I feel like I need to talk about this.
I’m probably going to get a hundred million anonymous hate notes, and some people jumping down my throat, but no pain, no gain, eh? But I feel like I need to try to express this, and I hope I manage to do so clearly.
So here it goes.
I am both a professional creator (novelist and screenwriter, though only with publications in the former), and a fan creator. Before I began to write original fiction, I wrote fanfiction as Losyark/Vega on ff.n and Livejournal. Before I was signing autographs and giving readings at conventions, I was attending them in cosplay.
So, I know about passion. I know about a desperate dedication to a world, a show, a character, a ship. I know about literally dreaming about the stories you want to write. I know about the fun of playing at being a character in a show and goofing around with your friends and a camera. I know about RPGing.
I still read fanfic. I still cosplay when I’m not being all ‘respectable and professional’ at a con (and I always dress up for the Saturday night dance). I still squee (usually deep, deep inside) when I get to chat with fellow guests in the greenroom and have dinner with actors, artists, writers and creators I respect and admire.
I have entered, won, and judged both fanfiction and professional novel awards.
I ship McShep and Johnlock, even when I lived a few doors down from David Hewlett and patted Mars on my way to work. I re-read fanfics when I’m feeling creatively drained like some people gnosh on comfort food when they need to feel warm and fuzzy. I like being silly, and making up stories, and talking about my favourite fanfics in public and online.
I am also an academic. I have a Bachelors in Dramatic Literature and a Masters in Communications Culture. I am a social anthropologist, a fandom scholar, and am versed in film/theatre critique, critical theory, and both queer and feminist studies.
I am also in film. I act. I voice act. I am an extra. I have been a PA, a set-gopher/dogsbody, a driver, a handler, an assistant.
So there’s the context.
TL;DR – I occupy the spaces which I will now talk about.
Okay, so. Why are there some people being assholes to Amanda Abbington and Steven Moffat?
So, yeah. I’ve said that I don’t like some of Moffat’s writing. I’ve said publically that I take umbrage to the fact that Moffat doesn’t seem to understand how to respectfully write female characters. I’ve said publically that I am saddened that there are no female creatives on Doctor Who, and that I think Joss Weadon’s brand of feminism is dated and he needs to take the next step in his works now. I have said publically that the quality of wordcraft and narrativecraft in Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey frustrates me, especially since the standard should have and easily could have been higher. I have publically stated that I feel 50 Shades of Grey is a dangerous novel because I feel that it is Kink Colonialism and not respectful of the lifestyle. I’ve mused publically on how I feel that Moffat is a much better writer when he as a rigorous editor or showrunner working above him.
I’ve said publically that there are shows I no longer watch because I just can’t stomach the writing or the acting or the premise any more. I’ve said publically that there are books I’ve stopped reading, authors I don’t respect as people, and creators that I would never want to be in a room with because their personal views clash very strongly with my own and I don’t know if I could be civil if certain topics about which I am passionate arose.
I have acknowledged what frustrates me about many media texts, and sometimes about the personal views and choices of the creators.
But you know what I have never done?
I have never attacked the creator. I have never told a creator to kill themselves and spare the world. I have never threatened a creator. I have never sent them hate mail, or blogged horrible things about their sexual orientation, marriages, skin colour, genitals, perceived education, or lifestyle. I have never sent them letters or cornered them at conventions to expressly tell them why, to their faces, they are a waste of skin.
It is simple to consume.
It is slightly harder to engage with what you consume. It is a bit harder still to engage critically with what you consume, and even a bit harder than that to have opinions and understand patterns and theories in what you consume.
But that is NOTHING compared to what it takes to CREATE.
You think it’s so goddamn easy to create something and then put it out there for people to consume? Then you fucking do it.
You’ll have the right to call creators horrible names and bully them on social media, and talk smack to the actors who are playing characters that you perceive ruin your OTP when your TV show/film/book series is making you the same kind of money and you have the same kind of fame, and it receives the same kind of critical acclaim. Hopefully by then you’ll have realized that you’re behaving like an entitled little shit and that creating something is fucking hard and there’s always way more cooks in the kitchen than you realize and that sending death threats to actresses playing characters that get in the way of your game of make believe is bloody childish.
And if you haven’t by then? I hope you enjoyed doing that one creative project you did. Because nobody else in the biz will ever willingly work with you again.
And before you say, “But J.M., you can’t know what that’s like!” let me correct that assumption.
I mostly got out of film acting because I have been told that I am fat. I’m not fat, I’m pretty on par with the average, if short and curvy. But it’s a very thin-aggrandizing industry. And you know who keeps telling me I’m fat, have a bad nose, am a no-talent hack?
Not directors. Not casting directors.
Audience members. Yup, the very people who I hoped to touch with my ability to inhabit a character and share a story with have all but bullied me out of the profession. Because I decided that I didn’t need to put up with being shamed in order to be able to participate in making art.
I still voice act, and I would love to do more film/TV/webseries acting, but it’s hard to want to put myself out there, to expose my own body to ridicule.
In 2011 I published my first SF novel, and it was named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly, was nominated for two Lambda Literary awards, and was nominated for a CBC Bookie. Sure, some people didn’t like it. They wrote reviews on Amazon that disappointed me. But they were critiquing the story, and that’s fair. Not every narrative, not every writing style, and not every writer will resonate with every reader. That’s expected.
But then a blogger decided that I was a shitstain of a human being. She pulled apart my book, yes, but she also did laughingly shallow research into my life (i.e. as far as I can tell, glanced at my website for about seven seconds), and then proceeded to tell everyone on her blog about how I am, personally, a waste of human flesh and my publisher should burn my work, and that my parents were assholes and I should have been aborted, and that my friends should brain me with blunt instruments and … yeah.
She said such horrible, hateful things that I actually started to have a panic attack. I got paranoid about stalking. I had terrible flashbacks to the bullying I suffered in high school and university. I couldn’t sleep for the nightmares and I felt nauseous all the time. Though I wasn’t clinically diagnosed with it, I actually checked all the boxes of PTSD. I had to take time off my dayjob to get my head back together, and it made me stop writing for a while. I just couldn’t do it without feeling like I was going to vomit all over my keyboard.
And worse still, embedded in all the vitriol and bile and calls to kill myself, there were actually some pretty salient critiques of my writing. She pointed out places where I unknowingly made errors that I was ashamed to have found, and places where I overlooked things where I should have been more clear, or had missed opportunities to be more respectful of ethnicities, cultures, and sexualities.
I learned from those critiques, but not without suffering. And it would have been better all around for both of us if her review had been respectful, compassionate, and professional. Because I read most of what she said (I had to stop eventually, because my hands were shaking to hard to manipulate the mouse), I did take a lesson away from it.
But how many of the hundreds of authors has she abused and bullied and hurt read her blog? How many hundreds of creators who could have engaged in a dialogue with her instead turned their heads away and refused to learn?
Do you see what I’m saying here?
If you don’t like how show-writer X or novelist Y is choosing to tell his/her stories, how, in any way, do you think being an entitled, screaming child about it is going to encourage them to grow and improve? How is bullying, sending death threats, stalking, harassing, and terrifying these people going to turn the media text you are upset and frustrated over into exactly what you want it to be?
This is not a trick question. Here is the answer: it’s not.
The only thing this behavior does is makes a creator stop creating.
You will never get more episodes, the last film, or the final book that way.
The creator will not rewrite their story for you. They will not fire an actor, hire a new one, cut out a character, create a romantic relationship between characters that they never intended to get together, or change the ending just for you.
Even if there’s thousands of you screaming at him/her. That is not how this works, folks.
They make something. You can choose to consume it or not. You can choose to like it or not. You can choose to engage with it or not. You can choose to make fic/art/cosplays/RPGs/fantasies about it or not. You can choose to critique it, discuss it, debate about it, mull over it, and attend conventions devoted to it, or not. You can choose to write to the creators or not.
But you know what? That’s ALL you get to do.
You don’t get to dictate. You don’t get to demand. You don’t get to bully. You don’t get to punish. You can boycott and abstain, vote with your ratings and your dollars, but that’s it. You can write letters or emails respectfully explaining why you didn’t like the media text. You can write reviews. And that’s the extent.
But in dictating, demanding, bullying, threatening, punishing, and acting like an eintitled, passively-agressively consuming little brat, you turn our community into a non-safe-space. And wasn’t the whole POINT of this community to be a safe space for people who want to discus, converse, create, fantasize, wank, play, giggle, sew, dream, and make friends?
In doing those abovementioned horrible things, YOU are the reason actors fear Q&As and conventions. YOU are the reason directors don’t go to symposiums on their own work, or don’t teach at universities. YOU are the reason writers don’t read the fanfic you send them, fear to go on Twitter, live in terror of Facebook and Goodreads.
You make the spaces where we, the community, get to engage with the creators we love unsafe for THEM.
And that STILL won’t make them not tell their stories the way they want to.
So here’s what you CAN do, as a fan:
You Can Not Like Something
You Can Create Fanworks
You Can Have Fantasies
You Can Let Fandom Be The Place Where You Feel Safe To Explore Your Self, Your Kinks, Your Sexuality, And Your Creativity
You Can Have Issues With A Creator’s Work (and choose to stop loving it, or continue loving it while acknowledging and possibly discussing said issues, either publically or not).
What you CANNOT Do:
You Cannot Tell The Creator How To Tell Their Own Damn Stories
You Cannot Harrass or Bully Creators Into Doing What You Want Them To Do With Their Own Damn Stories
You Cannot Expect Your Heroes or Creators to Owe You A Thing
What you CAN Do As A Creator:
You Can Train To Be A Creative Professional
You Can Work Your Way Up And Eventually Get A Professional Career As A Creator
You Can Create Things, and Tell Your Own Story However You Damn Well Want To.
(And while I’m on this topic, can we talk about chat show hosts who try to use erotic fanart to shock and titillate guests? Fuck that, okay?
They have no right to take work out of the safe-space in which it was created. It was made for the community, not for shock tactics, and that’s not fair. It’s not fair to expose those artists to bullying, it’s not fair to take the work without sourcing, it’s not fair to force the art out of the context in which it was presented, and it’s not fair to invite the audience and the actor/director/writer to ridicule the artist and by extension the community. Lastly, it is not fair to force that onto actors/directors/writers, to try to ambush and shock the actor.
Some of that stuff could be potentially triggering to the guests. Some of it could be scary to them. Some of that stuff could make it really hard for them to be professional on set the next time they see their collegues. Those are thier FRIENDS and COWORKERS they’re being forced to see in those situations.
They have the right to peruse the fanwork that is made about their show/film/book, and they have the right to comment and engage with fancreators if they so choose, but they also have the right to choose to not to engage with it and chat show hosts are forcing it on them.
And that is humiliating for the creator and the fanartist both, and it is goddamn disrespectful to the fan community. End of.)
TL;DR – So here’s what I’m saying:
Be respectful, okay? Just be respectful. PLEASE.
If you don’t like something, that’s fine. If you want to critique a media text, or a writer’s style and preferred methods of building character and narrative, that’s fine. If you want to discuss publically the problematics you encounter in your media consumption, that’s fine. If you want to tell people why you feel that a media text is flawed and not worth consuming, that’s fine too. If you want to create fantasies and fanworks, if you want to wank, or explore kinks, or just have a laugh using the media text as your foundation, that’s fine. If you want to meet a professional creator and engage in a dialogue about their work (either what you loved, or hated, or what you wish they had done, or wish they hadn’t done) that’s fine.
But please, please do it respectfully.
Don’t scream at the creators. Don’t cajole. Don’t threaten. Don’t embarrass them. Don’t shove your fantasies onto them.
Because you are not the creator of that media text.
You consume it. You love it. You use it as a springboard for your own creativity and that, my friends, is fucking incredible.
But you are not the creator. So back the fuck up.
They made up the media text. They get to tell their own damn story however the fuck they want and you don’t get to scream at them for doing it in a way that doesn’t match what you want.
If you want something different, then make your fanwork or make something original, and enjoy that.
They have worked hard to be where they are. It is not easy to be a professional actor, a show runner, an author, a publisher, a director, a filmmaker, a speaker, an artist. It is not easy to convince people to pay you to make art. It is damned difficult and at every turn there are gatekeepers and higher-ups who are going to critique and demand and snip and add and change. That’s the nature of the business.
But the creators are the ones making it. Not you.
And if you don’t like how they do it, then there’s a very simple solution.
Stop watching. Stop reading. Stop.
And if you are able to accept that it’s not exactly how you wish it was, and still enjoy it anyway, then do. Enjoy it.
And write. And draw. And cosplay. And paint. And play. And have fun. And critique. And discuss. And debate. And speculate.
But do it with some goddamned respect, okay?
Remember Wheaton’s Law: Don’t Be A Dick.