Yet Again with the Bullying
On Thanksgiving weekend this year, cosplayer and MTG personality Christine Sprankle announced her departure from the MTG community. In a complete surprise to absolutely no one, Ms. Sprankle cited online harassment and bullying as the reasons for her departure. Ms. Sprankle identified a YouTube personality as the primary cyber bully, however, we will neither mention him by name nor link to his social media presence.
A little over a year ago, I ranted about leaving the comic book community over the controversy surrounding Chelsea Cain and the cover to Mockingbird #8. Granted, I have no influence in the comics community, but I still left the community on principle. I now find myself in a similar situation, yet unwilling to walk away. Why are events like these so pervasive, and why do they continue to happen?
My friend Crab and I have a few words on the subject.
It’s Just The Internet
When this happens some folks immediately jump to the defense of the internet. We often hear things like “That’s just how the comments section works”. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to get “If you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen”. Logically, this puts the internet into a fairly dark place. We posit that the internet is just a bastion of garbage humans who spew garbage sentences because online anonymity is the professional troll’s trump card. That view is not untrue. Most folks suppose that we can’t change what’s already in place. Does that mean that we should not try? If we don’t, then we surrender any hope of progress. If there is to be any expansion of the fandom, any growth and survivability, then exclusivity should be the first thing to go.
She Should Not Wear That / She Plays Into A Male Power Fantasy
Here’s the thing about this argument. Yes, there are a ton of garbage men who look at female cosplayers as sexually desirable objects. However, saying that a female cosplayer only fulfills a male fantasy supposes a few things. First, it supposes that costuming and conventions are males’ spaces instead of players’ spaces. When people say “Oh well what did you expect when you parked your car in the bad part of town?” they then acknowledge that the bad part of town belongs to someone else. “Cosplay is just male fantasy fulfillment” acknowledges that cosplay is “the bad part of town”, and that it belongs to harassers.
Secondly, this argument supposes an important detail: that female cosplayers do what they do for men’s enjoyment. News flash: 99.999% of them don’t. The painful truth about both of these suppositions is that a woman’s body in cosplay is for men’s consumption. Many men assume that these women dress as fictional characters in male spaces to entertain and/or arouse men. This cannot be farther from the truth. These women, these people, they cosplay because they want to express their love for the character they represent. This is not for men to gawk at. It’s for themselves.
Cosplay is simply another facet to fandom. Tell someone that their Inara Serra cosplay is just a chance to show off their body, and that probably causes a fan to exit the Firefly fandom. Tell someone that their BioShock 1 cosplay is worthless because Infinite is “better”, then that’s one less person with whom to share the love of the series. The idea of selective inclusivity is the quickest way to kill any sort of community.
Just Grow a Thicker Skin
With the advent of the internet and anonymous criticism, sticks and stones have grown much more dangerous. “We live in the era of Diet Harassment: all of the desired effects, but none of the personal accountability!” No matter how much ice cream you eat or miles you run to burn off the negativity, after a while, it can still add up.
“Toughen up, buttercup” is irrelevant in the digital age. Harassment in real life is difficult enough to cope with, but at least you probably have a safe space (e.g. your home) to retreat from it. Constant barrages of harassment, body shaming, and death and/or rape threats is next to impossible to cope with, especially if you must maintain a social media presence to interact with your fans, customers, what have you. Harassers in the real world have names, faces, and addresses for restraining orders. Online, we have a pixelated avatar and a vague username like FieryIceDragonPrince42069. Zero accountability. Sure, people hire mods and install bots to filter out harassers. The fact remains that we should not have to do that. Internet culture demands that we cut as deeply as possible, and no one wants to change that.
And for Heliod’s sake, don’t hide behind the “it’s just a joke” defense. When professional comedians go too far, they apologize. Harassers just shrug and say “we just horse around in here” and suddenly all is well. No. That’s avoidance and refusal to take responsibility for your actions. If what you say hurts someone else then just apologize and move on. Even if you don’t understand the implication of what you said, you can at least appreciate that not everyone shares your sense of humor. Or how about just don’t attack vulnerable people and leave the jokes to professional comedians?
It’s All a Lie
One of the classic defenses is to discredit the victim, and folks jump through hoops to gaslight the accusers.
“My girlfriend goes to comic stores all the time and she says no one ever harassed her. Harassment culture is a hoax.” Repeat this with me, friends. You cannot generalize the experience of one person and assume it is fact.
It is entirely illogical to apply one person’s experience in broad strokes across a whole subculture; that includes your own “Well I don’t see harassment here” excuse. I can’t see a million dollars, but I don’t doubt that it exists. In many cases, the victims do not make vague accusations in broad strokes. Typically, the victims cite specific people and instances, yet society labels the victims as liars or exaggerators near immediately. Stop generalizing, and take accusations at face value.
You Do Realize You’re Hurting the Community, Right?
Let me make this perfectly clear: IF SOMEONE’S PASSION IS THE SAME AS YOUR PASSION, DON’T ATTACK THEM. If you want to help your community grow, DON’T TEAR DOWN OTHERS WHO SHARE THE SAME GOAL. This is not that difficult. When the primary goal shifts from community growth to YouTube clicks, when people forget that other human beings are not NPCs in a universe that disappears when the computer powers down, and when the short-term gain is valued over long-term growth, bad things happen.
Here’s the thing. You love whatever your fandom is. Magic, Star Trek, Firefly, Harry Potter, comics, whatever. However, your fandom does not belong to you. You do not get to be a gatekeeper for something the whole world can enjoy unless someone presents an immediate or continued threat to another’s safety and well-being. Gatekeeping only creates unnecessary barriers for newcomers to the fandom. Just because Dante discovered Magic in 1996 does not mean he has any more claim on Magic than someone who discovered it last week. If someone wants to travel to national tournaments dressed up as characters, then who are we to harass them about it? Sure, you have the right to free speech. I have the right to call you out for harassment when you say something awful. No one’s asking you to be friendly; we’re asking you to not be a jerk.
Differences are a Strength, Not a Hindrance
Just as each person is unique unto themselves, so is their way of expressing love or support for something. It’s Femshep and Maleshep, fanfic and fanart, cosplay and competitive play. Nobody at SDCC approached Adam Savage in his Totoro cosplay to argue that Spirited Away was a better Miyazaki film. Lindsey Stirling wasn’t lambasted by theatergoers for her mashup of songs from The Phantom of the Opera. And nobody has the right to target or hate them for doing so with their own time and talents.
Harassment of (female) cosplayers is downright stupid. Harassment of anyone is counterproductive to burgeoning subcultures. Community growth is much less likely when that community is in a civil war. Tearing down community pillars like Sprankle only serves to weaken the community as a whole, bringing everything down. You don’t have to like what cosplayers do, but you don’t have to destroy their mental state to demonstrate as such.
Let us know in the comments how you express your love of your fandom. Is it art? Music? Cosplay? Something else entirely? Please feel free to share; there is no hatred here. As always, this has been Crab and Dante, and remember: a community stands and falls together.
Be kind to one another this holiday season, and for every season forthcoming. It’ll only do good for everyone.
Dante Buccieri is the resident comic book savant of The Geek Embassy. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember, and now that he’s a librarian he gets to advocate for comics in libraries and get paid for it. He’s also a tabletop gaming fan, especially those that involve cards, with favorites including Sentinels of the Multiverse, Magic: The Gathering, Bang!, Smash Up, Star Realms, and 7 Wonders. Dante is a library professional at Portland Community College in Hillsboro, OR.