Monthly Archives: October 2015

What I Want to be When I Grow Up

Little Engine That Literally Can't Even

With my dissertation topic (which is studying the relationships between sci-fi fandom involvement, social media, and mental health) gaining recent approval from my school, and having SO many people on Twitter wish me well and be excited for me (*waves to Twitter*), I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’m actually doing for my dissertation, and what my perfect world end game is.

People have been asking me what I want to be when I grow up for as long as I can remember, as I’m sure they do everyone. The frustration for me is that, despite going through grade school, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and now even a doctorate, until the last year I really didn’t have an answer to that question. My strategy has been to keep going to school (which is something I’m pretty good at) and hope that something would eventually pop up. Interestingly enough, I think that strategy may have worked, if what I have found I want to do is something that I can somehow find a way to get paid to do.

People always tell you that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well that’s fan-freaking-tastic if what you love is arguing with people (law), fixing people (medical, mental health), playing with numbers (accounting, business) or other such things that have a pretty direct career correlation. Well what about people like me whose passions involve fandom and traveling? Last I checked, no one is hiring professional fangirls to fly around the world to sci-fi cons. Sadly. I would be sooooooo qualified for that position. Also, the application would be amazing….

  • Current fandom:
  • OTP:
  • Currently watching:
  • Most frequented vacation spots:
  • Number of fandom cons attended (please list all con names/dates/locations/photo ops/VIP):
  • List at least three references (use Twitter handles please):

I digress. Anyway, I’ve never been able to figure out how to turn my passions into a job, let alone a career, and so I’ve always just accepted that I’ll have to do something for a living that’s at least tolerable, and leave my passions as my hobbies. Until the last year, when I had an epiphany. The way that Capella University sets up its doctoral programs is that all coursework is done online, but there are three in person gatherings (called colloquia) where you come together with other students and professors to begin laying the groundwork for your dissertation. These colloquia were the absolute best times of my doctoral program so far, hands down. And somehow, somewhere (I’m still not sure where I got the idea specifically), I realized that maybe… just maybe… I could write my dissertation on fandom. I got many crazy looks, and noooo one had much of any idea what I was talking about (that’s a whole other blog entry into itself), but through the experience of developing my research plan for dissertation I’ve realized something freaking amazing: there is science to be done in the field of fandom and mental health.

I think that we can all agree that fandom is here to stay. Social media has exploded, and people have taken to Twitter and Facebook (not to mention Tumblr and god knows how many other sites I don’t even frequent) quite literally by the millions to engage in fandom discussion and general fangirling/boying over our favorite pieces of pop culture. While fandom has been around since the dawn of time, social media has made it much more immediate and much, much more easily accessible. I’m no longer writing a pen pal about my New Kids on the Block obsession and waiting weeks if not months to get something back. Now I’m on Twitter meeting new fangirls/fanboys every single day and chatting about shows online in real time. There is scientific research backing up the fact that fandom is growing, and is becoming ever more powerful in bringing people together and in influencing the object of fanships (Obst, Zinkiewicz, & Smith, 2002a, 2002b; Recuero, Amaral, & Monteiro, 2012). There is scientific research backing up the fact that being part of a sports or music fandom can affect psychological well-being and even suicidal behaviors (Andriessen & Krysinska, 2009; Hirt, Zillmann, Erickson, & Kennedy, 1992; Stack, 2000, 2002; Wann & Weaver, 2009; Wann, 2006). There is scientific research backing up the fact that people can become addicted to their parasocial relationships of choice just like they might a drug (Rudski, Segal, & Kallen, 2009). There is scientific research backing up the fact that social media in and of itself can have a massive impact on wellbeing, both positively and negatively depending on the circumstances (Caplan, 2003; Davila et al., 2012; Giglietto, Rossi, & Bennato, 2012; Nabi, Prestin, & So, 2013; Sanderson & Cheong, 2010; Strano & Wattai Queen, 2012). So we know that fandom (especially online) is growing, it’s not going away, and it’s likely affecting our mental health and well-being. But that’s all we really know at this point.

So what do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a scientific researcher who applies science to the psychology of fandom. My fellow fangirls and fanboys, I think it is time that we recognized that we wield a tremendous amount of power. There is a massive world inside our electronic devices, and it is real. No longer should there be a distinction between “online” and “real life” because online IS real life (if you truly want to nerd out on this topic, check out Joseph Walther – his Social Information Processing Theory is one I plan to use in my dissertation, and is super relevant). But with great power comes great responsibility (sorry, I couldn’t resist…). We know that fandom has power, but science and good old fashioned common sense would state that there are likely both massive pros and massive cons from fandom participation. If it’s not going away, and it’s going to be a large part of our lives, then I feel it’s our responsibility to understand it and harness its power. We need research that discovers what the benefits of fandom participation are, not only so that we can feel justified in our involvement, but also so that professionals in mental health can understand it and so it can be used to help more people. But we also need to understand what the potential pitfalls are and how fandom can be used negatively, so that we as fans can recognize the warning signs in ourselves and others if people need help, keep ourselves safe and healthy, and also keep the objects of our fan-love safe as well. We have an amazing thing going here, but it’s critical that we understand it to the best of our abilities. Online fandoms aren’t going away. This is the New World Order. And now it is time that we understand what that means for us going forward.

So yes, this is what I want to do with my life. I’m passionate and excited about it in a way I’ve never been passionate and excited about anything before, not to mention determined. I want to meet all the fanboys and girls, and I want to understand everyone’s stories about fandom and parasocial relationships (I’ll write about those soon…). I want to dig in and see how fandom is both helping and hurting us. I want to validate our love for fandom, while also keeping us all safe. And yes, at some point it would also be super cool to discuss fandom from the perspective of the objects of fandom to understand how that power and responsibility affects them. And if that means I have to travel to all the Wizard Worlds and Dragon Cons and Comic Cons, then gosh, I guess I’ll just have to work through that challenge.;) But for the first time in my life, I can say that I have a deeper purpose in wanting to immerse myself in that world other than just to hope I can speak in full sentences to David Tennant this time, drink Nocking Point wine, and check out all the amazing cosplayers and fan art. I’m pretty damn excited about working on my dissertation, and ultimately digging in to this work that needs to be done. And you know I’ll keep you all up to date on my progress as I go through the process!

P.S. If anyone wants to hire a fandom researcher, definitely let me know. My desired career isn’t exactly mainstream, and I have yet to see any postings looking for fandom researchers on CareerBuilder, though I remain ever hopeful. 😉 @drfangirlphd @Chrisha_DWGrrl

References

Andriessen, K., & Krysinska, K. (2009). Can sports events affect suicidal behavior? A review of the literature and implications for prevention. Crisis, 30(3), 144–52. doi:10.1027/0227-5910.30.3.144

Caplan, S. E. (2003). Preference for online social interaction: A theory of problematic Internet use and psychosocial well-being. Communication Research, 30(6), 625–648. doi:10.1177/0093650203257842

Davila, J., Hershenberg, R., Feinstein, B. A., Gorman, K., Bhatia, V., & Starr, L. R. (2012). Frequency and quality of social networking among young adults: Associations with depressive symptoms, rumination, and corumination. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1(2), 72–86. doi:10.1037/a0027512

Giglietto, F., Rossi, L., & Bennato, D. (2012). The open laboratory: Limits and possibilities of using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as a research data source. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 30(3-4), 145–159. doi:10.1080/15228835.2012.743797

Hirt, E. R., Zillmann, D., Erickson, G. A., & Kennedy, C. (1992). Costs and benefits of allegiance: Changes in fans’ self-ascribed competencies after team victory versus defeat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(5), 724–738. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.63.5.724

Nabi, R. L., Prestin, A., & So, J. (2013). Facebook friends with (health) benefits? Exploring social network site use and perceptions of social support, stress, and well-being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 16(10), 721–7. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0521

Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002a). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, part 1: Understanding sense of community in an international community of interest. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 87–103. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.1052

Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002b). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, part 2: Comparing neighborhood and interest group sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 105–117. doi:10.1002/jcop.1053

Recuero, R., Amaral, A., & Monteiro, C. (2012). Fandoms, trending topics and social capital in Twitter. Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2, 1–24. Retrieved from http://spir.aoir.org/index.php/spir/article/view/7/pdf

Rudski, J. M., Segal, C., & Kallen, E. (2009). Harry Potter and the end of the road: Parallels with addiction. Addiction Research & Theory, 17(3), 260–277. doi:10.1080/16066350802334595

Sanderson, J., & Cheong, P. (2010). Tweeting prayers and communicating grief over Michael Jackson online. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 30(5), 328–340. doi:10.1177/0270467610380010

Stack, S. (2000). Blues fans and suicide acceptability. Death Studies, 24, 223–231. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/074811800200559

Stack, S. (2002). Opera subculture and suicide for honor. Death Studies, 26, 431–437. doi:10.1080/0748118029008676

Strano, M. M., & Wattai Queen, J. (2012). Covering your face on Facebook. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 24(4), 166–180. doi:10.1027/1864-1105/a000076

Wann, D. L. (2006). Examining the potential causal relationship between sports team identification and psychological well being. Journal of Sports Behavior, 29(1), 79–95. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/215874095?accountid=27965

Wann, D. L., & Weaver, S. (2009). Understanding the relationship between sport team identification and dimensions of social well-being. North American Journal of Psychology, 11(2), 219–230. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2009-08708-002&site=ehost-live\ndan.wann@murraystate.edu

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Filed under Fangirling, Mental Health, PhD, Research

Amellygate: The Aftermath

So, to say that I’m nervous about posting this online would be an understatement.

I’m concerned I may be losing my mind. 

The season premiere of Arrow is this week, the fandom is in its happy place, and the last thing anyone wants to do is rehash recent negativity when there are Olicity teasers to be had. 

But this topic has just not left me alone since the Stephen Amell debacle (which I call Amellygate in my head) and so I felt I had to write about it.

What is it? It is the topic of racism in the United States.

The recent absurd arrest of Ahmed for building a clock, and the subsequent Internet explosion when Stephen Amell attempted to speak about the issue of stereotyping reaffirmed that racial tensions are HIGH in this country right now. While 99.9% of the interactions I had with people online about my previous blog were positive, one recurring thing that came out of that conversation that was new to me was the idea that if you’re white, you shouldn’t be talking about race.

There are people that looked at Stephen, and yes even a few that looked at me, and decided that regardless of having no knowledge of me, my family or my experiences, the fact that my profile picture shows white skin means that I am not entitled to an opinion on the topic of racism in the United States because I don’t experience it. Most people did not approach things that way with me. Most people were awesome. But I was and continue to be completely blown away by how much of this attitude was thrown at Stephen, and I’m still working on processing it. Hence the writing.

I have been involved in the LGBT community for most of my adult life, fighting and protesting, letter writing and marching on the community’s behalf. If you look at my social media profiles you will see that I am a woman and I am married to a man. But you know what? In all of my  years I have never had an LGBT person tell me that I couldn’t have an opinion about LGBT rights because I’ve never experienced their discrimination. Not once. It’s never even been insinuated. In their community I have been called an ally, welcomed with open arms, and thanked for supporting and accepting them. Not that I’m in it for the thanks, but the point remains… even if I haven’t been denied a marriage license, denied housing, or denied service (seriously Indiana, I’m still not over it…) due to my sexual orientation, they don’t care. They just want help. And they are happy to accept that help from non-LGBT folks, and even hand out that special ally designation so they recognize that we are a part of the fight and they’re thankful. At least in my experience.

So then we get to what happened during Amellygate with regards to race. Obviously people were very clearly angry at Stephen for stating his opinion, as they felt that it was inappropriate and took away from the conversation about Ahmed (though I would respectfully point out that if you want a conversation to be focused on a certain thing, talking about that thing and only that thing and not discussing any celebrity scandals might be the best way to keep the conversation where you think it should be, but maybe that’s just my opinion…). In the course of that full-Internet conversation, I heard time and again people saying to Stephen that he’s a rich white man so he would never understand. That he can’t talk about it because he doesn’t get it. And then I had a few people say essentially the same thing to me, when never in my life before had I heard this. Stephen ultimately apologized, saying he’s Stephen Apology Bordernot a scholar in the field of religion or race, he’s just an actor with a high school education and he should leave these things to smarter people. I was pretty disheartened to hear him say that. I know why he did, and I absolutely respect that he wanted to lay things out, face things head on with positivity and grace, and move on, but do we really live in a world where you have to have a PhD in something for your opinion to be taken seriously? Well, no we don’t, because I’m very nearly PhD in the field of mental health (which focuses heavily on issues such as race and oppression, btw) and there are those who don’t believe I have a right to an opinion either. And lets not kid ourselves that all the people hurling their two cents at Stephen all had doctoral degrees, because it’s the Internet and opinions are like assholes… unless you’re a celebrity, apparently, and then you’re supposed to sit there and look pretty and be quiet about potentially hot button issues.

I’m projecting again. Yes, I’m frustrated at the abuse Stephen took and his statements that he’ll leave it to “smarter” people, when I’m the first to tell you that I know plenty of stupid people with PhDs and plenty of brilliant people without even a high school diploma, and no amount of book learning can compare to real world experience. But I’m displacing because I’m still working through how quickly the conversation went nasty and exclusionary, with finger pointing and hate, but with so few attempts at offering solutions to these overarching racial problems. It seemed like the perfect time for people to have a conversation about better ways for us to work towards avoiding both what happened with Ahmed, but also making society safer for all minorities, but instead the conversation became just so mean that all anyone wanted to do was put it behind them and forget about it.

But forgetting about it won’t fix the problem.

I live ten minutes from where Sam DuBose was recently shot and killed by a white police officer during a routine traffic stop. It’s sad that I was actually genuinely surprised when the city stepped up and handled the situation as well as they could, as Cincinnati is not exactly known for our ability to gracefully handle racially charged issues. I’ve lived in Cincinnati most of my life where epic racial tension is ever present and always simmering just beneath the surface of everything. And I hate it.

Earlier this summer I had to sit down with my 14 year old biracial step-daughter and tell her about the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Whether it’s naivete or dumb luck, she’s never had to deal with blatant racism, which both thrills and terrifies me. Terror got the better of me that day, and my husband and I felt that we needed to have a very real conversation with her about racism and racial tensions in our country and in our area so as to keep her on guard and safe. I still can’t even think about that conversation without tears, as I had to put a look of fear in my child’s eyes that day for something she should NEVER have to worry about. But when she goes back to her custodial home in one of the most racist areas of our state, the gut churning fear for her is real, and so I did what I felt I had to do to keep her safe. Even if it broke my heart.

At this point, racism is so ingrained in our culture, so systemic that it can be hard to understand where to start.

So here’s the real focus of this article: When it comes to combating racism in this country and in the world, I want to help.

Let me say that again: I want to HELP.

Tell me how. Educate me. Help me stop being part of the problem, and become part of the solution. I can completely accept that good intentions are not enough, so tell us what to actually do.

Don’t tell me what not to do. Leave the snarky comments on what’s already been said out of it. Let’s avoid sarcasm and personalized negativity. Tell me, and therefore the rest of us, what we can do to help. Because I can guarantee you that most people out there like me want to help, but I’m not too proud to say that maybe we think we are and we’re not. Maybe we’re doing the wrong things. Maybe we’re not as knowledgeable as we think we are.

So help us help. Teach us how to be your allies.

Let’s get away from conversations that include nothing but the problem, and work towards more discussion on the solution.

In all of the crazy of Amellygate, two of my good friends mentioned something that stuck with me. First, that we should remember what we were feeling that week. And second, that a good dialogue with understanding helps. Imagine what we could learn — could do — if we just took the time to talk to each other, and hear each other?

I believe in my soul that there are FAR more of us that want to fix this than people who don’t. So lets work together to make it happen. It is time. And I believe that if we work together, have compassion for each other, and educate and share with each other, we can do it.

So let’s.

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Filed under Fangirling, Mental Health