The views expressed in this article are personal views of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Play Without Apology as a whole.
This piece is a long time coming.
It is not an easy thing to write, and not because I don’t have the words. I’ve had the words (some of them, anyway), for a while now. More have come across the days, weeks, months, years – you get the picture, right? They came with every setback on the battlefront of the ideological war we’re waging. With every new horrific piece of news us Filipinos have gotten on the state of our nation.
This piece is not an easy thing to write because I’m afraid. I’ve committed to putting myself out there and writing, as much as possible, under my own name.
On the one hand, this means that people who may not have the words or the means to express similar sentiments will now know that they are not alone. On the other, this means that people can look me up. That they can find me at the next event that I’m covering or participating in, and take apart everything I say or do for the sole purpose of attacking who I am.
And – here is what truly scares me – this could mean, considering the nature of the administration that my family, my friends and I are living under, that people will consider me an enemy of the state, and take it upon themselves to go after me in ways that I will be unable to anticipate. This is, after all, a government that destroys its “enemies”, most especially if they are women.
Here we are, though, because I believe that what I have been thinking needs to be said while there are still platforms on which we can stand and speak out.
I’m choosing to do this under my own name, in my capacity as a citizen of the Republic of the Philippines; as a woman and as a former teacher of two respected universities. Because I want everyone to know that I exist. And I plan on resisting what is happening on both sides of the fence – in the political “real world”, and in the happy happy joy joy world of fandom – with every fiber of my being.
I’m hoping that by saying it, more people in the geek communities that I profess to be a part of will step up.
On May 9, 2016, many cigarettes were smoked.
Many more have joined that pile, along with more bottles of booze than a body should be proud of.
Hours after my brothers and I voted, we plunked our butts outside and didn’t move for hours. We all knew, without having to say much of anything, that the presidents we voted for weren’t going to make it.
This did not change the rising feeling of dread and despair we had as we watched the results pile in, catapulting a raving, misogynistic, murderous, Fentanyl-addled old man into the highest seat of authority in the Philippines. Never mind that the Vice President we chose made it. We were honestly worried for her safety, and for whether they were going to try to overthrow her in favor of the son of a dictator. True enough: the electoral protest rolled out, and the word war as of last month is still a thing.
It’s been painful since then, in ways that I cannot begin to express.
My younger brother and I found ourselves increasingly frustrated with friends whom we once deeply respected. Our social circles intersect often, see. And one such circle is a huge barkada that spawned from our mutual vice.
If it wasn’t the apathy that had led them to decide to not vote at all, it was that they had gone for the selfish vote in Rodrigo Duterte and all the rest. Talking about it with them proved pointless too: somehow, it always boiled down to a vicious argument rife with personal attacks; where no low blow was too low.
The killings started, and – lo and behold – things did not improve all that much on that front.
Facebook and Twitter feeds became open exhibits on the wonders on the complexities of mental gymnastics. It was, at best, amusing, to see how far and wide people were willing to go to justify their voting decisions as a citizen of a (supposedly) democratic country.
Most times, though, it was just horrific.
We’re midway through Q3 of 2018, and things have only gotten worse.
- Duterte’s administration has pivoted away from the Hague Ruling; thus allowing China to take over islands that are rightfully ours.
- Our government went completely behind our backs and buried Marcos like he was some sort of hero.
- The killings continue, and murders – almost always by policemen or by people with connections to the force – is spilling over into other forms: against priests, against small public officials, against common citizens.
- A vicious proponent of fake news and propaganda is the head of PCOO.
- Much can be said about how the government is tackling the rebuilding of Marawi City.
- Boracay remains closed, and it has great effects on its residents.
- Leila de Lima is still in jail, and Chief Justice Sereno was ousted.
- Federalism is being pushed at all costs; never mind that the populace does not support it and is barely aware of the sort of “federalism” this administration is trying to create.
- The latest SONA, like the two other SONAs before it, is another rambling mess of nothing, in keeping with Duterte’s lasting legacy of insults, tangents, and empty promises.
I don’t know how the next few years are going to be. Or what is going to happen anymore. I am also constantly worried that I will wake up to the news that someone I know will become yet another victim, in some form, of this administration.
“Yet another”. Because yes: people I know have been victimized already. One was already one too many. Try several.
With all of this in mind, of course geeks would retreat to their happy places, and yet…
…Fandom is not a safe space. This has been especially true for a bisexual, female, person of color like myself. I can already feel somebody on the internet reading this, ready to scream at me for using the so-called gender and race cards.
You would think that spaces and communities defined by their fannishness would be friendlier, more inclusive. Nope. It is especially bad for women. So much so that many of us are in constant danger of just giving up on putting ourselves out there completely.
The problem here is, fandom has gotten used to pursuing fun at all costs.
I get it: the things we love become self-care in trying times. We retreat to fantasy worlds where things are clearer cut and – in some narratives – where everything will work out no matter how bad it is. It’s a good way of keeping the helplessness we feel over our everyday situation from destroying us. Too much real life takes its toll, and constantly threatens to keep us from functioning when we so badly need to.
What many of you are forgetting, though, is that “fun” in itself is political.
“Pam, people should be allowed to like what they like!”
“Pam, just leave or unplug. You don’t have to deal with them or read what they’re saying.”
“Pam, they’re just opinions. Don’t take it too seriously.”
But they’re not just opinions, are they? In fact, people say they’re just expressing an “opinion” when in actuality, they’re declaring what they feel to be true or should be true; and insisting that it’s “simply” what they think or feel.
News flash, friends: an opinion is something like, “Apples are better than oranges”. An opinion is NOT “Putting more female/queer characters in this series is pandering to their audience”; or “Sexism is a Western problem therefore women are not oppressed in our country”; or “That reboot of an old cartoon is shit because the character’s redesign makes her less of a woman, and I, a man, can totally weigh in on that”.
Oh, was that last one too real?
I’m not sorry.
We’ve gone on for too long excusing toxic behavior as “passion”.
We’ve insisted, as if we were still all children barely out of grade school and not grown-ass (or growing) adults with real world responsibilities, that our spaces of fannishness should be all about the good vibes and the fun times.
In the process, we’ve forgotten that what might be “fun” for us could be seriously problematic (or downright wrong) to other members of the community.
We cry foul when somebody makes something “too political”. And completely ignore the fact that critique and discourse is 100% necessary for the improvement of the narratives we consume.
Besides: the scary truth of the matter is, many of the geeks who insist that something is “too political” or “too controversial” are simply threatened by their perceived loss of privilege or relevance.
Don’t you find it telling that it is almost always white male geeks who get upset at reboots of stories where the formerly male characters are now female? Isn’t it also telling that this same demographic cries foul and say it’s all “shallow fanservice” when queer characters become front and center?
Let’s also not forget the weird upset that comes from certain facets of the Internet when someone not!white takes center stage in a movie. As if white male actors haven’t already dominated Hollywood since time immemorial. There’s also the ridicule that comes whenever people rightfully protest over the preference for white, straight actors in roles that could have gone to someone more suited by nature of their race, or their gender.
The fiction we watch and read defines so much of who we are.
They also have the potential to show us better worlds, and show us how to keep up the good fight in our OWN worlds. If we keep ignoring this fact, and getting upset at stories that show something different or uncomfortable compared to what we believe to be true, we’re going to hurt ourselves and other people around us in the long run.
Why do you think Duterte rose to power? There are a lot of reasons for this. But I’ll focus on the two that are most relevant to this discussion.
One: Because people insisted that all of those stories about strong men and dictators were “just stories”.
Two: Because some fictional narratives have uncritically pushed for the idea that strong men – leaders like Duterte, like Trump, and like Hitler from over fifty years ago – are the best leaders we could hope for.
By burying our heads in the sand, or writing off dangerous geek behavior as something we can’t do anything about, we are ultimately creating communities that are okay with upholding status quos that ultimately exclude anyone and anything that “does not belong”.
Geeks have a responsibility to be better human beings. Geek bloggers and geek community leaders have an even bigger one.
So now that you all know where I stand when it comes to fandom and fan responsibility, I’ll go into the real reason why I wrote all of this. I want everyone on my side of the fence – the geek media coverage side, the blogger side, the community leader side – to step the hell up.
Last July 15, Play Without Apology hosted LacunaCon 2018 with friends from Gamers & GMs Philippines. Our goal was simple: We wanted to show everyone that female and queer geeks exist. And that we are perfectly capable of running a tabletop RPG session; or speaking with authority on subjects important to fandom.
One of the panels we put together was Safe Spaces 101, where me, Noey from the PWOA front, Sin from Tadhana, and Jammi from the usual suspects of Philippine Tabletop rambled for a good 2:30 hours about how to make the hobby a safer space.
The response was overwhelming, both for the panel and for the entire convention. During and after the event, we all received messages expressing their gratitude for setting the convention up. For sharing our experiences in the hopes of helping other people like us.
“Isn’t this alienating the straight male audience?”
“I respect women anyway. We don’t need a convention for them.”
Both of those statements are ones I will not even honor with a response here.
Let’s take a look at the geek coverage and blog front.
Many of us view mainstream media with disdain whenever they “dare” to talk about the things that we love.
Sure, let’s be real here: they DO get fandom and geekiness grossly wrong a lot of the time. Still, the hypocrisy is real. We laugh when someone “from the outside” tries to talk about something they know next to nothing about. But if you look at the articles that many of us produce… pot, kettle, black, much?
Discussions on bad writing habits and big no-nos like plagiarism and not bothering to research can be tackled another time. The biggest issue for me on the geek blogger front is that we’re taking our toxic “fun at all costs” approach unto our platforms. For shits and giggles, for clicks and hits, a lot of us post our hot takes on just about everything.
- Hate this-and-that reboot? Shit on it and get your followers to do the same; never mind that you might not even be the target audience.
- Wish to fap unapologetically to “hot” cosplayers, actresses, models? Fill your Facebook Page with it, with crude copy like “the 3 o’clock habit”.
- Think the latest series is some sort of conspiracy against straight men like yourself? Forget research on feminism. They’re all “SJWs” anyway, aren’t they?
Go write a thing, go yell with your audience. It’s all good in the hood. Besides, the more you post, the more someone might notice you and fork over some of those delicious freebies.
If this wasn’t already bad enough, let’s add the fact that we take offense when we’re being called out.
Legitimate criticism and discourse in fandom is too often seen as a personal attack, and this perception carries over into the geek blogs. I’ve seen several known bloggers on my end completely flip out at people on Facebook, ridiculing the posters for pointing out things like factual errors on their posts. I’ve also seen known bloggers continuously shit on each other or anyone who has “challenged” them, by turning them into punchlines or blind items on their social media platforms; or siccing their followers on their “enemies”.
We clamor for some sort of recognition in the same way that professional journalists are recognized. Yet 9 out of every 10 of us insist on acting like big babies.
Our reliance on our often shitty personal opinions to sell ourselves is, I feel, the real reason why nobody takes us seriously. It’s also poisoning our own damned well. How can other fans feel safe and welcome in their spaces when their fellow geeks act like they do not matter?
Our platforms have the potential to be spaces where we can discuss what we love in a nuanced, critical fashion.
…Or, if we feel like we can’t go that far, a place to show that we are connected to the rest of the world and aware of what is going on.
Taking a stand as geeks can be incredibly inspiring. On top of showing other fans that we categorically condemn evil and injustice in all its forms. We can even use our geekiness to raise money for a good cause, in the same way that Gamers & GMs Philippines set up Gaming for Goodness for schools affected by the eruption of Mount Mayon. Curious Chimeras, their partners in Singapore, followed suit with an amazing event of their own.
The majority of us are way behind on the trend here.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary in the many YouTube channels and bigger geek-oriented blogs based in other countries, we still shy away from putting “politics” into our fandoms, and refuse to be critical both about our objects of adoration and about the larger world around us.
Apathy, fluff, and shallowness can only sell for so long. “Controversy” and shit-stirring might give your platform a whole lot of attention; but all it will do is wreck the community.
Gone are the days where we can separate our fannishness and geeky things from the real world. Hell, maybe we should not have ever insisted, wholesale, on fandom and fan practices as escapism.
“With great power comes great responsibility” is everyone’s favorite quote – when they’re fanjizzing over Spider-Man and superhero comics. We forget that it’s supposed to be a lived reality.
We might not be able to tear town dictators on our own. Nor stop a foreign nation for claiming some of our sovereign territory. Nor bring back the lives of everyone who has been murdered in our own backyard. What we can do now, though, from here until the call to resist is no longer necessary, is fight in the ways we know best.
Put the big boy or girl pants on, everyone.
Take a stand.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this post had an error citing Spiderman instead of Spider-Man. We acknowledge this oversight and have updated the post accordingly, in response to precisely what we’re angry about in this post. #loveandrespect
Real Talk Tuesdays is where we encourage contributors to share their feelings on issues in “the real world”. They may or may not have to do with geeky things. If you stumble across something that you think we’d be interested in, drop us a line!