On Fandom Activism and the Logical High Ground

I understand that change is always difficult, regardless of scale. I understand that societal change in particular is a monumental task. I understand that these things happen slowly, and that part of the whole affair is maintaining patience. It is this knowledge that buoys me as I rummage through online discussions of representation in fiction, as I watch the pseudoscience and the anecdotes and the assumptions of those who believe the debate is unnecessary fly by. And yet, still I find myself wanting to scream: don’t you people realize you’re only spiting yourselves?

I often see proponents of greater diversity in the media tarred with a certain brush—it’s the brush that paints them as self-absorbed, hysterical, wannabe victims who cannot take a moment to step outside their bubble and understand the cold, hard truth of how the world works. Those who employ this brush see themselves as realists, as true thinkers, as wielders of sharp, objective logic. They pride themselves on being able to deal with the real world, dammit, with not being wrapped up in the trivial, navel-gazing concerns of their opponents. They see themselves as adults battling a tide of entitled children. Female protagonists can’t possibly sell in great enough numbers, they say. There isn’t enough of a market to make the character gay, they say. I understand you’re upset, they say, but you have to look beyond your (petty, juvenile) concerns and deal with the fact that the characters are going to be white.

And honestly? I understand. I pride myself on being a logical thinker, on being pragmatic, on striving for calm consideration of an issue before arriving at an emotionally-driven conclusion. As a teenager, I struggled towards the Ayn Rand ideal of mastering my emotions entirely and believed I had achieved it despite my hilarious inexperience with, well, the world. I disdained those with opinions I saw as motivated by what “felt good,” untouched, as they were, by the real world, dammit.

But true maturity comes not from carefully maintained callousness—Maturity is understanding that you, as an individual person, can never be the supreme authority on the experiences, motivations, dreams and injustices of the entire human race. To believe otherwise is the megalomania of a child at play with dolls, a child who has never truly grappled with the world outside themselves. And so I watch anonymous commenter after anonymous commenter rail against the idea of video games, comics, TV shows, movies, cartoons and books portraying a greater wealth of human experience. I watch as they brush off the protestations of thousands and thousands of people, because these people cite experiences they themselves have not had—lives they have not led. I watch as they disregard anything not derived from their own narrow slice of humanity and radiate confidence while doing so. I watch and I boggle because they truly believe they are the adults here.

But above all, I marvel at how shallow their “logic” is and how utterly it betrays them. I too initially reacted to the current tide of activism with disdain and skepticism (yes, even the arguments about female characters). But it was logical thinking that changed my mind—that conquered my first irrational, emotionally driven opinion. Because ultimately, I realized, what was I fighting against? What would happen if my opponents won? I’ll tell you what would—and, I believe, will—happen: more stories. Better stories. Stories from people we haven’t had a chance to hear from yet. Stories about characters with lives very different from our own. Stories about characters so similar to us, we weep from the resonance. Stories that take place in lands inspired by a vast, varied abundance of traditions and cultures. Stories plumbing the unfathomable depths of the human experience a little deeper. Stories that would change our lives forever, that we would tattoo on our bodies and read to our children. Stories that would cradle us and carry us out of dark times. Stories currently denied to us by a threatened, unreasonable elite whose sun is beginning to set. Stories. That’s what happens if the activists win.

The sheer, incredible potential currently denied to us is maddening—and why? Why do we run from this magnificent, infinite field of possibility? Because we might have to experience it as someone unlike ourselves? Are we really that self-centered, that immature? That utterly, wholly, and totally irrational?

By all means, if you disagree, continue to fight. Continue to defend the crumbling, artificial relics of our ignorant, hysterical past. Continue to deny yourself. But you do not command the high ground of reason. You are not the embattled adult here. You cling to what is comfortable, familiar, and safe. You are afraid of change. And that is the most illogical thing of all.

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  1. Fascinating post! I quite agree with you, Juliet: the more diversity, the merrier. But I do rather feel like I'm reading the rebuttal to an argument I haven't heard, Who are these anti-diversity types who "see themselves as adults battling a tide of entitled children," who "see themselves as realists, as true thinkers, as wielders of sharp, objective logic"? Are we just talking about anonymous commenters? Or actual people with names? And what instances of greater diversity were they resisting?

    I guess I'm saying a little more background would help 🙂

  2. Yes! Absolutely yes! It can be such a struggle these days to find work that I can totally resonate with, and I think this is part of the reason – this "logical" ignorance of everything and anything that is new, different, threatening. And you worded it all so very eloquently. I think folks would have a hard time arguing with this statement – because who wants to be known as a hater of stories?

  3. Thank you so much for this. Seriously. I haven't quite managed to coalesce my own opinions of the uphill struggle I've had in the fandoms I participate in with respect to the disparity of "cold, dead reality" in the face of new and exciting prospects.

    It's something of a wonder to me. When I look through comment threads (which really isn't too often for my own sake), I end up wanting to know what the bitter and stubborn folks are actually getting out of these stories. They rally against bright new creators from alternative backgrounds who craft similarly unique characters/narratives and pound the earth in outrage when current properties are changed or adapted (such as the new 52 Wonder Woman book), as if their stunted and entitled sense of fulfillment cannot be sated unless the nothing changes. If they want to face "how to world works", they should reconsider how we, as humanity came to be: lots and lots of change. Stories are a curated lens our humanity's culture, referential to the past, collecting perspectives of the present, and laying foundations for the future; why deny them that purpose?

    Stories are universal human language and as our world gets bigger and the ways in which we as individuals identify ourselves as gets more varied, so too should the language we use. Why would we adulterate ourselves with the unwillingness to try new things? Where would our species be if we didn't demand interesting (often meaning new) stories from and for each other? I don't think we'd be human, at least not in the way we know it.

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