Kaleidotrope

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Fandom
Name: Kaleidotrope
Abbreviation(s):
Creator: Aja & EarlGreyTea68
Date(s): June 15 2018 –
Medium: podcast
Country of Origin:
External Links: Official Site
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Kaleidotrope is an audio drama rom-com podcast "set on a slightly magical college campus and playing around with romance tropes, particularly fanfiction tropes."

The plot centers around Drew and Harrison, two reluctant college radio co-hosts-turned-accidental-advice-givers who find themselves in the middle of the campus’s oldest mystery: Do happy endings really happen at Sidlesmith? Can you really find your trope?

And if the magic isn’t real, what does that mean for two polar opposites who find themselves falling for each other twice a week for half an hour on a suddenly popular radio show?

The central relationship, as named within the story, is Harridrew.

Background & Development

The creators initially stated that a second season would be produced if the podcast reached 500 subscribers on Patreon.[1] It became clear that this goal would not be reached (many have noted that this is a large goal), but the creators have said that a second season is not impossible.

Fandom

Fan activity is almost exclusively related to Harridrew, the central relationship between the two main characters.

Fans are often part of general narrative podcast fandom, but a significant amount of people were introduced to the podcast because they were familiar with Aja Romano. Based on pre-existing opinions about Aja, some went in prepared to dislike Kaleidotrope.

Reception & Discussion

Created by fanfiction writers Aja Romano (also a culture reporter at Vox) and EarlGreyTea68, Kaleidotrope will especially appeal to those who came of age or were most active in fandom in the early 2000s, while still inspiring works and commentary from all generations of fans on Archive of Our Own and Tumblr.[2]
Kaleidotrope - one season so far *fingers crossed there will be more* adorbale, kinda dorky, sweet fluff bit of a college broadcast show romance, with tropes and a tiny bit of magic. Also Samoas[3]
Fresh off of listening to Penumbra and Gimlet’s Two Princes, two beautifully produced queer podcasts, Kaleidotrope came highly recommended. And while the concept in theory seemed like a dream come true, the execution was far from that. Compared to those other podcasts Kaleidotrope is obviously an amateur production. The sound quality is a bit off, there could be more background and foley, it lacks polish. Aside from the two leads who are standouts the rest of the voice acting is either average or below. The pacing is extremely odd, revolving around a plot point that is extremely obvious the outcome early on and play it out for far too long. It starts strong in the beginning but drags on in later episodes to the point even the leads’ chemistry could not save it. Someone in a review says it feels like someone wrote a fanfic for their school AU otp with little idea of a plot and with the amount of banter vs substance it feels that way. It’s a shame because it has good building blocks-the leads are great voice actors and there were a few moments in their talks about love they brought up genuinely good, emotional points. The concept is interesting if a bit trite/not well-explained. Their dynamic is genuinely good and believable. However, a good couple can only carry a show so far and by ep 10 I was skipping parts because I was so bored. Kaleidotrope had potential that could have been saved by better pacing and production, but ultimately its a pass for me.[4]

Kaleidotrope longs to be unambiguously fluffy!WTNV. Although I really do feel that the unintentional creepiness of Kaleidotrope could go toe to toe with the 100% intentional creepiness of WTNV. Sure, WTNV has a faceless old woman who lives in my house, but I never had trouble buying that Cecil and Carlos really liked each other and their relationship never made me think of Single White Female even once.

And yeah, the show's relationship with fanfiction is kind of interesting, because the characters read fanfic (Drew especially is a big consumer of both Harry/Draco and Johnlock, and the episode with the veela only makes sense if Harrison has consumed a large amount of "X is a veela" AUs) and also the college that they attend works on fanfic romance rules. I feel like that should be a weirder and funnier rabbit hole to go down, but it just isn't.[5]

So, having listened to the entire thing: it didn’t have to be bad. There are parts of Kaleidotrope that I genuinely found funny. The common thread between them is that they’re brief asides, not dwelled upon, just oddball little incidents that play with narrative expectations in a silly way. And that’s not something that Kaleidotrope as a whole can sustain.

Because it’s interminable in every way. This podcast consists of 9 thirty minute episodes and I feel like I’ve been listening to it for decades. It moves at a snail’s pace. The dialogue twists itself in autofellating knots. It lacks the restraint to be funny. It can’t just have a funny line or idea; it has to drill that line or idea into the ground with endless repetition. Most of it isn’t successfully funny in the first place. And it’s a romantic comedy podcast. So: problem.

And the romance half of “romantic comedy” isn’t saving it because they accidentally made half of their main pairing is a sugar-coated emotional vampire who smashes through Drew’s clearly stated emotional boundaries with treacly, gaslighting-flavored precision.

Here’s the thing though: it’s kind of found success. This show with 4.5 hours of content spaced out over 5 months has 71 Patreon subscribers and people who write fanfic, draw fanart, create fanmixes, etc. Aja and EGT aren’t going to make their 500 subscriber goal to make season 2 unless something crazy happens, so presumably Kaleidotrope ends here. But if they had made something that wasn’t so dependent on paid actors, if they could continue to make more content, they might actually have had a sleeper hit on their hands. Just like that very bad school administrator character, we’ve not seen the last of them. Their collaborative efforts will return.[6]

Handling of Tropes

The podcast's handling of some sensitive tropes has been criticized. Criticism particularly focuses on the podcast's light-hearted attitude when addressing the serious consequences of fictional tropes playing out realistically.

On the teenage Veela/Fuck or Die Enemyslash storyline:

[vikadys]:

hey @kaleidotropepod a lot of us in the discord server are kind of upset with the way you handled vee’s arc in ep 10. she’s a high schooler and the fact that you wrote her into a “fuck or die” situation is kind of in bad taste. 1/?

it could have MAYBE been funny with an adult character, but vee’s a kid. your show is usually so lighthearted and this stuff came out of nowhere, with not even a warning in the episode notes. the whole “adults give a kid sex advice” is already iffy, 2/?

but this kind of crossed the line. I’d like to think the best of both of you because this show means so much to me, but I really do think the way vee was handled was in very bad taste. 3/3[7]

[kaleidotropepod]:

Hi, hearers! This is a linked thread for anyone who may have had concerns about Vee's trope in Episode 10 of Kaleidotrope.

Our response is lengthy so we've screencapped it. It's also in part a broader response for anyone who's been made uncomfortable by our handling of any of the tropes in the series — as always, please let us know so we can add any and all necessary warnings! Thank you! <3

[Text from image]:[8]

Hi! Thank you so much for raising this issue! We should have used warnings, and we're going to add warnings into our notes for "high schoolers in stressful sexual situations involving dubious levels of consent, specifically morally grey, coercive sexual bargaining."

If you were disturbed by the idea of and Trish being thrust into this horrible and horribly awkward and life-endangering situation, you absolutely should have been. The 'fuck or die' trope, and by extension the Farr / alpha-has-to-shag-an- omega-in-heat trope, are bizarre and disturbing tropes regardless of the ages of the people involved. The "Magical creature casts a sexual spell over everyone" trope is also very sketchy. This is a theme in our podcast, you've surely noticed.

We wanted our characters' reads on this trope to be clearly critical, in that Harrison says he never thought about how awkward this trope would be IRC and Drew points out how non-consensual it is. We didn't want to get too deeply into this, in part because when we were writing this we had high hopes that we'd get to do a Season 2, and we wanted Season 2 to focus partly on subverting her way out of this trope. But also we understand that without that context, and even with it, this all might seem unethical, and we deeply apologize for any anxiety and distress this episode has caused among our listeners.

We also want to stress that outside of contexts in which there are dubious levels of consent, there is absolutely nothing wrong with high schoolers having consensual sex with other high schoolers. Sexual exploration is 100% okay, and being and feeling sexual it you're a teenager is also 100% okay, or at least should be in a non-crappy world where sexual autonomy is respected and validated. This is the most horrifying thing about tropes where biological imperatives force people to have sex; their own bodies are undermining their sexual autonomy along with the rest of the world. But we want to stress that it's not "high schoolers having sex" that's the issue with this trope, or even "high schoolers grappling with a loss of control over their sexual urges," because neither of those things are inherently bad, and exploring them through fictional metaphors is not inherently bad, either. In fact, "help i'm a hormonal teenager who's suddenly an out-of-control magical creature as a metaphor for sexual awakening" is an extremely common fictional theme, specifically ret werewolf-related horror: See I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Ginger Snaps, and Raw for just 3 great examples out of many.

What's problematic here, specifically, is "high schoolers having to make extreme coercive sexual bargains in traumatic life-or- death situations that compromise their independence and ability to consent willfully and enthusiastically." As Drew says, "How consensual can it be if the curse is basically extorting them both to [have sex]?"

Of course, as many fans of the A/B/O etc trope will point out, this trope also leads to lots of explorational fanfic that doubles as serious social commentary about patriarchal societies and bodily autonomy. And of course these tropes are also, like all the tropes in our podcast, wildly popular and beloved by many segments of fandom, even when they're being applied to high schoolers. The overarching theme of this podcast is ultimately consent — the whole point is that when everything's just tropes, the people in those tropes may not be fully clear-sighted and consensual about what they're getting into. And a sub-question of that, which we leave up to the listener again and again, is how we who consume stories juggle the disturbing real-life implications of many of these tropes with the fact that we love so many of them anyway.

So the other thing we want to say is that if you're not happy with the way this trope was treated on the podcast, we encourage you to think about ways to complicate it. Consider writing 'iF about it, or write your own original story where the character gets to subvert her way out of this mess, or where this entire fucked-up magical and/or biological system is tackled head-on. We wanted to make Kaleidotrope in order to explore the messiness of tropes. We have tried to steer clear of condemning any of them, and have tried to celebrate them while complicating them, and we hope you'll join us in that same spirit. Thank you!

The user who originally raised the concern, and others, felt that the response did not straightforwardly answer the criticism.

[vikadys]:

my biggest issue here is that egt, and I assume aja, are adults. a lot of your listeners (including me) are teenagers. the issue isn’t with teens having sex, it’s that you as adults wrote these teenagers into an incredibly inappropriate situation in which consent is dubious 1/?

at best. furthermore, it feels to me like you didn’t address the concerns that were expressed. the whole “write a fanfic” thing works for scenarios like ‘these characters didn’t get a happy ending and I want to change that’ or ‘these characters should fuck and that won’t 2/?

happen in canon so it’s up to me.’ this show belongs to you two and you have the ability to choose the plot points you want to display. again, this show is incredibly important to a lot of people, and it seems like you’re glossing over our our very valid concerns. 3/3[9]

[pinkasrenzo]:

Hi guys, love the show, but as it's already been said your answer to this problem was kinda off the point? You guys clearly avoided addressing the dubious consent issue and went off on a tangent about omegaverse (who ever said anything about that and it's not in the podcast?) 1/?

and tropes that are irrelevant to this particular situation. Besides that, you can't just talk about dubious consent lightly. It's not something you can just shrug off and say "oh we were gonna talk about it in the next season" because (as we all unfortunately know) it's not 2/?

exactly sure if there is even going to be a next season. So you should either talk about it properly or not at all. Otherwise it becomes very problematic and very wrong. And furthermore, fanfiction is not the same thing as a show (be it on tv, podcast or whatever), it doesn't 3/?

have the same audience, or contents or context, and a fan-writer does not have the same responsibilities as a writer (why else specify fan-writer?). So I guess you should maybe address this particular issue and how it was handled in this particular episode, in this particular 4/?

context (not teenagers having sex but teenagers BEING FORCED INTO NON-CONSENSUAL SEX), and not just avoid the problem going on about other tropes and the possibility of addressing issues in the future cause that's not gonna cut it and it just makes it all more problematic. 5/5[10]

On the Gangster blackmail dubcon storyline:

I think y’all know me pretty good already, I like my feel-good podcasts with that lil bit of romantic sprinkles on top, and so Kaleidotrope, way back in October, seemed to be perfect for me. I listened, and have not stopped thinking about it since.

This is not, in fact, a good statement.

[...]

As you can see, there are no trigger warnings, and neither are there any on the transcript. Therefore, I feel like I must warn you:

Episode 3 of Kaleidotrope contains discussion of dubcon, noncon elements, abusive relationships, emotional manipulation. One of the main characters does try to half defend these things. The person in the situation, C, is encouraged to talk to the other element and see if there’s room for a real relationship.

Kaleidotrope is, indeed, about tropes. We cannot deny these are prevalent tropes in fandom. However, these elements should have a trigger warning on them. It is unfortunate that they do not, and this experience made the rest of the podcast feel awkward and bad to me.

If you want to listen to Kaleidotrope, you can skip this discussion and listen to the rest. [...][11]

Example Fanworks

Fanart

Links & Resources

References

  1. Will there anymore episodes? by kaleidotropepodcast, Jan 2 2020
  2. 8 Sweet, Funny, and Thrilling Queer Fiction Podcasts by Natalie Zutter on Tor.com, Oct 16, 2019
  3. Podcasts I like by roseunspindle, 2019-11-09
  4. High hopes but ultimately disappointed 2/5 By Pixiechu
  5. Re: Podcasts - Kaleidotrope on fail-fandomanon, 2018-08-31
  6. https://fail-fandomanon.dreamwidth.org/339460.html?thread=1962318852#cmt196 Re: Podcasts - Kaleidotrope] on fail-fandomanon, 2018-11-02
  7. Feb 16, 2019 by vikadys
  8. Feb 16, 2019 by kaleidotropepod
  9. Feb 16, 2019 by vikadys
  10. Feb 16, 2019 by pinkasrenzo
  11. let’s talk about Kaleidotrope by ladywhitetower, Jan 11 2020