Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Be better than this: a Buffy rant

Words from rm about fandom getting ugly:
Stop bullying people for caring about stories just as much as you do
rm is both a fan and someone good at analyzing, academically and sociologically, what it means to be a fan. And here she called out bad, ugly (there's that word again, but it's the right word) treatment of fellow fans.

I've been lucky. I haven't seen this bullying in the parts of Buffy/Angel/Firefly fandom I've connected with -- or really, almost any fandom I've been into, and that includes Star Trek, film music, or my various local radio interests (Don & Mike back when I lived near D.C., Rick Emerson plus Cort and Fatboy here in Portland). And here's a reminder of why I've been lucky.

rm's entry reminds me: I started following Buffy the Vampire Slayer literally one episode before Dawn, the character at the center of the asshatery that happened (and not just at this weekend's event), showed up. The first full episode I ever saw was the fourth season shared-dream episode where Dawn's arrival is foreshadowed. Then I saw the first few episodes of Season 5 with enough background to know that Dawn hadn't been in the story, and then suddenly was, for reasons that would get explained. (For the uninitiated: mystical forces who needed to protect something from an angry god created Dawn, literally giving Buffy a high school-age younger sister and implanting false memories to make her think Dawn had been around for years, to hold that certain something in secret and, they hoped, safety.) I was getting up to speed and learning details, whether key details or sometimes just fun details, as I went along. (Example: I didn't quite know that season why the line "He did the Snoopy Dance!" was both dramatically important and funny.) Would I still be getting involved if fellow fans had treated me the way the sing-along participants treated that young fan? Who was almost certainly a much younger fan than me; as I was in my 20s when I started watching Buffy, I'm less likely to identify so strongly with a high school-age character.

Some people in Buffy fandom apparently felt threatened by Dawn. (Still do? Also apparently.) The characters often felt annoyed by Dawn, but that was the point of the character: she's growing through an especially confusing part of childhood, and on top of that, as that season goes on, she learns she has a secret that could potentially KILL HER AND END THE WORLD. This is bigger than homework and zits. What would be your level of cope? And Dawn doesn't have the Slayer lineage, let alone the training, that Buffy's had. (A commenter on Maltese's entry added that many fans also reacted badly to Connor, another confused-teenager-shaped-by-supernatural-forces in the Buffy spinoff Angel.) EMPATHY, WE'RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE IT. Hell, when Spike -- SPIKE, that complicated, conflicting bad-guy-with-good-guy-potential vampire -- is better at feeling empathetic and protective towards Dawn than a lot of people, something might be wrong. And to a person, everyone I've met who's into Joss Whedon's work is an empathetic person (and not a vampire, either). But I've never been to a "Once More, With Feeling" Buffy singalong, where saying "Shut up, Dawn" has become A Thing. (Local Whedon fan The One True b!x has. He can vouch for the bad behavior.)

Notice we Whedon fans don't do this for another annoying character, Jayne on Firefly, even though he's often a genuine asshole. He's more complicated than that, as almost all Whedon-show characters are, but at most we grin at his discomfort at being the cause of a folk song. But somehow we're not bullying or really making much fun of the big, be-muscled gun expert who names his weapons. But a teen-aged girl? (Even a tall one?) Someone, by the way, who loses her mother, who gets assaulted by monsters, who in that sing-along episode (as Maltese notes) "is kidnapped, silenced, sexualized and forced into a marriage in Hell"? Why is much of our ire focused her way?

Apparently Joss Whedon himself, he who created Dawn and wrote that sing-along episode (and tailored Dawn's role in it towards Michelle Trachtenberg's strengths, including dancing), asked people to not be so ugly towards Dawn, and a lot of fans didn't heed that. Someone commented to Maltese, in fact, that they think it's necessary to let people say "Shut up, Dawn" at the sing-alongs or that the anti-Dawn reaction get too ugly. So a little ugliness is OK to avoid bigger ugliness? Can't we do better than that? I know a lot of very funny, and very caring, people who do. I've made rude jokes loudly about the stuff I love, and had damn fun doing so. I didn't bully. At least I hope I didn't. And when I have bullied in the past -- yes, it's happened, especially when I was young and stupid -- I managed to realize that it was wrong and dumb and that I could be better than that.

Bullying? To quote (of all people) Jayne, "Where's that get fun?"
Tags: firefly/whedon

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