Category Archives: Mental Health

Processing Fictional Trauma: Broken Hearts Edition

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ARROW EPISODE 4×16

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

There are episodes of television that make us weep with joy. There are those that enrage us, or those that irritate us. There are those that leave us ambivalent. And then there are those that break our hearts, and even have the title to prove it.

For those who love Olicity (a term that is now officially canon I might add), last night’s episode of Arrow was emotionally brutal. The episode was 100% centered around Olicity angst and grief, with a baddie tailor made to twist the knife. And many of the reactions I saw on social media indicate that the heart shaped arrows certainly hit their emotional marks. People’s reRobinactions ranged from outrage in all caps, to pure desolation. I saw tweets of people asking for hugs, posting every crying related gif Twitter has in their database, and of course the screaming, because emotions were intense. (You can see actual footage of me watching the episode in the gif to the left). And yet, with an episode so chalk full of heart break, an interesting theme emerged within the fandom:

Hope.

While the pre-hiatus episodes of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow left us with precious little hope, this episode, while stunningly heartbreaking, gave us hope for the future and for our couple once we got past the initial emotional responses. The theme of light versus dark has been strong in this season, and this episode especially seemed to bring in the essence of hope versus hopelessness as a part of that light/dark balance. I’m not an English scholar, and so I don’t pretend to be very good at picking apart the storylines and the intricacies of the plot. But when looking at why individuals may have loved this episode, and why they may want to watch it repeatedly, despite the heart ache, I think that hope may be the primary reason.

In the field of mental health, hope is huge. It is seen by many as one of the firsLOTR Hopet steps to recovery of trauma or mental illness, because if you can’t see hope for the future, why would you even want to recover? What’s the point? Lack of hope means lack of meaning. It means lack of movement, and lack of motivation. There’s no point, so why bother? Hope is, therefore, one of the primary building blocks of happiness, and we are lost without it.

For Oliver, Felicity has always served as his beacon of hope. He had very little when he came back from the island, which is why he pursued his father’s list with such single minded focus… because it was the only meaning he could make from his existence. Felicity pulled him out of that, and showed him that there was so much more. That there Olicity Lights My Waycould be so much more. And that he deserved it. For Oliver, finding hope was completely life changing, as it can be for any of us who have experienced trauma or had our world’s emotionally rocked. But what this episode showed is that Oliver is not the only one who needs a light, and who needs hope. While Felicity’s snark and negativity this week was hard to watch and seemed uncharacteristic, it was also, in my opinion, completely believable. Felicity has dealt with so much, and has done so with grace and with a smile. No matter how bad things got, she always forgives and she always sees the best in Oliver. But even – and perhaps especially – those people with intense amounts of kindness have issues, and have limits. Their ability to forgive cannot be taken for granted.

Which brings us back to why people may be drawn back to this episode.

While we may not all be at Felicity’s level of tolerance and positivity on a day to day basis (because let’s face it, seeing the good in people is every bit as much of a superpower for her as her tech game is), I think that every one of us has felt taken for granted, or pushed too far. All of us have felt ourselves snap, and our ability to cope disintegrate. We have felt Felicity Breakup Croppedwronged by those we love, and have felt the need to protect ourselves. With Olicity, it’s always Felicity dragging Oliver back and restoring his hope. This time it’ll be Oliver that has to do the dragging, and despite my undying love for him, he deserves to have to. And isn’t that what we all want, when we’re faced with feeling wronged? That the person who hurt us will step up and try to earn our trust back, showing us that our faith in them was not misplaced?

Despite the angst, despite the breakup, and despite the snark, what we saw in this episode repeatedly was that Oliver and Felicity love each other, and will continue to no matter what, by their own admission. We see them struggle, and we see them screw up. We see the issues that they struggle with individually, from Oliver’s time on the “island” to Felicity’s abandonment issues, and how those issues collide in their relationship. We look at all of these issues, and all of the drama, and we see… hope. We see that all relationships Olicity Sunsetare messy, and while some of us may be lucky enough to ride off into the sunset, the fact is, you still have to get up the next morning in the relationship and keep going. There can be amazing moments, like first kisses and engagements and even weddings, but the real challenge in a relationship is managing those day to day issues and the randomness that life throws at you. The reality of any relationship is that even the best of us screw up, and everyone has issues that flare. No relationship is perfect, and without difficulty. But where there is love, there is hope.

After processing for a while last night, and into today, the fandom reaction to this episode I found to be beautiful. The ending of this episode was dark, it was bleak, and it seemed rather final. And yet, those who love Olicity believe that this dark time in their Olicity Wedding First Glancerelationship has meaning and will be for the greater good. The fandom pulled together, not to console each other or to debate as it has in the past, but to find meaning in the darkness. The fandom focused on the vows that Oliver said to Felicity, even typing them out to share online almost immediately. We focused on Felicity’s words to Cupid, which show that despite all of the hurt, Felicity does still believe in love, and she does still readily acknowledge the incredibly positive impact Oliver has had on her life. We went back to find beautiful, loving words that Olicity has said to each otheimg_5190r in the past, and we reminded each other that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. We encouraged each other to keep the faith, and even trended today that “Olicity Is Our Always,” to come together as a community to support each other and the fictional couple we all love. The fandom has worked hard to band together and helpimg_5193 each other see that Olicity will be better for having gone through these challenges, and will be more solid than ever once they come out the other side. We give meaning to their suffering, which in turn may help us find meaning in our own. If these trials and tribulations can mean there’s hope for a better relationship for Olicity, then maybe our own struggles mean there’s hope for a better us too?

For Olicity fans, and for all of us who are struggling with our own crises of faith, I leave you with what I believe to be very applicable sage advice, given by one of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning:

Hope Strengthens. Fear Kills.

Stay strong, Arrow fandom. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

 

 

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Processing Fictional Trauma: March Hiatus Edition

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ARROW 4×08 & 4×15 and

LEGENDS OF TOMORROW 1×06

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

I posted my first article on fictional trauma back in December after the Fl/Arrow crossover. It was the first time I’d really seen fictional trauma grab hold of fandom in real time, and I was really blown away by not only the emotional impact of the episode on the fans, but how the fandom itself pulled together to process. That article was described by someone as a love letter to the fandom, because we had all pulled together in the face of fictional trauma and helped each other to heal.

This article… is not a love letter.

Last week’s episodes of Arrow (4×15) and Legends of Tomorrow (1×06) caused reactions in the fandom that were every bit as powerful as what happened in Arrow 4×08 (if not more so), but my observation of the reactions of the fandom were quite different.

ARROW 4×08 and 4×15 SPOILERS:

In 4×08, I think we could all agree that Oliver made a bad call. Perhaps an understandable one, but ultimately a bad one. We were shocked. We were angry. We were frustrated. We were hurt. But we primarily agreed.

This week the big reveal happened. We heard Oliver’s side. We heard Samantha’s side. We heard Diggle’s thoughts. We heard Vixen’s experiences. And most importantly, we finally heard from Felicity.

And suddenly, the fandom could agree on very, very little.

On my own Twitter timeline I saw opinions ranging from solid support of Oliver to solid support of Felicity. None of which I necessarily had a problem with, because I understand and support them both. But when I branched out a bit, opinions started getting a bit more forceful, up to and including people calling Felicity a selfish bitch (which Mr. Amell didn’t take too kindly to) or Oliver a lying asshole who doesn’t deserve Felicity. I didn’t see support groups so much as I saw debates, going from those that were lively and good natured all the way up to hurling profanity at each other. It was a little jarring, if I’m honest, as I (naively) thought that now that everyone had put all their cards on the table, the fandom would now feel a bit more understanding about where everyone was coming from. But that was not the case.

So the question I’ve been pondering this week is: why?

After talking with my usual groups of post-game fandom friends to process the episode (some of which led to some of those good natured debates I was talking about), I think I have a sneaking suspicion as to why this episode was so divisive and caused such an This is about heartemotional stir which made it difficult for us to turn to each other. This episode, based on the issues with Olicity, tapped hard into experiences many of us have had with trust in relationships… and it’s likely that we’ve been on one side or another (or both) of the Olicity argument ourselves, and were experiencing high levels of stress and hurt at the time. In psychology terms, one of Freud’s defense mechanisms is called transference, which is where we “transfer” negative feelings we have about one person (in this case perhaps a previous relationship) to another person that may have similar qualities (Oliver or Felicity). Maybe that’s what caused so many of us to lash out about their actions?

From my own personal experience, I can tell you that I totally get where Felicity was coming from. As a matter of fact, her speech about how she understood Oliver’s Felicity Breakup Croppeddecisions but just wanted to be a part of the conversation? I’ve given that speech word for word multiple times, being a step-mother myself for more thanOliver Breakup a decade now. But even though I thought I’d made peace with most of those issues, when my husband sided with Oliver in the argument, my hackles went up and we had a spirited  conversation that ran just shy of an argument… over an episode of Arrow. Which is 100% because of our own issues.

But if my husband and I can relate to the Olicity argument, and have it invoke things in us and our own relationship that bring about those kinds of strong feelings and conversations, I guess that means the writers were pretty damn authentic, even if it was painful to watch.

With episode 4×08, most of the anger at Oliver had dissipated by the next day, and people were working their way towards acceptance, even if they were still sad and frustrated. They were starting to see a way through for Olicity, even if they knew it was going to be difficult. But there was a striking difference between the circumstances in that episode, and those of 4×15, in that this episode was followed up by Legends of Tomorrow, the combination of which ended up being the 1-2 punch for Olicity fans.

MORE ARROW SPOILERS +

LEGENDS OF TOMORROW 1x 06 SPOILERS

In episode 1×06 of LoT, the day after seeing the Olicity break up, we are shown Star City in 2046… in a future where Star City has gone completely to hell. Diggle is dead, Oliver is down an arm (but up a goatee), and Olicity is not together. Basically, we are shown what will happen if Olicity doesn’t make it. And it is rife with sorrow, anger, and pure desolation.

What we are left with, going into hiatus, is a complete lack of hope for the future.

Cant Deal With This Shit Gif

Because the fandom was still reeling from the Olicity break up, and all of the emotions, both fictional and personal that it stirred up, seeing this dark, dismal future seemed to stoke those emotional fires even more. The stakes were shown. Now being on the right side of the debate isn’t just about whether Olicity gets back together, or resolves this one specific argument. It’s literally the fate of the ENTIRE WORLD. Which is obviously one of the primary ways that television differs from real life, but then again… when it’s our emotions, doesn’t it feel like in these pivotal relationship moments that the fate of the entire world is at stake, even if it’s just OUR world? Being right, and being acknowledged as being right, becomes a need that’s almost desperate in nature. In the case of the CW DC universe, whatever side of the Olicity debate you’re on, you NEED to be right or the world will end.

And so back to debating the fandom went.

It’s been a week today since LoT aired, and I semi-purposefully waited this long to post this because I was curious to see how the fandom would resolve this issue, especially when we are staring a month long hiatus in the face. I think… that it’s been a struggle. At the time of my posting this, my current thoughts about the fandom is that we’ve moved on from the Olicity debate (because it’s too painful, or just because we’ve talked Ship Warsit to death? Hard to say…), but are now focused on who’s in the box. Maybe because it’s a potentially happier thought for some (which doesn’t that just sum up this fandom in a nutshell? LOL), though obviously potentially devastating for others. This has led to more negative expressions of emotion between certain factions in the fandom, but of a far less personal nature, I’d say. The debate over who Oliver should love is a topic that we can talk about without getting nearly as close to our own real traumas as discussing the Olicity break up does. It might be a true over-dramatization, but it’s possible that the Olicity/Lauriver debate is as negative as it is right now, just because people are still struggling with the negative feelings, fears, and hurt left over from last week’s episodes and so they’re coming out in other fandom activities/discussions (a defense mechanism known as displacement). Or maybe people are just nervous about the rest of the season. Or maybe it’s a combination of both. Or maybe I’m totally off base. It’s been known to happen occasionally. 😉

One thing I can say is this: Dr. Travis Langley, who has been a big source of professional inspiration for me, teaches college psychology by using fictional characters and their situations. He says that when we look at trauma in the real world, it can be hard to get past the horror to delve into studying the true psychology of it. But when we, say, look at Batman, suddenly talking about how a child may react to seeing their parents murdered becomes a whole lot easier. In processing Arrow this week, I was fully aware that I was projecting many of my feelings onto Olicity, but something that snuck up on me was the fact that I haven’t been mad at Oliver throughout this story line, just a bit disappointed. I knew he was trying to do his best, even though he really could’ve made some better choices. I was able to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I feel that as a man (albeit fictional), he’d earned it. And then I had that moment of clarity… that maybe I didn’t always give my husband the benefit of the doubt that he, too, had earned.

I encourage everyone who responded strongly to Arrow this week (or any show, really, ever) to do some introspection as to why you may have had the reaction you did. Talk to support people about it. Journal about it. The results (and the positive therapeutic benefits of watching TV) might just surprise you.


Author’s Note: Fandom — especially fandom as huge as Arrow — is a far reaching and highly complex beast, and as one person I can only see the parts of it that I can see. If you have a different perspective on this topic, or saw/have seen different things, I welcome your feedback and discussion!

If you want to reach out, you can find me through the comments here, or on Twitter as @drfangirlphd or @Chrisha_DWGrrl.

 

 

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Yellow Belt

This week is a week of epiphanies for me.

Earlier this week I had lunch with my dad, who struggles with that toxic mix of depression and anxiety. That feeling where you can’t stop thinking and worrying about everything, but nor can you find the motivation to do anything about any of it, so you just end up laying around in this cesspit of misery, which is made even worse by knowing that you have the power to change things, but you just can’t find the strength. I’ve totally been there (yay genetics). And I totally understand why he’s in the situation he’s in. After discussing his situation for awhile, I found myself giving him advice, which made me realize how far I’ve come in my own mental health and overall philosophy on life, which was quite the epiphany. My advice to him was that, instead of focusing on not having motivation to do things that he knows will be helpful and make him feel good, take the “should” or “try” from those plans. There’s no longer a question about whether they’ll get done. You’re not going to see how you feel, or plan around Mom’s day. I went full Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try.

Advice that I realize I really do live by now in a great many ways.

I am not a person that excels in any type of physical endeavor. I have always been overweight. I don’t play sports (except that one time in middle school when I played softball and got a concussion from a pop up, but I try not to think about that). And having gotten this far in life, despite the fact that I’ve lost 60 pounds in the last few years, sports scare the hell out of me.

Which is exactly why I recently enrolled in martial arts.

I’ve always loved watching martial arts. It’s like dancing, only there’s a winner (*winks at the Whovians*). Seeing these people – often tiny, tiny people – having so much power and control over the human body has always been fascinating to me. All of the martial arts (but parkour especially) truly look like an art form, and are just beautiful to watch. And then of course when I started watching Arrow, and all these tiny women were kicking ALL of the ass – and it was inspiring. I can (and likely someday will) write an entire essay on why Arrow worked its way into my soul, but one thing I can say is that seeing stories of women learning how to feel more power and control by learning how to fight… well, it resonated, as I was feeling incredibly powerless in my life at that point, and incredibly pissed off. And so my journey with martial arts began.

I’m lucky in that I have a 3-year-old, plus a husband with a black belt in Taekwondo that I was able to hide behind when we went looking for a martial arts school. I was driving the ship, so to speak, because I was the one that really wanted to try martial arts, but those two took all the attention off my complete novice and completely awkward and terrified self. When I went to my first class, I was on the verge of tears the entire time. I had no idea what I was doing, the movements did not come naturally, the classes were complete chaos with so many people at so many different levels, and I was surrounded by teenagers who seemed fully confident while I, the adult, struggled to not run to the bathroom and cry. It was horrible.

But quitting was not an option. Because I knew this was going to be awful and terrifying, and so I took that option off the table before I even began.

I was going to figure out a way to do this, or I was going to spend every Monday and Friday evening miserable.

It’s astounding how that shift in personal philosophy can change your entire life.

I think back to grade school, and how every single day I didn’t want to go, and every single day I knew I had to. I hated it every step of the way, and directed that anger at my parents for making me go, the teachers for assigning work, the superintendents for not calling off school for snow, society for making school a pre-requisite for success. Once I became an adult, though, and some of life’s choices were truly my own, it was way easier to not do things that were hard because… who am I going to be mad at? Myself? I’ll just stay home, thanks.

But the thing is, when I got to graduation in high school, I was beyond proud of myself and extremely happy. Same with my bachelors and masters, and I have no reason to believe the PhD won’t be the same. I’ve had enough life experience now to recognize that while day to day things can be frustrating and disheartening, when you achieve that bigger picture goal, it actually is worth it. Seems like advice from Captain Obvious, but… I’d be surprised if I wasn’t the one that’s struggled with internalizing that message.

So here I sit, mentally preparing for tomorrow when I will test for a belt in martial arts for the first time. For many, I’m sure this isn’t a big deal. It may not carry much weight, or the stakes may not seem high. But for me, just the fact that I am going to test – regardless of whether I actually pass – is a summit I never thought I’d reach. Months of martial arts classes where I felt awkward, out of place, stupid, and graceless, which are kisses of death to a hard-core perfectionist such as myself. Where I had to get lessons from teenagers after class to help me get applications that I just couldn’t get during the regular class time. Where even my martial arts instructor wasn’t sure I should test because I clearly wasn’t confident in my abilities.

Tomorrow, I put all of this behind me and I test. I do. There is no try.

Martial arts is something that I have started because it scares the hell out of me. Because it is uncomfortable. Because it is hard. It would be easier to quit. It would sure as hell be more comfortable to quit. It would be easier to say it’s not for me and move on to something that comes more naturally. Maybe that’s the saner thing to do. But tomorrow I’m going to test for my yellow belt, and even if I don’t achieve it, I’ll know that I dug down deep and threw myself in to one of the most challenging situations I’ve been in in recent memory… and came out the other side stronger.

Regardless of the outcome of my test, I’ve already won.

And that’s a pretty cool epiphany.

img_4173-1


Author’s note: Guess who has two thumbs and a yellow belt? THIS GIRL!  That’s right… despite the fact that yesterday was one of the hardest days in recent memory, I got the belt.

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My sister had surgery yesterday to repair a major blockage in her carotid artery that had already led to a stroke. I was the one that drove her to the hospital at o-dark-thirty and sat at the hospital all day. I knew that this was happening the same day as belt testing, and had mentally prepared as best I could. What I couldn’t really prepare for was the fact that her blood pressure went wonky during surgery and so she ended up in the surgical ICU for most of the day. By the time my parents got to the hospital so I could leave, even though she had stabilized, my level of exhaustion was epic. But I persevered.

When I got to the martial arts school, I had the beginnings of a headache, but I just tried to sit quietly and focus on the task at hand. I got changed and ready for the test. There were about 15 of us that had to test, and I actually thought that the white belts would go first, which would’ve been good. I was ready to get it over with.

Turns out the white belts go last. We sat through black belts, blue belts, green belts… all of which were very impressive. Except… my nerves were real, my exhaustion was really real, and that headache I mentioned earlier was quickly turning into a migraine.

Somehow, and I truly don’t know how, I made it through testing. I had a very serious mind versus body thing happening in terms of the migraine, and I was bound and freaking DETERMINED to get that damn belt. I’d been through so much… I was not going to miss it now because of something as ridiculously random as a headache. So I made it through. And…

I PASSED.

I can’t say I passed with flying colors, because I didn’t. I passed with super average colors. But you know what? I got the belt. Despite hospitals, illness, snow, and sleep deprivation… I did it.

And now I’m going to go take a nap.

I’ve earned it.

 

 

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Crossroads

So, Saturday (the 6th) was my birthday. My – god help me – 38th birthday. I don’t usually get too affected by birthdays, and truth be told I’m not that affected by this one. But for whatever reason, 38… it just seems really old. Far older than I actually am. And it also feels like time is running out for a lot of major life decisions for me, whether that’s an irrational fear or not. To give you a small glimpse into my neurotic fascinating mind, I’m having trouble with 38 because I’m now closer to 40 than I am 35. And for some reason that bothers me.

On the way to my birthday dinner (which is always an evening commanded by Murphy’s Law, no matter what I do), we got turned away from one restaurant because our party was too large, and were driving to Plan B (Carrabba’s, btw… and if you read all my blog entries, you know why. 😉 ). On the way to the second restaurant, we were stopped at a red light. The light turned green, and Chris went to make a left turn. Except that a driver came up on our left, doing probably at least 60mph, and obviously hadn’t seen the light change. There was a split second where we weren’t sure if we were going to live or die. That sounds very melodramatic, but… it really was that dramatic. For a split second, there was nothing we could do. Chris slammed the breaks, but when a car is coming up that fast, there’s nothing to do but sit, wait, hope they swerve, and try not to pee your pants. The car did swerve at the last millisecond, missing us by inches, nearly hitting yet another car, and then continuing on his/her way. But that feeling of terror lingered.

As we drove on, we attempted to compose ourselves. I was shaking, our daughter (who is 3) was crying and asking why a car wouldn’t stop when they’re supposed to, and Chris was seething with such a potent mixture of fear and rage that he could barely talk. And in those few moments after the incident, I had a few profound thoughts, as people who have near death experiences are wont to do. The first is that being upset that we had to change restaurants is officially ridiculous and I could let that go, because even if we’re inconvenienced, having everyone together is something that I should – and am – extremely thankful for. The second is that… I think I’m on the right track with this whole life thing. I didn’t have that “OMFG REGRETS REGRETS” reaction that I definitely would’ve had ten years ago, and probably would’ve had five years ago. I’m happy in my marriage, I’m happy in my abilities as a parent, and I’m happy in the path that my career is taking. And that was one hell of a nice surprise.

But while I’m content right now, I know there are some big decisions that have to be made. And they have to be made soon.

It’s easy to be content with my current career, such as it is, because right now my career exists entirely of going to school to get my PhD, and writing my dissertation. Going to school is what I am good at, and is firmly in my comfort zone. I have finally, in my mid 30s (yes, dammit, I’m still saying my mid-thirties), found a community that I love, and a topic of research that I love, in fandom. Those memes that you see online that ask you when was the last time you felt truly alive, and how that’s where you know your passion lies… for me that’s at sci-fi cons, talking about fandom and mental health. I LOVE it. And in writing my dissertation on it, it’s been given validity in terms of being something that’s truly worthwhile and professional. But turning it into a post doctorate profession isn’t as easy.

I am getting ready to start my research, as opposed to just talking about, as I’ve been doing for more than two years now. It’s time to get real. And it’s also time to start thinking about graduating and no longer being Dr. Fangirl, PhD (almost) and actually being Dr. Fangirl, PhD. But… what happens when that happens? I know what I want to do… ish… but how? Do I go the route that most PhDs take and go into academia, to become a counseling or psychology professor and study fandom on the side for my publish-or-perish projects? Do I try something else entirely and attempt to get a job as a researcher somewhere, researching whatever I’m paid to research, even if it’s something like glorified market research, just to get my feet wet? Is there a market for academics in con life, to where I could work with sci-fi conventions in some capacity? I would love to moderate panels and ask some real questions… feelings based ones, like a Geek Oprah. But is there a market for such a thing? I’m sure it can’t be a full career. So, to supplement that (if that’s even a thing, which is a long shot), should I find a way to research on my own, and perhaps write books about it? And/or do more blogging and maybe podcasting? Give talks at conventions/conferences?

Whenever I talk to people about my research, the response I get is excitement. People want the research I’m doing. They want to understand fandom for themselves, as participants, and they want some validation for their excitement and dedication. I’ve gotten that reaction from other fangirls and fanboys, but also from academics who know what I’m talking about and want the information to be able to help their clients. I’ve found my niche. I’m beyond thrilled. But… what’s the next step?  I know I’d love to give more academic talks, as I greatly enjoyed the ones I gave at SkydogCon and NolaCon. But how do I find places to let me talk? And what would I talk about? If I write a book, what would it be on, precisely? And how would I research it? If I did a podcast, what would be my primary topics or prevailing themes? Can I do any of this while I’m writing my dissertation, or do I have to wait until that’s done? What can I do with the information from my dissertation after it’s published? How am I going to pay my bills immediately upon leaving school? And who in the world would I even turn to to ask for guidance on this kind of thing, since very few people in academia know what I’m talking about when I discuss fandom?

This week I read the book Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton for the first time. I cannonballed the whole thing in a day. It’s sort of an autobiography but in pseudo-blog format, and focuses on the time in his life when he decided that he would leave the career that for him was mainstream and obvious (acting), and instead embark on something different and much scarier (writing). The book was written in 2004, and obviously Wil has done pretty well for himself since then, so I’d say that whole career change thing worked out in his favor. He certainly figured out a way to make fandom work for him while also making it awesome for us. But he’s Wil Freaking Wheaton, and I’m… me. His book was inspirational, and exactly the kind of thing I need to read right now, but the fear and anxiety are still real.

Meanwhile, there are other major life choices that I’m working on. I’m 38, but the possibility of another kid is still on the table. I have two step-daughters, who are both older (teens/20s… yes, there is a human on this earth in their 20s that calls me “mom”… no wonder I’m having age freak outs this year!), and my bio daughter who is 3. I had always envisioned having two kids, but circumstances in my life have always been nothing if not convoluted and challenging. I’d resigned myself to having one biological child, and for a while there I was comfortable with it… but I have never fully been able to shake the feeling that my family isn’t yet complete. But nor can I shake the feeling that if I have another child now, I may not get the career that I want (insert feminist rant here). Which is, of course, a feeling made even more frustrating by the fact that I’m not even precisely sure what that career will be! People have two kids all the time and make it work, and I think I’m a fairly high functioning individual who would also be able to do so, but trying to carve out my career niche while starting over with an infant is daunting. There are so many what ifs about the scenario (what if there are pregnancy complications, what if the kid never sleeps, what if she’s totally chill and I can easily manage her while doing other things, what if my relationship with my current kids suffers, what if my marriage suffers, what if this child is exactly what we all need, and I’m too scared…), but I guess the best and most applicable advice I could get could be borrowed from my favorite author, Karen Marie Moning:

Hope Strengthens, Fear Kills.

I try to repeat that to myself as often as possible. Because I really do believe it.

Overall, the kid decision is a decision that will be made by me and my husband, but with this latest birthday, the kid stewing has set up shop right alongside the career stewing, and so my brain is in hyperdrive. I’m 38 and ABD*. As my Papaw would say, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. I guess I just have to find the pot.

 

*All but dissertation – a description of someone who has completed all of their coursework for their doctorate, but hasn’t yet completed the dissertation to formally get the degree.

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Processing Fictional Trauma: Olicity Edition

ARROW SEASON 4 EPISODE 8 CROSSOVER SPOILERS. BIG ONES.

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I’ve been involved in fandom throughout my life, but it didn’t occur to me until last night that when it comes to television fandom, my involvement is fairly recent (2012). It also didn’t occur to me that when it comes to television fandom, most of my emotional involvement/devastation has been in shows that I’m watching on Netflix – not live. And so I haven’t lived through a fandom’s real time emotional aftermath of a show which has deeply affected me. (Sidenote: I do still watch Doctor Who, but Moffat’s writing doesn’t do for me what RTD’s did, so I don’t count it). The Arrow/Flash crossover episode last night was… well, emotionally devastating I think is the only thing that even comes close to describing it.And watching the fallout in the fandom was both excruciating as a fangirl, and fascinating as a clinician/researcher.

SPOILERS: The emotional devastation of last night was especially brutal because it happened TWICE. The first time, Oliver actually (in my opinion) does things fairly well, or as well as can be expected given a highly complicated, highly emotionally heightened situation. But Felicity’s control and abandonment issues flared, and Olicity essentially broke up (though that’s up for interpretation). And then, ya know, everyone died (which has its own emotional implications – I can never UNSEE that. THANKS FOR THE TRAUMA, ARROW WRITERS). So Barry goes back in time, thank god, and fixes things. Oliver and Felicity will get a second chance at the baby momma issues, and it’ll definitely be better this time, right? Because nothing could be worse than them breaking up. Right? Second chances are always better? RIGHT? Nope, this time around, it’s Oliver whose issues flare, and he therefore reverts to old habits and his biggest flaw – keeping secrets from those he loves for reasons he believes are noble. So instead of an explosion that can be worked through, now we have deceit. Which is so much worse.

As an individual fan who watched the end of that episode (and who was SO CONVINCED Oliver had grown and was going to do the right thing here…), my reaction can be summed up in one gif:

Arrow Expletives

I was upset, angry, frustrated, sad… you name it. ALL the emotions. I have conversations going on with multiple people through multiple social media, looking at the situation from every conceivable angle, playing devil’s advocate, arguing with other people playing devil’s advocate, venting feelings, trying to understand… and somewhere in the emotional blowout, a few things occurred to me:

Observation Number 1:

Right before my eyes, the fandom was going through the stagArrow Felicity NOes of grief. The first stage – denial – was all over the place. Tweets of “OMG please tell me that didn’t happen” or “NOOOOOOO” were all over the place. I may have sent several of my own.

Denial was quickly (very, very quickly) followed by the angerArrow Im Going To Kill You stage, which is where we all spent a great deal of time. Anger at Oliver, anger at Felicity, anger at the writers, anger at Barry, anger at Samantha… just… all the anger. I’m forever amazed at Twitter’s technological power, because social media was lit up like a Christmas tree. EVERYONE was online, ranting and raving, venting their anger.

Then came bargaining. The “if onlys” and the “what ifs…” abounded. “What if he tells her next episode.” “What if this is all some elaborate ruse.” “What if Barry goes back in time again.” “If only Barry had flashed out of that conversation and didn’t eavesdrop.” “If only Oliver had thought it through.” “If only the writers weren’t lazy and incompetent.” Clearly the bargaining phase has some hand holding with the anger phase, but I still saw it clearly defined.

Then came depression, which started to come out late last night, but I saw a lot more of this morning. After the venting and processing and writing and shouArrow I Cant Do Thislder crying, people seemed to move past their anger. They started to understand that maybe Oliver messed up, maybe Felicity did too, but they’re both human, and it happens. They started to understand that unfortunately, as in real life, we mess up. We make mistakes. And our beloved Olicity, who we love so dearly, is going to have to live with the consequences of those mistakes. The depression centers around knowing what our beautiful couple is going to have to live through, and wishing we could help them avoid it, but knowing we can’t.

Finally we come to acceptance, where I think many people are at this point. The stages of grief are such that we don’t necessarily go through them linearly, and we bounce back and forth. Acceptance doesn’t mean we aren’t still mad at times, it doesn’t mean we aren’t still Arrow Hurts Worse Curaredepressed about it, and wanting to bargain a way out. But it means we’ve come to a place where we can understand what happened and why (even if we don’t agree with it, and even if we’re still angry about it). We can accept that something awful is going to happen, but we can also see a way through. We can accept that Olicity will make it through, because that’s what they do. And even if we still desperately pray for a scene where Momma Smoak smacks Oliver soundly on the back of the head for his idiocy, or perhaps a scene where Zoom beats the holy crap out of Barry again just so we can have that visceral satisfaction of watching it, or even having Samantha be in the grave (with a death that’s hopefully appropriately awful because yep, the anger is still there), we have accepted that there will be awful things to come for Olicity, but that they will get through. People make mistakes, personal growth takes detours, but we will keep the faith, because Olicity is endgame.

Arrow Olicity Crossover Snuggle 2

Observation Number 2:

The second major thing I noticed, which goes hand in hand with the stages of grief, was just how intensely emotional so many people got because of what happened last night. There’s watching something happen to someone else, and feeling upset about it. But that’s not what happened last night. So many seemed to treat it as if it were happening to them, not to Oliver and Felicity. That what Oliver did – Arrow Screams Internallyfrustrating as it may be – was like a personal slap in the face. At first glance, this is the stuff that makes people look at fandom – especially science fiction fandom – and dismiss us all as crazies (even as they paint themselves different colors and weep over the losses of football teams… but okay). But here’s the thing. The reason that we all react so strongly to what’s happening on the television is because TV, film, and literature – all art really – exists because we see ourselves in it, and it reflects our feelings back to us. We process our own issues, our own grief, our own tragedies by watching similar things happen to fictional characters who we, through becoming engaged in their world, come to care about deeply. We see parts of ourselves in Felicity, and in Oliver. We see our own issues, our own shortcomings, our own traumas, and our own hurts. It’s part of why we all react differently, and have differing views on what happened on screen, because we’re all processing it based on our own unique experiences. TV, film, and literature are ways that we can process and manage our own feelings in a safe environment. Having someone we love betray or lie to us is an experience I’ll bet most of us have had. But it is far easier to rant and rave and cry about Oliver doing it to Felicity than it is to dig into our own stuff. But I Arrow Felicity Cryingdon’t believe it’s unhealthy to rant, rave, and cry about Oliver… just the opposite. I think that in expressing our anger about Oliver, and our fears and frustrations and hurt for the future of Olicity, we’re processing and healing some of our own fears, frustrations, and hurts. As long as you’re not completely avoiding your own feelings, and can recognize how they enter into your feelings about your fandoms, I think fangirling/fanboying can be an amazing outlet and a great coping skill.

Observation Number 3:

The third thing that I think is fantastic is how much fandom was there for each other after this episode. The Arrow fandom is a bit different than other fandoms I’ve been a part of, in that there is a lot of bickering and negativity on a day to day basis that I’m just unaccustomed to. However, with that said, when the emotional shit hit Arrow Olicity Hugthe Olicity fan, on my timeline at least, the negativity towards each other diminished, and the fandom was able to pull together and aim those feelings of negativity towards the characters and the show, while supporting each other. I saw fandom support groups all over social Arrow Oliggle Hugmedia, and was part of several myself. People were struggling with their own emotions from the show, but were huddled in groups processing it together. People within the fandom that were long friends, and people who didn’t know each other well at all… were all coming together to talk, to process, to grieve, to cry… and to support each other. Arrow Roy Thea HugObviously there are exceptions to every rule, but I was impressed by the fandom’s ability to support each other last night, and even today. My hope is that we can at some point reach the ability to support each other and be kind to our writers and producers (even Arrow Lance Sara Hugin our fury and disagreement), but I’m still encouraged by what I saw last night and today. And what I saw was a fandom that was hurt, upset, and angry but that could help support each other, help each other process, and take turns helping each other heal and keep the faith.

The Thrilling Conclusion:

While the rest of the world may mock us, our passion, and our excitement for a “silly” television show, what I saw last night was inspiring. What I saw were people who were emotionally invested in the health of a relationship they love. What I saw were people open to discussion and processing of feeling, and open to helping others process and deal with their emotions as well. What I saw was a community of people having strong feelings, who banded together to help and to heal. Set within the context of the bigger picture of the challenges our world faces, the negativity that we face, and the divisiveness… Maybe fandom is just one small piece of the world, and Arrow is just one small piece of that small piece… but I am once again inspired by the power of fandom, and honored to be a part of it.


Author’s Note: I’ve been so thrilled to read all of the positive reactions people have had to this article. I’ve loved hearing how this has helped people view their attachment to these characters in a different light, and give a sense of validation for those feelings. Hearing that so many of you can relate to the feelings described in this article further highlights that while the characters and stories may be fictional, the feelings they invoke in us are very real, as are the relationships we form within the fandom as a way to enjoy, process and cope with those feelings.

As I am writing this at 7:40pm EST on 12/9, I am sending out a collective pre-mid-season-finale hug to the entire Arrow fandom! Here’s hoping we can again pull together to help ourselves process and heal from what is likely to be a new wave of emotional trauma. 😉 Please cope (and drink) responsibly!

Hugs and Love…

-Chrisha

 

 

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Our celebrity significant others: The what, where, why, and how of parasocial relationships

On social media these days, the term fandom is thrown around a lot. I don’t know if we can say that the general public knows what the term means, but on Twitter, Tumblr, and many corners of Facebook, the word is used liberally and unashamedly, which warms my little fangirl heart. I’ve even heard some celebrities use it, giving further credibility to the term, which is also very exciting! However, there’s one term that I haven’t heard thrown around much, despite the fact that we all engage in it every day… and that is parasocial relationship.

The term is probably not used much because it’s a little daunting and not at all self-explanatory, despite its importance. So what is a parasocial relationship? It is essentially the relationship that an individual has with media or a celebrity. Such relationships tend to be one sided (I say “tend to” because social media is changing this somewhat, but I’ll get to that in a bit…), but are still immensely strong. When you think about pieces of popular culture that have affected your life — television, movies, music… maybe even games or comics – I think many if not most of us can look at our interactions or feelings about those things as a kind of relationship. Dictionary.com defines the word relationship as a “connection,” and I absolutely have a connection with many popular culture icons or entities. The difference between a parasocial relationship and fandom is that parasocial relationships are one on one between you and the media or celeb, whereas fandom is a community and is therefore many, many connections with other people who love what (or who) you love. The idea that parasocial relationships tend to be one sided, where as fandom is not, can make parasocial relationships both safer and more challenging all at the same time.

I will preface this now by saying that I’m not an expert in the field of parasocial relationships. I’ve run into the term multiple times while studying fandom, and thought it was super intriguing and wanted to write about it, but the more I look into it, the more I understand that the rabbit hole surrounding the term is a deep one. Research on the topic isn’t new by any means, and has been around since the 1960s. There’s studies looking at how these one sided relationships can help individuals form identity and self-esteem (especially in childhood), how they can lead to dangerous/stalkery type behaviors (yes, stalkery is totally a word), and how social media is changing things. Maybe someday when I’ve read all of that research I’ll get more in depth, but for now I’ll just keep it superficial and tell you the basics of what I’ve learned and what I think you may think is cool about it.

The primary reason I think parasocial relationships are interesting is because literally everyone has them. Whether you’re hard core into fandom activities, or you’re more of a recluse, everyone in this day and age has some kind of relationship with some kind of media. While it’s not really possible to be a part of a fandom without some kind of parasocial relationship, you can totally have a parasocial relationship without being part of a fandom. For example, my relationship with the New Kids on the Block is one of the longest and strongest relationships of my life, parasocial or otherwise. They were there for me during the Backstage to meet husbanddark and traumatic days of my adolescence, and I would imagine some researcher somewhere would love to know how that affected my identity development, self esteem, moral development, and overall attachment (spoiler alert: it did, a LOT). When they came back together in 2006, they were one of the first celebrities to use Twitter, and it brought the relationship that I had with them to a new level. However, despite my most valiant efforts to be a part of the fandom, I found most of the people in the fandom to be… well… less than welcoming, we’ll say. Not all of them – trust me, I have some AWESOME NKOTB fan friends — but most of my interactions were negative enough that I no longer felt comfortable in the fandom itself. So. My relationship with the New Kids (parasocial) continues to be massive and real, but my existence within the fandom not so much. I’m sure others can relate with their own parasocial/fandom experiences.

Photo Op Crop

David Tennant and I at Wizard World Philly.

What I also think is interesting is that people involved in media (celebrities, execs, who knows who else) are starting to recognize the strength and power in these relationships, and are looking to encourage them. The sci-fi/fantasy world has cons all over the place where people can go and meet their favorite celebrity (Wizard World, DragonCon, ComicCon, etc),  musicians are offering more and more meet and greets before shows for hardcore fans, and even authors are not only having book signings but massive book launch parties and conventions to celebrate the universes they’ve created, not to mention places like the Hogwarts SelfieWizarding World of Harry Potter which are now all over the world. Lots of celebrities are taking to social media to interact with fans, and sometimes it seems even developing some real relationships with them. Parasocial relationships are becoming somewhat less para, and somewhat more social. But that brings with it its own set of challenges.

Obviously I’m not a celebrity and I don’t really know any celebrities so I have no idea what it’s like from a celebrity’s point of view, and while I’d love to talk to some and understand, at this point I can only guess. What I can say is that from down here in the land of civilians, there are a lot of pros and cons about interacting with celebrities as much as we get to these days. The pros are obvious. When Jonathan Knight from the New Kids joined Twitter and I got to see the stupid, mundane stuff that he does on a regular basis, he went from being this ultra private man who I knew very little about (and yes, had put on a giant pedestal), to being a real guy with feelings and a job and 3rd grade boy humor (god I love it, even though I roll my eyes so much at his tweets…lol) who I felt closer to. Even though he rarely, rarely responds to me, just being able to have a platform to communicate with him in an immediate way which he MIGHT see is so extremely cool. And on those few occasions when he’s Jon DMtweeted me (twice to be exact), the squeeing has been REAL.;) Knowing that our worlds can possibly brush against each other’s so regularly makes the parasocial relationship feel less one-sided, which is exhilarating. The time that he spends sharing his life with us also makes me feel that he’s thinking of us even as he goes through his day to day life, which also makes me feel valued as a fan.

The downfalls are there though too. The more a celebrity puts themselves out there on social media, the more open they are to negativity, harassment, and even abuse and stalking. I know Jon has had people take clues from his tweets and show up at a job he was doing (working in real estate) that he was less than impressed with. David Tennant has called Twitter “stalking by committee,” I would imagine because he’s seen some things he can’t unsee there, and then of course there’s Stephen Amell and the recent Amellygate. I believe those things are likely frustrating for celebs, but they do have the opportunity to express their outrage pretty publicly and get some catharsis. But what about us?

I know countless people who have had strong, deep parasocial relationships with celebrities who have then met those celebrities and been disappointed. Never meet your heroes, right? Well, back in the day it was pretty rare to be able to engage with your heroes, but these days the chances are greater. But as many of these interactions are either under high-pressure in a few seconds at a con or backstage, or through text-based social media which is notorious for misunderstandings, all of this celebrity interaction can lead to high (or even impossible) expectations that aren’t met. But worse yet, despite the issues with these interactions being relatively small most of the time, it’s also hard to resolve them and move on since the relationships are still so primarily one-sided.

What do I mean? Well, here are a few examples I can share, as I seem to have a Felicity Smoak-esque level of social awkwardness when interacting with celebrities.

SentenceFragmentsExample 1: We all know how strong my relationship is with the New Kids. Well, when they reunited, I fully bought VIP passes which had backstage passes so I could FINALLY meet these men who I’d loved for so long. Backstage, when I went to say hi to Danny, he basically didn’t acknowledge me, as he was very, VERY clearly eyeballing some hot girl in our VIP group and literally following her around. As I had some real body image self-esteem issues at the time, it was hurtful. But obviously since I only had 3 minutes in their presence, and that included meeting all five and taking a picture, I didn’t exactly have time to mention it, talk about it, or process it with Danny himself (plus I was so star struck I wouldn’t have been able to talk anyway, even if I’d had an hour). So, even though I had a 20 year long relationship with this man that was life-changing for me, I had no way to work through this negative thing that had happened, as I have no access to the guy. Just enough access to be dangerous, apparently, which was tough. Logic states that it was their first reunion tour, he was single, and he had a momentary lapse in judgment and so obviously I’m not going to write off 20 years because of one interaction. But it did suck, and having no way to resolve it sucked too.

Example 2: Last year (2014) I went to Vancouver on a grand adventure to see David Tennant filming Gracepoint. Not because I’m a stalker (I swear), but because my life was epically boring, I needed some excitement in my world, and I’d never done anything like that before. So a Twitter friend and I lost our minds, and off we went! While we were there, we discovered we were staying at the same hotel as David. And though we tried to meet him on set (and leave him alone at the hotel, despite seeing him there several times), we weren’t able to. So on our last day we got desperate and approached him at the hotel for a picture. He was super nice and completely wonderful, but I’m also pretty sure he was fairly annoyed. So I felt awful. But then we ran into him again later that evening and he said a very animated “HIYA” to us. And feeling bad about earlier, we just smiled and left him alone, all standing around different parts of the lobby awkwardly doing nothing (we were waiting to be seated for dinner, he seemed to be waiting for a ride). But then later realized that THAT was probably rude too, since he likely wanted to try to talk like a normal person and instead we acted like star struck teenagers. *head desk* Now I get to live with this forever, because even if I *did* get the chance to explain it to him (highly unlikely), I’m quite sure he wouldn’t even remember. Which should somehow make me feel better about it, and yet doesn’t! Sigh…

Example 3: During a recent Facebook live chat, Stephen Amell stated that he wasn’t sure when Season 3 of Arrow was coming to Netflix but that he really wished he did know because people keep asking. Wanting to get that answer in quickly, I typed out “October 7, I believe.” Well, Stephen went on to chat about the premiere of Arrow Season 4 (also on Oct 7) and then looked at his feed, saw my statement, and I guess thought I was correcting his math, since he’d said it was a certain amount of days to the premiere? So.. he said my name (SQUEE), but was a bit snarky about it because he thought I was being snarky. This is the tiniest of tiny misunderstandings… seriously no big deal… but considering this is literally the only direct interaction I’ve ever had with him, and he thought I was being a jerkface, and so then he was a bit of a jerkface, it’s irritating. Lol. I tried to tell him what I meant, but with 20,000 people also typing, there was no chance he’d see my clarification. Sigh. Not a big deal, and I’m over it, but just another example of how social media can lead to interactions with celebrities that don’t go as planned, but with us having no chance to rectify these small issues, leaving these lingering little things unresolvable. Don’t worry Stephen, I still love you. But I wasn’t being a jerkface. Promise. 😉

As fans, we now ultimately live in a world that is radically changing the entire landscape of how one goes about being a fan. Whether you’re into sports, music, science fiction, superheroes, books, fantasy, or any other host of media productions, if there’s someone you really want to meet or interact with, chances are if you give it a solid try, you’ll get that opportunity. SocialDelete Tumblr internet history and gifs media has made the world smaller. I know for a fact that at the time I wrote the original draft of this blog, Jonathan Knight was sitting on a cruise ship in the Atlantic with several thousand fanboys and girls on the New Kids cruise, and I know much of what he did the day I originally wrote this because social media (from him, the other guys, and my friends on the ship) had let me know. I also know that if I had enough money, I could’ve been on that damn boat with him (and I will one day, if it kills me). As of the day I’m posting this, some current happenings are that Jon’s extra pissed off at Texas, Stephen Amell in coming to Louisville this weekend with damn near the entire Arrow cast (and also nearly froze his boy bits off last week filming in the ocean), and Emily Betts and Colton Haynes had the most epic Halloween costumes ever. I think this has a lot of implications for parasocial relationships as technology grows and changes.

This weekend I’ll be meeting Stephen Amell for the first time, which I am rather ridiculously stoked about. But meeting him is going to be a bit strange because of the ways technology has changed parasocial relationships. Stephen is on social media almost every day, and is ridiculously open in the things that he puts out there. I know more about what Stephen is doing day to day than I do about most of my extended family members, let alone the celebrities whose work I adore. I’ve met numerous people online over the years, and have shared those day to day things. You come to know people — or at least feel like you do — despite having never met in person. And then when you do meet in person, it’s like getting together with an old friend. It’s one of the things I love most about the Internet! But with Stephen, it’s that type of online relationship, but it’s one sided. So when I meet him, I’ll have this level of comfort or familiarity (like meeting an old friend) that he won’t have, because I’ll be a complete stranger to him. Just an odd dynamic that I haven’t run into or really thought about before. I’m sure that Stephen deals with that a lot — people that think they know him for real, when obviously none of us do — but it certainly must affect the way he interacts with fans, and how fans interact with him. The psychology of it all is just very interesting to contemplate.

Ultimately, I believe that we are always going to have those connections with media, because that is the very purpose of media. Reading or watching stories, listening to music, watching sports, etc, these are all ways in which we process and reflect on our own emotions, which is why we find things we so readily connect with. That’s been around for centuries if not millennia, and won’t change. What has changed, however, is our access to the creators of these things which are so important to us. While this can absolutely mean that we can become that much closer to these things that are so near and dear to our heart, it also means that our heroes are likely not going to be able to live up there on the pedestals we used to create for them. This can be inspirational in showing us that they really are just like us, and any one of us has the potential for greatness. It can make us feel a part of the process, and a part of their world (cue Little Mermaid singing), which I know is exciting for me. But I think that it means that we also have to be somewhat more forgiving of the humanness of the celebrities that we love so much, as if we have additional access to them, it means that they are going to make mistakes because they are human, just like us. But of course on the flip side of that, with so much media, so many celebrities, and so many ways to communicate with the rest of the world, it also means that celebrities will need to take much greater care with their interactions with their fans, as it will become harder for them to live in their ivory towers, being arrogant, aloof, and separate from the rest of us. I love David Tennant because he seems like a genuinely nice, caring, and good person on top of his incredible talent. If he was an ass, it absolutely would affect my feelings on supporting him and his career, no matter how epic is acting is. This means that the celebrities of today have to be not only talented, but decent people as well. I have to say, while that does seem like a tall order, I think being a decent human being should be part of the job description for basically everyone, so I don’t feel too bad about it. And so even though I’ve had some awkward interactions with the New Kids, David Tennant, and Stephen Amell, I still look forward to seeing them again at concerts and cons, because I’m confident that I’ve chosen to engage in parasocial relationships with the right people, and I guess as fans in this day and age, that’s the most important thing we can ask for.

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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