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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Looking Past the Target Audience (ECCC 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

And here we are, just under the wire. I saved the best for last; this panel on avoiding dated tropes, othering, and how to approach writing diverse characters in one's work was lively and intense. There's a lot of great info here. This actively extends the conversation touched on in other posts, such as Everything We Know is Sexist: Now What? and Writing Diversity. A discussion that should never end.

No, I don't normally wait a full year to post all of my notes from a convention, but I'm glad I finally have the opportunity to get these posted. Don Rocko and I are driving down to ECCC 2015 later today. In the meantime, enjoy what I learned at this awesome panel!

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Looking Past the Target Audience

Rachel Edidin, Regina Buenaobra, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, G. Willow Wilson, Andy Khouri, Sfe M., Scotty Iseri

What this Panel is About
- Brief history: This panel started a year ago because of the lack of intersectional diversity
- This is not Diversity 101. This is much more.
- Intersectionality: What it means to look at diversity from an intersectional angle

RB: Intersectionality assumes that we all live at the intersection of different identities, we’re a mix – power dynamics and struggles with various identities, not just one single identity

RE: When someone is described as from a mixed race background, assumption that it’s “White and (something).”

Panels often address one subject – the women’s panel, the queer panel, etc.

There are still a lot of stereotypes

Diversity in media and representation of characters – what does it mean to see yourselves in media? What do you look for? What do you latch onto when you find it?

CLE: Depends on age of person. When younger, visual representation was important, but as she got older wanted to find meaningful stories, creators of colour, women telling stories.

AK – Looks for intersectional characters. Lots of characters are delineated. White guy from Kansas, black guy from Africa. Willow’s Miss Marvel is Islamic American, dealing with tension that is rarely represented.

This not just about allegorical representation, but otherness, because people grow up thinking allegory is enough. Often the “different” character is used as cautionary tale. Healthy character stories, people living fulfilling lives, are never told.

AK: Example: Queer villain trope in fantasy

RE: There’s a consistent trend of queering and effeminization of male villains, even female villains – this is about moving beyond that.

RE: Geek culture – default definitions of not what a geek is, but what they look like, what their identity is, how they identify and react with that culture. What are your interactions and challenges?

SI: There have been growing pains – geek culture is now mainstream culture, cons are big, whereas as a tribe we’ve been historically downtrodden and pushed aside. But the fake nerd girl bullying is a reaction to all these new people in our party.

AK: Geek culture used to be defined as your interest in fringe tings, but now everyone has to share their experience of being into something few people used to be interested in.

CLE: By being part of a minority, it can be frustrating when you fall into different groups and those groups cut you out because of certain parts of you (coloured, female, etc).

Mandarin short on Thor 2 video: Mandarin goes to jail, and the assumption is that he is LGBT.

GWW: The impression is that when you’re in a fringe group, there’s an assumption it’s okay to other different groups. Even you’re part of a minority, it’s okay to make fun of everyone. There’s the assumption that you will find no allies in some groups. Someone even more on the outside than you are is still okay to make fun of. And then allies you could have had feel they don’t belong. There’s an unconscious need to keep the people you see as beneath you down.

CLE: It’s cute when you do it with Star Trek vs. Star Wars identities, but with these other identities, it hurts.

RE: If you ever hear someone call Big Bang Theory “nerd blackface”, tell them to go to hell. This is something you see in feminist communities, too. In one group, women who were gamers, comics fans, and yet heterosexual felt that because they were girls they had to make it clear that they were super straight. When we talk about women in comics we don’t mean “Women like you”. So, how do you change the landscape of the industry, the community?

SI – Looking for women writers for tv show, to maintain that balance in the room, but looking at narrative tropes of sci fi, not wanting to do star wars where bad guys are eerily foreign yet slightly familiar, looking to make a show with a good balance of creative talent, diverse, but anti the usual stabs at ethnicity (token character, etc) – imagine a world beyond that where they don’t have to do the Xmas ep.

CLE: Don’t have to do the Xmas episode when you have those people in the group to begin with. It’s normal, it’s natural. It’s up to the people in charge of building the community, the hiring, to make this a reality.

GWW: And as much as we talk about how important it is to have representation on the creative side, but also we need them on the editorial and executive side, because they are the gatekeepers. The conversation needs to also be, who’s on the other side of the table.

RE: Statistically, people hire other people of their own backgrounds because we’re humans and tribal and look for people like us, people we feel “safe” around. Left to our own devices, there are a lot of decent people perpetuating stereotypes.

RB: Questioning things is important. Example: ArenaNet – has 2 canon queer storylines, a pansexual race, looks for things that may speak to a different audience.

AK: There are benefits to hiring a diverse audience. The nature of the Internet mitigates a hiring bias. Not just people writing about their Xmas, but coming from different backgrounds influences the way you experience the world and the stuff you want to talk about. Maybe not to do with their personal identityy, but what they’ve discovered based on their journey.

CLE: Don’t just say “let’s have a diverse group for diverse experiences” – don’t come away assuming you can write about your culture. Your experience as your identity can write these things, but remember that the filter you were raised with will colour your story. But don’t think you can’t write about a culture because you haven’t experienced that culture directly.

SI: Having a wide variety of experiences affects us overall.

RE: We all bring our defaults and filters, they impact everything, small ways you interact with the world. Who’s doing it right, and what are they doing we can emulate?

AK: We are.

GWW: Ms. Marvel (young Muslim female superhero) – She didn’t think it would work, but she’s happy that Marvel sought it out. It’s stunning, but it’s a choice. At the end of the day, you want as many people interested as possible, but it’s rare to actually see thinking like that. And it’s not a model minority book, either; it’s a story about a girl in Jersey.

SI: Archie comics has done a good job. All characters of Riverdale are American high USA and that’s all normal, even the gay and black characters.

RE: Don’t ask why a character so demographically scattered, ask why aren’t they. With fiction, you can create that.

AK: Show Lost – a very diverse cast, each with their own backstory they bring to the present adventure.

AK: If you build it, they will come.

RE: ECCC tries to program to the audience they want to have, not based on what people who came last year liked. They’ve deliberately created space for diversity. Last of Us: main character is scruffy middle age dude. DLC and book - Naughty Dog deliberately wanted a story that people who bought the game didn’t necessarily want to see, a perspective they wouldn’t necessarily stumble on – intense teenage girl friendship, with the girls romantically involved, and this story made an interracial lesbian teenage couple the central characters. Using that is really cool and smart.

Question: What are good practices for privileged authors who want to include minorities, identities they don’t have?

RB: Ask people of those identity to read your work, review them. More than one.

CLE: Have friends of these various. The wider your world is, the wider your writing is going to be.

GWW: One also has to be psychologically diligent about the difference btw being an ally and being a savior – don’t put your idea of what success looks like into the mouths of these characters. Don’t just go with your own default narrative. An ally listens. Change your identity to allow someone else’s perspective into your life.

AK: Writing this stuff requires living and having experiences, learning about and getting to know people. Don’t just reblog what’s already out there. Go beyond what your understanding of what life is about.

SI: When asked if “is this offensive”, think, is this person going to get more of “okay” or “well, actually” – responsibility to educate rather than just being offended. Question whether it’s your story to tell. IF someone’s already out there writing that story, then give them the privilege and platform to pass it on to that person.

CLE: Mentoring also helps – allow those folks to mentor you.

Tweet other questions to @raebeta; tumblr extends conversation. This topic is waaay to big for one hour, one panel, seven people; so check out

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