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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

You Are Not Alone

It's the night before the end of Homestuck.

There are other things going on in my life right now, but that's the one singing note of tension that keeps coming back to me. I'm planning to wear a Homestuck shirt tomorrow to campus, and drop everything to look at the finale as soon as I can.

Homestuck, obviously, has been important to me. It won't stop being a fandom when it's over, but the impetus for obsessive reflection about what it means to me will be gone - we'll have the end to talk about, after all.

Homestuck was the first fandom I really got into - I'd read fanfic other places, sort of desultorily because it was free and more about characters I liked. But Homestuck let me reach out and make friendships and talk to people about stories and their nature pretty much as things happened. It was the first really immersive fan experience I'd had, and the first fanfic I wrote. The experience of being in fandom has been a massive and transformative thing for me, letting me connect with a whole bunch of talented, kind new friends.

And fandom has a really interesting relationship with Homestuck - the narrative was originally driven by fan prompts, fans have been involved with art and music and merchandise, and it changed some of how fandom is done. It's been kind of a wild ride.

Part of the reason it grabbed me so much was that it opened the door to talking about stories with more people in different ways - and to talking about the specifics we look for and the shapes they can take with no interest at all paid to originality, because this was after all transformative works. And one of the conversations that came up around Homestuck, and came up repeatedly, was at the core of Homestuck itself: the ways in which we reach out and connect.

The interpersonal narratives in Homestuck are, at almost every level, about knowing that you are not alone. They myriad ways that's expressed are a gift in and of itself. And for something that starts with a bunch of isolated kids, it's a gift seeing them all gain strength from that connection.

It reminds me of what I love about Person of Interest: a repeated refrain of "in the end you're all alone and no one's coming to save you," with the characters then proving over and over with their actions that someone indeed will come to save them. For those characters, the emotional growth is in unlearning their isolation and slowly growing to trust each other, but they're adults and more jaded and it's a slower process.

In Homestuck, the kids don't have quite as engrained in them the idea that they're alone, and there's more joy and hope in their learning, and less of a focus on their unlearning. One of the reasons that the fandom is so obsessed with Homestuck is that the very nature of fandom, and particularly Homestuck fandom, means that those people who are caught up in the culture around Homestuck also get to reach out and feel that they are not alone.

Homestuck has brought people together in remarkable ways, and I'm not quite ready for it to be over.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Fiction As Learning Tool

Do you remember in Health class when you had to watch Degrassi videos?

I ask this in full expectation that it's a universal - I know we watched some in Canada and some in the U.S., and expect that everyone in North America at least had to watch episodes of TV about pregnant teenagers as part of either class or homework at some point.

But that's not where I meant to start.

I'm taking a class right now called Technology and Social Responsibility. It's all right up my alley, from the discussion material to the class meetings on Twitter, and it's made me think about how we establish stakes in issues, and the power stories have. Because this is a university class about technology and social responsibility, we don't have Degrassi to watch: mostly we read relevant articles, but one session we did have to watch episodes of Black Mirror. I'm not particularly a fan of the show, aside from it's odd prescience in one incident, because it shows such an unrelentingly bleak view of our future with technology. I've found myself making reference to a lot of other novels and TV shows, though, such as Person of Interest and Orphan Black, because they also extrapolate on current issues with technology and IP and ideas of ownership and privacy. And the reason I come back to them is this:

Fiction answers the question "why should I care?" before it even raises the issue it addresses.

Some of the things we're talking about in Technology and Social Responsibility are easy to think of in the abstract, because so many of the issues sound science fictional and like a future problem, but a lot of the issues we're talking about, such as if we really own our own DNA and how secure our data is, are things that impact us right now. There are current court cases about these issues, not least the FBI fighting with Apple over whether we're allowed effective encryption on the devices on which we store our whole lives.

Fiction makes these things real, and immediate, playing out the consequences of treading wrong in a way that's easier to hold on to than an abstract thought experiment. Fiction allows for exploration of worst-case scenarios without explicit fear-mongering.

And for me, at least, fiction shows me the things I want to work to prevent.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Intellectual Property and Trolling

The phrase 'fight like a girl' is trademarked.

Yep - the phrase used as a title in this comicthis movie, this comedy sketch, this self-defense program, and the song below is trademarked, and not to any of these people.
So who owns it? Well it's one company - they're not hard to find, but I'm not linking them, because they try to support a particular thing that I am generally in favor of, but either their lawyer needs to be put back on a leash or they are, corporately speaking, massive dicks.

They're dicks because they have been suing independent artists using the phrase in their art. By specifically targeting independent artists trying to make a living, they can try to control the proliferation of the phrase while not ending up embroiled in court with people who can actually fight back. Because, realistically, the company in question doesn't have a leg to stand on. It's a common phrase. It's a phrase that empowers a lot of women! Except, y'know, when a business that purports to support women uses that phrase to attack their ability to sell their art.

It's an ultimately doomed effort - even Band-Aid ended up changing their jingle to 'stuck on Band-Aid brand' because their brand name had become the common name, and Band-Aids aren't as tied up with feminism and the policing of art as Fight Like A Girl is. So the company is currently trolling, getting themselves more press, and being dicks.

Intellectual property is more complicated than declaring that one owns a segment of language forever, but it's really difficult for independent artists to get legal fees. As an independent author or artist, you're a lot more vulnerable. So while legally when nuisance cases like this come up you could fight back, you might not have the resources. It's deeply frustrating, partly because even if one can dispute a DMCA claim on solid grounds one's distributors might not want the hassle. I don't have any kind of easy solution, just a lot of frustration on behalf of my artist friends. Fair Use doesn't even come into this, as far as I'm aware, because these works have nothing to do with the company that owns the trademark. No one cared about them until they started suing.

So hopefully it'll die down soon, or there'll be something class action on behalf of the artists. In the meantime, it's worth it to know your rights, even if you won't always be in a position to exercise them.
Fight Like A Girl by LettieBoBettie, from DeviantArt

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Genre Fiction and Sexual Violence

One of the interesting contrasts between literary and genre fiction is what we expect from them: literary fiction we expect to give us good writing and interesting narrative devices, genre fiction we expect to give us a particular emotional experience.

With the recent kerfuffle about Game of Thrones and having gone to see Mad Max yesterday, I was thinking more today about the things I want from an experience.

This tweet summarizes a lot of it. I mean, at this point, we all kind of expect a pervasive threat of sexual violence from every shadow in Westeros. And, because I've seen other action movies, I was kind of expecting some threat of sexual violence in Mad Max. I was braced for the hit. And then it never came, and it was a gift, and I really love that fucking movie.

I read non-fiction and literary fiction both for school and for my own edification, and I brace in the same way when reading a lot of those. Sexual violence is pervasive in the real world, and so it pervades fiction set in the real world.

Which takes me to the genre fiction I read. I have a friend who, because she's perfect, heads an email filled with book recommendations as 'Trash Books!'

They are supernatural romance novels. They're amazing. It's great. In every single one, people fall in love in a long-term-monogamy sort of way, kick butt, have magic powers, and maintain healthy friendships. It is the best kind of wish fulfillment.

Also of note is the way it treats sexual violence. Rape still exists, in these worlds, because I tend to read the kind of paranormal romance with high body counts and so other kinds of violence come with that. Of note, though, is that rape attempts are far less frequent than in the real world. In the series I'm reading now, I'm on book 19 and there have been two characters who were raped, of which only one was a perspective character (the other character started a centuries-long war and she was considered justified except when she nearly murdered her kids). There were also three threats that ended in violence. This is significantly lower than anywhere in the real world. Also, anyone who tries to rape a woman ends up dead or severely beaten. It's very emotionally satisfying.

And it also makes these books kind of reassuring to read: one doesn't have to be quite so braced against the possibility of an onslaught.

That's what genre fiction offers. There are other genres, like cozies, where the only thing one has to be braced against are dessert cravings, but these tight genres offer a kind of consistent experience that's as relaxing as a glass of wine.