Wiscon: How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things

First, I don’t know if the mod of this panel wants to be discussed on the internet, so I won’t name her. But she was FANTASTIC. The ground rules of the panel were simple — we were not going to sit around listing problematic things, as that could take all day. Nor were we going to conflate critique of a thing with a personal attack on someone who likes that thing. The premise of the panel is that we all like problematic things, so, let’s acknowledge and talk about that.

This may sound basic or trivial, but I think it’s vital to any further discussion. As I tweeted, if I didn’t like problematic things, what would there be to like? (A friend replied, “Lilo and Stitch?” Another person suggested The Middleman.) The fact that fictions are made by humans, are imperfect, and have problems is not a referendum on the fact that we all like fiction! Liking problematic things does not make me a bad person. How I like those things, how I defend them, how I critique them, well … That’s where a person can be open to failure.

So. How do we do it?

The conversation that resulted was delightfully practical. There was no noodling about the broader implications. No, no.

Instead, we got “if a person who is really spoiler-averse wants to know whether a movie is problematic, how can you tell them without spoiling?” Answer: Use the “trigger warning” system established in fic comms. I.e., “trigger warning for addictive behavior,” without saying which character or what they do. For example.

Another question raised was how to ride out the initial defensiveness when someone RIGHTLY points out that your squee is racist. Answer: Listen hard, don’t respond to points raised but remain communicative, ask for the other party to unpack their statements if they have time, go away and do some research if you don’t know terms like Invisible Backpack, complain PRIVATELY to CLOSE FRIENDS while you work through your feelings.

The other major point raised was, what about when the canon is merely normally problematic, but the CREATOR is a fucking jerk. Orson Scott Card was the example here, I will happily say. DC Comics also got a mention. The agreed-upon answer was that everyone draws their lines differently, and that adopting a STRONG live-and-let-live policy for other people’s decisions was best.

The panel was raucous but controlled, it was fun and funny but serious in intention. My favorite moment was when an audience member seemed to be asking “how do I get people to stop criticizing my stuff?” [NOTE: I cannot actually tell you anyone else’s intentions. I don’t know what the person meant. That is my impression of what was meant, and it was shared by everyone around me.] The panelists displayed a delightful variety of individualized “are you kidding me with this bullshit” faces, and I had to choke back laughter. Yet the actual response was considered, polite, and respectful. While also very firm that this is not a thing one ought to expect in fandom — if you like problematic things AS WE ALL DO, own that. Own it, accept it, don’t defend it, and move on.

This panel was a wonderful reminder of the things I love about fandom. If I have a true, honest thing I am a fandom, it is this — I am a fan of what fandom can do and be when we are striving to be our best selves. I am a fan of sixty smart, funny, angry, determined, joyous women sitting in a room and establishing the ground rules for civil discourse. These are my people and my tribe, and I was damn glad to be at that panel.

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