I’m a little behind schedule, but I almost have everything set up to make my first video. Found a way to set up my camera so it’s actually focused on me and not just my tiny little head and shoulders with a great big room. Found my microphone (because the one built into the camera works but doesn’t pick up my voice well – I sound very quiet), haven’t tested it with the camera yet but will soon. And after lots of thinking I’ve picked a first topic. A silly one, which is how the blog started too so I suppose that’s alright. Takes some of the pressure off. (It will be a review of Disney’s Descendants, because it’s adorable and I really need to focus on something cute and fun right now.)
At one point I considered talking about The Wicked and the Divine, in particular the most recent issue. Then I started actually talking about it and looking for fan reactions (which is actually the first time I’ve paid attention to this fandom at all, since I’ve sort of withdrawn from most of the internet in the past year) and it just got too heavy. I can’t talk about that on video right now, especially for my first one. “Hey, watch this new series! I cry over comics and talk about how depressing everything is! Yay!” So maybe I’ll just talk about it here. And not even just the comic, really, but some thoughts that came up for me while and after I read it. Still, spoiler warning (through #13) just in case.
This for me was the most powerful issue of an incredibly powerful series, one that’s affected me more than probably any other. Its highs have been very high, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the lows drag me down and leave me feeling utterly wrecked. That’s okay, Gillen. I wasn’t using these feelings anyway, please continue crushing them to bits.
The Wicked and the Divine, in terms of the straight-forward basic plot, is the story of a bunch of people who learn they’re gods in a world where every 90 years or so a group of gods (from various cultures) take on human form and spend 2 years on earth inspiring everyone before they die. Basically. It’s a little more complicated than that, and it just keeps getting more complicated the more we learn, but that’s a decent starting point.
In this case, because this is what fame and worship mean now, the gods are all rock stars. Pop stars? Celebrity musicians, anyway. So we follow superfan Laura as she gets invited to hang out with some of the gods and finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery, and along the way we get to see into the lives of all these larger-than-life people and see how fame and power have affected them.
Lots of cool things going on here about the nature of religion, fandom, and how they intertwine. How we raise up the things and people we admire and create this image of what we want them to be, how loving things can inspire us to be better and raise us to emotional highs, but also how we take ownership of that image and draw what we want from it without much care for the other people involved.
From the perspective of the gods, how that fame and love can feel great but also takes away from who they were before and limits what they can do. From the perspective of fans, how thin the line between love and obsession can be, and how easy it is to get so wrapped up in fandom/religion/whatever and expect it to be everything for you and then feel betrayed and hurt when it doesn’t meet your expectations.
And in this latest issue, how we’re all complicit in the violence that happens around us. The issue itself focuses on one of these gods, one who hasn’t been seen until now but has been mentioned every once in awhile in ways that make it clear she’s the pop star it’s currently cool to hate. The issue shows harassing twitter messages with the hashtag “fuckingtara,” a phrase which was used earlier throughout the series and which much of the comic fandom apparently noticed and started using as an in-joke.
Now that we’ve seen things from her perspective and seen the all-too-real cyber-bullying, there’s a lot of guilt over that. Not being part of the fandom, I missed that completely and just wondered who she was and if we’d ever learn more. That means I can pat myself on the back and assure myself that I would never treat someone like that.
Except I would, of course. I’ve jumped on fandom bandwagons enough in the past, including the ones focused on hate or anger. I’ve vented more than enough rage at a certain Doctor Who writer who actually exists that I really don’t have any room to place myself above anyone else in that regard. And while I can’t remember using hashtags in quite this way, I also can’t say for certain that I never have.
During a break in conversation with my partner about this issue, I checked my phone quickly and saw an article about another child being killed by a police officer. In the article, there was a tweet from a news network using his name as a hashtag. I know this is done all the time, it’s to organize news by topics so that people can find them quickly. The news network just wanted to make sure its article was one of the many available on the topic.
But after all this talk about fame and the way we force people to fit an image of who we want them to be and punish any attempt to express themselves in other ways, I saw it differently. After reading about Tara not even being able to share her message with people after her death, having her whole life manipulated and used to fit someone else’s agenda, it didn’t look like an innocent way of organizing topics for easy reading. It looked like just one more way we’ve turned people into commodities.
Every time we view “trending topics,” every time we give into the click-bait and send these news sources traffic, we’re contributing to that process. Whenever we laugh at a joke about a celebrity as if they’re not other human beings with their own feelings and problems, we’re reinforcing the idea that it’s okay to hurt people outside our little groups. You don’t have to actually be a bully or actively contribute to this sort of thing to be a part of the problem. We’re all letting it happen.
So much of our culture is built around this dehumanizing of the other, being on the “right side,” just being a part of something and being accepted as judged by some ridiculous metric like how many “likes” we get or how well we understand in-jokes. Treating our influence on each other like social currency. Our culture does everything it can to make us feel like the world exists for us. That is, not “us” as a whole, but each one of us as the center of our own personal universe.
I don’t have any solutions for it. Right now I mostly just have a lot of troubling thoughts and a great big empty space where I feel like hope should be. Adding to all this is the fact that hashtags actually are useful! That desire to connect with each other and influence the world is a good impulse! It’s just so easy to turn that motivation inward and make it all about us, and our news and entertainment are set up in a way that discourages outward action. “The world is terrifying and overwhelming and everything is set against you. Here, just laugh at this celebrity making a fool of themselves on camera or make cooing noises over this little puppy dog.”
I’m trying to hold myself more accountable. Post less, listen more. Take time to deal with my emotions on my own before I take to the internet and use it to hurt other people. See “the other side” as people with different experiences and remember I’m the monster for them as much as they are for me. Focus on how I can personally help make things better rather than how I can show someone else how wrong they are. Generally work on myself rather than judging others. It’s hard, and I still get extremely frustrated with people and feel the need to vent about it, especially in contexts where I have to pay attention because I have responsibility (as in the few forums I moderate). I just hope I can say later that it was worth it and made a difference.