Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Transgender Bashing on Lost Girl

Perhaps it's because Twitter blew up with the following story last week:

Julie Burchill Transgender Column Causes Firestorm For The Observer

Her original piece, which the Observer pulled, can be found here.

But this past week, as I was watching the mid-season premiere of Lost Girl, I couldn't help but wonder what the frak had happened to one of my favorite shows. Given television production schedules, this episode was shot months ago, so perhaps it's just unfortunate timing that this episode airs during this controversy.

Lost Girl is a Canadian produced science fiction program that airs on the SyFy Channel and has, in the past, been applauded for it's portrayal of gay and bisexual relationships. The lead character, Bo, is a succubus and her two main relationships on screen have been with a man, Dyson and with a woman, Lauren. The show's plot is that fairies are real (the fae) and exist side by side with humans. There are light and dark fae, and Bo, who has only recently realized she is fae, chooses to remain unaligned and instead works as a private investigator for both sides. Both  of Bo's relationships have been given equal time, screen wise, and have been treated with dignity. Bo's other sexual relationships have shown (or been shown) with no bias as to the gender of her partners.

So I was shocked at the recent episode, "Caged Fae". The episode starts with Bo robbing a bank, acting out, and being arrested and sent to Fae Prison- Hecuba Prison, an all female prison run by Amazon guards. During the show, the anti-men stance of the Amazons is revealed, and the fact that they only breed every five years, and then when they deliver, the girl children are raised, while the male children are abandoned.
It turns out that Bo is undercover at the prison to find out what has happened to Lauren's mentor, Dr. Everett who was the prison doctor. Bo discovers that someone is faking release papers for the female prisoners, drugging them, impregnating them with some "super vitamin" (?)  keeping them in solitary confinement until they deliver, and then wiping their memories before putting them back into the prison population.

It's the prison warden's portrayal though that is disturbing, all on its own, but certainly in light of the recent hate mongering towards transgenders. The prison warden is portrayed as a black leather, corset wearing, tall, blond female who is the leader of the Amazons that run the prison, and stands in stark contrast to the black and white uniforms that the rest of the Amazons wear throughout the episode.

The resolution of the "Caged Fae" episode was that Bo realizes with her succubus superpowers that the prison warden (who is never named) is actually a male, a male son of an Amazon that was abandoned, and yet managed to survive. The Amazon guards feel betrayed, and drag him/her off so that they can enact their own justice for his/her crimes.
There are multiple issues with the portrayal of the prison warden:
  • the portrayal of a transgender as a clownish S&M figure
  • that a transgender character who is a man---> woman, is played by a woman, Sarain Boylan
  • the transgender character is not named, is not fleshed out, in fact is presented only as a stereotype cut out
  • this transgender character is portrayed as raping, imprisoning, and then brain washing young women
The fact that this episode ends with Bo cementing her lesbian relationship with Lauren makes this episode even more problematic. I was confused, and as a fan, felt betrayed that a show that had been so great about showing relationships that stood on their own, versus prejudicing them against which gender was involved, would  feature an episode that's focus was hate mongering.
The assumption that transgenders are deviants, capable only of torture and rape, the idea that they must be destroyed for the greater good, is a horrible idea. I can't believe any show, let alone one that has been honored by GLAAD for its portrayal of gay/bisexual relationships would feature this kind of storyline. The implication seems worse- that transgenders are somehow not accorded the same rights as gay, lesbian, bisexuals, that even "that" community ostracizes them.

Surprisingly, this focus in the episode got little attention on the show's main discussion board, with most people justifying the portrayal because
  • "He was in disguise. He was in drag. He was a transvestite. He was not a transgender MF"  
  • "The Fae that was impregnating the prisoners was a trickster Fae disguised as a female to have access to as many women as he could rape." 
  • One of the most hateful things that was mentioned in the few, brief posts was the following, "Besides, the transgendered thing is fairly uncommon enough that its depictions in media are few enough that its not likely to reflect too much on the actual people." 
  • Another stated that "Well, people looking to be offended will certainly find plenty in this episode to complain about". 
  • Out of the thirty-four posts about this episode, only five mentioned the prison warden as a transgendered character, and three out of those five responded vehemently to a transwoman who stated that "Yes I am sensitive because I'm sick and tired of trans women being used as vilians or jokes and not much else. Oh and the dismissal of a trans woman as just a guy in drag also ****** me off. If you haven's already guessed I am a trans woman and am sick and tired of this ***** and being told I'm overly sensitive." 
  • Her comments were ignored.
The posters for the most part ignored reading the prison warden as transgendered, and instead sought to explain away the character. Which also bothered me. Except for the one transwoman poster, Mansquito, no one else seemed to have a problem with the prison warden's portrayal, and almost all dismissed reading the character as transgendered. I think the only thing worse than a horrible portrayal is explaining away the portrayal as not relevant.
The fact that the episode was an "homage" to 1970s prison sexploitation films got more traction amongst fans than the transgender portrayal. 

When is this going to end? When are we going to realize that people are people, are people. Everyone deserves to be left alone about their personal choices, and deserves to be shown as a fully fleshed out, three dimensional person instead of a cardboard cutout. That people deserve to be happy, and loved, no matter who they choose to love, or how they choose to identify themselves.

Perhaps I'm naive, and I know all the evidence is to the contrary, but I am always shocked by people's hatred, by their blind spewing of vile insults against people they don't know. It's like a gut punch. That's certainly how I felt when I read Burchill's filth earlier this week. I was actually pretty horrified that a newspaper would print it- it seemed better suited to the dark corners of the Interweb, wherever crazy people spew their hatred and garbage. The fact that the response, the outrage of the general population, was so slow, seemed only to reinforce that even "liberals" considered transgenders outside of the lines, fair game for ridicule, somehow not worthy of the same respect and dignity as others.
I'll tell you what, I rather be naive, and be shocked and horrified at events such as these than ever exist in a world that views anyone as lesser.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Let Me Tell You a Story (planning it out) WORK IN PROGRESS

So the presentation title is "Let Me Tell You a Story: The Function of Digital Narratives as Oral Narratives in Once Upon a Time and Grimm.

A quick search on recent scholarship about digital narratives will yield results for digital storytelling in the classroom, the digital narratives of video games, and hypertexts. However, one gap that exists within this scholarship is an analysis of how the digital narratives can be part of a cycle that influences other types of narratives, that in turn cycle back around to influence the digital narrative. A perfect example are the  official web pages for television shows- how do they influence and affect the narrative of the show itself? How do the stories presented on these pages change how the audience views the narrative of the story? This paper will examine how the digital narratives of the webpages for Once Upon a Time  and Grimm function: how the use of interactive Facebook feeds, blogs, and interactive web pages on these show sites create a community out of the audience, how these digital narratives influence the audience, and how audience input and contribution to these digital narratives influences the narrative of the television shows. I will argue that this interaction between the narrative of the television show, the digital narrative of the webpage, and the audience forms a new oral narrative that functions in similar ways to the original transmission of fairy tales and folktales. 

What digital narratives are commonly defined as
Video game narratives
Fan Communities (usually focused on fan fiction)
  • common language/knowledge
  • forms bonds even in a short time due to "short hand" of the community (see above)
Gap- examining the narratives of tv show webpages
Argument- how digital narratives created by the webpages of television shows influences the original narrative, and what this signifies.

Evolution of Narrative:
How oral narratives began: Once upon a time, storytellers sat around fires and passed on tales
The transmission was back and forth 
Storyteller <------> Audience
 Then we began to write these tales down and the transmission became a little different
Storyteller/Author ----------> Audience 
Audiences could respond to the storyteller/author through letters but there was enough of a delay that the influence of the audience on the storyteller/author can be assumed to be marginal.
Now that there is a "matrix" of material that creates a narrative (Brooker), it all looks more like this. The transmission loops back and over itself
The audience can now respond in "real time" to the story, and the storyteller/author can get instant feedback on the story and alter it accordingly.

Digital narratives (webpages) can influence the source material (television/movie/comic)
The transmission loop, the matrix is the closest approximation we have to oral narratives

Media Studies
Pop culture
Digital narratives

Friday, January 4, 2013

Independent Scholar Conundrum

I began to use the title "independent scholar" two years ago when I started presenting at conferences, and they asked for an institutional affiliation, and I had none to give. I had two masters degrees, but was not currently a student, and I was not yet an adjunct, so couldn't even claim that as my institution. From reading other people's name tags at conferences, it seems to have become a catch-all phrase that means a lot of different things to different people.

There are a couple of issues I've come across though as an independent scholar, that were brought home to me today as I opened a packet from a journal I'd sent an article off to in hopes of having it published. It was an expansion of a paper I presented at a conference over two years ago. I had quite frankly given up on hearing anything, as I'd submitted it over two years ago, and emails asking (politely) for a status update, had gone unanswered. However, it was accompanied with a lovely cover letter apologizing for the delay, and explaining what happened (lost in university mail). Very professional, and I appreciated finally knowing what happened, and having an answer.

It was a rejection. But it was the notes from the reviewers that made me think of the issues I encounter as not just an independent scholar, but one who lives two plus hours from the nearest university, and has no access to an academic library, or sources.
Let me be clear, I don't disagree with any of the notes, and welcome the feedback (as hard as any rejection is to read). But the reviewers had two main complaints:
  • "an inattention to scholarship" and "naive assumption that nothing has been written about" this subject
  • "citations do not furnish available printed sources"
According to the reviewer, these problems are "fatal" to the effort. Both address, for me, the same issue/problem I have struggled with since I found myself adrift.

If I become interested in a topic, and I start to research it, I generally do two things as I don't have an academic support system, or university library to go to. The first is I research authors who specialize in that topic/field and what books they've written. The second is a scouring of JSTOR for journal articles. With the first, once I've identified books I think will be helpful, I email the titles to Sharon, who is in charge of interlibrary loans at my public library. She is wonderful, and has always been able to get me everything I've asked for from the big university libraries. And I use JSTOR because frankly, I can't afford subscriptions to the journals that cover my field of interest and few of these journals are completely online.

And here's the problem- just because I can't FIND the research, doesn't mean it doesn't EXIST. If I build an argument on what is available to me, the risk is I am building a house of cards that possibly leaves out some crucial, seminal work on the topic. And worse, I have no idea.

So, what's the solution? The easy answer is to get myself into a situation where I do have access to everything I need to be successful. While that it certainly my end goal, what's the solution in the meantime? How do I avoid appearing out of my depth, or worse, an academic hack? Compounding this problem is that not only do I lack access to many academic resources, but for a large part, I also lack the academic contacts that could perhaps steer me in the right direction. While the Interweb, and Twitter are great for making contacts you probably couldn't make without technology, they do not take the place of being part of a collective, face to face, pool of people and knowledge.
I have to say, when I read the reviewer's comments, I was mortified because I could see exactly what he/she meant. I know some people get rejections/constructive criticism and their ego causes them to reject it all out of hand but that isn't me. This is THE journal in my field, and I looked like an idiot. In a field so small, and with a name so distinctive, am I now branded as a hapless amateur? Will it color future hopes?
One hopes not.
However, because I'm not sure what the solution is, I am very aware that this is an issue that could come up again, and I really would like to avoid that. Now, I find myself nervous about other articles I've sent out to journals, and am waiting to hear from. Did I make the same colossal mistake?

Comments, suggestions, and helpful advice welcome!

short note- Geek by Proxy

William Proctor is doing something very interesting with Infinite Earths, and you should check it out. And I'm not just saying that because he published my article.
Proctor's article, and Will Brooker's article (both of which can be seen on the right hand side under PAGES) are worth reading. I loved them both.

Feel free to post comments so we can have a discussion!