owlmoose: (lady business - kj)
[personal profile] owlmoose posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
As discussions about representation in media continue to grow and gain traction around the Internets and through different corners of fandom, we start seeing a lot of repetition: the same unhelpful arguments being made again and again. One of the responses I see a lot, and that I find among the most tiresome, boils down to this: "Stop complaining that other people aren't making the media you want, and just do it yourself!"

I first encountered this response in media fandom, as a pushback against people who wanted to see more content for an unusual pairing, and/or more diversity in romantic pairings (more femslash, more pairings involving people of color, etc.). It was frustrating there, but it's even more pervasive in the wider SF/F fandom, and follows many of the same patterns. And although I don't want to say that this is the very worst response to calls for diversity -- there are a lot of contenders for that title -- it's certainly up there.

I think there are a few reasons that this response is so unhelpful:

1. It assumes that everyone is a creator. Not everyone has the time, energy, or inspiration to create their own media -- to write stories, to make art/comics/video games/etc., to write articles about fannish media. Media fandom operates on an exchange basis to a certain extent -- writers and artists creating for each other -- but still, without the large and varied community of reviewers and lurkers, fandom would be a lot smaller and less interesting. This goes double for mass media, where the proportion of creators-to-audience is a lot smaller. Why should only creators get to have an opinion on media? The audience has every right to make their thoughts known, and to be taken seriously in the process.

2. It assumes that the complainant isn't already doing it themselves. In my experience, most creators who bring up issues of diversity and representation are "doing it themselves" already. My most recent experience with this attitude was to see it directed at Gail Simone, who was involved in a discussion about the casting of a white actor to play Danny Rand in the upcoming Netflix Iron Fist series. (See this Vox article by Alex Abad-Santos for a more detailed explanation of this controversy.) To suggest that Gail Simone -- comics writer, creator of Birds of Prey, activist, founder of the legendary Women in Refrigerators website -- is not already working to promote diversity and better representation in comics and comics-adjacent media is both ignorant and insulting. Perhaps it's not fair to assume that a random comics fan would know Simone's name (although really, it's not a stretch -- she's pretty famous!), and not every example will be this obvious, but the point is that saying "do it yourself" makes an unfair assumption.

3. It assumes that everyone has equal access to all publishing platforms. This is not at all true, especially not in the context of mass media and SF/F fandom. Some people have bigger megaphones and taller platforms than others, and gatekeepers stand at almost every stage of the process. Going back to the Gail Simone example, she might have the influence and name recognition to write and publish a successful independent comic, but her reach pales in comparison to that of DC Comics, especially in terms of marketing and distribution. And if I wanted to create a comic, I'd have a much steeper hill to climb in terms of getting any traction. Never mind either of us trying to get a network television show made. I find this response particularly eye-rolling when people are talking about large-scale productions, like feature films or AAA video games. Sure, I could use Twine to make a game or Flash to make an animated movie, but to compare the reach and influence of my creations to, say, Call of Duty or Frozen (both cases where I've seen "do it yourself" deployed in reaction to complaints about representation) would be patently ridiculous. Does it suck that not everyone has an equal chance to get their work noticed? Sure it does. But it's reality.

4. It lets problematic media off the hook. Sometimes when we talk about representation issues, we're just asking for more diversity. But other times, we're pushing back against media that's actively harmful. When I tweeted about this in Februray, folks were discussing an article about disability in fiction that perpetuated stereotypes of disabled people -- stereotypes that hurt real people every day. You can't just brush that off by suggesting that all people need to do is submit better articles. Better articles can and should be part of the solution, but this alone doesn't erase the harm that's already been done. "Do it yourself", directed only at the people who expressed concerns, provides no incentive for the problematic creator to apologize or do better in the future.

5. It's dismissive. Speaking of brush-offs... I understand, on some level, the impulse to turn the question around and put it back on the person that raised it. Being the change you want to see is something to encourage. But when "do it yourself" is the only response, provided without any effort to support the creation of more diverse media or to understand the deeper issues around representation, it reads as a way to avoid engaging with the problem.

And this is a problem that we need to engage with, all of us. So maybe it's time to retire this unhelpful response and get to work.

Date: 2016-03-03 07:28 pm (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I remember back in 2012 when I was pointing out review coverage of women writers (and only that; no other marginalized genders at all) and people (mostly men) were like, "if you care so much review more women!" as if I didn't contribute to a blog that was learning about women writers and intersectionality. So #2 really gets my goat and also presses the criticism back on the person doing the critique which is like, classic derail. It must be a bummer to be a marginalized creator busting your rump to make a living and making sure to live up to personal expectations for representation in work and have this giant hay bale with limbs launched at you by people who have no clue how much you're hustling.

Date: 2016-03-03 11:20 pm (UTC)
justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
From: [personal profile] justira
#3 really gets to me. It's all well and good to produce more/better media, but ignoring the different reach of various media is just ridiculous and obtuse. For me, often the point is to critique mainstream media, and telling me to make my own ignores the point that I want mainstream media to do/be better. I want those titles with all the reach and fancy marketing and everything to be more diverse. There's tons of diverse indie projects, and that's great, but it doesn't get at the problematic nature of the mainstream. And that reach and marketing and etc. really matters, because the marketing and cultural conversations about the piece of media kind of become part of the package? Marketing is definitely an extension of the product these days, especially in what it chooses to emphasize and downplay. I think part of the problem with #3 is that it also chooses to ignore the... I'm not sure what to call it... meta-media? that accretes around mainstream media these days. That stuff is important! I'm thinking for example of how each new teaser/trailer for Civil War is devoured by fandom — what those pieces of marketing choose to show and emphasize becomes part of the cultural narrative about that product, and we will go into the theatre with certain expectations. I mean, people write fic based off teasers and trailers all the time. Indie projects often just don't have this kind of engagement going on, so I think part of the problem with the "do it yourself" argument is that it ignores the power of all this meta-media that mainstream stuff has going for it. That stuff is powerful, too.

Date: 2016-03-06 07:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] readingtheend.pip.verisignlabs.com
I so agree with all of this. "Do it yourself" only works as a thing if you are speaking to someone who wants to and can do it themselves, and you are ready to provide them the money and access they would need to do it. Which -- SURPRISE! -- nobody ever is. Because if someone's legitimately engaged with making media more diverse and less problematic, "do it yourself" does not tend to be a response that they give.

Date: 2016-03-07 07:53 am (UTC)
willowcabins: (Default)
From: [personal profile] willowcabins
I don't think you planned this, but it's really interesting that this piece came out at the exact same time that The 100 pulled its Bury Your Gays trope, because the massive response to wlw mourning a lesbian character is "why don't you do it yourself then" which is so frustrating for all the amazing reasons you just listed (esp 3). Anyway, I really needed this today.


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