We've been immensely fortunate here on In Defense Of to meet and speak with members of the geek community and various fanbases who use their passions, creativity, and sheer numbers to enact positive changes in the world. From online gamers fundraising for Save the Children, to artists and illustrators auctioning their work for refugee aid, to fan groups volunteering time and resources to political and social activism; it's clear that our fanatical passions bring us together, and when we stand together, we stand stronger.
It came as no surprise to us that, while attending a Doctor Who convention this year, we met a group of people who exemplify the crossroad between fan appreciation and philanthropy -- or to steal a term from their organization's founder, "fanthropy". Their virtual running events have hundreds upon thousands of participants, and each event is specifically targeted to channel donated funds to a charity uniquely connected to the fandom involved.
One conversation later, and we immediately saw the benefit of sharing their vision, efforts, and tremendous successes with the IDO listening community. We hope to connect with many more such innovators and catalysts for positive change in the years ahead.
We're joined this time in-studio by Brian Biggs, founder of the Whovian Running Club, Hogwarts Running Club, and Chilton Running Club, to chat about geek altruism and fandom-inspired fundraising efforts.
BONUS SEGMENT: We're adding a section to the start of every IDO installment to celebrate and signal boost the positive news from our greater fandom circles, because we can always use some o' that feel-good in today's world. This session, there's absolutely nothing better to talk about than the global success of the Wonder Woman cinematic release -- and we spend a few minutes cheering the triumphs, the empowerment for fangirls and enlightenment for fanboys, and our unabashed love of Patty Jenkins.
The adage states that art imitates life. True to the stage, the novel, the canvas, the screen, we see the influences of events and subjects of societal importance relative to the time each creative work is crafted. Often, the influence is worn as clear as a scarlet letter, as a clear and unequivocal statement from creator to audience about their observations of the world of that time, and the people within it. Other times, the impact of cultural impression, social nature and mindset are more nuanced, but can be identified by a more objective eye.
If Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird can exemplify the lens of art focusing upon a point in humanity's behaviors, state of mind, triumphs and tragedies, is there anything that says the same could not be true for the comic book and graphic novel medium? Can superhero stories really teach us anything about ourselves as a community, a nation, a species?
From the use of anthropomorphic cartoon characters to sell war bonds and other government propaganda in the early 20th century, to the image of a certain futuristic rebel-princess-turned-general with fist raised in defiance of a modern-day political regime, it is an established practice to utilize a welcome, familiar, and widely understood cultural icon of fiction as the rallying or motivating point for a very real and serious grassroots effort. What makes this sort of juxtaposition so effective? Are there behavioral or psychological explanations for why the very thought of a film's theme, a literary character, or a representative logo of an organization entirely fictitious in origin can inspire us to support a cause, or raise our voices for (or against) a movement in our own nation, state, or neighborhood?
Joined by public broadcast producer Andy Hicks, we look into the origins, efficacy, and potential pitfalls of using geek or pop culture icons as the means to gather support or advocacy for another effort, be it social, environmental, political, or any other goal not directly related to the reference to begin with.
Hoist the Rebel flag, earn points for your house, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
We've made it abundantly clear how thrilled we are to witness the progression of fandom topics from the sidelines, to an era of "geek chic", to widespread mainstream adoption. Watercooler conversations now involve such subjects as the Marvel cinematic universe and 'Game of Thrones' as often as politics or sports (well, almost as often), and you can drop references to Star Wars, or even quote a line from a Harry Potter book at a party without getting side-eyed.
If this is the new age of geek assimilation, that should mean that the "old guard" of people in those fandoms should relish the new blood, increased interest, and new energy that the expanding fan-bases see, right? Well, not exactly. Why is it that the casual fan can still be made to feel marginalized, or even discouraged from the fandom because they're not as deeply invested as the hardcore or "superfans"?
By its simplest definition, anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman objects or entities. With roots going back over 30 years, the concept of anthropomorphic characters as a fan-based portrayal, or the furry fandom, in more modern parlance, is a substantially sized and diverse group that gathers worldwide in their own convention settings, as well as online forums, social network groups, and other in-person and virtual meetings.
Like many fandoms we've covered in the past year and a half on In Defense Of, there is a close and very active community within the furry fandom, one that extends beyond their social gatherings, into music, literature, and the arts, charitable fundraising, and nonprofit organizations. Broadcast media has had a tendency to pick and choose what aspects of the fandom are reflected, but when fuller research is done, it becomes clear that like any science fiction or comic convention, sports fanatics or other group of enthusiasts, the community rallies together for conversation and enjoyment of their common interests, and in this case, those interests often center on a brief escape into a fictional character, acting out for a while, and enjoying watching others immersed in the same.
This episode, we're joined by furry community member and convention attendee Nate, as well as Dr. Samuel Conway, chairman and showrunner of one of North America's largest and longest-running furry conventions, AnthroCon. With their contributions to the conversation, we get a fuller understanding of the furry fandom and the upbeat and fun-loving community that has grown at the heart of it.
Links of Interest:
The expressions have become so commonplace, they have literally become memes: "go home, 2016, you're drunk" or "2016, you are fired". If you've listened to our podcast even once, you'll know that we put too much effort into promoting positivity and hope to simply dismiss an entire year of our finite lives with that sort of a perspective. There have been difficulties, to be sure, setbacks and losses. But we gather with our listeners and like-minded geeks and enthusiasts to celebrate our passions and interests, and with that goal in view, there are many, many things about the year 2016 that fan culture can enjoy and revel in.
Call it an 'advent calendar for the fandoms', if you will, as we identify 25 gifts bestowed upon to geeks through the year 2016 that we can all celebrate and feel good about. As 19th century banker, philanthropist and scientist John Lubbock famously said, "What we see depends mainly on what we look for."
Here at IDO, that's why we look for reasons to geek out and geek happy. So join us, as we draft a holiday list of two dozen gifts the geek community has unwrapped in 2016, with guests Neil (of The Starling Tribune) and John (of Mutter's Spiral).
We've reached a point in familiarity with online communities where their recognizability and existence are now thankfully becoming more of a societal norm. From the early days of newsgroup forums, to dial-up chat rooms, to today's social networks, there are gatherings of like-minded people that form around various interests from the everyday to the obscure. Yet within these digital communities, there is a large group of individuals, global in their size and reach, who still has to contend with misperceptions: the exponentially growing world of livestream gaming enthusiasts.
Depending on your degree of exposure, you may have only heard of Twitch as it was referenced when Amazon purchased the video streaming platform in 2014. What you may not know about this portal, dedicated in most part to the gaming world, is that with tens of millions of registered users, each averaging hundreds of logged hours of viewing, is that within their digital borders, a close-knit and supportive community has formed. Friends made, careers forged, independent businesses emerged, relationships and families formed, all stemming at its simplest form from an interest in watching someone else play a game. If this seems in any way unusual to you, or difficult to believe, that is an indication of the barrier this segment of modern society still has to face. And as such, it's why we here on IDO want to deepen our understanding, step over such obstacles, and encourage our listeners to do the same.
We're not exaggerating when we say this could be the most important election in our lifetimes. A lot hangs in the balance. This election will decide control of the White House, the Senate, and the balance of the Supreme Court for decades to come. If you care about LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, reproductive rights, global warming, social justice and inequality -- they're all at stake.
Without a doubt, this election cycle has been exhausting. It's easy to feel like it's time to push back from the table and be done with it. But with so much in the balance, we want to remind you about why you can't be discouraged and why you (and everyone) must turn out to vote on November 8th.
Joined by musician and activist Paul DeGeorge (of Harry and the Potters, and the #NerdsForHer organization), we discuss how the geek communities are rallying everyone to GET OUT THE VOTE!
We have reached a fascinating evolutionary point in musical expression, where the very boundaries of what previously defined genres and styles have melded and blurred into a watercolor canvas of crossovers and complex collaborations. Hip hop producers record with shamisen musicians; pop country artists recruit rap stars to add new layers to their work; renown Irish folk bands tour with classic rock icons to the delight of fans of both. In this brave new world of compositional creativity and adaptability, it should be no wonder that styles emerge to appeal to the most unique areas of interest. Individual "geek" or "nerd" fandoms can be served their own flavor of music, with a sound and lyric book that caters specifically to their interests.
Whether your passions lie among young wizards or ageless Time Lords, there are artists out there for you. If you ever wished a hardcore rapper would break down the stressors of meeting a software development deadline, the time is now. If a wistful ballad to the memory of Nicola Tesla pulls at your heartstrings, or you feel energized by a modern-day troubadour regaling the dangers within a goblin mine, today's musical landscape has you covered. Emerging from the performance stages at conventions, flourishing through direct Internet distribution, and getting boosts from viral media, 'geek music' has found its place in our hearts and ears.
As the Fourth Doctor once told Sarah Jane Smith in the famed episode, 'Robot', "there's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes". The world can weigh heavily on the spirit of the adult at times, with demands and responsibilities that only seem to compound by the year. We may find ourselves waxing nostalgic for the days when we could sing to ourselves in a subway station, run wild through a park just to see the reactions on strangers' faces, or close ourselves away in a super-secret space to read a book or play with a puzzle by flashlight. Who says that we can't, though? What rule demands that we surrender our silliness for seriousness? Trade in our comic books for checkbooks? Swap our cartoons for car payments?
This week, we look at the yin and yang between being a capable and functional adult, and retaining the spirit of youthfulness. These don't have to be in any way mutually exclusive, and with the right demonstration of one's capacity for "getting the job done", others can not only accept a little good-natured childishness along the way, but hopefully mirror it a bit, to the benefit of everyone's soul.
It's easy to find out what's popular in various forms of entertainment, fashion, and social circles. We may not eagerly await the next issue of "People" magazine to hit newsstands, or tune in to the radio on Saturday mornings for the 'Weekly Top 40' program. Our modern patience levels simply cannot abide such delays. Most social networks, however, are more than happy to hand over a roster of trending topics, compiled and ranked in large part by the buzz created from thousands or even millions of individuals discussing them -- positively or negatively.
Some will address these cultural movements with boundless enthusiasm, from TV and film, to food and drink trends, to the latest fashion craze, even to vocabulary and modern grammar. They consume and enjoy, discuss and share, and at times even become wildly fanatical about the subject. Others, however, react in a more avoidant or even curmudgeonly tone, dismissing the seemingly endless ebb and flow of pop culture with disdain and negativity. They use terms like "sheeple" and "drones" to describe those who "buy" into the offerings of mass media. Is there any grain of truth to their accusations of being manipulated by advertising psychologists? Or are the trends that a great majority of Americans (and by their example, people worldwide) the result of successful marketing of materials that those same consumers actively want?
Joined this time by musician, cosplayer and convention personality Cat Smith, we discuss the nature of pop culture trends, and why it's okay to enjoy them -- no matter what the naysayers may naysay.
Through any number of factors and influences that have led to this momentous decision, you have decided to attend your first fandom convention. Perhaps it was the guest line-up that called out to your fanatical heart; possibly the insistence of friends that you join them had reached deafening levels. You may have seen an opportunity to hear directly from the creators and artists who shape the worlds you enjoy, in person rather than through someone else's written or recorded accounts. Or perhaps you've reached a level of certainty within your love of some material or genre that you feel prepared to wade into deeper waters, and see how the tide feels. Welcome, youngling, welcome.
There are a number of subjects you can bring up in conversation, both in person and online, that will solicit tomes of advice from all corners. Thankfully, in this emerging era of geek mainstream, one of those subjects that more and more people have opinions and input on is attending fan conventions. While the number of well-run cons steadily rises, and both awareness of and attendance at these cons increase in step, it may be helpful to some to get an idea of how different conventions operate, what they offer, what to expect, and how to look out for your own well being and maximum enjoyment at your first con.
Joined by showrunners Oni Hartstein and James Hartnell of (Re)GenerationWho and Intervention, we discuss tips on how to optimize your time and enjoyment of your first convention, safely and (hopefully) with maximum rewards for your efforts.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: So there's an oddity in this episode, where the audio spectres apparently decided to play the outro at about the 38:00 mark. We've called in the Ghostbusters, and as soon as Holtzmann finishes torching the editing bay, we'll have things corrected for the next release. Sorry about the quirk -- keep listening beyond that minute, the conversation goes on!]
In case you've missed all social media for the past three months, we here in the United States are deep in the heart of convention season, and so to kick off our series of topics that spiral around the con scene, we're starting where many of us begin when setting foot onto any gathering, the vendor and artist booths.
A large part of the appeal of conventions is the opportunity to spend time with any number of like-minded individuals enjoying the same, or often tangential fandoms, sharing stories, trading rumors, and the like. For those making their living in some part by these gatherings, it's wonderful to find that the artists, designers, musicians, and other creative individuals in attendance are equally fanatical about the same things. Many of them find ways to celebrate their fandom by incorporating it into their work. For us as the consuming public, it elevates the experience by giving us access to a wholly original work of art that pays tribute to our beloved subject, approached from a new perspective.
Joined by cartoonist, writer, and illustrator Andy Runton (of Owly fame), and geek-chic clothing designer Jordan Ellis (of the Jordandené line), we discuss the concept of fan-inspired artistry, and the delightfully common ground between those creators, and the line-minded fans who appreciate their work.
Whether you are aware of it or not, by 2016, there is a very good chance that a short story, novel, television series, or even film that you've invested time in actually originated from the existing work of another individual or individuals, be it published or screened. This basis of composition on another creative work is the core of fan fiction, which as we've discussed in previous recent episodes, can vary in scale from Twitter-based micro-fic, to full novel-length series. The breadth of scope isn't limited to the size of the work, either: the fiction created by inspired fans may reflect very closely to the original work (think Harry Potter extended fiction...that isn't part of Pottermore), or could be quite removed from the characters, setting, or devices that defined the starting point, as it were.
If fanfic can vary so widely, but is still at its center an (and we're intentionally using this work for the moment) unauthorized extension of the original work, likely copyrighted, how could a talented writer actually use such wordcraft to transition into the mainstream circuits that they built upon? To that end, is the mainstream (and those working within it) starting to consider fanfic a child of its own creation, and welcoming it?
Joined once again by Lauren (of Legends of SHIELD and Strange N Unusual on the Gonna Geek podcast network), we explore the broad spectrum of fan-fiction as a new frontier of AU/EU, and industry acceptance.
Let's face it -- we're all secretly wondering about the Putin-Trump trist, right? I mean, let's be honest, the chemistry is undeniable. And don't even get me started on Big Bird and Snuffalupagus, because any BFF that tells you "I see you when no one else can", is a keeper for life.
All kidding aside, there are instances in any franchise or creative work where character interaction provides areas of subtext that leave us wondering, "what if?". These instances, along with many others, are the fertile ground of fan-fiction where shipping, or hypothetical relationships, take root. Where does this emerge from, and what purpose does it serve for those who invest a great deal of time and creative energy into its enjoyment, study, and a times, vehement OTP defense?
Joined once again by entertainment industry journalist Sage Young (of Head Over Feels fame), we look at the practice of shipping, and what enjoyment some fans get from the hypothetical pairing of characters in relationships not explicitly established in the presented content.
Transformational fandom is a frequently misunderstood, sometimes maligned part of fandom which seeks to build upon an appreciated franchise to fans' own purposes. Marginalized individuals within that set -- particularly women, POC, and queer fans -- are more likely to be categorized as 'transformational fans' as a result of their efforts to try and make a space for themselves within that subject or franchise.
Transformational fandom isn't without its problems, but it is often unfairly attacked because it challenges the status quo, and is practiced by groups that are in and of themselves easy to attack, or are often subject to retaliation on any number of matters because of their very group affiliation.
Where is the space within the fuller fandom for these appreciators of franchises who seek to do more than collect, quantify, or curate their beloved content? Are they seeking to disrupt more 'traditional' fans, or steal control away from the creators, or are they looking to find (or secure) representation within the universe they equally adore?
This week, we are thrilled to welcome Alyssa to our co-host chair, joining Keir in discussions of this and all upcoming fandom-inclusion and community conversations on In Defense Of. Welcome her with us, and please leave some feedback (and iTunes reviews) to let us know how the dynamic sounds!
"Mawwage. Mawwage is wot bwings us togeder today. Mawwage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam... And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva... So tweasure your wuv."
If the quote means anything to you, congratulations, it's a gold chip in your geek card. But would you actually want it recited at your wedding ceremony? Would you consider going a step farther, and having the entire ceremony done in a Princess Bride theme? Your best man decked out as a swashbuckling Spaniard? Perhaps the dance floor at the reception laced with a few flame spurts and an occasional ROUS?
As we've discussed on numerous episodes of the podcast, geek culture is becoming not only more mainstream in and of itself, but socially acceptable in more environments, from the social scenes to the workplace. If that's the case, is the wedding altar equally ready for geekery?
(Photo credit: Anna Sirianni.)
Give yourself the hypothetical indulgence of time travel, for a moment. Send yourself back roughly eight years, and imagine that you have an idea to develop a musical, with a hip-hop score, cast with a predominantly non-Caucasian company, that centers around a pivotal point in American history during the post-Revolutionary War. Your main character? Not a president, nor a decorated war hero...not even a romanticized spymaster or infamous traitor. Your titular hero is the first Secretary of the Treasury. Sounds thrilling, right? Well, actually...
Back in 2008, librettist, lyricist, and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda was riding high in the theatrical scope on the successes of 'In the Heights', when he started reading a Hamilton biography while vacationing. The life, energy and passions of the American forefather spoke so clearly to him that he immediately set to work on the libretto and lyrics for what we now know as 'Hamilton', the Broadway musical that is seeing such an immense success that the run is effectively sold out for the foreseeable future.
The show has passionate fans who immerse themselves in the music, the history, the accuracies and inaccuracies of the text, and the characters; the vast majority of whom have never seen the production. Schools have developed entire curricula around the show. Devoted followers put on tribute performances in public parks. People just wanting to be on the lottery for held tickets grew in such massive crowds that the "Ham4Ham" process had to relocated online for public safety.
Where does this massive fanaticism develop from, and what 'perfect storm' of successful craft, timely message, and breadth of audience came together to make Hamilton such an unstoppable force?
With thanks to our guests Joy Piedmont (of Inquiring Joy), Deb Stanish (of Verity! and Uncanny Magazine), and Alyssa Franke (of Whovian Feminism), we discuss the musical itself, and its devoutly committed fan base...whom we're now dubbing HAMSTERS. (Sorry we're not sorry. We're included in it, anyway.)
It's simply not fair to anyone involved that, to this day, if you mention the reading of graphic novels to a random cross-section of people, a large number of them (if not a majority) will simply assume that you've said that you read oversized comic books. End of statement; move on. The discouraging result of this assumption is that, in many cases, the idea of "comic entertainment" couldn't be farther from the intent, and in addition to the story material, to generalize the artwork into something of cartoonish categorization does a huge disservice to some of the incredible artistry, and literary merit, demonstrated in some of these publications.
So how do we dispel these preconceptions? As we always do here on IDO -- by breaking down prejudice by educating the common opinion.
Spin the wheel at the Apple trailers site, search YouTube for teasers on upcoming film releases or TV premieres, or glance over the top few articles on entertainment sites like EW or Variety, and odds are very good that you'll come across more than a handful of mentions regarding reboots, reinterpretations, revisits, reimaginations, or re-something-or-others of another work that has been produced in the past.
The more pretentious critics will argue that the industry has lost its creativity, that clearly this is a sign that "there is nothing new under the sun", or that shameless cash-grabs by production houses are suppressing original works because of risk on return. Is there something to be said for these reworks that gives them the same credibility, and objective critique, as new creations -- or even their own predecessors?
We're joined this session by Kim Rogers of Head Over Feels, and writer/director/producer Jeff Richards, to discuss the rationale, risks, and rewards of returning to familiar source material.
In a musical landscape where there are more subcategories and collaborative projects that bridge musical genres than ever before, it's exceedingly difficult to try and pigeon-hole our musical tastes into succinctly-defined boundaries. That said, we still know the nature of "us vs. them", and the speed at which someone can come under fire for having a Nickelback ringtone, or more recently, perhaps tapping their toe along with the Coldplay halftime show during the Superbowl.
Where do these divisions come from, in something as personal as musical tastes? What are the origins of these preferences in the first place, that may lead anyone to feel so strongly about their predilections that they cannot see (hear?) the preferences of others with the same degree of acceptance?
Our Personal Music Recommendations:
Imagine you were part of a book club that sought to expose members to new authors. Each iteration, you'd be handed a title, and you'd dive into it with no knowledge of the writer's background or their other body of work. Consider a book that the club circulates that captures you as a reader. You might even seek out other titles they've written, really becoming an appreciated or admired author.
Now at some later point, you find out that this author has social, political, or moral views that completely differ from your own -- possibly even to an offensive degree. Perhaps they've done something you consider reprehensible, or even criminal. Can you still appreciate their writing? Can you continue to seek out their books, effectively giving them your money to acquire their stories, knowing the type of person they are?
While this is a single, rather escalated hypothetical scenario, it's my no means unusual or even uncommon, particularly if you also include television, film, music, or any art form. So is there a line to be drawn, and if so, where?
From the ubiquitous appeal of the Harry Potter series, to the rocketing career trajectories of authors like Rick Riordan, Kate DiCamillo and John Green, we are at a point in popular culture where the stories and series that would categorically be branded as "young adult" fiction are more widely known and discussed among all age groups that are the more conventional "adult" titles.
Is this because of some simplification of the average reader's efforts? Is there some surreptitious effort by the publishing industry to market to two demographics with a single genre of literature? Or is the zeitgeist of the present-day reader attuned to these youth-labeled titles and tales for less conspiratorial, more wholly appreciative reasons?
Joined this week by librarian, book reviewer and technology integrator Joy Piedmont, we look at "young adult" literature as an isolated category, and why its appeal transcends this target audience.
Earthquakes and dinosaurs. Time-traveling dictators and mutated sharks. Homicidal snow tires and bubble-wrap aliens. There's enough love in the world for the poignant art films of the intellectual community, as well as the ultra-campy, miniscule budget or ultra-absurd film deviants that actually aim to be awful...right?
In the second of our "Loving Bad Film" installments, we look at those releases that don't even attempt to have such time and resource-intensive characteristics like 'plots', 'budgets', or heaven forbid, 'acting skills'. Who needs them, when you have David Hasselhoff battling a 45-foot rabid dino-skunk with a cyber-chainsaw from the year 2137? Seriously.
We're fortunate enough to be joined by the two creative minds and opinionated entertainment insights of Kim Rogers and Sage Young of the fantastic blog Head Over Feels, a online resource that you probably know far better than this one -- and if not, you obviously should!
In a world...where the best laid plans of producers and directors often go awry...
We've all come across some form of entertainment or art that, despite all the best intentions of the creators and artists involved, completely fails to deliver. In the cinematic scope, there are dozens of ways that a film could be an absolute disaster, from technical shortfalls, to budget constraints that force visible shortcuts, to a shoddy scripts and horrific acting.
What some may not always be so ready to admit to is a strange affection for some of these complete disasters -- an odd magnetism that draws a select number of viewers in with a fervor that makes 'cult classics' of them. These fans of failures will step forward as staunch defenders of their ugly darlings, and we're giving them the stage to step up and profess their love for the 'laudable flawed'.
We're joined once again by guests Lauren and Wil -- shameless bad film defenders!