Harry Potter Retcons

I know a lot of people are upset about J.K. Rowling retconning Hermione’s race and Dumbledore’s sexuality, but I’m all for it. In fact, let’s have more canon retcons! Here are some suggestions:

– Harry Potter belongs to an ancient wizarding family that came to England from India. His great-grandparents believed in fostering stronger local wizard-muggle relations, which is why they changed their family name from “Patil” to the stereotypically British “Potter.” Parvati Patil, who is obviously way out of Harry’s league, only went to the Yule Ball with him because he’s her distant cousin and her parents told her to be nice to him.

– Cho Chang is a lesbian, and her relationship with Harry helped her come to terms with her sexuality. Her actual name is Chomei Zhang, and “Cho” is just a nickname. She went to grad school in Hong Kong, where she received a doctorate in Physics. She returned to Hogwarts as a professor before eventually becoming the Head of Ravenclaw.

– Draco Malfoy was a big kid, and one of the reasons he wanted to be the Seeker for Slytherin’s Quidditch team so badly is because it was important to him to prove that you don’t have to be slender and muscular to be a good athlete. Although Lucius Malfoy is a racist and a certified asshole, he loves his son and supported his ambitions by buying the entire team equipment that helped them train and enjoy themselves regardless of their body shapes.

– Gellert Grindelwald is Jewish, and he hates Muggles because of the ultranationalist anti-Semitism that was so prevalent in Europe in the early twentieth century. Dumbledore didn’t want to fight him not just because he was once in love with him, but also because he understood all too well that Grindelwald’s anger was justified.

– Nymphadora Tonks is queer and genderfluid. Remus Lupin is gay, and he met Nymphadora during a period when she was presenting as male. The beginning of their relationship was awkward not because Lupin is a werewolf, but because conversations surrounding the validity of bisexuality within the gay community were still evolving in the 1990s and early 2000s.

– Sirius Black’s family disowned him because he had trouble presenting as neurotypical. He was able to survive Azkaban because he already had experience dealing with the symptoms related to the mental and emotional strain caused by dementors. Also, Azkaban got really good wireless reception, and Sirius used the skills he gained while creating the Marauder’s Map to pioneer the magic internet, which is how he became independently wealthy and was able to have a Firebolt delivered to Harry for Christmas.

Aunt Bernice

One summer my family took a long drive to visit my Aunt Bernice. The country around her house was completely flat and completely empty. There were no cornfields or scrub pines or chicken farms; the only thing in that part of the world is red dirt.

Aunt Bernice was obsessed with people who were either dead or dying. My parents were obligated to listen to her, but my sister and I could only handle about half an hour of her stories. They didn’t get cable out in the country, so the two of us decided to go outside.

My sister and I walked across the dirt patches surrounding Aunt Bernice’s house and climbed over the rotting wooden fence surrounding her property. We wandered through the field that spread out behind her backyard, pulling up long stalks of grass and kicking at grasshoppers. Eventually we made it to the edge of someone else’s farm, where we found a single tree, probably the only one for miles. Its branches were hung with a collection of dust-coated plastic toys dangling from threads of twine so dirty they were almost black.

We noticed a boy sitting on one of the tree limbs. He was naked except for a faded pair of red shorts, which were too small for his thick legs. I started to turn away, but my sister stepped out of the unmowed grass and onto the stony soil surrounding the tree.

The boy interrogated her in a toneless voice.

“Who are you?”
“Who are your parents?”
“Why haven’t I seen you before?”
“Where do you go to school?”
“Do you have any brothers?”

My sister responded to his questions with curt and perfunctory answers, but neither she nor the boy showed any signs of becoming bored with the conversation. After turning over a few half-buried pebbles with the tip of my sandal, I interrupted my sister to ask if maybe we shouldn’t go back. She told me to go on without her.

The sun was already low in the sky by the time I kicked open the screen door of the back porch. My parents were in front of the house saying goodbye to Aunt Bernice. They told me to use the bathroom before we left. I went inside and sat down on a ratty couch in the living room, but it was musty with the smell of decay. I got up and went to the kitchen, but there was nothing in the refrigerator except for a thin film of ancient grease on the glass shelves.

When I went back outside, my parents were standing beside the car, saying that I should hug Aunt Bernice before we left. I remained on the porch, calling out to them that we needed to wait until my sister got back.

“What are you talking about,” my mother snapped, clearly annoyed. “You don’t have a sister.”

Oh, I realized. Of course I don’t have a sister.

Best Practices for Dealing with Harassment on Tumblr

After almost four years of actively participating in various fandoms on Tumblr, I’ve seen and experienced some awful things, and I’ve finally arrived at a set of best practices for handling the nonsense that I’ve encountered on the platform. I’ve made a bunch of stupid mistakes on Tumblr, and I’ve used those mistakes as a foundation for these guidelines, which are intended to help you protect yourself while avoiding unintentionally hurting other people.

(1) If someone sends you hatemail, report them and then block them. If someone reblogs your post with hateful tags, report them and then block them. If someone tags you on a hateful post, report them and then block them.

(2) If you suspect that a specific person is sending you anonymous hatemail, block them. If it was indeed them, then the hatemail will disappear from your inbox, even if it was sent anonymously. If the anonymous messages don’t disappear, then it’s possible that they weren’t being sent by the person you suspected (although it’s still possible that they were, as there are many ways to mask an IP address). Nevertheless, you should probably keep this person blocked anyway, because there was something about their behavior that made you suspect them in the first place. Trust your instincts!

(3) A vaguepost is a post in which the poster criticizes a type of behavior without specifying who or what has triggered this post. If someone has made a vaguepost that you suspect is about you, block that person. Even if they didn’t intend to hurt you, they intended to hurt someone, and that person ended up being you. You’re not socially obligated to tolerate a hurtful atmosphere, no matter how vague it might be.

(4) If a mutual follower sees someone making hateful posts about you but continues to behave in a friendly manner with that person, unfollow them. They’ve made a conscious choice by remaining friends with the person who has harassed you, and their decision is essentially that it’s okay to harass you. No one who is comfortable watching you being harassed is your friend.

(5) If someone engages in racist, sexist, homophobic, or ableist behavior, or exhibits any other type of discrimination in what they post or reblog, unfollow them. It’s 2018, and they know exactly what they’re doing. Tumblr is a terrible forum to challenge someone’s political position, so don’t try to engage them directly. Even if they seem like a nice person, the best strategy is to unfollow them as soon as they start to make you feel uncomfortable.

(6) Tumblr is a place for people to express their unique interests and opinions, and everyone is entitled to a few vent posts every once in a while. If someone seems to be taking a slow train to Crazytown, however, it’s okay to unfollow them. It’s important to use your best judgment, especially regarding someone you’ve known or followed for a long time, but it’s also valid to unfollow someone as soon as they start to make you feel uncomfortable.

(7) Recognize that mental illness, as well as any other type of neurodivergent positionality, is not an excuse for bad behavior. The assumption that people with mental illnesses and other neurodivergent positionalities are unable to tell the difference between right and wrong (or otherwise unable to control themselves) is not only inaccurate but extremely offensive. Don’t feel that you’re expected to tolerate harassment because of the positionality of the harasser.

(8) This goes without saying, but do your best not to spread hate. Don’t send hatemail, don’t make hateful vagueposts, and don’t reblog people’s posts with offensive tags or comments. If you have to vent, don’t use popular fandom tags to spread negativity. This also goes without saying, but try to stay off social media if you’re drunk, angry and crying, or in an otherwise altered state of mind. If you’re unsure of whether something is offensive, don’t post it.

(9) Do not engage with harassment. Unfollow or block someone, and report them if necessary, but don’t call out their bad behavior on a public forum. This ends up hurting other people, and it never fixes the original problem; no one in the history of the internet has ever stopped harassing people because someone told them it was wrong. As an adult, you’re responsible for demarcating your boundaries, and only you can ensure that they’re respected.

(10) If the harassment you’re experiencing on Tumblr is so pervasive and severe that it’s affecting your mental health, take a break from the platform. There are vibrant fandom communities on sites like Twitter, Discord, DeviantArt, Facebook, and Reddit, and they often don’t have any overlap with communities on Tumblr. The world is wide, and your time and talents are valuable! Don’t let your voice be silenced, and don’t let a bunch of antisocial creeps get you down. Turn your back on hateful negativity, walk away from toxic communities, and keep doing the things that make you happy.

Bullying on Tumblr

About a month or two ago I posted a picture of a man holding a pig on Tumblr. It was a cute drawing of a cute anime character holding a cute cartoon pig in a cute way. It wasn’t exactly like the manga cover above, but it was close. The caption I used for the image was essentially this: “Even though this character is a jerk, I like to think that he has a soft spot for animals.”

One of my mutuals reblogged this picture with the hashtag “animal abuse” and then proceeded to reblog several posts about how pigs don’t like to be held and how cruel it is to pick them up. Because this person frequently writes about Steven Universe, my drawing came to the attention of a small but vocal segment of the Steven Universe fandom that has dedicated itself to “calling out” people who post “problematic” things on Tumblr. I ended up being sent a dozen violently angry messages, and I was tagged on several posts featuring videos in which pigs were harmed in legitimately upsetting ways. I didn’t respond to any of this, so the activity faded after a day, but the episode was quite disturbing.

This is not the first time that something like this has happened to me on Tumblr, and it didn’t surprise me. It still took me more than a month to decide how to respond to it, however. Should I unfollow the person who reblogged a cute drawing of a cute anime character holding a cute cartoon pig with the tag “animal abuse,” or should I just accept it as normal and move on?

To anyone who isn’t active on Tumblr, the answer should be obvious. If someone feels comfortable looking at the cute cartoon art you created and calling it “animal abuse,” then they are not your friend. You should unfollow them, and you should probably block them for good measure. Even if it wasn’t personal, and even if they didn’t intend for me to feel (or actually be) attacked, this sort of behavior is extremely unkind. Yesterday I wrote that it’s important to be patient with people who make mistakes on social media, since we’re all figuring out this method of social interaction together, but there is a world of difference between tagging someone’s face on a group photo on Facebook in 2009 and sending someone a message that says YOU DESERVE TO BE SLAUGHTERED on Tumblr in 2018.

The problem is that this sort of thing is normal on Tumblr. Sending someone hate mail or tagging them on a video depicting graphic violence is clearly harassment, but this type of harassment is so commonplace that even sane adults in their late twenties and early thirties seem to think it’s acceptable to do hurtful things if it’s for the purpose of promoting social justice. It goes without saying that harassing someone online has nothing to do with social justice, however, and the discursive atmosphere on Tumblr has become so radical that people’s views of what is offensive are completely skewed. Of course it makes sense to critique something that celebrates or otherwise promotes misinformation or discrimination, but “critique” is so valued by the affective economy of Tumblr that many people go out of their way to find and denounce problematic messages that don’t really exist. In other words, it makes sense to critique real animal abuse, but placing a cute anime drawing in the same discursive category as real harm done to real animals is bananas. To give an analogy, I think it’s fair to say that most rational people would not get as upset about the manga cover above as they would about the sort of cruelty depicted in the film Okja. Unfortunately, on Tumblr, there’s no longer any distinction between the two.

So this was my dilemma. On one hand, I don’t want to be associated with the Tumblr hate machine in any way, and I certainly don’t enjoy it when it targets me. On the other hand, isn’t this just the price of admission for Tumblr? And how can I be sure that it’s not me who’s the guilty party? Maybe it was in fact wrong of me to have posted that drawing? Maybe I should think long and hard about what I did to deserve being sent death threats from strangers…?

I recently started rereading the Harry Potter books, and that ended up being what it took for me to reorient my moral compass. There are a lot of bullies in the novels, and they’re bullies because they can get away with it. Other people see this happening, but they do nothing to stop it. Reading these books for children helped me remember something very simple: Bullying is cruel, and people who are friends with bullies are cowards. In order to be a good person, it’s not enough not to be a bully; you also have to refuse to be friends with people who tolerate bullying. Watching something awful happening and staying out of it because it’s none of your business is not a neutral action. By being friends with people who instigate bullying, or by remaining friends with people who don’t care if other people get bullied, you’re essentially saying that you don’t care who gets hurt as long as it isn’t you.

This is basic schoolyard logic, but this scenario is being played out by adults on Tumblr for the ostensible purpose of promoting social justice, which is why it’s been so difficult for me to recognize bullying for what it is. Nevertheless, I’ve come to the obvious conclusion that going out of one’s way to send hate mail or to leave awful tags on someone’s post is a choice, as is associating with people who routinely do such things.

I’m not extremely active on Tumblr, but I maintain a solid presence there, and I’m starting to get the feeling that the platform has passed its peak. The community has become increasingly toxic, and many content creators are leaving for greener pastures. For most of the writers and artists and genius shiposters I once followed before they left Tumblr, “greener pastures” seems to mean Twitter, which is sad, because… If Twitter seems like a friendly and sane alternative to your social media platform, then you might be in serious trouble.

In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with PillowFort, but there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of activity there at the moment. More on this story as it develops, I suppose.

Social Media and Character Development

I got on Facebook in June 2007 but didn’t really start using it until July 2008. At the time, there wasn’t a well-defined code of Facebook etiquette, so I did what everyone else was doing. What everyone else seemed to be doing back in 2008 was posting tons of pictures of themselves and their friends on Facebook while tagging everyone involved, so I blithely jumped onboard. My friends and I were all young and beautiful, so everyone was happy and no one complained. When I posted a picture of myself and my classmates in March 2009, however, one of the people I tagged sent me a message asking me to take the photo down. I told her that I would just untag her, so she followed up to insist that I delete the picture entirely. I was a bit confused at first, but after another exchange of messages I apologized and did as she asked.

Now, of course, I would never post a picture of someone without asking for their permission first. Common standards of civil online behavior have evolved since Facebook went public in 2006, and I’d like to think that I’ve grown as a person and developed a more nuanced understanding of how social media works since then.

Earlier this year, someone sent me a link to a long comment my former classmate posted on a popular cosplay blog explaining how upset she was when she had to ask someone multiple times to remove a picture of her from Facebook. It’s likely that she wasn’t talking about me, but seeing her comment triggered my memory of this interaction. I’m not criticizing this person for being upset, because she had every right to be upset. The reason I’m telling this story is because it seems so strikingly obvious to me now that what I did then was thoughtless and wrong.

About a month ago, a friend of mine retweeted something that someone I used to know had written about a short conversation we had on LiveJournal at some point during 2012, when she was struggling with depression. I was also in a dark place at that point in my life, but my attempts to seek treatment had failed, so I was managing as best I could on my own. I therefore didn’t have any formal language to communicate my sympathy to her, so I left a comment on one of her posts saying something to the effect of “I hope you feel better soon, but in the meantime it sounds like you could really use a drink.” She sent me a long response telling me how insulting it was for me not to have taken her depression seriously, and how ignorant I was for not understanding that alcohol and anti-depression medication don’t mix. I apologized immediately but then, like an idiot, tried to excuse myself by saying that I didn’t mean to offend her – which is, of course, not something that someone who’s just been offended wants to hear.

Since then, there’s been an ongoing discussion on social media and in the broader culture about how conversations relating to disability and neurodivergence can and should play out. I now understand that the correct response to the situation I described above would have been for me to express concern at the escalating despair evident in my friend’s posts, to ask if there was anything I could do, and then to step away. I also recognize that it would have been appropriate in that situation to explain that I was speaking as someone who was struggling with depression myself. Talking about mental illness is always going to be tricky, and I don’t think there are ever going to be solutions that work for everyone. Still, it’s much easier to stay educated and informed about how to reach out to people who seem like they might need help in 2018 than it was in 2012.

Again, I’m not criticizing this person for complaining about the stupid thing I did, because what I did was obviously wrong. It was wrong of me to make a facetious remark about someone’s mental illness, just as it was wrong of me to post a picture of someone on Facebook without asking for their permission first.

I didn’t do either of these things out of a sense of malice; rather, I just didn’t know any better. That doesn’t excuse my behavior, of course, but I think this general situation is probably relatable to anyone who’s grown up along with the internet. We’re given rules about how to behave in real life, but we’re more or less on our own when it comes to figuring out how to be good people on social media. I think that, as a result, we’ve probably all done something that, in retrospect, was undeniably unkind.

After reflecting on these snapshots of my past self, there are two lessons that I want to take away. The first is that it’s important to learn from your mistakes and keep growing as a person. Second, and more specifically, it’s also important to give the benefit of the doubt to people who make stupid mistakes online. This is not to say that you have to perform emotional labor for everyone who insults you on the internet, because some people are just assholes. If someone does something offensive but seems to be coming from a good place, however, it can be useful to remember that it’s probably not personal. After all, social media hasn’t actually been around all that long, and we’re still figuring out the best practices for how to interact with each other online.

The Demon King

I spent the month of August working on my book project and two academic essays, but I can’t stop thinking about the novel I want to write. I’m starting to get a sense of the story progression and the major twists in the plot, and I’m also beginning to visualize a few of the dramatic high points. Although I’m sure I could (and I will) write pages and pages of chapter outlines and character details, what I’d like to do first is write something resembling a pitch. I’m still working on this summary, but I thought I’d share what I have so far…

    Plot

People say that a tall and terrible tower rises from the dark heart of a wasteland swarming with evil, and that a dark lord reigns over the monsters of his hideous domain from the top of this tower. Balthazar is that dark lord, and he’s doing the best he can. Despite his godlike power, he just can’t get people to stop pestering him with administrative annoyances.

The biggest thorn in his side is the kingdom of Whitespire, which is ruled by Princess Ceres. Ceres is beautiful, flawless, and adored by her subjects, but she has an unpleasant habit of sending “heroes” into the wasteland to fight the demon king. Balthazar is nothing short of invincible, and no ordinary hero has the slightest hope of defeating him. Ceres knows this, which is why she uses Balthazar as an excuse to rid her kingdom of dangerous upstarts and dissidents. Balthazar knows exactly what’s going on, but he tolerates it. In fact, he and Ceres are in regular communication. Although they get on each other’s nerves, the demon king and the princess are secret allies and perhaps even something resembling friends.

This state of affairs is disturbed by rumors that a hero has drawn the Dawnsword sleeping deep in the caverns under Whitespire Castle. This sword is an ancient relic believed to have been forged by the very goddesses who created the world. The rumors that a hero has drawn the legendary sword prove to be true, and before long this hero appears in the wastelands, demanding the right to challenge the demon king. Balthazar has the hero escorted to his tower, only to find that she is all of ten years old. The girl can’t seem to remember how she drew the sword, where she came from, or even her own name. Not knowing what else to do, Balthazar decides to care for her until he can figure out how to destroy the Dawnsword, which is indeed the only weapon capable of harming him. He calls the girl Hero, and the name sticks.

    Characters

Balthazar is a wizard whose power is without equal among mortals. He built the tower that rises over the wastelands through the sheer force of his will, and the scale of the monument has attracted other nonhuman races to the territories he has claimed. He is a competent administrator but not a particularly nice person. He’s called “the demon king” not just because of his fierce temper but also because he is a rare full-blooded demon. Despite being large and muscular, Balthazar finds violence distasteful and often leaves the dirty work of dealing with invading “heroes” to his four generals. His hobbies include dressing in flashy outfits and reading trashy romance novels. He’s in his late thirties but looks much older.

Ceres, the radiantly beautiful princess of Whitespire, is in her thirties but looks much younger, an illusion she goes to great lengths to maintain. She has inherited the magical abilities of the royal bloodline, but she’s careful not to draw attention to the true extent of her power. As the public face of the monarchy, Ceres seems to be a paragon of wisdom and virtue, but she employs a number of confidants to conduct her business from the shadows. In fact, Balthazar may be one of the least unsavory people who knows her true face. Ceres is constantly under a great deal of pressure, and she has a bit of a drinking problem.

Hero is a rude and savage girl of unknown origins who seems to be roughly ten years old. She managed to draw the sacred Dawnsworn that has been sleeping under Whitespire Castle for hundreds of years, but no one knew anything about her before she suddenly appeared at the castle gates claiming that she would be the one to defeat the demon king. Although Hero is generally good-natured, she fights with the skill of an experienced warrior, and she possesses extraordinary powers that tend to manifest at inopportune times. She worships and adores Ceres but only barely tolerates Balthazar.

Dark Lord Cares for Wayward Child

I’ve written a lot of fanfic during the past two years, and I just finished up a huge project that got some great feedback along the way.

I’m starting to think about “the next step” after fandom, and I think I’d like to get more into comics. I just approached two artists to ask about commissioning some short fancomics, which will hopefully help me get a bit of practice. I’m very nervous about this; but I also feel that, if I have good ideas and the resources to bring them to fruition, then I should go for it!

I’m also starting to think about original projects. I’ve been playing with an idea for a novel that I’m currently referring to by the title “Dark Lord Cares for Wayward Child,” and it goes something like this…

There is Dark Lord who looks like a huge buff meathead but is actually a powerful wizard. Maybe he’s an orc? Or some other sort of monster? Anyway, he lives in a tower in the wastelands of a high fantasy kingdom. There are nothing but ruins (dungeons and such) in this area, but the understanding within the kingdom is that he has taken territory that does not belong to him and is threatening the border. He does indeed have secret nefarious plans (involving elder gods or something of that nature), but he doesn’t really care about the kingdom at all and simply sees himself as keeping the peace by providing a sanctuary of sorts for other monsters.

One day a hero comes to slay the Dark Lord, but it turns out that this “hero” is a ten-year-old girl. She’s somehow managed to get her hands on a magical sword that could technically defeat him, but how it came into her possession is something of a mystery. In any case, it turns out that this girl doesn’t have anywhere else to go, so the Dark Lord decides to keep her with him in sort of a Dread Pirate Roberts “I’ll most likely kill you in the morning” situation. Not killing the girl turns out to be a challenge, as she’s headstrong and a complete savage.

Meanwhile, the Dark Lord is corresponding (via magic?) with the reigning adult princess of the kingdom. The princess doesn’t particularly see him as a threat, but she also doesn’t want her kingdom to have to go to war with him. She’s been trying to put it off as long as possible, and in the meantime she blames everything that goes wrong on the Dark Lord. They are awful and catty and cruel to one another, and it’s very clear to their respective minions that they’re totally in love.

The four intersecting storylines are therefore the Dark Lord’s progress toward his secret nefarious plot, the identity of the child hero and the provenance of her sword, the growing tensions between the castle and the tower, and the love story between the Dark Lord and the princess. What pulls everything together, however, are the shenanigans of the child hero and the over-the-top angry responses of the Dark Lord.

This still needs some polishing, as well as named characters and a better title, but I’ve been amusing myself by imagining the plot as a series of four-panel gag manga. Perhaps I could write both the novel and a comic strip simultaneously…?