I’m a couple of days away from the official (planned) half-way point of my project. By the end of May, I’ll have been working on/recording the podcast for five months, and I have another five months to go to plan, record, and publish episodes. So far, I’ve recorded twelve episodes, nine of which are available online. I’m going to write more in detail about the whole episode-process and how it contributes to my ongoing engagement with analysis and theory. However, first I wanted to outline the ways in which both I and the project have benefited from a specific aspect of the process i.e. the conversations I’ve had with my co-participants before and sometimes after the episode.
Sanjana and Aparna, my friends and co-hosts of multiple episodes, have a more regular presence on the podcast than other participants. In our case, our friendship has consisted of being excitably fannish about a lot of the things we love. In the context of the podcast, it’s forced us to examine our favourite worlds, stories and characters through a more critical lens. Before planning the episode, all three of us suggest fan texts for us to look at. After reading/listening to these, we meet to plan the episode segments based on the themes we’re each interested in exploring. Finally, while recording the episode itself, we have an informal chat guided by the structure this planning-session provides. During all these stages, we’re exposed to new ideas and interpretations – either through the texts we read, through our planning conversation, or during the episode itself. Our conversations help us think of things we wouldn’t otherwise have considered and provide multiple perspectives on the topic. We start thinking about the topics we’re exploring in new ways and they impact what ideas are at the forefront of our minds when we’re watching/reading new media. And I know this because we’re actively talking about these things in the midst of our other conversations after we record individual episodes.
With Episode 3, “Just Let Me Hug a Tree in the Woods: Wicca, Paganism, and Religion in Fantasy Media”, I learned a ton about Wicca and Neo-pagan religions thanks to Anna’s own practices and experiences. Again, this is something that I wouldn’t have considered exploring myself – as someone who isn’t religious, I have very little knowledge about even the mainstream faith traditions, let alone the lesser-known ones. I approached the episode very much as someone learning something new. Some of the texts Anna suggested also allowed me to see how a lot of Western fantasy, including the stories I’m familiar with, are underpinned by Judeo-Christian values. Our episode introduced Anna to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a podcast she ended up falling in love with and continued to listen to after the episode. Additionally, her participation on my podcast inspired Anna to begin her own podcast about LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing) which blends her academic interests in fandom, fantasy and religion with her personal interests of LARPing.
With Episode 4, “A Lot of Gold in Gringotts: Representations of Class and Considerations of Gender,” talking to someone about a British context of class using the Weasley family as a touchstone was very helpful to my own understanding of these issues both in the UK as well as back home in India. As someone who has very little experience with offline fandom (I’ve only been to one fan convention that Ali was at too), our conversation – both before and during the episode – also made me aware of the misogyny in such spaces which I’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced myself – either online or offline. That episode as well as subsequent ones which Ali has listened to have introduced her to podcasts like The Gayly Prophet as well as shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ali freely and generously shares her thoughts and recommendations of podcast episodes on Twitter and Facebook, inviting more people into the conversation.
With Episode 5, “It’s Like She’s Not Even There: Misogyny, Masculinity, and Different Cultures”, Anna’s suggested texts helped me identify, articulate, and analyse misogyny in Supernatural and Harry Potter – two fandoms we both share – in ways which I previously hadn’t. Anna is a much more active part of both fandoms than I am or indeed, was even when I was in my early 20s. The perspectives she was interested in and the ones she shared with me were ones which are part of the mainstream discourse in the fandom spaces she inhabits. While planning the episode, Anna began thinking about different cultural representations of Greece (which is where she’s from) and other countries in media after I shared my own perspectives as an Indian fan of largely Western media. Even though we didn’t end up talking about this on the episode, our prior conversations influenced our thinking and opened us up to new ideas.
With Episode 6, “Different Bodies and Different Brains: Depictions of Disability and Ageism in Media”, our conversation and position was strikingly different from our previous episode on representations of race. In this case, all three of us were part of the dominant culture that’s represented in media – both in terms of ability and age. Our conversations negotiating this raised a lot of awareness about how much we don’t know and highlighted our blind-spots. While putting the recommended texts together, and even after the episode, we kept an eye out for articles and books which explored these themes. In my own case, our research and conversations helped put both issues at the forefront of my thoughts especially since it was such a glaring blind-spot that I hadn’t previously addressed.
With Episode 7, “There’s Never Chicken Tikka Masala At Hogwarts: Different Cultures in Fantasy Media”, we did briefly speak about the things we were interested in exploring while planning the episode (including our own individual engagements with online fandom – Aditi is more active in fanfiction spaces and Tumblr whereas I tend to stick to podcasts and memes on Facebook fan pages). However, what I loved was how much we used our episode as a diving board to talk about other things our conversation had inspired us to think about. We have sporadically been continuing our conversation about different aspects of cultural representations on WhatsApp where we’re both happy about being able to talk to someone about things which we haven’t found space for in our other personal network.
With Episode 8, “Whose Stories Are Being Told: Centering Racial Diversity in Mainstream Hollywood Movies”, I honestly probably wouldn’t have watched the movies had Hibiki not recommended them to me. Of the three, I was only familiar with Crazy Rich Asians but not in a way which made me want to watch the movie. I’m so glad I got the chance to watch all three movies because I loved them in different ways and I loved the different kinds of diverse representations they featured. With this episode, language was a barrier since Hibiki isn’t comfortable with English. I wish I had taken more steps with this because I’m afraid the episode had me monopolising the conversation – where it ended up more as a lecture than a dialogue. However, I did learn a lot about Hibiki’s perspectives both through our planning and episode as well as the essay he wrote for the children’s literature module and our chats during the module. Meeting him personally and having conversations over a period of months helped fill in the gaps the language barrier posed for me personally; however, I don’t think this is reflected in the episode itself. In this case, I think all the other conversations were just as important as the one we had on the podcast. It’s also helped me be more mindful of different language needs and accessibility both while preparing a lecture (that Hibiki was a part of) as well as digital projects in general. Our conversation also presented a different engagement with race and racism than I was personally acquainted with.
With Episode 9, “Destabilise Heterosexuality As A Default: Queer Representation in Media and Fandom”, we didn’t spend too much time planning the episode or chatting because of both our separate academic commitments. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was talking to Diana for our episode. They are much more politically aware and engaged than I am and their points really made me expand my own thinking and challenge preconceived notions I didn’t even know I had. I had a lot of fun chatting with Diana – where we were full of both rage and laughter – and it was a great way to be able to identify the gaps in my own thinking through dialogue with someone who is much more steeped in the theme than I am – both through personal experience as a queer person as well as a researcher studying queerness in fandom.
With Episode 10, (an upcoming episode about dyspraxia, autism, Doctor Who, and fandom), I’ve known Robert for a few years but we’ve never really spoken about disability and trauma before. I did learn about dyspraxia through the Medium essay he wrote about Ryan’s character in Doctor Who. I also knew Robert is steeped in online fandom and was thrilled when he offered to participate on the podcast. I loved our conversation on the podcast because it taught me a lot, including some ways in which I should be more critical of mainstream discourse I’ve encountered. Robert problematised some of the things which appear a lot within fan studies research + shone some new light on certain aspects – merely by sharing his own experiences. I loved our pre- and post-recording discussions even more both because he’s a friend that I don’t get to chat with very often but also because it taught me so many new things in such a compassionate, understanding way – including my own experiences with trauma and anxiety. It was only when Robert shared his experiences with family trauma while planning the episode, that I realised I have my own experience about that – one I hadn’t shared on the podcast or with many of my friends here. Robert also mentioned that he felt uncomfortable about being on a podcast which tries to explore marginalised identities, until our conversation made him realise that he had some experiences and perspectives that were quite marginalised too. With one of the podcast episodes we listened to while prepping for our own episode – the Witch, Please episode about disability and queerness – Robert highlighted the fact that some parts of that were quite triggering since they so closely matched his own experiences and suggested we include a trigger warning in our episode. This is something I hadn’t considered before he pointed it out, and I’m so glad to be able to include that consideration into my work now, even though I hadn’t otherwise. I’m now thinking about triggers even in terms of potential workshops, sessions and lectures I do in future too.
With Episode 11, (an upcoming episode about women warriors in science fiction and fantasy), Lisa and I had a long conversation when we met on Skype to plan our episode – the planning meeting lasted for as long as my podcast episodes usually do. We enjoyed talking to each other about our favourite media and representations of women fighters as well as our own experiences and perspectives. As someone who hasn’t really thought about this issue at all, Lisa’s own background with martial arts as well as her deep-seated love for Mockingbird shone a light on another aspect of fan engagement. It also helped me identify the representations of female fighters I had encountered in some of my favourite media – and how gender and physical ability intersected with other identities – both marginalised and privileged. As with Episode 3, I was happy to get the opportunity to explore a topic which I wouldn’t have suggested myself.
With Episode 12, (an upcoming episode about Fantastic Beasts and Nagini), my preconceived notions which had been shaped by mainstream fandom discourse were well and truly smashed and taught me to be more critical of critique. The whole Nagini controversy had put me off watching Crimes of Grindelwald and I only did because it was one of Lorrie’s recommended texts. I had only ever encountered critiques of Nagini’s arc and the stereotypical representation of East Asian women in Western media. Since I wasn’t a part of that marginalised identity, and as someone who’s grown up in India and had Bollywood movies to represent people who (more or less) looked like me, I didn’t think I had enough knowledge to comment on this issue and took the mainstream critique for granted. However, Lorrie herself is an East Asian woman in the West and she problematises the critiques by providing detailed analysis as well as an unbridled joy for the character of Nagini and Korean representation in her favourite fictional world. (I ended up loving Crimes of Grindelwald – and I don’t know if I would have allowed myself to love it so guiltlessly had Lorrie not been so unabashed in proclaiming her love for the movie while we were exchanging emails). She also pointed out that since she had read the Harry Potter books as an adult, she had always been aware of the more problematic aspects in the series – but this hadn’t diminished her enjoyment of the world and just helped her acknowledge Rowling’s own blind-spots. She proposed this was perhaps different from people who had grown up with the series and now found themselves betrayed by it on finding all these problematic representations. I don’t know about others but this theory definitely resonated with me.