Pop Goes The Culture: Strong Female Characters (and more)

A few days ago in the #solidarityisforwhitewomen secondary thread, Gloria made a suggestion I really liked:

I would love to see Feministe do something akin to Slate Magazine’s TV club where each week feminists of all sorts get together to discuss their take on TV shows, movies, music, news, books and pop culture.

Everyone can have blind spots when it comes to oppression that doesn’t affect them. What a way to get a multi-faced picture of what is happening in the world?

So, welcome to the first edition of implementing Gloria’s idea! This Last week, Sophia McDougall wrote an article in New Statesman that I’m linking to as a discussion kick-starter:

I hate Strong Female Characters

Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.

The whole article is full of tempting quotable chunks (She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”), but I’m going to resist the temptation to fill this post with them, and recommend that you read the whole thing, and then please share your thoughts.

Oh, OK – a few more quotes then:

Is Sherlock Holmes strong? It’s not just that the answer is “of course”, it’s that it’s the wrong question.

What happens when one tries to fit other iconic male heroes into an imaginary “Strong Male Character” box? A few fit reasonably well, but many look cramped and bewildered in there. They’re not used to this kind of confinement, poor things. They’re used to being interesting across more than one axis and in more than two dimensions.

And all of this without taking into account the places where the Strong Female Character may overlap with the stereotype of the “strong black woman”, when myths of strength not only fail but cause real harm.

I wish she’d expanded on this quote above, and I’m keen to read the commentariat’s analysis on how that one-axis: two-dimensions supplementary-character confinement is especially restrictive for characters (both male and female) who bear the weight of being a fictional work’s token representations of non-hegemonic identities, and how the lack of characters in mainstream entertainment who look/sound like oneself (and portrayed as part of a realistically balanced community rather than stand-alone nods to diversity) feeds into externalised and internalised oppressions.

Mentally insert as necessary more intersectional descriptors where McDougall’s article only mentions “sexism” and “female” below:

We need get away from the idea that sexism in fiction can be tackled by reliance on depiction of a single personality type, that you just need to write one female character per story right and you’ve done enough.

Let us remind ourselves that the actual goal here is not the odd character who’s Strong or Effective or anything else. It’s really very simple, but it would represent a far more profound change than any amount of individual sassy kickassery can ever achieve, and would mean far fewer posters like those above.

Equality.

What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative. And besides heroines, I want to see women in as many and varied secondary and character roles as men: female sidekicks, mentors, comic relief, rivals, villains. I want not to be asked, when I try to sell a book about two girls, two boys and a genderless robot, if we couldn’t change one of those girls to a boy.

The comments at New Statesman (nearly 600 now) move into discussion of video games as well as films, and there’s a fair spattering of status-quo-hurt & this-is-just-how-the-industry-works ‘splaining popping up to derail what start out as interesting subthreads. In amongst that are some recommendations for alternatives full of win amongst the excoriating of the many examples of fail. What are your win/fail pop culture loves and hates for the portrayal of non-hegemonic characters?

h/t Ophelia Benson for the link to McDougall’s article


P.S. Suggestions for discussion kickstarters for future Pop Goes The Culture editions are very welcome, pitching discussion-starter posts as Guest Posts is strongly encouraged!


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tigtog blogs a lot elsewhere, but here on Feministe she mostly does the tech support and feeds the giraffe. tigtog tweets in irregular flurries @vivsmythe.
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127 Responses to Pop Goes The Culture: Strong Female Characters (and more)

  1. The comparisons don’t seem apt. Comparing Sherlock (BBC’s version?) to a heroine from a kids’ movie (Shrek) to a character from a Shakespeare play (Hamlet)… doesn’t really add up to me.

    Compare Shrek Princess to the Once-ler and Spiderman, or contrast Hamlet to Rosalind (As You Like It) and Juliet. Only you can’t actually do that because Strong Female Character didn’t yet exist when ole Hammy was created. So it’s a bit false to use him as a comparison.

    Couldn’t the Red Skull have recruited a few evil women for Hydra, too?

    Well, if Madame Hydra was around, shooting bullets at a guy for any reason wouldn’t seem OTT, so…point made?

    Between this and the other linked thread, I’m starting to think there’s good internet cred to be gained by writing long, tedious articles stating the obvious. Women get shut out of varied roles in media, news at 11.

    Eh, there’s not much to say. On the winning front, Caska from Berserk is a WoC and a female knight, and I was impressed that the series actually addressed a woman knight menstruating. That’s hardly “pop” culture I guess, but I’m assuming we’re not limited to Anglo series, despite the author limiting herself to them.

    I’m also assuming the author is limiting herself to television and movie mediums as well, since she references movie!Arwin as an example of SFC-syndrome at play while ignoring original!book!Arwen for her comparisons, although somehow 500 bajillion year old Hamlet is still relevant?

    Weak article, all said…

    • Librarygoose says:

      Or compare BBC Sherlock to other characters portrayed on the series, like Molly or Irene. Hell, even Donovan. If we’re talking US version of Homes, how ’bout lady Watson versus lad Watson? While I like Lucy Liu’s Watson, I’m still upset they took away her being a soldier.

      • William says:

        Taking away Liu’s Watson’s soldier history was a missed opportunity but…Irene Adler!!!!

      • Bagelsan says:

        BBC Adler? Gag.

      • Debbi says:

        No, Elementary!Adler was seriously awesome. Because she was also Moriarty. And played by Natalie Dormer. “As if men had a monopoly on murder…”

      • Librarygoose says:

        Maybe he meant the whole twist with the Irene from Elementry ?

      • Librarygoose says:

        Gah, annoying computer making me look late and unable to spell.

      • William says:

        I’m talking about the Elementary Adler, not the BBC Adler. Trying to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the show…

      • Brames says:

        I’m talking about the Elementary Adler, not the BBC Adler. Trying to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the show…

        Tip for anyone who hasn’t seen the show: don’t Google “Elementary” and “Adler” at the same time. Search engines, unlike William, apparently have zero fucks to give about spoilers.

      • Ledasmom says:

        I sort of wish the BBC Sherlock had a sister instead of Mycroft. I’m particularly thinking of the scene where John goes to Mycroft’s club, and how awesome if it had been all or mostly powerful women, who needed the club for some quiet time. Now I’m disappointed they didn’t do that.
        My major peeve with the BBC Adler is that she has to be rescued by Sherlock. Ridiculous.

    • thinksnake says:

      Well, book Arwen doesn’t really get enough characterisation to even be called ‘strong’.

      • Debbi says:

        To be fair, no one in those books gets a whole lot of actual characterization. Tolkien wasn’t huge on it in general, and most of the characters, males included, are vague archetypes acting out studied plots. But that’s not really a point in its negative. That’s what the story is supposed to be.

        As for Arwen as strong female character in the books, it depends how you define strength. Because while she is not a fighter, she does have skills that greatly benefit the story. She is incredibly politically savvy, and creates a banner for Aragorn to use in his campaign – this banner will unite the forces of men together under one king, and allow them to fight Sauron. In fact, throughout the books, though she appears little, she has a great hand in the political underpinnings of Aragorn’s actions.

        Is this weak? Are her machinations and use of “womanly wiles” and cunning worth less than Eowyn’s swordplay?

        Personally, I don’t think so.

      • Miranda says:

        The mere fact that she appeared so little in the books, though, is highly significant, and the fact that she wasn’t a wall flower shouldn’t off set or absolute Tolkien’s LITERAL marginalization of her–confining most of her story to an appendix.

        Women appear incredibly infrequently in (the written) Lord of the Rings, almost to the extent that I sometimes found myself wondering what the actual gender ratio in Middle Earth was. People seem to accept this because “he was using Old English and Old Norse sources as background” (even if they don’t know it’s OE and ON, they are aware it’s some kind of northern early medieval texts). This really bothers me, as the OE and ON corpora both boast a strong and astoundingly colorful cast of female characters–the ON sagas, for example, written in the fucking 1200s, do a better job with women than Tolkien does. As Tolkien’s ACTUAL SCHOLARLY WORK is in these fields and so he was ACTUALLY READING work with awesome and colorful female characters, I don’t what exactly his excuse was. He can’t claim “that’s just the way the industry works” for this one!

      • the ON sagas, for example, written in the fucking 1200s, do a better job with women than Tolkien does

        Yeah, when you literally don’t know what a female Dwarf looks like, or whether there are female Orcs, and the Entwives are handwaved away, and we see one (1) Elvish woman and one (1) human woman in the entire series. (Named characters with more than three lines of dialogue only; I think that’s fair hm?) I start to wonder what the hell Tolkien was thinking, because even in the Greek epics (which are the most testicular of the ancient works afaict) there’s more women than that. For fuck’s sake.

        …it particularly, as a result, amuses me when LOTR fans get angry that people slash the characters. Hey, don’t blame slash fans, blame the guy who created the most objectively sausagetastic, wieneriffic, dickalicious sausage fest series in the history of fantasy!

      • Miranda says:

        the most objectively sausagetastic, wieneriffic, dickalicious sausage fest series in the history of fantasy!

        dude couldn’t even be bothered to stick in an evil, grotesque female monster in LOTR, DESPITE THE FACT that he wrote a paper on grendel’s evil, grotesque female mother–who, go figure, is more evil and horrible than her son. it’s not like men don’t know what interesting female characters look like. they’re out there, men just ignore them.

        and don’t even get me started on Eowyn and Arwen. Arwen epitomizes Tolkien’s whole “let’s make the elves this Aryan ideal,” which the elves never were. And Eowyn, though she is called a “shield maiden” in the book, is a flattened out and de-lifed version of the actual heroic “shield maidens,” who while still sexist stereotypes in a way, were capable of feeling great, sweeping, and very human emotions, well beyond “Will this guy like me or not?” and “Should I rebel against daddy and ride a horse?” Also, for what it’s worth, Medieval Icelanders seemed to have significantly less problem with women going to battle than Tolkien’s characters do.

        It’s not that I want to spit on Eowyn and Arwen…it’s just that…when you see what their proto-types were…you wonder what the hell went wrong. (Modern sexism, wheee!)

      • Radiant Sophia says:

        the most objectively sausagetastic, wieneriffic, dickalicious sausage fest series in the history of fantasy!

        I was previously unaware of the existence of several of these words. I must now find a way to use them in everyday conversation. (translation: Mac, I can always count on you to make me smile)

      • Brennan says:

        dude couldn’t even be bothered to stick in an evil, grotesque female monster in LOTR

        Well, there was Shelob, but she was a spider and apparently incapable of human speech and I honestly have no idea how Gollum knew she was female. (See also: Ungoliat in The Silmarillion.)

      • GallingGalla says:

        dude couldn’t even be bothered to stick in an evil, grotesque female monster in LOTR

        Well, there was Shelob. But she was a giant spider, and rather a bit part.

      • GallingGalla says:

        …I *swear*, I didn’t see Brennan’s comment before posting mine!

      • Miranda says:

        Well, there was Shelob

        Damn, I knew I should have drunk that coffee!

        Meh, but she’s still just a creepy ass spider who, according to wikipedia, doesn’t have much mythic or historical import.

    • Kathy says:

      Between this and the other linked thread, I’m starting to think there’s good internet cred to be gained by writing long, tedious articles stating the obvious. Women get shut out of varied roles in media, news at 11.

      A few years ago, I was writing about pop culture for a fairly well-known women’s site, and this was pretty much my beat.

      • tigtog says:

        Kathy, I think it’s a beat that can have great worth in presenting 101 aspects of social justice issues for the newbies, of which there are always more incoming. After all, if everything is pitched at the post-grad level, newbies never get to engage with these ideas at all. “Fairly well-known women’s site[s]” are one of the first places people just starting to get curious about feminism land from the search engines, and it’s well worth keeping that in mind.

    • Bunzor says:

      Casca is a good example until the series reaches that point where she’s just being almost-raped every other volume. I realize that may have been reality “back then” (or “in this universe”) but after she loses her mind it’s like she just became rape bait.

      Also, the series gets boring and repetitive.

  2. Brennan says:

    I’m conflicted about the article. It spends a lot of time drooling over iconic male characters and insisting that SFC are Not Like That, but very little time actually discussing female characters. Pepper Potts is name dropped but never expanded upon. I . . . don’t agree with the author’s take on Arwen, but I’ve accepted that my love of movie-verse Arwen puts me in the minority, as Tolkien fans go. Only Peggy gets any real discussion, and she’s from a movie where most of the characters were pretty two-dimensional. I actually love the Captain America movie, but it does nostalgia better than nuance. We could gender-bend Cap, and it would just go from being a movie about a plucky underdog to being a movie about a spunky action-girl. And then Stephanie Rogers would get lambasted for being a heavy-handed attempt to create an SFC.

    I feel like people, the author of this article included, are too quick to minimize any actual development female characters get. Instead, we rank them on a spectrum of “weak” to “strong,” whether they’re written that way or not. Take this section from the end of the article:

    “I want her to be free to express herself

    I want her to have meaningful, emotional relationships with other women

    I want her to be weak sometimes

    I want her to be strong in a way that isn’t about physical dominance or power

    I want her to cry if she feels like crying

    I want her to ask for help

    I want her to be who she is”

    Buffy Summers, the exemplar of the strong female character who *illustrates the article* displays all these traits at one time or another. And yet in the public perception, she’s been reduced to the wise-cracking chick who can roundhouse you in the face. Why is she perceived as having less character development or being less interesting than James freakin’ Bond?

    Let’s try this experiment:

    “Of course I’m strong. I’m an idealized power fantasy, but the most interesting thing about me is that on the inside I’m a lonely ex-prom queen,” says Buffy sadly, checking her hair.

    “Does it still count as strength given that I used to be a psychopath?” inquires Natasha Romanov idly as she puts her boots on the table.

    Eowyn’s insistence that she can, must, will get into the Strong Female Character box comes close to hysteria, but there’s no room for her armor and warhorse, and she won’t leave them behind.

    Jane Foster pokes her head in the box, spots some Nordic-looking symbols on the inside, and runs away, babbling something about extraterrestrials and possibly quantum physics.

    Obviously, there are problems. I shouldn’t have to think so hard to make that list, for one. Buffy was the only one of the who was *the* main character, and she’s been off the air for about a decade now. The author raises valid issues–yes, there aren’t enough women, their roles aren’t varied enough, and they often fail to interact with each other in meaningful ways. But, I feel like best response is to highlight the characters who work well rather than just attacking a long-standing trend. Who knows, we might still get a Black Widow movie out of it.

    • pheenobarbidoll says:

      Gawd. Captain America sucked so bad I’d be embarrassed if he was a female character. Given that it was a set up for The Avengers movie, it didn’t have to be good though.

      • Willemina says:

        “Steve, just point the nose down and bail out! I love you or something!”

        “No Peggy darling, I need to get frozed so Samuel L Badass can thaw me out in a couple decades. I’m drivin’ ‘er straight into the ground!”

        Ghost of the Red Skull: “Ve really built a movie around zis guy? Really?”

      • Brennan says:

        LOL, pretty much.

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        -Snerks-

    • Lynn says:

      But, I feel like best response is to highlight the characters who work well rather than just attacking a long-standing trend.

      I really want to see more of that too. For no other reason that I’ve sort of reached a point with this conversation where I have no idea what people are looking for. Nothing ever seems good enough.

      • tinfoil hattie says:

        More than one woman per movie would be a good start.

      • Ooh, maybe those women could talk to each other.

      • Brennan says:

        About something other than a man!

      • tinfoil hattie says:

        Regrettably, I watched Elysium, which passes the Bechdel Test by the skin of its teeth. The movie itself was boring, stupid, heavy-handed, and convoluted. At any rate, the two female characters, who do have names, are a mother and young daughter who speak briefly abput the girl’s serious illness.

        Next time the girl says something, though, it’s “I want to see the man.”

        Ha ha ha ha ha – the dialogue just writes itself!

      • Brennan says:

        I’ve sort of reached a point with this conversation where I have no idea what people are looking for. Nothing ever seems good enough.

        This. Every female character gets attacked for something. If they’re not “stereotypical,” they’re “unrealistic.”

    • roro80 says:

      Buffy Summers, the exemplar of the strong female character who *illustrates the article* displays all these traits at one time or another. And yet in the public perception, she’s been reduced to the wise-cracking chick who can roundhouse you in the face.

      So I agree that the public perception (as defined primarily by men, because default human in our culture is male) of Buffy is this. I’m not sure if I’m reading you incorrectly or the author of the article, but it was my reading that she is explicitly setting Buffy up as a character that she loved, not one of the typical SFCs that she hates. The entire paragraph in which Buffy appears was to show that she’s not explicitly against female characters kicking ass, as long as, like Buffy, they’ve got some there there.

  3. SaraC says:

    I read this article a few days ago and loved it. Glad to see it featured here!

    The article made me reflect a little on Game of Thrones (book and TV versions), which (despite it’s many faults and triggering portrayals) does do an excellent job of developing very different female characters. There are more traditionally “strong” female characters like Arya and Brienne, who are still given the space to be complicated, alongside all sorts of different women. You can’t really sum up characters like Sansa, Cersei, Shae, and Catelyn (or even Arya and Brienne) with one word… well, you could try, but you’d miss so much of what makes those characters tick!

  4. Brennan says:

    Concerning Arwen (because how many other chances will I get to geek out about Tolkien on Feministe and have it be on topic?):

    “Clumsy” is often used to describe her portrayal in the movies, which creates the false impression that her character was some sort of subtle masterpiece of strong character development in the books. This is not the case. In the books, Arwen was literally an afterthought. Her character development occurs in the appendices and she barely appears in the main text because she was a late addition to the cast. Aragorn was originally supposed to fall for Eowyn. Eowyn’s character was probably much improved when she was freed from the “princess who marries the hero” role, but Arwen never gets much development. We know that she “watched over Aragorn from afar” (for 39 years–the lady was dedicated) and that she embroidered a standard for him. That’s it–pining and needlework. Oh, and she gives Frodo her spot on the ships to M-e heaven ’cause, hey, she’s not using it anyway.

    Given what Jackson and company had to work with, I was impressed that they managed to expand her role in FotR while still keeping the plot line relatively close to canon. If you’re not familiar with the books, it seems like she came out of nowhere for the sole purpose of looking awesome, but all they did was gender-bend an existing role. An Elf really does ride up out of nowhere and spirit Frodo away in the nick of time; the movie just added some cool horseback chase scenes. Yeah, they made her look “strong” by swinging a sword, but consider the genre. Practically every character in the story proves themselves by stabbing something at one point or another, including the ones who are three feet tall.

    I think the film-makers would have taken flak whatever direction they went in with her. All I know is that I was twelve years old when I met Arwen as a badass elleth on the big screen, and I was smitten immediately.

    /geekery

    • Tony says:

      My main problem with the Arwen character was that she disappeared after the first or second movie. Yeah, I get that it’s still a larger role than in the books, but still. If you were a fan if her character you were basically left with nothing by ROTK as the token female character role was passed into Eowyn.

      • Tony says:

        Ah nvm, apparently she is in the last film. I must have forgotten as its been over 5 years.

      • Brennan says:

        Yeah, she’s still around, but her character is not nearly as active. She was originally supposed to be in the major battle of the second movie, but the creators got push-back, and that was eventually cut. We still get a few scenes, mostly of her and Aragorn pining after each other, but it’s not enough.

      • Alexandra says:

        I had a long conversation with another Tolkien nerd about this this summer after binging on the movies. Apparently there’s only room for one “action girl” character in the LotR films. Eowyn doesn’t show up in FotR, so they gave that role to Arwen. But Eowyn is so much more interesting in TT and RotK especially that what role is there for Arwen any longer? As a deposed action girl, she mostly just floats around in see-through dresses and pines.

        I think Liv Tyler did not do a very good job with the role, and I think she wasn’t given much to work with. What I wish they’d done with Arwen – given that she is Galadriel’s granddaughter – is give her depths outside of “hitting things with swords” and “riding well”. For instance, she could be a loremaster, like her father and like Galadriel. She could give wise advice from the elven world. Ooh! Or she could be a healer. Or maybe a diplomat, smoothing things over at the Council of Elrond.

        My point is, it seems odd that they gave her the Eowyn role in the first movie, when Eowyn already exists as a fully-fleshed out, interesting character with some of the most badass lines ever given to a woman in fantasy literature.

        (seriously. She kills the Witch King of Angmar after killing its winged beast, while saying I AM NO MAN???? Major levels in badassery).

  5. Tony says:

    In any case, I think the grain of truth in this article is that we want interesting characters centered in interesting stories. Sometimes that requires a less self conscious attempt to integrate diversity but rather to just have it flow.

    However, it’s a bit undermined by the fact that it seems even the male characters have taken on more action hero superficiality of late. In the last Sherlock Holmes movie it seemed suspiciously like he was just another martial arts wielding action hero. James Bond… Batman… Superman… have all become more brutal, darker. The formerly campy but endearing aspects of their personalities seem to be deemphasized of late.

  6. zaebos says:

    Since I take a liking to writing myself, I’d like to chime in for once.

    I have no interest in writing strong-female-characters, because I can’t stand a Mary Sue. “I’m a half-unicorn-vampire-human that can fly! I don’t take shit, but I’m very sensitive! I’m witty but understanding! etc. etc.”

    I’m more interested in good female characters. Say, a woman who is completely creamed and then (after great struggle and losses) finds a resolution and picks herself up.

    I agree so much with the last block quote. I’m juggling/tossing around/sorta writing a cast composed of almost entirely women.

    I just find good characters to be more interesting than strong ones. (There are such things as good-strong characters too!)

    I dunno, just seems like when women are portrayed in media, it feels forced. I like women who just come naturally without all, or any, of the answers.

    • I dunno, just seems like when women are portrayed in media, it feels forced. I like women who just come naturally without all, or any, of the answers.

      Maybe if the media wrote women as women instead of essentially going “well, she’s exactly like a guy, but with, uh, rapeandpregnancyandhormonalcrazylolamirite?” women would be portrayed as women, not as “rapeandpregnancyandhormonalcrazylolamirite”, and that would feel a lot less like women’s lives and arcs revolve exclusively around what men do to them, and that women are “better” the more men-like they are.

      *Gender usage reflects media binarism and stereotypes.

      • seisy says:

        I need a better way to say it, but I think that the problem in media is that female characters are usually written from the outside, not the inside. Their actions (such as they are, for women in television and movies frequently have distressingly small amounts of agency) and reactions are like the weather: they’re treated as just something that happens, with no particular sense that the why or how of their actions is comprehensible let alone considered. Motivations are treated as inexplicable at best and not worth knowing at worst.

      • Brennan says:

        Maybe if the media wrote women as women instead of essentially going “well, she’s exactly like a guy, but with, uh, rapeandpregnancyandhormonalcrazylolamirite?”

        Or better yet, as people who happen to be women.

      • …nah, that’s too much to hope for.

      • EG says:

        Actually, I’m not a fan of this. I don’t “just happen” to be a woman. I don’t “just happen” to be Jewish. I don’t “just happen” to be cis. Those things inform the essence of who I am and how I experience the world. In a very real way, they are a significant part of what determines who I am. I couldn’t not be those things and still be the person I am.

        When I write a character, she may just happen to be wearing a necklace instead of a ring, but she doesn’t just happen to be a woman. Her being a woman is essential to who she is.

      • Actually, I’m not a fan of this. I don’t “just happen” to be a woman. I don’t “just happen” to be Jewish. I don’t “just happen” to be cis. Those things inform the essence of who I am and how I experience the world.

        Hmm. I didn’t read Brennan’s comment as meaning “write everyone the same” but “write them as fully-realised beings instead of the caricatures of masculinity/femininity that women get pigeonholed into”, but your interpretation is valid, too. FTR my feelings on it come closer to “all things in my identity inform my life/feelings/motivations/experiences”.

      • Brennan says:

        Actually, I’m not a fan of this. I don’t “just happen” to be a woman. I don’t “just happen” to be Jewish. I don’t “just happen” to be cis. Those things inform the essence of who I am and how I experience the world. In a very real way, they are a significant part of what determines who I am. I couldn’t not be those things and still be the person I am.

        Yeah, that was a clumsy way for me to put it. I definitely think that being a woman should inform who the characters are. I’m pushing back more against the trend to make being a woman the only thing that drives their character development rather than having them be fully-realized human beings. I once wrote for a fanfic challenge where the only rules were that your story had to (1) have a woman as the main character and (2) not focus on her romantic relationships or her children. It was weird how different (and refreshing) the resulting fics were from what you usually see in fanfic. It’s not that people weren’t writing adventure/mystery/crime drama stories in fanfic, it’s just that they almost never center women. It’s not that women are never centered in fanfic, it’s just that when they are, the plot almost always revolves around romance/childbearing/domesticity. Authors cast women for the “female” roles and men for any roles that are simply “human” (or simply Romulan, Mimbari, Elf, Sprite, or half-orcling). So, I get a little nervous about “just write women as women” because we need better models for what being a woman in fiction actually means.

    • Schmorgluck says:

      I have no interest in writing strong-female-characters, because I can’t stand a Mary Sue. “I’m a half-unicorn-vampire-human that can fly! I don’t take shit, but I’m very sensitive! I’m witty but understanding! etc. etc.”

      That’s why I’ll never watch the movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They made a vampire of Wilhelmina Murray, and removed her from her leading position (and oh, gave her back her married name, *sigh*)…

      In the comic, she’s a complex character whose leading role makes perfect sense. Alan Moore tends to do better than most with female characters.

      • William says:

        Alan Moore tends to do better than most with female characters.

        So long as you ignore that he stuffed Barbara Gordon into a refrigerator.

      • Schmorgluck says:

        Err, I was speaking of characterization. Like in, who are the characters, not what happens to them. And he didn’t have her die so the “stuffed into the fridge” thing isn’t quite there, even though the Joker’s motivation… err, pattern of action (somehow “The Joker” and “Motivation” are hard to put into the same sentence) was definitely somewhere along this line. I see your point, but to me it made sense in the context of that story.

        Interestingly, later writers made her an even more complex and compelling character after those events.

      • amblingalong says:

        Really just super offensive that you equate being disabled and being dead.

      • tigtog says:

        Well spotted, amblingalong. I’d missed that implication entirely. Considering that later writers took Barbara Gordon’s paraplegia and ran with it to give her an entirely new character arc where she was arguably an even more effective crimefighter as Oracle than she’d been as Batgirl, it also misses a gazillion and one points about how moving beyond the confining box of the stereotypical Kick-Ass Female Character actually makes for more compelling stories.

      • Really just super offensive that you equate being disabled and being dead.

        Context? I don’t follow comics…

      • amblingalong says:

        Me neither, but I do read TV tropes somewhat obsessively.

        The character in question was paralyzed from the legs down after being shot by the Joker (a supervillain). She is one of the only disabled characters in modern superhero comics (especially when you consider her powers don’t come from her disability- she’s occasionally inconvenienced by using a wheelchair in a realistic manner), and remains a hero.

        Stuffed in a refrigerator is a term for when writers kill off a female relative/friend/girlfriend of a male main character, to provide ‘motivation’ for him to go get revenge or some other plot point.

        So to compare a character being partially paralyzed, and then going on to become a superhero who lives with a disability, and a character being killed, seems really offensive. Disability != death.

      • Yeah, I know about fridging (I follow tvtropes too, lol) but I wasn’t sure what Moore had done with the arc, so I couldn’t tell what your point was.

        And no, if she’s alive, it’s really pretty offensive to say that she’s been fridged. WTF.

      • tigtog says:

        Of course, the vastly greater level of violence visited on Barbara Gordon than any of the male characters in that Batman story (and that she didn’t get to heal back to her original condition) was actually one of Gail Simone’s datapoints in the original Women in Refrigerators list of “superheroines injured, killed, or depowered as a plot device”, so perhaps limiting references to “Women in Refrigerators” only as references to women actually killed is a tropish oversimplification.

      • Radiant Sophia says:

        Tigtog,

        This exactly!

      • shfree says:

        I thought the main point behind the trope of the “woman in the refrigerator” was that by brutalizing a female character close to the male protagonist, it worked to advance his character growth at the expense of hers. It was like the refrigerating was done AT him, not TO her. And that is what makes it even worse, in my mind.

      • tigtog says:

        Too true – the violence against the fridged women is callously objectified and depersonalised at the same time as it is lasciviously fetishised, and as a plot device the only point is how it progresses the emotional arc of the male protagonist(s).

      • William says:

        First, as Tigtog said, Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke was one of the specific incidents Simone uses when she explains the term.

        Moore took an interesting, well-loved, female character and paralyzed her for little purpose other than to provide a bit of emotional oopmh for the dudes in his story. He brought Barbara in specifically to disable her with no greater goal or characterization than “isn’t it awful that Batgirl can’t be Batgirl anymore.”

        The point wasn’t that being in a wheelchair is as good as being dead because, you know, we’re not talking about real people here. Especially when you’re talking about comics, where death is a matter of waiting for a writer to get bored, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between death and paralysis when you’re looking at how a narrative is organized. The point is that Moore fell into the exact same pattern of using the abuse/death/suffering of a female character as a mere motivation for the male characters in a story. There wasn’t a long arc planned on examining how Barbara dealt with being paralyzed, he wasn’t planning on bringing her back into the story in a different capacity, no, Moore just thought that Barbara getting paralyzed would be a good way to get Commissioner Gordon and Bats good and riled. In that moment she existed purely to shock and create some artificial drama.

        Worse, a big part of the drama was that Moore knew, in the context of comics, that what he had done was take a popular female character and ruined here by making her disabled. He had taken away her ability to be a hero. He had given her a disability to make her pathetic. This happened in 1988. Moore knew damned well that comics weren’t a socially conscious media and that the consequences of his arc meant that Barbara was going to be relegated to a sad background note. From an author who I know can do better, its especially galling.

        More than that, being an eight year old kid with CP and seeing someone’s loss of physical ability being used as shorthand for them becoming worthless wasn’t something that escaped my notice even though I didn’t have the language to explain why Barbara not being able to walk made me feel like a piece of shit. Yeah, later on she became Oracle and that was awesome, but even when Simone was writing her in Birds of Prey I never could see Barbara Gordon and not remember being a kid who’d gotten home from the comic store only to read a Batman story that yanked him out of the escapism he was looking for and left him feeling completely worthless.

  7. dc says:

    Pop culture added as a quick link

    Reviews of films and Tv shows for sexism and strong female character content

    (Ok there’s 2)

  8. BBBShrewHarpy says:

    What do people think of Carrie on Homeland?

    • Alexandra says:

      I dislike that character, mostly because they’ve used the equation “bipolar + woman = irresponsible and untrustworthy”. But I haven’t kept up wtih the show thoroughly after I got turned off to it, so maybe I’m missing something.

  9. pheenobarbidoll says:

    I’m less interested in revamping existing characters than seeing new female characters. I dislike shipping, gender switching and fan fic mainly because you’re not the author/creator of those characters/world and it just bugs me. Come up with your own characters/world’s. If it’s good, I’ll read and enjoy it. If it’s not, hey at least you made something of your own. I can overlook book to movie translations- to an extent. It has to be seriously good though.

    • pheenobarbidoll says:

      And maybe I’m odd, but I don’t identify with fictional characters. I’m reading about their story, not mine, so not seeing myself reflected doesn’t bother me all that much. But- it would be nice if the damn stereotypes could be dropped and having a wider option of characters to read/watch. I’d prefer more variety in authors culture/race/gender/orientation wise too.

      • Kathy says:

        I don’t either. I’d rather read something with well-written, nuanced characters even if those characters don’t at all mirror my own life.

        I’ve taken a couple writing workshops, and that note always comes up: “I just can’t relate.” Not only on my work, though I’ve gotten my share of it, but as a general criticism. I don’t know. I think of relatable as being interchangeable with likable, and surely there are great characters who are anything but. Off the top of my head (and bookshelf), Meg Wolitzer and Jennifer Egan are two pretty mainstream fiction writers who’ve created good, but not necessarily likable, female characters.

    • Bagelsan says:

      Gah, couldn’t disagree more! Shipping and gender-swapping and fanfic are creative endeavors, and tend to be quite subversive to boot. Not everyone has the resources to create something from scratch; at least with stuff like fanfic you get a lot of new people participating, not just the big white male privileged names.

      • moviemaedchen says:

        THIS.

      • Brennan says:

        Cosigned. I know fanfic isn’t for everybody, but it offers a lot of chances to play with characters and settings and themes, sometimes in ways that even original fic just can’t do.

        Also, it provides an audience for writers who otherwise would never find one. Now, maybe pheeno actually lurks around fictionpress to encourage aspiring original fic authors and subscribes to publishings for amateur writers and goes to writers workshops to help others improve, but in my experience, “write your own stories and if it’s good, I’ll read it” usually translates to “drop everything and devote your entire life to that novel, send it to a gazillion agents and publishing houses, risk financial ruin, and if you’re one of the lucky few who convinces the industry to take a chance on you, then maybe I’ll pick up a copy of the paperback if it’s at my local Barnes and Noble.”

      • shfree says:

        Yeah, there are whole communities in fanfic, sharing their works and offering criticism, and I think that is a good thing. If nothing else, it will certainly help a writer hone their skills.

        And from perspective of a long time RPG geek, I play in other peoples’ worlds all the time, both tabletop and virtual. And I have designed characters to play online that were riffs off characters I’ve encountered in other genres that I’ve loved and wanted to explore. I’ve also made original characters, and unique scenarios in tabletop games. All of it helps foster creativity, and when you are playing in other people’s playgrounds, it shows you how their minds tick, and it can give you jumping off points for your own. I think that so long as no one profits from the work of another without the original creator’s permission, we should be able to mine each others’ work silly.

      • Radiant Sophia says:

        from perspective of a long time RPG geek

        +++

        If all fictions used original characters and worlds, RPGs simply wouldn’t exist.

      • I think that so long as no one profits from the work of another without the original creator’s permission, we should be able to mine each others’ work silly.

        Yep, my position exactly.

      • Willemina says:

        The subversive aspect is very interesting to me. Works that expand on the original or provide an alternate point of view have fundamentally changed the way I view the “vanilla” version. Just off the cuff, Peter Watts’ The Things and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead add so much to my experience that I get the excited giggles thinking about mixing them together. Wide Sargasso Sea flips Jane Eyre on its ass and the added context augments the original text in my view.

        I don’t like people pooping in other people’s sandboxes (looking at you children of authors that think you’ve got daddy’s talent) but playing is awesome.

      • Anna in PDX says:

        Wow. Thank you for pointing out R&G are Dead and Wide Sargasso Sea in the context of fan fiction. I had never really put these things together. I am a lit snob who does not hang out in the fantasy/sci fi crowds so it just whooshed right over my head that I like fan fiction too. Thanks!

    • I dislike shipping, gender switching and fan fic mainly because you’re not the author/creator of those characters/world and it just bugs me. Come up with your own characters/world’s. If it’s good, I’ll read and enjoy it. If it’s not, hey at least you made something of your own.

      Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Dante, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi, Tolkien, Robert Ludlum, JJ Abrams and the countless swathes of other fanfiction writers, novelisers, rebooters and remixers in the history of the world would like to register their sadz that you think that just because someone made a thing once that influenced another thing, all the another things are useless. It is most especially orz-ful that these things bug you. Your opinion on their bugfulness and unoriginality probably gives them great wibbles. If only they had all known that pheeno would be bugged. I’m sure they’d all have decided to abandon some of their most successful and iconic works, because as we all know, what would literature be without pheenobarbidoll’s stamp o’ originality and usefulness? Nothing. Nothing at all. Just tumbleweed and echoes of dubstep.

      • And on the subject of ‘if it’s fanwork it’s not your own thing': Alternate universe fanfictions exist. Alternate headcanons exist. Hell, if you’re in anime/manga fandoms, there can be multiple canon continuities, which makes all those studios creators of fanwork. (I know it’s hard to believe that people can work in teams and make good product that you might – gasp! – buy in a bookstore(eleventy) and read/watch are still making fanworks, but take a deep breath, drink a cuppa tea and it’ll sink in soon, I promise.)

        Speaking of, do you believe that all Native artists who draw their inspiration from ancient history or folktales, and create illustrations that are intertextual with those oral traditions, are unoriginal? Do they “bug you”? What about European artists who mostly painted scenes from the Bible? What about Indians who create works based off Indian epics like the Ramayana, in the form of Bollywood movies? Are you turning your nose up at them as well? How about the entire musical canon of Carnatic music, which almost universally plays off the epics and folktales of Indian cultures?

        Your position’s pretty antithetical and offensive to a lot of cultural traditions I adhere to, as well as the current-cultures of fandoms to which I belong. You are accusing many literary, cultural, religious and artistic leaders of my country of being unoriginal, as well as calling my friends and my family, essentially, too lacking in thought or imagination to create a thing of their own. I can’t imagine being more completely pissed off on so many cultural levels by anything else you might say. Holy shit.

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        Too damn bad Mac. I don’t care who has a sad or doesn’t. It’s my goddamn opinion, I don’t like it and don’t read it. Unless and until I pass a law saying you can’t either, then too bad for you. I don’t like it. There. I said it again.

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        And p fucking s- the word like =s enjoy. Just like you, I am in fact allowed to enjoy something or not based on whatever the fuck I want. You’ll just have to live with that , because I’m not going to run out and read fanfic. The world will survive.

      • Not telling you to read it, telling you not to shit all over a lot of my culture by calling it “not your own work” just because it’s based off/influenced by something. Jesus read before you post. And please by all means don’t read fanfic or consume anything classically Indian! Thanks.

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        Also- youre stretching pretty damn hard to connect my not enjoying thousands of stories on The Hound and Sansa running off together, or Shape having a fling with Hermione after Hogwarts turns into a college to well, just about every word you posted.

      • Cosigning everything Mac said.

        And no gives a flying fuck what you like or don’t like to read pheeno, until you come and take a crap all over other people’s hobbies. I don’t like mysteries but you don’t see me saying “Come up with some real writing, like fantasy. When you have a dragon and a mage I’ll read it. At least you’ll have made something.” I mean how entitled can you get?

        You are actively telling people what to write. That’s a little different “Oh I just don’t like this.”

        And FYI you can write original fic and fanfiction–I do. And I write blog articles and essays and even the occasional cringe-worthy poem.

        Your whole condescending attitude is shitty. But hey, maybe I’ll get laid as a result of this post!

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        Maybe you will barnacles, since you’re the one always bringing it into the conversation.

      • Maybe you will barnacles, since you’re the one always bringing it into the conversation.

        If by that you mean you’re wondering if I’m ever going to forget that you said that mine and A4’s posts are motivated by a desire to get laid, the answer is “No”.

        Nice attempt to deflect attention from the crappy things you’ve said about fanfiction writers tho.

      • pheenobarbidoll says:

        Again- a subject YOU brought up. Getting your rocks off ring a bell? It should. You said it, sweetums. And you can bet I won’t forget that. At least A4 didn’t stalk me thread to thread whining about it. More than I can say for you. Have fun with that.

      • tigtog says:

        barnacle and pheeno (addressing you in alphabetical order here, not interested in assigning blame) – that’s enough of old grievances in this thread, please. You both know where #spillover is.

      • I’ll go to #spillover for any further discussion of this.

        But since I’ve been accused of stalking here, a serious charge that I’m sure pheeno isn’t making lightly or flippantly, I feel it should be addressed here (since people will read in this thread here that I am a stalker, but may not go to #spillover).

        I am not trying to be a stalker. *I* commented on this post, pheeno, so if anyone should be making accusations that someone is following them into posts, it’s me (not that I’d do any such stupid thing).

        And yes, I will continue to disclose to possible readers that my motives for posting have been called into question (i.e I feel obligated to warn people that my motives for posting, are apparently in an attempt to get laid) and I now feel obligated to warn people that charges of stalking have been levelled against me by pheeno.

        Both of these actions are serious things that people should be made aware of. A lot of people here could be triggered by talking to a stalker, or just plain don’t want to talk to them. So unless someone with an objective eye, like a mod, would like to weigh in on whether my activities here constitute stalking pheeno, then I am going to have to assume that I may be a stalker and continue to warn people here.

        After all, I’m sure most stalkers don’t think of themselves as such. I could be a stalker and be unaware of it, I guess. I have been a victim of stalking myself irl, so I am going to take pheeno’s accusation seriously, because stalking is no joking matter.

      • tigtog says:

        Barnacle, such warnings are passive-aggressive rehashings of a zombie stoush to my eyes. If you want to make a statement, once, on a #spillover about this, and in future link to that statement every time you feel like warning other readers that your motives for posting have been called into question, then I will allow that, but more detail than that on any other unrelated thread is an unacceptable stoushbait derail.

      • Fat Steve says:

        Also- youre stretching pretty damn hard to connect my not enjoying thousands of stories on The Hound and Sansa running off together, or Shape having a fling with Hermione after Hogwarts turns into a college to well, just about every word you posted.

        While I disagree that using characters/worlds/tropes from other works makes a piece of art any less worthy, I do agree with the sentiment expressed here. Particularly the ‘thousands of stories’ on the same topic sentiment.

        For me it’s a question of quality control.There is probably an undiscovered fanfic writer out there who has amazing talent and creativity, but I can’t imagine wading through all the crap to find a gem. I turn 45 in December, my life is half over. I just don’t have the time.

      • There is probably an undiscovered fanfic writer out there who has amazing talent and creativity, but I can’t imagine wading through all the crap to find a gem. I turn 45 in December, my life is half over. I just don’t have the time.

        So…don’t? I mean personally I don’t find fanfic to be any more susceptible to Sturgeon’s Law than published fiction. But if you’d rather buy books that have been quality-certified through the process of being published, like Twilight and Atlas Shrugged, you do you, buddy.

      • Fat Steve says:

        So…don’t? I mean personally I don’t find fanfic to be any more susceptible to Sturgeon’s Law than published fiction. But if you’d rather buy books that have been quality-certified through the process of being published, like Twilight and Atlas Shrugged, you do you, buddy.

        But I wouldn’t read Twilight or Atlas Shrugged (made the mistake of picking it up in college, didn’t get far) for precisely the reason I wouldn’t read fanfic. I need to know a little something about an author and their work before I read something, so I can make an educated guess on whether or not it’s for me.

        Besides mac, I was kind of hoping you would prove me partially wrong by explaining methods of quality control in fanfic. You can kill more files with honey…

      • Willemina says:

        Y’know people discuss and review fan fiction too. Almost like it was real literature. Some sites even have ratings, kind of like measuring the quality of a work based on people’s reactions as opposed to how many people bought it last week.

        If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing, but seriously with the QQ excuse to write off the entire enterprise?

        I spell control with a Q btw, deal with it.

      • Fat Steve says:

        Y’know people discuss and review fan fiction too. Almost like it was real literature. Some sites even have ratings, kind of like measuring the quality of a work based on people’s reactions as opposed to how many people bought it last week.

        If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing, but seriously with the QQ excuse to write off the entire enterprise?

        That is why I suggested I wouldn’t mind being proved wrong with examples of quality control.

        I don’t know why you think I was ‘writing off the entire enterprise’ when I acknowledged that there is likely to be some brilliance that I’m missing. I was merely explaining why I’m unable (unwilling) to dive in and find that brilliance. I would have just as much difficulty finding a book to read on Amazon if I had no context.

      • Willemina says:

        Sorry Steve, low blood sugar and Chelsea Manning theorycrafters made me snappy. There was maybe some conflation with pheno’s quote in there for good measure.

        It does take a little more work I’ll admit, but between peer review and friend recommendations I get by. It’s basically the same way I find books. Unless I find a good second hand store, then it’s safari time into the deep stacks.

      • Simplest ways to find good fanfic –

        1) Tvtropes’ fanfic recs page
        2) Go to archiveofourown, look up highest rated stories
        3) Google (fandom, pairing) “rec list”
        4) When you find an author you like, follow them back to their own website/ffnet account/what have you and search tags for other fanfics/fandoms you like.

    • Radiant Sophia says:

      pheenobarbidoll, I’m wondering if what you said applies to graphic art as well. Most work is not based on original characters. It is based on characters created by others, and previously rendered by countless other artists.

    • seisy says:

      Fan works- fan fiction, fan art, vidding, everything- aren’t pale imitations of “original” creative endeavors. It isn’t – bowling with the bumpers up. It’s a completely different game.

      Fan works are commentary, they’re a cultural conversation, and they’re inherently communal. It’s all about participatory culture. The advent of mass media (and in that sense, we could even go all the way back to the printing press) has shaped how we think about culture to the point that think in terms of authentic and inauthentic, to think of objects of culture being subject to a hierarchy of authenticity.

      This is going to be a little long, and involve quotes, because it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about. The book I’ll quote, and the book to read is “Textual Poachers” by Henry Jenkins- it’s great.

      Under the usual model of culture, he writes, “the reader is supposed to serve as the more-or-less passive recipient of authorial meaning while any deviation from meanings clearly marked forth within the text is viewed negatively, as a failure to successfully understand what the author was trying to say. The teacher’s red pen rewards those who “correctly” decipher the text and penalizes those who “get it wrong,” while the student’s personal feelings and associations are rated “irrelevant” to the task of literary analysis […] Such judgements, in turn, require proper respect for the expertise of specially trained and sanctioned interpreters over the street knowledge of the everyday reader; the teacher’s authority becomes vitally linked to the authority which readers grant to textual producers […] Both social and legal practice preserves the privilege of “socially authorized professionals and intellectuals” over the interests of popular readers and textual consumers.”

      And the thing is, regardless of issues of intellectual property, culture has never been a one-way street. We use cultural references all the time in average conversations. We play off familiar tropes, familiar cultural ideas and stories and phrases even in the creation of new stories.

      Fanworks are just an extension of that. Jenkins again: “Fan reception cannot and does not exist in isolation, but is always shaped through input from other fans and motivated, at least partially, by a desire for further interaction with a larger social and cultural community…”

      Fannish activities are just another way of engaging with one’s culture, not too much different in purpose than this exact blog post, than is done on a zillion pop culture critic sites. To view them as illicit is to buy into the sense that there are active cultural producers and passive cultural receivers, and never the two shall meet. Again, I’m not talking about intellectual property, but what goes on in people’s heads. You tell a story, it may be your story, but you’re not just programming it into someone else’s brain. They’re taking that story, filtering it through their own lived experiences, and making it their own. And that’s participatory culture, too. Fan works aren’t illicit cultural activities (if such a thing can even exist), they’re just another type of them.

      • Aydan says:

        Fan works are commentary, they’re a cultural conversation, and they’re inherently communal. It’s all about participatory culture. The advent of mass media (and in that sense, we could even go all the way back to the printing press) has shaped how we think about culture to the point that think in terms of authentic and inauthentic, to think of objects of culture being subject to a hierarchy of authenticity.

        I agree.

        This work, for example, could not exist as an original story, and yet, in my opinion, it says just as much about a particular culture as it does about its source material.

      • matlun says:

        Fan works are commentary, they’re a cultural conversation, and they’re inherently communal.

        I think I disagree with this. It can often be no more communcal than other works. Ie a single author writes the work in isolation and then publishes it.

        It is IMO just the same thing as many works of “real” art (in the popular perception).

        We have reinterpretations of works of Shakespeare. We have stories based on the Grimm tales (Disney and many others). There are reintrepretations and spin-offs based on Dracula, Frankenstein, Jean Austen’s work. Etc, etc…

        I do not see any good argument for this being a problem. If the author can produce something greater by building on other work this is all good.

        But then again, I have never really believed in the moral value of much of intellectual property, nor in the concept of cultural appropriation. YMMV.

      • seisy says:

        actually, they’re a lot more communal than a standard original work, because they approach media as a cultural commons, and they’re inherently self referential. Fan works tend to be a little difficult to penetrate unless one is very familiar with the fandom as well as the original source material. a fan creator will use juxtaposition , will invert things, will use references to make points and develop their stories that only make sense if you’be been participating in the “conversation”. Many fan creators will tell you that the point of fandom for them is the community, that they create fan works to participate in the community… and that such contributions (whatever form that takes) are necessary to actually be part of fandom.
        Fandom is big on gift culture.

        As to remixes in the “real” world , what makes you think they are so much different than what goes on in fandom? Because I would certainly not say the issue is creating something “greater”, which is inherently subjective and in that case few people would bother, but creating a response to the earlier text, to use an earlier text to comment on something else, to participate in the common culture. That’s pretty communal, and is only differentiated from “fan works” by the development of copyright law.

        I really do recommend Textual Poachers, it is a fascinating exploration of a not very well understood subculture worth a lot to say about how culture operates as a whole. I’m a classicist and I’ve been using it to understand the use of exempla in roman literature. Participatory culture is a much better model for examining pre-modern literary trends than that of the hierarchial legitimate/illegitimate one.

      • Participatory culture is a much better model for examining pre-modern literary trends than that of the hierarchial legitimate/illegitimate one.

        Yeah. The idea that a bunch of (overwhelmingly rich old straight (dominant race/class/caste)) men in suits are what determines whether a work is “real” or “just fanfic” skeeves me out. Like, sure, if you have a hundred million dollars and a fancy studio backing you, then your Romeo and Juliet remake is “high art… genius reinvention…legend of our times”, but if you’re doing it on a blog through podcasts, you’re a talentless hack with no enterprise, no matter how brave or inventive or technically perfect your work is.

        Uh-huh. Whatever. I hope that door slams those fucking elitists’ asses hard enough to leave doorknob-shaped tattoos to helpfully identify their stupidity forevermore.

      • matlun says:

        As to remixes in the “real” world , what makes you think they are so much different than what goes on in fandom?

        I don’t. My point was that it was fairly similar.

        Because I would certainly not say the issue is creating something “greater”, which is inherently subjective and in that case few people would bother, but creating a response to the earlier text, to use an earlier text to comment on something else, to participate in the common culture. That’s pretty communal, and is only differentiated from “fan works” by the development of copyright law.

        Ok. I think we seem to just have started from a somewhat different definition of “communal”.

        There are certainly common tropes and motifs that are reused within the community. But IMO if this is different from mainstream works, it is a difference of degree rather than kind. There are certainly common movements there as well.

        Again, the point I was trying to make was that fan-fic is really not that different from mainstream writing.

      • seisy says:

        And my point is that it isn’t just tropes and themes- we’re talking about actual characters, actual plots- Romeo and Juliet, not just the generic, stripped down trope of star-crossed lovers.

        My point is that original writing vs fan fic vs remixes are made for different reasons, with different purposes, although like all human creative endeavors, there’s plenty of crossover and no hard lines, but we can differentiate.

        While there are exceptions, most fan fic writers- even the ones writing extraordinarily altered versions of the source text- would be nonplussed at the suggestion that their stories would be better if they filed off the serial numbers and tweaked the details a bit, to make them completely original works, because that completely contradicts the point of the fan creation.

        In fact, within fan communities, a fan text that deviates too much from the shared text will often be criticized as pointless, e.g. accusing someone of posting an original fiction story with the character names replaced. (And, likewise, a fan writer who takes a fan work, files off the serial numbers, and publishes it as original fiction will also be met with harsh criticism).

        Jenkins argues that the point at which most accounts of fan culture go off the rails is when they “focus on aspects of the primary text rather than on ways that common references facilitated social interaction among fans […] Fan reception cannot and does not exist in isolation, but is always shaped through input from other fans and motivated, at least partially, by a desire for further interaction with a larger social and cultural community.”

      • matlun says:

        @seisy: Fair enough. It is an interesting analysis somewhat different from how I have looked at it. I will take on that viewpoint and consider it (and perhaps learn something). I will leave this sub thread as is, though, since I am not even sure what my own position is at the moment…

        Perhaps my problem is that I come from an emotional position that seems to be similar to mac’s. Ie as a counter reaction to the attitude that fan fiction is less good than mainstream texts, perhaps I have emotionally refused to consider how fan fiction is qualitatively different?

        Anyway: Thank you for an interesting discussion :)

    • But what are your thoughts on yaoi, pheeno?

  10. tigtog says:

    Powerful analogy illustrating racial disproportion in film/telly portrayals, the unequal effects of racebending in different directions and why the fails are so devastating –

    This is a jar full of major characters

    • Eleanor says:

      I realize that not everyone loves fanfic, but after reading that I resolve to finish and post (a very short, sadly, and totally shippy) Adam and Kono Hawaii Five-0 fic. This weekend. It will hardly change anything at all, but it will add a few more to a nearly empty bowl.

    • Andie says:

      I love that. I wish I had seen that when I got into a stupid Facebook debate about Laurence Fisheburne playing Perry White in one of the Superman movies.

  11. Datdamwuf says:

    I would think we were on track if the folks who created “Elementary” made Sherlock a woman and Watson a man and the characters were otherwise the same. In other words, if you are going to make a modern Sherlock series why not reflect modern society, oh wait…

    • amblingalong says:

      Not sure if you saw the Season 1 finale, but it might make you reevaluate that analysis in a couple ways.

      • Datdamwuf says:

        So, that finale created the dynamic I’m suggesting? I will re-watch it but I’m doubting that is possible. I am happy Watson is not one dimensional in the series but seriously, we don’t have too many series where a woman is the lead with a male secondary. Where the woman is amazing even though somewhat flawed. I know you got the sarcasm, if it was anyone else answering I’d not have been sure :)

      • amblingalong says:

        I just meant that they [MAJOR SPOILERS] not only made Moriarty into a woman, but had Sherlock incapable of beating her; it was Watson’s plan that finally won the day. So yeah, not a lead character, but in Elementary it’s increasingly seeming like Sherlock and Watson are legitimately co-leads, and a lot of effort has been put into well-written female characters. And primary antagonist is solid.

      • Datdamwuf says:

        thanks amblingalong, I have not seen it and I don’t mind the spoilers :) That is very cool.

  12. tigtog says:

    A friend on FB just pointed me towards this NYT op-ed by Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler White in Breaking Bad (a show I haven’t yet watched, because I don’t have time to watch everything).

    The deluge of viewer hatred Skyler (and Gunn for playing her) receives for being a complex/layered female character who is more than just a reflective surface for the male protagonist is alarming, to say the least.

    • Jenna says:

      I read some of the comments on that article and found the theories there as to why Skylar was disliked interesting. At the point where I stopped reading they seemed to fall mostly into three camps.
      1. Skylar slowed the action down, and that’s why they disliked her.
      2. Skylar was a shrill nagging harpy, and that’s why they disliked her.
      3. Skylar was failing in her duty to civilize her man, oops, was a hypocrite who stayed with Walt rather than burning everything to the ground or leaving him when he couldn’t be reformed.
      So, in the first set she’s an obstacle. In the second, she’s a stereotype. In the third, wow, that’s an amazing bit of Patriarchy rearing its ugly head again. They hate her because she hasn’t either reformed him, destroyed him, or left him. But….they don’t hate him? They hate Skylar for this, but not Walt. Just. Wow.

  13. eilish says:

    I read that op-ed. I don’t watch ‘Breaking Bad’ but I know that there are verily many men who get upset about ANY woman being on their TV challenging the notion women exist to serve mens’ purposes. Where are they coming from? How are we still getting men with views like this?

    Strong Female characters in gaming: Fem Shep in ‘Mass Effect.’ Jennifer Hale voiced her. Best character in a game, ever.
    Bioware did very good work on the female NPC’s in ‘DragonAge: Origins’, too. It’s possible to have a party of 4 women. It’s awesome.

    • Willemina says:

      Best character in a game, ever

      My posse of Jade and April Ryan might need to fight you on that one. Fem Shep is awesome though.

      • eilish says:

        More info needed! What game(s)?

      • Willemina says:

        Jade is the protagonist of a great action adventure game called Beyond Good and Evil, and April Ryan is the lead character in Funcom’s epic point-and-click adventure game The Longest Journey. Pretty cheap on Steam since they’re old. BGE has held up okay graphics-wise, and The Longest Journey is point and click so its painted backdrops are still awesome.

  14. tigtog says:

    Call for suggestions for the next edition(s) of Pop Goes The Culture: what topic(s) would you like to see addressed?

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