Atlantis meta: time to stop and think about things

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Title: Atlantis meta: time to stop and think about things
Creator: liviapenn
Date(s): March 28, 2007
Medium: online
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Topic:
External Links: Atlantis meta: time to stop and think about things, archive page 1; archive page 2; archive page 3
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Atlantis meta: time to stop and think about things is a 2007 Livejournal post by liviapenn.

It has 557 comments.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

There's a thing that happens in a lot of SGA AUs, where the entire cast, down to the minor characters, are transplanted into some other world, and everyone is put into a new power dynamic / structure that vaguely mimics the structure of SGA-- usually, if characters like Sumner or Elizabeth are in the story, they would be in charge of John or Rodney, and if characters like Kavanagh and Zelenka are in the story, Rodney would be in charge of them, and so on and so forth. Different characters may get much more or much less "screen time" than they actually do in canon, but overall, the structure of the AU mimics the structure of canon.

However, there is a disturbing pattern that a lot of people are observing in various AUs, where people take the female characters, such as Elizabeth, and the characters of color, such as Teyla and Ronon, and demote them-- making their characters noticeably less educated and skilled than white male characters, putting them into roles where they are subservient, quite obviously less important, prestigious and/or well-paid. Furthermore, white male characters who are only minor or recurring characters (such as Lorne, Zelenka, Sumner, or Chuck) are promoted 'over' main characters like Elizabeth, Teyla and Ronon....

Back to my main point-- Teyla and Ronon often get less prestigious or important "jobs" than characters that are white or male characters-- including white male characters who have canonically subordinate roles that are only *minor* or *recurring* characters on the show, such as Lorne or Zelenka. Also disturbing is the way that Caldwell and Sumner are often 'promoted' above Elizabeth, so that they become the 'boss' and she becomes equal to or *lesser than* John or Rodney, instead of the primary authority.

And really, the problem with discussing this is that it isn't just one story that's the problem. It's not even three or four stories that's the problem. It's the overwhelming amount of stories that do this that's the problem, and so yes, people may have overreacted in this one latest case. But the pattern exists, and it honestly bothers me.
And, once again, you don't have to give everyone equal *screen time.* This isn't about that. Your Movie Star Upstairs/Downstairs AU could play out a lot of different ways, with *any* of the characters being "the main pairing"-- Caldwell/Elizabeth, Rodney/Teyla, Ronon/Katie Brown, John/Rodney-- and with any of the other characters being supporting characters, while others might only briefly appear or be briefly mentioned. That's completely fair. But at least when they do briefly appear or are briefly mentioned, it will look as if you *thought* about who the character is and how they should fit into the story-- instead of just assigning them a role based on their gender or the color of their skin.

At this point, you can't do that any more. There has been enough talk and enough people getting upset and offended, that people really should start to be aware that this is a problem, and it's a problem that hurts people, that insults them, and when people are hurt and insulted, they get angry. So you really have to pro-active, here. You have wake up and be a little more conscious of how your story is going to be perceived if you make those choices. When it comes down to it, no one is telling you how to write or what to write. They're just asking you to take a moment and think about the choices that you're making. To think about *why* you're making them, and what messages they are sending-- and how they are going to be perceived. Because every choice you make in a story *says something*, and a good author knows that.

And the thing is, I honestly believe that if people were thinking about it, they wouldn't want to make these offensive choices. I don't believe that the people who write these AUs really do think that if Teyla-- the *leader of her people*-- had been born on Earth, the best she could expect would be minimum wage, because that's the kind of jobs "those kinds of people" have. I don't think most people really think that race and/or gender are the *most important* things about the character. I honestly don't believe most fans are like that.

But I also believe that a lot of people just aren't thinking at all about the messages they're sending with the stories they write. And I wish more people would *start* to think about it, just a little-- and to *listen* when people say "I'm hurt, and I'm angry, and I'm offended," instead of blowing them off and saying they're just "imagining" things.

Comments at the Post

[lobelia321]:
I said below that my annoyingmeter is a bit lower than yours, perhaps, but on this sidebar issue, I can get very riled. There is a focus, nay an obsession, with white boys in fandom. Ronon and some others are now and again the notable exception but on the whole, boys are white white white. This is to some extent a reflection of the circumstances of canon. Canon itself discriminates and makes everybody white white white, so there aren't as many non-white canon characters to fanonise in the first place. And I myself have felt bad in the past for glomming onto the whitie boys: this is especially noticeable in football fandom (soccer) where there are dozens and dozens of black football players but the fic is mostly about the white ones. I feel myself somewhat implicated in this, and then sometimes I try to buck the trend (as when I wrote about four foot high, Pakistani hobbit stand-in dwarves). I'm not sure I have any concluding thoughts about it at all but it is something I've noticed, too. Interesting post! Makes you think.
[tielan]:
One could also argue that the thinking on the show is very 'white, male oriented' - to whit: big guns and technological solutions, rather than the more diplomatic negotiations I'd expect of an expedition led by a woman who has a stated history in negotiations, which is situated in the middle of another galaxy and separated from Earth, and whose first ally was a woman whose personal leadership style is one that tends towards persuasion and suggestion, rather than dictation.
[windmiran]:
It’s always bothered me that the writers for SG1 and SGA seem to focus so strongly on the white male characters, when characters like Teal’c and Teyla and Ronon have these huge unexplored stories and skillsets that are never taken advantage of enough, in my humble opinion. The characteristic of the plots of the shows, to absent the ‘brown’ characters, or limit them to the occasional ‘Indeed’ or Wraith smackdown seems to play into the fanon-problem and cater to it. I’d be ecstatic if either show was more self-aware, but sadly it only happens when the PTB get their heads out of their asses and let Christopher Judge write episodes.

When Atlantis first aired, and Weir was the expedition leader, and non-conformist Sheppard suddenly had military command secondary to Weir (and randomly an Airforce officer over a largely Marine contingent) I thought, great, here’s a chance for the ‘blow them all up and let God sort it out’ problem solving of SG1 to evolve. Then we met Teyla, and her people who had hidden tech (like that lighter gadjet, when she chides Sheppard for assuming his tech is better) and real knowledge of the Pegasus Galaxy.

Most of my hopes were dashed, and the possibilities I saw for the writers of SGA to expand on their repertoire and foster some equality and equity were quickly hammered out of existence by plotlines copied whole-cloth from SG1, and a lack of equality that was consistently appalling.

Faced with this discussion and my own ideas on the subject, I am nonetheless caught in the trap of complaining about an issue set seeing no clear way to resolve or move past my circle of discontent. It would be better to have a possible solution to my discontent in mind, something upon which I could take action, and therefore begin to improve what I see to be a lack. I confess myself stymied, on the whole. I have no idea what might actually influence the writers of the shows, or the writers of fanfiction in general to alter things as they stand; in good conscience I cannot put forth a solution I myself cannot join in action. Commenting on how brilliant Teyla, Ronon, and Teal’c are, or how neat I found a story with them as main characters seems too minimal for the changes I would like to see.
[jain]:
Lorne/Parrish is why I left SGA fandom. :-) Well, there were other factors involved, too, but it was just so unbelievably frustrating to sift through posts on SGA rare pairing communities in search of stories involving Ronon or Teyla or Zelenka or Bates (who are four of my favorite characters on the show, and who get written about...aproximately never), and instead being confronted with post after post of Lorne/Parrish.

And the thing is, if race weren't an issue, the abovementioned characters would be ideal to work with in the estimation of many writers. (Zelenka's white, of course, but I feel as though he's often categorized as "other" by fanwriters due to his accent and the fact that he comes from an Eastern-European country.)

I've seen fans of smaller pairings claim that they don't write John or Rodney or Elizabeth because the characters are too inconsistent and/or hypocritical: their morals are easily corrupted to suit their personal wishes. Ronon and Teyla, on the other hand, I think are two of the most consistent characters on the show. Ronon in particular doesn't always take the most principled position--especially if you're ethnocentrically viewing him from the POV of American liberalism--but neither of them is in the habit of ignoring his or her moral guidelines out of self-interest and then excusing that choice afterwards.
[anjak j]:
I appreciate that people have issue with this whole line and I applaud your well-written meta on the subject, which did make me sit back and read with interest.

The thing is, in usual SGA-fen fashion, this is THE FIRST well-put thing I've read regarding the subject at hand, after the usual mass of denigration and wank. No change there then... *eyeroll*

Though I agree there is a pattern, I think what annoys me more is the assertion by people attacking authors for this that it is done intentionally or because these authors are passively racist and see people of colour as having lesser value in society. While this may be the case in the minority, I suspect it boils down to more often than not that because people find other characters easier to write, people like Teyla and Ronon end up in supporting roles that aren't felt as befitting their status in the original show.

The point a lot of people seem to be missing here more than anything is that these fics are AU - Alternate Universe - and as such anything goes. There is nothing set in stone that a character's standing from the show should be kept to, and while this trend is disturbing, there is no rule that says "Thou must keep the characters on the same pegging".

And that begs a point because neither Teyla or Ronon actually has equal status in the expedition to that of the Terran members, which is why it follows though to fic. That is a failure in the show writing...follow-through to fic is an obvious eventuality of that, and something the fandom needs to challenge, not bitch at authors about, who co-incidently are within their right to write whatever they choose. I think it's interesting that people recognise these issues but actually very little fic has been written to challenge the perception. Maybe people should concentrate on that rather than flaming authors for their character choices with rude comments like in one recent AU I read.

Lastly, I'm hardly surprised that the defence to this line of commentary is cries of classism. Though when one is accused of something as repugnant as racism for writing a character as they see fit and without intended malice, I can see why there is such quick defence. And it is a valid one - some people really should think and read back what they type before they post, lest they be seen as snobs. There are many issues that could be covered in this area of debate - the biggest being the assumptions that people make about certain professions...
[anjak j]:
I stand by the comment of offence being subjective. While some things are generically offensive - like outright racism - there are things you find offensive that I may not and vice-versa. And yes, there are people who lack the skills of observation to make that connection and others who just prefer to live in blissful ignorance.

The big question is really that can something someone wrote for fun, without any form of malicious prejudice, really be considered for being 'offensive'? These same prejudices are prevalent in film and TV yet most people don't sit down and write letters of complaint to the production company - they simply don't tune in again.

As to this fandom, people are in constant fear of saying something that pisses people off. It doesn't even have to involve anything of real substance or consequence to peg a 10 on the wank-o-meter...
[harriet spy]:
is really that can something someone wrote for fun, without any form of malicious prejudice, really be considered for being 'offensive'? Yes, it can. Obviously we should look at and react to a person who did not intend to give offense (such as the authors here, none of whom I think are malicious) differently from someone who set out to offend people. But the fact is, that person still did harm. Still caused hurt. That doesn't go away because the person was out for "fun," and their right to have fun certainly doesn't necessarily trump other people's pain. Asking that people at least think next time about the harm they might do, the hurt they might cause, is asking only that they do the decent thing. Which these people, who are not malicious, ought not to object to doing.
[scarletts awry]:
I think the danger in fanfic is that we can laugh it off and say, "oh it's not important," when in fact *all* stories of all kinds are important. No one *has* to justify their writing; they can choose to ignore or even delete comments. However, the moment a person writes and publicly posts any fiction, meta, or statement, they are engaging in a dialogue with their actual and potential readers--whether they realize or accept it or not. An author has the right to cast and characterize as they choose, but a reader has the exact same right to ask questions of anything they take the time to read.

Writers feel very proprietary toward their creations because we put a lot of work into them, but in fact our position is much more complicated. Again, whether we recognize it or not, writers must both 1) take full responsibility for what we write and 2) share co-ownership of a story with every single one of our readers--even though they will not necessarily interpret a story as we have planned. That interpretation is a crucial part of reading, and it is what allows fandom to exist in the first place. When we as writers finish a piece and send it out into the world, we have to accept responsibility and let go of our authorial control. It's paradoxical, yes, but it's true. Sooner or later people will read something in a story that we didn't inted. Sometimes that is our own failing as a writer and we must acknowledge that. Sometimes it occurs when the reader is projecting their own story onto that which they are reading. Sometimes it is a miscommunication on the part of both reader and writer.

However, when all is said and done, there are a large number of equally valid readings of any given text, whether that text is a novel, a television show, or a piece of fanfic. A story exists in the minds of its readers. The privelege of authorial intent is a myth.

I say all of this as a writer of both fanfic and original fic.

In a perfect world, everyone would always be able to discuss sensitive issues in a calm manner, but the world isn't perfect.
[raging insanity]:
I think that if you feel offended by an author's work, you should a) stop reading and b) maybe drop them an email, suggesting that they might be picturing people or situations in an offensive way.

As from an author's point of view, it is an impossible task to write a story that is not going to offend anyone (except for hopeless fluff maybe) and either way, it's not something that an author should have to do, or has to do (can be argued nowadays, what with people starting to censor themselves etc for fear of reprisals, but let's not get into the whole issue with the Middle East and the West).

I can't say I have ever taken offence in any fanfic I've read, mainly because I read them for what they are, stories written by fans of a show and characters, they are having fun writing and it's unlikely that they will ever shape the opinion of a great number of people, so if it did happen and I would find something a bit icky or you know, not fitting with my views on something I feel strongly about, I just stop reading and don't give it much more thought. But that's just me. (yikes, run-on sentence galore) If I'd come across a blatantly racist, misogynistic story I think I would tell the author my two cents though. But I haven't yet read one.

Also I think you should take into consideration the number of fic, where Ronon, Elizabeth and Teyla are so way, way more mature and to some extent superior to John and Rodney, when they act like 12-year-olds, that need telling off.

And on a final note, what I felt the most offensive here, was calling cats dumb animals who have no humanity. Because that is calling every cat owner in the world who loves their pet, dumb for investing such a high level of feelings into an apparently soulless being. Considering I just buried my cat the other week and I miss him like I miss friends that I've lost in the past, well it just rubs me the wrong way. /wank over
[linabean]:
I'm sorry for your loss of a beloved pet--it's not stupid to invest a high level of feeling into a cat or other pet (and I haven't seen anyone here say that it is).

However, the fact remains that pets are *not* human. They are literally dumb in the sense that they cannot communicate with humans on an equal level, expressing themselves in human language. While pets and other animals obviously have their own feelings and thought processes, investing a high level of feeling in pets necessarily means imputing your own feelings and thoughts on them more than would be appropriate to do to a fellow human.

If writing Teyla as a cat is no different from writing her as a human, then isn't it true that we should be as equally unsquicked by the idea of John pinning cat!Teyla to the wall for a long, intent, sexually charged kiss as we were when it happened in canon with human!Teyla? If cat!Teyla has just as much dignity as human!Teyla, does that mean we shouldn't be offended by the idea of Rodney dragging Teyla, as a human, to Carson to get spayed? Or that it wouldn't be strange for John to put Ronon, as a human, on a leash and take him out for a walk?

No matter how much one loves cats, it shouldn't be offensive to say that cats and humans are different, or to point out that a human character being a pet in an AU could fairly be portrayed as a demotion in terms of that character's role
[wickedwords]:
I think there's a flaw in the cat argument, in that it lumps canon teyla reactions in with fanon teyla reactions. We have stories where Teyla is John's sister, and where Teyla is a child; we have stories where Teyla has been gender swapped to be male, and we have stories where she is part-vampire. You can't take the story stuff and make it equivalent to the canon stuff, unless you do it with all those permutations.

So, if writing Teyla as John's sister--is it okay for them to have sex? if child!Teyla has as much dignity as adult!Teyla, should John drag her off to be immunized? Or make human!Teyla drink Carson's blood once a week?

Humans and cats are different, but so is fiction and reality. We could say that any sort of fictional change is a demotion in the terms of the character.

Or, you know, not.
[terrie01]:
In my experience, the more a writer has the knee-jerk response of "You're imagining things" and starts crying "I'm being attacked," the more likely it is that there's some truth in the accusation. If a writer honestly feels a claim is not valid, the best way to handle it is to remain calm and discuss it rationally. I once wrote a scene that had some very fuzzy, dubious power dynamics. I wrote it as a claiming of control by one character, only to have a reader say that they didn't like the way that same character was having to coddle and appease the other. I simply explained what I was trying to accomplish, the choices I had made in order to reach that goal, and how my writing reflected those choices. I could have gotten offended, but I would have missed out on a interesting discussion of intent vs. interpretation.
[liviapenn]:
I don't think I'd go so far-- like I said in my original post, I really don't think people are sitting behind their computers cackling, "How can we suppress fannish love for characters of color today?" I think their worst crime is simply being thoughtless.

The problem is that people way overreact to any suggestion that they might have been offensive in a race-based way. I mean, how many times has fandom had the discussion "Is slash misogynist?" "Is incest-fic or rape-fic morally wrong?" "Is het sexist?" "Is slash actually built on stupid stereotypes about gay people?" "Is internal misogyny the reason there isn't more femslash?" And no matter whether the answer is yes, no, or maybe, the vast majority of people seem to manage to have these discussions without completely FLIPPING THE HELL OUT and fervently denying everything with a blanket cry of "No! You're imagining things!"

But when it comes to *any* discussion of racism, well, as someone else elsewhere in the thread said... time to get out your 'How to suppress discussions of racism' bingo card. People are just profoundly uncomfortable with even discussing it, and that tends to translate into hostility.
[delux vivens]:
great post. it also illustrates why i (and plenty other poc) have decided to stop discussing race with white people-- people who are white (or are taken to be) will be heard with much more authority than people of color, no matter what the "tone" of discussion.
[miriam heddy]:
Reading all this, I realized that I pretty much stopped watching SGA because of the sexism and racism that I found disturbing in pretty much every episode (and that bothered me far more than the gaping plot holes or the weird way that the smartest characters kept doing incredibly stupid things just so John could rescue everyone).

But reading the threads above, I've started to think about why I stopped watching, because really, the show had a lot of things I like, and some that I obsess over. And I've managed to watch (and recuperate) some pretty shitty shows in the past.

And I think it's because SGA canon is textbook in terms of a bunch of things that are and have been bad in other sci fi shows, and I realize now that I don't have patience for it anymore. I don't want to watch a show where a woman's in charge (except that she isn't), where people of color are leaders (except that they're always aliens who are skilled in fighting and feeling). I think that, at some point in my fannish life, I got tired of recuperating sci fi shows where nobody was gay and nobody noticed, where guys like Ronon are introduced eating with their hands any mention of "noble savage" in a fannish post is met with defensiveness.

The thing is, I think, if I'd read fandom and seen it regularly confronting these things, protesting them, and maybe doing more of the work to recuperate canon's inherent white boy's club attitudes and prejudices... I might have been able to watch the show with more joy. But week after week, black characters were killed off with abandon, Ford was turned into a drug addicted guy who couldn't think anymore, and Weir was undermined at every turn.

And fandom just went with that, overall, leaving it in place when it didn't make it worse in AUs.

But hey--I hold out hope. Everytime someone posts about racism, the same thing happens, but eventually, the tide may turn. Maybe. I guess I'm just getting pretty damned jaded--so much so that it's interfered with my ability to enjoy SGA canon, which has meant that I largely stopped reading the fanfic as well.
[liviapenn]:
I totally get that. I mean, I basically feel like (at this point) I've been driven out of comics fandom by the hostility and ignorance of the misogynists-- and, like you, I'm talking about TPTB who perpetrate it and then attempt to defend their decisions with even more offensive remarks, as well as the fans who are blind to the insulting, dehumanized stereotypes that pass for women in comics these days. *shakes head* And yet, I always did feel that there *were* comics fen who were fighting to, as you say, rehabilitate the stories, the characters, to turn them into something wonderful instead of something degrading. It just got to a point where that wasn't enough to turn the tide for me, personally any more.
[regann]:
While I see your points and maybe even agree to some point, I think that so much of this stems from problems in canon that it seems ridiculous to place the burden of correction on fic writers who feel they're simply following through with with faithful canon characterization by making these kinds of decisions. No matter what we "know" about Teyla and Ronon, their characterizations remain static and largely relegated to "muscle" or "spiritual native" type things. I also think that if anything in this whole wank has offended me is the emphasis placed on the demeaning aspects of blue-collar and/or minimum-wage occupations; as the daughter of a mill worker and a maintenance worker, I don't feel there's anything inherently problematic with taking two characters we think of as having no formal education and giving them occupations that don't necessarily need it.
[veracity]:
Actually, what I have gotten out of your entire post is that because it doesn't fit your criteria of an AU, it's wrong. The entire post is passive-aggressively pointing that out. You can't sit there and say, "Well this happens all the time, so let's dogpile the latest instance and not get feedback from the author first to make a sure that's what happening", which is exactly what's going on. It's turning the point into a mudslinging contest, instead of a way to correct the situation. Perhaps people place Ronon or Teyla in those jobs because they made it fit their personalities because one teeny aspect made them think, "Hey, he/she could handle McKay's harsh tones. Maybe throw in a dig or two back." Or Sheppard, Lorne, Zelenka, Halling. Whoever.

Out of curosity, would it be allowable if Ronon and Teyla were underqualified to hold the job but promoted to it because of being a minority, and Sheppard and Weir were extremely qualified but not given the position because they happen to be white? Would that make it okay? That's exactly how it's reading.

No one on the show has equal footing compared to McKay in the first place. It doesn't matter about racial standing. It's the fact McKay gets majority of the development. Characters ping individuals because of something in ourselves. I don't have to like Bates in order to Ronon, or Ford. Just like I really don't care for McKay all that much, but it doesn't stop me from smiling when Sheppard verbally spars with him. Nor do I have to like Weir and Teyla for the exact same reasons since they're individuals. It's our personal preferences of why we put the characters in our fic. If you don't like it, click out of it. Writers are ultimately writing for themselves, audience secondly. The writer shouldn't have to examine every little thing they put in the story to see if it upsets a single person in their audience. There's caution and then there's overreaction. Guess which side I think the wank has sparked on.

Instead of people writing what they want, everything must have a political agenda, and really, I call bull to that. God forbid people write something fun, airy, enjoyable for the heck of it.

As I said in my own meta, if something continuously bothers someone in every story they read no matter the author, then it's not the author that's the one with the problem. It's the reader's internal problems coming to surface. If you look for something to complain about, you'll never be disappointed, but ultimately never happy.
[regann]:
If we want to talk reality, then yes, I consider it perfectly valid if you're asking if I can believe that two "minority" characters don't have college degrees. According to the United Negro College Fund, only 50% of African Americans will finish high school and only 16% of those will go on to college. So, it's not as if the majority of minorities in the US have college degrees and people are ignoring that fact in writing these AUs.

But that isn't even the point because we're not talking reality; we're talking shoe-horning characters who have been created and intended to be "alien" into an Earth-based system. Because their skill sets don't necessarily match up with modern occupations, it will be problematic. And, I still contend, the strongest characterizations we get for Teyla and Ronon are "alien priestess" and "muscle," respectively, just like Sheppard is "laid-back pilot" and McKay is "high-strung geek."

So far, nothing I've pointed to has anything to do with color but has everything to do with characterization which leads back to the point I was making in my original comment: these issues are coming from canon and I don't see where it's the burden of fanfic authors to "fix" them.

This is only a race issue because the actors who play the characters are "not white." Teyla and Ronon aren't any Earth-based race, they are Athosian and Satedan. They are alien.

The fact that TPTB chose to cast "not white" characters as the Other, as aliens, as characters who are ignored and/or marginalized, etc., is a flaw inherent in canon. Frankly, SGA seems to be written by a bunch of white, male geeks and it reflects in their work; some might not agree with me. So unless someone has chosen to take up these issues in their fics, I don't think it's their burden to do so.
[winterknight]:
...I think I've read the "it's canon" thing too many times tonight and I've finally snapped. This isn't an attack on you personally, but on that tired old excuse. All "you"s to follow are generic.

It may not be an author's job to repair canon, that's is true. Is it their job as a person to be aware of racism that may be inherent in their world view and therefore in their writing? As a writer of original fiction, I feel that it is. Further, I feel that to "correct" canon in terms of it's heterocentricity and homophobia and not to address any other issues ranges from disingenuous to ignorant.

And I would contend most of the issues have deep roots in canon and not in the obliviously racist minds of SGA fic writers.

Canon is the product of people. The canon in question is consistently problematic on many levels. The mutability of the substance of canon is the very soul of fan fiction. To excuse the perpetuation of racism -- or even merely problematic issues -- on the grounds that it is not one's 'job' to fix canon is, again, disingenuous and, frankly, offensive. Canon is to fiction what the status quo or the norm is to real life. It is the product of flawed people who are likely ensconced in the upper echelons of our society, which, regardless of their morality, ethics, or intellect, allows them to continue on in ignorance of their own offenses.

What people should be correcting in themselves (not castigating, because that has no real effect) is a lack of awareness. The response to someone saying "that's a potentially racist scenario" is to say, once you have looked and worked it out, "I will try and be more aware from now on". And then, radically enough, one should do so.

You are free to write anything you please. You are free to write an AU in which John and Rodney are blissful plantation owners caught up in a whirlwind affair with one another, with Teyla as housekeeper and Ronon as horseboy. You are free to write all manner of fiction. That is the whole purpose of fiction. Some great writers have been terribly, deliberately, offensive and provocative. What you are not free to do, in my humble opinion, is be deliberately and persistently ignorant and then hide behind 'canon' as some kind of exemption from being aware and teachable.
[jessant]:
Last time I checked most of the people in the fanficcing community were women. Women whose time is already overtaxed. I'm sure you have a great job one that allows you the time to ponder the thousands of ways you're fanfiction could be misconstrued as racist commentary. I'm a fucking barista, I work long hours for very very little money. When I get online to read, I'm there to enjoy myself. Your little wank meta might be fun for others, but it isn't for people who are in fandom to be entertained. What makes me angry isn't the diatribe on racism, which is sadly prevalent in this society, but who you are focusing it on. Fanfiction is the least fucked up, racist, sexist thing in this patriarchy. And the fanfic is certainly less racist than the show itself, which I'm sure you still are watching.
[an kayoh]:
I think what has struck me the most out of this whole incident has been the out-of-proportion response to the original story. When I read that story and I read the examples you have given, I don't see the relation.

To me, the author was just trying to fit Ronon in there as part of the plot. Maybe it says something about her that she stuck him working at the coffee shop. It does say something about me that I didn't assume that he must also be poverty-stricken and downtrodden. I drew issue with your first sample - that of Teyla being cast as a maid and the subsequent "inherently demeaning" discussion section. For me it's not on the same level. I know serious students from very good schools paying their tuition (okay, part of their tuition) by way of coffee shop cashiering(does 'barista' have a verb form?).

For the rest of your examples, I almost want to let you have them. But I've been watching SGA from the beginning and reading fanfiction fairly heavily for more than a year, and I also have a taste for AUs. I just don't see the trend you're describing (save for the egregious exception of doctor_sga). I don't know if maybe the trend is only turning up (for the third and fourth and tenth time) in stories that I rapidly hit the back button on or what. I tried to do a quick canvas of Ronon's roles in the stories I've read. In most cases he seems to be absent, and I found one otherwise unremarkable story with him as a driver. Other than that? Ronon has been written as Senior Editor, bodyguard, co-head of security, a sculptor and a lot more.

I can't read every AU out there, but in the case of Ronon and the case of this specific story, I don't see it. As you said at the end of your post, I don't want to tell people that they're 'imagining' things, but the way to deal with this was to make a post like you did, not attack the author. That turns it from "I'm hurt, and I'm angry, and I'm offended," to "We're hurt, angry, and offended," and someone's fuse is going to go. Telling people to think (as I certainly will, the next time I sit down to write), rather than jumping them is what's going to get results.

Now, about the women of SGA? I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say, because that's something I see everywhere, not just in occupational AUs. Ronon gets to be his kick-ass, gunslinging self almost without exception, when sometimes, authors forget to let Teyla speak. Or be, you know, 3-dimensional.
[inte grit y]:
Like (obviously) many, many people, I was both grateful and impressed to see this well-though-out and reasoned take on the whole recent wankfest. ^_^ The only thing I would add would be this: that the "I'm hurt, and I'm angry, and I'm offended" consideration should be extended to the fanfiction authors as well. Because racism *is* such a prevalent factor in our society, and many people *do* get offended by the implication that they are a racist, however "unconsciously." (This problem is only exacerbated when the commentator phrases themselves in less-than-sociable terms.) And I would argue that that doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on the authors themselves.

Now, does this mean that writers should be coddled and never have this issue pointed out to them? Of course not. Does it mean that those who do refuse to even consider the possibility of their unconscious motives should be given a free pass? Hell no! At the same time, though, I’d caution people against simply writing off any author whose immediate reaction to the message is less total agreement and more startled taken-aback-ness. (Hooray for making up your own words!) If the entire point of this meta is that peoples’ feelings deserve to be acknowledged, respected, and acted upon in a reasonable manner, then it stands to reason that authors who might feel affronted by the word “racist” (or the implications therein) don’t automatically deserve to be ridiculed or “blown off” either.

Of course, if the author in question does go into total shut-down mode and refuses to hear anything about what the poster is saying, then yes, he or she is being unreasonable/willfully naïve/what-have-you. Honestly, though, I (would like to) think that most people are mature/aware enough of their surroundings not to have this problem. >.>;;; *has always been something of an optimist*
[liviapenn]:
If the entire point of this meta is that peoples’ feelings deserve to be acknowledged, respected, and acted upon in a reasonable manner, then it stands to reason that authors who might feel affronted by the word “racist” (or the implications therein) don’t automatically deserve to be ridiculed or “blown off” either.

*nods* Well, I think it's interesting that a lot of the time, fandom can (more or less calmly) have discussions about whether slash is misogynist or even homophobic, or why people don't write more femslash, or whether rapefic is morally wrong, and yes, people *do* blow up about it occasionally, but *mostly* people do manage to not just say "You're wrong and I'm not discussing this, shut up," but to actually give reasons why they might disagree with the poster, etc. And this just doesn't seem to happen that much with discussions of race that I've seen.

Is it a criticized authors' fault that race is such an intensely uncomfortable, charged topic for such a lot of people (of various different ethnicities and nationalities?) And that she doesn't really have any models for *having* this discussion in a calm, non-knee-jerk-defensive way? Of course not, but... I guess I feel like a lot of the anger that is often so prevalent in discussions of this type is because usually, someone *has* to be *really angry* to even dare to try and break through the wall of silence that fandom likes to put up around this topic. Because most of the people I know who care deeply about this sort of thing know that they'll get that same "No, you're crazy, shut up" reacting even when they speak calmly, so they just don't bother a lot of the time.

Is that an excuse for people who flip out and attack others? No. That doesn't really help anyone or accomplish anything. It's pointless, and in fact it even detracts from the cause it's trying to advance. But I think the fact that even *calm discussions* are often greeted with "Why are you ALWAYS bringing this up? Can't you EVER shut up about it?" or "Well, *I'm* just having fun, and my fun is more important than you feeling welcome in fandom!" -- well, it makes you feel defensive even before you bring it up.

In other words, all things being equal, yes, I do think it's important to focus *equally* on the importance of both sides being civil. But I haven't really seen that race *is* treated in the same way as other problematic or controversial topics in fandom-- at least, not the fandoms I've specifically been in. I think, at this point in time, the burden is on fans to *not* try to stifle these discussions as they happen. (When they happen calmly and rationally, of course.)
[eurydice]:
I don't know anything about recent wankfests and I haven't read all the comments here, so forgive me if I'm repeating things - but, I think you've made some important points here. The most important being, "a good writer knows that."

The thing is that internet fandom has about a zillion billion writers and most of them aren't very good. Many are young or inexperienced and will get better with practice and exposure, but many won't ever get any better, many don't even want to. Some aren't interested in writing as a craft at all, but want to "fix" their show or make love to the hero or have a little fun with porny alien rituals and then just call it a day. I don't think they're ever going to care about the extra messages they're sending and I don't know if it's really worth losing a lot of sleep over them.

But, as you've pointed out, if someone wants to be a good writer, that takes self-awareness about one's choices. Actually, I think being lazy and derivative can lead to a fine story if you know why you're doing it. But if the point of your AU is not the story but an exercise in cramming every Atlantis character into it regardless of your interest in them, then you're going to end up with Teyla as the invisible parlormaid. This is what I've seen in AUs - not so much racism or disrespect, but disinterest and lack of creativity.

OK, I'm rambling, but I wanted to make a point about poor Teyla. I'm not worried about Ronon because he's male, regardless of what color we think he is. He gets to have fun, he can smash things and be unreasonable and growl and get messy, he gets to learn stuff and grow - guys have all the fun. Poor Teyla's the victim of overprotective PC-ness. She's the leader of her people, the voice of reason, of compassion, of maturity, a diplomat, a wise trader, fair and just. She's hot, and can kick ass, and can sing, and do splits. She's got perfect health and perfect teeth, she's well-adjusted and can express her feelings, she's good at math, she's got superpowers. Her quarters are well decorated and clean. She's boring. Her only "flaw" is she can't cook (and to judge by her outfits, can't sew either), but that's an acceptable flaw for an importantly strong woman. There's nothing about her which makes her an interesting character to write for. They've got to get her messy and they're afraid to do - and judging by audience reactions whenever any female character in any fandom gets messy, they might be right to be afraid.
[blackpapertiger]:
First, let me say that at least in one thing, this whole mess (and especially your post) has made me think about this, and I believe you have an excellent point, and it is something that should be talked about and discussed rationally (though I feel bad for the author).

My initial reaction (when I heard about the original mess after the one story) was that they were overreacting. I had read that particular story at work, and it hadn't even pinged for me. I understood the point, could see why it bothered them, but the particular story seemed to be a very mild example of it, and I could understand the author's choice.

Then I came and read your post, and suddenly understood much better why people were so angry. I didn't realize it was part of a larger trend, which probably says something about my own ingrained prejudices (yes, I am American, middle class, getting a Masters, a woman, an agnostic, and white, so make of that what you will). But I had a liberal arts education, and I took some classes, so I'm usually not completely oblivious to the ingrained prejudice in our media (and SGA, oh I love you, but good lord.)

So I thought, have I read these stories and just never noticed? Am I really that bad? So I sat down and looked at all the AUs I have saved on my computer, thinking about who was in it, in what situations, and why. And mostly, realized, I haven't read them. The vast majority of my collection are John/Rodney focused with no other characters. The one that seems to be your prime example, I only realized existed two days ago, and, since I very very rarely read het, is not my cup of tea from the outset.

The point of this is, I really appreciate what you did here. Because you put into context something for me that I did not realize was going on. I'd seen some stuff on similar topics about the show, but never about fic, and it surprised me, mostly because it seems like such bad characterization, besides being subtly racist/sexist. Basically, thanks for explaining what was going on to those of us who haven't read these stories, and for making me step back and think about myself some. Introspection is not something I enjoy, but it's good for me.
[alias sqbr]:

Something that makes me a little sad, reading the various discussions about this, is that it seems that a lot of the time the three POVs "AUs shouldn't perpetrate racist stereotypes", "People shouldn't belittle 'low class' occupations" and "people shouldn't flame newbies" are treated as effectively being in conflict with each other, when if things had gone a bit differently we could have had three separate, productive and worthwhile discussions. Since presumably most people who are against racism are also against classism, and could work together to convince the people who have retrograde attitudes to race and/or class, rather than things descending to "It's about race!", "No, it's about class!".

It's just a little sad to me since race and class are both so marginalised in fannish discussion. On the plus side I think your post, with it's clear and reasonable exploration of the issues involved, is exactly the sort of thing we need to try to cut through all the wank and actually try make people examine their attitudes and maybe even make things better.
[liviapenn]:
There's also people who read "People shouldn't perpetuate stereotypes" and seem to think that there's a conflict between not hurting people with racist stereotypes, and fandom not being fun; these are the saddest objections of all, just because they're so... *shakes head* So unable to sympathize with people who want to have fun in fandom and yet can't, because it's so clearly not a welcoming place for *them*. And then there's also, "I'm lower-middle class / poor / etc., so I couldn't possibly be racist." And yet, the same people will then accuse fans of color of being classist. If it's true that being part of an oppressed group means you can't possibly be racist, then shouldn't being non-white mean you can't possibly be classist? ;)
[monster of hope]:
Thank you for your post. This has spilled over into other fandoms, usually in a bad analogy way: "If racism in fanfiction hurts people, then it's okay for people to object to [[[Wincest]], whatever] in fanfiction, too."

Of course, it has always okay for people to object to anything in fanfiction. As you have said, though, fics with racist stereotypes don't have warnings because the writer may not realize she/he has done it. Wincest writers usually know they are writing incest [though apparently some of us have Wincesty icons without realizing it. *g*], and warn appropriately.

But there is something else, too: racism is real, Wincest is not. That's why racist stereotyping in fanfiction feels so shitty. Because it's real. I can write 100,000 pages of Wincest, and there will be no more incest in the world than there was before. But racist stereotyping in fanfiction DOES increase the quantity of racism in the world.

In other words: Wincest is always fantasy, but racism in fanfiction is real live racism.

Also, and I realize this may not mean something to everyone: racism is political, and incest isn't. Not that personal issues haven't been politicized. Abortion is an unfortunate example. That racism is political matters. There are groups struggling to end it; there are groups struggling to perpetuate it. That isn't the case with [W]incest. It's hard for me to explain why this is important. I'm a very political person; I tend to see things this way. Because it's a political issue, it's not possible for someone to say, "Gosh, racism doesn't affect me at all." Because it does, no matter what your ethnicity. But someone can say, "Incest doesn't affect me," and be speaking the truth.

Fanfiction, being art, reflects society. Fanfiction, being art, gets to be criticized. When people say racism in fanfiction doesn't matter and is somehow exempt, that's ludicrous. It's like saying Aunt Jemina wasn't offensive because she wasn't real and it was all about pancakes. And it's not the role of breakfast foods to change society! So there.

Eliminating racist stereotypes in fanfiction won't eliminate racism worldwide. But it will eliminate racist stereotypes in fanfiction. Gar! It seems so simple to me.

References