oh that’s really cool.

Aisha: Yeah. But again, I don’t know much about their culture as an outsider so I don’t know how well they have incorporated cultural aspects into the stories. But yeah I’ve read some of those fantasies.

Parinita: But isn’t it cool to read about these things that are not primarily Eurocentric?

Aisha: Oh absolutely!

Parinita: Things like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, all of these things that we’ve grown up with like Narnia and things which assumes European, Western everything as the norm. And at least for me, I didn’t even know what ideas that I had learned and I’d grown accustomed to until I read these books and a few other books as well which just disrupt those notions. But they don’t disrupt them in a way that’s making a big deal out of it. They’re just normalising another part. The City of Brass that I was talking about, just everything – the environment that they’re talking about, I was like oh right of course there would be magic here and fantasy systems set here. It’s just something that I have not read which is why it’s different for me. But why did I take for granted that there’s only one kind of magic system? Obviously there are different kinds including India. I’ve not read a lot of Indian fantasy, I’ve read some. A lot of Indian fantasy also draws on mythology which is both religion and just cultural for us in India. But there are a lot of fantastic Indian fantasy authors as well. So just these conversations, they make me so much more excited to explore diverse authors. Ever since I’ve started this podcast, that’s what I’ve been doing – exploring diverse authors.

Aisha: I get where you’re coming from. I think that that cultural background is a bonus. I guess I stopped reading fantasy for a while. I went back to reading – I read about 18th century set books.

Parinita: Oooh so historical fiction?

Aisha: Yeah. I love the Jane Austen period of time. So I read a lot of those stories.

Parinita: Oh you’re going to love A Sorcerer to the Crown.

Aisha: Oh really?

Parinita: It’s like a mix of that and fantasy.

Aisha: Okay. Sounds good. So last year I made a deliberate choice to read a little bit more fantasy because I don’t remember reading a lot of fantasy after The Hunger Games. I was like you know what, I need to include some fantasy in my reading list.

Parinita: [laughs] I’m glad.

Aisha: So I made a deliberate choice to do that last year. And most of the ones that I have read were not like you said, they were not Eurocentric you know. One was as I said, inspired by Chinese history. I read two that were inspired by Japanese ones. Although the author was not Japanese in the second book. I read another fantasy that was also Arab-inspired. But it was more inspired from stories of One Thousand and One Nights with Scheherazade.

Parinita: Oh I love retellings. Oh those are great. So if you go through your Goodreads and you do discover these names, I will for sure put the recommendations here. I’ll just read them out at the end of the episode because I’m sure a lot of people would love to discover new kinds of books.

Aisha: No that’s true, I’ll do that. I’ll have to go through my Goodreads

Parinita: Yeah. I feel your problem as a fellow Goodreads addict. [laughs] And since you like comics,  one comic that I do want to recommend is Ms. Marvel. I don’t know if you’ve come across it, it’s a superhero comic and it’s great. I was not into comics until relatively recently because I didn’t know where to start. I used to watch the Marvel movies and things but was not really interested in picking up the comics until I read Ms. Marvel in a public library a couple of years ago and my mind was just so completely blown. She’s a Muslim superhero but she lives in the US. She’s Pakistani-American but because Pakistan and India have so many shared cultural elements and history, of course, that I felt like I could see myself there. She was also a fanfiction nerd so she would go and write Marvel fanfiction when she’s out of school and things. And even though I’m not Pakistani and I’m not Muslim, for me it was that sense of seeing myself in a so much more complete way than in Parvati or Padma Patil for example. Because she was somebody I could so recognise. So yeah Ms. Marvel, for sure, you should pick up.

Aisha: Yeah. I’ve come across it actually and I think I browsed through it as well in the bookstore but I haven’t really read it so definitely putting it on my list.

Parinita: Yes! [laughs]

Aisha: Again just wanted to close with how much of a big role books can really take in one’s childhood and one’s adolescence. At the time, as we said, you grow up with Harry – when he was eleven, you were eleven. It was similar to me as well. By the time I was reading the fifth book, I was also fifteen. I think I was Harry’s age in fifth year. So yeah I couldn’t relate to the characters culturally but I could relate to some of the things that they went through. Like school stuff, some of the stuff that they went through with their teachers, how sometimes you felt even though you were surrounded by your friends, you felt a little bit different, right?

Parinita: Yeah.

Aisha: Different hobbies and different abilities that you have. Sometimes you are marginalised and so on. So I think at the time like you said in comparison to other things that were available, back then it was a very rich book; it was a very diverse [laughs] not by today’s standards for sure but for back then.

Parinita: No, absolutely.

Aisha: Yeah. I think it was. And I think that’s why even today whenever I hear the word Harry Potter and so on, I get so excited. Because it’s very nostalgic. It reminds me of all those good memories I had reading the books

Parinita: And you’re connecting to people that you wouldn’t otherwise have connected with. Like you and I, we come from Mumbai and Dubai, different cities, different cultures, different everything. But sharing the love of Harry Potter and through that finding other things that we share in common, I love that.

Aisha: Yeah. Exactly. No absolutely. And like you said, imagine those people who read those books and don’t see themselves in the stories. I think it’s very important that you can relate and you feel like I have a place in this fandom, I have a place in this story or in this media. So it’s important to include those cultural backgrounds and stories and have a central role you know. It’s not just to tick boxes. Just because oh here is ???

Parinita: Not just a referee in Goblet of Fire. [laughs] Not just a referee in the World Cup.

Aisha: Yeah. Referee, exactly.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aisha: Have real characters. There’s no shame in characters bringing in their cultural parts. I don’t see why they have to assimilate to the dominant culture or with the dominant characters. Like they can just ??? So yeah I think it’s just that. Seeing themselves in those stories – told in those stories and books, it’s very exciting.

Parinita: Yeah. I absolutely agree. Thank you so much Aisha for chatting with me on the podcast today and just expanding my imagination

Aisha: I had a blast

Parinita: Beyond Indian and Western cultures and ideas. It’s just been so fun!

Aisha: It was so much fun for me as well. It was like a trip down memory lane trying to remember all those memories.

Parinita: Absolutely. [laughs]

[Outro music]

You’ve been listening to our episode about cultural norms and cultural diversity in fantasy media. Thank you so much Aisha for your time and for such a fun conversation! I’m so glad our chat allowed us to reimagine a more radically inclusive Potterverse. For anybody interested in expanding your to-read list, here are the book recommendations Aisha couldn’t remember but promised to look up: Sophia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik, We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal, and Descendant of the Crane by Joan He.

[Outro music]

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. Here you’ll find the podcast episodes, transcripts, episode resources and links, and my research blog. You can also receive updates on Facebook or Instagram at Marginally Fannish or on Twitter where I’m @MarginalFannish. I share episode resources on social media so you can find a bunch of excellent fan podcasts and essays to look up. If you enjoyed this 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!

 

Episode 20 Because We Couldn’t See Ourselves: Cultural Representations and Cultural Imperialism in Western Media/Fandom

Episode Resources:

1) Fan podcast – Our Opinions Are Correct: What’s So Bad About Cultural Appropriation?

2) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds: Fantastical Feasts 

3) Fan podcast – Our Opinions Are Correct: Imaginary Immigrants And Time-traveling Refugees

4) Fan podcast – Alohomora: Muggles & Squibs – Not On The List

5) Fan podcast – Woke Doctor Who: Imperialism and the Doctor

6) YouTube Video – Empire and Imperialism In Children’s Cartoons—A Super Light Topic

 

Episode Transcript

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

[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 twentieth episode of Marginally Fannish. In this episode, I talk to Rita Faire about cultural imperialism in Western media and its online fan communities. As fans from the Philippines and India who have grown up in these fandom spaces, we also talk about how our participation has helped us decolonise our imaginations.

Media fans usually don’t start off by interrogating ideas that they’ve internalised about different cultures – including their own. The norms and structures within both media and fandom dictate which kind of fannish identities and cultures are considered superior. In many Western media fandom spaces, the cultural references and assumptions about people’s origins tend to privilege the US and the UK. For fans from certain backgrounds, online fandoms can erase parts of their identities. These spaces can offer limited narratives of both dominant and marginalised cultures.

However, critical discussions in fandom can help people think about issues in new ways. Encountering fans and perspectives that reflect identities which are otherwise marginalised in these spaces can disrupt taken-for-granted narratives. Talking about differently marginalised and privileged representations can help fans reflect on their assumptions and critically analyse their experiences, resulting in a collective process of decolonisation. It can also help people develop the confidence to challenge cultural inaccuracies and biases. Identifying colonised minds can offer the first step in moving beyond them and go on to diversify imaginations.

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

Happy listening!

 

[Intro music]

Parinita: Today I’m so happy to welcome Rita Faire to the podcast. Rita is a Filipino doctoral researcher and associate lecturer in Edinburgh Napier University’s Scottish Centre of the Book. Her current research is on picturebook co-edition practices in Europe’s periphery publishing environments. Rita is a board member of Researchers Exploring Inclusive Youth Literature (REIYL) and developed ‘Coming into View’, a literacy programme that’s aimed at understanding children of colour’s sense of belonging in children’s literature. She is currently co-developing a critical reading programme exploring the intersections of oppression in the creative industries. A lot of Rita’s work is after my own heart as is her participation in online fandom. And since we’ve both grown up in Asia in different countries, in this episode, we’re going to explore the different national cultures in global online fandom and we’re also going to chat about the different kinds of labour undertaken by fans from marginalised groups, especially when the creator of their favourite fictional worlds shares bigoted views. Before we get into that, though, Rita could you share your own experiences within online fandom?

Rita: Hi! So my experiences in online fandom, I think is very similar to a lot of people in their early 30s.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: [laughs] I got into it because of Harry Potter.

Parinita: Yes! Me too!

Rita: Actually, that’s not accurate. Sorry, as soon as I said it, I realised like I don’t think it was Harry Potter that brought me in.

Parinita: Oh!

Rita: I think it was anime. Because my first foray into fan communities was actually fanfiction.net and I was writing anime fanfiction. And then for some reason stumbled into Harry Potter fanfiction and that just owned my soul after that.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: So from there, I went into fan art communities that made banners for stories on fan fiction collectives or archives. I did online roleplaying as well in various sites; created online role playing sites as well.

Parinita: Oh my god that’s amazing.

Rita: Oh yeah I was definitely one of those people who lived on the internet and just got a lot of my social interaction from there because it was so different from the daily interactions that I had. I discussed things there that I didn’t discuss in real life.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely. It’s similar for me as well. I’m an extremely online person and I’ve been since I first got a computer. And even before that, when we used to visit cyber cafes in the neighbourhood, me and my friend.

Rita: [laughs] Oh my god.

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah that was a thing when I was a teenager. And we used to go and do that. But also what you’re saying about the quality of interactions being so different. I find that even now. I connect most with people who are fannish as in they have that enthusiasm about a text or media or something. Even if I’m unfamiliar with that particular fandom, I’m still connecting to them in a way that I wouldn’t possibly with another person who wouldn’t identify as a fan. Even though now I think because mainstream media is so prevalent in everybody’s lives, everyone is a fan of something. But I think that there’s a difference as well between how you’re a fan online and if you’re a part of a fan community in whatever way, even if you’re a lurker. It’s very different from just, “Oh I like that thing.”

Rita: Yeah. I think at least in the Filipino context, a lot of it has to do with how we view enthusiasm. Or open enthusiasm. ’Cause fan cultures online is a space that really celebrates enthusiasm. You can never be too keen about something. So there’s this concept in the Philippines, it’s called [says Filipino word]. And I guess it translates to keenness. And it’s like when you’re too keen about something or you feel something too much, then that gets kind of looked down upon. And you couldn’t be that massive of a fan in real life ’cause then I don’t know, it would be too vulnerable. It would be too revealing. Something like that. But you’d definitely be judged for it. Whereas online, you get to shed that artifice. And just be your authentic nerdish self.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: In the Philippines, is that just in terms of books and things?

Rita: No.

Parinita: Or is that just fandom in general?

Rita: That’s not even just fandom in general, it’s even in the arts. If you’re a singer and you just feel like you’re such a good singer, oh you’re feeling it too much. And I don’t know where that comes from. ’Cause I’m really hesitant to say that it’s a sense of Asian reservedness because Filipinos are also really well known to be big personalities. We are the karaoke people of the world.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: [laughs] I think that’s something that Filipinos are really well known for. We karaoke without shame. And regardless of talent.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: So why we would have that kind of reservation when it comes to fandom or when it comes to talent is beyond me. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah that’s really interesting because in India, even though something like  Harry Potter is more mainstream, most people would still read the books and even if they love it, they might not necessarily want more out of it like going online and engaging with fan productions or fan texts or fanfiction or whatever. But we have different regional cinema. So we have a Bollywood which is Hindi language and then we have many -ollywoods depending on which state you’re from. And those have massive fan followings. As in actors and musicians and singers. There were fans of this South Indian movie star called Rajnikanth.

Rita: Um hmm.

Parinita: And there’s this group of fans that went to the US because that’s where he premiered the movie first. So they flew to the US, even though I think the Indian premiere was two days later or something. And they create these altars like not temples in the religious sense, but they might as well be. Because they have the photographs and they put flowers on them and things you would do in a Hindu temple. So there is a huge craze which is quite mainstream in India. But that would be more for movies and singers and things who are more accessible to a larger mass of people than say something like Harry Potter or Doctor Who or these Western media fandoms that we’re talking about. So when I was growing up, I did feel like it was just me because when I was online. Nobody really seemed to say what country they’re from. Or if they did, they largely seemed to be American. Not broader Western but specifically American. So all these references and all the slang and everything that I picked up on was not just through fandom, it was through media as well. And it was largely American. I remember the first and maybe only fanfic that I wrote – it was a Harry Potter thing. And I had made a reference to a Star Trek fan. Do you remember they used to be called Trekkies?

Rita: Yeah but now they’re called Trekkers.

Photo of two men standing beside an altar with a photo of Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood actor

Image courtesy India Times

Parinita: Yeah. I referenced it in a way that was sort of derogatory. And I had no familiarity with Star Trek. [laughs] I did not know anybody who watched Star Trek. But because if you’re on the internet, you pick up on these references. And the corner of the internet that I inhabited, Star Trek fans seemed to be a very specific kind of fan. And in my fanfiction I’d written a random reference to that without really understanding what that meant. And now my boyfriend, he’s a huge Star Trek fan so I can’t show my fanfiction to him [laughs] because it obviously marginalises him. But yeah just thinking about how you internalise these ideas without really interrogating them.

Rita: Yeah. Well listening to you talk about fandom with the different -ollywoods of India, I started thinking … actually there were instances like that in the Philippines. There definitely were. But they just never were around the things that I liked. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Rita: Or maybe I took pride in not liking those things. I don’t know why. And I think that judgement of how much you’re a fan of is very reserved for a specific identity or like a specific class. I think some of it is definitely attached to class.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: But then another part of it I’m now thinking is that that’s slowly being eroded by the fact that the Philippines is crazy over anything Korean. I don’t know if this happened in India. But around the early 2000s, that was when the Philippines stopped being obsessed with Spanish language telenovelas and that’s when we started being obsessed with Asian telenovelas. At first it was Taiwanese with Meteor Garden and F5 And then it became Coffee Prince (?) and stuff like that. And I think at that point I was too into my online fandoms to engage with those fandoms. Because you can only have so much space in your life to obsess.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

Rita: And while you were talking about that internalisation of certain values, I realised that I grew up around fans. ’Cause my two uncles were huge Trekkies/Trekkers. They made models of gundams.

Parinita: Oh!

Photo of a gundam i.e. robot model

Image courtesy whatNerd

Rita: And they had little figurines of Dragon Ball Z stuff. So I grew up around people who really were demonstratively and monetarily engaged in their fandoms. But I find that since I was young when this happened, when I engaged in fandoms, online communities were a free way for me to do that. Because you don’t have to buy the merchandise. I can create art. I don’t have to build models because I can write fanfiction. And those kind of internalised things that you said, I’m thinking now that I think you’re right, we never really discussed our nationalities. Although I can remember in this very distinct instance when I was in the fan art community, I met one Asian person who was very demonstratively Asian. And it’s because their handle or I think it might have been their real name was very distinctly Asian. You could not mistake that for any other kind of nationality or ethnicity. And that was the first time I realised, “Oh there are Asian people like me online.” Because we’re not all just erased of our identities.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: And I guess it’s easier for some than others. But then that person was the only person I remember really putting their identity forward. They were Chinese-American and they were writing fanfiction with Chinese-Americans in them. They were making art with Asian faces on them. And at first I thought, it’s not the most popular thing to do. And I never really critically engaged that until now. Now that I think about it, now I’m wondering, whatever happened to this person – are they still a writer?

Parinita: Yeah! And they were way ahead of their times as well.

Rita: Yeah. ’Cause  it was the kind of open reclaiming that you didn’t see as much until now over the last few years.

Parinita: Yeah. I mean now it is more of a thing where people are identifying themselves belonging to not just nationalities but also you know other groups. But especially ten or fifteen years ago, that was not a thing at all. So there were these ICQ chatrooms. Again this is like [laughs] way back when I was a teenager when I first started engaging with fandom. And I think there was this room for fans of books or something – I don’t know. And we were just talking. I think I was like 13 or 14 or something. And that was when someone had recommended Harry Potter to me – not Harry Potter, sorry. Lord of the Rings. And I’d never heard of Lord of the Rings before just because the people that I knew in my offline life, nobody was a big reader and nobody would have known to recommend fantasy texts to me. But this person recommended Lord of the Rings to me because I loved Harry Potter so much and they were like, “Oh you like fantasy so you read this.” And then I think they said they were from somewhere in the US and then I said, “Oh I’m from India. Have you ever heard of India?” [laughs] It was such a colonised mindset. Of course now I would be like, “How could you not have heard of India?” And I would judge someone for not having heard of India if they’re online and they’re an online person and read things and engage with the world. But at that time, I had this mindset because of all the media that I was consuming, not just movies and books and things but also fandom. Because all the fanfiction and everything was set in the West. So it was in the UK or in the US – very Western contexts. So obviously I thought that everybody, even the fans, would only be in that context. And then who cares about India? Why would anybody know about India? Which now thinking back about that, oh my god what a naïve little child I was. [laughs]

Rita: Well to be fair, I still get people who don’t know where the Philippines is. I kid you not. And I have to tell them yeah, it’s in Asia, it’s in Southeast Asia. And people will still confuse Southeast Asia with East Asia and South Asia. I’m glad that now we’re having these discussions. And that we can openly say, “Oh actually, that’s wrong.” And you don’t feel embarrassed for correcting someone. Because that’s usually what happened before. If people mistook you for something else or had misinformation about your identity or anything within your context, you were really embarrassed to correct them. I remember saying that I was Filipino in an online space before and then realising that actually the other person I was talking to was also Filipino.

Parinita: Oh!

Rita: And we never realised. And now the thing I’m thinking about is whether or not we were both Filipino in the Philippines. ’Cause she made a comment on the university I went to. That’s how we realised we were Filipino. I mentioned what university I was going to that I’d just … I can’t remember if I’d just gotten into that university at the time. It was brought up, I mentioned it. And she said, “Oh! Certain comment.” Might have been derogatory.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: … Oh actually! Sorry I’m just replaying this entire conversation in my head right now as we talk on a podcast. Which really shouldn’t be the time when you do this. But no, she mentioned which university she was from. And I said, “Ooh!” Possibly derogatory as well. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: So yeah, she was from the Philippines as well! I didn’t even realise it. Oh see now that I’m thinking about it, who else did I talk to who was possibly a secret Filipino?

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Rukmini Pande’s work at all? She’s an Indian fan studies researcher who has written this book called Squee From The Margins. And I know you’re not really into fandom studies as much but a lot of her conversation is looking at postcolonialism and race and racism but in fandom, rather than in children’s literature.

Rita: I love it!

Parinita: And she draws on her own experiences as well growing up as a fan in India. And when reading that book, I felt so seen! Because she spoke about the same things that she thought she was the only Indian because like her and unlike you, I’d never met anybody at least in Mugglenet or any of these other spaces, ICQ whatever – who loved the same things but who were also from the same country. I don’t know if you ever had Orkut. Is that a thing that ever made its way to the Philippines?

Rita: I’m not sure now.  I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Parinita: It was huge in India and Brazil of all places. [laughs]

Rita: Oh the intersections of India and Brazil.

Parinita: Yeah. I mean currently it’s fascism so earlier at least it was better. But it was this social networking website. It was strange and really popular for a while. And now that I’m thinking about it, that was very much drawn on national lines. Most of the people that I knew there or had on my friends list or whatever they called on Orkut were Indian. They had things that resembled forum posts and we spoke about Harry Potter in that. So now just thinking about it, that’s the only Indian interaction I had. But I think in my head, because of the colonised mindset – and I obviously wasn’t able to articulate this at the time – but it wasn’t as much transformative fandom as it was just, “Oh we love this thing.” So there would be games and stuff on the forum but not really fanfiction or fan art. Maybe some roleplaying but not really creative things in the way that something like Mugglenet for example would have. So in my head I think I drew a distinction between the two that, “Oh Orkut full of Indian people and obviously not as good as this American website that is full of Americans and I don’t know secret Filipinos [laughs] who are talking about this thing.” So then as a teenager, just because of the social conditioning that you’re prey to, I decided that this was better than the other. And just now talking about it, I’m thinking that, oh wait I did have interactions with Indian fans but just obviously not in a way that I respected. [laughs] Which is hmm!

Rita: Well that’s the thing about it, isn’t it? We remember being outsiders that we associated so much with our experience online that it kind of drowns out the experiences where we weren’t outsiders, where we weren’t the only people of colour in the room.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: Or in the online chat as it were. I don’t know if you had the same experience and I would love to hear if you did. When your online and your real-life life crashed together. Your online and your real-life fandom.

Parinita: Hmm. In what way?

Rita: So when I went to university, the continuing saga. This is very chronological now. [laughs] When I went to university, in my final year of university I think, there was and I kid you not, a Harry Potter class.

Parinita: [gasps] What?!

Rita: There was a Harry Potter class. Shoutout to Anne Sangil – Anne Frances Sangil who created this module because it was [chef’s kiss] the most engaged literary criticism I ever experienced in university.

Parinita: [gasps again] I am so jealous!

Rita: It was so good. We discussed things like activism, through the lens of Dobby and freeing the house-elves and that sort of thing. Sorry, through S.P.E.W. I’m trying to think if we discussed race. I’m not sure that we did. But I’m sure current iterations of the module are still doing that. But yeah, it was a really in-depth discussion of Harry Potter. And so everyone in that class was either a huge Harry Potter fan online or they were newbies who thought this was a really easy class. They were very wrong.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: But then it brought the stuff that I experienced online into its physical form. Which was we created art, we translated Harry Potter and did a play of Deathly Hallows. That was a thing that I’m still weirdly proud of to this day. [laughs] And then that class introduced me to because that class engaged with Pinoit (?) Potter. Which is the Filipino chapter of the Harry Potter fandom. And so I got to go to events.

Parinita: Oh my god.

Rita: I got to go to a live reading of my professor’s critical analysis of Voldemort’s anti-hero’s journey. Fantastic. We speculated about the last book because it hadn’t come out yet at that point. But instead of doing it in a chat, we were doing it in a real space. Even though we all existed in those spaces.

Parinita: Wow.

Rita: And that was such a surreal experience for me.

Parinita: Oh that sounds amazing. The closest I’ve come to that in my university – so for my undergrad, I did mass media and focused on journalism. But in my second year, we had a module called Culture Studies and it was a very introductory thing because it was just for a semester. But one of the final assignments was to either describe or to write an essay about a specific subculture of anything in the world. [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: I don’t remember the guidelines. But because I was deep into my Harry Potter online fandom then, I thought that Harry Potter fandom would be an interesting subculture to write about. And I ran it by my lecturer and she was like yeah, yeah that sounds great. So I spent so much time putting this together. And I wanted to also not make it a boring essay which I would for any other class because it was something that I loved so much. It was such a labour of love, much like this podcast really, that I wanted to present it in a different format. I made it this whole art thing where I cut out Platform 9 and 3/4 tickets. And I made all these wands and things and just made this huge thing. So she was familiar with the text, with Harry Potter itself. But she wasn’t familiar with the fandom or with me as I found out. I was a maximalist. [laughs] Minimalism has never been part of my aesthetic. So there was just this one small corner that was looking very empty to me so I found the smallest bit of text that I could fit into it which was Accio brain? Accio brain? [tries different pronunciations] I don’t know how you

Rita: I never know how to pronounce it.

Parinita: Yeah, me neither. So whatever Accio – Accio [tries different pronunciations] brain. And I only found that because I literally looked up quotes of Harry Potter, you know how they have these compilations of quotes online. And that was the smallest that would fit. It’s from the fifth book when they’re in the Ministry and they’re running from the Death Eaters and they’re in the brain room.

Rita: Oh yeah.

Parinita: [laughs] So I put that in. But obviously she knew the text enough to take great offense at that phrase because she thought I was implying that she was brainless.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: And she failed me on that! And I was the most Hermione of Hermione students. And I was just so heartbroken that my labour of love was rejected so I never brought fandom into any of my other university projects.

Rita: You never brought it into real life.

Parinita: Never again. Well, until my master’s. [laughs] And now. So what about when you moved to the UK? Have you been engaging with fandom now?

Rita: I think it was just being so busy with studies that actually took me out of online fandom.

Parinita: Hmm.

Rita: Because up until the first two terms of my master’s, I was fine with engaging in online fandom. I was still on RP [roleplay] sites and stuff. And I still joined in the discourse, I still created art. But because I got so busy with my dissertation, I kind of disengaged. And I don’t know if you felt that way with online fandom as well but there is that sense of like if you don’t engage enough, you lose relevance.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: You do. You quickly disappear from the zeitgeist. Not just in your understanding of the fandom but also in the way that people interact with you. Because you’re no longer a daily part of their life. And there were times when I tried to regain that. To regain that space. But it didn’t really feel like it was my space anymore.

Parinita: Hmm.

Rita: So I kind of gently bowed away. Oh no actually I switched platforms for a while. I went to Tumblr. And I think Tumblr – R.I.P. – was a beautiful, beautiful space for me. Because it allowed me to engage in multiple fandoms at the same time. It wasn’t just a dedicated site anymore. I could do whatever the hell I wanted. So I had a lot of Sherlock engagement, I engaged in a lot of Pacific Rim, there was a lot of Deathless. So I was all over that. And I don’t know how I petered out. It might just be my exhaustion with social media now [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: It’s just I don’t engage with fandoms anymore. But then I realised my engagement with fandom is now just a two-way channel where me and my sister just text random things to each other. In the same way that we used to message people on chat boxes when something happened. So that’s been the extent of my fan engagement now. Which is kind of sad. I don’t want to say, oh you grow up and then you’re no longer a fan. That’s false. That’s completely false. It just kind of lose its place.

Parinita: Yeah. It’s just different ways of engaging with fandom, I think. Because I know there are a lot of older people – older as in like 50s, 60s – who are still active members of online fandom.

Rita: So true.

Parinita: But for me I was the same as you. I have a really obsessive personality. So I was online and in fandom for many years. But then once I got busy with other things, with work and stuff, I just didn’t have enough time and brainspace to dedicate to that. And I was largely a lurker, apart from that one time I wrote fanfiction. And now with this fan podcast. Otherwise, I’ve largely just been listening and reading and looking at art and things.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: And even that requires so much more time and brainspace than I had to give at that time. I was a part of Tumblr as well, briefly, but that is a not a good space for an obsessive person.

Rita: Oh it’s really not.  You just get drowned in all of the retumble – what is it called again? It’s not retweet oh god.

Parinita: Uh …

Rita: Reblogs!

Parinita: Reblogs, yes.

Rita: You just drown in all the reblogs and stuff.

Parinita: And it’s a great space for fandom

Rita: Wonderful.

Parinita: But then it just gets a lot!

Rita: Yeah. It gets overwhelming.

Parinita: Yeah. So for me, I also sort of bowed out. But then during my master’s, it was a master’s in children’s literature. But I’m not a huge literary analysis person. Because I’ve worked in schools and with kids and books and bookshops and activities and children’s literature festivals and things separately, so I like more reader response things, and reader interpretation than my solo individual interpretation of the book. So for me, fandom just made sense. And that’s why for my master’s, I looked at Facebook fan pages which were much less demanding than if I’d gone on say Archive Of Our Own or Tumblr or something.

Rita: Oh my gosh yeah.

Parinita: Because that would have been … I would have quickly lost sense of any boundaries. But Facebook is this contained space and it has a lot of screenshots and links to other websites and platforms. So it’s a nice accumulation. And then now for my PhD, I’m doing the fan podcast. And I’ve become a fan of fan podcasts.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: I think when I was younger, I used to love fiction and art and now I love critiques. I love the critical fans who love the things that they are watching and reading and whatever.

Rita: So true.

Parinita: But they love them enough to critique them as well. Critique elements that fall short because they want it to be better.

Rita: Well see, now that you’ve put it that way, it just feels like academia especially, kids lit academia, is just fandom.

Parinita: Absolutely!

Rita: It’s just another form of fandom. It’s fandom that’s legitimised by universities.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: That’s essentially it. All of this talk of PhDs and fandom, reminds me of when I was on one of the platforms I was part of, one of the admins there was doing her PhD on Victorian literature while actively being part of the fandom. And now in retrospect I think to myself, how the heck did you have time?

Parinita: How!? How.

Rita: [laughs] How!?

Parinita: Oh my god. Maybe it was a way to distract from the endless, [laughs] endless pit of despair that the PhD eventually becomes, as much as you love it

Rita: So true.

Parinita:. Much like fandom. [laughs] Academia, fandom you put in so much into it and you become a different version of yourself.

Rita: Well now I’m starting to think, was Harry Potter part of her PhD? Because a lot of the things that she wrote were very Victorian – the Victorian set or Victorian themes, gothic. Now I’m starting to think, did she do that? Or am I just hoping that she maintained her sanity by doing that?

Parinita: Yeah! Because I know a few people who are doing their PhD – and someone in one of my previous episodes as well – who found herself in an academic block because of the pandemic and the world and everything that’s going on. And she couldn’t really think in terms of academia and couldn’t bring those ideas to the fore. So she just went back to fandom after a break of five years or so and now is just churning out 10,000 word fanfics on a fandom I’ve forgotten. That’s her way to maintain something that she can control, I guess, in a world that you can’t control any longer.

Rita: Just even thinking about that – writing 10,000 words a day. I used to be able to do that in fanfiction. I cannot do that for my PhD. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Because as much as you love your PhD, it’s not the same kind of love.

Rita: Well, you don’t have to cite theory in your fanfiction now, did you? [laughs]

Parinita: But saying that, I think the sort of conversations fans are having is similar to academia – which is another reason for this project, because I’ve learned so much from fandom. After I moved past the – not past the – moved from the fanfiction part of fandom to the more nonfiction, critical aspects of it, I found that the way that they have arguments and articulate these arguments, they do a lot of stuff that I recognise in academia.

Rita: So true.

Parinita: I don’t know how the schools in the Philippines were but at least when I was growing up, the mainstream education system then and even to a large extent now, in India, isn’t really conducive to thinking about things in a way that places them in context with the real world. It’s more like you’re learning these facts.

Rita: Yes! Yeah.

Parinita: And you’re not learning how these facts are relevant or how they work together. You’re not learning how to think. You’re just learning what to think and you’re not learning anything beyond that. And for me, I was really good at that. [laughs] I was really good at learning what to think and memorising these things and spouting them out in exam papers. But it’s fandom that made me think about how to think. And also helped me unlearn some of these things. When you talk about decolonising, for me, that whole process started and continues online and in fandom as well.

Rita: So true. I remember in one of my experiences before, I was either an admin or one of the mods for an RPG site. And one of our members called out the fact that our panellists was mostly white faces. And that was the first time I’d ever encountered that – like think about the faces that you’re putting forward for people to portray themselves as; portray their characters as. If you don’t give them a choice, then you’re whitewashing your community. I don’t think at the time I critically engaged with it. But I did take on those lessons without the theory that academia forces upon us.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: But it’s just this real-life realisation like, oh of course you are erasing identities in a way. And I’ve had several experiences of that before where fandom critically engaged me into checking my privilege. Or checking how I portray a world, especially in original RPGs where you do a lot of worldbuilding. Like why is your medieval world so Westernised? And don’t just say it’s because it’s based off of Game of Thrones. Because that’s not an excuse anymore. So yeah it was really, really interesting going through that process. And I feel that the online community we left is so much better than the online community we went into.

Parinita: Absolutely.

Rita: It kind of makes me feel so jealous that I am not part of this online community. Because you’re right, it does critically engage. And one of the major topics that we’re discussing today is problematic authors. And the way that fandom has engaged with this discussion of problematic authors is something that I don’t know if I would have seen a couple of years back; ten years back. I don’t know if there would be fans who would say, no, actually I can disengage from this because this is problematic. And not just say, oh this is problematic but give out reasoned arguments as to why it is. Fans are reading up. Fans don’t just know the book, they know the context that the book exists in and they know the discourses around that book. That’s part of what being a fan is. That’s part of the obsession that comes with fandom. And the fact that they’re marrying that with critical engagement is just something so beautiful and gives me hope for the world in this year of our lord 2020.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: Not to say that fandom can’t be problematic because it can.

Rita: So true!

Parinita: I for sure in my own podcast and in my own experience as well have largely encountered the more progressive aspects of fandom. It’s a deliberate construction as well like the podcasts that I choose to listen to and the articles that I choose to read and the people I choose to follow on Twitter or wherever. So it’s obviously a deliberately constructed echo chamber, which I’m very happy with. I know echo chambers are dissed frequently.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: But I don’t want to engage with the horribleness that exists. I mean the world is horrible enough as it is.

Rita: Well part of the echo chamber is really protecting yourself against harmful discussions that could harm your mental health. And I understand that has detrimental aspects to it but I guess you could say echo chamber is a neutral term. It’s not something bad and it’s not something good. It depends on what it brings back to both sides of it.

Parinita: Yeah. People who are in leadership positions, who influence politics or culture where they have the financial, social, structural capital, is different from someone like a fan. A fan has other contexts as well but we’re not really influencing on a large scale how elections work, for example. Or how media is created and media is made or shared. So I think that it’s okay for us to have echo chambers because I don’t need to know what this terrible person who thinks Indians or immigrants should be deported all the time or thinks like England is for white people. I don’t really want this person in my online life.

Rita: That being said, one of the fan sites that I was part of way back during the Obama versus McCain election, there was an actual thread on the forums that discussed people’s political beliefs when it comes to them.

Parinita: Ah!

Rita: Yeah there were actually political discussions on platforms. I know that Paul Ryan was brought up a lot and fiscal conservativism. There was space for that. And our politics still show in the things that we write, I think.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely.

Rita: In the way that people get reviewed and stuff. But it wasn’t a neutral space. And I think that’s where the fallacy is. We’ve been talking about how online fandom erased certain parts of our identities. But they were never really erased. They were always there. But people either just chose to ignore them or we weren’t part of the discussions where people talked about those identities.

Parinita: Yeah. Also this forum you’re talking about, even in my master’s dissertation, there was this thing about comparing Kingsley and Fudge to the current political leaders. It was something to the effect of I wish we had a Kingsley Shacklebolt

Rita: Yes!

Parinita: Rather than all the Fudges that we have. And it led to this discussion from different countries and also different political leanings. About who is really Kingsley and who’s really Fudge. And there was I think a Pakistani fan and there was an Indian fan. Again, I wasn’t interacting with the fans, so it was mostly through lurking.

Collage of Harry Potter characters Kingsley Shacklebolt and Cornelius Fudge. Text says; We need more leaders like Kingsley instead of all the Fudges we have at the moment

Rita: Yeah. This was the lurking party.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs] But it was very focused on the US elections at the time. And that was during Obama and Hilary Clinton. Even the forum that you’re talking about, how many fans online would have this kind of discussion with Filipino politics or Indian politics?

Rita: Exactly! Yeah. And the fact that I was a Filipino discussing American politics. To be fair, there is a degree of how much American politics does affect us because of our colonial past. But at the same time, we wouldn’t talk about Filipino elections on that. You’re absolutely correct. That’s one way of almost cultural imperialism that happens in fan spaces. Because the things that we talk about more often than not are US or UK.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: I mean in Harry Potter, you can clearly see that because the preoccupations of the Harry Potter fandom is the UK. It’s sounding more UK, using UK terminology, slang terms. If you sounded more British in your writing, then that meant you were a good writer. It didn’t even take into account the story but it’s just like if you sounded – if your work read that way, then you were a good writer.

Parinita: Yeah there was a term for it, right? Brit-picking.

Rita: Yeah! As a Filipino, I remember when I first read Harry Potter at the age of eleven or something, I was so confused when they said jumpers instead of sweaters.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: [laughs] There are a lot of things that confused me as a little eleven-year-old. And it’s not just because of my youth. It’s because I never consumed media that called it like that. And because I loved Harry Potter so much it develops this Anglophilia in you.

Parinita: For sure.

Rita: And then you start living this life of aspiring towards Anglicanising yourself.

Parinita: Absolutely. And in terms of cultural imperialism and cultural politics, that takes over all aspects of your life, right?

Rita: So true!

Parinita: It’s not just the things that you read but it’s the language and what sort of food seems cool to you and what seems not as aspirational.

Rita: Exactly!

Parinita: It is so … Eurocentric.

Rita: Yeah. And even when I think about why I decided to go to the UK for my master’s degree, unfortunately because of how language and imperialism works, I spoke English and I was not entertaining learning a different language at that point in my life.  [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: I sincerely regret that. I wish I’d learned a different language. So I was choosing between the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. And, of course, one of the considerations was the fact that education in the UK is actually cheaper. Especially in Scotland compared to all those different countries. But there was also that little tick in my brain, that’s the land of Harry Potter.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: And it wasn’t just me that saw that. It was every person that I knew who was like, “Yeah you love British culture; you know British history.” Why was I interested in that? Because of Harry Potter and this thing that it kicked into gear for me. It felt like coming into a place that you kind of already knew.

Parinita: But also what you know is so limited as well, right?

Rita: Exactly! It’s so blinded by –

Parinita: And you don’t learn to identify this when you are not in that context yourself.

Rita: Exactly.

Parinita: When I was in India, I had this idea of the UK and the US – and a large part of Indians do as well – that you know the West! It’s wealthy and they don’t have problems. Because in terms of actual comparison, the kind of poverty Indians face and the kind of poverty the UK faces just structurally, socially, everything is very different. So it would be like comparing apples and oranges really.

Rita: Well you’re talking about poverty, it’s that thing about we were presented with the Weasleys as a poor family.

Parinita: I know!

Rita: But they’re clearly not how I understood poor in the Philippines.  I mean the Weasleys are kind of like landed gentry?

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: I guess? [laughs] I mean maybe not to that extent but the fact that Bill could inherit a house from his great-grandmother, that they had heirlooms.  [laughs]

Parinita: I grew up without a lot of money. The kind of problems that me and my mum faced, the Weasleys would never have faced. But I was like, oh this is how poor people are in the UK, I guess. [laughs] This is their idea of poverty. And it was only when I moved to the UK, and was engaging with the discourse here and with the kinds of problems that exist here which aren’t transferred to India at all – the news and things don’t communicate any of this to India. I guess why would they? But also then that leads to a very narrow idea of the UK and also a narrow idea of India.

Rita: Exactly.

Parinita: Which I could only disrupt once I was away from that context and in this context.

Rita: Once you absorb the actual context where that culture comes from, yeah, exactly right. For instance when you come here into the UK, you learn that a lot of poor families use food banks.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: The Weasleys never had a problem with hunger. I mean it was Molly’s stamp of pride that she always fed her family and she fed poor Harry. There are many living a much poorer life than the Weasleys.

Parinita: Yeah and she didn’t have to worry about what kind of food she was going to be feeding them. Maybe she did like in the background; maybe she was trying to reach into the back of the pantry or something, I don’t know.

Rita: Yeah because they always seemed to have fresh food. They never seemed to eat something that was canned or frozen. And then when you think about clothing and poverty, the Weasleys had new jumpers every year. They had new jumpers. And then when you think about poverty and space, the moment that they needed more space, they could just extend the house through magic.

Parinita: Yeah and each of them had their rooms.

Rita: Exactly!

Parinita: This was me, reading the book, living in this tiny one-bedroom Mumbai flat where me and my mum slept in the same bed.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: And I was like oh okay, I guess this is how poor people in Britain live. Because even in the US, when media talks about a person who’s poor in the US or a character who’s poor, they still always have their own rooms. Which to me was unimaginable!

Rita: Forget them, even Harry had his own room. It was a cupboard; but it was a room!

Parinita: But then he moved to a bigger room. I mean he had lots of abuse issues and trauma in that house.

Rita: Yeah Harry had a lot of trauma.

Parinita: But yes, he had his own space! Sometimes he was trapped in it. But it was his. [laughs]

Rita: It was his space. And yeah that’s the kind of thing that you realise when you come here. One of the things that I never really absorbed until I came to the UK, was regional identities. And the fact that if I’m not mistaken, Harry is a Londoner.

Parinita: Oh! That’s true. He is. Yeah, I don’t know where Godric’s Hollow is but yeah for sure he is.

Rita: Yeah. Harry grew up in London. So there are no markers of which part of London he was from. Because that is something that definitely comes into play. When you’re a Londoner, you very much attach yourself to certain parts of London. That’s part of your identity. Regionally, we don’t know who belongs where unless they have an accent that is written out. Like say Seamus Finnigan. Although even Seamus, I’m not sure if he was like Northern Irish or if he was Republic of Ireland.

Parinita: Hagrid as well. We’ve spoken about this before how he was othered for many diff erent reasons. And there’s also a choice between whose identity is reflected and whose isn’t.

Rita: Exactly yeah.

Parinita: I’ve been rereading the books recently and Minerva McGonagall – Professor McGonagall, I didn’t realise she was Scottish until I moved to Scotland and realised what the Scottish tropes are. She wears a lot of tartan.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: Has a lot of tartan bags, has a thistle on her hat. And I’m like oh okay, I understand now.

Rita: But see that’s the annoying thing. You’re representing Scotland as just this woman covered in tartan.

Parinita: But also in a way that I wouldn’t have – I didn’t pick up on when I was in India. When I was in India, I didn’t know about the UK politics as well. How Scotland is fighting for independence and how Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have their own issues and Wales has its own issues. I didn’t know all of this until I came here. And what you were saying about regional identity, that is also so superficial or non-existent in the books.

Rita: So true. Now people accept that Cho Chang is Scottish. The only reason why we think that is because a Scottish actress portrayed her in the films. Other than that, Cho Chang is a blank slate. Other than her name and her accent in the film adaptation, Cho Chang is a blank slate of a character. We don’t know any context to her whatsoever.

Parinita: This was something that Jack brought up. He doesn’t read Harry Potter. But somebody he follows on Twitter spoke about this. So this was what written in the 1990s?

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: And I think this was more of a function of the films with Seamus than in the books where I think he set one or two fires accidentally. But in the movies, they just went with it. Like he was the firestarter.

Rita: The firestarter. [laughs]

Gif from the Harry Potter movies of Seamus Finnigan looking into a cauldron which blows up in his face

Parinita: Yeah. And then that person on Twitter was like, this was not very long after the IRA bombings.

Rita: Oh my god.

Parinita: And people dying.

Rita: That’s true!

Parinita: Yeah! [laughs]

Rita: Oh my god I didn’t even think about that, the implications of making your only Irish character a fire guy.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs] Which again, I haven’t been keeping that much of an eye on it when I’ve been reading the books. I don’t think it was that big a thing in the books themselves than in the movies. But of course, a lot more people watched the movies than read the books. I think there are a lot of people who only watched the movies and didn’t read the books. So their idea of Seamus must have been this Irish person [laughs] who loves fires a bit too much.

Rita: But even when you think about racial identity – race and ethnicity in Harry Potter – you are not a person of colour unless it’s mentioned explicitly that you’re a person of colour. And the people that were explicitly mentioned as people of colour were very few and far in between. So as fans, we had to imagine a more diverse world than what J. K. Rowling put forward. And I think that’s why there’s this idea that Harry Potter is a diverse world. It’s not because of what she did. It’s because of what fans created after her.

Parinita: When I was reading the books, honestly, I didn’t even have the ability to imagine it to be more diverse.

Rita: So true!

Parinita: I’m still unlearning this but at that time, my mindset was completely colonised. I was like, oh of course the UK only has white people. Oh and there are one or two Indians

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: And just a vaguely East Asian sounding person. And there are a handful of black people because they’re mentioned as black. And I was like, okay yeah this must be how it is in the UK. I didn’t really question it. I didn’t really think about it. I never identified with Parvati or Padma Patil because they were not really the centre of anything. There are fans who were thinking at a much higher level than me because they were inserting Parvati and Padma into stories or into art and things. And they’re doing that now as well; centering them even though the narrative didn’t. But I had no ability to do that. Then I moved to the UK and I looked around. Scotland is not the most diverse part of the UK, but even Glasgow is much more diverse than what you would find by reading just Harry Potter.

Fan art of Parvati and Padma Patil dressed in saris which match their respective Gryffindor and Ravenclaw Hogwarts house colours

Patil twins by monsieurartiste

Rita: Yeah. And even thinking about Padma and Parvati and Cho Chang. These women of colour that you put into your story, all of them are kind of presented in slightly negative ways in one part or the other. Was it Padma or Parvati who was Ron’s date?

Parinita: Padma, yeah.

Rita: Who was seen as incredibly disappointed that he didn’t want to dance and was just ugh very frustrated with him. And then you had Cho Chang who for an entire book was just crying. I mean reasonably so because her boyfriend had just died. But I always think of her as this moody person.

Parinita: Yeah. I just finished reading Order of the Phoenix a week ago and I would think that Harry who was going through his own depression and trauma would have understood or at least sympathised with her. I know it’s explained to be in a very gendered way like Hermione understands the feelings and Harry and Ron are clueless. But you still have a sense of shared trauma. Cedric died and you both are getting over that. And he is still so quick to dismiss her feelings and to dismiss anything. Of course she’s crying all the time! Why aren’t you crying all the time!? Well you’re yelling all the time; I guess that’s your manifestation.

Rita: Well that’s the thing. Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t know how many women of colour are dismissed in the text? Or treated dismissively in the text? It’s just a minefield. When you start critiquing these literatures that you grew up loving, you just … I don’t know either it really shatters you and depresses you for a while. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: Or you – no, it’s not an or; what follows is you start looking at things with a more critical eye in the future. It’s not literature fandom, but I was very much a part of the fandom of Bon Appetit Test Kitchen on YouTube. And they went through a reckoning for race and equality because it came out that their producers, their creators of colour were not paid for their appearances or not paid at the same rate. And then after that, I didn’t know why at the time, but I just wasn’t excited to cook anymore. I just felt so like ugh anything will do. And then I only connected it much later when I realised oh yeah because the entire thing about it that made you happy was just shattered into a million little pieces. So of course it’s going to affect you in a very personal way. Because that’s something about fandom; it’s not just discourse, it’s not just objective. It’s interesting because I know someone who is actually studying Harry Potter fandom from a religious perspective, from the perspective of charisma. Anne Taylor shoutout by the way, her research. [laughs] So it makes you think how these things connect to us in such a personal way and in such a formative time of our lives that it’s no surprise that both of us came into really critical careers in our lives. [laughs]

Parinita: Oh, for sure.

Rita: Because we over-analysed Harry Potter to a T!

Parinita: Oh I wouldn’t have been doing a PhD if I didn’t love Harry Potter. Which is why I decided to launch this podcast and start this thing in January. And then of course there was the whole transphobia that began in December and just then carried on from June. Like you’re saying, it’s just made me so … not reluctant to engage; I still love the Harry Potter books because it was such a huge part of me, and it is still a huge part of me. And I can’t untie my sense of self from the books. But I’m now reading it with so much more of a critical lens because I am able to; something I wasn’t able to do even a like a couple of years ago. Before my master’s, I didn’t have the tools to be able to articulate even though fandom itself was doing these things. But it was still a slow journey for me. But in terms of J. K. Rowling, it’s been so depressing but it was very easy for me to cut her from Harry Potter. For me, I can divorce the two. I’m trying to follow the lead of a few of the fan podcasts that I listen to who are talking about how they’re no longer going to financially support her. But then you made a very good point when we were talking about this that even though there’s no financial capital, there is still social and cultural capital that fans help J. K. Rowling accrue which then transforms into financial capital.

Rita: Yeah, exactly. Because by keeping her in the zeitgeist, in the topic of discussion, you are giving air to her property. It was easier to do this before, to divorce an author from their work before because we didn’t consume authors the way that we do today. Like right now, you can say that for instance … name a problematic author of the past.

Parinita: Lovecraft?

Rita: Let’s say Lovecraft. Lovecraft had a platform, yes. Could write things that the fans would consume, yes. But not at the same rate that people consume social media. And it’s also not at the same access of people who are so young. Because even though there are age restrictions on social media, it doesn’t prevent children and young people from still consuming that media.

Parinita: Yeah, because all you have to do is click a tick box saying that yes, I’m over 18.

Rita: Exactly! You just have to lie. And people do that all the time. So they consume her media. And because we were talking about how painful it was for us, how formative it was for us, but we are removed from that formative era in our lives. Whereas a lot of children who are engaging in that still are in that era. So her beliefs would influence their beliefs.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: Because we remember what it’s like to idolise someone. And that’s the thing that when we love media now, we idolise creators. People don’t just love Game of Thrones, they love George R. R. Martin. Or people didn’t just love Doctor Who, they loved Steven Moffat. Hmm arguably so. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: It’s a very, very split camp. [laughs] But yeah, in today’s realm of cultural production, we are so connected to the people who create them. And it’s so hard to say I’ll still consume Harry Potter. Because for instance, I’ve made the decision to not support Harry Potter anymore and I think this will be my last public discussion on Harry Potter. Or public like with a platform like this. I’ve decided to disengage from that because when I read Harry Potter now, I do see the gaps in her representations. I see the fact that she doesn’t see people of colour. I see the fact that she has a very skewed idea of what poverty is or what Asian people are, for instance. And it’s hard to say that the media that you love is something that you can still love despite all that. At least for me. It’s really difficult. And who knows? Maybe in the future once … like in the very distant future – not ill-wishing on anything! But once maybe in the future, not in our generation but in the generations after us, when she is much like other authors who have gone and passed, maybe there can be a kind of contextualised consumption of Harry Potter. But today it’s really difficult to do that.

Parinita: Yeah. I’m totally with you. For me, like I said, I’ve reacted to it differently with just as much despondency but not – not even unwilling, unable to let go of Harry Potter, for a lot of reasons. But what you’re saying, I completely am with you there. She’s very directly attacked trans people and trans fans and they are letting go of it but others as well with more privilege; like cis people with more privilege and who are not directly impacted by that but are allies are also letting go of Harry Potter, like you are.  And I completely am with you on that. But for me, because I think fandom – and Harry Potter has always gone side by side with fandom for me, even though I started reading the books when I was ten, and started engaging with the fandom when I was thirteen, so there were a few years there when I was all by my lonesome. But otherwise, I’ve grown up with Harry Potter fandom and on Harry Potter fan platforms. The kind of thinking that I have now, and I’m still growing with fan podcasts like Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, Witch, Please, The Gayly Prophet, who are all undergoing this reckoning of how do you continue to engage with a text when the author’s politics are completely separate and something you abhor? And it’s something I don’t think there’s an easy answer for. And I think it’s very individual as well. I know some podcasts like Flourish on Fansplaining, they’ve said that they can no longer, because it’s tainted completely. It’s too toxic so they can’t engage with it at all. Whereas I think other fan podcasts like the three that I mentioned are still continuing with Harry Potter talking about it but distancing themselves from J. K. Rowling. They are saying that for us it’s about loving the text and not the author. And they try and raise money for trans charities and they try and create a safer space for queer fans and trans fans and nonbinary fans.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: But you’re completely right that even if it’s not contributing financially, it is contributing socially and culturally as well. But for me, I’ve also learned so much through these discussions themselves and all these critiques of J. K. Rowling because I didn’t have this idea of transphobia – just all the stuff that she’s saying and all the context that it comes with. Because someone who reads her tweets without any background knowledge or context is not going to really understand how it’s transphobic or why it’s transphobic. And there have been other people much better suited than me who’ve explained and decoded the language and why it’s transphobic and what it emerges from. And for me, it’s been so good to see fans who’ve divorced themselves … I guess they’re more progressive than the author herself is. So even in terms of reading themselves into the text, what you were saying earlier, they’ve made the world more progressive. It’s almost like fandom canon and actual canon are almost separate – not really, but almost.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: That there’s room for a more progressive space which in turn has influenced how I see and how I write stories and how I analyse other texts. Because I’m thinking about these things; these conversations they’re so much at the forefront of my mind now that I apply that lens to all the media that I consume. Which for me is too valuable to give up.

Rita: Yeah. And I think to myself as well like one of the questions that we raised in some of the conversations that we had before was can you actually reclaim a fandom from an author? Again, like you said, there’s no easy answer for that. Because it’s easier to answer these things once you have hindsight.

Parinita: Exactly.

Rita: But as we live through the experience, all of the things we do will basically just be the discourse for later on.

Parinita: Yeah. I know. It’ll be a PhD project for a future scholar.

Rita: [laughs] So true!

Parinita: For a future fan.

Rita: Oh my god and you’ll be supervising them. [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] Oh my god. I’m trying to tear academia down from the inside. I can’t imagine myself – well maybe if I supervise them to make a TikTok thesis or something.

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: Though not in India because our government has banned TikTok.

Rita: Oh our government is in conversations with Facebook.

Parinita: Oh! Really?

Rita: I’m not sure what’s happening on that front. But there was a direct message from the President to Facebook. So I still have to follow that. How do we process all these things? How do we process the toxic author? How do we move forward? And the progressive work that we’re doing to move forward from this while still engaging with the fandom. I think that’s one of the saddest parts of this entire discourse, the emotional labour that fans have to go through because of the mistakes that J. K. Rowling made. Even before this, when fans were restorying and adding diverse identities into fan texts and contributing to that collective understanding of what the Harry Potter world is. Because we couldn’t see ourselves so we wrote ourselves in. It was the same with the LGBT communities. It’s the same with ableism and disability. Because we don’t see ourselves in this text, we take on the emotional labour of having to add them in. Knowing that the addition is from us and not from her.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: And then now with the discussion on transphobia, we are having to take on so much emotional labour to process what’s happened and to decide how we want to interact with the fandom in the future. And again that’s emotional labour that was forced upon us by this problematic fandom. And that’s the other I think reason why I decided to not engage with it anymore because I’m just tired. [laughs]

Parinita: I mean honestly with the timing of it as well. You said this in December and then you were silent for several months about it, responded to nothing to do with it. And then right in the middle of a pandemic, right in the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and the UK, right in the middle of so many different things like Brexit, that’s when you decide to attack an already marginalised group using your platform and your privilege and all the status that you have to target this vulnerable group of people. Honestly the fans have had so much of a better understanding of the stuff that you’ve written.

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: Fans have read so much more progressive messages into the books than apparently you meant? Because apparently you didn’t mean that everybody should be equal. Which if you read the books only wizards and witches are equal anyway. Nobody else is equal.

Rita: Oh my god. One of my favourite things that fans have contributed to the text was this Pride poster. I’m sure you know which one I mean. The one that says, “What Harry Potter taught me is that no one should live in a closet!” [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs]

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

Rita: The fact that she doesn’t see the connection of how much the LGBT community loved Harry Potter, how much certain members of the LGBT community loved Harry Potter. And to break them down, to break their hearts with such language and such rhetoric, is just ugh it hurts!

Parinita: And also what she’s inspired. It’s not just her. Because of the platform and the privilege and the role that she has in mainstream culture, she has inspired so many – not a lot of people that I’ve encountered, but I know there is a world beyond my echo chamber. So these horrible people are citing her to further erode rights that trans people and LGBTQIA people have so painstakingly gotten. As if that’s what we need in 2020! We have fascism everywhere and then there’s this.

Rita: [sighs] This reminds me of my favourite response to J. K. Rowling’s transphobia. There’s this YouTube reviewer named Dominic Noble who has a Harry Potter persona – that reviews Harry Potter content. And that persona’s name is Terrence. Terrence is a half-blood in the context of this. So at the very end of his response video saying that he won’t engage in the Harry Potter fandom anymore, won’t make any more video, he brings on Terrence who gets a letter from his dad saying, “How are you Terrence? How are you doing? Your mum and I have always told you that you were a half-blood. But we never told you what that meant.” And he pulls out [laughs] this Percy Jackson t-shirt.

Parinita: [laughs]

Image of an orange t-shirt with the words "Camp Half-Blood" and a pegasus on it

Image courtesy Wiki

Rita: And he just has this expression, “Oh my gods?” [laughs] That resonated with me so much because it’s saying that yes, you can love something and let it go. But there are other things that you can obsess about that have less toxic creators. Don’t get me wrong. Percy Jackson has its own problems especially with its representation of disability. But at least its author is not – or at least as far as I know, because god the year of our lord 2020 has brought a lot of surprises on us.

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: So you never know who’s a secret racist or whatever. [laughs] But yeah you can move on. There are still other texts to enjoy, Harry Potter was not the only thing that we loved. And if we’re disengaging with something, we can transfer all of that love that we had for Harry Potter into something else. And right now, I don’t know how appropriate it is because again this process of decolonisation is lifelong.

Parinita: It is.

Rita: And it goes across all things you consume, not just Harry Potter. So one of the things that my sister and I really, really loved growing up – which is really strange given what the text is – was Frank Herbert’s Dune. Massive fans of it. It was really strange for two eleven- to thirteen-year-olds consuming this massive piece of philosophical sci-fi. Loved it! And now the film is coming out. Well it’s been postponed, which was very sad. But I’m like, oh this is something that I can just redirect my love. Where before it was divided, now I can just redirect all of the things I loved to this and be excited for the release of this. Again, Dune is not without its own problems especially the adaptation does not feature Middle-Eastern or North African characters when the book borrowed so heavily from those cultures. But it’s good because I guess now I’m engaging with these texts by contextualising them, acknowledging their faults, and not having that really blind adulation that I used to have for Harry Potter.

Parinita: Yeah.

Rita: And I don’t know. Is it a sign of personal growth? Or is it just us protecting our broken hearts from being broken again? [laughs]

Parinita: [laughs] I think it’s both. We cannot have good things without some toxic everything.

Rita: And I can’t remember who was the creator where I realised that, oh they have problematic views. And I just told my sister one day, “The thing that 2020 has just taught us is never have heroes.”

Parinita: [laughs]

Rita: “Never have heroes! They will all disappoint you!” [laughs]

Parinita: That’s a very chipper note to end this podcast on. But it is 2020 so that’s as cheerful as you’re going to get. [laughs]

Rita: Yeah.

Parinita: Thank you so much Rita for being a part of this project and for this conversation. I know we’ve approached it in different ways and we have different experiences and different reactions as well to Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling. But it’s been so valuable just talking about it as well. And articulating my ideas by talking to you about it.

Rita: I know. It’s great. Especially when you’re decolonising yourself. One of the things we didn’t get to talk about but would have been interesting to talk about as well is we are two people from heavily colonised countries engaging in British texts. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah. So we need to do another episode.

Rita: Oh my god.

Parinita: Just to talk about that because that’s a minefield.

Rita: Oh my god like Harry Potter and Empire is a whole other discussion I could definitely have.

Parinita: Our next episode title has been set. [laughs]

Rita: [laughs]

Parinita: But really thank you again for the time and the conversation. I really appreciate it.

Rita: No problem. I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much! And even though I disengaged with Harry Potter, I’m happy to talk with you about that disengagement.

Parinita: [laughs]

[Outro music]

You’ve been listening to our episode on encounters with diverse cultures in Western media and fandom. Thank you so much Rita for sharing your enthusiasms and frustrations. Our conversation has helped me see so many familiar things anew and I hope this process of decolonisation is a lifelong one.

[Outro music]

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. Here you’ll find the podcast episodes, transcripts, episode resources and links, and my research blog. You can also receive updates on Facebook or Instagram at Marginally Fannish or on Twitter where I’m @MarginalFannish. I share episode resources on social media so you can find a bunch of excellent fan podcasts and essays to look up. If you enjoyed this 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!

Episode 13 You Want To See Yourself In That Story: The Impact Of Religion And Regional Origin

Episode Resources:

1) TV show episode – Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab 

2) Fan podcast – Verity: Angels and Demons of the Punjab

3) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: Witch, Please and the Rise of White Nationalism 

4) Fan podcast – Harry Potter and the Sacred Text Owl Post Edition: How to Be in Community with Burns Stanfield [listen till 19 minutes 52 seconds]

5) Fan podcast – Harry Potter and the Sacred Text Owl Post Edition: Reclaiming Tradition with Professor Matt Potts [listen till 20ish minutes]

6) Fan podcast – Harry Potter and the Sacred Text Special Edition: Owl Post and Broderick Greer [listen till 18ish minutes]

7) Fan podcast – Fan podcast – #WizardTeam: Pottermore Edition Part 3 History of Magic in North America

8) Essay – Thor: Ragnarok is a Hilarious Blockbuster About the Evils of Imperialism

9) Fan podcast – Our Opinions Are Correct: What’s the matter with Star Wars?

Episode Transcript:

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

Doodle of an angry face. Text says: me, during podcast recording

Extremely appropriate cover image courtesy Aparna who doodled it while we were recording.

[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 thirteenth episode of Marginally Fannish. In this episode, I talk to Sanjana and Aparna about how religion as well as national and regional origin intersect in both the real and fictional worlds. We also discuss how governments and mainstream media weaponise these topics to oppress people. Since these issues are very relevant to current global events, please be warned that I go on several angry rants throughout this episode. Thanks to our impassioned discussion, in the beginning of the episode we begin talking about Demons of the Punjab without mentioning that it’s a Doctor Who episode about the Partition of India and not about actual demons – though I’m sure you can find people who’ve called the British Empire much worse.

Who writes history and whose version of history is portrayed by mainstream media has contemporary real-world impacts. Media can provide multiple stories and versions to counter false narratives. Alternatively, it can emphasise divisive accounts with damaging consequences for relationships among diverse groups. Fictional-world politics also have real-world parallels based on religious and national demographics. An increasing number of people are beginning to question the underlying assumptions of religious and national stories. Retellings can reclaim tradition to make it radically inclusive to historically marginalised groups of people.

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

Happy listening!

[Intro music]

Sanjana: Hello! I’m Sanjana.

Aparna: Hi! I’m Aparna.

Parinita: And hi! I’m Parinita. In today’s episode, we’re exploring the themes of religion and national or regional origin. In previous episodes, we’ve looked at how specific themes are represented in some of our favourite media but this time we’re taking a slightly different approach. All three of us are from India, though I currently live in the UK. And none of us are religious. So it didn’t really make sense to us to analyse religious representations. Instead, we’re looking at how religion and which country you come from or which part of the country you come from is weaponised by mainstream media as well as several governments including our own. So, you know, a super light-hearted topic to explore. Since this is a fan podcast, we’re going to be drawing on examples from our favourite stories and fandoms as we chat. And just to give you an idea of my mood, we were supposed to record this episode three days ago. But the research for it and the current news events depressed me so much that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s the 7th of June, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, migrants in India are dying because the government is failing them miserably on all fronts, protesters in the US are marching against police brutality and the police are responding by tear-gassing them or running them over in cars or shooting them with rubber bullets. In India, anti-government protesters are being jailed but people who shot or beat them up aren’t and J. K. Rowling is back to tweeting some transphobic bullshit again because apparently everybody was just too distracted by everything collapsing to pay attention to her. [sighs] I’m just so tired you guys.

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: Oh my god. That sounded very, very exhausting. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah. So considering where the world’s currently at, I thought the intersection of religion and national or regional origin is especially relevant.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: So all three of us come from huge positions of privilege. I’m not religious but I come from a non-Dalit Hindu background. I don’t actually know my caste and this ignorance itself is an immense privilege, as is being able to ignore my religious background. So if I go to rent a flat in a Mumbai housing society, the agent won’t look at my surname and say that this society doesn’t rent homes to Muslims, as happens frequently.

Sanjana: Yes.

Parinita: And I’ve never been discriminated against because of my caste. We’re also pretty privileged in terms of what part of the country we’re from. So you both are from Bangalore and I’m from Mumbai, both big cities which tend to take more than their share of resources from rural areas. And the Indian government at the moment is actively oppressing people based on their religion. So you’re only the correct kind of person if you’re Hindu. And even if you’re Hindu, you’re only the correct kind of person if you’re upper-caste. And you also have to be from the correct country otherwise the government hates you.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And even if you’re from India, you have to be from the correct part of India and you have to be from the correct class. So if you’re middle-class or wealthier stuck abroad during the pandemic, the government will rescue you with planes. If you’re working-class or poorer stuck in cities thousands of kilometres from home, well, you’ll just have to walk back to your villages in the summer sun. Or pay for a train which has no food or ventilation or sell your life’s possessions to afford a ticket for a flight and a taxi to the airport just to find out that the flight has been cancelled. So yeah, I thought that talking about how fascist governments weaponise religion and national or regional origin was a super timely topic. What do you guys think?

Sanjana: Yeaaaaah. Pretty much. [laughs]

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: If it could get even more exhausting, you did make it.

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: With the specifics of how exhausting the world is right now.

Aparna: In the whole world, the majority is suddenly inexplicably feeling attacked. Like they’re losing their identity and everything is just going nuts. So yeah. It is super timely is putting it mildly.

Sanjana: Pretty much. I feel like religion in history has always been like this tool to use to just make it easier for you to rule. And move things forward. Basically, most people that benefit from it are the ruling people in power so to speak.

Parinita: Yeah and we have all these stories in history of people using religion against each other.

Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: Where are all these stories or historical narratives where people of different religions live together somewhat harmoniously?

Aparna: Yeah!

Parinita: They exist. I’m sure they do.

Sanjana: Yeah especially because they do. So just going back, the way you were describing the people trying to make their way back to their house, a lot of people on social media and other places did draw comparisons to the Partition. When people had to migrate in these huge numbers and there were eerily similar pictures of that time versus this time.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: And really it shouldn’t be happening now. And in fact, it brings us to one of the Doctor Who episodes that we looked at for this episode – Demons of Punjab. What did you guys think of the episode?

Aparna: I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it as much as everyone seems to based on all the reviews that I read or all the people we heard talking about it.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: I didn’t think they exactly trivialised it, but the issue is so complex for us – I think maybe that’s why I felt like it fell a little flat in the way that it was dealt with. There is no one episode that could have probably done justice to it, but it felt like it was over with very quickly – the explanation of what’s happening. Whereas for us, it’s such a loaded time in our history.

Sanjana: Yeah. And one of the things that was very evident to me is whose story is being told? Because when we watched the Doctor Who Rosa episode for our podcast episode on race, we loved the episode right at the onset.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: And when we heard the Woke Doctor Who episode where they spoke about the episode and all the problems with the episode, we were like, “What?! Yeah! You’re absolutely right.” With comparison to how they loved Demons of Punjab and we didn’t quite love it. We weren’t in love with it. We did have problems with it. And I think that’s basically how the way history is consumed becomes very limited and subjective to how it’s being told and to the people whose story it is – who were directly affected by it. When I was watching the episode, I thought of how there were so many stories. Our grandparents came from Pakistan to India when the Partition happened – my mum’s grandmum, my dad’s grandmum. I remember my dad telling us stories about how they dug the walls of these large houses that they had and put in all their possessions into the walls and cemented it back in hopes that they would get back there someday. And it was huge amounts of migration and it felt a little bit like let’s just tell this one tiny part of this countryside story of this one woman who – which is fine, which is whose story we were there to tell. But except for those uh for the um the what – what were the creatures who were mourning the dead?

Parinita: Oh I don’t even remember.

Sanjana: The alien witnesses [they’re called the Thijarians]. Except them saying that they were there because a lot of death was about to happen, there was no other mention of the enormity of what was going to happen – of that part of history.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Yeah, I completely agree with you. I didn’t hate the episode. I didn’t think it was offensive.

Sanjana: Absolutely, yeah.

Parinita: It was just a bit meh episode.

Sanjana: Yeah exactly!

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: We’ve grown up with these stories. For you it was through grandparents. For me it was just culturally and in history class and things. We know about all these different stories. So for us it’s much more of a lived experience than I think this 45-50-minute episode could even hope to achieve. But what I found really interesting in a good way was in the Verity fan podcast episode that we listened to which discussed this episode, the three women there – I think one was British, one was American, and one was Australian, I believe. Or Tasmanian?

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And they acknowledged their positions that they were three white ladies talking about something which didn’t impact them. They really loved the episode, but more than that for them, it was a way to educate themselves about this history that they had no idea of – except the Scottish host; she knew a little bit about it. But the other two hosts didn’t. And I loved that they took the time to look for all these different resources and try to fill the gaps that they had in their own knowledge. Because even us, though we know a lot of Western history because colonial impact and cultural imperialism.

Sanjana and Aparna laugh.

Sanjana: Of course.

Parinita: So we know a lot about American history just in general. But there are huge parts of world history that even we don’t know, right? Even though we were colonised, I don’t know a lot of African history, for example. All the different countries there. Or even East Asian history. So the fact that this story allowed them the opportunity to get to know these things, I really loved that.

Sanjana: Yeah, no absolutely. So what the episode did in terms of creating dialogue, I feel like yeah it certainly did. And the whole thing between the two brothers did show two sides of the same religion as well. It wasn’t an all bad episode; it was quite a decent episode. Yet lacking in some places which is just the comparison between how we reacted to the Rosa episode.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: Which absolutely goes to show how – whose story it is, their reaction to it is so vastly different.

Parinita: Yeah. Even as meh as I found the episode, I found it super depressing also. Just because of Manish who is this Hindutva terrorist predecessor.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Absolutely.

Aparna: After all this time, it’s just the most important thing in the country still for some reason.

Parinita: Yeah. And it’s become mainstream now. This hatred, this distrust of Muslims. This Pakistan-India sort of binary.

Sanjana: Yeah. This just reminds me of one of the things that mum told me about my grandfather and how he grew up. So he had this habit of reading the Ramayana every day in the night before he slept. It was a thing he did. And he did not know how to read Hindi. His Ramayana was in Urdu. Because when he grew up, his early years were in Pakistan, in Punjab, and he grew up reading only Urdu so his Ramayana was in Urdu. He he read it from back to front. And I thought it was just the most interesting thing. Nobody even knows about these little things. The way media portrays religion in general is so divisive that these little things just don’t – nobody even knows these things. [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah that’s so lovely. And just history in general, right? It’s something that they mentioned on the Verity podcast, where in the UK, the history of the Empire in general, but the Partition as well, it’s not really taught so much in school. It’s this elective thing that you can do. Which is why I think this lack of history or historical knowledge and their role in historical oppression has created this false narrative of past glories in the head of a lot of British people today.

Sanjana: Exactly.

Parinita: Which is similar, I think, to India where not knowing these nuances and the kinship and community that we have not just with Muslim people in India but also Pakistanis has created this terrible, terrible narrative where we see them as enemies.

Sanjana: Exactly.

Aparna: Yes, and it’s still happening. Because we’re still reading in the news that in UP and Rajasthan, they are changing textbooks to remove Nehru’s name or adding the Swacch Bharat campaign mentions into school textbooks. This is what people are reading. This is what people are consuming, this is what kids are consuming. So the narrative is changing even before it’s history. It’s already being written to favour the majority all the time.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Yeah and you can’t really learn from your mistakes in the past without acknowledging them. Right?

Aparna: Exactly!

Parinita: You’ll be doomed to repeat the same thing. Can you believe that people are defending Nazis what 60-70 years after the war that was supposed to end all wars? People are defending fascists or people are being fascists in all these different ways. In Indian contexts, Muslims and Hindus were fighting together to kick the British out of India and this is what we’ve come down to now. We have this internal enemy. And the way that history is taught in schools is so rubbish.

Aparna and Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: The importance is the dates and the events rather than the context of those dates and events. I think we’ve spoken about this briefly before but yeah, if you don’t acknowledge the mistakes that you’ve made and the nuances and the complexities that were there in the past, how are you going to learn from it and not repeat those same mistakes?

Sanjana: Absolutely.

Aparna: I read this interesting article on Tor about Thor: Ragnorak and it made a statement of how Hela was erased from history by Odin. And it’s also an erasure of everything. It’s trying to rewrite and simplify the past so that his authority is not questioned because his mistakes have been quickly brushed over. Which is fascinating because that’s exactly what happens in real life also.

Parinita: Yeah similar to that I think in an American context – well, also Australia and Canada. Just wherever the colonisers went where they were basically oppressing the indigenous people and suppressing their knowledge and their culture. So the Native Americans in the US and Canada and the tribals in Australia and New Zealand. This is not something that we know a lot of in India – at least I didn’t – about Native American culture and history. I’m not really very well-versed with it. But because J. K. Rowling –  I think it’s been a couple of years now – wrote Magic in North America, this Pottermore article to promote the Fantastic Beasts films.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Um hmm.

Parinita: And that created this huge backlash because of the way that it portrayed Native Americans as these primitive people which was perpetuating these false ideas of the culture where Europeans were the saviours basically and they brought all this knowledge and culture and completely erasing the Native culture, languages and histories. And that’s something that’s been critiqued a lot in terms of J. K. Rowling’s representation. But when I was watching Anne With An E.

Sanjana: Yes.

Parinita: What I really liked is – we’ve spoken about this before, the way that they’ve made this story that was written in the 1800s more inclusive and more contemporary and more relevant to the social and cultural contexts of today. And in Anne With An E, I really loved Ka’Kwet’s whole storyline. And how they showed how the Christian missionaries tried to brutally assimilate Native children into the Christian norm. This is a piece of history where they were stolen from their families and they were sent to these residential schools and these boarding schools. So it is very much a part of history where their language and her name, her hair, her clothes – all aspects of her culture were stripped away from her and her very identity was taken in this really violent way. It’s something I think now in Canada and in Australia and in New Zealand, they’re coming to terms with it more, this horrible part of their history. But it’s generations of erasure and generations of oppression. And this can’t go away instantly. This work has to be done actively to reverse this oppression.

Gif from Anne With An E. Text says - Anne: It's funny how people are so quick to point out differences when there are so many ways we're all alike. Ka'Kwet: Alike.

Aparna: And we can only start doing that work by telling these stories. Which is finally changing because for so long we’ve just been consuming media that has been created by a majority. So the white guys will be the good guys in everything that we’ve seen from when we were kids. And it’s only now that we’re starting to see diversity in the stories that are being told or the stories we’re consuming. And it’s because of the diversity of creators and things like that. But this is the first step. Acknowledging everyone’s stories is the first step to changing the narrative that’s been in everyone’s minds for so long.

Parinita: Yeah absolutely. All these conversations that happen in the West, in terms of diversity and all these cultures on the fan podcasts that we’ve listened to but also just in general online, they always make me draw Indian parallels because that’s what I know more of. So this Native American erasure of their culture and knowledge made me think of parallels with Indian tribal and rural cultures.

Sanjana: It did, yeah.

Parinita: Where their ways of knowledge and medicine and culture and their connection with the environment, the land, everything is erased, is marginalised. And the Indian government is almost the colonising force. The oppressed became the oppressors.

Sanjana: Yeah. What you’re saying is reminding me of the book Year of the Weeds. Where Siddhartha Sharma basically talks about the same thing as to how the hill being a religious entity for them is so hard for anybody to understand or even take seriously. It just doesn’t even fit into the context of even being looked at or considered as something in the large scheme of things. We need this done, who cares. Whereas if it had been a temple there and nobody in the government, then there is no bauxite.

Aparna: [laughs] The government would have never thought of doing that.

Sanjana: Absolutely.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: If we want to build a road and if a temple was there before the road, the road goes around the temple in this country. And this was similar to when we were discussing what happens in Avatar: The Last Airbender with the monks and the Fire Nation and how they are completely obliterated. It’s the same parallel to that.

Parinita: Yeah. I listened to an Imaginary Worlds episode called Growing Up Avatar-American. It had an Asian-American guest who was talking about how he didn’t find any Asian representation in media while he was growing up especially Asian-American representation. Because Asian-American is different from Asian. So a Bollywood movie is different from a Hollywood movie made with Asians.

Sanjana: Hmm.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Because for us, we’re the dominant group. We don’t have erasure of our own identities. I mean obviously there are caste and class and religion – maybe those intersections. But in terms of seeing brown faces on screen, we don’t have that problem.

Aparna: Correct.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Whereas for him, he’s East Asian. And he was talking about how he and a lot of Asian-Americans in the US saw Aang’s story as this refugee/immigrant story where like you said, Sana, he’s the only surviving Airbender whose people are murdered in a genocide led by the Firebenders. And one of the guests on the episode considered his escape by flying away on Appa similar to Vietnamese history where one of the guest’s parents fled on boats. And so they were drawing analogies to this trauma of the loss and ethnic cleansing of home and culture and people. As well as to the Japanese cultural occupation, the Chinese cultural revolution, the Cambodian genocide, surviving Hiroshima. Because there’s such a lack of these stories told in media. Also in science fiction and fantasy, it’s very Western, Euro-centric, so all these other histories are erased. So seeing fans interpreting it based on their own histories is pretty cool.

Aparna: And the reason that everyone wants to see themselves represented, it’s not a coincidence that the people who are not seeing themselves represented are also the people who are disproportionately affected by any crisis that happens in the world.

Parinita: Absolutely.

Aparna: It’s not a coincidence that now everyone is recommending picture books or children’s books that are created by black people and feature children – just stories of diverse experiences. Right now, they’re everywhere. On Instagram, I’ve seen three a day for the last few weeks. Because it has to start there. Once those experiences are completely similar, once we start seeing everyone as part of our growing up, is when we’ll realise that there shouldn’t be any difference in how people are treated as well. Because whether it’s the COVID crisis or whether it’s the climate crisis, everyone who’ll be first affected will be the people who are poor or the people who are a minority in any sense of the word.

Sanjana: Yeah. In fact it was today only that I was listening to a conversation with someone – I don’t remember the name now – but there was this student of psychology and she was talking about the need for dialogue that mentions intersectional and marginalised communities in classrooms and otherwise for society’s mental health. It is so important for mental health because the moment you don’t see yourself represented or the moment you don’t see anyone else even remotely understanding what you’re saying, you immediately shut off. And you don’t want to have that conversation anymore because you’re not seeing it being mirrored back. And to start dialogue at a classroom level with all of this very subjectively told would make so much of a difference in the long run leading to just a much better society.

Parinita: No, absolutely. I agree. And I think that intersectionality in these conversations is so important. Paru, you mentioned the environmental crisis which would affect – is already affecting people. I’m in the UK so all this Extinction Rebellion and the climate crisis, climate strikes and everything, it’s ongoing. Well, not now because the pandemic has stopped that for a little while.

Aparna: [laughs] Yeah.

Parinita: But it’s ongoing in terms of that we don’t want this to happen to us. But it has already happened to a lot of countries. Like the Syrian refugees, a lot of their conflict was sectarian – was religious conflict. But I’ve read articles about going back to the root causes of it. It was because there were consecutive droughts in consecutive years and how that impacts the politics of a country. So we already have climate refugees from different parts of the developing world. And the developing tag is because of colonisation, right?

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: We’re still facing these impacts where the developed world and not only the developed world but also in India, the cities, we have the luxury to think we don’t want this happening in the future. Even though in India, we’re breathing in polluted air and we have water shortages and whatever but still we have a certain level of comfort in that we’re not completely abandoned yet. But there are so many parts of India, there are so many parts of the world where people have to leave their houses. And all these migrants, why are they in cities in India? They had to leave their farms. They don’t want to live in these cramped fifteen people to a tiny room accommodation in the cities.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: Exactly.

Parinita: But they’re leaving it because the climate crisis has already affected them. And they are further being harmed because of the pandemic and it’s just yeah it’s – sorry, I went on another rant. [laughs]

Aparna: No, but it’s true. Even within the city, if there’s a water crisis, it takes much longer for a water shortage to hit an apartment complex versus somebody who’s living in a more temporary settlement. Or it’ll take even longer for them to hit corporate tech parks. Because the more money you have, the easier it is to just get water during a crisis.

Parinita: Yeah. And even now, in the pandemic where the compassion and the dignity that is accorded to you is based on how much money you have.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And what class you’re from. Or what part of the country you’re from. You didn’t see Indians returning from foreign countries coming to the airport being sprayed down by pesticides [it was disinfectant]. You didn’t see them having to walk for thousands of kilometres but migrants had to go through this. The poorer migrants had to go through this. Everyone who’s living in another part of the country is a migrant but I mean the poorer migrants who had to go through this.

Sanjana: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

Parinita: They didn’t even have this dignity and compassion and humanity accorded to them. On the other hand, what I really do like, just because I know we’re going to be talking about this a little bit later – the connection between religion and community and fandom and community.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: But what I liked because I am an optimistic person even though I’ve ranted a lot today [laughs] and I’ve been really angry this last week and this last year. And these last six years.

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: I don’t know I’ve just been increasingly angry. But at heart I’m an optimistic person. So I like focusing on the positives, and I like that in India, this community has recently shown itself through all these people – well, not all, a lot of people with privilege – who came together in different ways to look after the most vulnerable people in the country. So be it people doing fundraisers to fly migrants back to their villages or making food packets to pass it to them on the roads or water or using whatever resources that they have. And they’re still doing this in India. To make sure that people who don’t have this privilege do get a little bit more help.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Because the government systems are completely failing them. Going back to what I first started off with which was basically fascism and resistance, I really loved the episode Witch, Please and the Rise of White Nationalism.

Sanjana: Yeah even we.

Parinita: But also it stressed me out.

Sanjana: Yeah absolutely!

Parinita: [laughs] So one of the co-hosts Marcel, she used the Harry Potter series to draw real-life parallels with fascism and resistance and I loved that she used the Potterverse like this. Like I said, I was very distressed about how many of these are evident in India as well as other parts of the world especially along the lines of religion and national and regional origin. So her talk covered four points – what fascism looks like, how it uses existing systems of power – media and democracy and education – how to be an ally, and how to fight back. All of her examples were from the Harry Potter books and the movies but she was talking about it mostly in terms of the rise of white nationalism, hate crimes in the US, Canada and the UK. But again, I drew parallels to India. In India, it was so obvious this parallel with the rise of Hindutva versus Islam versus just Dalits which is why I was really depressed.

Sanjana: [laughs] Yeah. Because they at some point said this pureblood supremacist cult. What I found interesting was their dialogue around the Ministry of Magic and how its role changed over the different books as the story progressed from just being this entity which showed these government employees. Because our only link to it was through Mr Weasley. And then when it is taken over by this supremacist cult, it becomes this evil entity that is trying to cause all kinds of mayhem by being this ruling class. From how it becomes this bumbling government office [laughs] to this really complex leader and supremacist entity. It was rather interesting.

Aparna: Yeah. What I found most scary was when she suggested that Trump is possibly not Voldemort [laughs] but Fudge.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aparna: Because these are the systems that already have to be in place for a Voldemort to appear. For a Voldemort to be able to step in and claim this world as his own. There are some systems that have to have been in place for so long and things that are so fundamentally just broken. There is so much undoing to be able to fix it.  At the end of the story when it returns to normal, their version of normal is not safe. It’s still leaving room for this to happen again.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Yeah because I think when Kingsley Shacklebolt becomes Minister of Magic, he gets rid of the Dementors but what about the house-elves? What about the centaurs? What about the giants? What about the goblins? It’s not addressed. Going back to normal even during the pandemic everyone is saying that oh we want to go back to normal.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: But the normal is only working for a very specific group of people.

Aparna: Exactly! And normal is what created the sort of environment where Voldemort has risen.

Parinita: Yeah!

Aparna: So normal was not great.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: This is all going to happen again.

Parinita: When she was talking about that, where basically Fudge allowed Voldemort to come to power, Fudge’s Ministry where the existing systems of power were designed to privilege a certain group of people already.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: I was thinking about it in terms of the Congress in India. Now because we have the BJP in power, compared to them, everything else seems better.

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: But the Congress definitely did lay ground for the BJP to come to power. It wasn’t like they were doing all these great things to radically restructure society in a way that made it inclusive for everybody.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Absolutely yeah.

Parinita: So that’s why the BJP is in power now. And who knows where we’re going to go next?

Aparna: Exactly.

Parinita: If we take Modi out of the picture, if we take Trump out of the picture, it’s not going to go away. I think they said Voldemort, he does use violence and intimidation, but he’s also really easily able to create this army of people who seem to hate Muggles and who seem to hate Muggle-borns and are really happy.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: It was all very scary. And also when they were talking about how the media is co-opted like The Daily Prophet presents Ministry-approved messages without any critical thinking or any criticism.

Sanjana: Yes!

Parinita: Again what we see happening in most mainstream media in India as well as WhatsApp media now that that’s a new genre of news.

Sanjana: Totally.

Aparna: Oh god! [laughs]

Sanjana: Because you said WhatsApp media, it just brought about this constant struggle at home where every time our parents give us this piece of great information, I turn back and say what is your source?

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: Where did you get this information?

Parinita: I do this with my mother as well. I’ll call her to chat because she living by herself in Mumbai and Mumbai is really hit by the pandemic. So she’s really freaked out. So we try and have more regular conversations than we used to. But now rather than comfort, it’s more like trying to decode news sources. I’m giving her a course on media analysis.

Sanjana: Yeah. [laughs]

Parinita: “Let’s go back. Why do you think this? Why that?” I’m using all my PhD research.

Sanjana: [laughs]

Parinita: And just like your parents, she’s not an Islamaphobe. She’s not a bigot.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: But it’s this everyday benign sort of bigotry which has come to the fore.

Sanjana: Yeah exactly.

Parinita: But I also like that lest this thing get too depressing – which it is, because the world is very depressing. But I also liked that in the episode they also spoke about how to resist this. So she spoke about how different people in the witching world use different skills to resist. So like knitting and Hermione – although her S.P.E.W. has some problematic tendencies but she was well-intentioned.

Sanjana: [laughs]

Parinita: Although sometimes intent, good intent has damaging impacts. But whatever. Knitting and making protest signs and cooking and resistance. They were drawing parallels to the real world where all these different skills can come together. Even online putting all these resources together to donate, or putting all the resources to educate yourself. Because not everyone begins from this same spot, right? We didn’t grow up thinking like this.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: It was a process – a huge process of learning and unlearning things.

Sanjana: I was going to use our parents as a segue into us talking about this. [laughs] Because I think all three of us have had a very similar relationship with religion wherein all of our religion comes from what our parents told us and what our parents said we should do. I think the just one generation before this, there was not much questioning. I feel like we’re questioning a lot more. And so our relationship with all of the religious stuff in our house is a lot different from when our mum and dad grew up. And I think a lot of our religion was mostly based on what was taught to our parents and which they then tried teaching to us and we did it for quite awhile.

Aparna: Yeah and I don’t think they were particularly religious either.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: I feel like they were just, yes I will do because my mother did it.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Yeah. Because my mum, she’s the kind of religious who believes in all religions and I understand where her need to believe in all these things comes from because she, like me, she went to a Catholic school – the same Catholic school actually – but grew up in a Hindu household.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And she’s had a really difficult life in terms of family. A lot of trauma and a lot of abuse from different kinds. So I get her need to hang on to religion as a form of solidarity.

Sanjana: Yeah absolutely.

Parinita: So that’s the way that she gets comfort and things. But for me I never really found that in religion. I don’t know when you guys started questioning this, but I don’t think it ever made sense to me.

Sanjana: [laughs]

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: I remember in primary school, I used to be like, “But why?” My question used to always be, “But why? This is not logical. This is not rational.” And because like your parents, she didn’t have this sort of scholarly knowledge.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And by scholarly I mean just the access to texts and the stories and things. So she didn’t have a response to me and this stubborn only-child brain of mine was like, “Then oh, no, I must be right!” [laughs]

Sanjana: [laughs]

Parinita: “No you can’t explain.” And also in school, there was one teacher in particular, our maths teacher who used to teach us to question things. And I used to hate maths but I used to love her and she made me tolerate maths for the time that she taught us. And she used to teach us to question things. For example, in Hinduism where you are on your period, when you’re menstruating, you can’t go to temples. And we had a class, I remember, it was a free period I think, where we were just talking. And she was talking about her own experiences and she said that she and her daughters when they’re menstruating, they go to temples; they just don’t tell anybody about it. It was just something for them to know. Maybe she was religious? I think I stopped going to temples years ago. Unless it’s just to look at the nice architecture or whatever.

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: Yeah. I think after a point for us it became that we didn’t want to offend our parents so we didn’t say much and after a point, we were like, “You’ll go, we’ve seen. It looks beautiful from outside.”

Parinita: [laughs]

Sanjana: “We are waiting here, no problem. We don’t want to climb the five hundred steps, go ahead, we’ll sit here.”

Parinita: You were much nicer than I was. I used to be like, “No! Religion is oppression!”

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: “It’s the opiate of the masses!”

Aparna: We are like that now.

Sanjana: We are like that now.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: I feel like it took a little longer to question it as much. We listened to a bunch of the podcast episodes just to understand. I didn’t want to write off religion completely when we were reading up about this. And a couple of things that jumped out from some of the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text episodes was that religion has this sense of giving a sense of community and belonging. And the other day we were watching an episode of House where there was this priest that was one of the patients. And at some point House said, “Religion is the placebo of the world.” [laughs] Both of us looked at each other and I made a mental note of it.

Parinita: [laughs]

Sanjana: Because it was such a simple way of explaining religion to someone who doesn’t get the need to get up every morning and pray to this god and or to a whole slew of gods.

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: It’s a good enough reason if it’s giving you some sense of belonging and some sense of peace somewhere. It definitely doesn’t give us a sense of peace and maybe for me, my questioning started when I started working on writing and retelling these stories. I work for Amar Chitra Katha and they essentially tell stories of gods and goddesses. We’ve been doing that for a long time. And it’s because the mythology is so rich with stories. Except that after a point, after reading a couple of things, I just can’t see these entities as gods. Or whatever the definition of god is. [laughs] I just can’t get behind the whole – I can’t get behind a text that’s derogatory to women. I can’t see – I just can’t – I’ve said the word can’t so many times that it’s lost all meaning.

Aparna and Parinita laugh

Parinita: Is it even a real word anymore?

Sanjana: Yeah it’s just that’s the only way I can describe it.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: For a lack of better word, I just can’t you guys.

All three laugh

Parinita: As the kids these days say, I can’t even.

Sanjana: I can’t.

Parinita: [laughs] No I’m completely with you. I’m very angry on this episode because I’m just angry today and, like I said, I’ve been angry this week a lot. But I’m not one of those fundamentalist atheists because I think atheism can also become fundamentalism just in the way religion can become fundamentalism where you are so caught up with the ideology that you believe in, that you are forcing that ideology upon other people and you see other people as lesser than or not as equal to you because they believe in something different. I know that there’s this huge problem within atheism online and there’s this intersection of atheism and patriarchy. And there are these hero atheists who just make everyone feel stupid. Or try to make everyone feel stupid.

Aparna: There’s an intersection of everything with patriarchy.

Parinita: Yeah. [laughs] Essentially.

Sanjana: [laughs]

Aparna: We would be hard-pressed to find something that does not intersect with the ever-present patriarchy.

Parinita: Yeah. But I wouldn’t want to write off religion either. Because I like the idea of some of the things that people who are religious find from religion.

Sanjana: Yeah absolutely.

Parinita: For example, like community. I love the idea of finding this sense of community. I love the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast. The hosts are I think graduates or they teach or work with the Harvard Divinity School in the US. And one of the hosts Vanessa, she’s from a Jewish background, but she’s not religious. And Casper, the other host, is from a Christian background but he’s also not religious. I don’t know if they consider themselves atheists, but they’re not religious. But they are humanist ministers, I think, where they live. So it’s this sort of secular practice. And in the podcast itself, they draw on a lot of religious practices from Judaism, from Christianity to analyse Harry Potter like that. So they use Harry Potter in the way religious people would use the Bhagavad Gita or the Bible or the Torah or the Quran. They use the characters, the themes, the events to make sense of the world. And I love that because they started this off with an in-person group and their podcast is so popular that it’s created these Harry Potter and the Sacred Text chapters all over the world. Where Harry Potter people – Harry Potter people like not the people come to life.

Sanjana and Aparna laugh

Parinita: Harry Potter fans meet and they do these different practices. But it’s just a way to come together with people that you wouldn’t otherwise have met like they would have done in temples or these sort of bhajan sessions and things that my mom goes to and meets people. Or in churches. Where people find that sense of community.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: So I love that idea of finding this community as a way to combat this disconnection that we have.

Sanjana: One of the episodes spoke about tradition in particular.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: Tradition and religion. And I really loved what they said about tradition. That all of us have the permission to reach in and take something that means something to us.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: And I felt that was really interesting because it is what I think the way our relationship with religion progressed, at least for us. It’s not that we obliterated it completely. There are bits and pieces of it and mostly only because of the traditions not of the religious aspect but more like we do these little things on Diwali.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: And that’s something probably that I want to continue following as general because especially with now having a kid, it’s just some bit of what we did or what we celebrate or something about just a little piece of our identity that I would like for my kid to have as well. And it’s not at all steeped in religion but it’s just this sense of sitting down together and making little stars and putting up lights or whatever.

Aparna: It is despite religion.

Sanjana: Yeah. It is despite religion that we celebrate [laughs]

Parinita: Yeah, it’s more cultural right?

Sanjana: Yeah exactly.

Parinita: Like in Harry Potter, the way that they celebrate. There are debates on this that Harry Potter itself is a Christian text because J. K. Rowling is Christian.

Sanjana: Right.

Parinita: And Harry and the comparisons with Jesus and Aslan in Narnia.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: He comes back to life and sacrifices himself. But also Christmas and Easter in Hogwarts. Yeah they celebrate these Christian celebrations but it doesn’t seem to be in a way that’s really religious.

Aparna: Exactly.

Parinita: It seems to be the way that you’re saying, Sana, it’s cultural. And I’m the same.

Aparna: Or like we celebrate Christmas as well is exactly like they do in Harry Potter.

Parinita: Yeah. Because now I am in this foreign land where I am the minority and nobody – I mean I’m sure there are people who speak the same language and stuff but I don’t know them here except one person. But it makes me want to celebrate these things. Just for me, celebration has to involve food. So it’s just putting that together. So like Diwali or Ganesh Chathurthi because in Mumbai that’s a huge thing that I’ve grown up with. In my housing society, we used to have these celebrations. So it’s more about that – about past memories and cultural identities than religion. So I love celebrating that here especially because there isn’t really a community here that I can celebrate it with. So it’s like something that I’m – I’m –

Sanjana: Like a bit of yourself, yeah.

Parinita: Exactly.

Sanjana: Absolutely. Because all said and done, it is somewhere a part of our identity and the way we see the world or from where we see the world to some extent.

Aparna: Which is why the parallel between religion is so interesting. I find it very fascinating because whatever media I consume – the books that I read, the shows that I watch – is the way I relate to the world. So that is more part of my identity than anything else. So being a part of fandom, gives me that feeling of being part of a community. The sort of feelings that people get from religion – the positive feelings – without any of the negativity [laughs] for me.

Parinita: Although negativity does exist in fandom.

Aparna: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It certainly does.

Parinita: Like the toxic bits

Aparna: Yeah. So I was listening to this podcast called Our Opinions Are Correct and in that they were talking about that possibly this is because religion doesn’t occupy the same kind of space in public that it used to, especially with younger people. And that’s why people engage more in fandom and how there are people who accept or respect only what’s in the canon versus people reinterpreting it to make it your own. Which is exactly the sort of relationships that people have with religion.

Sanjana: Yeah. And this brings up an interesting thing that we did recently. So we recently did a book called Rama’s Ring. And it basically has these various stories taken from the retellings of the Ramayana. So the original Ramayana exists and then there are all these communities and all these tribes who have made Ramayana their own.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: They have created this completely different world with the main characters within it. So the first story is about how Rama’s ring gets lost. And every time a Rama’s ring gets lost, it’s the end of that Rama’s era. And then it goes on to say so hence there are so many Ramas in the world. This was in an essay written by A. K. Ramanujan, if I’m not mistaken. The whole point that I’m trying to make is what you’re saying –  what connection people have with the original versus any retelling, and the conflict in wanting to accept anything else from that deviates from the original is really astounding. Because the amount of feedback that we got from people because a lot of our readers are people who are Hindus.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: Because we’re telling that mythology. And a lot of them wrote back to us saying, “How can you tell these fake Ramayanas? And how can you tell the story of these things?” Except that to everybody in that community, that is as real as it will get. Because it has little bits of their tradition and a little bit of their thing within that Ramayan. Like there’s one I’m not remembering the exact tribe – I think it’s Gond tribe – where Lakshmana is the main character. And he is the hero of the whole Ramayan. And he’s this person who lives in the jungle, one with nature – which is basically how they are. And so they’ve taken this great epic and made it their own because they’ve put little bits of their tradition into it. And that’s basically what a lot of the fandoms do for you. You take little bits of it and put little bits of yourself in it because at the end of the day, you want to see yourself in that story.

Parinita: Yeah. And I’ve also heard of a cultural tradition which sees Ravana as the protagonist.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: It’s told from Ravana’s perspective And that also has implications, right? Social, cultural and political implications in terms of historically with the Aryans and the Dravidians and how that plays a role. Skin colour and national and regional origin … sorry to bring it back to that. [laughs]

Sanjana: [laughs]

Parinita: But it just struck me now. I shouldn’t be apologising, that’s what we’re talking about! But basically how the mainstream cultural story may be oppressive to your identity and your culture. Or erasing you completely; erasing your perspectives and your traditions and whatever.

Sanjana: Yeah. Absolutely.

Parinita: And this is not just in the Ramayana but world religions all over.

Sanjana: Yeah. And it’s not just about even national origin and stuff. There was one version of the stories which is from Tamil Nadu which was a version of the Mahabharata. We did versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In it, it’s not Krishna’s divine power that comes and saves Draupadi from the Vastraharan but it’s women who stand up in the court.

Parinita: Oh I love that!

Sanjana: Yeah! And we loved the story and the version so much that we had to put it into the book. And we put it into the book but the problem people have with that is that we’ve removed the divine out of it.

Parinita: [sighs] [laughs]

Sanjana: In a sense you’ve taken the one divine element that is Krishna who comes and saves everything.

Aparna: No, but they’re all just stories. Why can’t people just mind their own business? You like a story better just read that version of the story and leave everyone else alone!

Sanjana: No and it was interesting. Even that Imaginary Worlds episode that we heard where they discussed faith in fantasy

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: And there was one part where they were talking about Narnia and it was very interesting how people from the two different faiths saw bits of their own faiths being reflected. Like the Shia culture and Jesus.

Parinita: Yeah and the Shia, Sunni thing as well, right?

Sanjana: Exactly. And how rebirth there and then there’s rebirth here and how it’s like the replacement of an imam. It was very interesting to see how the one exact same episode meant two different things to people from two different religions.

Parinita: Yeah and I’m sure it would be the same … I’m not – like I’ve made it very clear that I’m not Hindu

Sanjana: Yes.

Parinita: I don’t know our cultural stories as much as both of you do even because both of you have worked with Amar Chitra Katha so you’ve done the research and you know things. But I’m sure if I knew a lot more, I would have been able to read Harry Potter and draw on Hindu connections. We did briefly with the whole caste structure and the Hogwarts houses. But yeah that’s why I really like this idea of reclaiming tradition.

Sanjana: Yes.

Parinita: In that episode with Matt Potts, the Sacred Text one, they spoke about how tradition can be oppressive. Usually you have these negative connotations of tradition. Well some people have negative connotations, some people want to go back to the traditional way of life.

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: But traditionally tradition has been used to exclude groups of people. And now there are more people who’ve been on the margins otherwise are now trying to make a more inclusive kind of tradition. Whether it be religious or fandom as well, it sees tradition as dynamic rather than static. So it’s not going to become worse. It’s actually going to become stronger, because it’s open to more change. And just like the parallels with fandom and religion, there are some people who are more conservative and who want to adhere to canon. And what they consider as canon and that correct version of canon and no deviations should occur. Whereas there are others – with fans as well as with religious scholars and religious leaders and religious practitioners – who are now trying to find those marginalised voices in canon and highlight those and make it more inclusive. Like what you were saying about the Mahabharata with Draupadi – rather than this man coming to save her with his divine power, it’s a community of women who are standing up to the injustice that she’s facing. And that solidarity is what helps her. That puts so much more agency on women rather than having everything where they are just props and set dressing.

Sanjana: Exactly. Yeah. That is why that particular retelling was so important because sure, it was written some centuries later but the point is that it exists and someone wrote it and there are some people who read that as their truth.

Parinita: Yeah. And this is what fanfiction does as well, right?

Sanjana: Exactly!

Parinita: And even fan podcasts like this one and the ones that we’ve been listening to. We’re trying to go to these voices that are hidden or are invisible or are only known to a certain group of people. We have blind spots with queerness, we have blind spots with disabilities. But now that we are actively thinking about these things, because queer people or people with disabilities have told us their perspectives using fandom as a framework, now we think about these things more as well.

Sanjana: Yeah absolutely.

Parinita: I don’t know if you guys got a chance to listen to the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text with Broderick Greer. So he’s this Christian reverend and he’s black and gay which historically hasn’t been a position of power in the Catholic church. But he is using his position in the church to make it more inclusive. He practices this thing called marginalia which was inspired by his grandmother who would make notes in the margins of her bible so she was basically talking back to the bible using her own perspectives and using her own history. And his grandmother had a lot of these oppressed identities because she was this black woman in the US who was growing up in a time when black people – even now, black people in the US aren’t accorded with the same rights –  but then even more so. So this talking back to canon while respecting it because obviously she was this religious person so respecting but also talking back to it. And that’s something that fandom does as well in terms of fans talking back to their creators. This is a tweet that I saw today that J. K. Rowling has taught us to stand up to bigots like her.

Sanjana and Aparna laugh

Screenshot of tweet by @katiejoyofosho Text says: what's insane is that jk rowling essentially raised us to stand up to her bigotry

Parinita: Which I loved. Which is so true because her books ostensibly preach diversity and kindness and whatever.

Sanjana: Yeah

Parinita: But she doesn’t do that herself. So now there are all these fans standing up to her transphobia and her bigotry and whatever. Which I really love. My self-care routine as again, the kids these days say, yesterday was turning off and disconnecting from news and everything and watching Queer Eye on Netflix because the new season is out.

Sanjana: Hmm.

Parinita: And the first episode was about this gay minister, a Lutheran minister in church who was coming to terms with his identity. He came out much later in life. And they had such an amazing thing about with queerness and the church. There was this trans minister and this other gay minister as well who came to talk to him about how they can come together to make the church a more inclusive space. Because it’s been so hard for them. They grew up in a tradition where religion actively excluded them. And they now want to be open. They’re still religious but they’re also queer. So they want to make church this radically inclusive space so that other queer people now don’t face the same discrimination that they did. Which I loved so much and I cried a lot – lots of cathartic crying happened yesterday.

Aparna and Sanjana laugh

Parinita: But I loved the idea of that even with religion just in general and fandom as well, just listening to those voices which didn’t have a voice and bringing them to the fore rather than having just the same privileged group of people talking to themselves.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: That is basically the solution. Just for the people who’ve been talking for so long to just shut up for awhile.

Sanjana: [laughs]

Aparna: And listen. And let everyone else tell their stories.

Parinita: Just for a little bit.

Aparna: Just sit. That’s all that’s required for a while.

Parinita: Yeah because there are so many possibilities now to counter these narrow canonical narratives. What is canon anyway? Who decides? Just a group of people who had decided it thousands of years ago and now we’re like, “Oh yeah they’re completely correct! There’s no questioning them.” So I love that through media, through fanfiction or even through religious retellings, like Amar Chitra Katha comic books, you are highlighting these voices which are marginalised or erased and highlighting these diverse perspectives and interpretations to make it radically inclusive. Because even if society currently isn’t radically inclusive, why can’t we imagine our fiction to do better? Or our retellings to do better? We can imagine blue police boxes travelling across time and space or this complex magical world in Britain.

Sanjana and Aparna laugh

Parinita: But we can’t imagine Muslims and black people and Dalit people and transgender people and poor people are worthy of equal respect and dignity and compassion? I thought I’d gotten the ranting out of my system. [laughs] But apparently not.

Sanjana: Clearly not.

Parinita: [laughs]

Sanjana: But on that very correct note, [laughs] the three of us bid you bye-bye and we hope to see you soon.

Aparna: Yes.

Sanjana: Ranting some more.

Parinita: [laughs] Probably. With the way the world is going, there’s going to be a lot more ranting.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: But yes. Goodbye!

Aparna: Bye!

Sanjana: Buh-bye!

[Outro music]

You’ve been listening to our episode on religion and geographical origin and the ways in which both intersect with class, caste and dominant political norms. Thanks again to Aparna and Sanjana for helping me get all that ranting out of my system and making me feel better about the state of the world. The world is still terrible but being angry with friends is cathartic. And thank you Jack for also listening to my various rants both about the real world and various fictional worlds (and also for the editing).

[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!

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