Interview by Daniel Landreth regarding Equality

This interview was conducted by Daniel Landreth for The Macon Statement, March 16, 2012.

1. What do you think the major issues of inequality are and what do you see in the future if inequality isn’t resolved?

The major issues of inequality are the following:

  • Lack of protection against anti-gay discriminatory behavior by co-workers and superiors in the workplace.
  • Lack of protection against anti-gay bias-motivated violence and intimidation.
  • Lack of robust pubilc education in favor of welcoming and affirming peers of all orientations and gender identities or expressions and against intimidatory rhetoric or behavior.
  • Lack of legal and institutional recognition for domestic relationships (including marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships) for gay couples.
  • Lack of institutional provision and accomodation for LGBT people and relationships.
  • Lack of presence, clout or positive imagery for LGBT people in local telecommunications channels.

What I see as the future of any polity if such inequalities are not rectified is the continued intimidation of people of differing sexual orientations and gender expressions into silence and closeted darkness. I also see us staying in a state of ignorance or malice against LGBT people and relationships because of the lack of equality and equal treatment. I see LGBT people continuing to be demonized, dehumanized, dispossessed, ostracized and destroyed by their peers and authority figures because their sexual orientation or gender expression are misrepresented as “bad”, “loathsome”, “evil” aspects.

2. What government policies/programs affect the ability to resolve this problem?

The government, as the institution charged with the defense of its citizens and institutions from uninvited, massively-impactful dangers, is the top institution of power to look in regards to why any legal inequality exists. Right now in Georgia, there is no state-level hate crime law to more closely regulate crimes motivated by malicious hatred against sexual orientation or gender expression. In Georgia, there is no state-level recognition or protection for relationships between two people of the same sex; in Georgia, there is no legal protection from discrimination or firing by public or private employers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The state government practically pales in comparison to the protections being afforded in many states throughout this country: even Texas, the one of the largest states in the Union, has a hate crimes law which covers sexual orientation.

This inactivity towards protections for LGBT people has the effect of relegating LGBT people to second-class citizenship in the native state of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought against such in his lifetime for both African Americans and for low-income laborers.

Furthermore, pandering to reactive political movements which dehumanize and illegitimize whole swaths of the population as “freaks” who do not deserve so-called “special rights” does no one, not even the participants in such campaigns, any long-term good. The so-called “defense of marriage” amendment which restricted marriage to heterosexual couples in Georgia and many other states does no one, not even those who back such amendments, any good by forcing the government to remain legally oblivious and ignorant to close, mutual relationships between two persons who simply happen to be of the same gender. Such amendments are anti-marriage and anti-human, and fly in the face of the science which affirms and supports the humanity of LGBT people both in our neighborhoods and all around the world.

3. What could we as a society do to help?

We, as a society, can help toward recitifying inequality by reconsidering our past thinking and rhetoric about homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender people. We can at least begin building social groups of solidarity and affirmation around our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender family members, peers, neighbors and service custodians, as well as their mutual, consensual relationships. We can do such in our homes, our workplaces, our places of worship or reverence, our schools, our political chambers, our social and political gatherings, and so on.

We can also speak up for equality when we know that other rhetoric is being directed against LGBT people. We can also press our lawmakers for laws which affirm and dignify LGBT people and relationships. We can even press people in positions of influence to change their assumptions or rhetoric about LGBT people until they realize that sexual orientation is not a choice, a fetish or a preference, but an immutable characteristic which is not a bad or avoidable thing.

Frankly, if one feels that equality and equal treatment for all people are good things to embrace, it is no longer enough to say that we know gay people or have gay friends or coworkers. We actually have to be there for our LGBT citizens and act when they are in danger.

4. How does inequality affect families?

Inequality affects families in not only their treatment of their LGBT members, but also affects whatever positive developments or rhetoric that could occur between members. Family members who are not knowledgeable of what equality can be for LGBT people can give off wrong, incorrect or downright-terrible information to their younger or older peers, miscoloring their worldview and affecting how they treat openly-LGBT, closeted or simply non-conformative people both inside and outside of their families. Such can have a snowball effect of rolling from a simple naivete and ignorance to a full-blown malice against “fags”, “faggots”, “homos”, “queers”, “freaks” and others.

For families who consist of at least one same-sex couple, such misinformation ultimately snowballs into their relationships by affecting the confidence and integrity of the relationship, the treatment of their children at school, the treatment at the hands of neighbors and landlords, the treatment at the hands and mouths of other family members, and so on.

5. How have people who support equality of the LGBT community been affected?

Inequality provides a disappointment for supporters of LGBT equality. The lack of equality means that our society will continue to lack grace and dignity for our citizens, that our society will continue to ignore the plight of those who do not fit within antiquated, inadequate and diversity-averse molds. Such molds do not address the long, lurid and ghastly history of treatment of LGBT people by our government, our institutions of power or influence or our channels of conversation. Inequality also makes for the frustrating statistics of deprivation and despair of LGBT people in our society, aspects which taint and miscolor our society as being anti-freedom, anti-liberty, anti-empathy, and anti-human. Such views are not what we who support equality for American LGBT citizens should project or allow to be projected without a challenge.

But, at the same time, inequality also provides a continuing opportunity for advocates and supporters of equality to push even harder and reach even farther and wider for support. Inequality provides advocates and supporters the opportunity to expand their vocabulary and reclaim the language for hope and equality rather than shame or inequality.

Ultimately, inequality or the threat of inequality, once recognized, is the only reason for any civil rights movement to exist. When equality prevails, the whole society benefits, and the civil rights movement can either stay on as a vanguard for the gains of equality in the years ahead, or can expand to other long-running civil rights issues, or both. The movement for equality did not start nor end with women’s rights, it did not start nor end with ethnic minority rights, and it did not start nor will it end with LGBT civil rights. These aspects of equality affect us all both now and in the future, no matter who we are, and we and our children will be better off when equality is accomplished and enshrined as the norm of everyday living.

Advertisements

Answers to questions on the Middle Georgia State College Gay-Straight Alliance

This interview was conducted by Andrew Willis for The Statement, February 24, 2013.

1. What is the general purpose of the GSA?

The purpose of the Gay-Straight Alliance is to be a safe space of discussion and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals. We say that “Yes, it’s OK to be gay, and who you love or what gender you identify as does not affect the content of your character.”

2. Do you have to be gay to be in the GSA?

No, it is open and welcoming for straight, transgender and bisexual individuals to join and participate, and we encourage straight students to do so. However, it is expected by myself and our organization that our discussions and actions will be affirming and welcoming of both same-sex and opposite-sex sexuality as well as gender non-conformity. We will support, not condemn, your sexual orientation or gender identity.

3. How would you describe the GSA’s involvement in MGSC? (What events have you put on in the past? Do you have any plans for the near future?)

Members have engaged in advocacy both on and off campus. In the past, our members have protested against anti-gay hate speech in our student newspaper, participated at protests against so-called “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapy as advocated by various misguided religious institutions, advocating before the Bibb County School Board for safer schools and, as done in February 2012 by our former president Amanda Studebaker last year, advocated before the General Assembly in Atlanta for the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Bill (HB 630), a bill which would outlaw employment discrimination against state government workers on the basis of sexual orientation. Our GSA actively supports its passage into law, and members signed letters to our representatives calling for its passage.

In addition to regular meetings, where we discuss news, personal experiences, history and activism, we have held an LGBT Movie Night in the Residence Life Game Room, a welcoming event for a cross-state bike ride ridden by members of Georgia Equality (a civil rights advocacy organization from Atlanta), a trip to the LGBTQ and Allies Conference at Georgia Southern University in November 2012, and a “NOH8” protest against anti-gay bullying during the “Day of Silence” on April 19. In the future, we will hold another Movie Night and more events, and we invite ideas for more LGBT-inclusive events and activities on our campuses. We hope to extend this in the future to Warner Robins, Cochran and other campuses.

4. How would somebody get involved with the GSA at MGSC?

I would suggest coming to one of our meetings, usually on the Macon campus, in order to get a feel for what we discuss. But since the Macon and Warner Robins campuses have a history as commuter-friendly campuses, we also encourage people to get into contact with us on Facebook, Google+, and by email at mscgsa@googlegroups.com. For personal, one-on-one inquiries, I can also be contacted by personal email at harry.underwood1987@gmail, and our advisor Dr. Sheree Keith can be reached at sheree.keith@maconstate.edu. We invite honest, good-mannered questions and messages of support.

Also, could I get your major and age for the article? And just to clarify, what is the title of your position in the GSA? Thanks again for answering these questions!

My name is Harry Underwood, I’m a senior majoring in New Media and Communications (NMAC) and pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Science, and I’m the president of the GSA since Fall 2011. I will be graduating this semester.

Thank you for your questions!

Citations:

http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/government/2012-02-22/ga-house-panel-kills-sexual-preference-jobs-bill

Critique on “Becoming a Woman Through Wicca: Witches and Wiccans in Contemporary Teen Fiction”

Harry Underwood

Journal Article Critique 2

COMM 3010

4/6/2013

 

Jarvis, C. (2008), Becoming a Woman Through Wicca: Witches and Wiccans in Contemporary Teen Fiction. Children’s Literature in Education, 39: pp. 43–52. doi:10.1007/s10583-007-9058-0

 

Summary

Religion, spirituality and ethics have all held a large role in both human self-perception and interpersonal relations throughout much of human history, especially for classes such as gender and sexual orientation. One religion, Wicca, has been notably differentiated from this history by its long-standing embrace of the “witch” as a foundational, individualized participant in the religion, its organizational default to individual or small-group observance, its lack of any central work of scripture, and its semi-amorphic adaptation to backgrounds and ideals as diverse as the witches who observe it. The history of the “craft” during the social upheavals and reforms of the 20th century, particularly those which affected women, provides a rich background for its purposing in genre fiction as a plot device. Jarvis’ analysis of Cate Tiernan’s Wicca series, among similar works, is largely an analysis of the series’ impact upon “the intersection between fantasy and the socially and historically grounded portrayal of spiritual/religious experience and practice” for an audience – young adults – who are most impacted by interests, life events and figures who play a role in shaping their future personal identities and worldviews as adults (45).

 

Rationale and theoretical scope

Jarvis intends to use this study to analyze the social value of a genre of teen fiction which presents “witchcraft as a religious choice for human beings”, namely teenagers (43). From the series, Jarvis derives insights into how the series portrays the impact of religion upon or within “the family, learning and self-discipline, and sex and sexuality” (46), which works with the analysis’ theoretical scope of this intersection between gender, identity and religion. She provides a historical background of the Wiccan religion, including its origin in the United Kingdom, its importation to countries like the United States, and its emancipatory relationship with the women’s liberation movement, with female witches creating observances which explicitly shunned the gender stratification which they had seen in Abrahamic religions.

From this point, Jarvis explores the impact of the Wiccan religion upon the characters in the series in the areas of “the family, learning and self-discipline, and sex and sexuality” with summarization of key events in many of the series’ books. The main character, Morgan, develops throughout the series from her role as a daughter of a devout Roman Catholic family to being introduced by a friend to a Wiccan observance to later strains with her family, with her abilities as a practitioner of the craft, and finally with divisive passions among elements of her own Wiccan community, all the while coming into her own as a young woman, an exceptionally-powerful and adept “blood witch” and an autonomous individual who bucks the determinations of others. This evolution, and the periodic comparison of key events in the evolution with cited commentary on the ethics and practice of the Wiccan religion, drive home Jarvis’ theory of the series as a work which redeems, in a utilitarian sense, religion (like Wicca) as a personal and empowering force in human experience, a force which is both ethical and embracing of individuation.

 

Implications

Jarvis further explores how fantasy and romance, major tropes in popular teen fiction, provide the proper “couch” for the presence of religion and personal maturation in the series, as the tropes of fantasy and romance in the novel are heavily “entwined with the theme of religious awakening” (49). Jarvis concludes that Wicca and similar works (such as the character Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Annie from the Circle of Three series), “without imposing the rigid morality and intolerance about other religions, women and sexuality that characterise many religions,” offer readers the fiction-based embrace of a more “liberal”, individuative, feminine-inclusive spirituality and resulting ethical and personal experiences which place the onus of fulfilling the Wiccan Rede – ‘Do what you will an it harm none’ – upon the characters as individuals (51).

 

Evaluation

The arguments made in the analysis are valid in that the numerous examples of key behaviors and statements by the characters are backed with citations of both the book and past writings on the Wiccan religion from both self-identified Wiccans and non-Wiccans. The arguments in the study are also consistent with each other in how they follow the character’s development and connote key stages as being reflective of both Wiccan practice and teenage female life, building to the conclusion of an interconnectivity between the two. The heuristic value of the study is that it provides opportunities for readers and writers to reappraise the intersection between fantastic cognitive constructs, both in religion and in more secular fiction, and real-world ethical observance, and also provides an interpretation of this intersection as one which can liberalize and individuate, rather than cloister and impress, prevalent societal identities and behaviors. The parsimony of the article is that the article’s main communicative theory can be broken down as four axioms: “Religion and spirituality are ethical frameworks for social and cognitive growth”, “Fantasy fiction presents observance of religion, magic and spirituality as integrable with teenage female life,” “Religion can emphasize ‘right behavior’ over ‘right belief,’” and that “Gender diversity and self-empowerment can be affirmed by religious belief and societal behavior.”

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the analysis by Jarvis makes a solid attempt to engage the broader importance and popularity of religion and fantasy to teen girls. It reviews the history of Wicca and relationship with women’s history, compares the development of the main character of Wicca through life stages which mark her growth in all aspects to the ethical practices most identified in scholarly literature with Wicca, and the utility of fantasy and romance fiction as vehicles for ethical and spiritual tropes. It also pushes strongly for Wicca as both a feminine-inclusive, individuating religion and, as a result, a suitable plot device for engaging the minds of young adult women with advocacy of self-awareness and right behavior. The analysis of Wicca by Jarvis does a suitable job of appraising the series for its social and interpersonal relevance.

 

Organized Feasts for the Eyes and Mind: An evaluation of historical fandoms and fan consumption of multimedia

Organized Feasts for the Eyes and Mind:

An evaluation of historical fandoms and fan consumption of multimedia

 
By Harry Underwood
HUMN-3460
Honors Final Project
December 8, 2010

Introduction

The Fursuit Parade at Anthrocon 2009 in Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Karl "Xydexx Squeakypony" Jorgensen.

The Fursuit Parade at Anthrocon 2009 in Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Karl “Xydexx Squeakypony” Jorgensen.

The furry fandom is a modern phenomenon with long historic roots and sources of reference. Having been consolidated by 1989 with the launch of the first furry convention, it originated from the speculative fiction fandom subculture that had exponentially grown in geographic representation since 1969. However, instead of a focus upon literary inspirations or cross-media adaptations thereof, the furry fandom has been primarily driven by recognition of a long-running cultural appeal for graphical representations of the anthropomorphic, semi-animal beings that populated a wide variety of artistic depictions from the earliest artistic works created by Homo sapiens.

A Doctor Who fan in a Fourth Doctor costume, at the Gallifrey One 2006 convention in Los Angeles. Photo by Josiah Rowe.

A Doctor Who fan in a Fourth Doctor costume, at the Gallifrey One 2006 convention in Los Angeles. Photo by Josiah Rowe.

Differences and similarities in origin, focus and treatment have influenced the characteristics of both fandom subcultures, and re-evaluation or appropriation of past and present corporately-distributed cultural works by fandom subcultures in general have been widely discussed and debated among scholars and experts as pertaining to legal, political and economic ramifications. They have also been perceived by various scholars as being part of modern-day “folk” subcultures by way of adapting and deriving cultural works to non-canonical real-life situations or experiences.  Since the 1970s, media fandoms have largely constituted a large minority, if not a majority, of the speculative fiction fandom demographic, and have come to play an increasingly-important role in the interaction between fandom and corporate distribution outlet. 

 
            Three examples of the developing nature of fandom subculture and influence are found in the furryspeculative (science fiction, horror fiction, fantasy fiction, etc., also known as “SF”) and media fandoms. All three symbolize specific but gradual stages in the 20th century development of modern fandom, ranging from the 1930s to the present day. All fandoms were created to assemble those who found the works of their favorite genres to be both truly attractive and genuinely misunderstood by those who simply didn’t “get” the appeal of the work, and they ended up becoming hotbeds of cultural appropriation and derivation for the majority of their history, often becoming the basis for fans to later become artisans in their own right. However, they each focused on specific features, characteristics or contexts of media works which were specific to each fandom’s main concern, and magnified such features to life-sized, life-relevant proportions, changing the Western world’s sense of popular fiction for the foreseeable future.

SF and Media fandom

Star Trek anti-cancellation protest in front of KNBC 4 Los Angeles in 1968. Photo by Harry Chase, Los Angeles Times.

Star Trek anti-cancellation protest in front of KNBC 4 Los Angeles in 1968. Photo by Harry Chase, Los Angeles Times, used under fair use.

1969 was the year when Star Trek was finally cancelled after three seasons of low ratings on NBC. But it was also the year that dedicated science fiction fans had realized the importance of their viewership in the era of television, due to the fan campaign which kept the series on the air for one more season. Thus, the Star Trek fan groups around the US began to help in organizing various science fiction conventions, with a growth in “Trekkie” attendees and various personnel from the series being in high demand at these conventions. This was the start of an unprecedented period in fandom history, with fans deriving from a larger number of media outlets and franchises than ever before. This trend would continue into the 1980s, buoyed by the impact of 1977’s Star Wars.Throughout the history of SF fandom, the seeming “lifeblood” of the culture has been the literary publication industries, as writers for science fiction or superhero works were the usual guests and vendors at the few SF conventions which existed between 1936-1969, and many future writers, such as Isaac Asimov, often got their start as fandom organizers. Costumes based upon franchise characters (film, comic book/novel/short story, TV) were worn by regular attendees at such conventions from the first SF conventions in the 1930s onward (Flynn).

The growth of science fiction conventions from 1969 onward, however, is most likely due to the growth of another meta-fandom: the media fandom. As Star Trek’s cancellation had served as a catalyst for fascinated viewers in the United States and elsewhere to court the cast and crew of the series in anticipation of news on upcoming releases and events in the Star Trek canon, the science fiction fandom was infused with far larger numbers of convention attendees than in the last 40 years of science fiction history. Cast and crew of television serials were invited to a geographically- and demographically-growing circuit of conventions, and convention goers dressed up in television and film character costumes to celebrate the appeal of the series. This signified a growing split in focus between the fans of the older literarily-oriented concept-driven science fiction (which had predominately constituted the bulk of the fandom until the 1970s) and fans of visual character-driven science fiction. This spilled over into the establishment of the first franchise-specific media fandom conventions in the 1970s for fans of Star Trek, Doctor Who, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and other franchises.

 

George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek: The Original Series, with fans in full costume.

George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek: The Original Series, with fans in full costume.

This also signified the beginning of the corporate interaction to fandom conventions, whereby the distributors of franchises interfaced with the fandoms through the cast and crew who manned franchise booths and panels for autographs and memorabilia. However, as shown with the litigation exercises of George Lucas concerning both fan tribute and commercial appropriation from the watershed Star Wars film series, corporations began to fire the first salvos in the war on infringement of intellectual property, one which notably involved fans who wrote non-canon depictions of Star Wars characters, often in pornographic situations (this phenomenon was not new, as the first fan-fictitious work in fandom history was published in 1967 in the fanzine Spockanalia, and the first homoerotic fanfic to depict the two leading characters of Star Trek in a close relationship was published in 1974, leading to what became known as “Kirk/Spock”). This campaign was further magnified by the rise in popularity of home recording cartridges after 1977, which enabled budding videographers to film their own fan tributes to the franchise for convention exhibition.

The 1980s saw further hints toward diversification that would be entrenched in the 1990s. Roleplaying became a serious pursuit – he RP and video game fan communities partly drew from already-existing wargaming conventions as well as SF – , Japanese animation was increasingly shown to be a highly-developed industry showcasing a wide range of topic and emotion that was sorely lacking in the West, and funny animals, those characters of semi-animal semi-human constitution who were exhibited in animated works throughout the entire history of animation, were extended to become more serious and diverse in emotion and topic than ever previously. All three emerged from the general speculative fiction fandom community with their own conventions and their own fandom subcultures.

Furry fandom

Mark Merlino and Rod O'Riley, co-founders of ConFurence. Photo by RainRat.

Mark Merlino and Rod O’Riley, co-founders of ConFurence. Photo by RainRat.

The funny animal fandom, in its transition into the furry fandom, showed several distinctive features. Prior to the introduction of funny animals into serious works of speculative fiction, funny animals were primarily used as a stock trope in various, usually humorous works of fiction for television, film and printed works.

Through the usage of original anthropomorphic characters in serious works of speculative fiction and romance fiction, the humorous or light-hearted stereotype of anthropomorphic characters in fiction was forced to share room with topically and emotionally diverse subject matter. However, at the same time, this newer revision of the anthropomorphic character was not welcomed or expressly promulgated by most multimedia vendors in their own lagging offerings of anthropomorphic characters in film, television and comic books. Thus, the primary couriers of the serious anthropomorphic characters were independent, often amateur graphic artists and writers who self-published or placed their works in the fledgling amateur press associations (APAs) and fanzines of the late 1970s and 1980s (Merlino); unlike the general SF fandom, the products of this movement were far from SF’s major franchise characters (save for rare occasions, when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, originally independently-published, became one of the rare serious anthropomorphic titles to become self-sustaining for its artists), and artists within what became the furry fandom generally drew their own or others’ original characters.

Lucky Coyote acting as concierge at Anthrocon 2006, Philadelphia. Photo by GreenReaper.

“Lucky Coyote” acting as concierge at Anthrocon 2006, Philadelphia. Photo by GreenReaper.

This trend toward focusing upon original characters of one’s own making or the rendering of others within the fandom rather than the characters of major practice of costuming (or “fursuiting”), a practice which increased with the advent of the first furry parties in Southern California in 1985-1986 (themselves initially resulting from overlap between the APA groups’ gatherings and SoCal’s animation-focused Cartoon/Fantasy Organization). Having its roots in the common SF fandom practice of wearing costumes based upon specific characters from popular franchises, fursuiting mostly diverged from the SF tradition by not only focusing upon original characters of one’s own making but also creating a cottage industry of fursuit manufacturing within the fandom that is, to this day, rivaled in focus by the larger costume industry which creates franchise-based outfits for fans.

Following the advent of the first furry convention, ConFurence, in 1989, the rise in usage of the Internet was reflected in the fandom by the establishment of FurryMUCK in 1990 and The Lion King Fan-Art Archive in 1996, both of which served as persistent routes of furry fandom information and media distribution. The growing number of furry properties on the Internet rapidly replaced the importance of the BBSes (which had all but dissipated from general usage in the world by the mid-1990s), APAs and fanzines, and more conventions and “furmeets” were established every year afterward around the world.

Comparison

 

Furries vs. Klingons II. Atlanta Georgia. 2008. Poster by USS Republic NCC-1371.

Furries vs. Klingons II. Atlanta Georgia. 2008. Poster by USS Republic NCC-1371.

Due to their shared roots, furry and speculative fiction fandoms share many outstanding qualities. 

            For instance, a strong identification with alternate reality pervades both fandoms. Masquerades using the characters with whom the wearers most identify are a pillar of the fandom, and have been since the first SF conventions in late 1930s Philadelphia. 

            The furry fandom, a subset of which is known as the transformation fiction fandom, has received a large number of writers who are or were previously science fiction fans. This has allowed for a cross-pollination of concepts and ideas into the literary aspects of the furry fandom.
            Social consciousness or progression has often played a role in the lives of many acolytes of both traditions, evidenced by charitable donations of proceeds from many conventions to initiatives such as ecological/animal welfare groups, human health and social services, etc. Social consciousness often drove authors in the SF tradition to explore the possibilities of human advancement in an industrialized or utopian world order, while many furry fans often entertained the fantasy of physical shapeshifting in both graphical and literary formats of publication.

Congressional events in both fandoms were historically not catered towards by large corporations for most of their early histories, and were initially driven by personally-shared interest in publications by major vendors of fiction or fiction-oriented media at the time. In fact, fandom communities are largely a “labor of love” for their organizers and participants, being inherently driven by fan appropriation and celebration of the impact of relevant media to their own self-perceptions and worldviews.

Contrast

An example of a "fursona reference sheet", used to artistically describe the personal alter-ego or other character of the furry fan. This reference sheet depicts Demitri "Diti" Torterat's penguin fursona as drawn by Luna Tsukario.

An example of a “fursona reference sheet”, used to artistically describe the personal alter-ego or other character of the furry fan. This reference sheet depicts Demitri “Diti” Torterat‘s penguin fursona as drawn by Luna Tsukario.

Furry fandom is oriented differently than speculative fiction fandom or media fandom:

  • Unlike the SF fandom, which largely drew from literary sources and historically was driven by genre writers, the furry fandom largely derived from graphic expressions in both still and animated form.
  • Furry fandom is largely concerned with body phenotypes and graphic depictions thereof, while SF fandom is largely concerned with the settings in which the fiction takes place and the associated concepts which are employed. Media fandom, by contrast to both, is more enamored of character development and relationships.
  • Furries adopt fursonas, or furry alter-egos, which usually exist outside of franchises (save for rare occasions when the depiction of the fursona is derived in style from another franchise which was not originally marketed as “furry”).
  • Furry fandom is external to genre restrictions and furry fiction can employ any genre or setting under the sun, including SF.
  • Furries are more likely to integrate or interpret their fursonas as expressions of their inner selves, or aspects thereof. SF fans are more likely to embrace the character of whose visage they may masquerade for the ideals and role which are most associated with the character in the franchise.

Corporations or large studios are largely a non-presence within the furry fandom:

  • The SF fandom has largely been focused upon corporately-funded franchises since the 1970s due to the rise in media fan attendance at the largest conventions. In contrast, furries were largely drawn to franchises’ graphic anthropomorphic media before happening upon the Internet’s furry artwork, which is usually not fan derivations of franchise characters.
  • Corporations have largely remained ignorant of the furry fandom, and artists within the employ of large media companies usually only come to furry conventions at their own expence, usually in retirement (in addition, furries are not a target market or audience in the 2010s by any means for major corporate disseminators of fiction). In contrast, SF fandom draws top-dollar guests such as franchise writers, artists, actors, directors and series creators, and corporations often court fan gatherings for advance teasers.
  • It is rare to see two or more fursuits of the same character, while it is common for multiple cosplayers to depict the same character or franchise at SF, media and anime conventions.
  • SF fans have historically achieved greater ascendancy since the 1960s and 1970s, as fans who happened to be writers (Asimov, for example) were hired to write for major franchises or their works were adapted to film, television, etc. Furries have not yet achieved anywhere near that ascendancy within media establishments at this point.

Fandom relations with corporations

 

Cast and crew members of Stargate Atlantis at San Diego Comic-Con International 2008 panel discussion. Photo by Heath White.

Cast and crew members of Stargate Atlantis at San Diego Comic-Con International 2008 panel discussion. Photo by Heath White.

The relationship between the furry fandom, media franchises and the corporate media outlets which maintain those franchises is awkward and fraught with conflicting understandings. While the furry fandom was initially brought together by graphic artists who were inspired by corporate media franchises of graphical depictions of anthropomorphic characters (and archives of fan works inspired by the franchises remain a so-called “gateway” to the fandom on the Internet), the furry fandom has had a distantly-receptive, one-way relationship with corporate media franchises which has not been reciprocated with similarly-positive feedback.

Any reference by a “non-furry” corporately-owned media outlet to anthropomorphic characters is welcomed and appropriated by the furry fandom’s members, and any reference to the furry fandom in particular is readily documented and reviewed by self-described furries. However, because of the tendency for furries to adopt fursonas, the depiction of fursonas or original characters by various artists tends to outweigh the number of specific homages or appropriations of corporately-owned characters on large galleries such as Fur Affinity.

At the same time, corporations which hold the licenses to the media franchises have responded variably to the furry fandom. Even in 2010, the furry fandom is a new and strange development for many employees of the corporations, and a heavy public stigma which is associated with the fandom due to many past corporate media depictions of furries and furry events (including the 2003 CSI: Crime Science Investigation episode “Fur and Loathing”) may deter corporations from expressly appealing to this niche for the foreseeable future.

In comparison, the media fandom that spilled out of the science fiction fandom after 1969 and inherited most of its customs has gradually cultivated a closer relationship with corporations that sees conventions being broadcast on cable television, endorsed by media franchise owners, cast and crew visiting as panelists and booth operators, etc. Corporations and individual rights holders have varied in their stances on fan derivations of their works in recent years, with many allowing for fan fiction and others taking a somewhat hostile stance against it; those who have warmed to fan fiction adaptations and derivations include some individuals who started their writing careers in the fanfiction scene. This is a far cry from the 1980s, when most copyright owners took hostile, litigious stances against the fanfiction phenomena for the sake of keeping a strong hold on the intellectual property or family-friendliness of their series or franchises.

Conclusion

 

Forrest J. Ackerman in a futuristic costume at Worldcon 1939, perhaps the first costume in fandom history, New York City. Photo c/o Robert Madle/Fanac History Project.

Forrest J. Ackerman in a futuristic costume at Worldcon 1939, perhaps the first costume in fandom history, New York City. Photo c/o Robert Madle/Fanac History Project.

What can certainly be ascertained is that the furry fandom was one of many types of fandom subcultures which developed in the 20th century, one which was influenced by other fandoms and originating from the science fiction fandom. What can also be ascertained is that each fandom – genre-centric, chararacter/relationship-centric, species-centric, origin-centric – is an example of individuals who discovered that there were other people in the world or in their own local proximities who were just as interested in sifting the sensually-pleasing, the intellectually-intensive, the culturally-relevant or other personally-”important” elements from the mass media works of present and past, and celebrating them and their own adaptations.

They are spurred onward by actualities and possibilities which result from such elements and adaptations, and they are far from being immune to corporate co-option or interaction, but they readily exhibit examples of popular or “folk” appropriation of original source material (Jenkins). The canon material is used as a source of “scripting” which details expectations, behaviors and descriptions of real-life situations, with at least a few attempts at establishing new religious movements as outgrowths of fandom communities.

The fandom phenomenon that was first cultivated from the science fiction literary societies of the 1920s and 1930s was transformed by television and its adaptation of text into moving visuals, with media fandom gradually taking precedence in fandom subcultural activities from the 1970s onward. This option by so many to co-opt and derive cultural works from film and television has indelibly redefined the developed world’s perception of popular fiction. It has also influenced the licensing of fictional characters or settings for commercial promotions, as fans will usually be among the first to express vocal disappointment in any corporate deviation from the letter or spirit of the canon material. It is not yet a system of creative checks and balances, but fans of media franchises and the owners of distribution rights over such franchises do often communicate, coalesce or come into open conflict with each other on a frequent basis.

Fandom subcultures will continue to diverge into newer methods of folk interpretation and appropriation of canon for the foreseeable future. The furry fandom, which is young in comparison to the media and literary speculative fiction fandoms, may yet gain economic ascendancy whereby participants in the fandom may be later employed in the larger animation or video game studios for production purposes, or it may develop in an altogether-different manner than the other two fandoms, but it does symbolize a further, somewhat divergent extreme in how those of us who are primarily consumers of fiction media are often motivated to appropriate from past trends or established canon to provide sensory, intellectual or cultural gain.

Works cited

Patten, Fred. “A Chronology of Furry Fandom.” Yarf! 1996. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

 

Jenkins, Henry. “The Poachers and the Stormtroopers: Cultural Convergence in the Digital Age”. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 27 July 2010. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

 

Flynn, John L. “Costume Fandom: All Dressed Up with Some Place to Go!” Towson University. 1986-2001. Web.

 

Chase, Harry. “Star Trek Cancellation Protest.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Jan. 1968. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

 

USS Republic NCC-1371. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

 

Burka, Lauren P. “The MUDline.” The MUDdex. 1995. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

 

Darlington, Steve. “A History of Role-playing.” Places to Go, People to Be. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

 

“The Force Is With…Everyone”. Beliefnet. 2002. Web.

 

Merlino, Mark. “Re: A few questions for fandom research.” Email to the author. 2 Dec. 2010.

The Traumatic Subliminal Intersection of Dissociation and Shamanism in Ghost Hound

Harry Underwood

Monica Young-Zook

HUMN 2111H

10/15/2011

The Traumatic Subliminal Intersection of Dissociation and Shamanism in Ghost Hound

Mind-body dissociation, as an “altered state of consciousness”, has figured largely in the history of religion as a means by which societies and cultures could ascertain vital messages from inhabitants of mythological cosmologies. Many works of speculative fiction have made use of dissociation as an allegory for the exploration of subliminal aspects of characters’ personalities, but have also vividly depicted such explorations with intentional sensory distortions. The 22-episode animated series Ghost Hound is an exemplary modern exploitation of this core plot element: the correlation between disconnection from normal senses and exposure to the subsensory. The series makes use of this to explore a familiar trope in horror and mystery fiction: communication and interaction with the realm of the dead. Ghost Hound offers a view into the modern intersection between the religious, scientific and artistic views of dissociation as a window into the sublime.

The prior experiences of the three central male characters of the series set the stage for the discovery of the sublime by the viewer. Taro, a 16-year-old middle school student, suffers from trauma caused by the kidnapping of himself and his sister 11 years prior, and the death of his sister during the incident. Makoto, a distant relative of Taro, suffers from witnessing the suicide of his father and abandonment by his mother, as well as the overbearing influence of his grandmother, who operates a local “new religious movement”. Masayuki, a recent transplant from Tokyo, is haunted by both the memory of a classmate’s suicide due to bullying as well as his parents’ emotional withdrawal from each other.

The three students’ own unique hauntings by unfortunate incidents from the past are manifested psychologically. Taro’s almost-daily occurrences of lucid dreams take him through replays of his kidnapping, including the moment of his sister’s death on the bed opposite him with their hands tied behind their backs. However, after exposing themselves to the location of Taro’s sister’s death, the trio discover the ability to consciously experience out-of-body travels. This soon leads them, their families, their classmates and other characters as diverse as Taro’s school counselor and workers at a mysterious laboratory in the mountains into the experience of both psychological and supernatural forces at work in the town of Suiten.

The terror of facing past trauma constitutes a core feature of the plotline, and the trio make use of soul travelling in order to more capably face the manifestations of their traumas. They also soon realize that the daughter of the local Shinto priest unwillingly experiences her own interactions with travelling spirits, which manifest themselves by taking brief possession of her body.

 

Historical Religious Elements in the Subliminality of Ghost Hound

Religion serves as a significant and vital theater of the sublime and subsensory in Ghost Hound. Drawing strongly upon Japanese cosmological mythology, the series provides a rich, historical backdrop whereby the viewer can understand the cultural context of what the children observe in both the Hidden Realm and real world.

A sublime feature of the plot is the wonder and terror at the geography of the “Hidden Realm” in which the spirits of all species reside, and particularly how it overlays the geography of the land within and around Suiten. The world of the dead which the three encounter in their disembodied sojourns is a vast, highly-distorted realm which is inhabited by countless species of creatures, many existent, extinct or mythological. The forest, particularly that part separating the shrine from the lake, initially holds a lot of terrible elements which frighten Taro, as he frequently sees the tall, looming, exaggerated visage of his long-dead kidnapper striding ominously through the forest. This is because the forest itself symbolically demarcates the real world inhabited by the living from the distorted and sensually-intense Hidden Realm.

The shamanistic roles of the characters derive from historic perceptions of dissociation as a means of communication with deities and spirits. In addition to her duties as a miko (female joint shrine assistant and shaman), the lead character Miyako also encounters recurring instances of spirit possession, whereby disembodied spirits possess and communicate through her. She is the only character with the ability to see disembodied souls, including those of the three lead characters when they are in the midst of an out-of-body experience (O.B.E.). These unbidden gifts of mediumship harken to the historical shamanistic roots of the miko position. The historical miko, who could either be attached or non-attached to any particular shrine, was usually one who possessed the innate trait of communication and interaction with the spirit world. This ability made the miko a role of high importance for local cults of kami (spirits), as the words of a miko under the thrall of a trance could be interpreted as either communications from beyond the grave of a loved one (Feldman 14), prophecies of great political and economic weight or as means by which patients could be healed of ailments (Lee 291).

Likewise, the three male lead characters’ pursuit of this endeavor is fundamentally shamanistic in its intentions and actions. While Miyako herself may be the more “professional” shaman of the lead characters, the three male lead characters are engaging in interactions with the denizens of the Hidden Realm – the spirit world – in order to ascertain answers of paramount interest to not only their own individual desires to bring their mental states under a more capable governance, but to also bring closure to the minds of their disrupted families. This harkens to Lee’s recounting of shamanistic social networks in ancient non-Western societies, whereby those who were adept at dream communication with the afterlife often found and helped each other cultivate their abilities for future applications for the masses (Lee 293).

Yet, at the same time, the trait of communication and interaction with spirits causes problems for Miyako in her daily life. As a born medium, she always finds one foot planted in the realm of ancient, disembodied souls who can take possession of her body at a moment’s notice. The public knowledge of her occupation in the local area allows her to be both the benificiary of parishioners’ gifts as well as the scorn of neighbors. This causes her to doubt her ability to relate to the people around her, and also compels her to constantly reassure herself of her own sense of self.

As a result, the enthusiasm for interaction with the Hidden Realm among the lead characters varies widely. This is exemplified by the fact that the three lead male characters – Taro, Masayuki and Makoto – are eagerly exploring and seeking for answers within the Hidden Realm, while Miyako – a significant figure throughout the series – is seeking for normalcy and acceptance away from the denizens of the Hidden Realm. Makoto, however, is personally conflicted because of his emphatic rejection of the role of heir apparent to his grandmother, herself a spirit medium.  

 

Scientific Psychology’s Significance in the Sublime

Psychological references, particularly those referring to dissociation, figure heavily in the series’ depiction of the sublime world inside the mind. Dell et al. describe dissociation as the “partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s psychological functioning”, of
ten in “ways that the person cannot easily explain (Dell et al.).” Ghost Hound, as a series, takes stock from the centuries-long appraisals of mental hallucinations from both religious and psychological points of view. In particular, it explores and contrasts such in their historical religious role as means of communication with the deceased and their current role in psychology as theaters for personal (or, if possible, shared) confrontation with traumatic incidences.

The three central characters of the series each have their own psychological reasons for connection with the departed. Taro, whose sister died in front of him during a double-kidnapping attempt 11 years prior, makes use of his almost-daily lucid dreams in order to attempt a reconnection with the soul of his sister. Makoto, a truant whose father killed himself a short time after Mizuka’s death, looks for answers and reconnection with the father who he barely remembers. Masayuki, a transplant from Tokyo, seeks to overcome the stress caused by the bullying-related suicide of a classmate.

The key dissociation away from the body occurs through an encounter with the site of a traumatic experience. It is through exposure (namely a crude attempt at “Exposure therapy”) to the exact place of Taro’s sister’s death that the three are able to achieve the ability to travel out of, and into, their own bodies at will. This allows them to make several journeys through both the present reality around the town of Suiten as well as into various areas of the “Hidden Realm” of deceased and mythological heritage. Other altered states of consciousness come more naturally to the three characters following the initial OBE, in keeping with Blackmore’s hypothesis concerning altered state experients (Alvarado et al. 298).

This exploration of both roles of mental hallucinations, and the reliance upon the measurement of powerfully-manifested emotional reactions to such hallucination, sheds light onto the sublime aspect of mental hallucination as a means of interaction with creatures of the past, including the spirits of the dead. Hallucinations are marked by their vivid pronouncements to the receiver, but are simultaneously noted by their reliance upon some degree of sensory obscurity. Because of the combination of their vivid and obscure elements, hallucinations such as lucid dreams and spirit possession provoke raw, emotional and irrational responses from the receiver.

The utility of certain physical objects to the characters when experiencing their respective OBEs is also of dissociative importance. Taro often sleeps in the room of his sister Mizuka, focusing upon her backpack hanging from the chair as he nods off. Makoto often goes soul travelling while his physical arms clutch his electric guitar, his favorite pastime and means of sensory escape from the gloom of the Ogami shrine complex. Masayuki often nods off into an OBE while wearing his gyroscopic video game headset. All three objects hold sensory importance to the characters, providing individual means of sensory dissociation and removal from the physical body, and perhaps a root by which they can reenter their bodies. Such objects as utilized in real-world meditation are described by Lutz et al. as tools in “Focused Attention” meditation (Lutz et al. 6), a practice that is well-known to societies with large Buddhist populations such as Japan. The objects, when applied in the context most appropriate to the meditator, allow for the users to ignite the sensation of dissociation in the user.

Finally, the concept of the Hidden Realm is also dynamically reapplied to a more naturalistic, disenchanted reappraisal of the invisible, externalized repository of memories. It is somewhat secularized by Hirata, Taro’s psychiatrist, in the form of Thought Field Therapy (TFT), a form of therapy which attempts to treat phobias (Callahan et al. 123) by means of interaction with a hypothetical “invisible field” external to the brain which contains long-term memories (Sheldrake 32; “Affordance/TFT”). This concept may also explain why Taro is able to visit the eternal Kameiwa Hospital, which resides on a floating island within a “forest”of flashing neural synapses which he supposes as the inside of his own brain. This pairing of the religious concept of the “Hidden Realm” with the secular hypothesis of the external “though field” allows for the series to carefully reposition the concept of the human mind as both a window into the self as well as a window into the abodes of the permanently-disembodied selves.

 

Artistic Depictions of the Sublime

The sublime value of dissociation in the series is manifested through visual and auditory distortions. Distortions and unrealistic increase whenever the viewer is brought within any distance of mental or religious significance, resulting in artistic cues for the viewer to immediately decipher as an experience within the mind or in the mind’s travels. These cues of distortion give the viewer a strong sense of the intensity and subliminality, the heightened sense of heavy emotional drama, which may likely be felt by the character at that exact moment.

The Hidden Realm, for example, is characterized by heavy, predominant visual elements. It is depicted as a transparent overlay over the reality of the living, one which is as ghostly and flexible as its inhabitants. Heavy colors predominate in certain environments during key scenes in the series. When Taro travels to the Kameiwa hospital and talks with a patient, only to find that he is visiting an area of the Hidden Realm in which the souls of the hospital’s oldened patients reside for eternity, the predominant color of the area is various shades of brown (“For the Snark”). When travelling through the swirling eddies of the Hidden Realm, the predominant color is blue; this color is also the predominant shade which the souls of OBE experients assume when in the out-of-body state.

As a further explanation of places in the series which hold sublime importance and relevance to the realm of the spirits, a contrast of sublime elements can also be made between the mountain shrine belonging to Miyako’s father and the larger shrine owned by the Ogami sect. The mountain shrine, while old, is comparatively bright, earthy and rich in its predominant brown shade; the only time where any prolonged focus takes place in a dark part of the shrine is in Miyako’s bedroom at night, as her psychological condition visibly worries her awake. The Ogami shrine, on the other hand, is so dark and suppressed in its exterior and interior atmosphere that the only sources of interior lighting come from candles. The only room lit by window light is the room in which Makoto’s father killed himself. As he, at age 5, was the first to discover the body of his father, Makoto finds it most difficult, yet most necessary, to enter this room in order to seek the answers that are kept hidden in the dark by those with whom he lives.

The sound effects used in the series also strongly evoke the intense and sublime. From the perspective of his recurring nightmares, Taro’s perception of sound within his dreams, particularly those recounting images from his kidnapping, is highly distorted and often jarring to the ears of the viewer. Williams interprets this experience of sound as Taro “sealing his aural memories in a womb-like enclosure” (Williams). Similar sound effects also feature in the mental episodes of Makoto and Masayuki when recounting their own personal traumas.

The choice of instrumentation for the soundtrack, again, reflects the and are applied at key moments of mental or religious sensation. Most of the instruments used for the background music are traditional Japanese instruments associated with Shinto observances at shrines like the Komagusu and Ogami shrines. Makoto’s electric guitar, on which he occasionally practices in certain episodes of the serie
s, is a channeling of his otherwise-cold and rough emotion through his fingers.

 

Conclusion

The entire plotline of Ghost Hound is imbued with a strong essence of the sublime, as best filtered through a modern Japanese cultural filter. The psychological, artistic and supernatural are easily blended, while the effects of such blendings upon all of the characters is made evident through their varying reactions and coping mechanisms. The applications of dissociation and the resulting distortive effects of such dissociation deliver to the viewer of the series a strong sense of the highly-personal.

The intersection of mind-body dissociation and, as shown in Ghost Hound, allow for the modern generation to explore ancient, yet modern, constellations of the sublime and emotion-inspiring. The series, in itself, is not a horror-oriented work, nor is it totally geared toward the solicitation of suspense, thrill or awe, yet it manages to combine portions of such plot elements into a procedural call to the viewer to reappraise the characters’ experiences as intimate, sensually distorted and intense in its relevance to the plotline. Such a combination, when best performed, is difficult to find in the larger corpus of speculative fiction, but it is also rewarding to the viewer in its rich, subsensory narrative.

From the meditation to the lucid dreaming to the out-of-body experience to many other types of dissociation depicted, the most general constant visible in these techniques, their applications and the intersections of dissociation and distortion  is the adventure toward both resolution with death and the reaffirmation of living. In this complex adventure, which takes the characters and viewers through the most sensually-intense corners of the mind (both inside and out), Ghost Hound accomplishes such goals, and its presentation of the sublime leaves the viewer desirous for more of what it offers.

 

Works cited

Alvarado, Carlos, Nancy Zingrone and Kathy Dalton. “Out-of-Body Experiences: Alterations of Consciousness and the Five-Factor Model of Personality”. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 1998-99. Vol. 18(4) pp. 297-317. Print. 9 Dec 2011.

“Affordance/TFT . Thought Field Therapy”. Ghost Hound. Nakamura, Ryūtarō, dir. Shirow, Masamune, wri. WOWOW. Tokyo. 20 Dec 2007. Television.

Callahan, R.J. and Callahan, J. (2000). Stop the Nightmares of Trauma. Chapel Hill: Professional Press. p. 143. Print.

Dell, P. F., & O’Neil, J. A.. Preface. In P. F. Dell & J. A. O’Neil (Eds.), Dissociation and the dissociative disorders: DSM-V and beyond (pp. xix-xxi). New York: Routledge. 2009 Print.

Feldman, Ross Christopher. “Enchanting Modernity: Religion and the Supernatural in Contemporary Japanese Culture.” The University of Texas at Austin. 2011. pp 14, 29-32.

“For the Snark Was a Boojum, You See”. Ghost Hound. Nakamura, Ryūtarō, dir. Shirow, Masamune, wri. WOWOW. Tokyo. 31 Jan 2008. Television.

Lee, Raymond L.M. “Forgotten Fantasies? Modernity, Reenchantment and Dream Consciousness.” Dreaming, Vol 20(4), Dec 2010, 288-304. Print.

Lutz, Antoine, Heleen A. Slagter, John D. Dunne and Richard J. Davidson. “Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation.” Trends in Cognitive Science. 2008 April; 12(4): 163–169. Print.

Sheldrake, Rupert. The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Unexplained Powers of the Human Mind. Random House Digital, Inc. 2004. p. 32. Print.

Williams, Alex. “Ghost Hound: Sounds from the womb, visuals made from nightmares.” Undated. <http://alex-williams.net&gt;. PDF file.