The most horrifying place to find yourself trapped is an echo chamber
December 11, 2015 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Steven Universe (Previously) is an animated series created by Rebecca Sugar which airs on Cartoon Network. It is known for excellent world building, progressive sensibilities, a heartwarming, genuine sense of humor, and a cast of characters which is deep, complex and diverse. It has received significant critical acclaim and has cultivated a large and diverse collection of fans. The show's fandom has recently experienced controversy when some individuals engaged in a campaign of harassment and bullying that drove a young Steven Universe fan artist named Paige Paz (aka Zamii070) to attempt suicide.

Paige Paz's art was widely criticized for content that was described as fatphobic, transphobic, racist, abelist, and more. Over time, a portion of that deluge of commentary crossed the boundary from criticism to the bullying and harassment which Paz says led to her suicide attempt.

When the news of the incident began to spread within the fandom, it set off a fiery debate about how to balance the need to call out potentially offensive imagery in online spaces with the tendency of individuals to sometimes fall prey to mob like thinking and take things too far. To some observers, it didn't seem like that balance was easy to find. "Either you’re a villain cause you condone offensive drawings or you’re a villain cause you agree with harassment of young artists. There’s no winning."

Co-producer Ian Jones-Quartey, after deleting a less thought out message, may have said it best. "Fanartists can create whatever art they want & everyone has the freedom to criticize it for any reason. However, bullying is not criticism."

Letting Yourself Harass Zamii For Love of Steven Universe: Life Lessons From Going Too Far

An Attempted Suicide Forced a Tumblr Community to Open Its Eyes About Bullying

If you or a loved one are experiencing harassment online, there are resources available to help. Feminist Frequency has recently released an excellent guide to protecting yourself from online threats and harassment. (via) The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts.
posted by Drinky Die (105 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would love to see a discussion of this that is thoughtful and doesn't turn into a kind of anti-SJ/"it's just a circular firing squad" situation. I feel like we've had those conversations here, and I'd love to hear folks talk in more depth.
posted by Frowner at 9:47 AM on December 11, 2015 [24 favorites]


There's criticizing something and saying it's not good, and then there's going and deliberately seeking out someone who makes stuff you think is not good in order to say awful things to them. I think this is part of the problem with Tumblr--not for any "social justice" reason, but because a lot of the fandoms skew so young. I don't think it's a SJ problem so much as a Lord of the Flies sort of problem. Kids get on the right track as far as "X is a bad thing", but they don't have models for how to deal with that constructively. Not that they're all still kids, but that this environment is the one they've grown up with on the internet. They just have anger, and a medium that encourages reblog-first-ask-questions-later. I like Tumblr, but that's one of the ongoing failings.

I wish this stuff teased out better that calling her art fatphobic was not the fundamental problem. It was the leap from "this person produces problematic art" to people sending her messages outright telling her to kill herself and that sort of totally disgusting thing. People who are so eager to jump on the bandwagon that they don't stop and think about what they're doing. When doing that, it doesn't matter what your cause is, and whether it's righteous or not. But Tumblr lacks enough overlap from the more moderate population and the ones who're doing this sort of stuff. I'm not really sure how to fix that. How do you model better behavior for people who have already gotten far enough that they don't want to see it?
posted by Sequence at 10:02 AM on December 11, 2015 [34 favorites]


Of late, I feel like people have learned to speak up about what could be oppressive art, but they haven't thought very hard about what "punching up" and "punching down" is.
posted by ignignokt at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


People are way too fervent and excited about their fandoms. And with social media/networks, crowd/mob psychology kicks in and everyone's emotions are heightened. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. Really bad.
posted by FJT at 10:09 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would love to see a discussion of this that is thoughtful and doesn't turn into a kind of anti-SJ/"it's just a circular firing squad" situation. I feel like we've had those conversations here, and I'd love to hear folks talk in more depth.

Ranting about "SJWs" is never helpful, but it seems somewhat dishonest to close off an aspect of the discussion that's relevant to the situation. The FPP itself brings up how this incident touches on the debate around online "call out" culture, and that's not something unique to the Steven Universe fandom, or even fandom in general.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:11 AM on December 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


Harassment and bullying are unacceptable. Period. Especially if many dozens of people pile on and drive someone to try to commit suicide.

But the controversy itself isn't new. Many, many online and mainstream comics and fanart over the years have included similarly problematic "punching down" content, especially with trans or ethnic/racial stereotypes and slurs. The online comic that comes immediately to my mind as a prominent offender is Sexy Losers, but there are plenty of examples. Some drew more attention and anger than others, depending on the size of their audience.

Long term, there's been a massive decrease in racial and sexist depictions in mainstream media that the masses find acceptable. So that's part of a larger sociopolitical phenomenon.

Tumblr and other social media platforms make it easier for content to go viral -- a boon/curse of that is instant accessibility to content creators. Boon because there are clear benefits to seeing large groups of people condemn hurtful, harmful rhetoric, and to challenging media creators who both use and portray them as acceptable. Curse because... well, look at what happened here. Reasonable levels of anger from those targeted by transphobic, racist or sexist sterotypes is understandable. This wasn't that.
posted by zarq at 10:15 AM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think there is, sometimes, a tendency for people to (figuratively) beat up "safe targets" - Steven Universe fan artists go after of of their own as opposed to getting off Tumblr and doing some actual social justice work. Maybe it's not cool to draw a less-fat (skinny? It's a not exactly a very literal character sketch) Rose Quartz, but does it really merit comment? And even if it does, does it merit much more than a passing comment? I think that people see someone doing something wrong and it suddenly becomes this in-group signifier to participate in the denouncement of it. I think it's not always clear to individuals that bully is going on because their own comments in isolation re just criticism but once there's a bunch of people all doing it it takes on a mob bullying element. I think people need to take the categorical imperative into account sometimes.
posted by GuyZero at 10:17 AM on December 11, 2015 [20 favorites]


There's criticizing something and saying it's not good, and then there's going and deliberately seeking out someone who makes stuff you think is not good in order to say awful things to them.

I would draw the line more precisely between "criticizing the art" and "criticizing the artist" -- "This thing you did is racist" is better than "You're a racist for doing this thing" is better than "I found this years-old tweet from you that's racist."
posted by Etrigan at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think part of the problem is the abstraction of the internet - it makes things hurt more. I remember - although I wasn't there - the year that young woman went to Wiscon on purpose to take photos of fat and body-non-conforming attendees to post on the internet and make fun. It made me so angry that I felt like my head would come off.

When I learned more about how troubled this person was, I started to feel at least a little sorry for her, and that made it better. It was still a horrible thing to do, but once she stopped being a figure of abstract evil (and that's a much more unambiguously evil thing to do than drawing some characters in poorly-chosen ways) I felt less hurt, anger and helplessness. I didn't feel like I was under attack by the world, just by one rather sad, not-too-bright young woman with an unhappy history.

I think that on tumblr, it can feel like a person - who is just one person, with their own complexities - somehow represents the whole world on the attack, and I think this powers the urge to hit back as hard as you can.

I also wonder whether there's not a key-person effect in these mobbing situations - if what happens is that there are a few people who are [in a bad place, or intrinsically unable to empathize, or people who actively like hurting others] and they provide implicit "permission" and "moral leadership" for others who would not act that way off their own bat.
posted by Frowner at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2015 [19 favorites]


From an outsider's perspective, the fascinating thing about this is that Steven Universe the show goes out of its way to be inclusive and sensitive. The lead is a chubby and compassionate boy who wields protective powers (shields and healing) rather than offensive ones, and is about as far from the Heroic Jock archetype as one can get. The supporting cast is predominantly female, skin colors and body types and personalities are quite varied, and there's even a clearly-depicted female-female romantic relationship.

Perhaps it's because such a show IS rare on television that some of those who identify with it were fiercely overprotective to a very clear fault.
posted by delfin at 10:22 AM on December 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


I am popping in to be conspicuously non-absent in order to say it's bad to drive someone to suicide because she didn't draw someone as plump as one would like
posted by Greg Nog at 10:25 AM on December 11, 2015 [30 favorites]


Every so often I think "Fandom must be nice! Talking about shared interests with people who have the same enthusiasm level".
posted by selfnoise at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I'm sick of entire fanbases being blamed for things individuals within them do.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2015 [21 favorites]


Is age a factor here? There's something so high school about the way people were ganging up on her, and she herself is so young. Do fandoms that skew older have the same issues?
posted by mittens at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


While reading up on this last week, I learned about the phenomenon of "receipt blogs", which are blogs which catalogue every problematic thing said/written/done by a person.

The most famous receipt blog is Your Fave Is Problematic, which "monitors" celebrities so you can see all the things that Azealia Banks or Andrew Hussie has said that (this author thinks) they probably ought to be ashamed of. I remember discovering this blog in isolation, and feeling a discomfort that it existed, while simultaneously appreciating its deep-linking of material; I think my discomfort came from how this blog is relying on a single person's interpretation of problematic. Even if I agree with that interpretation 90% of the time, the 10% that I'd disagree with is still supporting a (theoretically well-intentioned) attempt to amass hatred towards an individual. I didn't know at the time that it was part of a greater phenomenon.

Some of these receipt blogs target individuals. One of them was created specifically to monitor Paz. It's been made private, but from what I gather it responded to her suicide note itself by piling on even more antagonism and hatred. (I found snippets but not entire posts; otherwise I'd link.)

I think it's pretty self-evidently awful that these "justice" techniques are being used to target young girls. I am generally on board with social justice as a thing, generally think of SJW as having positive connotations, etc etc, but this is seriously screwed up.
posted by rorgy at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2015 [27 favorites]


There's a very specific part of callout culture which I find gross. It's the "collect and maintain evidence of the problems" thing. It probably begins as a helpful service ("hey just to warn you if you don't like X this thing has X so maybe avoid X!") that I appreciate in the abstract... but quickly becomes a sort of focused hate-following which centers on the personality instead of work*. I've seen "Dan Savage is problematic" threads devolve into people calling for his death. When it gets to that level, it's basically sustained, group hatewank.

Tumblr's Reblogs system makes this worse: if a post of someone's failings is updated with new info which may mitigate things (e.g. an apology, new/exculpatory information, a retraction), the new version is only distributed if someone reblogs the new, updated version. Otherwise, reblogs of reblogs of reblogs of the original, old version will continue to circulate.

And I'm not even saying this is always bad--if someone is super shitty about trans issues (or race or anything else), it's 100% good and understandable to want to know and want to avoid them or discussion of them. But there's this very disturbing tendency for people to basically stalk people online so they can say "I WILL DISCOVER EVERYTHING THIS PERSON HAS EVER DONE AND CURATE A LIST OF THEIR SINS," like they're vetting a political candidate. And because these lists are usually presented without any chronology, all problematic things are presented as being equal and part of a person's permanent record. You can't be a damn fool at 19 without getting death threats about it at 29.

I'm personally not sure where to draw the line between appreciating art while renouncing the artist or renouncing the art because of the behaviours of the artist. It's something I struggle with very often.

*There's this grey area where people are known for, and promote, their personalities, cf. reality TV and people like Rousey, but I'm more talking about artists/authors/"creatives" who happen to have an online presence.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


Lots of folks are going to say "criticism is necessary and helpful, bullying is bad," but I don't think that line is of any use in this situation. I think *everyone* would agree with that statement, actually.

The problem is that people have a really hard time drawing the line between criticism and bullying, both from the giving and the receiving side. Imagine a spectrum:

|----"good criticism"-----"neutral criticism"-----"hurtful criticism"-----"bullying"---|

I think that it's really hard to place an individual comment on the spectrum, especially when the criticism is around a perceived lack of compassion. I think that a comment that was coming from a trusted friend would end up on the left side, while a word-for-word identical comment from someone I thought disliked me would be heard far more towards the "hurtful" side. In fact, I think that most of where someone's comments are placed on the scale has to do with the way that the hearer of the criticism feels about the criticizer.

The problem with tumblr/internet fandom is that it's really really hard to have that durable feeling that you're surrounded with friends who really have your best interests at heart. When I'm in a group online and I agree with everyone, then it feels like we're all friends. The friendship is expressed and enacted through affirmation and positive comments. But if most of the commentary is negative, then I don't feel like I'm surrounded by friends who are looking out for my interests; I feel like I'm "the enemy," and the entire flavor of the social group changes. Calling someone out is really really difficult to do face to face, and it's tricky to call someone out irl without them feeling attacked- doing it online, through text, and the whole situation can feel very hostile for the recipient of the commentary, even though the group feels like they're on the "good criticism" side of things.

This is made doubly worse when the criticism is "you're not compassionate" or "you're x-phobic." It's really really hard to bring someone's attention to areas where they have compassion blinders on, and I think it only works in trusted, safe relationships. And fandom feels trusted and safe, but that safety is only durable so long as you're in the in group.

Sigh.
posted by DGStieber at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


In a bullying situation like this, it only takes a few to

a. pull in those who might not otherwise lash out and
b. chase off people who don't act like that.

Leaving nothing but the assholes and their victims.

Much like comments sections.
posted by emjaybee at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fan art seems like the equivalent of fanfic or slash, so the original reaction seems especially bizarre to me. I'm not deep in these circles, but much of the fan art I've seen from shows I know and like bears only a passing resemblance to the original characters (with major identifying features tweaked as described in some of the links above) -- presumably because what's the fun of literally copying something line for line off a screen?
posted by AndrewInDC at 10:39 AM on December 11, 2015


Do fandoms that skew older have the same issues?

Gamer fandoms skew older, and are just as fervent and definitely more vicious. So I'm not sure if age is the deciding factor.
posted by FJT at 10:39 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sick of entire fanbases being blamed for things individuals within them do.

I don't think that's what's going on here. I don't see anyone arguing that Steven Universe fandom is full of violent maniacs, or somehow uniquely prone to bullying and harassment.

What's being raised is the question of whether callout culture which pervades many fandoms has problems in the way it manifests. One of the difficulties in trying to discuss this is that often when you try to talk about how callout culture is enacted, you are often accused of being against the very concept of calling people out for being problematic, or the concept of "problematic" itself.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:39 AM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Every so often I think "Fandom must be nice! Talking about shared interests with people who have the same enthusiasm level".

I don't think this story is particularly representative of most Steven Universe fans, is the thing. It's just that

Fandom Member Driven To Attempt Suicide

is a much sexier headline than 40000 headlines reading

Fandom Member Finds Solace Among Other People Online Because Maybe They Don't Have A Lot Of Other People IRL Who Share Their Interests So They Fall Into Little Communities Of Folks Who Like To Draw And Write And Joke And Generally Be Indoor Kids About A Bunch Of Fictional Characters
posted by Greg Nog at 10:39 AM on December 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I'm sick of entire fanbases being blamed for things individuals within them do.

Yeah, I said word for word that exact sentence when I first heard about this story. I am a member of some much maligned fanbases. It gets really old to have to respond to criticisms about things you have nothing to do with.

I don't really think fandom is the issue here. The objections about the content weren't primarily that it's inaccurate, but that it's inaccurate in a way that that is harmful to less privileged groups. It's not like a Trekkie freaking out about some technical detail in the script being wrong. When I think of problematic fanbase behavior I think of stuff like Penn State where the purity of the object of the fandom was defended despite overwhelming evidence of a horrible problem. That isn't the main reason the criticism in this story started. If defending the purity of the show itself was an issue, I think it was a side one.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:41 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do fandoms that skew older have the same issues?

I think it's more general, really: groups and group dynamics that skew older are going to see different levels of this kind of behavior. The relationship between the idea of fandoms and contemporary social media and blogs is an easy one to point to but it feels like this is, as a couple folks have suggested above already, mostly a "people who are young and aren't thinking about the consequences of their individual and group behavior" thing that, in this case, happens to have landed specifically in a sphere of SU fans.

Anybody's whose spent a while on the internet has seen bad, out-of-control dynamics happen in a lot of different forms and contexts over the years; the commonality isn't subject matter but system/network effects and some combination of social and technological blindspots that facilitate crappy or unempathetic outcomes. You can go back to Star Wars Kid or the rise of "FAIL!" culture as resonant points of comparison.
posted by cortex at 10:42 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Tumblr's reblogging system in general is one of the worst things on the web, period. I was an early Tumblr user (2006, I think? pre-reblogs, definitely), and the site went virtually overnight from being a pretty great, calm, and friendly way to share things with a self-created community to being virtually unreadable outside of popcorn-munching entertainment, nearly as bad as Reddit. I think that the digital systems that enable a community are vitally important to how that community winds up developing.

Tumblr's culture, partly thanks to reblogging, can look innocuous, because unlike Reddit there's no aggregation of "here is the community awfulness on display", but posts can turn into an excuse to reblog-chain hammer somebody into oblivion. Unless you're following the people doing the harm you'd never notice it, not even by looking at the main post itself. But the poster can see it. It's hard to see the clique lines, in other words, unless they're directly targeting you, or unless you go out of your way to track them down.

(That's not even getting into how trivially easy it is to reblog a person, rewrite their post entirely, and share it to your followers under the pretense that they're the ones who wrote it originally. That can be employed to nasty effect.)
posted by rorgy at 10:45 AM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Keep in mind that the so-called "problematic art" here was a thin drawing of a fat character. We're not talking about harassing someone who was making racist art or adding swastikas. I question the idea that art can be problematic in the first place--what's offensive to some, like Piss Christ or Salvador Dali's Hitler Masturbating (seriously), can be meaningful to others--but nothing that this artist did was worthy of criticism, let alone personal bullying.
posted by Rangi at 10:47 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that the so-called "problematic art" here was a thin drawing of a fat character. We're not talking about harassing someone who was making racist art or adding swastikas.

Fifty years ago, what we think of today as "racist art" would have been described by much of mainstream society as "so-called 'problematic art'". Your level of offense shouldn't necessarily be everyone's.
posted by Etrigan at 10:48 AM on December 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


But beyond that, there's skew and then there's specific instances. And one of the challenging things in framing this stuff is recognizing that (a) within-group variation basically always trumps inter-group variation, and (b) outliers exist and outliers get attention for being outliers.

On the first point, over a long enough timeline you're gonna get exceptionally shitty behavior from some actor or actors inside of both of a pair of groups even if one skews younger/older/whatever than the other. So there's a "well, young people make this mistake more easily" aspect that may have merit to it but doesn't mean that this is a thing that happens only with young people or only because of youngness.

On the second point, what Greg Nog said and a couple others have suggested: nobody stands up and takes notice because some fans of something chilled out and talked about the thing they liked, generally speaking. A wee fraction of that activity might get some positive notice outside of the fan group, but most of it is just literally unremarkable group behavior. But bad shit makes for attention, whether it's journo thinkpieces or internet muckracking or See I Told You-flavored grudge-blogging or so on.
posted by cortex at 10:51 AM on December 11, 2015


nothing that this artist did was worthy of criticism, let alone personal bullying.

Of course it's worthy of criticism; literally all art is worthy of criticism.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:51 AM on December 11, 2015 [19 favorites]


I question the idea that art can be problematic in the first place--what's offensive to some, like Piss Christ or Salvador Dali's Hitler Masturbating (seriously), can be meaningful to others

Ennnnnnnhhhhhh. There's a difference between creating art that's intended to be provocative and creating art that exists either to hurt/troll people or to simply endorse a malignant worldview. (Piss Christ I feel toes that line, but shakespeherian's defense of it from a previous thread is pretty brilliant.)

Keep in mind that the so-called "problematic art" here was a thin drawing of a fat character. We're not talking about harassing someone who was making racist art or adding swastikas.

Steven Universe is one of the few shows to depict characters with non-"normative" body types without feeling the need to comment on their bodies. Its characters are tall, squat, fat, skinny, butch, femme, without it ever seeming to be a big deal. Moreover, Rose Quartz is celebrated as an utterly gorgeous woman(/alien WHATEVER) despite being physically enormous.

I don't think that justifies the hatred here, but fatphobia and body shaming is absolutely a thing, Steven Universe's body positivity is part of what makes it as delightful as it is, and I understand why its fans would get fiercely defensive of Rose's body types, even as I think that this is about four orders of magnitude more awful of a response than I would ever try to justify.
posted by rorgy at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I would draw the line more precisely between "criticizing the art" and "criticizing the artist" -- "This thing you did is racist" is better than "You're a racist for doing this thing" is better than "I found this years-old tweet from you that's racist."

And the example in question isn't even this, is the thing. It's "you're a racist for doing this thing and because of that I hope you die and actually you should go kill yourself right now". I'm not even saying that as hyperbole. That's literally the sort of thing people are saying. Clearly it started with the callouts about the art being racist, but the problem isn't whether the art or the artist is racist. (I think there's some serious implications of racism in the fact that everybody seems to have assumed the artist is a white girl, and the last name suggests she's Hispanic.) The callout culture may or may not be healthy, but you don't have to decide exactly where THAT line is to figure out that "telling people you hope they die" is ALWAYS on the other side of the line.
posted by Sequence at 10:54 AM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think it's not a fandom problem, and not a social justice problem, and not even an age problem, but a wider internet culture thing.

A few weeks ago I made a comment on a moderated blog. Another commenter (who I don't know) perceived malicious intent where there was none, and called me out. Within minutes a handful of other people I have never interacted with jumped in with virtual pitchforks and torches and described -- on the basis of some other stranger's reaction to what seemed like a fairly neutral post -- my ignorance, the size of my ego, and other things. Just out of nowhere. It wasn't drive-me-to-suicide level bullying by any means, but it was distinctly creepy, and I killed my account at that blog.

I've seen similar things happen on the private forum of a supposedly close-knit religious community. And I think it's what happened with GamerGate and what's going on with Trump. After that first person throws the first stone a bunch of other people start chucking things too at who they now perceive to be a valid target.
posted by Foosnark at 10:54 AM on December 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I'm a lefty SJW who wants nothing to do with the SJ side of Tumblr. My breaking point was the blogger that text-posted "Don't be cis." When she got some pushback, she amended it to "It's okay for you to be cis because you're a girl."

Oh, and the vegan that claimed that she was triggered by photos of chicken sandwiches because it was just like seeing photos of murdered family members.

I'll stick to the fashion and cute animal picture side of Tumblr from now on, thank you.

The archive of the anti-Zamii Tumblr does highlight a few things that are a tad problematic, but much of it is ludicrous nitpickery. Like claiming that this is sexualizing underaged characters. They're having fun at the beach, FFS!

(That's not even getting into how trivially easy it is to reblog a person, rewrite their post entirely, and share it to your followers under the pretense that they're the ones who wrote it originally. That can be employed to nasty effect.)

That's been fixed. Probably because of an incident that happened to John Green, who is, of course, one of the most popular Tumblrers ever. A post of his was altered into a graphic little tale about fellatio.
posted by LindsayIrene at 10:58 AM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Some SU fans are criticizing show creator Rebecca Sugar for drawing child porn because she drew a cartoon where Ed and Edd from Ed, Edd, and Eddy have sex with each other.

I... I got nothin'.
posted by rorgy at 11:01 AM on December 11, 2015


Well, that is disgusting. Ed, Edd, and Eddy was one of Cartoon Network's worst shows. Poor taste, Rebecca.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:02 AM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


YOU TAKE THAT BACK, YOU SWINE
posted by rorgy at 11:05 AM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Of course it's worthy of criticism; literally all art is worthy of criticism.

Yes, I meant personal criticism. Looks like others have already distinguished between criticizing the art and the artist.
posted by Rangi at 11:06 AM on December 11, 2015


Yeah, this isn't a fandom-specific thing, it's just an internet thing. By which I mean: there has always been fandom and/or internet bullying/harassment/pile-ons. What's relatively new is using the tools and language of callout culture to do it, and the way tumblr works as a platform exacerbates the problem. When this kind of thing happened on LJ-based fandom, it was limited by the way the platform worked: friends lists, being able to friends-lock entries, no reblogs, only links to posts, the possibility of comment moderation, etc. With the way tumblr works, there's no real way to have a conversation, and there's honestly no easy way to follow an explosion of wank.

I have to admit, I'm uncomfortable with it. Not to be a fandom granny at the ripe old age of 27, but back in the day, if you had a different main ship than someone or a different interpretation of a character, you might get into raging arguments with fellow fans about it that could get pretty over the top and personal, but going to the social justice or callout well was fairly limited to stuff that was really egregious. Now it seems like it's the first resort in a way that doesn't seem super helpful to fandom or social justice discourse.

Like, I'm trying to think of how the ship wars of Harry Potter fandom or the Ray Wars of due South fandom would go in the present day, and...it would not be pretty. HP fandom was big on textual analysis/interpretation, and I can't help but feel that if the ship wars were going on on Tumblr now, they'd skip right past "I think this foreshadows Harry/Ginny" to "you're a misogynist if you don't ship Harry/Hermione" or whatever. And y'all, HP fandom of yore was more than wanky enough as it was.
posted by yasaman at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Piss Christ I feel toes that line, but shakespeherian's defense of it from a previous thread is pretty brilliant.)

I saved someone's memorable explanation of it (long time ago, lost the source):
The more I think of it the more brilliant Serrano’s Piss Christ is, and the reaction was the intentional and load-bearing element of the statement.

Because if the objection is “hey, that’s our respected and beloved savior, only you’ve degraded him by way of the lowest and most bestial human physicality”

then the correct response is

“wait, how else had you been reading the crucifix?”
posted by Rangi at 11:10 AM on December 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


nothing that this artist did was worthy of criticism

The trouble with the thin drawing is that it's a bit like - in a weaker form because it's just one thing and it's a fan production - someone saying "what we really need is art like David Wojnarowicz's paintings about gay men and AIDS...but featuring healthy straight people!@" or "If only we had a version of Doris Lessing's feminist classic The Golden Notebook...but for men!" It's taking something whose explicit purpose is to center people who are usually despised, ignored or marginalized and saying "well, this plot is cute and all, but it would be really good if it were about normal people, not you weirdos with your marginalized identities". It's just kind of....dickish, is what I'm saying.

Pretending that the social meaning of the art doesn't count and therefore there's no moral meaning to how people use the art is silly. Social meaning changes over time - it might be that in twenty years, when there's better media representation, it won't really matter.

I am of the opinion that there's a lot of fanart out there, people change, life's too short, etc, and that anything more than saying "hey, have you noticed that you are doing [X]" to your average non-superstar fan artist is way too much emotional engagement. I mean, we've all done moderately thoughtless things that seemed like a good idea at the time, or thought back years later on something moderately thoughtless and only then realized that it was thoughtless.
posted by Frowner at 11:12 AM on December 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


And it's not just dickish; it also eviscerates the art. It assumes that having, for instance, paintings that center gay men doesn't mean anything, that the paintings are just random collections of images.
posted by Frowner at 11:15 AM on December 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think that stuff like Harry/Ginny versus Harry/Hermione really implicates that sort of thing, though. The stuff that tends to get heavily called out now, well, I do remember people pointing out that teacher/student HP pairings were, hey, depicting relationships that were implicitly abusive. Jessica Jones is a show that's really explicitly about PTSD in the aftermath of sexual assault; posting fic or art featuring a woman and her canonical rapist is something that you should maybe not do where it might turn out that your audience includes women who are survivors of sexual assault or abusive relationships. Not fundamentally that it's wrong if you like fictionally nonconsensual situations in your porn, but that a lot of people haven't shown an indication that they actually understand why it's really awful to see stuff like that showing up out of nowhere.

But that's at the point of, like, it's reasonable to mention it to someone you follow that it at least be tagged and point out why it's a problem. People need to learn where the border is between "yes by all means this is worth saying something about to someone you follow who either creates or regularly reblogs stuff you have a problem with" versus "yes by all means it is worth sending threatening messages to total strangers about".
posted by Sequence at 11:17 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Learning about this whole kerfuffle has exposed me to a lot of people who identify themselves as social justice warriors or leftists, yet who seem to have nothing to say about the material conditions of society.

"Leftists in the academy have permitted cultural politics to supplant real politics, and have collaborated with the Right in making cultural issues central to public debate." Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country, p. 14 (1997).

Rorty was writing before a lot of these people were born. Should we be surprised to see such vitriol about the way cartoon characters are drawn, when, for many ppl in SU fandom's lifetime, names and labels and art and representation have been the most central political topic of their lifetimes?

Yes, bullying and suicide and calling someone a pedophile for drawing kids at the beach are really extreme, but what else have these kids known?
posted by DGStieber at 11:18 AM on December 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


in a weaker form because it's just one thing and it's a fan production

I think this is a key difference, though. It's one thing if, say, Hollywood decided to make a live-action Steven Universe film with thin white actors. That would be abusing their power to hide the original diverse cartoon and promote a "normalized" version. But an individual fan, making art for themselves and their followers, isn't trying to shift overall public perception one way or the other. And them publishing their own art does not detract from the original.
posted by Rangi at 11:18 AM on December 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


That would be abusing their power to hide the original diverse cartoon and promote a "normalized" version

Yes! Two key elements to this are power and erasure. A powerful person using their power to overwrite the previous depiction (*cough* avatar movie *cough*) is a different class of thing than a powerless fan making something that even most other fans will never see.
posted by DGStieber at 11:22 AM on December 11, 2015 [8 favorites]



I think this is a key difference, though. It's one thing if, say, Hollywood decided to make a live-action Steven Universe film with thin white actors. That would be abusing their power to hide the original diverse cartoon and promote a "normalized" version. But an individual fan, making art for themselves and their followers, isn't trying to shift overall public perception one way or the other. And them publishing their own art does not detract from the original.


It's still doing something kind of less-great, though....but I do agree there's a big difference between one drawing [or a set of drawings] done by one person on an amateur basis in a sea of other images and something that has a lot of cultural power. You can't really say "this thing is so very bad that it deserves to be called out in the strongest terms possible and the person deserves awful consequences" over this kind of thing [as opposed to someone who is avowedly racist, etc] when you're talking about someone who is an outlier and an amateur in one fandom.


Learning about this whole kerfuffle has exposed me to a lot of people who identify themselves as social justice warriors or leftists, yet who seem to have nothing to say about the material conditions of society.


A data point: many of the people I know who actually, like, do things in the real world are also active on tumblr, some in fandoms. This idea that because a young person spends some of their free time on the internet talking about cartoons they therefore do and think nothing else at all is just confusing to me.
posted by Frowner at 11:26 AM on December 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


Learning about this whole kerfuffle has exposed me to a lot of people who identify themselves as social justice warriors or leftists, yet who seem to have nothing to say about the material conditions of society.

Is there a convenient name for this group of people? The ones who use the identifiers and jargon of leftists and social justice warriors, but in practice just treat "privilege" like a zero-sum thing and use it as an excuse to harass people? (And, as a corollary, fight over which of themselves is least privileged.)

"SJW" is unusable; it's way too broad and marks the speaker as a certain kind of right-wing troll. But I think his group-yet-to-be-named is an identifiable demographic, at least as much as Gamergaters or Sad Puppies or their ilk, and deserves to be clearly delineated from sane leftists just as the Gaters are separate from sane rightists. (Yes, I know: "What sane rightists?")
posted by Rangi at 11:29 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think there is any word you could make up for it the trolls would not appropriate.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:33 AM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


this sort of thing has always happened (see some vegans saying you can't eat meat and be a feminist, or terfs, or anti-racists that are pro-sexism) and trying to compare it to an organized for the purpose of harassment group like gamergate doesn't seem to track.
posted by nadawi at 11:34 AM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think part of the problem with these kinds of situations is that “this piece of art you did is problematic/troubling because [reasons]” very easily begins to morph into “literally every single thing you do is worthy of scorn because I have decided you are Bad and everything you do is Bad,” especially with a group of younger people involved.

I mean, the Daily Dot article shows one of the artist’s drawings where Rose Quartz was slimmed down, and it had negative comments. But then it shows the subsequent drawing of just Rose Quartz’s head, with lots of abundant curls. No body in the picture, just her smiling face. And all the comments on this subsequent picture are just as vitriolic, but because the image doesn’t contain any of the “sins” the artist committed in other works, they’re reduced to saying “you used the clone tool, how pathetic” or “you’re desperate for attention” or other ugly things. If the second image had been posted by a brand new fan artist, people would have either ignored it or liked it or moved on, but because it was posted by a person who people already disliked, it turned into a secondary pile-on.

How does someone who has made problematic art come back from that? In this instance, posting art that lacked the problematic elements wasn’t enough. Her “reputation” was already ruined. That is what makes me nervous on behalf of 13 year olds everywhere. How does a person learn and grow if attempts to do so are met with hostility, and a community that says “you are no longer one of us”?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:34 AM on December 11, 2015 [33 favorites]


Is there a convenient name for this group of people? The ones who use the identifiers and jargon of leftists and social justice warriors, but in practice just treat "privilege" like a zero-sum thing and use it as an excuse to harass people? (And, as a corollary, fight over which of themselves is least privileged.)

"SJW" is unusable; it's way too broad and marks the speaker as a certain kind of right-wing troll. But I think his group-yet-to-be-named is an identifiable demographic, at least as much as Gamergaters or Sad Puppies or their ilk, and deserves to be clearly delineated from sane leftists just as the Gaters are separate from sane rightists. (Yes, I know: "What sane rightists?")


Obviously, there are plenty of mere liberals who pass for radicals because they use academic or academic-sounding jargon to advance highly individualistic politics, but they don't form a united front convened for a single purpose the way those who belong to Gamergate, the Sad Puppies, etc., do.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:43 AM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


, they’re reduced to saying “you used the clone tool, how pathetic” or “you’re desperate for attention” or other ugly things.

They also commented on Connie's nose being drawn smaller and I don't even know what to think about that. It's not great but it's not exactly earth-shattering either? I'm not sure if Connie is exactly defined by her nose.
posted by GuyZero at 11:44 AM on December 11, 2015


Is there a convenient name for this group of people? The ones who use the identifiers and jargon of leftists and social justice warriors, but in practice just treat "privilege" like a zero-sum thing and use it as an excuse to harass people? (And, as a corollary, fight over which of themselves is least privileged.)

I call this 'asshole-seeking'. Basically, in any forum that has rules of order, assholes will seek out the scenario and counterparty that allows them to be an asshole without running afoul of explicit or implicit boundaries. The tighter the moderation net, the more intense the assholery that is emitted when the asshole finds a permitted target.
posted by selfnoise at 11:51 AM on December 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think part of the problem with these kinds of situations is that “this piece of art you did is problematic/troubling because [reasons]” very easily begins to morph into “literally every single thing you do is worthy of scorn because I have decided you are Bad and everything you do is Bad,”

Yes, I think this is what's happened. It's about human nature. It's combination of black and white thinking (everyone is either An Ally or An Enemy), and the really visceral adrenaline rush that comes from getting a reaction out of others, which causes people to bully those who are easy targets, those who react, those who can't fight back. I think these ways of thinking are common among young people, but not exclusive to young people. It's on all of us to recognize when we're espousing them ourselves and deliberately choose to be better than that.

Social justice is just a convenient conveyance method in this case and nothing more, because within some fandom communities, talking about identity and oppression is becoming more popular, which is a good thing, and can be seen as an easy way to gain attention and followers, which is a good thing unless it isn't (see also: mob mentality). I think that's also how you end up with people saying things they don't even really understand, like "it's okay to be cis* if you're a girl" in LindsayIrene's example above.

Is there a convenient name for this group of people?

Rangi, I did used to see "SJW" used in social justice-oriented fandom communities to refer to this type of bullying behavior before MRAs and bigots stole this term from us and used it against us, but at this point I agree that there's no way for the term to be used or to create any others that doesn't give the jerks more ammo. There are a lot of people who have something to gain from representing all social justice-oriented fans as being the same as the people who bullied this young woman. And I really appreciate the level of nuance in this discussion and the fact that folks here on MeFi haven't jumped to blame this on Political Correctness Gone Mad! which seems to be a popular interpretation elsewhere.

As for me, as a fanwork creator, I personally would find it really helpful if someone pointed out that something I created made them uncomfortable and would welcome discussion. Reading criticism of how fandom has historically handled LGBTQ issues has changed the way I personally write, and I consider that a net good. (Happy to talk more about this elsewhere, but it's not germane to the thread.) I appreciate everyone who has made it extremely clear that there are ways to express a desire to see more diverse identities represented in fanworks without resorting to bullying. It should be obvious that there's a difference, but alas, it isn't to everyone.
posted by capricorn at 11:53 AM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't think that stuff like Harry/Ginny versus Harry/Hermione really implicates that sort of thing, though.

I don't think it does either. What I meant was, with the way fandom frequently works on tumblr, there are a lot of fans who would go straight to a social justice-centered critique of a text/pairing/character where it's not necessarily warranted, as a way to strengthen their position and de facto win the argument.

So instead of just saying, "oh, I don't think the text supports this pairing/reading for these reasons" or "I prefer this pairing/reading for such and such personal reasons," you get "this pairing/reading is the best/only reading because your reading is -ist in some way and you should feel bad."
posted by yasaman at 11:56 AM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think some younger communities don't recognize relational aggression as a form of aggression and even think of it as a useful tool for social change, and for various reasons (like the dehumanizing qualities of technology and virtual interaction across networks), this problem is worse on the internet.

Another thing: relationships between people in fandom communities can be treated as parasocial because that's usually what fandom, by definition, is predicated on: you write about your favorite authors and celebrities, you criticize them, you feel connected to them but there's no reciprocal relationship, they probably won't see your work or even know you exist, so it's "safe" and you can pretty much say whatever you want. But when you start using the same social register to address other fans, it can become dangerous: there's no power imbalance, no bubble of celebrity, and your criticism will have a different effect and the repercussions will be much greater. But on the internet, this difference is hard to recognize until it's too late.
posted by thetortoise at 12:05 PM on December 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


I also think there's some tricky stuff about reader standpoint involved in fan works.

Like, yesterday when people were talking about Jessica Jones fan fiction that pairs her with gross creepy dude, several people made the good point that merely seeing the tags on such a story doesn't really tell you anything about the viewpoint of the story or why people want to read it. A survivor might find all such work absolutely traumatic and unbearable; a survivor might write a story with that pairing precisely to work through a bunch of stuff about power and abuse. It's very easy to say - as one of the linked essays in that post did - that the very existence of such kind of fan work is a sign of a moral failing, but that seems to me to totally oversimplify why people read and write.

(Note: I am not especially familiar with this fandom, but I have read both fan fiction and "real" fiction with very dubious pairings/power dynamics that helped me process a lot of stuff and were very thought-provoking. It's not as though "let me tell you a story about a painful and terrible relationship" is a plot device unique to fandom.)

Now, honestly, I don't think there's a "good" reason for someone to make a drawing of a kitsch-stereotyped "native" version of a character, or a "good" reason to whiten a character of color. But I could certainly imagine "good" reasons to complexify or even change some other character identities, or to write stories that have "bad" pairings.

I think that at least sometimes, people read very rigidly, and assume that if the flattest, simplest and least-descriptive statement about a work sounds like it could be bad, then the work itself must be bad, and of course no one could get anything, individually, from reading "bad" works.
posted by Frowner at 12:10 PM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is age a factor here? There's something so high school about the way people were ganging up on her, and she herself is so young. Do fandoms that skew older have the same issues?

this is an observation I have from a friend in an entirely different fandom being harassed, but the key harassers (identified off anon either via coming forward or openly trash-talking on their blogs) were all between 14-16 years old. more interestingly to me, there's a noticeable uptick every single time school is no longer in session.

so yeah. anecdotal but I do tend to think there's a pretty strong age component.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 12:35 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


The breakdown of the private-public distinction is makes it difficult to figure out what is and isn't okay in these kinds of situations.

Someone can have a relatively private intent, and yet very easily have a highly public effect. Our intuitive moral calculus about how far to take criticism of "bad" behavior (and what methods are okay to use to pressure someone to change their "bad" behavior) hasn't quite caught up. Private can become public, and have an unpredictably public effect.

People who make their living off of being in public (Dan Savage) seem like a different case from someone like this who is just fucking around. But the distinction between the two is not nearly as easy to draw as it used to be.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:36 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I remember being in high school and being really hungry for approval in fan communities; like, I translated maybe 30 or 40 volumes of manga, which would be tens of thousands of dollars at anything like a professional translation rate (not that I was good enough to be paid a professional translation rate, but it was certainly a substantial investment of time!)

And fans have always been playing status games and fighting over who's a Big Name Fan and trying to be the best in their own particular niches, but I think it's only in the last few years that being The Most Unproblematic or the quickest to call out other people's social-justice-related failures has turned into a way to get status like writing fic or cosplaying or doing fanart. There's also a lot of well-deserved recognition for good online activism! But I think people -- young people especially -- can be really bad at drawing the lines between useful criticism and performative self-righteous anger that is based mostly in trying to win status points or bully others.
posted by Jeanne at 12:58 PM on December 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


I did used to see "SJW" used in social justice-oriented fandom communities to refer to this type of bullying behavior before MRAs and bigots stole this term from us and used it against us,

Yeah, it was a term of derision, but it was *our* term of derision. I still sort of associate it with a giant sparkly gif of the phrase "THE BURNING TIMES" thanks to an old snarky LJ post from somewhere that stuck in my brain.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:35 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


shakespeherian : I'm sick of entire fanbases being blamed for things individuals within them do.

God, seconded. I've certainly seen more than a little of that in the past....

Interestingly, the Steven Universe subreddit is generally excellent, it has little of the rot of the rest of Reddit.

They also commented on Connie's nose being drawn smaller and I don't even know what to think about that. It's not great but it's not exactly earth-shattering either? I'm not sure if Connie is exactly defined by her nose.

I wonder if that's supposed to be code, or mistaken for code, for something involving Connie's Indian heritage? People draw Bird Mom Pearl with a small nose all the time, even though it's like her most distinguishing feature everywhere outside of the pilot, but because she's a magic space rock no one takes offense?
posted by JHarris at 1:42 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


GuyZero:I think there is, sometimes, a tendency for people to (figuratively) beat up "safe targets" - Steven Universe fan artists go after of of their own as opposed to getting off Tumblr and doing some actual social justice work.

Social justice types on Tumblr are no more immune to the rush of power brought on by piling on someone combined with the cloak of anonymity than the worst shitlords of reddit or 4chan.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:52 PM on December 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


I wonder if that's supposed to be code, or mistaken for code, for something involving Connie's Indian heritage?

Yeah, I guess that's it, but even if it is, it's not like the only marker of her ethnicity or even the most important one. I mean, I guess some Indian people have distinctive noses? I honestly don't know if there are stereotypes associated with noses in India. And like you say fan artists do their thing with all of the characters, to dwell on this seems like they're just looking for something to pick on. I dunno. It's not as if the whole thing somehow makes perfect sense and this is the only odd element of it all.

It's hard to tell whether the victim was picked on for making mistakes or whether innocuous things became mistakes because she was being picked on.
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I don't think it's a SJ problem so much as a Lord of the Flies sort of problem."

Did she kill the pig, drink its blood?

"People are way too fervent and excited about their fandoms. And with social media/networks, crowd/mob psychology kicks in and everyone's emotions are heightened. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. Really bad."

One of the reasons that I've always been ambivalent about fandoms is because I remember that "fan" comes from "fanatic," and while that doesn't describe every fan, it describes enough of them for me to generally prefer an emotional distance.

"And fans have always been playing status games and fighting over who's a Big Name Fan and trying to be the best in their own particular niches, but I think it's only in the last few years that being The Most Unproblematic or the quickest to call out other people's social-justice-related failures has turned into a way to get status like writing fic or cosplaying or doing fanart. There's also a lot of well-deserved recognition for good online activism! But I think people -- young people especially -- can be really bad at drawing the lines between useful criticism and performative self-righteous anger that is based mostly in trying to win status points or bully others."

That's the other thing that I remember about fandoms, especially the kind of nascent internet experience that I had with them — the Comic Book Guy pedantry and status seeking based on obscure knowledge was alienating (even though I love obscure knowledge!) and was one of the things that, in retrospect, has really helped me recognize the limits of shared pop culture reference and appreciation. Like, just because we can both name all the times that Doom Patrol crossed into JLE doesn't mean that we've got a lot else to talk about or that we'll like the same other things or even that we'll get along that well. When I was coming up, there felt like a lot more social segregation, where if you were into Dragonriders, well, you had to hang out with the kids into Xanth because there was nobody else who got it, or if you were into anime there was only one annual screening festival within driving range — the democratization that the internet (and content/audience fracturing) brought has diminished that, while increasing the ability of people from all over to find shared interests, and it seems like either people become more casual in their interaction or they redouble their efforts to become THE MOST FAN of whatever pop culture property they're interested in.
posted by klangklangston at 2:18 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, fandom has always been this way. And I really do mean always - about half the SF luminaries at the time of the first WorldCon boycotted it amidst great anger and rancor over an issue that, when Fred Pohl went to write about the Futurians, he discovered none of the surviving individuals even remembered (and Pohl personally was one of the boycotters

I got involved with fandom about 30 years after that and little had changed. While I avoided all this personally, there was be relentless conflict over seemingly minor issues - a lot of the reason I left this when I left Canada.

Now it's 30 years later and apparently much the same way, except people have gotten much nastier. It makes me sad.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:25 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you want to find examples of teenagers acting badly in online communities, you'll find plenty of them. You'd find them on MySpace when that was popular too, and Geocities and AOL Online before that. Intensely passionate fandoms + teen identity-seeking and validation-seeking is a mix that would predictably cause such situations to occur. I don't find this particularly interesting from a "progressive activism is eating itself" standpoint, because I don't think that's what is happening here. It's pretty much just about young, insecure people, many from troubled or dire backgrounds and who don't feel accepted in their IRL communities, banding together to police the digital spaces where they do "belong" and where they do feel they can exercise some control, with negative results inevitably following when that's taken too far. There are no bad guys here or cautionary tales. You just advocate for systems of moderation and abuse-handling on platforms like this, and urge those companies to take that task as seriously as possible.
posted by naju at 3:19 PM on December 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Despite it stemming from ostensibly noble criticisms, this does all feel a lot like an extreme version of the usual (I'm not sure of a good way to phrase this) easy-target stomping that happens in an out-group hierarchy vacuum. Or in other terms, the no-true-nerd trivia brinkmanship - is it really about proving your knowledge, or is it about finding a tiny difference in a very close group and leveraging it to win points?
posted by lucidium at 3:44 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fifty years ago, what we think of today as "racist art" would have been described by much of mainstream society as "so-called 'problematic art'". Your level of offense shouldn't necessarily be everyone's.

Wait ... so fan art from a teenager innocuously depicting a *fictional character* as thinner than the original artist's depiction may someday be seen as "problematic" as gratuitous Nazi imagery that's intended to offend and/or marginalize others? Thin is offensive now?

Nobody's level of offense should be the same. Still, we're now at a point where it seems like the tripwires that trigger outrage are far more numerous than just a few years ago, and far more sensitive to boot. When a gentle breeze is enough to set one off, the inevitable result is that everybody stands still.
posted by elmwood at 3:52 PM on December 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


I do think that rorgy is right that Steven Universe is a special case because it's so exceptional in terms of representation of bodies and sexualities, and as a fan I've seen the audience start to shift as it's become more and more popular (and I haven't even followed it for that long). I started following the /r/stevenuniverse subreddit after lurking on fanfare posts here and seeing it recommended, and over what seemed like the course of a few months, the community there went from extremely friendly and chill to more fighty. I was suddenly seeing posts arguing that Rose Quartz wasn't fat, just tall, or that Ruby and Sapphire aren't actually a gay couple (and more, that it's annoying tumblryness to see them as at least symbolic for lesbians) because of the intricacies of gem bodily projection and felt pretty instantly tired by it. Like these things are present in the text of the show, and having someone take it away is pretty wearying, like can't we have this one cartoon?

That doesn't justify bullying. But I can see being a teenager and feeling full of righteous indignation about it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:07 PM on December 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Still, we're now at a point where it seems like the tripwires that trigger outrage are far more numerous than just a few years ago, and far more sensitive to boot. When a gentle breeze is enough to set one off, the inevitable result is that everybody stands still.

I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure the fandom is as active as ever. Steven Universe fanart of all sorts continues to be made and shared. Not really anticipating a chilling effect.
posted by naju at 4:15 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thin is offensive now?

When the character was explicitly written and drawn as being a large woman because the show was trying to represent that body type, deliberately drawing the character thinner to make her "more beautiful" is offensive, yes. It's not like the Nazis because nobody's getting murdered for it on a broad scale. But that doesn't mean it's not a problem or that future generations won't think people today are incredibly awful to fat women.

That the art is drawn by a young person who isn't a pro absolutely means that people should cut her some slack and focus on helping people like that to get better, not send them death threats, which is gross and awful. But it is not necessary to say that she never did anything problematic to say that what happened to her was wrong. I've said and done all kinds of problematic things. I probably still will. I'm getting better. Fandom is far from stagnating because fans on Tumblr started talking about this sort of thing. I'm pretty sure Steven Universe as it is exists because fans started talking about this sort of thing. But nobody should be sending death threats because this sort of thing. Anybody who is encouraging someone to kill themselves because they're insufficiently tolerant is kind of the definition of "doing it wrong".
posted by Sequence at 4:23 PM on December 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


When the character was explicitly written and drawn as being a large woman because the show was trying to represent that body type, deliberately drawing the character thinner to make her "more beautiful" is offensive, yes.

Was that why her version was drawn differently though? It looks close enough to me that it may have just been a result of adapting her own style to it. It's not like she turned her into a stereotypical runway model.

One of the things it reminds me of is the discussion of how the 80s My Little Ponies seem to have more meat on their bones than the Friendship is Magic versions. It's true, but I'm pretty sure there was no conscious intention there whatsoever. It was just a style choice. That doesn't mean you don't take note of it, but it wasn't a decision based on the creator thinking thinner is better.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


It looks close enough to me that it may have just been a result of adapting her own style to it. It's not like she turned her into a stereotypical runway model.

Why are Steven and Greg still fat, then?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:52 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


To my eye it looks like she accentuated the curves. That's something often done in art with full figured women but doesn't really translate with chubby boys or men.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:01 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the picture in question, none of her curves (you mean her breasts and butt, right?) are really visible? But her arms, which are just as thick in the actual show as Steven or Greg's, are drawn much thinner?

I'm not trying to get all social justice wizard or anything but there are some weird sexist implicit assumptions going on in that a full figured woman would be drawn to look thin and it's normal/done to enhance her curves (and her sexiness, I'm guessing) but a chubby man can be chubby and look fine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:11 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I just don't see the depiction in the picture as thin, just stylized. I say that as a person who has weighed over 300 pounds for the vast majority of my life. My assumption isn't that men who are drawn chubby look "fine", it's that chubby men are just generally drawn as chubby while women of all body types are massaged into more stereotypically pleasing images. I'm not going to make assumptions about one young female fan artist thinking thinner is more beautiful if that one picture is the primary evidence. It just seems like a leap to assume that intent even if the result can be validly criticized for arriving at that end point for some observers.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:35 PM on December 11, 2015


My assumption isn't that men who are drawn chubby look "fine", it's that chubby men are just generally drawn as chubby while women of all body types are massaged into more stereotypically pleasing images.

This sounds like you are describing the criticism as a defense against the criticism?
posted by shakespeherian at 5:38 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am describing the problem as a societal problem rather than a Zamii070 problem. I don't see the evidence to conclude with confidence her intent was, "deliberately drawing the character thinner to make her 'more beautiful.'" I think she was just trying to draw her. I could be wrong, but regardless, if it is true she is a fat shamer I think the criticism she has received for it has been heard loud and clear by this point.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not trying to jump on the anti-Zamii bandwagon, but a person can still be criticized for participation in systemic problems. Intent is not magical.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:47 PM on December 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


You are 100% correct. It was the part where her intent was described that I felt the criticism was not on totally solid ground. The end result of a work of art is always open to reasonable criticism.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:51 PM on December 11, 2015


Regardless of what anyone thinks about the image, a picture by a fan artist isn't the same as a global advertising campaign and shouldn't be treated as such. And even one advertising campaign isn't the same as countless identical ones over time. I think we're in a weird moment where many young people have enough of a grasp of media literacy to analyze individual works in great detail, especially evaluating them for racism and sexism, but are less aware of mass-media modes of production and don't really have the tools to place that analysis in a larger, proportionate context. This is what I see personally in my job, anyway: kids are ridiculously smart about identifying subtle signs of sexism but they have a surprising lack of cynicism about mass-media properties and don't draw clear distinctions between, say, the Marvel empire and a locally-produced film. This lack of distinction and tendency to treat all the different levels of production as "collapsed," and all images as having equivalent value, has arguably been encouraged by the content producers, and this kind of thinking is more possible when individual small-scale works do go viral.
posted by thetortoise at 5:55 PM on December 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


Might be better to just not get into a super fine parsing of a given drawing, in any case. I don't think anybody here feels like there's even a whisper of a "yeah, but if the drawing was problematic enough, then..." angle to the question of the bad shit that went down here, so it feels like it makes more sense to talk about the larger-scale stuff and the social dynamics and phenomena that inform this stuff in any case.
posted by cortex at 6:00 PM on December 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


(I should add some clarifications to my comment: my job is in children's film, and I hate making "kids these days" generalizations but this is a pattern that I've observed with the more socially-aware plugged-in kids. They're far sharper than my grown self when it comes to understanding what people with a given identity might find offensive and recognizing what good representation looks like, but they struggle with teasing apart the authorial voice in a given work and considering where and how the work was made. So this is something I see as possibly playing a role in this instance, in addition to broader dynamics of bullying and shaming on the internet.)
posted by thetortoise at 6:22 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


(And totally spitballing here, but I wonder if that discrepancy is the result of a loose marriage of reader-response and vaguely cultural studies-based analytical approaches in secondary English classrooms without sufficient grounding in close reading and history, so students drift toward the "relatable" and the "problematic." In addition to the whole internet-changing-content-forever thing. Sorry, just bullshitting here, back to the actual topic.)
posted by thetortoise at 6:42 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Every time there's an example of something like this - and things like this have been happening for a long time, as has been noted in the thread; this is hardly an extreme outlier - discussion inevitably includes what level of response the given example 'deserved'. So in this case, everyone can agree the artist in question didn't deserve the hatred she received, but the response she should have gotten is marked at different levels depending on how problematic her art is considered by each of us.

To me, when call-outs reach the level of being a culture, and it's a big part of the internet now, considering how easy outrage spreads online, the frequency with which it leads to situations like this is important to consider. Because if as a tool they become less about spreading awareness of harmful behaviours or thinking and become more and more a way to justify bullying, to enforce social positioning by pushing Designated Bad People down, then it becomes increasingly commonplace for people to regard callouts and those that make them warily. It doesn't take many bad experiences with them, I've found, to make people doubt the purpose and intentions of any callout they have even the slightest reason to question.

In this way, the language of social justice can be used by people as a new form of Godwin. The easiest way to win an argument (and potentially many future arguments) is to prove your opponent is a Bad Person and therefore Wrong In All Things. But drawing Nazi parallels has been effectively devalued as a tactic from the Usenet days, hence how Godwin's Law is popularly believed to be that the first person to make the Nazi comparison automatically loses the argument, even though that's not actually what it is.
But now, especially in social justice-focussed circles like a lot of Tumblr communities and fandoms in general, you have so many other accusations you can make, like many of the criticisms leveled at Zamii070 - and they have the added bonus of not having to based on how you think about what you're criticising, but how you feel about it, and you can't really say someone's feeling the wrong way about anything.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:34 PM on December 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


What's missing here is the interpersonal reasons behind this. It's been reported that one of the harassers was jealous that Zamii supposedly stole her crush, or something to that effect. And there are accusations that Zamii had completed a commission for someone she loosely referred to as "a friend" who turned out to be a paedophile, therefore she must support child abuse. So it's using SJ language to fulfil a personal vendetta - something I've been a victim of and thus am very familiar with.

I also noticed the Zamii harassers jumping onto other social justice blogs and sending messages saying "omg isn't it terrible that Zamii would whitewash a POC character" and the blog mod, not having context, would go "That does sound terrible". I keep wanting to warn people to not get involved.

(Personally I'm annoyed that so much attention is given to Connie's nose - as if Indians only have long noses - when all the voice actors for the Maheswarens are white.)
posted by divabat at 8:39 PM on December 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


So sad, der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen rears its ugly head once again.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:09 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


And Jebus, some of the people picking on this kid were adults. Fuuuuck.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:18 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huge fandoms are mixed-age communities, especially with the huge uptick in adult interest in "YA" media properties. That can be great--teens with shitty adult role models IRL are exposed to different kinds of people--but it can also be shitty--adults in the sandbox or basketball court or message board can beat the shit out of youngsters.

Just fuuuuuck.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:40 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know, though. The ages involved being in the 20s--this is the age of people who've basically been in LJ/Tumblr fandom since they themselves were 14-year-olds. I don't think it's adults who got interested in YA so much as the generation who never grew out of YA. The lack of crossover with the adults who've actually been out in the world and then came back a bit wiser is, I think, part of the problem.
posted by Sequence at 11:21 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Totally good point.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:41 PM on December 11, 2015


Having finally read through all the links, I'm still unsure how many of her harassers genuinely believe her works are fatphobic/racist/etc. and how much of it is an entirely disingenuous use of social justice language as an excuse to bully her, like divabat describes. Given the scale of the harassment, I'd guess some of both is happening (not that the effect on Zamii is any different).
posted by thetortoise at 11:46 PM on December 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Having finally read through all the links, I'm still unsure how many of her harassers genuinely believe her works are fatphobic/racist/etc. and how much of it is an entirely disingenuous use of social justice language as an excuse to bully her, like divabat describes.

honestly this is a lot of my feeling on it. the friend i mentioned upthread got a 'callout' post about her. it was seriously nasty, intentionally misrepresented her and what she was saying, and even cherry-picked there wasn't really anything in she was saying that seemed to deserve the wrath these people were spewing (sidenote, she is a csa survivor with pretty bad ocd and the kinks she takes part in responsibly are part of her coping strategy--this shouldn't really matter, she shouldn't need survivor/mental illness 'cred' to take part in these things, again, responsibly tagged, on her own blog). she addressed it all very politely in a reblog, engaged in remarkably good faith with the people reblogging it. by some miracle a few of the people who saw the callout and were friends with the callout-ers messaged her privately, decided she was right, and tried to gently convince friends not to l ike her but just to back off

there are some words that are thrown around frequently--such as in her case--that seem to be red flags in these conversation: pedophilia, incest, abuse, harassment, apologism are some i see most frequently

(like someone mentioned upthread, some of these are used so often to 'godwin' the discussion, the more inflammatory the better regardless of how accurate the accusation is... as was said, used VERY CLEARLY inaccurately and disingenuously--this was actually admitted more than once by the originator of the callout post itself but that didn't seem to matter to anyone)

it is incredibly upsetting and unfortunate to see these phrases co-opted and used as a tool for abuse themselves, both because, well, abuse of this magnitude in particular is terrible, but also because every instance when these words are thrown around casually and inaccurately trivializes the actual issues they represent

i was originally fairly supportive of callouts... when i first saw them start circulating, maybe a year or so ago. but it seems like now there's really no RESPONSIBLE way to take part in virtually any of them, unless you're cool with people being sent abuse and death threats. because it will happen. i'm not saying that is 100% on your head, but each person needs to consider that when weighing if a callout is deserved in the first place
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 12:06 AM on December 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


also this is really kind of an aside to the issue but i'm an artist, and kind of a shitty one, so i may spend hours and hours tweaking something trying to get things 'right' as in representative of the subject i'm drawing. i've never drawn rose for example and have no interest in it, but i KNOW i have a problem with larger body types, and i'm trying to work on it, but art's fucking hard and if you've spent 3 hours trying to fix one aspect of a drawing sometimes you just want to be done with it. i'm super paranoid that someone would have a major objection that stems largely from my own general incompetence rather than intentional malice. i know intentions don't really matter towards the ultimate outcome but... like... no one even considers this and prefers to think the artist is immediately just a terrible person out to ruin characters

i just feel like, if my art ever got the attention of anyone who felt like it, there wouldn't be a hint of good faith. kind of makes you hesitate, kind of stifles learning
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 12:13 AM on December 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


In this way, the language of social justice can be used by people as a new form of Godwin. The easiest way to win an argument (and potentially many future arguments) is to prove your opponent is a Bad Person and therefore Wrong In All Things. But drawing Nazi parallels has been effectively devalued as a tactic from the Usenet days, hence how Godwin's Law is popularly believed to be that the first person to make the Nazi comparison automatically loses the argument, even though that's not actually what it is.

I've always had trouble with the corruption of Godwin's Law being a metric, but I also believe that the first person get to ad hominem loses since at that point you've left the discussion of the matter at hand, and need to attack the person instead.

Criticizing art is one of the purposes of art. It evokes a reaction, you examine that reaction and discuss.

Criticizing the artist means you're missing the point of the art completely.
posted by mikelieman at 5:30 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know who else was a bad artist.
posted by clavdivs at 7:42 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Michael Jackson?
posted by mikelieman at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2015


I'm not really down with the idea that a child needs to be fully aware of all the latest trends and language in social justice to undertake being an artist and sharing their work publicly. We're talking about a very young teenager here. I'm not sure she should've been ready for a smug "heh well art provokes a reaction and she needs to be ready for it" when she's literally a child. I can't imagine how many artists drew badly from a technical sense or, I don't know, portrayed favorite characters differently because they're freaking 14.

I'm picturing a mom looking at a kindergarteners drawing and going "heh well that house is better than 99% of people get to live in, you should be ashamed of yourself."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:00 AM on December 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


Well it's probably the case that her artwork was reblogged and shared in an organic way, and people came across it in their tumblr feeds and were all "why is this on my feed, this is actually a kinda messed up portrayal" and said as much, and the age/sensitivity of the artist isn't the first thing you're aware of when that's how the distribution works. I don't think the impulse to point our how something is a harmful misrepresentation is a bad one, and I don't think it needs to be contingent on who the artist is. Often the artist is 100% anonymous and we have no way of knowing - is it best to err on the side of caution and not criticize the art at all, just to be safe?

The problem here isn't the criticism - once art is out there in the public sphere, being shared around and praised in its community, then it's out of the artist's hands and ripe for criticism. The problem was bullying after the fact and taking it to mean places and attacking. That's less to do with the language of social justice and more to do with people (mostly of a similar age of 14-16) just having no chill or perspective and ganging up on perceived bad actors.
posted by naju at 1:23 PM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is there any need for callouts to be public? You can privately message someone and let them know that their actions were racist/sexist/otherwise problematic, without drawing attention from people who will use it as an excuse to harass them (or to defend them as a knee-jerk anti-SJW reaction).

This would lose the public shaming aspect of callouts, but I see that as a good thing. Shaming is only useful if you trust the public to mostly agree with you about what's shameful, and to react proportionally. When "the public" is "potentially the entire internet," callouts get people fired, threatened, doxxed, SWATted, or worse.

Private corrections also reduce the temptation to use callouts as social signaling. When everyone can see that you're calling out a drawing for being fatphobic, and your community respects and rewards those who are sensitive to all kinds of problematic stuff, it's tempting to overreact and end up pillorying a kid for not being a great artist.
posted by Rangi at 4:24 PM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The public/private thing is a tradeoff. As I mentioned above, the lines between public and private are not so clear. Something is not wholly "private" just because the person posting it is young, or just because it's a drawing they made for fun. It can easily have a very "public" impact.

If something has the reach of something that is public, but criticism of it can only be made in private, how will other people learn from the criticism? How will people transmit information about shared values? How will people learn that their concerns are not theirs alone?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:29 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Like other utterances, callouts are at least partially performative and the caller-outer can be read as performing social justice bona fides.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:30 PM on December 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Looking at all the stuff that's been written about Zamii (at least what's still available to view), I would place little of it in the category of art criticism; though there is reasonable disagreement about how harsh criticism should be and where the appropriate place is to offer it, there's a clear difference between stopping by somebody's personal page to say "I don't like how thin you drew Rose Quartz here" and leaving dozens of comments cursing them out and calling them a pedophile. Given how much attention was focused on her and how closely the "receipt" page was tracking her, it looks like this was an attempt to single her out and hound her early on, and the initial harassers may have enlisted a lot of well-meaning rebloggers in their efforts.

I think callouts happen to be very convenient tools for bullying, attempting to drive someone out of a community or career, and increasing your own social status at someone else's expense. That's obviously not all they're used for, and they may do a lot of good, but this artist definitely wasn't alone in what happened to her.
posted by thetortoise at 6:37 PM on December 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. Let's rewind just a bit and assume that unless it's demonstrated otherwise, other people here probably aren't advocating bullying teenagers. And in general if you want to work something out with another commenter better to do that privately, or you can come talk to us. ]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:08 AM on December 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


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