Commentary

fandoms as social movements

Fandoms As Social Movements

One of the biggest impacts fandom has had on my life, besides the amazing friends I’ve made along the way, has been becoming a driving focus for doing good.

At the Always Keep (Nerd)Fighting panel at Denver Comic Con moderated by sociology professor Tanya Cook and clinical psychiatrist and professor Kaela Joseph, panelists Riley Santangelo, Anita Moncrief, and Charlotte Renkin commented on the amazing things fandom has done and continues to do with charities and as unique groups making impacts globally and within their local communities.

Wayward Daughters

wwaf

Riley Santangelo is a graphic designer who is one of the women behind Wayward Daughters, which started as “Wayward Daughters Academy” with the objective of showing The Powers That Be the fanbase’s desire for better female representation on the CW show Supernatural and has taken off due to the Wayward AF t-shirt campaigns, raising money benefiting charities such as Random Acts and New Leash On Life.

Wayward Daughters has openly discussed the need for dynamic female characters and realistic depictions of female relationships in media, but as a group, the Wayward Daughters community has become much more.

wwafstudio5k

Kim Rhodes for the first Wayward AF campaign. Photo by Studio56k.

 

Like most social movements, it started a conversation. Members of the community on twitter, spurred on by Supernatural actresses Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster, started sharing their stories on what made them wayward. Taking ownership of the word, fans started viewing aspects of themselves or their lives that are dismissed or simply not talked about as a symbol of strength. Overcoming body image issues and eating disorders, fighting cancer, leaving an abusive relationship, and winning over addiction were deemed #WaywardAF, a hashtag that conveys a sense of pride and overcoming adversity. The actresses opened up with their own struggles with life such as overcoming drinking problems, troubles and joys of motherhood, and dealing with impostor syndrome, which created an open dialogue regarding societal pressures and working toward becoming your best self.

 

wwafnewleashonlife

Briana Buckmaster and her little one for Stands’ New Leash On Life campaign.

In May of 2015, Wayward Daughters had designed pre-made postcards to be sent to the producers of Supernatural asking for a spin-off including the characters Jody Mills (played by Kim Rhodes) and Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster). Then in March 2016, Wayward Daughters asked Supernatural fans how interested they would be in a Wayward Daughters spin-off. An overwhelming majority,  88% of respondents, voted “Heck yes!”  When a backdoor pilot called “Wayward Sisters” was announced in 2017, you could practically hear the excited screams across social media.

 

The Supernatural fandom was told it was being listened to, and that meant something. Santangelo felt the Wayward spin-off was a “direct result” of the Wayward Daughters campaign – and she’s not alone. After current Supernatural show runner Andrew Dabb spoke on the long-time coming of this spin-off at San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), fans and pop culture news sites continued to congratulate the grassroots movement of fandom for making the possibility of a Wayward Daughters show a reality. “I’m in awe every single day with Wayward Daughters and the fan community that has been created,” Santangelo said in June at the Always Keep (Nerd)Fighting panel. Talking with friend Betty Days, Santangelo recognized the importance of this emerging social movement. “Large companies try to capitalize on fandom more and more,” Days told Santangelo. But fandom is grassroots – something companies just don’t seem to grasp. “We’re gonna use our fandom for good we want to see.”

Santangelo partnered with Stands, Rhodes, and Buckmaster to put out the first shirts. “As individuals we feel like our actions don’t mean very much,” Santangelo said. When people start to come together in something like Wayward Daughters, they feel like they’re making things happen. “The fervor just increases,” Santangelo said with a smile.

Fan Fic 4 Flint

fanfic4flintAnita Moncrief was astounded as the media moved on from covering what was happening in Flint, Michigan. “They thought the crisis was over,” Moncrief said. A community organizer for over 17 years, Moncrief went into Flint as a consultant and now goes in monthly for water drops “to let the people know they aren’t forgotten.”

After seeing the 200th episode of Supernatural, the setting of which was in the disparaged city, she had the idea to link fandom with Flint. Moncrief started Fan Fic 4 Flint, a contest for writers and artists in the Supernatural fandom to raise money and awareness for Flint residents. After synopses are submitted at $10 each, a writer will be given the opportunity to produce a script for Supernatural: The Play, inspired by the one depicted in the 200th episode, to be performed in Flint as a benefit for the community. Artists will have a chance to have their work featured on social media, t-shirts, posters, and other merchandise – the sales of which will go directly to the citizens of Flint.

Moncrief hopes that the collective voices of the Supernatural fandom can return attention to the on-going crisis happening, not only in Flint, but in towns and cities across the nation. She stresses that this is bigger than the city that inspired the movement – it’s an infrastructure problem. “It starts in Flint, but it doesn’t end there.”

fanfic4flint water drop

Volunteers involved with Fan Fic 4 Flint’s water drop in May 2017. Photo from their instagram.

Fan Fic 4 Flint is delivering water, toys, diapers, and other necessities to Flint residents and reports news regarding updates to the water crisis on their website.  It’s not only adult fans who are helping out; fandom social movements call out to the young fans and local community youths to get involved as well. Younger teens have a difficult time getting started in activism because they don’t know where to start. Earlier this year, she had 15 kids in Flint doing water drops. They “want to get involved, but don’t know where to look,” Moncrief said. It starts with social media, but Moncrief says these movements go from “online to offline engagement.”

 

Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance

Charlotte Renkin is a filmmaker and cosplayer who is a member of Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance. These two groups are the embodiment of mixing nerds with community action. Members of Nerdfighteria are fans of Hank and John Green, the Vlogbrothers who have extended their YouTube footprint to educational videos in their Crash Course series, SciShow, The Art Assignment, and Sexplanations. No matter what you’re interested in, chances are, Nerdfighteria has a place for you. Renkin describes the group as “close knit” and “the size of a small country.”

nerdfighteria

Nerdfighteria’s iconic hand gesture.

Renkin wasn’t exaggerating when she said, “Fans are a force to be reckoned with.” Nerdfighteria’s goal is to decrease world suck, and how they are achieving that goal is through widespread education and activism. On YouTube, Project For Awesome raised over 2 million dollars for charities in 2016. The lending site Kiva has been a platform for Nerdfighters wanting to help small business owners get on their feet in an effort to stimulate local economies around the world since 2008.

harrypotteralliance

The Harry Potter Alliance strives for literacy education and social activism.

Harry Potter has taught us many lessons, but perhaps the most relevant is that standing by and being complacent in the face of ignorance and tyranny is unacceptable. The Harry Potter Alliance is a similarly global group wanting to engage young people in activism and increase access to books by building libraries, and implementing book drives with the hope to make literacy education services possible. Why are Harry Potter fans so interested in creating global change? Renkin says that the reason these fans are so invested in the social and political climate is that they can see the parallels in Harry Potter to our world and want to help make the world a better place.

Unstoppable Forces

How could these relatively small groups cause so much good to be put out in the world? Santangelo explains that we’re looking at an extremely proactive community. “Fandom represents the marginalized of society.” These fandom movements are made up of women, LGBTQA, neuroatypical, and minorities who band together in order to help not only each other, but anyone who is disadvantaged.

Being a part of something bigger than yourself is something a lot of people want to accomplish, and fandom is a conduit for this kind of action. “It’s really about acceptance,” Moncrief said. The shared interests and values that members of a fandom share are what keeps the fire going to fight for the rights of others. “It takes courage to step out there – to take that leap of faith and say I can do this.”

Fandom isn’t one movement – it’s many. The actions of fans and actors on these shows alike stir up involvement in a way that continuously moves toward betterment of families and communities. “It’s not just one superstar,” Moncrief said. “It’s regular people….it’s going to start showing up in our neighborhoods and our school boards.”

Underestimating a group of people who are, well, fanatical in their beliefs is short sighted. They’re an inspirational force of do-gooders whose efforts are paying off and starting to get noticed. Not only are these fans writing academic papers regarding their shows and fandoms, blogging about representation in media, and kicking ass in Geeks Who Drink trivia, but they are out there on social media and in the community actually making a difference and leaving a positive impact on the lives of others.

Maybe one person really can change the world. Especially if they have a few fandom friends.

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Personal Take On Wonder Woman

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Wonder Woman. After the movie, I decided I was going to have to sit in the bathtub and cry about how awesome it was while I thought about what I wanted to say about this movie, since a lot of why I loved it so much wasn’t about the movie itself.

Before heading to the theater, I’d been warned on all social media that I was going to cry. As with most movies that seem to promise this, I put on my best eyeliner and told myself I was not going to cry in public – I couldn’t ruin my makeup. It’s a tactic, so don’t judge me. It works. Mostly. The truth of the matter is that Wonder Woman was so incredibly different and amazing in so many ways that I struggled to keep the tears from falling. Whether or not you got a little emotional re: Wonder Woman, let me break down to you why this female viewer’s eyes were leaking.

Spoilers possible below.

(more…)

American Gods Worth the Hype

There is always hesitation when a favorite novel is being adapted.  A cherished book is like your child, and it’s hard not be defensive when it comes to these works – to find a balance in your mind between wanting everyone to enjoy this book and also it to be handled properly in adaptation. But the best thing to hear for book lovers is that their fave is not being made into a movie, but a television series. This opens up so much possibility to stay close to the source material, to not cut out anything really important to the novel, and to even expand on the existing universe.

Imagine our excitement when American Gods was slated for a second season by Starz even prior to the show’s premiere on April 30th. With already two seasons to look forward to, fans of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel were even more excited to see how this story was going to play out. The potential for additional seasons (or at least a third) puts less pressure on the creators to cram too much into too little time, leaving plot points or characters integral to the story on the cutting room floor. Instead, we’re being gifted with an expansion of the world Gaiman created, and with his involvement in the project, you almost feel like you’ve been handed a gift.

american-gods-premiere-date-posterNot only are Gaiman’s readers’ reeling at the fortune of how much of the story we’re going to get, but Bryan Fuller and Michael Green are the creators with David Slade on as director and producer on some of the episodes. Fans of the television series Hannibal will know two of those names well. After the worry of adaptation passed, the next wave of panic was how the material was going to be handled. It’s quite visual and haunting, and when Fuller was announced as the person taking on this enormous task, all apprehension I had about the telling of American Gods fell to the wayside. Fuller’s Hannibal was so intense in its visual storytelling that I knew Gaiman’s material was in good hands. After watching the first episode, I’m certain we’re all in for a ride.

Many adaptations simply fall flat or deviate so far from the source material it loses something in the process, or the product just doesn’t live up to the hype. This is one of the only times that I haven’t been let down in the slightest – in fact, I was so pumped up for what’s to come after watching the first episode that I couldn’t get to sleep. My husband, who was hesitant to judge because hasn’t read the novel and only had seen a few episodes of Hannibal with me, commented on how great Ian McShane is for the part of Wednesday (we’re fans of Deadwood) and said that the beginning of the show reminded him of a mix between 300 and Hannibal, and I couldn’t disagree. He wasn’t interested in watching the show despite the trailers I’d shown him, but five minutes in, he was hooked. The characters have been brought to life by an incredibly perfect cast led by Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle (The 100), and I’m fairly certain at least one of the casting directors sold their soul for such an amazing group to fill these powerful roles. Told with a touch of humor and over-the-top imagery, American Gods is a force to be reckoned with.

If you didn’t believe the hype before, trust that American Gods is well worth your time and the add-on subscription to your Amazon Prime account. You can watch American Gods on Starz and Starz apps on devices and through affiliates on Sundays at 9 E/P.  Be ready to believe.

Supernatural Writers Glynn and Berens Tee Up the End of Season 12 With “The Future”

Last night’s episode of Supernatural was extraordinary in so many ways – enough for me to want to sit down and write something about it. We’re in season 12 with the Winchesters, and with the show renewed for an unprecedented 13th season on the CW, fans are curious as to how these story lines and relationships between the characters are going to play out. Spoilers below!

With episode “The Future” (12.19), writers Meredith Glynn and Robert Berens breathed some life into a season that has felt a bit disjointed both in writing and, in some cases, acting. Shows have a tendency to drop plot points and pick them up later when convenient, and Supernatural is not immune to this. After last season’s questionable plot regarding the Darkness and the short-lived and ill-used arc of Dean Winchester as a demon in season 10, some viewers are in and out, cherry-picking the episodes they watch live (during initial airing) based on the writers and what characters are involved. The show has been around long enough for fans to know which episodes are must-watch and which ones can sit on the DVR for a few days. Whether or not the show takes note, a lot of this has to do with who penned the script.

“The Future” brought back the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) who had been incommunicado, and returned to the main plot of the season. A woman pregnant with the antichrist (Kelly Kline, played by Courtney Ford) is being fought over by heaven and hell and Sam and Dean Winchester (played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) struggle to find a way to save as many lives as possible while putting down the threat of Lucifer’s child being born, while Cas decides to take the fight on himself for the Winchester’s safety and to redeem himself for heaven.  This all feels a little bit like Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens in terms of possibility for plot direction, and if it did happen to go that way, I for one would not be upset about it. 

This week’s writers scripted the characters in such a natural way that I actually fell back in love with the show. Glynn and Berens didn’t overcrowd the script by pushing way too many characters and plot points into an episode, nor did they make excuses for where they might be in a way that distracts from the story they’re trying to tell on screen at that moment. Other episodes have tried to patch plot holes with shoddily presented exposition, and “The Future” didn’t try to do that. With the exception of one moment regarding the pregnancy term with a nephilim that I don’t think could have been helped with as far along in the season we are, there wasn’t a ton of exposition just thrown out flat, and even at that Jared Padalecki’s delivery allowed it to flow like conversation.

In addition to the dialog that felt very natural, the small things Glynn and Berens put into the script truly allowed the audience to suspend disbelief in a show that was beginning to feel like a soap opera. Cas trying to return a cassette tape Dean had given him. Sam is hard at work calculating and plotting their next move. Cas is locked out of the Impala, and even though he’s arguing with Sam about what to do and defending why he’s mad at Cas, Dean still tosses Cas the keys and continues his conversation. That’s real. That’s layering a scene. This writing team proved it doesn’t have to be all close ups and dramatic pauses. A scene doesn’t have to stop for emotion to be pouring from the characters while also moving the plot along.

Any actor will tell you that a well-written script makes their job easier, and it really showed last night. The cast’s mannerisms as their characters were less exaggerated than some of the season’s previous episodes. In those cases I alluded to above, the characters are sometimes written and therefore played in ways that feel like caricatures of who they have been portrayed as for years. Lucifer’s power and fierceness as he screamed at the demon Dagon (played beautifully by Ali Ahn) came through without coming off cartoonish which matched the tone of the episode, and the timing of everything, whether comedic or dramatic, was perfect. Collin’s portrayal of Cas essentially being kidnapped and talking to Kelly from the backseat of the Impala was outstanding. Padalecki expresses Sam’s earnestness and hope to perfection, and the hurt Dean feels is played even more poignantly in this episode – almost unlike anything we’ve seen since season 8, but Ackles’ facial expressions and tone of voice are always on point.

Amanda Tapping (who also played angel Naomi in Season 8) directed the episode, continuing an enjoyable trend of Supernatural alum directing episodes. The potentially triggering suicide attempt at the beginning of the episode could have been played far worse than it was, but in the hands of Tapping, it was presented it in a way that was actually beautiful and used as an integral piece of storytelling – not showing the skin being pierced, but instead focusing on the face of the actress to draw full attention to the emotions the character was going through. For a graphic suicide scene, it was, in my opinion, tastefully done. The framing of scenes was beautiful, especially when peeking through the art deco cutouts in the Men of Letters bunker and wall partition in the motel room. While a few things stuck out in an I wish they had… kind of way, the episode was one of the best of the season, hands down. [Note: Next week we’ll have an episode directed by another person who’s no stranger to the Supernatural family, Richard Speight, Jr., and written by new arrival Steve Yockey, both fan favorites.]

As usual, there were some dissenters online (especially on twitter) who expressed hatred of the episode because, frankly, they simply don’t like one of the main characters, no matter what the writers do. Their negativity is in no way a commentary on Glynn and Berens’ abilities. The arguments ranged from asking why Cas was still alive to why he would leave the Winchesters in danger, but when played against every character arc in the show’s history, especially in regards to the recurring theme of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, their arguments are hollow. Glynn and Berens wrote a story that was completely in line with the overarching themes of the show and the motivations of its characters and seemed to foreshadow a frightening and compelling end to the season – something the audience needs after the past two years’ season finales fell a little flat. Whether audience members liked the episode or not, everyone is wondering if Cas is being influenced by the unborn nephilim that saved him from Dagon, and how this potential pull on loyalties will turn out for Cas, Sam, and Dean. This is one of few times during season 12 that I can say I’m genuinely looking forward to finding out what happens next for the Winchesters. 

Supernatural airs Thursdays on the CW at 8pm EST, 7pm Central.