Kingdom: A Lesson In How NOT To Do Queer Representation

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Nick Jonas as Nate Kulina in Kingdom

I’ve mentioned in a previous post about how one of my favorite TV shows, my beloved Kingdom, sort of failed horribly by marketing a rape scene as a sex scene with their gay character. Sadly, that is not the worst part of it.

To set the stage for the uninitiated, Kingdom is a TV show that comes on Audience, a DirecTV exclusive channel, about the lives of a family of MMA fighters and their many dysfunctions. While this post is going to make it seem like I’m negative on this show, I’m going to preface this with reminding the world that I love this show. It is one of the best done television shows I’ve ever watched, because all of the characters are very human. I have never watched anything with more human characters than are in this show. Everybody is flawed. The most likeable ones still make horrible choices and the most unlikable ones still have things that give them a reason to care about their suffering. It’s a beautifully done show with incredible writing, complex characters, amazing relationships, and such a unique setting to tell a very universal story of family and human nature and identity…

And then they absolutely dropped the ball with queer representation.

It disappoints me greatly because I tried so hard to give the show a shot to make it make sense, and it never did, to the point that now, I’ve had to face a realization: they decided to have a young gay man be raped just to give him a way to meet a boyfriend.

In Kingdom, the younger of two sons of this MMA legend is Nate, played by Nick Jonas, and the show starts hinting very early on that he’s gay. This is a really well done character, in that this young guy is a very quiet, reserved, ‘fade into the shadows’ kind of person in ever aspect of his life apart from fighting because he’s gay and deeply closeted. For a long time, this makes for really great queer representation, because Nate is everything that is realistic for an MMA fighter who is the son of a legendary MMA fighter and cannot disappoint his father or lose his career if it comes out he’s gay. He’s deeply closeted to the point of self-denial and we all see the struggle of a queer kid in his situation so very perfectly done.

Season 2 of Kingdom was in a 2A, 2B format and 2A continued to do very well at showing the struggles of a closeted gay man who has finally started at least sneaking around to gay clubs and stuff even though he’s still got a girlfriend cover, hasn’t told a soul, ect. The problem starts in 2B. In season 2B, for reasons I won’t get into, Nate is making money as a personal trainer, and long story short, one of his clients, a middle aged rich business dude, gives him $10,000 to keep him on retainer to ‘always be available’ and we, the viewers, realize what exactly Bob wants with him. Instead, one night Bob calls him to come train him and when Nate arrives, Bob is having a party.

As you can probably see coming, Nate is confused but Bob says ‘just have a drink and enjoy the party’, and of course, Nate has a drink that’s been drugged, and is then dragged to the bedroom by a woman where another man is waiting, and while he’s barely conscious, the woman and man have sex with him while Bob sits in the corner and watches it all. It was a really disturbing and unsettling scene because of what it was, but also because I started to think, ‘Wait, this can’t be the sex scene they’ve been talking about, right?’, and for the rest of the season I TRIED SO HARD to give them benefit of the doubt and wait for him to have sex with someone, but no. Their ‘sex scene’ was him being raped.

The morning after, he wakes up alone in the house with nobody else but Bob’s PA, a young, handsome British man named Will. Will gives him the hush money Bob left for him, because apparently Bob has a habit of doing this, and Will has this whole, “I hate the guy, but this job opens doors” thing, and gives Nate his number, ‘in case you want to talk.’ Right away, I got a bad feeling, that ended up being right of me, because of course throughout the rest of the season, Nate and Will start this ‘going on a date but not really’ thing after a few times of meeting up for lunch while Will brought Nate hush money from Bob the Rapist, who we learn is a repeat-rapist since Will has 3 or 4 other envelopes of hush money to deliver. This goes on for a good while until Will gets tired of the song and dance since Nate is in the closet and tells him to stop calling.

Even up until this point, I tried so hard to give Kingdom the benefit of the doubt, because while it’s ridiculous to imagine wanting to date the PA of the man who was essentially your rapist, rape victims handle things differently. It’s not wildly out there for a rape victim to feel drawn to someone who knows what happened to him, and especially since his mother almost got raped by her rehab counselor a few episodes later. I thought that eventually it would end in a confrontation with Bob or a fight or something that made it relevant to the plot. I expected all of this to play out to some point, some coming out opportunity for Nate, or some bonding with his mother thing. (He came out to his brother without anything related to his rape coming into it, by the way. His brother found Will’s number, but he didn’t know what it was about until Nate came out out to him. This was a beautifully done scene, to Kingdom’s credit.)

It was bad enough realizing, ‘well shit, they had Nate be RAPED just for his brother to find out he’s gay’ when they could have had his brother find out like his girlfriend earlier did by finding his phone logged into Grindr, or something similar and then have Nate come out to him. I was pretty annoyed they just had to go with ‘the gay kid got raped’ just for a really roundabout outing that wasn’t really related to it.

Season 3 premiered last week, and oh boy. It only got worse. Nate has a serious, committed boyfriend this season, which is set over a year after the last season finale, and the boyfriend is Will. No word on whether or not Will is still working for Bob the Rapist, though he does mention having to go to work a few times. Instead of Will having something to do with his rape, something that happened and ended, now, over a year and a half since he was raped, we find out that all this time Nate has been dating Will.

And the problem is that it made my friend and I come to a conclusion that’s very upsetting: Kingdom writers decided the best way to get their sexy, young gay guy living in LA a boyfriend was to have the boyfriend’s boss rape him.

The only reason Nate was raped was to give him a boyfriend and allow that boyfriend’s business card to prompt him to come out to his brother.

This TV show that does everything else so well decided that the best course of action out of all the other possibilities to give their gay character a boyfriend, cause ‘yay representation’, was to have a middle aged man drug him, watch him be raped – in a scene that plays out like an erotic sex scene, by the way – and then leave his hot young assistant to pay him off the next morning, because clearly a hot, buff young thing like Nate living in Los Angeles can’t meet a hot gay guy without it being the assistant of the man who raped him.

I hated seeing the rape scene, because I usually quit watching things with rape scenes in them, but at the time I really thought it was going to lead to something valid to the plot. Boyfriend Will has only been on screen a grand total of about 5 minutes over last season and this season so far. There was no connection between his rape and his mother’s almost-rape. Nobody other than Will knows he was raped. He’s never been shown dealing with the trauma from his rape. There has never been any mention of it ever again. It has had nothing to do with the plot at all other than Will. Even the whole Bob issue just stopped. We never saw or heard about Bob again after Will’s last attempt to get him to take the hush money. I even thought maybe Nate’s brother would find out about it and go ballistic like he did with the man who almost raped their mother (long story short, he almost murdered him).

Up until this point in time, the 2nd episode of the last 10 episode season, the only thing that Nate being raped has led up to is Nate getting a boyfriend.

There are so few words to be said for how unequivocally horrific that is. Of all the things you could do that’s bad queer representation when there were so many opportunities for good queer representation that one is off the charts. I wanted so badly to think something was coming of this, but at this point, I have very little hope in them ever even referencing the rape again. These writers who have so brilliantly crafted every facet of life and humanity and relationships into something so complex and beautiful can get toxic masculinity right, can get women right, can get family right, can get addiction right, can get loss and grief right, all of those things they get so right and they got queer representation so incredibly wrong.

I still deep in my heart have a tiny part of it that hopes and prays they end up doing right by Nate and giving him better representation, especially given that in tonight’s episode we found out the rumor he’s gay is out there in the MMA world, so there’s still a tiny bit of hope that this beautifully done, near-perfect show might not be guilty of such an atrocious fuck up as this seems to be.

…But I’m not holding my breath

(This same post is also posted on Chelsea Loves TV, I cross-posted because queer representation fits here and TV show discussion fits there. Sorry if that confused anyone.)

The REAL Queerbaiting

Something that every queer person, and most other people who are on twitter, has heard about is the concept of ‘queerbaiting’. There’s a lot of debate about the term and what it means, but for the most part, it ends up meaning media (film, tv, books, ect) that tries to entice the queer viewers by hinting at a queer relationship but never carrying through.

For the most part, I as an avid lover of film and TV ignore this entire concept. Most of the things I see labeled ‘queerbaiting’ are just fan interpretation and the cast embracing fans having fun. Often things that are labeled as being ‘queerbaiting’ are either things where we just perceive something platonic as romantic or something that IS romantic is perceived to be slighted up against the heterosexual romantic couples. (I’m not saying this never happens, but I am saying it happens far less than people claim it does.)

I generally feel that you can’t decide something is queerbaiting when it’s viewers/readers who are making that decision based on their own expectations, not the intentions of the creators (there are exceptions, but very few). However, there is a form of queerbaiting that I think most people don’t identify as such that is the real problem, and that is when people identify something as positive queer representation when it isn’t.

Whether it’s people who work for the marketing team of a thing or just people who are writing about a thing for their own publications, there are so many cases in which people really do make queerbaiting an issue when it really wasn’t by the way they advertise or talk about something.

A good example recently would be how everybody started talking about how the new Power Rangers movie had a queer character just because someone asks a girl if she has boy problems and when she doesn’t reply, they change it to ‘girl problems?’ in a scene where that wasn’t even relevant. That entire movie was narrowed down to the discussion of the queer girl representation when honestly it wasn’t even a thing. Hell, that movie had far more diversity in race representation than most movies that come out these days, but nobody talked about it because all they cared about was the SLIGHT mention of potential queerness. And then, when the movie came out and there was no queer content, people were angry because they were promised something by the people talking about it before it was released.

The same happened with Beauty and the Beast, with Le Fou dancing with a guy at the end. That film got boycotted because of a slight hint that Le Fou and Happy In A Dress guy might have a thing for one another. (In a movie where a human girl falls in love with a monster dude. Seriously.) The point is, people try their best to go, “OH LOOK! WE HAVE QUEER PEOPLE!” to draw in viewers, or if it’s said by those not related to the marking team, then it’s done by writers who want hits on their website.

This is what to me the vast majority of queerbaiting actually is.

If not that, then it’s some bullshit where they claim something is positive queer representation when it’s really something very, very negative. A good example of this would be one of my favorite TV shows in the history of TV, a GREAT show, with a shitty promotions department. Yes, my friends, we’re talking about Kingdom.

Since it’s not the most well known show (it’s on a DirecTV only channel), I’ll give you the basics that are important for this discussion: The show is about a father and his sons who are MMA fighters and the youngest son we find out is a deeply closeted gay man to the point of driving him to breakdown. In the lead up to season two, Kingdom was promoted by talking about how Nate’s sexuality was going to be explored further and was going to become a bigger part of the story. They talked a LOT about how he was even going to have a sex scene in season 2. The actor, when interviewed, talked about how he filmed a sex scene where, “It’s really my body, it wasn’t a double in the sex scene.” The key words here are that it was marketed all season with those words: sex scene.

It was a rape scene. He was raped. Nate was drugged by a client he was a personal trainer for at a party and a man and woman had sex with him while his client sat in the corner and watched the ‘show’. The problem isn’t that there was a rape scene. It was horrific but tied into the plot really well. I generally DO NOT watch stuff with rape scenes, but this was very relevant to the plot, and the fact that Nate got raped was fine. Th problem is that they marketed it as “Nate’s going to have sex with a guy”, like it was a pro-queer moment in the season that was coming. It was made out to be something positive in the way of queer representation, when it was a rape scene. Nate didn’t have sex with a man, Nate was raped.

That is also REAL queerbaiting.

Marketing something as a queer sex scene and it ending up being someone being drugged and raped is absolutely queerbaiting. Marketing something as queer representation when it’s a slight moment of ambiguity is queerbaiting. Making a single line consisting of two words in the dialogue into something to be touted as queer representation is queerbaiting.

All of these things are for bigger deals than ‘these two characters flirted that one time so if they don’t end up together it’s queerbaiting’ or ‘the straight people kissed 4 times but the queer couple only kissed 2, this is queerbaiting!’ and all of these are a serious problem we really need to end when it comes to promoting movies and TV. Stop claiming there is queer representation where it isn’t. If you want to attract queer audiences then put actual queer content in your product, don’t claim it’s there when it isn’t.

 

My Queer Experience: A Look Into Growing Up Queer And Why Queer Representation In Media Matters

This was my final, personal essay for a creative non-fiction writing class I had in 2016. I have never published it anywhere since it was just an assignment, but since it’s Pride month, I decided that I may as well share it with everyone. I am not the best non-fiction writer, and first-person is hard for me, but this essay is about my experience growing up in the rural south, my experience coming to understand who I am, and how important representation in media is to queer people everywhere.


Everyone is aware that society’s views of queer people has shifted greatly in the past twenty years. When I was a kid, I had no example for gay people, nonetheless any other thing that falls under the purview of queer. I had really no concept of what any of these people were other than the fact that every once in a while, I would hear an adult say they were bad people. The first time there was ever any real discourse that I observed about queer people was around the turn of the century. I remember, with the 2000 election happening, I would occasionally hear things on the news about ‘the gays’, and it was never anything good. My family members never said anything positive or negative, so other than what other people said, I had no context for queer people.

Another election along, I got my first real look at the concept of gay people because around 2004 was when Georgia had the vote for defining marriage as between one man and one woman and, with the upcoming election, that became something of a hot-button issue. When I was in middle school, teachers asked us about it. I remember having class where the teacher asked about the idea of marriage being between one man and one woman. Her name was Mrs. Davis, and she was the gifted class teacher. Since second grade, I was one of those kids who had special advanced classes, and because of that, it was a small class with more connection between each teacher and student. In my English class, which was the course in middle school determined to be for the gifted students that was different for the others, Mrs. Davis would often make us read newspapers and learn about more than just normal English work. We focused a lot on the world around us. Obviously, having the issue of defining marriage be a main political point in the state of Georgia at the time, that came up quite often.

The day Mrs. Davis asked us what we thought about the idea of marriage only being between a man and a woman, of course, being the rural south, everybody thought it was a great idea to make sure that gay people couldn’t get married. What I remember more than her words was the way she said it. She made this ‘gross’ face as if she were about to ask us about cleaning a public restroom or jumping into a dumpster. Her entire demeanor was like that of someone approaching a topic that was so obviously disgusting there was no way someone else could ever disagree. I then remember the other students all jumping on board. There were twelve of us, and all of the rest of them were clearly church-going children, because they all had things to say relating to Sin and the whole ‘Abomination’ thing, and being a kid with no exposure to gay people other than what I heard others think, I only could assume they were correct. Because the vitriolic discourse I was exposed to was the only thing I knew, my little thirteen-year-old self became a complete and utter homophobe.

Little did I know, that in the future I would actually discover I was one of ‘those people’. I began to have shifting views and stopped being a homophobe in high school because my best friend was gay. These days, my high school best friend is a dancer who recently moved to New York City and is living his dream, but as a teenager, life was never easy for him. He was an effeminate person in general ever since elementary school. We became friends at ten and eleven years old, and even then, long before he even knew he was gay, he had ‘girly’ handwriting, and he loved to draw mermaids and princesses, and he enjoyed playing with dolls. Obviously, you can guess how his cop step-father felt about that. At school, it was just as bad, even though there was never a lot of bullying at our school. It’s amazing how, living in a rural area in Georgia, you would expect a lot of bullying due to the conservative, closed-minded people, but in general, people didn’t bully each other. However, they did judge people quite harshly, and being an effeminate boy who did ballet as a teenager and basically only had friends who were girls, life wasn’t easy for him.

He never came out while we were in high school, but I knew. I watched how people talked about him when he wasn’t around. I knew what people thought of him, even if they never bothered him about it. It was hard for me to relate to the fact that in middle school I had actually told a girl I could never be friends with a lesbian when she asked about it, and yet my best friend was very obviously gay. Up to that point, I had never had any other exposure than ‘gay is bad’ and yet, here was my best friend in the whole world, one of the best people I had ever known, and he was gay. It didn’t make sense with what I had only ever known. Because of that, I faced the whole, “How can gays be bad if he is gay?” dilemma. Thankfully, because I didn’t have deeply ingrained homophobia, since nobody I cared about deeply (like parents or other family) had ever actually expressed an opinion either way, I was able to actually think about it for the first time. I stopped and actually thought about why being gay would make someone a bad person. I had to ask myself what was so bad about liking someone of the same gender. I quickly came to the realization that there was no logic behind homophobia at all, and I was able to completely stop thinking that way. It’s good I did, too, since I’m not actually as straight as I had thought.

I didn’t actually realize that it wasn’t normal for straight girls to find other girls attractive until I was in college. I was nineteen or twenty when I finally realized that I didn’t have ‘girl exceptions’, but that I was just bisexual. I don’t remember any specific moment or reason that I suddenly realized I was bisexual. I think it was a process. I remember I used to say I was straight because I genuinely thought I was. Friends of mine would joke about my ‘girl exceptions’ because there were some celebrities that I said I would ‘go gay’ for. It seemed normal for everybody to have ‘celebrity exceptions’ or ‘girl exceptions’, because it was joked about all the time. I remember jokingly referring to myself as “75% Straight” with a friend because we were talking about how beautiful Natalie Portman is to me. One time, I remember saying, “I like people, not what’s in their pants” as my way of viewing my own sexuality, as if it didn’t mean I was necessarily not straight, but more that I wasn’t judgmental. Somewhere along the way, I just began to accept that I was bisexual.

The first time I ever said the words out loud was actually in a discussion in a literature class when I was twenty-one years old. I was taking a special topics course about American Gothic Literature, and one of the books we read was Interview With The Vampire. Dr. O’Leary-Davidson had touched on the sexual themes of the book while discussing it in class, and I can’t expressly remember how we got on the subject, but I remember someone in the class had an ‘ew’ reaction to the idea of the two male vampires in the story being sexually interested in each other, and it really made me angry. I asked the guy to stop saying things like that because it was rude, especially to me, since I’m bisexual. That was the first time I ever said those words. I am bisexual. I remember after class he stayed behind while I was talking to Dr. O’Leary-Davidson and apologized for saying thoughtlessly rude things and hurting me, because I was a nice person and he felt bad about making me upset, and it struck me that it could honestly be that easy.

This guy was probably just like I was. He had never probably even been exposed to the idea of someone that isn’t straight being just a normal person. In this neck of the woods, even in 2012, that was still something most people probably weren’t exposed to. This guy had gone from saying senselessly homophobic things to realizing that one of his classmates was bisexual and not, in fact, a perverted monster. Most likely, the same things that made me not even realize I was bisexual probably had a lot to do with why this person didn’t even realize I could be bisexual when I was this nice girl in his class. The main reason for both my lack of understanding of what I was and both his and my former blind homophobia can be narrowed down to the exact same cause: We were never exposed to queer representation growing up in any form.

These days, it’s fairly common to see gay, lesbian, bisexual, and even transgender and asexual people on television, in movies, in books, and especially on the news. The term most often used it LGBTQA+, but a lot of us younger queer people have gotten tired of the alphabet soup. People can be any number of combinations of letters. There are such things as heterosexual people who are bi-romantic, asexual people who are heteroromantic, genderqueer people who are pansexual and aromantic. There are just too many letters and combinations, so we like the word Queer. When I was younger, that was an insult flung at people, but these days it’s just the word we use for anyone that is not a cisgender heterosexual person, since that is what most people are and we therefore consider it the default. I knew none of these things. I didn’t even have an understanding of what ‘bisexual’ meant, and I am one. If I had seen the things we have in television and film these days as a kid, I would likely have never become homophobic and would have known at a younger age that just because girls aren’t as afraid of seeming gay, that doesn’t mean “Your dress is cute!” was the same thing as my, “You look really good in that dress”.

By the time I discovered my own sexuality, I wasn’t afraid of my parents’ reactions because, though my parents had grown up in the Christian South and were raised with the whole ‘abomination’ thing, my road to self-discovery came after Modern Family. While that might sound absolutely nuts to most people, that’s actually all it took for my parents to not be homophobic. Like me, their homophobia wasn’t deeply ingrained, it was just observational. It was the product of growing up in the South where people don’t question how things always have been, and just like me, they had no other idea besides ‘abomination’ and had never had to think about it otherwise. However, in 2009, Modern Family went on air and, though it isn’t a perfect representation of a queer couple, the gay couple on that show being depicted as just a normal couple with a normal family and normal lives within about a year took my parents from, “Gays are abominations!” to “Oh wait, no, they’re just normal people like everybody else.” Forty years of just accepting one belief about an entire group of people was entirely corrected just by a positive representation of queer people in fiction.

My best friend from high school came out in 2010 and was kicked out of his house. His parents threw him out because he was gay and had a boyfriend. He went to live with his boyfriend and we lost touch because they moved to Atlanta, where people are far more accepting. When his family threw him out, my daddy, who knows his family well, was so confused. He couldn’t grasp the idea of kicking your child out of your home because he’s gay. Daddy is not at all a progressive person. My father is one of those people who thinks, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and that extends to the idea of things staying the same. He isn’t one to progress with the times, so to speak. I never heard him saying homophobic things when I was growing up, but I know that he had believed that ‘Gays are going to hell’ stuff. He was never comfortable with seeing anything related to gay people in public, I do know that. However, after just a few months of watching a TV show with a fictional gay couple that were just normal people living a normal life, when these neighbors of ours kicked their son out for being gay, he was absolutely shocked and disturbed by this. He and my mother, who had strict religious upbringings, both couldn’t understand how my friend, who they both thought was a good kid, having a boyfriend could possibly make his parents kick him out.

Now, six years later, I still count myself lucky to have parents who were able to accept change so readily when it came to queer people, because my best friend’s parents seemed like they had. They accepted him back home after he and his boyfriend broke up, but as soon as he moved to New York, his step-dad started telling people that they were, “Rid of one of those fags,” and that he was, “Gonna get rid of the other one, too,” meaning the younger brother that also has a boyfriend and is bisexual. As of a few months ago, the younger brother is living with his boyfriend down the road because of how bad his step-dad hates him, and my parents both absolutely cannot stomach the step-dad anymore, in spite of once being friends, and they can’t stand the mother either, because she let her husband drive her children away. I’m lucky that my parents are the way they are, and I honestly don’t know how bad I would have thought about myself if I had realized I was bisexual before I knew my parents wouldn’t hate me for it. Instead, a television show made them think logically about homophobia and see there was no logic to it, and they both are entirely accepting now.

These days, I hear the opposite from when I was younger, because people – mainly those who are still homophobes – will not shut up about how, “Why has there got to be gay people in everything now?” In reality, there are not gay people in everything on TV or other entertainment, it’s just that they actually are some now. Gone are the days where the only gay people on TV are stereotypes. We have so much diversity in characters now, and not just in gay men, but in all different sorts of queer representation. It still isn’t enough, but it’s better. Even in the 1990s, advertisers would threaten to pull their support for TV shows that had gay content. The first time there was an on-air same-sex kiss on American TV was in the year 2000 on the show Dawson’s Creek. Now, only sixteen years later, there are so many TV shows with gay characters in many diverse roles beyond the classic stereotypes. Beyond gay male characters, there are so many other types of queer representation. For a few seasons, there was a show on USA called Sirens that had an asexual woman on the show, and her asexuality was addressed and the word actually said by the guy who was dating her. Just in the TV shows that I watch, there are such a variety of queer characters in shows where that isn’t a plot point. Captain Flint, the feared pirate on Black Sails became a pirate after his male lover was killed but that was just one part of his backstory. The rest of the show never makes a big deal out of the fact he is gay. On the TV show Hannibal, there was a lesbian character who ended up marrying and having a baby with a woman who previously on the show only showed interest in men, making her one of the most honest depictions of bisexuality I have seen on American TV. There was no ‘going gay’ for her, she was just always bisexual even when she dated men.

That is one of the areas where TV still fails us, which is one of the reasons that I, as a bisexual woman, always find a struggle to face. Bisexuality is still depicted rather poorly in entertainment, and that poor representation is reflected in society. It is common for both straight and gay people to dismiss bisexuality as a real thing. It is the experience of almost all bisexual people that you are either really just ‘attention seeking’ or ‘too afraid to admit you’re fully gay’. There is also this stigma that, if you are bisexual, you can’t be trusted to not be a sex-crazed lunatic who will cheat on your partners. The ‘promiscuous bisexual’ is a very common trope in TV representation. One example I can think of is The White Canary on Legends of Tomorrow. Not only has she only shown interest in women in the entire series, even though she was established as bisexual previously on the show Arrow, and she is the one of the group who constantly seduces women on their adventures. In the first episode of the second season alone, she seduced several women while nobody else on the show seduced anyone. As with Sara suddenly being a lesbian, she also, as I mentioned, never said the word ‘bisexual’ when she obviously was previously.

That is a common problem when dealing with bisexual representation that I have recently heard about from the TV show How To Get Away With Murder. I don’t watch the show, but my bisexual woman friend’s all bemoaned the fact that the woman who previously had a husband and is now dating a woman describes herself as ‘it’s complicated’ rather than actually saying ‘bisexual’. Even when you have a character who says verbally, “I like men and women”, they rarely actually say the word ‘bisexual’. So while queer representation has certainly gotten far more widespread and positive, there are still areas that aren’t addressed well enough. I would argue that there is even better and more human representation of transgender individuals than there is of bisexual characters, and it’s making life harder for bisexual people in society.

When you look at real life bisexuals, the way people react to them is appalling in a world where these people actually think they aren’t being offensive. Because of this, I am not exactly the most out and proud bisexual. There is nothing like people expecting that you have to be with another woman to be bisexual, or that if you are bisexual, you clearly can’t commit to one person. Even celebrities face these issues. I’m sure everyone remembers the time Larry King said to Anna Paquin, “So you’re a non-practicing bisexual”, because she’s married to a man, or saw all of the terrible things said about how Johnny Depp was justified in hitting his wife because Amber Heard is bisexual and, clearly, was cheating on him when she went out places with her female friends.  The same people who should have your back, like other queer people who are gay or lesbian, are the ones who dismiss your sexuality when you are bisexual. It’s hard to be an out and proud bisexual, because then you get hate from both sides. I’m not out to my family in my life, because I don’t know I can trust them to not dismiss my sexuality or think it makes me a ‘slut’ that I like both men and women. Most of my friends know, but that’s because I’m less afraid of how friends react. I can get new friends. I can’t get a new family.

However, while there are still leaps and bounds to be made in the realm of bisexuality, times have still changed and depiction of what people are unfamiliar with in the media has a lot to do with that. Most of society has become far more accepting. My family is far more accepting. The younger generation is extremely more accepting. Things have changed so very fast in recent years, because when I was in high school, nobody was out, and my brother and sister who are ten years younger than me are currently in high school, where quite a lot of kids are out and proud and nobody cares. My siblings and their friends never saw the attitudes I did where gay people were stereotypes on TV and advertisers threatened to pull their support from TV shows with gay content. My parents did suffer the prejudices of our culture for the longest time, and then everything changed because one TV show that they watch showed them that a gay couple were just like everybody else.

Though not every person’s experience will be that easy, or has been that easy, my parents are a prime example of how important it is that queer people be represented in entertainment in fair, honest ways so that people do come to view the people they may not be familiar with in a way that shows that they are just like everybody else. If I had been exposed to queer people the way we are now in media, I would have realized what ‘bisexual’ was and would have known who I am far earlier than I did. There is no negative outcome to representing queer people in media, because people everywhere need to be given a chance to view the diversity in our culture in every part of life, including both news media and entertainment media. Look at the guy in my class who seemed so genuinely ashamed of himself for laughing at homophobic things when he realized that people around him might actually be queer. No, accurate representation will not fix all of queer people’s problems, but just humanizing something unfamiliar does make a huge difference in how society views those of us who are considered different.

A Look Back On My Final Semester: How Studying New Media Has Affected This Blog

New Media is no longer the future of communication; New Media is the present we are all already living in. As a student and as a professional, I’ve come to realize that the current state of communication is what twenty years ago was science fiction, and though New Media will continue to adapt beyond current understanding, for the most part, the future is now.

Most of you, my dear followers, have been following me for the past six months, starting around the time NaNoWriMo came to its end. You probably followed this blog mostly for my personal day to day updates on my writing progress and the occasional book review. However, if you have stuck around you’ve seen my website transform from just a blog about my writing to a site in which I discuss real topics in more detailed blog posts, and most of it relates to my studies in New Media.

I feel like as I come to the end of my final semester of undergrad, on the cusp of graduating with a BA in New Media and Communication, it would be interesting to take a look back at some of the ideas I’ve tackled these past few months that relate back to lessons we have learned in my final course on New Media. While some of my posts are more detailed than others, and some of the flashier looking ones have the least amount of analytical substance, I would like to think most of you have read and enjoyed my takes on things we learned in my Senior Seminar class and how they are relevant to you, the readers of my blog.

When I first started my final semester of college, my first post regarding New Media was “Interconnected World: How New Media Has Lowered The Barrier To Entry For Global Communication“, a post in which I basically gave an outline of the history of digital media growth in the past few decades and how that changed the way global communication takes place. In this post, I made the claim that,

New technologies as well as the culture around global communication all are part of the idea of New Media.

Ignoring how clunky that is (yikes, was I half asleep when I wrote that?), I still believe that to be true. I do think that the primary function and the biggest success of New Media is the way that we are now able to communicate globally. While some of you are older than me, many of you are younger, and may not remember ye olden days in which just calling someone outside your area code would cost you extra money in long distance phone charges. Today, I can message a girl I know in Indonesia and the only barrier to communication is the time difference.

In “Women’s March 2017: A Textbook Example of New Media’s Contribution To Global Progress“, I used what was at the time very recent news as a relevant example of the ways in which those barriers to communication enabled a political movement to become a greater success than any expected it to be.

The reason that what started as a single planned event, the Women’s March on Washington, became a globally successful series of protests […] is because the way people communicate and the dynamic ways in which organization is possible has changed so much in just the last decade due to the rise of what we consider New Media.

This is as true today as it was when I wrote it. New Media makes not just communication easier, but it makes organization easier. We can access and arrange details that people all over the world can find at one location from their many locations all due to New Media. These logistical norms are something that twenty years ago was unheard of.

Just as New Media allows for a greater democratization of information and communication, so does it allow for a greater democratization of software and technology, which is what I talked about in “Is Open Source Really The Future?“, where I took on the history of the Open Source movement and addressed how it is continuing to progress. Open source is prevalent even if you don’t know that you have used it, as I exemplified by saying,

Most of us at some point have used open source software, whether we knew it or not. You’re using open source software right now. WordPress is an open source software.

We’re still all using that open source WordPress right this moment, and that in itself, is a democratization of access to technology, all due to New Media.

However, New Media goes into far more detail than just ‘lower barriers to communication’ and ‘democratization of access to technology’. I mentioned the ways in which what was once science fiction is now just science, and in one case, fiction itself, not even just science fiction, is what helped build the internet. In “How Literature Impacted The Internet As We Know It“, I talked about how in class, we talked about hypertext in the form of hypertext literature. It is always important for us to understand the origins of technology that we use every day because we find that it is often relevant to our personal interests, and with most of you readers being writers, this is a fun bit of information.

As the semester went on, I also shifted my focus from informative posts based on pure history and information and tried to tailor what I write for my audience. You guys are writers and readers and you want a more analytical approach to New Media, which can be found in “Artificial Intelligence: Not A Matter Of “Can We” But A Matter Of “Should We”“, in which I discussed the psychological implications of what AI androids and the desire to have them could mean about a person. I wrote, “Post-New Media: Cynicism and Modern Media Culture“, a think-piece on the ways my classmates are overwhelmingly more negative towards technological advancements and New Media than I am and how that relates to our class readings. With a small dip into the legal world in, “The Curse of Copyright“, in which I talked about the restrictions copyright can place on the amateur artist and how Lawrence Lessig feels about the future of copyright laws, I then decided to bring things back to the main focus of my audience.

You guys are readers and writers and though you probably dig the analytical stuff, you guys are really into literature and the concepts native to literary arts in the digital world. Relative to the discussion on copyright laws, I addressed the way that the restrictions of copyright in the literary world have relaxed more in recent years in “The Shifting Sands of Creative Writing: Authors Embracing Fan Fiction“, a post in which I addressed Henry Jenkins, one of the most popular writers to assign in New Media classes, and how his views of participatory culture in the form of fan fiction have shifted over time.

When it comes to participatory culture and fandoms, building an online persona is a part of being in a fandom, but it is also a part of being an author. In “How Virtual Is Your Reality?” I asked the question,

Think about your online life. How many of us have a carefully cultivated presence online behind which we build a persona for the world to see?

As writers, everything we do online for our official social media accounts is to cultivate a personal that will appeal to agents and publishers and readers. We want to sell our product, and when you are a writer, you are your product almost as much as your writing is.

To close out the semester, I decided to link what we learned in class to you as writers and readers by writing “Reading In The Age of the Internet“, a piece in which I theorize on how New Media has (or possibly hasn’t) shifted the way we read, and in “Are Video Games The Next Great Frontier For Storytelling?” I addressed the dark shape on the literary horizon that is telling digital stories via the most accessible medium for that: video games.

I started this series of blog posts on New Media as my final semester progressed with the intention of mostly just documenting what I learned. Instead, what I learned taught me how to utilize New Media best by aiming for a specific audience. In shifting focus from broad ideas to finding a way to relate what I learned to my audience’s interests, I am able to engage better with you guys. Through what we read and talked about in class and research outside of class, I learned how to take New Media and apply it to this blog to better success.

I think that’s a perfect example of how much my understanding of New Media has progressed over this semester, and hopefully, in reading my posts, my followers learned something, too.

Reading In The Age of The Internet

As with most people, including the author of, “Is Google Making us Stupid?“, Guy Billout, I’ve found myself unable to read as much for as long as I once did. When I was in middle school, my prime ‘book nerd’ years, I would read approximately 350 pages each day. In the summer, I went to the library at least twice a week and got the maximum 10 books each time. I would read three Nancy Drew books per day. I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in about a day and a half when I was 14. Needless to say, I was a voracious reader.

However, that changed when, as a teenager, we got a computer at my house. I still loved to read, but instead I would read less and go on the internet more. I still didn’t go on much, mind you, since we had dial-up, but I still went online all the time. By the time I was about 16, I hardly ever read other than for literature class. Once I started college I didn’t read a damn thing other than required books for a few years. In fact, before I joined a book club in the fall of 2015, I read an average of one to two books per year in college that weren’t required for class.

Guy Billout would say that this is because the age of technology has changed the way we read more than just what we read. In his article, he outlines the very problem I mentioned having and addresses the way that information immediacy has changed not only how we access information but how our brain comes to expect information to be consumed.

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.”

I find this interesting because on one level, I am certain this is true. I’m positive that technology and the immediacy of internet access has changed the way we read and more importantly our attention spans.

However, I also have to question my own certainty, because when I think about it, there are other factors I can track along with all of my reading history.

Before middle school, I didn’t like to read. I found fiction stories boring and only like dreading nature non-fiction books in class. In middle school, around 12 years old, I found a love for reading and read voraciously, as I mentioned. However, in middle school, I also had an incentive to read and that made me discover that I did, in fact, enjoy fiction.  In fact, almost all of my periods of great reading were incentivized.

In middle school, they placed your reading comprehension level with a test and then you were supposed to read a certain number of books on or above your reading level before you could read whatever you wanted. While we had Accelerated Reader (for those who may not know, you read books, took tests on the computer about comprehension of the book, and got points that were linked to how long or advanced the book was) in elementary school, it was only in Middle School when they placed us in a reading level that I found my incentive in that I was at a higher reading level than anyone else in my class – and I was already in the advanced gifted class – and I was cocky about that. I liked being smarter than everybody else, and because I had to read higher reading level books, they were worth more points. The more I read, the more points I got. I never had the most in the school but I almost always had the most in my class. I would have 80 points while others had 12 or 14 points. My teachers praised me for how smart I was and how good of a reader I was, and I ate it up.

So while I did really love reading and did it in the summer without those points, the only reason I got into reading was because I liked hearing how smart I was. In high school when there was no points or praise, I stopped reading so much. Yes, it probably was the internet and computer at home, but there was also the lack of praise.

In college, it was the same thing. I still liked fiction, and I do think it probably still was the instant gratification thing, but even though I was an English major, I didn’t read much that wasn’t required for class. My excuse was always that I had so much to read for class, but often that wasn’t even true. I did start writing in college, which was another excuse for taking up time from reading, but again, it still came to be that there was no incentive for me to read.

Fall of 2015, I joined a book club because I felt ashamed that in the past year, I had only read two books, and one of them I only read because I had a flight that was four hours and it had no wifi. When I joined the book club, I found my incentive again. Someone wanted to talk about books and I could only do that if I read the books.

Last year, in 2016, I read 20 books. The most books I have read in one year since I was probably about 14 or 15. I did so because I made a Goodreads account to review the books I read in book club, and discovered they had challenges you could set yourself. There were days in 2016 I didn’t want to read a thing, but I wanted to beat that challenge. You win nothing. Nobody really praises you for it. It’s a self-set challenge, even. I could have set it at 5 books for the whole year and been done. However, there is little more I love than a good challenge. I read more than I have in years, but it was still incentivized.

This year, since I don’t have a 6-book series to read, I set my goal at 15 books. I’m currently on book number 4 and HATING IT because this book is boring. However, I’ve read 150 pages and I’m not going to let 150 pages of reading go to waste when I want that number 5 towards my goal. It’s still an incentive.

Why am I telling you all of this, you may ask? What does this have to do with digital media? What does this have to do with Billout and whether Google is making us stupid?

It all comes back to the quote I included above. ‘It’s not what we read, but how we read.

While I do think the way we read now, because of the speed of how we take in information now, has adapted to be more goal-oriented, always trying to get the most information in the quickest time, I think that it’s entirely possible that this isn’t a bad thing.

We live in a world these days of ‘time is money’. For many of us, that’s a fact of life. In the state I live in I believe the statistic is something like you would have to work 80 hours a week at minimum wage to afford rent on an apartment on your own. Everything is so fast-paced these days, so is it really bad that our brains are adapting to take in important information from a source in the quickest way possible? Is this ‘skim and go’ reading style online not actually a positive talent in a world where we are incentivized to do it that way?

Just as I have always read best with an incentive to read a book, isn’t ‘time is money’ a good incentive for us to adapt our brains to understanding and comprehending information in the most succinct way possible?

I’m really interested in your thoughts about this, because while there are clear negatives, I still think that adaptation is a more positive than negative. Do we have shorter attention spans? Yes. But the affect of this is that we get more things done in a shorter time because we are better at multi-tasking. Right now, for example, I’m watching Chopped, I’m writing this blog post, and I’m having a conversation about figure skating on twitter. I’m able to watch TV, and then write during the commercials while I’m waiting on the person on twitter to respond to what I said last. I’m optimizing my time, even if it makes it harder to focus on just doing ONE of these things.

Is that not what we need as a skill in this digital world? So in essence, is “Google making us stupid” or is the way our brains are adapting to a new necessary skill a positive more than a negative?

Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments!

Are Video Games The Next Great Frontier For Storytelling?

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In a short answer, yes, I believe they are.

The study of “ludology” refers to video games. This was news to me before we talked about it in class this week. I say this, because I know basically nothing about video games. I have never owned a gaming console, I haven’t played video games since I was about 14, and even then it was once every blue moon when I went to my cousin’s house and we did two-player Need For Speed racing on his PS2. What tiny bit I know about video games at all is from commercials, my 15 year old brother, or my friend who is a media studies grad student that occasionally talks about games, though she doesn’t play them much either.

My experience with video games is pretty much restricted to Sims and Nancy Drew PC games. Why? Because Sims isn’t really a ‘video game’ as much as a simulator game, and I read Nancy Drew books as a child to the point I almost managed to read every single one in existence. I read about 3 of them PER DAY in middle school. So, when I was 11 and discovered the PC games, I went crazy for them. I’m 26 years old and I’m still an avid fan of those games. (WHEN WILL THE NEXT GAME COME OUT?!?! CURSE YOU HER INTERACTIVE!!!)

However, when it comes to ludology, there’s a lot I don’t know and even more I didn’t get in the class discussion regarding it. However, there is one thing that I found very fascinating and absolutely agreed with, and that was an article by Naomi Alderman in The Guardian entitled, “The First Great Works of Digital Literature Are Already Being Written“. In this article, she discusses the reason that literary minds and game creators don’t come to an understanding regarding the fact that video games are the future of digital literature. As you may remember, I discussed the idea of ‘digital literature’ in a post a while back about “How Literature Impacted The Internet As We Know It.” In that post, I discussed the idea of hypertext literature, which is something that Alderman talks about in her article.

“[more] aggravating even than this are the forums, summits, breakout sessions and seminars on “digital literature” run by exceedingly well-meaning arts people who can talk for hours about what the future might be for storytelling in this new technological age – whether we might produce hyperlinked or interactive or multi-stranded novels and poems – without apparently noticing that video games exist. And they don’t just exist! They’re the most lucrative, fastest-growing medium of our age.”

What she says here is true, in my experience. There is so much I don’t know about video games, but what I do know is that there are a plethora of games that have absolutely incredible stories behind them. I’ve witnessed a few such games, whether it be by watching YouTubers play “Undertale”, or by having watched some friends at college play “Journey“, which Alderman calls, “Sublime”. (She isn’t wrong, I managed to catch someone at the ‘end’ and the sheer concept of how it ends/begins is mindbogglingly creative!)

There are tons of games that have no amazing storytelling going on, for sure, but I’ve witnessed the creativity in some video games, and it honestly makes me sad that less people recognize the literary value and potential of video games as an extremely interesting interactive narrative.

However, the truth is simple, as Alderman states very clearly at the end of her article.

“The problem is that people who like science and technology, and people who like storytelling and the arts have typically been placed in different buildings since about the age of 16. We haven’t been taught how to admire each others’ work, to recognise excellence, or even to know that there is excellence in “the other culture”. There’s a kind of sullen arrogance on both sides, with some people in both camps simply denying that the other knows anything worth listening to. There is a kind of “worthy” arts professional who thinks that knowing nothing about games – like saying “I don’t even own a television!” – is a marker of intellectual superiority.”

Until we all get off our high-horses and learn to appreciate and interact with creators of different media, then this digital age we’re all in is going to be an annoying experience for everyone.

 

The Shifting Sands of Creative Writing: Authors Embracing Fan Fiction

Anybody that has ever studied in the field of media and culture studies has read the works of Henry Jenkins, most importantly, his works regarding participatory culture and convergence culture. One of the topics that Jenkins often touches on in his writing is the concept of consuming culture vs participating in culture vis-à-vis fan fiction.

Though I assume every single person reading this knows what fan fiction is, because it’s 2017 and we all have the internet, in case you stumbled upon this while time-traveling from the past, fan fiction is when the audience members of any type of media (usually books, television, or film) write their own stories based off of the characters from the work and share them with like-minded fans.

Though many of Jenkins’s most popular works among professors are a little outdated these days, he has mused at length on the legality of fan fiction and its cultural significance, value, or lack of either in his works for almost the duration of my entire life (Textual Poachers was published in 1992, I was born in 1991). The question of whether or not fan fiction falls under the protection of fair-use regarding copyright law is one that has plagued the world since the beginnings of fan fiction, and it is one that Jenkins has tried his best to reason through.

In 2006, Jenkins posted on his blog in response to a critique from a law professor about how he tried to derive a definition of fan fiction and participatory works as well as their place in the law. In “Fan Fiction as Critical Commentary” Jenkins approaches fan fiction as a method of critical commentary about a work just as relevant as a critical essay:

Just as a literary essay uses text to respond to text, fan fiction uses fiction to respond to fiction. That said, it is not hard to find all kinds of argumentation about interpretation woven through most fan produced stories. A good fan story references key events or bits of dialogue to support its particular interpretation of the character’s motives and actions. There are certainly bad stories that don’t dig particular deeply into the characters or which fall back on fairly banal interpretations, but the last time I looked, fair use gets defined in functional terms (what is the writer trying to do) and not aesthetic terms (what they produce is good or bad artistically). Fan fiction extrapolates more broadly beyond what is explicitly stated in the text than do most conventional critical essays and may include the active appropriation and transformation of the characters as presented but even here, I would argue that the point of situating the characters in a different historical context, say, or in another genre is to show what makes these characters tick and how they might well remain the same (or be radically different) if they operated in another time and place. Fan fiction is speculative but that does not mean that it is not at its core interpretative.

I find Jenkins’s idea very interesting and something quite relevant to the modern author. I think it’s important for authors to notice what he is saying, even if they may not agree. Most of us are old enough to remember the days of Anne Rice’s crusade against fan fiction based on her works, and these days there are still some authors who are harshly against the idea of fan fiction, but for the most part, fan fiction is something that has become more accepted and normal by many authors.

Why am I even talking about all of this, you ask? I ask because many of you, my followers, are authors. Whether you are a published author or a prospective author like me without any published works, I would hazard a guess to say at least 75% of you are authors in some fashion. And because of that, I find myself curious!

What do you think about fan fiction in a legal sense or just in general? Would you be against people writing fan fiction about your works? Would you dislike it enough to seek legal action? Would you embrace it? Would you celebrate that as a measure of status (as in, “I’m so popular people write fan fiction about my work!”)?

I’m really curious to see how you guys feel about this, so let me know in the comments!