Voices Are Not Commodities

I Know I’m Late
https://medium.com/@rebecca.albertalli/i-know-im-late-9b31de339c62

So why do we keep doing this? Why do we, again and again, cross the line between critiquing books and making assumptions about author identities? How are we so aware of invisible marginalization as a hypothetical concept, but so utterly incapable of making space for it in our community?

Let me be perfectly clear: this isn’t how I wanted to come out. This doesn’t feel good or empowering, or even particularly safe. Honestly, I’m doing this because I’ve been scrutinized, subtweeted, mocked, lectured, and invalidated just about every single day for years, and I’m exhausted. And if you think I’m the only closeted or semi-closeted queer author feeling this pressure, you haven’t been paying attention.

And I’m one of the lucky ones! I’m a financially independent adult. I can’t be disowned. I come from a liberal family, I have an enormous network of queer friends and acquaintances, and my livelihood isn’t even remotely at risk. I’m hugely privileged in more ways than I can count. And this was still brutally hard for me. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for other closeted writers, and how unwelcome they must feel in this community.
As someone who was disowned by my family after being outed at fifteen, and as someone who was very recently forced to leave a stable job after disclosing a disability, my position on the matter is clear: Personal identity is complicated, and no one should be made to feel pressured to disclose sensitive personal information in a public venue. This is not social justice; it’s real violence performed against people in vulnerable positions.
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Also relevant:

Fancy Dutch

Folk Magic: The Hex Signs of Pennsylvania
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/hex-signs-of-pennsylvania

The artistic tradition of decorating barns with folk symbols began as early as the late 1700s and became even more popular as paint became less and less expensive. The original barn stars were found mostly in Berks County, and also in Lancaster, Montgomery, and Bucks counties, and pre-20th century examples can still be found there today. One of the earliest known examples, located two miles north of Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania, dates back to 1819, though the paint has faded and it’s only left the “ghost” of the design etched in the barn wood.

I think I started noticing people putting up mass-produced decals of stars on their suburban houses around 2005 or so, and when I moved to Pennsylvania I naively assumed that the stars I saw painted on barns driving west toward upstate New Jersey were homegrown versions of whatever that business was about, which I took to be a post-9/11 patriotic reference to the stars on the American flag.

It turns out that what’s going on is a lot more interesting. I really enjoyed reading this article, and I got a hearty chuckle out of the expression “Fancy Dutch,” as in: “Barn stars and hex signs are used by the more secular ‘Fancy Dutch’ community of Pennsylvania Germans, which exists alongside the Amish and Mennonites.”

I’ve been reading a manga called ねこと私とドイッチュランド (Meine Katze und ich in Deutschland), which collects a series of autobiographical comic essays written and drawn by a Japanese woman who recently moved to Germany. I think that, perhaps because Japanese people don’t feel the weight of historical baggage regarding Germany in the same way that many Europeans and Americans do, the artist is completely open and earnest about her uncomplicated love and fascination with German culture. I’m not used to hearing people talk about “German culture” as such, and I’m beginning to realize that a lot of what passes for “generic white people culture” in the United States, from apple pie to chocolate Easter bunnies, is actually distinctly German.

There are a lot of things that most Americans don’t learn about in school regarding their own culture and history, and this infamously includes the culture and history of oppressed and marginalized groups. There’s clearly a lot to be said about this that I’m in no position to say, but I think it’s ironic that the political pressure to create and commodify a monolithic ontological category of Whiteness has resulted in the occlusion of the specific cultures and histories of multiple groups of white people as well.

Theme Park Fandom

It’s Not ‘Weird’ to Be an Adult Woman Who Loves Disney
https://www.glamour.com/story/its-not-weird-to-be-an-adult-woman-who-loves-disney

The trio say they don’t go to the parks to relive their youth, though. Smith, Puga, and Walker all have successful careers in creative industries and approach Disneyland like a city’s downtown rather than a family-friendly vacation resort. They’re not alone: With a rotating offering of seasonal Instagram-ready treats, celebrity chef partnerships, and a record for being the single largest employer of sommeliers, Disney’s Parks & Resorts have a lot to entice adults with money to spend. To Internet savvy, culturally involved guests like these three, Disneyland provides the same experiences they’d have elsewhere, only better.

When asked about the stigma attached to adult women visiting the parks, they shut it down. As these three see it, everyone’s a fan of something—why should enjoying a roller coaster through space in an intergalactic Tomorrowland be so different? “People are always going to judge no matter what,” says Walker. “You just have to sort of own what you love and be proud of that. Maybe they’ll never understand, but they’re missing out on something pretty special, and that’s okay. More for us in the long run.”

I’ve been slowly making my way through Rebecca Williams’s monograph Theme Park Fandom, and it’s one of the best academic books I’ve read in years. In the Introduction, Williams opens the discussion by referencing a cringe-inducing opinion piece written by a gross older man saying that adult fans of Disney are creepy, which was picked up by College Humor and adapted into an even more cringe-inducing video.

I’m not personally a fan of Disney (or Marvel, or Star Wars), and I have no real desire to go to a theme park. (Maybe when Universal opens its Super Nintendo World attraction? But probably not, honestly.) Still, I don’t get why people think fans who go to theme parks are weird, aside from the obvious misogyny and homophobia. It sounds like the people who are into this sort of thing have a lot of fun, and they’re not hurting anyone. I mean, sure, Disney is a giant evil corporation, but we’re not going to get meaningful anti-trust legislation by harassing people on Instagram.

So I’m not planning on visiting Florida or California, but it’s been interesting to learn about the different subcultures surrounding the Disney and Universal theme parks, as well as how the fans participating in these subcultures have made use of social media to connect with each other while actually influencing the objects of their fandom at a surprisingly high corporate level.

I know “serious scholars” like to mock Fan Studies as an illegitimate subdiscipline of Media Studies, but I’m getting tired of “serious scholarship” about How Disney Is Anti-Feminist And Poisoning Our Children™. To me, it’s much more meaningful to learn about how this culture is created, who is creating it, and how it’s not just Rich White Men producing media that’s consumed passively. If nothing else, I feel that good scholarship should be like a documentary that shows you a part of the world you only vaguely knew existed and then explains how it influences its broader cultural context. Theme Park Fandom is really enjoyable to read, and it’s been helping me make sense of all sorts of aspects of contemporary American culture that I’ve always found a bit mystifying.

I’ve also been reading Carlye Wisel’s various bits of theme park journalism, and I’m a fan. I wonder, how does someone get a job like this?

Image: A female theorist dealing with another load of crap

‘Is it a race thing or a lady thing?’ – the new Ghostbusters and the Academy
https://mutablematter.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/is-it-a-race-thing-or-a-lady-thing-the-new-ghostbusters-and-the-academy/

In the original Ghostbusters film academia was the subject of critique for being oversaturated with time, space, funding and equipment. The new Ghostbusters film performs a reversal by its portrayal of the privatised, neoliberal academy: the university is now the space where you have to apply for funding, and you will only receive it if you can demonstrate ‘results’. If you want to do something long-term, creative and out of the ordinary, you have to stay out of sight and hide in the margins. This is shown through Abby’s (Melissa McCarthy) character who does exactly that, although she underestimates how much the margins are increasingly being closed down. When her institution is taken over by a crude cookie-cutter corporate type, the women and their research are immediately kicked out. Abby’s original plan was to save Erin from mainstream academia and show her the beauty of the margins, but they are now even further than initially anticipated. As even the most dubious institutions aim to get in with the top achievers, the margins have to move outside of any institution. You essentially have to sacrifice your career and expose yourself to the risk of your own enterprise.

It’s so bizarre to me that I had this exact same experience. I left a comfortable and stable position at a top-twenty school, thinking that I would have more intellectual freedom at a university positioned a little more in the margins. The substantially lower-ranked school where I accepted a tenure-track position became more fantastically neoliberal with each passing year, however, and suddenly I was expected to produce more work than anyone else I knew despite being given almost no resources. It was this, basically:

First we see Erin (Kirsten Wiig), a theoretical physicist whose tenure is delayed by increasingly ridiculous requirements that no male colleague would have to perform. Another reference, another grant, another book – something is always missing, while male colleagues with less impressive achievements effortlessly move past. We see how Erin is aware of this, anxious to meet these criteria down to her appearance, but, at the same time, angry at having to perform a disproportional amount of ‘ass-kissing’. What I also like about the Erin vignette is the attention to knowledge policing: what gets validated by Western academia and what doesn’t. Academia rewards particular standards, particular modes of thinking and producing. You need to be similar to others, to cite the canon, to orient your research towards the current funding.
Despite being just as productive and successful as Erin, I was also denied tenure. My situation was simultaneously complicated and not complicated at all, in that it was an all-too-common combination of discrimination, intellectual conservatism, and neoliberal corporatization.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the concept of “the undercommons” (here’s a free PDF of the book), the gist of which is to “take what you can from the system and run.” I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good people in an extensive support network reach out to me since I was denied tenure, and many people have generously offered concrete resources that might help me make it back into the system. I’m grateful, of course, but I suspect that there may no longer be any room in the system for someone like me, who not only does research in and about the margins but also teaches from and to the margins. If the system won’t support me, I’m not too terribly interested in giving more of my labor to support the system.

My main concern, at the moment, is how to become a Ghostbuster.

“Color” in a Different Context

On the problematics of “colour”, and on silence
https://coffeeandresearch.com/blog/on-the-problematics-of-colour-and-on-silence/

Asia isn’t just Japan, or Korea, or China: these countries are traditionally – and likely, if you look into their histories, forcefully – homogeneous cultures. Asia isn’t just India either. Understanding how race work in Japan does not immediately grant one a crystal ball vision into how race works in other parts of Asia. And yes, while Malaysian (and especially Sarawakian) academia may be asininely insular, it doesn’t mean that they – we – should be silenced.

Nor should a blanket term like “people of colour” be accepted without challenge or contextualisation to best represent people when talking about race because that is a gross assumption that is unfair to some. I have no solutions. I don’t think there is any. Nor should they be a blanket term to represent all. Especially when the term itself comes with its own baggage, its own assumptions about what it is meant to represent.

This is a powerful essay. I’m having trouble finding words for how much I appreciate and agree with what the author is saying, but I think that’s probably okay. I’m not the person who should be commenting on this, after all. Still, what Chin refers to as “the problematics of colour” are something I spend a lot of time thinking about and struggling with in my work on Japan in a transnational context, and I was very excited when a friend directed me to this blog post.

I’m looking forward to reading more perspectives like this, so I followed @bertha_c on Twitter. I complain about social media, but there are good people doing amazing work there, and it’s always a pleasure to discover the writing of people outside my immediate social circles.

Toxic Fandom Culture

Waking Up: Neil Gaiman and Toxic Fandom
https://thelearnedfangirl.com/2018/07/waking-up-neil-gaiman-and-toxic-fandom/

There is no shortage of examples [of toxic fandom]. Much of this behavior is based in misogyny and racism, some of it is not, and all of it seems to shriek, “You did not do what I want, therefore you are bad, and I am going to tell the world.”

This is not love. It is not even fandom. It is a mob.

Preach.

I should mention two things about this short essay. First, it’s about the author being a fan of Neil Gaiman, not about Neil Gaiman himself. Second, it was written in July 2018. I was going through an intense online experience at the time and wondering what in the world I had done to deserve what was happening, and reading this essay then would have helped me a lot, I think. It’s definitely worth saying that, outside of a genuine #MeToo (or similar) situation, no artist or writer deserves this. I’m tentatively hopeful that this sort of culture has started to fade, not in the least because we all have much better things to devote our time and energy to.

Sexism and Ageism in Fandom

On “Fandom Moms”
https://out-there-on-the-maroon.tumblr.com/post/620585756682027009/fandom-mom-used-to-a-jokey-affectionate-term-for

I can finally afford to attend conventions regularly, pay amazing artists for great work, delve into more detailed media analysis, appreciate symbolism and homages I didn’t understand as a teen… and I should give that all up now? Because I have a job that makes me cry from stress, do my own taxes, and should be Looking For A Husband Now?

Oh gosh yes. Wow.

For me, as a queer nonbinary person, I was really only able to do things that made me happy once I had a stable source of income. I got kicked out of high school for being gay a few months after I turned sixteen, and the following twelve or thirteen years were a constant struggle just to survive. I couldn’t watch television or play video games because I had to work all the time to pay rent while putting myself through college and grad school on a series of scholarships, fellowships, and grants that were generous but not quite enough to live on. If I had time to “have fun,” it was time I needed to spend networking by attending various parties and other social events. I couldn’t afford to go to conventions, and I certainly didn’t have energy to devote to developing my skills at creative writing and visual art.

I was 27 or 28 before I had enough breathing room to even think about doing something that wasn’t work, and getting involved in fandom felt (at the time) like one of the best things that had ever happened to me, not in the least because I didn’t have to pretend to be a serious adult.

So when I was accused of being a creepy older person (when I was 32, which I maintain isn’t actually that old, not that it matters) for existing in a fandom space that was shared by people of various ages, it precipitated an incredible jolt of anxiety. What if it actually is Too Late for me to enjoy myself and follow my dreams? I’d been getting this message from various places for my entire life – even when I was in college! – and it was a serious blow to suddenly start hearing it again from the inside of a previously supportive fandom community.

I’ve come to terms with this and moved on, but I’m so relieved that this culture is fading.

Down Here We All Float

The Coming Disruption
https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/05/scott-galloway-future-of-college.html

Galloway, a Silicon Valley runaway who teaches marketing at NYU Stern School of Business, believes the pandemic has greased the wheels for big tech’s entrée into higher education. The post-pandemic future, he says, will entail partnerships between the largest tech companies in the world and elite universities. MIT@Google. iStanford. HarvardxFacebook. According to Galloway, these partnerships will allow universities to expand enrollment dramatically by offering hybrid online-offline degrees, the affordability and value of which will seismically alter the landscape of higher education. Galloway, who also founded his own virtual classroom start-up, predicts hundreds, if not thousands, of brick-and-mortar universities will go out of business and those that remain will have student bodies composed primarily of the children of the one percent.

I recently read through a threaded conversation on a subtweet and saw some rando (probably a grad student) complaining that I only write positive reviews of the work published by my friends.

On one hand, that’s absolutely true! My friends and professional colleagues are doing amazing work, and I think their writing should be promoted and appreciated.

On the other hand, I don’t really have much choice in the formal assignments I get. I have the ability to turn down review requests, but walking up to the editor of an academic journal and saying “let me review this” isn’t really a thing I can do. I mean, I could do it – there’s nothing stopping me – but writing academic book reviews is time-consuming and difficult, and I don’t have the energy for more than I’ve been formally requested to do. My priorities lie elsewhere.

On my third hand, I kind of want to be like, How about you become my friend so I can write positive reviews of your work too?

I feel like academia was already on the verge of collapse before the pandemic. It’s currently a disaster, and an attitude that holds that “we all rise if the water level rises” is more relevant and pragmatic now than it’s ever been.

Between one thing and another, I’ve been spending the past two weeks seriously thinking about how to amplify the voices of people from marginalized positions. To be honest, a lot of these voices are doing brilliantly and don’t need my “assistance,” such as it is. Still, I want to use the platforms I have to at least try to help change the discursive space so that it can better reflect the rich diversity of voices in my field.

I agree with everything Scott Galloway says in this interview, and I think “disruption” is not a strong enough term for what’s going to happen as American universities become more corporate. If we’re lucky, however, this might become the opportunity people need to transform what (and who) is considered valuable and important in higher education.

When Fandom Drama Goes to Court

A Feud in Wolf-Kink Erotica Raises a Deep Legal Question
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/23/business/omegaverse-erotica-copyright.html

As the rise of self-publishing has produced a flood of digital content, authors frequently use copyright notices to squash their competition. During a public hearing hosted by the U.S. Copyright Office in 2016, Stephen Worth, Amazon’s associate general counsel, said that fraudulent copyright complaints by authors accounted for “more than half of the takedown notices” the company receives. “We need to fix the problem of notices that are used improperly to attack others’ works maliciously,” he said.

In the Omegaverse case, Ms. Cain’s claim of copyright infringement against Ms. Ellis has struck some as especially tenuous. “They are not very original, either one of them,” said Kristina Busse, the author of “Framing Fan Fiction,” who has written academic essays about the Omegaverse and submitted expert witness testimony for the case on Ms. Ellis’s behalf. “They both stole from fandom or existing tropes in the wild.”

This article is a wild ride, and I enjoyed every stop along the way.

You can bypass the site’s paywall by opening the link in an incognito browser window, by the way. It feels weird to have to attach that sort of “how-to-access” information for a nationally syndicated newspaper, but I guess it’s appropriate for an article about commercial fanfic writers suing each other over their novel-length Omegaverse stories.

As an aside, Anne Jamison covers a lot of similar drama regarding Twilight fanfic authors going pro in her (excellent) 2013 book Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World. There is nothing new under the sun, and what’s under this particular sun is people taking their vampire and werewolf erotica way too seriously.

Anyway, the article’s opening sentence?

Addison Cain was living in Kyoto, volunteering at a shrine and studying indigenous Japanese religion. She was supposed to be working on a scholarly book about her research, but started writing intensely erotic Batman fan fiction instead.

Relatable.

Glass Towers

Death of the Office
https://www.1843magazine.com/features/death-of-the-office

Offices can be not just offensive to the eye but harmful to the body. Sitting isn’t quite the new smoking, but it certainly won’t do you any good. A life lived on one’s bottom increases the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, some cancers and all manner of back problems. Offices also entrench social inequalities. The top dog is more likely to hire in his own image, perpetuating male privilege. In 2018 there were more men called Steve than there were women among the chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. Offices even tend to be more physically unpleasant places for women than for men: as a recent study showed, the ambient air temperature is generally set to suit “the metabolic rates of a 154-pound, 40-year-old man” (probably called Steve). Men are just fine; women freeze.

Fuck capitalism. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)╭∩╮

The writer ends the article by arguing for the validity of a space dedicated to work that isn’t your own apartment. I don’t think this is an apology or a cop-out. As much as I hate office culture, I also hate working from my bedroom. Like, that’s not what I meant when I said “fuck capitalism.”