Is VR the secret to solving social justice issues?

By Amshu Medapa

A woman demonstrates a Samsung virtual reality unit.

“Within a couple of minutes, I was completely claustrophobic,” said Cathy Hackl, in response to a VR experience called 6×9 developed by The Guardian. The 6×9 VR simulation immerses the viewer in a prison, giving them a first-hand understanding of what it feels like to be in solitary confinement within a prison. They are transported to a tiny cell block and are completely immersed, for a time, in a lonely and frightening atmosphere. Hackl describes the experience as a first-hand experience of trauma that you can switch on or off because of VR technology.

The 6X9 VR experience created by The Guardian


There has been discussion and debate about the impact VR simulations can have on bringing about awareness on social justice issues and how VR can be used as a tool to increase understanding and empathy in viewers.

6×9: A virtual experience of solitary confinement | World news | The  Guardian
A view of the prison cell in 6×9


Being immersed in a VR experience that gives the viewer a taste of the environment an inmate may be confined to caused Hackl to bring about change and help prison inmates by improving basic living conditions. After she took the headset off, she decided she needed to join the VR movement and is now a consultant at top virtual reality and augmented reality studios that make experiences for viewers with a social impact focus. She is on the board of ‘ Virtual Relief’, a nonprofit organization that uses VR technology to help treat and rehabilitate seniors and hospital patients by immersing them in environments that entertain and alleviate stress and pain.

Virtual Relief – Welcome to Virtual Relief
Members of the Virtual Relief program being immersed in a VR simulation.

Cathy Hackl’s experience tapped into her innate human tendency to feel empathy for others. Social workers and activists have teamed up with tech professionals to help bring about awareness and change in society by sensitizing people to world issues.

Researchers have continually been concerned with the negative effects technology and media have on humanity’s ability to connect however the positives have rarely been assessed. With VR putting the viewer in someone’s shoes, there is potential to make people feel for others greater than ever before. In 2015, tech entrepreneur and artist Chris Milk gave a TED Talk in which he called virtual reality “the empathy machine” for its capacity to put people directly in others’ allowing them to feel empathy in its fullest form.

Across The Line on Steam
A graphic for ‘Across the line’

Another example of using VR to change people’s behavior while educating them about social justice issues is ‘Across the Line’ a film made by planned parenthood. The VR simulation places the viewer in front of an abortion clinic with pro-life protesters and activists screaming and hurling insults at them because of their choice to get an abortion. Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president and chief brand and experience officer, Dawn Laguens, shared the story of a conservative, anti-choice lawmaker whose worldview was altered after he experienced “Across the Line,’ and was visibly shaken by the behavior of protestors outside the clinic.

Across the Line - YouTube
‘Across the Line’, a VR created by Planned Parenthood to simulate the experience of people going to an abortion clinic.

The United Nations has also recognized the impact VR can have on viewers and has developed different simulations such as one that immerses people in war-torn Syria, allowing them to experience a few seconds in a war zone. There are multiple VR experiences that give viewers the feeling of speaking directly to a sexual assault or Holocaust survivor and nonprofit organizations are using an Android app called ‘Within’ to tell VR stories that raise awareness about these issues.

Syrian Refugee Crisis – UN Virtual Reality
The UN VR experience about the Syrian Refugee crisis
Within VR Experiences Coming to the Web, Thanks to WebVR Site - Variety
‘Within’, another VR platform that is being used to tele stories to bring about awareness and social justice.

As technology continues to develop and change the way we live our lives, it is apparent that technology has immense ability to bring people closer to one another, with VR enabling us to understand what it means to live another person’s life, even if it is for a few minutes.

https://variety.com/2018/digital/news/within-vr-website-webvr-1202843564/
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2013/may/24/virtual-reality-oculus-rift-inition
http://unvr.sdgactioncampaign.org/cloudsoversidra/#.X8U-zhNKg_U
https://qz.com/930828/project-empathy-vr-backed-by-van-jones-is-a-virtual-reality-project-that-will-be-the-future-of-social-justice-activism-and-mass-incarceration-reform/

The Dangers of Cancel Culture

“Cancel culture (or call-out culture) is a modern form of ostracism, bullying or shaming by an emotional person or informal group of like-minded people to ostracize an individual expressing an opinion or fact contrary to or objectionable to the group’s mindset.”

Wikipedia

Cancel culture has become a very prominent part of the entertainment industry. It seems every few months, a celebrity is ousted for something they said on social media, or something damaging they did in the past. Many times, these allegations by the accusers are very serious. The latest case that made big news was Johnny Depp, who was recently let go by Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts franchise in response to a court legitimizing claims against him which called him a  “wife beater.” Another example of a female celebrity getting “canceled” was Liu Yifei, who supported Hong Kong police publicly on Weibu (and by association, the brutality they have inflicted on protestors). Fans responded by saying Mulan should be boycotted, with the #boycottmulan hashtag going viral. This newfound power fans have over celebrities, studios and the entire system can be both uplifting and alarming. On the one hand, powerful people in the industry are finally not allowed to get away with mistreating others and having potentially harmful viewpoints without repercussions. This is exemplified by the #MeToo Movement in 2017 which led to serious consequences for people who were getting away with horrific acts, and put power back in the hands of those who had been taken advantage of. However, cancel culture has evolved beyond judgement of facts, and now has more to do with opinions than cut-and-dry, wrongful actions. Liu Yifei is a good example of someone who stated an opinion online, which others disagreed with and deemed immoral, resulting in massive repercussions, not only for her, but for everything she is involved with. This is problematic for a variety of reasons. There is nothing wrong with disagreement and calling someone out, but it seems that more and more, “cancelling” has become the default rather than attempting conversation, and maybe even more important than that, an entire art piece can be destroyed by the broadcasted opinions of one person.

From Twitter @NardiaHuang

Hundreds of thousands of man-hours go into a project as massive as Mulan; in reality, Liu Yifei is a small component of that work done. Yet people online, through the act of “cancelling,” tend to marry personality with artistry in a way that can destroy an entire creative work based on the actions of one person, who acts as only one component. Nardia Huang’s tweet is exemplary of this: Yifei, by having a very questionable opinion, apparently destroys the entire Mulan character for her. This is outrageous, yet this is how cancel culture operates, by attempting to destroy everything someone is involved with, even if the person only plays a small part overall. This is not dialogue; this is pure punishment. Rather than revealing how and why the person is wrong, the action is to destroy and debase their work and everything they are involved with. I bet this is why Warner Bros. let go of Johnny Depp so quickly, as a preemptive measure to make sure the Fantastic Beasts franchise would survive. Yet the sad part is that while Depp receives punishment, the creative whole suffers as well. I feel very sorry for all the people who worked on Depp’s character over the years, only to have their legacy of work marred alongside his as a byproduct. 

Image from Facebook, Light4HK. Due to Yifei’s comment online, many people attempted to brand Mulan as a violent propaganda piece.

“People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and, you know, share certain things with you.”

Barack Obama, on cancel culture

Yifei has shown flaws. Her comment of support for violent police was aggravating. Depp obviously has flaws as well, but there are some amazing things about him too, beginning with the fact he is one of the greatest actors alive. It is unfortunate that a mistake, even a large one, can destroy an entire oeuvre of art, when there are also redeeming qualities about the person. Everyone makes some bad mistakes in their lives, but does this mean the person’s career should end? Should celebrities be held up on silver platters, above everyone else, where they have to maintain a perfect track record for their work to be in good standing?

Of course the line has to be drawn; Harvey Weinstein, for example, is a monster, and everything he got his fingers on has a thick layer of disgust. Yet I do think it is possible to take this too far, especially when we deal not with facts but opinions and beliefs, and people who are not “monsters” but rather did something disagreeable while also doing great things for the world. Some even think Yifei was coerced by the Chinese government to support the Hong Kong police, leaving her with little choice (otherwise she would be cancelled by her own government, maybe an even worse punishment for her). Without dialogue however, there is little to be gained through alternate perspectives like this. Of course there is a lot of gray area here, but diversity of thought is important. Having multiple perspectives will always be somewhat gray.

The opposing argument is that for something to gain traction these days, it has to be polarizing, maddening, and extremely dramatic. I think this is somewhat true, yet not something we should aim for as a goal. Hashtags trend because they are outrageous and action-oriented. It’s not easy for a hashtag like #debateliuyifei to go viral and draw attention to the problem. The issue is social media is built for savage polarization, and to get noticed, you have to make noise that is “catchy,” angers and disrupts, and outlines a clear side that can be expressed in a few words. This is usually not the best point to begin an uplifting and impactful dialogue to create change. If anything, it only solidifies peoples’ beliefs even further, forcing people into factions that wage online wars that go nowhere. We don’t have to play the psychological games Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have set up for us to play, however. We can work against the nature of these platforms if we do so consciously.

If you disagree with Liu Yifei (or someone in a similar situation), disagree. Make it public. In doing so however, I ask you to try two things:

1) Don’t needlessly annihilate art in the process, art that possibly thousands of people worked on for thousands of hours that is somehow associated with the person at fault. Separate the personality from the artistry if possible, especially when a team of people are involved who have nothing to do with the person’s belief and everything to lose if the art is weaponized one way or another. This may actually make for a more clear and concise argument in the long run, not one based around a film title, but actually addressing the opinions directly!

2) Try to set a new standard for how we communicate on social media: not with one-liners to throw people under the bus (even if you hate something they said), but rather start discussions to make new revelations. Go ahead and cancel, but make it a “woke” version that allows for gray area. When someone says something, there is probably a lot happening under the surface yet to be uncovered. Make it a goal to find out what that is.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancel_culture#:~:text=Cancel%20culture%20

https://variety.com/2019/film/news/disney-mulan-crystal-liu-yifei-hong-kong-twitter-facebook-china-1203309089/

https://time.com/5653973/mulan-boycott-liu-yifei/

Copagandga: What it is and How Your Favorite Shows Have Played a Part

If one has not done any research on the police and their institutional and deeply rooted problems, it is easy to watch police procedurals/police crime genres and other “cop” shows without noticing anything wrong. However, once you learn the idea of “copaganda” and how it is prevalent in some of the most popular shows on television, the issue of irresponsible representation becomes clear. Now, I would like to discuss what “copaganda” is and how the TV-shows Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Criminal Minds contribute to the problem.

What is Copaganda?:

Before you get upset at me, since I know these are two very adored shows, let me explain. I myself have watched both of these shows in their entirety and have also loved them. However, if you watch them blindly, it can be dangerous and influential. These shows both are in fault of promoting “copaganda”. Copanganda is defined as “…glamorising and sensationalising policing, as well as misleading the general public with regards to how the criminal punishment system actually works” (Frazer-Carroll). In short, it is exactly what the word sounds like: cop propaganda. The type of media that falls under this category is very favorable towards law enforcement and is often used as a tool to disrupt legitimate claims against the police and their racist, homophobic, and other corrupt actions. While it may not be the show creators’ intention, their content is the perfect weapon against movements that intend to hold the police accountable since these shows paint a picture that all cops are hardworking and fair, which is far from the truth.

How Do TV-Shows Employ Copaganda?:

There are a few different ways in which TV-shows and other media employ copaganda. The article written by Adam Johnson does a great job in explaining the many ways in which media promotes Copaganda and goes into detail about how they function. For this blog specifically, I will talk about the five tactics of Copaganda that I believe are the most prevalent on television: diversity boosting, pink washing, “saving kittens” storytelling, the “how dangerous the job is” storytelling, and finally, the showing of inaccurate procedure on-screen in order to add “excitement”. To show what these tactics look like at work on television, I will now go on to discuss their appearance in two of the most famous “cop” shows: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Criminal Minds.

Copaganda in Brooklyn Nine-Nine:

Brooklyn Nine-Nine employs a lot of Copaganda in its episodes. While it may not be the intention, as the show seems to simply be a rework of a workplace procedural, there are many different things that are done in order to make their cop protagonists more lovable to the audience. In particular, they use the tactics of diversity boosting, pink washing, and “saving kittens” storytelling. I will pull ideas from the show for all three of these tactics in order to explain what each of these methods are and how they work.

Diversity Boosting:

The cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Diversity boosting is the exploitation of the logical fallacy that a more diverse police force makes for a less racist one. More diversity on the police force certainly won’t hurt, but often many police departments capitalize upon the BIPOC or women police officers and use them in order to prove their “reform” and “tolerance”. In reality, BIPOC and women are often a minority on the police force and therefore are not effective in changing the system that much if at all. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the cast is widely diverse: the captain and the lieutenant are both black men, and a detective and later on a sergeant is a Cuban-American woman. While it is great that the show on and off-screen displays so much diversity, the on-screen diversity seems to draw away from the fact that the police force in real life is white and male dominated. Those watching the show blindly will easily believe that the Brooklyn Nine-Nine team is representational of all teams out there — which is certainly not the case. It makes one wonder what their intentions were in having a diverse cast: by representing a diverse group of people on-screen, did they intend to attract an audience that are the ones being hurt the most by cops? It would be better if at certain times the main cast of cops would discriminate or profile someone because of their race because then the show would raise awareness, but the show refuses to portray any of the main characters as anything other than good guys with good intentions. This is where the real harm is done: in using diversity and solely good portrayal, it tricks the audience into thinking that police officers are generally good people when in fact they are inherently apart of a job that is not good.

Pink Washing:

Pink washing is essentially the same thing as diversity boosting, but instead it is the exploitation of LGBT rights in order to negate the bad things that the police force has done. The show partakes in this as well. Again, while the diversity on this show is groundbreaking and admirable, the fact that the show is about cops leaves a bitter taste in many people’s mouths — it seems almost exploitative. The show features the captain as a gay man and a detective on the team as a bisexual woman. While the representation of their sexuality and how it is dealt with is exceptional, it often pulls away from the fact that historically the police has been complicit in the targeting and brutalization of LGBTQ+ people. In showing a diverse and flawless cast, it tells its audience that is watching — specifically BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people — that the police force can be trusted, that they are their friends, and that they should go to them in a dangerous situation because they will keep them safe. This unfortunately is not always the case in reality and has been historically proven to be false: cops have profiled, hurt, and even murdered BIPOC and queer people because of who they are and factors beyond their control. This type of Copaganda without proper accountability and serious moments is dangerous.

“Saving Kittens” Storytelling :

The “saving kittens” storytelling method is actually a really simple idea to get and I personally have seen it used many times in media in order to build empathy for the police force.  This title was coined after the habit that news outlets have of routinely running stories of police doing everyday acts of kindness, some which are highlighted by the police department’s social media themselves in order to build good and friendly reputation.

A New York Times article employing the “saving kittens” storytelling method.

This use of media clearly is used to draw away from the bad actions of the cops. It is ironic that out of all of the stories they could have chosen to write about, this prominent newspaper chose to write about this very small event. Brooklyn Nine-Nine uses the same method of giving a heartwarming story with a cute animal to draw away from the issues with the police and paint the police force as purely good people because they like animals. They do this in particular with the use of one admittedly very adorable corgi dog named Cheddar, who is the Captain’s dog. Multiple times throughout the series, the dog appears onscreen and in one episode they even go on a mission to rescue him after he goes missing.

This is a video on the official Brooklyn-Nine Nine YouTube channel using Cheddar in order to promote the show.

Copaganda in Criminal Minds:

Now that we have reviewed over Brooklyn Nine-Nine and how it uses diversity boosting, pink washing, and “saving kittens” storytelling to push copaganda, we will now talk about the show Criminal Minds and how it uses two other very important copaganda tactics: “how dangerous the job is” storytelling and inaccurate procedure.

“How Dangerous the Job is” Storytelling:

This tactic again is pulled from a method that many newspapers have used in the past. In order to muddy the waters on police violence and how a lot of it stems from systematic racism and profiling, the media publishes lots of details and random tales on how difficult the police have it (random shootings or assaults of police). This effectively plants seeds of doubt in the public’s mind and causes more leeway on and support for police in cases against them for misconduct. The police consistently use these stories as references to excuse their behavior rather than apologize or take accountability for police violence. Criminal Minds pushes this same type of idea unfortunately by the very nature of the show. In order to make the show more interesting, the main cast of FBI agents is constantly put into danger: they are attacked, shot at, kidnapped, and sometimes even killed while in the field. In reality, the job that all of the main characters work in — as criminal profilers — actually never go into the field to confront the criminal themselves. These type of people are never in danger, but the show puts them in danger to add excitement to the story and have people empathize with them more, even though they shoot almost all of the unidentified subjects they try and aphrehend.

Inaccurate Procedure:

This brings us to the final tactic of copaganda I am going to be talking about today: inaccurate procedure. I touched on this idea in the last section, but essentially this method of copaganda is glossing over proper procedures in order to make characters and stories more appealing to an audience. Criminal Minds is infamous for doing this — especially since the whole idea of the story is completely inaccurate (as said before, criminal profilers barely EVER go into the field, but on this show, they go into the field every single week). Brooklyn Nine-Nine is also infamous for inaccurate procedure and in a more harmful way, too, due to the nature of the show. Since it is a comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine often laughs off the breaks in procedure and tends to idolize the characters who do so because it is “funny”. The biggest examples are two of the main protagonist detectives Jake and Rosa. A big part of Jake’s character is that he regularly disobeys procedures and rules in order to live out his fantasy of being a badass hero from “Die Hard”. Rosa is often known to be physically and verbally intimidating to the civilians she deals with in the field. Both are actual issues in the police force, but the show uses them as “quirks” for their characters and the brunt of many of their jokes.

CLICK HERE to watch the video if it doesn’t play, it has been faulty. (Essentially, a main character in the show who is a cop says “rules are meant to be broken”.

What Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Criminal Minds Do Well, but Why It Isn’t Enough:

It would be a discredit to these shows if I said that neither of them addressed any of the issues within the police force. And many people argue that these shows are not Copaganda because they DO indeed address different problems like racial profiling, police brutality, and homophobia. A very important part of Brooklyn Nine-Nine to note is its sixteenth episode in the fourth season called “Moo Moo”. In the episode, Terry, a black sergeant, gets profiled and arrested by a white cop for no reason while walking down the street of his own neighborhood and looking for his daughter’s stuffed animal “Moo Moo”. This episode addresses a lot of the police force’s institutional racism and how racial profiling exists. It even addresses how the system is corrupt since it may not even help if Terry files a report and might even maybe hinder his career. (Even the show itself is showing how a good cop cannot exist in a bad system).

(Again, click the link HERE to see the video if it doesn’t play since it has been faulty). Terry gets stopped by a cop and then meets with him after to talk things out. In my opinion, these few scenes did a VERY good job at explaining the issue of racial profiling in the police.

Criminal Minds also has addressed the issue of racial profiling. In one particular episode, while one of the main profilers Derek Morgan and a side character cop for that episode are walking through the yard, the side character gets shot. There os one thing done right here and one thing done wrong: the wrong thing is depicting them walking through a yard without a permit and therefore glorifying going against procedure. However, the right thing is that the situation addresses racial profiling. The side character cop is a black man who was shot because he was on his property and the person who shot him admits he did it because he was black. Still, while these shows have addressed certain issues in the police force over a few episodes or scenes, these few moments do not negate the effect that the entire show has on its audience. It is important to note that both of these shows are meant to be seen as procedurals and are made to be used as re-runs. It is very unlikely that a casual watcher on television will happen to tune in to the one moment that is pointing out a flaw in the police force rather than the many moments which are spent glorifying the police in order to make the main characters more likable and the plot more interesting. And, even if the viewer does catch it, these small moments certainly will not outweigh the subliminal messaging that has been interwoven throughout the entire show.

What Now? (And What Can You Do?):

Should everyone stop watching these shows? No. Are they both extremely detrimental and made with only bad intentions? No. Brooklyn Nine-Nine in particular has extremely diverse and good representation on and off screen and does a good job of addressing some systematic problems. Still, are they destructive and harmful “copaganda”? Definitely yes. The parts where Brooklyn Nine-Nine addresses systematic issues is often undermined by multiple jokes in between serious scenes. And in a majority of cop shows, while there are a few minor characters and moments where “dirty cops” or corruption is revealed, the main characters and the cops as a whole are inevitably and ultimately painted as the good guys when in reality the system is built off of corruption and does not allow good cops to thrive.

I think that creators of these shows and other cop shows should be more responsible about the representation they have on screen. Their shows are not just shows. They are shows about a system which currently has deeply rooted issues. It is their responsibility to not deflect away from them. They need to be less set on having their main characters being depicted as “flawless” and understand the power that they have on their audience. If shows about cops became less afraid of showing the problems of racism and homophobia within the system, it would present its wide and large audience with this information and hopefully educate them for the better. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has recently said they are delaying the release of their next season in light of the protests that had sparked from the death of George Floyd in order to figure out how to make a show about cops that is not disrespectful or “copaganda”. Only time will tell, but maybe they will set the precedent for how cop shows should ideally be in the future.

The most important thing that you can do from this point on is to be sure to be an informed viewer. This blog hopefully gave you a start point in helping you recognize copaganda tactics and how easily media can influence your opinions; but it does not stop there. You should continue looking at resources about copaganda and institutional corruption within the police in order to grow your own understanding on the issue of copaganda and how to spot it. I will include some resources below if you’d like to expand your knowledge.

Works Cited and More Resources to Check Out:

Works Cited:

Cherry, Tali. “Are Cop TV Shows Just Harmful Copaganda?” Medium, Medium, 3 July 2020, medium.com/@tali.s/are-cop-tv-shows-just-harmful-copaganda-3c3bae0cf255. 

Frazer-Carroll, Micha. “Copaganda: Why Film and TV Portrayals of the Police Are under Fire.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 10 July 2020, www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/police-brutality-tv-copaganda-brooklyn-nine-nine-paw-patrol-cops-george-floyd-a9610956.html. 

Johnson, Adam, and AlterNet. “The 8 Most Popular Types of ‘Copaganda’: How the Police Play the Media.” Alternet.org, 21 Sept. 2020, www.alternet.org/2016/02/8-most-popular-types-copaganda-how-police-play-media/. 

Silver, Stephen. “Godspeed, Unsubs: ‘Criminal Minds’ Signs Off.” LIVING LIFE FEARLESS, 26 Feb. 2020, livinglifefearless.co/2020/features/godspeed-unsubs-criminal-minds-signs-off/. 

More Resources on the Police & Their Institutional Corruption/Misconduct:

A former bastard cop giving his experience and explaining why the system needs to be changed: https://medium.com/@OfcrACab/confessions-of-a-former-bastard-cop-bb14d17bc759

The full article of more copaganda topics and more in depth explainations of each one: https://www.alternet.org/2016/02/8-most-popular-types-copaganda-how-police-play-media

Statistics about the NYPD (demographics based on race, gender, and reports made against them): https://www1.nyc.gov/site/ccrb/policy/data-transparency-initiative-mos.page ; it’s important to note that according to this a startling 57% of the NYPD has had at least one CCRB complaint filed against them which allege the use of excessive or unnecessary force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, or the use of offensive language.

An explanation of institutional racism (will essentially get you started on understanding how the police force is an extension of institutionalized racism and how racial profiling connects to white privilege. https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/institutionalracism.pdf

And since this class is called Animated Perspectives, it may be interesting to look into/consider how a children’s animated show called Paw Patrol and a children’s animated movie called Zootopia contain copaganda. Just an idea if you wanted to look more into it!

Bury Your Gays

It’s March 21st, 2016. In the past month, 4 presenting lesbian or bisexual characters have been killed in mainstream television shows. The culprits? Jane the Virgin, The 100, The Magicians, and The Walking Dead. Why is this happening? Well that’s because of the bury your gays trope. It’s as grizzly as it sounds. Television, film, and media in general has had a history of killing of gay characters to avoid fleshing them out. Many people have made it clear on social media that this trope is not okay, but how do we fix it? The solution to the “bury your gays” trope is not to make gay characters on screen never die, but instead to stop ending their story before it’s begun. 

Characters can die. That’s fine. Dying is a part of life and as such it is a part of storytelling. That being said, people usually die after they’ve lived a full life. Those who die before reaching a ripe old age are usually regarded as tragedies. As of March 21st, 2016, 18 gay couples were allowed happy endings, compared to the 146 gay characters killed on screen. Tragic. Trends like these are quite obvious and are at the forefront of LGBTQ+ discussion in social media. 

The movie Atomic Blonde features a developing lesbian romance that *SPOILERS* ultimately leads to one of the characters deaths in the third act. Unlike other movies that fulfil the “bury your gays” trope, this movie did bother to flesh out it’s queer characters. Delphine, the character that dies, is fleshed out during the course of the movie and her death is more than just a minor plot point. Despite all this, critics lambasted the movie online for falling into old tropes and not doing enough for the queer community. 

A prime example of another subversion of the bury your gays trope is the Black Mirror episode San Junipero. The episode is a love story between a lesbian and bisexual woman played out in a hyper realistic simulation that people can enter once they die. The details of the episode are quite confusing, but it is relevant in that both characters do die in the end, yet they still get to have their happily ever after. Their deaths are not used for character development for some other heterosexual main actor, but rather to further their own stories. 

Social media discourse and mob mentality often has a way of eliminating all nuance in an argument. In this case, it has reduced the complicated history behind the “bury your gays” trope down to a simple question. Does the gay die? If yes, cancel. This makes it extremely difficult for creators who do want to showcase queer characters on screen to produce content that their mob fanbase will approve. This could inadvertently discourage companies from producing more queer content. A writer might opt to heteronormify a character if they die for the fear of being cast as another buried gay. 

As of November of 2020, there have been at least 30 lesbian or bisexual couples on television who have had happy endings. There have also been at least 212 dead lesbians and bisexuals on television. That means if there’s a lesbian character on screen, theres only a 14% chance they will have a happy ending. That’s pretty sad.  It is nice to see that there has been some increase in happy endings over the past four years, however. A 40% increase in four years is pretty good considering the very first gay to be buried dates all the way back to 1976 In the soap opera Executive Suite. Progress has been made so that not every gay character on TV is there for tokenism. Because of that, I do not think the fact that a queer character dies on screen is a bad thing inherently. It is all about the intent and context. Deaths can have meaning but they can also lack meaning. 

What examples of the “bury your gays” trope have you noticed and do you think they’re justified?

Sources:

https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/immortal-lgbt-characters-is-not-the-solution-to-bury-your-gays

https://slate.com/human-interest/2016/10/black-mirror-upends-tvs-bury-your-gays-trope.html

Flash: The Wild West of Animation and what it’s given us.

I think that the widespread availability of animation software/techniques has led to a more diverse set of shows/movies that otherwise would not have come to fruition. 

I’m taking an Old testament class this semester and it’s my first real encounter with the Bible. It’s opened my eyes to a lot of things but the most notable of all is the dramatic impact something can have depending on who wrote it. The most basic thing we come back to every time when discussing passages in the Old testament or moment in history is the question “who wrote it?” which usually answers the follow up question “why did they want us to read it this way?”. The “ten commandments” if you look at them carefully were really written by a very small representative of the population for a very small representation of the population. It only deals with what the author would have dealt with: it only deals with a land owning, well off man’s perspective of life. All of this to say that it’s become more apparent for me now than ever before just how important it is to factor in the creators of the content when discussing the content itself. If written by a land owning man, it’ll only deal with issues a land owning man has dealt with. Now how do I bring this back to animation? 

My perspective is this: if only a small percent of the population has the ability to create something, that something will only speak to a small percent of the population. But suddenly, give this creative ability to everyone and what you’ll end up with is a much more diverse range of content meant for and to reflect the actual population of a given area. 

For a long time the ability to animation was safeguarded and difficult to access. Sure a stack of papers would do in a pinch but real, film worthy animation was hard to produce without a studio and a lot of start-up capital costs. Animation as a medium quickly became commercialized and competitive, studios against studios, product matching up to product, and unless you could compete with the big studios, there was no room for your voice. This was especially true during the age of television animation. In the words of Tom Klein, my history of animation professor, 

“If you think about the animated shorts of the 30’s and 40’s, it took 5 to 6 months to produce one short while an animated television series has 12 to 20 half hour shows per season. Because of the high production cost and demand, the productions either speed up production or fold up the studio. Which led to the decline of animation in the 1960’s.” 

But then the 90’s came along, and with it, the internet, computers, and yes: flash animation.

 I believe flash animation was the advent that led to a more diverse range of cartoons in two ways: the first was to help out tv networks and cartoons that were already airing: for shows like Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, it helped them not only stay on schedule, but it also helped reduce the amount of animation errors that were resulting from sending boards overseas to be animated. As Micheal Ouweleen, the creator of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law says: 

“You get the first animation back, and something has gone horribly wrong: Someone has misinterpreted something and all of your jokes have been taken out back and shot, and they are not in there, the jokes are not there anymore! It comes back and you don’t have any jokes, and you doubt everything you know and then you have to sit there and edit, and take out frame by frame by frame, just take it out, but it’s necessary and someone has to do it. It’s when you resuscitate the patient that it gets funny again” (Frey)

But since they were able to use flash to produce more of the animation in house, they were able to have a better control over their own content, and had more freedom to create exactly what they wanted and how they wanted without having to lose a lot of their creative license to time and budget issues. The specific example I chose was Harvey Birdman, attorney at Law, but the general idea applies to the whole era of TV cartoons following it, they were able to create much more outlandish and diverse stuff because they had more control over what they were creating. The creator of the PowerPuff Girls, Craig McCracken has noted that if he could, he would have gone back and redone the first ten years of his show with Flash animation (Amidi) . But of course, he couldn’t, so instead? He created the Foster’s Home for Imaginary Kids. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, McCracken noted that most of the humor and substance of the show comes from how it was animated, again showing that Flash animation was the key that unlocked the creation of crazier, funkier shows like Foster’s Home, which, without flash animation, would have lost its humor and its substance.

So we saw how Flash animation helped diversify cartoons that were airing, or already in production, but there’s a second way flash animation led to the creation of more diverse content: it’s all about the fact that Flash could be accessed by the general public. With random kids from all over the world having access to animation software at a young age, they were not only able to output content right then and there onto Newgrounds etc, but they were also able to hone their skills to better break into the industry later on.

Users on tumblr.com lamenting the loss of Flash

It’s animators like Rebecca Sugar and Ian Jones-Quarty who were able to grow up and have access to flash animation. The cartoon shows that have been borne directly in relation to the generation who grew up with flash animation are more diverse, not only in content, but also in representation than most cartoons ever before it. 

However, some counter arguments to flash animation do exist. Most notably, about its aesthetic. Ian Jones-quarty, creator of OK K.O., felt that animation recently has been too sterile because of Flash and other digital animation tools. He feels nostalgic about the days of hand crafted, hand drawn animation, and all the quirks that go along with it. I agree that digital animation can be used in such a streamline way that you end up with a very generic looking result (Frey). Although I agree with this sentiment, I still have to argue that Flash and other digital animation has been a boon, because, while Jones-Quarty was mourning the aesthetic of hand drawn cartoons, he was still able to achieve it in his show OK K.O. through the use of digital animation, thus reaping the benefits of both the ease of digital animation and the look of traditional animation. 

Flash animation gave creators greater control over their cartoons, helping T.V. cartoons move away from basic money selling structures, increased production efficiency, quality, and decreased costs and which overall helped in creating a new age of diverse cartoons. Although there was a period of time where Flash removed an endearing hand drawn quality from cartoons, modern animators were able to figure out ways of reintroducing that loved aesthetic back into the genre.

Amidi, et al. “Powerpuff Girls Are Flashier Than Ever.” Cartoon Brew, 21 Jan. 2009, www.cartoonbrew.com/tv/powerpuff-girls-are-flashier-than-ever-10742.html.

Frey, Holly. “How Cartoons Get Made.” Drawn: The Story of Animation, Stuff Media, 1 May 2018, www.drawnpodcast.com/podcasts/how-cartoons-get-made.htm.

Emails with Tom Klein

The Fall of Fan Conventions and the Rise of Their Virtual Counterparts: Are Virtual Conventions the Way of the Future?

Anime, comics, cartoons, art, a community, and a desire to meet up and connect. Bring them all together and you get a fan convention. These can include animation conventions, comic conventions, or a combination of the two. Within fandoms of animation and comics, convention or con goers practically make up their own community, coming together to create large-scale gatherings, large-scale marketplaces for artists of all sorts, panels involving overseas guests, cosplay competitions and showcases, concerts, and much more. So it goes without saying that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several aspects of conventions needed to be put on hold. Almost every anime and comic convention scheduled for 2020 has been either cancelled, rolled over to 2021, or converted into a virtual convention held online for the time being.

So how will conventions move forward from here? Let’s look into how cons are faring now.

Image of fans entering the halls of Anime Expo, the largest anime convention in the United States

One method some conventions chose was to roll over their dates to the next year. Several large US anime conventions slated for spring 2020, such as Texas’ A-Kon and Washington’s Sakuracon, were forced to cancel their events with the options for fans to have their tickets either transferred to the next year or refunded. However, some conventions like Sakuracon, a non-profit volunteer-run convention, were reluctant to offer refunds, and from personal experience there is no way on their website to request a refund. You have to email them and then fill out a form that they send back. In the case of the Kansas convention Naka-Kon, they were forced to cancel the day before opening, and may not be able to return another year as they had already paid for the venue and guests and couldn’t get any of that back. This method is definitely not the most successful and much of it was forced by the state before they could come up with a backup plan, but unless they hadn’t already paid for the venue and other event costs, it winds up equating to a year of no or negative income.

Conventions that were scheduled for the summer and winter had a little more time to plan something out, and were no doubt inspired by the small virtual cons that started popping up around early April. One of the earliest of these I could find was one called Cancellation Con, a virtual convention mainly for cosplayers set up across multiple platforms, that took place April 3rd-5th. From the schedule on their website, they had panels streaming on different Instagram accounts, Facebook pages, Twitch pages, and on the convention’s Discord server, as well as a cosplay contest on Facebook. While at least half of the panels were geared towards cosplay, there were some on general aspects of anime and cartoons, as well as art panels. Another one that garnered attention was Anime Lockdown, a virtual convention that was streamed through Discord, Twitch, and Youtube May 1st-3rd. A big hitting point about this virtual convention was that US guests that bigger US conventions would have by default reached out and volunteered their time to be guests for this small-scale virtual con. These two cons were entirely free to participate in, and thought up and run by generally small teams, Anime Lockdown by only 2 people, and hundreds of people gathered online to view the panels and participate in the chatrooms.

An enamel pin created of the San Diego Convention Center, where San Diego Comic-Con is annually held. The pin was released during Comic-Con@Home and sold out within two minutes.

As small virtual cons gained attention, larger conventions saw them as a model. Comic Market, popularly shortened to Comiket, is Japan’s largest anime and comic convention. After having to cancel for the first time in 44 years, Comiket decided to try a virtual convention they dubbed Air Comiket on May 2nd-5th. On their livestream they recorded 443,357 views over the 4 days, just under their average attendance of 500,000. San Diego Comic-Con, one of the US’s largest comic conventions and well known for their tickets selling out half a year in advance, streamed their virtual counterpart Comic-Con@Home for free. The virtual con, like others, included video panels, a virtual exhibition hall, and a cosplay showcase across multiple platforms such as Youtube and Tumblr. While critical reviews deemed it a failure in terms of numbers and the hype around it, fans considered it rather successful and a great replacement. Looking at the numbers argument, considering the capacity of the San Diego Convention Center where the con is normally held, the number of views for certain video panels tripled the views the panel would’ve received at the convention center alone. Some like a panel for The Walking Dead went well above tripling in views, receiving over 95,000 views for a panel that would normally be in a room with a capacity of 6,500 people. Fans also connected over social media to share memories, and some even took a trip out to the convention center to hold small socially distanced meet-ups with friends. Back on the anime side of conventions, LA’s Anime Expo found overwhelming success in their virtual rendition AX Lite, Canada’s Otakuthon charged a small fee for their event but created virtual graphics replicating the inside of their convention center for their virtual con as a fun way to make it feel a little more normal, and AnimeNYC has announced plans for a virtual convention this winter.

An image of Otakuthon’s graphics used to emulate the atmosphere of the convention center during con season.

While virtual conventions seem to be the way to go for the time being, there is also a dark horse among anime and comic conventions: hybrid events. One of these in particular happens to be pretty local, SacAnime held in Sacramento, California. They decided that rather than cancelling their in-person event at the end of September, they would hold a smaller-scale version of their con in the form of a swap meet. While the swap meet happened in-person, some panels were also happening virtually. They enforced the wearing of masks on site and widened the space of the walkways and booths to ensure a socially distant environment. However, it’s very surprising they weren’t shut down for violating any large crowd rules with the pandemic still in effect. They got a pretty decent crowd, so it could be deemed a success, but everyone that attended was still putting their lives at risk.

Depending how the pandemic pans out from here, it’s uncertain when we will see conventions returning in their original offline form. However, if and when they return, should anime and comic conventions keep a virtual element? Based on the overall performance of virtual conventions, I’d say it would only be beneficial for them to keep a virtual element, such as the live streaming of panels. However, it also depends on the context of the virtual element. A lot of what makes conventions special is that they include very exclusive events, which gives the often-expensive convention ticket value. These exclusive events can include early premieres of movies or an episode of a new series, or just the opportunity to meet overseas guests in person. From my personal experience attending virtual conventions, they have been enjoyable but were definitely missing a social element that makes a con feel like a con. It may sound a bit like a cash grab, but if conventions were to keep a virtual element, I think it would be best to charge a fee to view any livestreams of panels involving overseas guests or that would be deemed “exclusive” for that convention. I think that would be the best way for cons to keep that exclusive and personalized element while also reaching a larger audience.

What are your thoughts? Should conventions incorporate elements of virtual cons into their future in-person events?

Works Cited:

https://goldcountrymedia.com/news/176420/cosplay-takes-over-as-sacanime-swap-meet-excites-the-grounds/

https://animecons.com/events/info/16063/comic-market-2020

https://theconversation.com/comic-con-home-virtual-comics-event-declared-a-failure-by-industry-critics-but-fans-loved-it-143801

https://www.amexessentials.com/virtual-cosplay-events-lockdown-online-cosplay-community/

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2020/09/12/general/anime-conventions-coronavirus/

http://weirdisthenewnormal.com/cancellation-con-full-schedule

https://comicbook.com/anime/news/anime-nyc-online-virtual-convention-ntwrk-crunchyroll-anime-streaming/

The Wizarding World of Uncertainty: Navigating the World of Harry Potter in an Era of J.K. Rowling’s Bigotry

It is no secret that the Harry Potter franchise is well loved amongst society. The Harry Potter experience is often nostalgic to those who have engaged with it and, at the very least, notable to those who have not. The creation of this whimsical, magic-filled universe is a critical part of fantasy media and fan culture. So where do we go when world-famous author, J.K. Rowling, has viewpoints that are not as well received as her writing? Some people believe that we should cancel the entire franchise. Others believe that we can remove J.K. Rowling and her ideologies from her writing. 

But as a society, can we actually separate the book from the author? Well, no. It’s not that simple. 

We cannot ignore J.K. Rowling’s role in creating the Harry Potter franchise for a few core reasons: profitability, accountability, and transgender perspectives.

(Image: © Warner Bros)

Let’s be clear: J.K. Rowling’s world views suck. This post isn’t intended to debate if Rowling’s perspectives are warranted. They are not. Her history of transphobic comments and dedication to trans-exclusionary radical feminism is concerning and rightfully receives backlash from the general public.

Her recent behavior has been the highlight of many video essays and internet rants. 

She is, however, the creator of this extremely successful franchise. There is a trending idea that if someone is interested in reading or watching Harry Potter, it is best to buy the books on thrift sites or pirate the films. While this may clear the conscience, this does not do much to stop J.K. Rowling’s ever increasing income. The Harry Potter franchise has been ingrained in our culture in many different ways: books, films, spin-offs, merchandise, games, entire amusement parks, the list goes on. J.K. Rowling will always benefit from someone indulging in her content whether that is a fraction of a cent from a mug of Butterbeer or her next million dollar brand deal. 

An author’s personality and viewpoints contribute to their work. We have to hold them accountable for the way their bias influences their narratives. This cannot be ignored even when reading media that regarded as “escapism” such as Harry Potter. Although some internet users believe J.K. Rowling’s viewpoints may have been altered after writing the series, there are problematic elements in the Harry Potter series itself. Fans often comment on the lack of representation for people of color (more here ) and being mislead into thinking there will be canonically LGBT+ characters (here). Specifically, fans comment on Cho Chang and the racist undertones in the writing of this character. The series is admired by many yet features controversial elements. For better or for worse, Rowling’s prejudices and beliefs directly influenced the narrative. 

J.K. Rowling will continue to benefit from Harry Potter while continuing to make statements dehumanize trans individuals. Although this piece of media may not explicitly include transphobia and Rowling’s statements came years after the release of Harry Potter, the statements have left trans individuals in a complicated relationship with the series. On social media, some transgender people have had to completely remove themselves from the Harry Potter universe due to discontent with Rowling’s statements. While others mention that they will continue to hold Harry Potter as a beloved piece of media whilst being extremely critical of J.K. Rowling’s personal views (ex. Alex Rose on YouTube). The removal of an author from their work does not provide an answer for trans peoples, especially those who felt a strong emotional connection to the series and characters.

Of course, a person can have an individualized separation from the creator. Many users on social media such as YouTube and Twitter have expressed their love for the series and opposition to Rowling’s transphobic nonsense. This is done by enjoying books and movies that are pre-owned and engaging with like-minded fans instead of Rowling herself. This is much more feasible than attempting to ‘cancel’ Harry Potter in its entirety. 

The Magic of Perspective: How Harry Potter and My 8 Year Old Helped Me  Better Understand Effective Teams - Learning Personalized
(Image: © Universal Studios)

Some say that society can be effective in removing the artist from their art. People on social media will still engage with the content saying things like “I love Harry Potter, but I’m not sure who wrote it” or “It’s amazing that no one wrote Harry Potter” and other facetious comments. In The Atlantic’s article entitled “How J. K. Rowling Became Voldemort”, there is said to be a common fan name for Rowling: “She Who Must Not Be Named”. This mimics the phrase used for the series villain, Voldemort. Some even go as far as to say that Harry Potter was ghostwritten by a secret team of writers, although these arguments have no sufficient proof and are usually just products of Reddit conspiracy threads. It is clear that people will go to great lengths to remove her from the narrative, so that they can enjoy the content in peace.

There are companies that clarify their attempt to distance themselves from Rowling. For instance, Warner Bros. made a statement revealing that an upcoming game, entitled “Hogwarts Legacy”, will not feature any direct influence from Rowling. 

 I definitely see the appeal for feigning ignorance, but I think that would be disregarding an opportunity to hold media and their creators accountable. A better approach is acknowledging the inappropriate actions and viewpoints from the author and recognizing that you can still appreciate the narrative.

McGregor, in an article from The Star, says: “We shouldn’t, as critical readers, cancel books or just throw books in the garbage. We just have to think about how to read those books critically.”

How to watch the Harry Potter movies in order | TechRadar
(Image: © Warner Bros)

As much as I wish we could, I do not think it will ever be possible to separate J.K. Rowling from her all-famous creation, Harry Potter. She will continue to benefit from the franchise regardless of a societal effort to remove her from this media. Additionally, the importance of author accountability and marginalized perspectives contribute to the impractical idea that we can remove an author from their work. Unfortunately, creators of great talent, writing or otherwise, can be problematic in nature. J.K. Rowling is not the first of these kind and will not be the last.

I recommend that people view the content they consume with a critical eye and allow creators to take accountability for their perspectives. If those with large platforms have harmful views, public criticism should counter this without ignoring the influence these people have on society. Most importantly, listen to those who are the targets of J.K. Rowling’s dehumanizing opinions. Specifically, trans peoples and others who feel that Rowling has slighted them in either her writing or posts to social media.

There is a way to enjoy cozying up by the fire and cracking open page 679 of a Harry Potter book while acknowledging J.K. Rowling’s not-so-great point of views.

Sources:

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/07/why-millennial-harry-potter-fans-reject-jk-rowling/613870/

https://www.diaryofanaspiringloser.com/all-the-black-asian-and-wizards-and-witches-of-color-in-the-harry-potter-series/

https://www.insider.com/fantastic-beasts-jk-rowling-dumbledore-lgbt-backlash-2018-2

https://www.instyle.com/celebrity/jk-rowling/harry-potter-fansites-no-longer-support-jk-rowling

https://www.theverge.com/2020/9/17/21443940/hogwarts-legacy-jk-rowling-transphobia-warner-bros-robert-galbraith