Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On privilege

I've been thinking about privilege a lot lately, thanks partly to having discovered the site Microaggresions. It's a collection of anonymous, user-submitted stories of "power, privilege, and everyday life." (Tip of the hat for the site to sexy webcomics goddess Elena Barbarich, a.k.a. Yamino.) Much as we need to pay attention to the giant scandals, the massive hypocrisies, the enormous gaps between those who have privilege and those who don't, we also need to see the minor stories, the moments, the minute-to-minute reminders that the system is unjust and our unconscious beliefs shape our every interaction.

I think part of the reason I'm so interested in privilege is that I've got quite a lot of it. I'm a straight, white, highly educated, cis-gendered male born into a middle-class, two-parent family in middle America. On paper, I'm about as whitebread hetero-normative as you can get. So I want to broaden my horizons as much as possible, remind myself that not everyone has the same advantages and perspectives that I take for granted.

(The site is also helpful, incidentally, for reminding me of all the ways that I'm not whitebread, of all the groups I belong to that don't hold the power. I'm an atheist, for example, which puts me at odds with a huge percentage of America. I don't follow much of mainstream culture, which doesn't exactly make me underprivileged, but certainly marks me as different. And being highly educated is as much an advantage as a disadvantage in certain contexts. I did actually submit my story of the only time I ever felt repressed for being an atheist, but it hasn't shown up yet on the site.)

One of the issues that's bound to come up sooner or later in my new job as a small-town librarian is whether to include books about people who aren't represented in the community. For example, I'm willing to bet Glenwood has no Muslim population to speak of (though I'd love to be proven wrong). Should I then add a book like, say, Does My Head Look Big in This?, about an American Muslim teen? Obviously you want your collection to reflect the needs and desires of your patrons, but you also want to provide materials for them that will enlarge their world. Much as it is important to provide books that reflect the world around your readers, isn't it more important to provide books that reflect the world they don't see?

All of this is largely academic for now, because one of the problems of working in a small-town library is that we have virtually no money for new books. But believe you me, when we get that cheddar, all these musings will bear fruit.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

So far, so good

One week in, and I've already been hugged by an adorable five-year-old girl for finding the book she wanted.

Good start.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Slightly more busy than usual, yes

Two weeks ago I took a job as a children's librarian in a small town in Iowa, which meant moving to a city where I knew literally no one within several hundred miles. Currently I'm subletting an apartment from the daughter of a friend of my mother (long story) while searching for an actual apartment, trying to crank out a 2,500-word essay on one of the longest and most-adapted manga series ever written, and simultaneously looking forward to and dreading my new job, for which I have plenty of training but very little experience.

So I've been a bit distracted, you could say. Sorry to all you loyal blog readers new and old.

It's going to take me a while to resume a normal broadcasting schedule. Let me leave you with some reading material in the meantime: remember the podcast I recorded, the speech defending My Little Pony as an excellent show that no adult male should be ashamed to watch? Well, I've posted the text of that speech on my DeviantArt page, which I hardly ever use. So if you didn't want to listen to my droning voice for more than six and a half minutes, you can now read it instead!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Some initial thoughts on "My Little Pony"

I've been talking a lot about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic lately, to quite a lot of people. First the episode of Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! a few weeks ago, then a few segments on a local comics podcast I do with a few friends, The Geek Report. In particular, I recorded a separate podcast episode of the Report, only about three minutes long, in which I read a prepared, written statement on my feelings about both the show and the media coverage thereof.

Here's the thing. I didn't set out to become a spokesperson for the brony community. I don't think I'm the right person to be that spokesperson. And I certainly don't feel like being that spokesperson on a regular basis. But if my various ramblings and incoherent explanations of this weird subculture can contribute at all to its acceptance by a wider audience, then hey, I'm content to keep explaining my love of ponies and their magical friendship to anyone who'll listen.

I've said quite a bit on my various appearances, but there's two more points I haven't really been able to cover. The first is why I think there's been so much mockery of and downright hate towards the fans of MLP:FiM. Virtually every media forum in the world seems to have made fun of us at some point or another—heck, one of the first stories about bronies came from Fox News, the pinnacle of ill-informed hate. The obvious answer for why we've endured such opprobium is that it's just the latest in a long line of objects, ideas, and media that grown men should have "grown out of" long ago. Comic books, action figures, video games, animated television shows: all these are hallmarks of childhood (boyhood specifically), and thus should be left behind once we leave childhood. Anyone who admits to still enjoying anything from this list is seen as being in a state of suspended childhood, unwilling or unable to grow up and accept adult responsibilities.

But I think there's another reason for this mockery, especially that mockery which comes from other "suspended children"—that is to say, other nerdy subcultures. It's an obvious and accepted truism that we put others down to feel better about ourselves, and this only becomes more true—or perhaps more visible—the more we need to feel better about ourselves. The more we feel we are under attack, the more we look for someone else to attack, and nerds are nothing if not under attack by the "normal" world. Thus, we find someone lower on the totem pole to mock: the Star Trek fan makes fun of the Star Wars fan; the action figure collector looks down on the comic collector; the video gamer feels superior to the Dungeons & Dragons player. For a variety of reasons—the show's newness, its "girly-ness," the fact that its fans self-identify using a fairly ridiculous name—MLP:FiM fans are currently the absolute lowest on that totem pole.

Will that change? Maybe. Eventually. Hopefully. Once people realize that liking a show for young girls does not diminish adult viewers, especially adult males, and that the show itself is actually good, their opinions will change. But that'll take a major cultural shift, I think, because of how firmly certain notions of gender and adulthood are entrenched in American society. (And, probably, elsewhere, but I'm only really familiar with America, so.)

The other point I wanted to make, and which demonstrates perhaps most conclusively that us bronies are not horrible weird perverts, is that the creators of the show themselves have acknowledged us and accepted us as just another group of fans. Lauren Faust, creator of MLP:FiM, had this to say when someone commented on her DeviantArt page about bronies:

This makes me extremely happy for two reasons: first, obviously, it shows that Mrs. Faust knows we're out there and understands that we're not strange perverted freaks, but second, it confirms what I've been saying all along, that the show is enjoyed by these adult males not because it caters to them but simply because it's good. Other people who've worked on the show have responded to fans, answered questions, and otherwise made it clear that they regard bronies as just another group of fans. They acknowledge that, while the show isn't made for adult viewers—officially, lest we forget, the show's demographic is 6- to 8-year-old girls, and I think it's perfect for that audience—anyone can and should be able to derive enjoyment from it.

Frankly, I feel sorry for Faust and everyone else who's worked on the show, because their hard work and talent are being ignored in favor of talking about these supposedly messed-up fans. The story is "hey look at these weirdos who like a show for little girls," when it should be "hey look at this show based on a toy franchise that is actually really good." A great deal of time, effort, and love went into this show, and from the stories that have been published, you'd think its only viewers are unemployed 30-year-old Asperger's sufferers.

As with all my other appearances, I have no idea whether this will change anyone's mind about the show and its fans. But I'd like to try.