Summer 16 Anthem: The Complexities of Fandom

By: Jose Figueroa

Marvel vs DC.

That’s been the anthem of summer 2016 for many in the Geek community (and I even bet some of ya’ll are furious that I placed Marvel first. Ehh.).  Seriously though, this summer has seen Team Marvel go head to head with Team DC in a vicious battle of who can slander the other with the meanest social media shade. Now, I support healthy competition for two reasons. First, it challenges creators to push the edge of the envelope. It encourages brilliant minds to look for inventive ways to push their product, to evolve the genre, to develop epic pieces of work. Secondly, it means fans are able to consume quality material. We’re able to connect to well-developed characters and plots, and use social media as a platform to share our love of Geekdom. As a fan, I live for healthy, fun competition that benefit all parties involved. But that’s far from what summer 2016 has been about.

Being a Geek on social media this summer has been uncomfortable and unnecessarily violent. We’ve all been expected to fit into these nicely designed boxes that label us as fans of a particular brand. If you are in said box, you must abide by strict rules that deny your ability to be a complex human being with actual thoughts. It’s either you stan for Marvel and slander DC, or you support DC and bully Marvel fans. If you follow the rules of the box, you’re attacked by trolls. If you break the rules and critique, you’re attacked by trolls. It’s a cycle that discourages geeks from embracing the culture and that harms folxs, particularly Black Women and Women of color.

My favorite part about being an Afro-Latinx Geek is that I do not fit into one box. I am able to navigate through different spaces and form opinions based on my own experiences. That’s the beauty of “being apart of the Geek community”, the diversity of thought that allows for constructive debate and growth. I am completely able to jump up and down in excitement over the Marvel Cinematic Universe but still critique the lack of well-developed characters of color over their eight-year existence. I am allowed to enjoy DC and Warner Brother’s film, Suicide Squad, but still critique the romanticizing of the physically and psychologically abusive relationship between Harley Quinn and The Joker. It is possible to support both DC and Marvel while at the same time hold high expectations for both studios.

This violence isn’t only found within comic book properties, it exists in all Geek spheres. Earlier this summer an article critiquing Cartoon Networks hit show, Steven Universe, dropped and my Twitter timeline became World War III. First, if you’re not watching this adorable show, do yourself a favor and stop everything you’re doing. Seriously. You will be pleasantly surprised by the magic and level of complexity sprinkled within each 11-minute episode. I fell in love with the show and quickly immersed myself into the fandom but did have a slight problem I could never articulate.

There’s so much in this show that I wish was accessible when I was a child and I continue to be fascinated by the developing story. The show breaks gender norms, depicts Queer relationships, and explores issues such as consent and healthy/unhealthy relationships. Despite my love for the show, the article on Medium raised very important and valid points, particularly around race. The lack of Black Women writers, the (mis)representation of Queer Black Female characters and the continued centering of white male characters are real issues and should be part of the conversation. The response I saw as a result of this article ranged from racist, queerphobic name calling to erasure and silencing. As I tweeted my own thoughts on the article, people questioned my understanding of the Steven Universe mythos and dismissed my views because of their undying love of the show. What most folxs don’t realize is it is possible to process thoughts, form a critical opinion and still enjoy the show. It is possible to engage in a debate and not use violence to silence those who are impacted by stereotypes that may not exist under ones lens due to privilege. As Benjanun Sriduangkaew writes in their article for Medium:

“It’s about how, no matter how much you love something, it’s not a part of your identity. You aren’t on its payroll. It’s not your mom. You can still like it and at the same time be critical. That is a normal, adult thing to do. It’s about sitting down and listening.”

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Geek culture is beautiful because it means so much to so many people. Regardless, that doesn’t mean a property is exempt from perpetuating racist and queerphobic stereotypes. It doesn’t remove the fact that it exists and is influenced by the real world and is, in most cases, developed through a White gaze that appropriates culture and excludes folxs of color.

It is okay to be critical. It is okay to question your favorite television show, movie or studio. It’s not okay to deny someone else that right and force them away from a community they love and care for so deeply. We are human beings with the ability to have multiple thoughts and feelings. Let’s stop trying to box each other into this ideal vision of what it means to be a fan and have actual conversations. Let’s simultaneously demand more and continue to love what we have. Hopefully we can get it together for summer 2017. Fingers crossed.

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