When you’re all set to reblog a pretty photoset of women of color in marvel comics and then you realize in time that one of them is Psylocke.
Pronounced "ska-lya." A little curated space for my interests. Primary fandoms: Spider-Man and Doctor Who. Proportion of political content may vary.
I also run @#$% Yeah, Spider-Wife!, a Mary Jane Watson tumblog.
Icon credit: made by me using art by Andie Tong.
So Elsa of ‘Frozen’ has psychological issues stemming from being taught to hate herself, keep others safe from her, and hide a condition she was born with that causes her body to do things that other people’s don’t. But that’s not a mental illness or disability acceptance narrative, it’s a queer acceptance and coming-out one? Okay.
Remus Lupin of ‘Harry Potter’ has psychological issues stemming from being taught to hate himself, keep others safe from him and to hide a condition he’s had almost his whole life that causes his body and brain to do things other people’s don’t. But that shouldn’t have been a disability narrative, it should have been a queer one instead… and his queerness, not his explicitly stigmatized condition and the resulting self-hatred, was the reason he was distressed upon entering a committed relationship with a woman? Also, his disease being a parallel to a real life stigmatised disease with some gay associations means it’s an insult if he isn’t gay because JKR is implying it isn’t a gays-only disease (an idea which got a lot of LGBT people killed in panic), and she totally should have implied exactly that? Uh, okay?
Tonks of ‘Harry Potter’ (the woman whom Remus Lupin is in that relationship, incidentally) showing symptoms of depression is a sign of weakness and neediness despite explicitly having mental health issues running through her mother’s side of the family and having her entire society plunge into war and terrorism at the time of her depression, because she was supposed to remain colourful and tomboyish in order to be relatable for queer little girls? Oh, okay.
Toph Bei Fong of ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender/Legend of Aang’ leaving her parents to follow her own path has nothing to do with claiming her personhood and competance despite her disability, and everything to do with a coming out of the closet analogy because they tried to make her meek, vulnerable and feminine? Also, Toph earthbent Lin into existence because you know Toph Bei McAwesomesauce could have never had Lin by means of anything so pedestrian and heteronormative as a biological father? OKAY THEN IF YOU SAY SO. (You think I’m making this one up, don’t you? I’m not.)
Dear able-bodied, neurotypical queer fans: yes, you deserve narratives where queerness is both explicit and positive. But why, out of all the narratives of healthy straight white people you could hijack and claim for your own, it’s almost always the narratives of disabled/chronically ill/mentally ill characters? Especially the ones that portray us as three dimensional human beings? Do you know how rare it is for a disabled character to be portrayed as having issues and genuinely struggling with said issues while still being portrayed as positive and likeable characters anyway? Do you realise how many Good Cripples are out there in fiction, who are granted equal status to other characters only due to expressing superhuman patience and endurance in the face of suffering and intolerance? Do you realise how many characters representing us are out there for the sole purpose of being Good Cripples and/or inspiration porn, both in-universe and out-of-universe? For people to complain that Remus Lupin failing to remain the Good Cripple or Tonks actually succumbing to depression was out of character because they should have been totally gay in both the sexuality and upbeat senses, or that Elsa and Toph’s real story is one of coming out of the closet, derails what is an incredibly valuable narrative for us.
Please derail someone else’s narratives for a change. You deserve your narratives, but not at the expense of outright stealing ours and calling us queerphobic when we object to the theft. Because we aren’t exactly swimming in a plethora of well-rounded options either.
"Look, without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as People of Color, nothing about fanboy or fangirl culture would make sense. What I mean by that is: if it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t sense. If it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings in the New World through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the extermination of so many Indigenous First Nations, most of what we call science fiction’s contact stories doesn’t make sense. Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understood that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We’re the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible, yeah. In the Green Lantern Corps, we are the oath. We are all of these things—erased, and yet without us—we are essential."
Things that bother me:
- People getting particularly insistent about “what counts as canon”.
- People getting particularly insistent about “there is no canon”.
Actually, let me expand, because this feels kinda confrontational on its own. Specifically, the problem here is invalidating other people’s emotional investment.
The term “canon” can be thought of as expressing “this is what counts”. It’s related to the term “in continuity”, meaning that two stories count each other as having happened.
Let’s go over to Doctor Who for an example, since stuff that I was reading about that is what lead me to this observation. Now, as you may know, the mini-episode “Night of the Doctor” featured the Eighth Doctor’s first on-screen appearance since the Doctor Who TV movie in 1996. In NotD, Eight mentions his companions from the spinoff audio adventures produced by Big Finish. This is the first time those have been directly referenced in the TV show, leading many fans to declare “Big Finish is canon!”
Now, the majority of people I’ve seen talking about this are excited and happy. They’re happy that, by saying that their stories count, their emotional investment has been acknowledged and validated.
The problem, of course, is the people for whom that is not enough. They have to make everyone agree with them - agree that these are true facts, and if you disagree, you’re a bad fan and also factually wrong!
The idea of “there is no canon” is one that’s been promulgated in response to this. They point out that a long-running show like Doctor Who has had many different people writing the stories, and for most of it, there wasn’t that big of an effort made to make sure that said stories fit together into one larger landscape. Therefore, the logic goes, there is no larger landscape, no set of stories that can be called a “canon”.
Many people find this an enormously freeing concept, a reason not to worry too much and just go with what makes a good story in the moment. Others disagree; they actively enjoy having a guideline to work against, and playing the game of figuring out how to fit new stories into this structure.
(Personally, I think that having some larger landscape, some canon, is valuable, as a set of limitations that evoke creativity - but that’s no reason to stick to just one! There are as many possible canons as there are combinations of stories, and something to be gained from each one.)
The important thing is that none of these attitudes are actually wrong. They’re all valid ways of looking at and thinking about a fictional work. And there are people who use “there is no canon” in the same way as “this is absolutely canon” - as a stick, to force other people to agree with them, their viewpoint as a fixed thing that cannot be deviated from.
In the end, the important part is that other people aren’t required to agree with you, and by not agreeing with you about their preferred version of a thing, that doesn’t mean that they’re saying that your preferred version is wrong or bad. Feel free to share your version of canon (or lack thereof) with the world! Just don’t insist that other people have the same version.
Maybe it’s because I’m one of the people insistent that there is no canon, but reading this post, I can’t help but think that it kind of obfuscates what a canon actually is. That is, a set list of stories defined by an authority that determines what is explicitly included in and excluded from the list.
To me, saying “Doctor Who has no canon” is like saying “Doctor Who has no sentient radish determining a list of the stories that are worthy based on how good the dialogue sounds when spoken in iambic pentameter.” There might well be people out there who would dearly like to know what the radish thinks, and might consider the mention of Charley in NOTD to be the radish’s tacit approval of the rhythmic qualities of Storm Warning, but it doesn’t make the list (or the radish) suddenly appear.
What seems to be being argued for here is that everyone should be able to have their own personal take on continuity rather than a set canon, which I’m all in favour of. If someone out there feels that the Sky Ray ice lolly cards are the defining point of Doctor Who’s history but the TV show is apocrypha at best, that’s wonderful (and I’d personally love to read their fanfic), but that just leaves me to wonder why they’d need the approval of the BBC (or the company who made the ice lollies) to think for themselves that it’s the best take.
I personally wouldn’t want a Doctor Who universe without FItz, Izzy and Charley being Eight’s companions, but I’m not about to say that the BBC should declare them all canon and ruin the day of some poor soul who only wants Fitz or Charley included but not both so that Eight only has one great love interest. And for me, that’s the centre of the ‘no canon’ argument, that we shouldn’t be using authority to dictate that everyone has the same Whoniverse.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to consult the radish on how it feels about Wormwood Part 3.
Yeah, part of the conflict is that the “canon” and “continuity” of most texts are essentially synonymous, so that the authority behind canonicity is still presumed but unspoken. Which is to say that “this is canon” has come to carry a weight of authority that people lean on even when it’s not clear who that authority is or, in the case of Doctor Who, said authority has demonstrably abdicated.
Classic example of the canon/continuity mix-up: I’ve been in debates where someone has made a claim to canon (ETA: specifically to “what the BBC considers canon”), I’ve gently pointed out that the very people in a position to define what canon is have said that there is no canon, and gotten back, “But there has to be a canon, otherwise you could make up whatever you want!”
But most of the time canon-claiming is pretty benign, which is why, as a stauch(ish) no-canon-in-Doctor-Who advocate I’m against debating people just for saying, “Yay, it’s canon!” — it’s not particularly productive, and it’s unkind. When people presume an authority that doesn’t exist and then use it to browbeat other fans, that’s when my hackles go up.
I don’t think that not believing in a canon prevents one from playing continuity games anyway — it’s fun trying to fit all the various bits of Doctor Who continuity together into a semi-cohesive whole, regardless of whether it’s the one “true” narrative or not. It’s also fun to take a few bits and run with them. Choose-your-own-adventure canon, as it were.
I think the best word is “celebrated”.
I think the best thing is to try and purge authority-related vocabulary from Doctor Who. Talk about references as references, rather than interpret them as validation from above.
That sounds like a good approach! I’ve been trying to train myself to replace “canon” with “(source) material” (or “meta-narrative” or “mythology,” etc) since 99% of the time that’s actually what I mean when I have the urge to write “canon.”
I just don’t want it to turn into justification for more canon-policing. And let’s face it, once the euphoria wears off fandom, it absolutely will.
I’m really not so sure. Big Finish fans now have the tools to argue in favour of canonicity, because it gives an air of legitimacy to their favourite thing. I think this is just the beginning.
I think we’re talking about the same thing, but maybe I didn’t articulate clearly. What I meant was that I don’t think Night of the Doctor has altered the fandom notion of canonicity so much as shifted the goalposts so that, once the communal glee and general goodwill have died down, people can be snarky at each other over a larger “canon” than the one that (didn’t) exist two days ago.
Part of the issue is that canon-snobbery (going in either direction) is so embedded in fandom behavior that a lot of perfectly nice people fall back on it reflexively (as I’m sure I’ve done at times; I’m not absolving myself) without considering the way it shuts down conversations — and more importantly, what a poisonous way it is to engage with other human beings. Then it’s very hard to talk about without people getting defensive because they think they’re being called a Bad Person, or part of a Bad Fandom, when it’s really not that so much as… Bad Habits.
If someone’s excited to tell you about a Doctor Who story that they think you’d like because it ties into a theory you just posted, why cut them off by telling them, “Oh, I don’t consider stories in that medium canon?” If someone has a rosy-eyed interpretation of particular characters and concepts because they’re only familiar with the new TV show, do they deserve to be sneered at?
"I think fanfiction is literature and literature, for the most part, is fanfiction, and that anyone that dismisses it simply on the grounds that it’s derivative knows fuck-all about literature and needs to get the hell off my lawn.
Most of the history of Western literature (and probably much of non-Western literature, but I can’t speak to that) is adapted or appropriated from something else. Homer wrote historyfic and Virgil wrote Homerfic and Dante wrote Virgilfic (where he makes himself a character and writes himself hanging out with Homer and Virgil and they’re like “OMG Dante you’re so cool.” He was the original Gary Stu). Milton wrote Bible fanfic, and everyone and their mom spent the Middle Ages writing King Arthur fanfic. In the sixteenth century you and another dude could translate the same Petrarchan sonnet and somehow have it count as two separate poems, and no one gave a fuck. Shakespeare doesn’t have a single original plot—although much of it would be more rightly termed RPF—and then John Fletcher and Mary Cowden Clarke and Gloria Naylor and Jane Smiley and Stephen Sondheim wrote Shakespeare fanfic. Guys like Pope and Dryden took old narratives and rewrote them to make fun of people they didn’t like, because the eighteenth century was basically high school. And Spenser! Don’t even get me started on Spenser.
Here’s what fanfic authors/fans need to remember when anyone gives them shit: the idea that originality is somehow a good thing, an innately preferable thing, is a completely modern notion. Until about three hundred years ago, a good writer, by and large, was someone who could take a tried-and-true story and make it even more awesome. (If you want to sound fancy, the technical term is imitatio.) People were like, why would I wanna read something about some dude I’ve never heard of? There’s a new Sir Gawain story out, man! (As to when and how that changed, I tend to blame Daniel Defoe, or the Modernists, or reality television, depending on my mood.)
I also find fanfic fascinating because it takes all the barriers that keep people from professional authorship—barriers that have weakened over the centuries but are nevertheless still very real—and blows right past them. Producing literature, much less circulating it, was something that was well nigh impossible for the vast majority of people for most of human history. First you had to live in a culture where people thought it was acceptable for you to even want to be literate in the first place. And then you had to find someone who could teach you how to read and write (the two didn’t necessarily go together). And you needed sufficient leisure time to learn. And be able to afford books, or at least be friends with someone rich enough to own books who would lend them to you. Good writers are usually well-read and professional writing is a full-time job, so you needed a lot of books, and a lot of leisure time both for reading and writing. And then you had to be in a high enough social position that someone would take you seriously and want to read your work—to have access to circulation/publication in addition to education and leisure time. A very tiny percentage of the population fit those parameters (in England, which is the only place I can speak of with some authority, that meant from 500-1000 A.D.: monks; 1000-1500: aristocratic men and the very occasional aristocratic woman; 1500-1800: aristocratic men, some middle-class men, a few aristocratic women; 1800-on, some middle-class women as well). What’s amazing is how many people who didn’t fit those parameters kept writing in spite of the constant message they got from society that no one cared about what they had to say, writing letters and diaries and stories and poems that often weren’t discovered until hundreds of years later. Humans have an urge to express themselves, to tell stories, and fanfic lets them. If you’ve got access to a computer and an hour or two to while away of an evening, you can create something that people will see and respond to instantly, with a built-in community of people who care about what you have to say.
I do write the occasional fic; I wish I had the time and mental energy to write more. I’ll admit I don’t read a lot of fic these days because most of it is not—and I know how snobbish this sounds—particularly well-written. That doesn’t mean it’s “not good”—there are a lot of reasons people read fic and not all of them have to do with wanting to read finely crafted prose. That’s why fic is awesome—it creates a place for all kinds of storytelling. But for me personally, now that my job entails reading about 1500 pages of undergraduate writing per year, when I have time to read for enjoyment I want it to be by someone who really knows what they’re doing. There’s tons of high-quality fic, of course, but I no longer have the time and patience to go searching for it that I had ten years ago. But whether I’m reading it or not, I love that fanfiction exists. Because without people doing what fanfiction writers do, literature wouldn’t exist. (And then I’d be out of a job and, frankly, I don’t know how to do anything else.)"
With summer con season now formally ramping up, it’s as good a time as any to remind folks that harassment is not okay – and what to do about it.
Over at Scalzi’s Whatever today, writer Elise Matthesen shares how she reported her sexual harasser at recent convention. It’s a fantastic post with great advice about making sure things are formally on the record – the perpetrator in her case is not a first-time offender.
Inspired by Matthesen, Maria Dahvana Headley shares some of her own tales of being harassed at genre conventions. A former pirate negotiator, she has this chilling statement: “The pirates in the maritime industry were generally a great deal more polite than the creeps in the SFF world. They stuck to terms.”
It’s been a while since we’ve addressed this topic, and sorry to be a downer, but this is important stuff for everyone to know.
Bolded for holy shit wtf.
people say that can’t relate to an all-black show or they can’t relate to a woman protagonist. PoC, women, etc. have been relating to white characters and male characters forever. Why don’t you have the capacity to relate to characters unlike you?
This is why I also laugh when people are like “stop talking about Idris Elba! Stop fancasting him as everybody! Not everyone can be played by Idris Elba!”
How many interchangeable white boys have we been inundated with over the years who were supposedly the PERFECTEST for ANY ROLE?
Yeah as far as I’m concerned Idris can play all ur faves from Dr Who to James Bond.
Most if not all the critique I’ve seen of Idris Elba (or Donald Glover, or Chiwetel Ejiofor) fancasting comes from PoC pointing out that if white fancasters want to pat themselves on the back for being all progressive they should probably start by remembering that more than one black actor exists at any given moment. A point I think is 100% legit, but so is this one.
Another Miss America who didn’t realise who I was, yet did know the precious gender switched miss America. Apparently they went to the same high school.
Ahaha oh no. This is me. I honestly thought you were just cosplaying the 9th Doctor because you were British and it looked like you were wearing a leather jacket. I’m embarrassed forever, but it’s really funny now that I look back at it. Plus I’m honored to be on your blog since I love your work. It was really great (sort of) meeting you!
You thought. Kieron. Was cosplaying. The Doctor.
This makes me so happy. So happy.