Star Wars and Racism

The Star Wars logo as seen in all films.

It is good advice, and common advice, that if you publish content online you should “not read the comments”. The internet has allowed people to spew vitriol anonymously and with little fear of consequence. On release of the new Star Wars trailer there has been an open criticism by certain groups regarding the “White Genocide” perpetrated by the film. Such an absurd notion is an unsettling reminder that racial inequality and racism are a long way from being vanquished in this universe or any other. The absurdity of the notion is not lost on most who have pointed out that one of the most iconic and recognizable Star Wars characters was voiced by James Earl Jones (leaving aside the strange white washing of the character when his face was revealed).

This is neither the first time nor will it be the last time that the internet has produced such racist rhetoric, it has been asked on a number of occasions “why is the internet so racist?” Anonymity is the main reason why such opinions are more prevalent on the internet, however there are a number of other elements at play, the ability to build communities who share your views, the ability to find ‘proof’ of just about any theory on the internet and the sense of entitlement to ‘freedom of speech’. It may be simple attention seeking that is not deserved of comment or time. An article in the business insider asks: “Will the overt racism that defines the Internet also disappear once anonymity is gone?

Logic suggests it will—that only people who will be racist online are, 1) people who are openly racist in the real world too, and 2) dumb teenagers who are short-sighted and solipsistic”

It is interesting that the finger is pointed at “dumb teenagers” this is a rare return to the days of blaming the younger generation for many misdemeanors, major and minor with little regard to any actual facts. The internet is rapidly becoming less anonymous, however it will be interesting to see what impact this has on the way in which individuals approach commentary, racism and other issues.

Fanfiction and Sexuality

Interestingly Fanfiction, often written off by many as being an inferior source of fiction, can teach young people a range of skills, from the way to search databases for the type and subject matter they like, to the ability and confidence to be critical of texts. There is a great amount written about the relative artistic value of fanfiction, most strongly arguing that whilst there is a significant amount of poorly written work available (Derecho, 2006) there is certainly an amount of very well written and valuable work available too.

The prevalence of Fanfiction encourages the reader to be critical and selective in their reading. Encouraging young people to access such work also encourages them to feel more confident in exercising their own judgment in terms of what they would like to read, but also in terms of what they deem to be worthy of their time. Schools, through necessity, provide structures and reading lists and are directive in terms of the reading of young people. Fanfiction offers a plethora of options and encourages the reader to discard work that does not speak to them.

FanFic2

(Image Via: http://icanhas.cheezburger.com/)

Fanfiction offers readers a world in which they can re-imagine their favorite narratives and characters in such a way as to be able to relate more closely to those characters, or to even rewrite those characters to reflect their place, view and experience of the world. Notably there has always been a high prevalence of queer fanfiction. For example FemmeSlash fiction provided a fertile ground for queer young women (and others no doubt) to re-imagine storylines in such a way as to mirror either their own experiences or at least mirror the experiences they would like to see in mainstream media.

Fanfiction is also an interesting space to introduce young people to the eccentricities of copy write. Whilst most young adults would know today that downloading films or reproducing work without citation in essays is wrong or illegal, the complexities of parody and rewriting are often ignored. Whilst online fanfiction does not often concern itself too much with such issues, beyond disclaimers clarifying that authors do not ‘own’ the characters or original text, when commercial publishing is raised it seems a lot more complicated. (Lipton, 2014). Titled such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Graham-Smith, 2009) and Android Karenina (Waters, 2010) have brought fanfiction to the forefront of commercial publishing, and would be an interesting place to introduce copy write implications to young students.

References:

Graham-Smith, S., Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2009.

Waters, B.H., Android Karenina, Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2010.

Derecho, A. (2006), ‘Archontic literature: A definition, a history, and several theories of fan fiction’, in K. Hellekson and K. Busse (eds), Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, pp. 61–78.

Leavenworth, M., L., Canon authors and fannish interaction , The Journal of Fandom Studies, 10/2014, Volume 2, Issue 2

Lipton, J., D., COPYRIGHT AND THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF FANFICTION, Houston Law Review, 01/2014, Volume 52, Issue 2

Green Valentine, the Environment and online author interaction

Lili Wilkinson’s newest book, Green Valentine (Published 1 August 2015, Allen and Unwin, Australia), begins with the introduction of a character who is overtly political. She dresses herself in a lobster costume and hands out fliers in a shopping center to protest the fate of the “lobster”. Whilst the book plays on the trope of the unpopular activist, it also shows that young people are often far more politically aware than they are given credit for and are capable of being politicized and socially responsible. Green Valentine does not speak down to its audience, the language used, and interaction between the characters shows that the language of activism and social awareness of young adults is often very well developed. Wilkinson has a history of tackling issues, with her book Pink discussing young adult sexuality and receiving a Stone Wall Honor in 2012. Pink opens with a main character in a same sex relationship, the character goes through a process of self discovery in which she decides that her sexuality may not be as simple as gay or straight. In a lot of ways it shares some themes with the teen drama Faking It in that it tackles the idea of parental and societal expectations, that once you are gay you bare the full social and political weight of being an activist.

Wilkinson has a significant online presence, running multiple blogs and a twitter account. She actively engages with her audience in a way that has become increasingly common for, in particular, Young Adult Fiction writers. Barbara Fister discusses online interaction with authors on her Blog, pointing out that for many authors now interaction with fans is a full time job, and that whilst it can enrich the reading experience it also has its drawbacks for authors. As Leavenworth (2014) points out it no longer seems sufficient to simply write a text and publish it, authors need to continue to engage with the fandom and build on the published work. Stockslager (2015) also looks at the ways in which author interaction has changed, certainly Dickens had more of an interaction with his public than some other authors of his time, given the episodic nature of much of his writing (produced chapter by chapter and published in a newspaper). Such interaction allowed and still allows fans to interact with authors over grief, death and other issues arising from texts. For Wilkinson her online presence has allowed her to connect with Young Adults for whom her books have resonated, whether that be queer youth in rural Australia or environmental activists in suburban Melbourne.

References:

Fister, B., Barbara Fisters Place: https://barbarafister.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/authors-interacting-with-readers-online/

Leavenworth, M., L., Canon authors and fannish interaction , The Journal of Fandom Studies, 10/2014, Volume 2, Issue 2

Stockslager, T., R., The author who lived: Charles Dickens, J. K. Rowling, their fans, and their characters, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2015

Wilkinson, L., Green Valentine, 2015, Allen and Unwin

Wilkinson, L., Pink, 2012, Allen and Unwin

Wilkinson, L., Webpage: http://liliwilkinson.com.au/

Wilkinson, L., on Twitter: https://twitter.com/twitofalili?ref_src=twsrc^google|twcamp^serp|twgr^author

Wilkinson, L., Blog: https://acunningplot.wordpress.com/

Carrion Laughing’s Tumblr and Gender

(Image Via: http://carrionlaughing.tumblr.com/)

Tumblr (an online community where individuals post images and short scripts/posts, largely in relation to popular culture and fandom) the microblogging website has largely been forgotten by academics and has very little written about it, despite the fact that it is quite widely used (Anderson 2015). However, Libraries are increasingly using Tumblr as a way to engage with students and patrons in a more eclectic and modern way, and certainly it has become the responsibility of libraries to improve the online literacy of its clients (McShane 2011). The use of Tumblr as a classroom tool is not a new idea, it is used often as a more engaging form of blogging (Kohen, 2014).

Carrion Laughing is the Tumblr of one of two female writers for Doctor Who’s 9th season. Despite having a female producer at it’s inception (Verity Lambert) Doctor who has had only 4 female writers since its beginning. Carrion Laughing offers commentary on modern culture, from politics to television. It makes the majority of its comments around gender and occasionally racial and sexual diversity in television and films. Such spaces offer an unedited commentary on modern culture. It is also one of the forums in which fandoms express opinions and ‘ship’ characters from television and film. Increasingly such sites are having an impact on what is produced in the mainstream media.

FanArt

Image: FANART for 221B @ SH/JW

Many Tumblr sites offer single fandom commentary, an opportunity for a community to connect, comment, rewrite and re-imagine their favorite television series, such as BBC’s Sherlock. Nybro (2014) writes about the phenomenon of Tumblr in relation to Sherlock discussing how it provides a multimedia platform for growth and comment. Such platforms are increasingly referenced as influences over popular culture. The online community’s backlash over Glee’s “Brittania” breakup and Brittany’s subsequent dating of a Male character, was overtly referenced in the show with the Britany character stating that she feared the backlash of “angry lesbian bloggers” (Episode 409). Sexual identity is often discussed on the Carrion Laughing Blog, as Frank and Miller (2014) point out Tumblr is a fertile ground for individuals to assert control over their sexuality, both through fanfiction, fanart and commentary.

Whilst there are a lot of Tumblr sites for student to visit, Carrion Laughing offers a real world link (the author is also a prolific television writer), a variety of views on both popular culture and real world politics and is well curated. It is an exceptional example of a well-managed Tumblr and is updated daily. Most comments are backed with statistics and references, and it offers a good balance of text and images. In addition it is SFW (Safe For Work). It can be difficult to identify Tumblrs that fulfill all these criteria.

References

Anderson , K., E., (2015) “Libraries and Tumblr: a quantitative analysis”, Reference Services Review, Vol. 43 Iss: 2, pp.156 – 181

Carrion Laughing Tumblr: http://carrionlaughing.tumblr.com/

Fink, M., Miller, Q., Trans Media Moments: Tumblr, 2011–2013, Television & New Media, 11/2014, Volume 15, Issue 7

Hogan, H., on the AfterEllen.com Website: “Glee” recap (4.09): Something Stupid, http://www.afterellen.com/tv/104688-glee-recap-409-somethin-stupid

Kohen, A., Tumbling Political Theory, Politics, 12/2014, Volume 34, Issue 4

McShane, Ian (2011). Public libraries, digital literacy and participatory culture., Discourse : Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 32 (3) pp.383-397.

Nybro, L., N., Sherlock fans talk: Mediatized talk on tumblr, Northern Lights: Film & Media Studies Yearbook, Volume 12, Number 1, June 2014, pp. 87-104(18)

Reise on Autostraddle: Glee 409 Recap: Swan Song Of Myself, http://www.autostraddle.com/glee-recap-410-swan-song-of-myself-151534/

Sexuality, Faking It

Whilst queer sexuality has been represented multiple times in television in the past few years, and the likes of Glee and Pretty Little Liars have brought several queer teen characters to drama that is aimed at young people, Faking It (MTV, 2014) offers a little more. Whilst Glee had an ensemble cast, several of whom identified as other than straight, Faking It has two main characters one of whom is gay. It also presents a slightly modified reality, an Austen (Texas) school where being queer is a positive, reputation building characteristic rather than a negative one. Of course there is a complexity, one character identifies as queer whilst the second is straight, the two best friends initially fake a relationship to increase their popularity. What Faking it offers is not just queer characters but an altered and self conscious political reality that is different to the status quo. Whilst programs such as Pretty Little Liars and Glee present a prejudiced world and the traditional difficult of experience of ‘coming out’ and being queer, Faking It invites a different approach to considering the political climate. Essentially often where the political climate that backs a queer story line is the status quo it is often almost invisible, this self consciously molded backdrop to the storylines invites a more complex consideration.

Texan Flag

From Google Images

Faking It is unashamedly political and offers a more complex and considered view of the teenage involvement in politics than most teen dramas. Whilst the likes of the Degrassi series’ (TeenNick, MTV, Much, CTV Television Network) or BBC’s Skins have often tackled teen issues they are not necessarily the type of issues that are self-consciously political. Faking It’s teens are often seen promoting various politic agendas that go far beyond the usual election to school president that is shown in most teen programs. The main characters in Faking It involve themselves in rally against “Squircle” a google parody, referencing both their issues with privacy and the essential corporatization of the school. Whilst to many Australian teens such corporatization may seem like an absurd concept it is beginning to be more familiar in US schools, and in fact with the Victoria Kennett Government’s “Schools of the Future” which allocated 93% of the Victoria’s state run schools their own independent budget to run themselves like businesses.

A program like Faking It is a great launching point for discussions about what control students have over the running of their schools, as well as constructing their own ideas of what an ideal society would look like for them.

References:

Hinz, B., ABC.net: Labor’s new education Policy not new, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-08-04/35694

Monaco, J., on Academia.net, Radical for whom?: Finding space for the political teen drama/comedy Skins. http://www.academia.edu/1673033/Radical_for_whom_Finding_space_for_the_political_in_the_teen_drama_comedy_Skins

Wide Awake and Electoral Politics

Whilst this book isn’t necessarily technology centered it is such a unique book in terms of its subject matter and fits well into this blog’s discussion around politics and the importance of politically aware youth. Getting young people interested in electoral politics is a battle and to tackle it in a young adult fiction book is rare and brave. David Leviathan is well known for his queer young adult fiction and Wide Awake (Published September 29, 2008, Knopf Books for Young Readers), is no exception, painting a world where being queer is acceptable and mainstream. Wide Awake introduces a Queer Jewish president, and almost as unlikely a group of teenagers travelling to a rally to support their preferred president elect. Published two years before President Obama’s election no doubt Leviathan foresaw that almost as previously inconceivable president would be elected in the United States, and that young people would travel across America to see the inauguration of the first African American President.

Hope

(image: Boing Boing)

In a time when the role of politics in the classroom is still in debate (Drummond, 2015), and youth enrolment to vote is still relatively low, a book about the political process and in particular a challenge to legitimacy based on alleged fraud is unique. Introducing young people to the idea and complexity of politics gives them the opportunity to understand and engage early, before they are making decisions about whom to vote for, or that they do not wish to vote. Too often young people hear that politics are boring, or that they don’t want to have a political discussion, without understanding that many issues and many of their interest are inherently political, and that political decisions and voting impact them as much as, and in some cases more than their parents or other adults. Young people should be aware that voting affects school funding, it impacts equality, (with gay marriage being a good example currently), local government may impact on their local sports club, there are many ways that young people see a very immediate impact of politics. Of course the political storyline in Wide Awake runs alongside a drama regarding the love lives of the group, however the balance between the storylines is easily maintained and interacts well. This book melds the drama of a teen trip with the complexity of election politics, without them appearing to be shoe horned together.

References:

BBC online: Political debate in class ‘crucial’ to getting young people involved, http://bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-33067326

Drummond,S., NPR.org, Politics in The Classroom: How Much Is Too Much? http://www.nrp.org/sections/ed/2015/08/06/415498760/the-role-of-politics-in-the-classroom

the Information Daily.com: Lack of Politics in the classroom responsible for low voter turnout, http://www.theinformationdaily.com/2014/02/05/lack-of-politics-in-the-classroom-responsible-for-low-young-voter-turnout

McGrath, C., Statistics show 25 per cent of young people failed to enrol to vote in September election: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-21/figures-show-25-per-cent-of-young-people-failed-to-enrol-to-vote/4903292

Little Brother and Surveillance

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (Published January 1, 2008, Tor Teen, New York looks at a number of issues but in particular surveillance. Its 1984 reference is unlikely to be lost on the audience that the text is aimed at, however it has likely also served to introduce a new generation to George Orwell’s classic. Surveillance is a very real issue for young people, with the prevalence of mobile devices and geo-tracking, geo-tagging in pictures, spy wear (both for malicious use and parental surveillance) and the increasing surveillance of children in schools, most notably the case of school issued laptops and tablets being used to spy on children. The Plot, very briefly, is about a group of teenagers in San Francisco, and the anti-terrorist crack down after a terrorist attack and the impact that such measures have on ordinary citizens. The teenagers rebel and of course draw the attention of the authorities. Doctorow describes it simply “…all security has a cost. That cost has to be commensurate with the potential risk…” (Doctorow in interview with Bernick, P., Steele, R., Bernick, G., 2010 p436)

Cory Doctorow

Doctorow

Image from Wikipedia

Whilst the issue of online safety is taught to younger people it is often from the perspective of protecting them from malicious intervention such as stalkers and pedophiles it is not often discussed from a civil rights point of view. In short information around e-security sees “young people as victims not agents” (Barnard-Wills, 2012, p252). Young people are well equipped to manage the way that they interact with technology so as to ensure their own privacy. Most education assumes a passive audience, or a simple ‘do and don’t’ approach to privacy rather than giving young people the tools and understanding to be active participants in their online presence. Such issues are not often seen as issues for young people to deal with, but rather the concerns of parents, however as is observed above parents can also be the perpetrators of such surveillance and as such an autonomous and educated approach to these issues is very important to young people. In many cases knowledge of such concerns is more important to young people who have less control over the policies and procedures that routinely put surveillance in place.

Safety

Image: Creative Commons

In addition there is the concern of young people themselves being perpetrators of breaches of privacy. In a Vic Health Survey quoted in an Age Online article regarding violence against women 50% of 16-24 year olds felt that is was okay to electronically track your partner without their consent (The Age, 2015). This is a sobering statistic that shows that many young people are unaware of the implications of breaches of privacy, particularly if they are perpetrated by themselves with, at least in the first instance, seemingly innocent intentions. A simple issue such as a breakup and the use of Facebook can raise a number of concerns for young people, and the implications of their actions are not always thoroughly thought through, particularly the concerns about controlling behavior and future domestic violence (Lukacs & Quan-Haase, 2014). Young people are taught that privacy is about avoiding predators, rather than privacy, particularly online, as a human right and an ethical concern. Books such as Little Brother introduce these issues to young people in an interactive way, encouraging them to engage with the narrative and consider their own place in such ethical issues as privacy and surveillance.

References:

Barnard-Willis, D., (2012) E-safety education: Young people, surveillance and responsibility, Criminology & Criminal Justice, Vol.12 Issue 3 Page 239-255 July 2012

Bernick, P., Steele, R., Bernick, G., and Doctorow, C., Interview with Cory Doctorow about “Little Brother”, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Vol. 53, No. 5 (Feb., 2010), pp. 434-439

Doctorow, C., Little Brother, 2008, Tor Teen, New York.

Orwell, G., 1984, 1961, Signet Classic, Chicago.

Perkins, M., The Age Online: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/many-young-people-have-worrying-attitudes-to-violence-against-women-report-20150923-gjt3nq.html

Lukacs, V., Quan-Haase, A., Romantic breakups on Facebook: new scales for studying post-breakup behaviors, digital distress, and surveillance, Information, Communication & Society, Online 24 September 2014

http://www.computerworld.com/article/2521075/windows-pcs/pennsylvania-schools-spying-on-students-using-laptop-webcams–claims-lawsuit.html

Introduction

Popular culture and new media are increasingly asserting a place in the classroom, but also in the narratives of traditional media such as novels. Fictional narratives and Young Adult fiction in particular increasingly represent the ways in which technology has changed the way we interpret the world. This blog looks with particular interest at the representation of technology and in particular the ways in which young people are becoming more politicized around issues raised by technology, focusing on the representation of such issues in Young Adult fiction. Young people are often represented in the media as being apathetic and a-political. The vested interest of young people in politics, has always been evident and increasingly these interest are being expressed. This is perhaps because of an increased access to communication and networking. Whilst none of this is new ground, this blog looks specifically at the overtly and self consciously political, works that do not shy away from the political nature of their audience, they do not attempt to hide their agendas or assume that the reader will not be interested in the political elements of the narrative.