That Time Straight Men Got Upset About an Elsa Hashtag

There was a scattered piece from Devin Faraci that circulated rather widely the other day. It started with the premise that fandom is broken because fans demand things from the people creating the comics, movies, and games they love. He emphasized demand, but he conflates it with online petitions and requests (that seem absolutely benign), with harassment and death threats. A comparison (which he picks up from Jesse Hassenger at the AV Club) is drawn between fans on Twitter wanting Elsa to have a girlfriend in Frozen 2 with the negative reactions to Ghostbusters and GamerGate. He muddles through a bunch of stuff about how the internet makes it easier to demand things, and behave poorly, but he paints with a broad brush. After all, he wouldn’t have a job if he was a nice guy on the internet.

I’ve been fuming about this since I read it the other night. There is no place for death threats, at all. No one objects to that. Rolling that in with every other form of criticism, feedback, fan fiction, and conversation is entirely objectionable. A Disney princess hashtag that a teenage girl started! Don’t bully creators, go bully teens into silence? What?!

While I don’t personally want to see Elsa presented this way, or for Steve Rogers’ to be gay, people are allowed to say these things. People have been saying these things about fictional characters for a very, very, very long time. And honestly, retroactively making a character gay is a thing that happens in fictionalized entertainment, even if I think it’s generally handled poorly. Coming down hard on fans like this reinforces a negative view that people seeking representation in media are the same as those seeking to push change out of comics, and out of their lives. I don’t think these particular things are the best ways to address representation, but so what? Who does it hurt? Entertainment Tonight asked Idina Menzel about the campaign and she gave a supportive response, but clearly stated that she has no authority over that, and fans should pursue things with Disney. So far, the only “important” people freaking out about the fans are Jesse and Devin. The fragility of straight white guys never ceases to amaze me.

Later, after his post was circulated widely, Devin wrote a separate, thoroughly-confused piece about how people read his writing wrong, and they should definitely be demanding a “queer princess” from “decision makers” but they shouldn’t petition “creators” of Frozen 2. You see that he separates creation from decision. Work-for-hire writing, and directing, from intellectual property. Then he says that the filmmakers have power and it’s not just Disney, also he says he was really tired when he wrote it and didn’t think it would be a big deal, so… There we go with people not understanding his writing.

Why bother asking for people of color, and women, to rally around him if he’s just going to make insulting comparisons to GamerGate that demonstrate he doesn’t understand any of these issues? Why write a follow-up piece about how the pressure needs to be applied to get the representation he’s fighting for? He also thinks everyone should be nice to creators – but still critique things like he does and presumably get in internet-fights with screenwriters? Perhaps the real issue is that he wants to be a gatekeeper controlling what constitutes an appropriate reaction to media.

Unfortunately, the cord for the mic Devin tried to drop got all knotted up around him.

As I wrote earlier, I was fuming all day about this because it basically gives a bunch of assholes free reign to be jerks. Go look at the winning comments on Devin’s posts, and the responses to his tweets.

105 votes in agreement with ‘Samcvb’ over his comment that he can’t wait for “the death of Nerd Culture” because people feel too entitled. He then goes on to lay out the reasons why “The Force Awakens” wasn’t really that good because it appealed to entitled fans, and wasn’t like “Old School George Lucas”. Cognitive dissonance is aaaaaaaamazing! Devin, and the people that support him, betray that they really object to people who don’t agree with them, and those are the entitled ones.

Here the Elsa fans are, lumped in with that. And the Star Trek fan fic writers, and even me.

I wrote about how disappointed I was to see Midnighter get cancelled because he was the only gay man leading a comic book from DC or Marvel, and it lasted 12 issues. He is not included in the slate for the DC Rebirth event, but all the safe, comfortable choices are. “Please come back, straight white men, we love you.” My negative reaction to this can be easily categorized as entitlement. I demand to see my interests reflected in the work of these artists. Only that’s not the whole truth. I want to see a diverse world that we are all part of represented in these works. Part of that is ego – wanting to see someone you sympathize with represented – part of that isn’t – wanting to see other characters as fully developed people so I can empathize with experiences that are not my own. What gay men are straight readers, and movie-goers, empathizing with in Star Wars, DC, Marvel, Star Trek? (Good luck with this question!) Also if a reader doesn’t think that they can empathize with a gay character because they’re not gay, then they should double-check the meaning of the word empathy.

The free market is also brought up often when rallying against inclusion. According to some, stories are written a certain way because it will sell. Then it sells, and it reinforces that the story sells. No one ever got fired for writing about a straight white male lead. You’ll see lots of these writers talking about the importance of diversity, and how they shouldn’t be criticized because they support the idea of diversity. You know, if someone else can make it work. Blowing up planets and multiverses is hard enough without having two dudes express, “I love you, bro” to each other. No one should have the temerity to campaign for diversity because that’s up to the creators who are making sacred art.

What about creator-owned works? Indie film? People that don’t see themselves in the world, and aren’t employed by these massive companies can certainly take matters into their own hands. Those works can provide an outlet but not a lot of satisfying watercooler talk. They also usually lack the polish of corporate works so it’s a trade-off.

We collectively want to share experiences, which is one of many reasons why corporate-owned characters are so appealing (another big one is capital to pay for high-quality product, and the almost mythic longevity of the product). Is it so surprising that desires are unmet? That people connect on the internet to talk about their wishes with others? It shouldn’t be so shocking that the yearning is bounced back at the product, and the creators. “Wouldn’t it be perfect if this was the way I imagine it?” (Not always! Really! But that’s fine!)

It’s ridiculous to meet every request and expectation – of course it is. Artists have been managing feedback since art was paid for so I guess it’s a thing artists can live with.

“Hey, can you do this thing? I want this thing.”

“No, that’s not what I’m doing.” Or “I didn’t have that in mind, but there’s something else I’m working on.”

That’s a little idealized, of course, but is that so terrible? Would it be so terrible? Are things really so broken that the unwashed masses should be shouted down because we’re all the same as those who go to reprehensible extremes? I certainly don’t feel any kinship with those that would speak about harming others, and I deplore Devin misusing his position to lash out at a Disney princess campaign.

2016-06-01 09:00:00

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