Given the wildly fluctuating highs and lows of 2017 (let’s face it, mainly lows), this past year’s GeekGirlCon represented the perfect space to reflect on the progress that has been made in the media we love, as well as the work that still needs to be done. One panel which perfectly encapsulated this blend of nostalgia and foresight was Lassos, Lightsabers, and Stakes: Assessing the Heroine’s Journey 20 Years After Buffy.
Image Description: Buffy twirls a stake in her hand. Source: Giphy.
Since 2017 was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of the complex and groundbreaking Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, this panel highlighted the ways in which the entertainment industry still struggles to accept the lessons demonstrated by the enduring impact of the show, its characters, and its fans. Simultaneously, panelists celebrated the gains made through media ranging from Wonder Woman and Star Wars at the movies to Supergirl, The 100, and The Crown on television.
Drawing on the theory of the Heroine’s Journey – a counterpoint, most notably presented by Maureen Murdock in her 1990 book of the same name, to Joseph Campbell’s famed Hero’s Journey – in which characters experience a cyclical journey of personal and communal growth, the panelists analyzed the state of affairs in media representation for women and other underrepresented communities.
Image Description: A gif of Buffy squinting her eyes and looking intense. Source: Giphy.
The panelists included B.J. Priester, a law professor, novelist, editor, and self-professed “lifelong geek;” Tricia Barr, an engineer, novelist, and writer at the FANgirl blog; and Jennifer K. Stuller, a writer, editor, and pop culture critic and historian specializing in the history of American female superheroines and action heroines in comics, film, and television.
Image Description: A gif of Buffy and Willow, with Buffy sucking on a lollipop. Source: Giphy.
Fittingly beginning with the enduring significance of Buffy, the panelists discussed the modern-day resonance of its values, especially the themes of community, friendship, mutual support, and female empowerment and leadership. The panelists argued that, while many shows shaped the values of young people at the time, Buffy truly defined those values. However, the show is not without its flaws. The panelists noted the egregious lack of diversity in the show’s cast as a particularly frustrating limitation. Similarly, the actions of the show’s creator Joss Whedon – which have been incredibly problematic and disappointingtosaytheleast– are important to grapple with for fans who continue to glean insight, comfort, and empowerment from the series.
Image Description: A gif of the character Rey from Star Wars, with the caption saying “Follow me.” Source: Giphy.
The panel subsequently analyzed Star Wars and Wonder Woman, pieces of media which represent both how far we have come in terms of representation for women in film, as well as highlight the limitations that we still encounter time and time again. With the emergence of the character Rey, the Star Wars universe has introduced an exceptional new example of a heroic arc, as well as an inspirational figure for audiences and storytellers to connect with. At the same time, the film series needs to ensure that all female characters are depicted as full human beings, with agency and complexity of their own.
Image Description: A gif of the character Diana from Wonder Woman, deflecting a bullet with her forearm cuff. Source: Giphy.
As Jennifer noted, Wonder Woman not only became the highest grossing DC comic film ever, but had a “visceral, resonant impact,” due to the care with which director Patty Jenkins crafted a narrative of empowerment and the struggle for power and self-determination in a world marred by war and misogynistic violence. However, as Trisha noted, Wonder Woman is far from perfect, and it too falls far short in terms of full representation for women and marginalized groups as a whole.
This panel is a perennial staple at GeekGirlCon, a chance to check in on the state of affairs in feminist media. As the panelists noted, every year there are more stories to talk about, more examples of exciting and necessary representation, and more opportunities in the future to look forward to. But as with the Heroine’s Journey itself, the progress of intersectional feminist representation is never-ending, and we must constantly challenge ourselves to support diverse media, to fight for greater representation, and to create our own narratives which challenge all of us to extend our knowledge, understanding, and empathy.
Image Description: A gif of Dawn from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the caption saying “Cause at least I admit the world makes me nuts. Source: Giphy.
Spring has officially sprung, dear blog readers! And that means flowers popping up, bursts of sun to up those depleted vitamin D levels, and, most importantly, plenty of amazing events coming up! Here’s a look at what’s happening this month. Get ready to mark your calendars for movies, meetups, and talks galore!
Image Description: A gif of Alice from the animated movie “Alice in Wonderland” lying in a field of grass as daisies blow in the breeze above her. Source: Giphy.
Join us on March 31st for an inspiring afternoon with students from Shanti Bhavan and Director of Operations, Ajit George. Shanti Bhavan, a school in Southern India, caters exclusively to children from India’s lowest socioeconomic class and is the subject of the recent documentary Daughters of Destiny. The event kicks off at 12:00 p.m. with a light lunch. Shree and Visali, Glamour Woman of the Year in 2014, will share their stories and the impact that Shanti Bhavan has had on their lives. Guests are invited to stay for a special screening of Daughters of Destiny, which tells how the unique educational model of Shanti Bhavan equips its students to break out of the cycle of poverty. The only educational program of its kind, Shanti Bhavan offers 17 years of rigorous academics, leadership development and professional guidance completely free of charge. The school’s graduates have a 100% university acceptance rate, work at Fortune 500 companies and contribute 20-50% of their salaries to their families and communities – helping end the poverty that has trapped India’s poorest communities for generations. This is a free event but donations are welcome. Visit shantibhavanchildren.org to learn more about the school and ways you can get involved.
(*Note: okay, so this is obviously not quite April, but WHAT a great event!)
Everyone! GeekGirlCon ’18 season is officially upon us!
On our part, we’re getting things organized and settled behind the scenes. But what we need from you all, what we need each year to make GeekGirlCon the most memorable and magical weekend we possibly can, is programming submissions. Specifically, we need the excellent panel ideas that we’ve come to expect from our GeekGirlCon family.
This year, your deadline to submit applications for all kinds of programming is April 30. You have some time, so use it to refine your applications and track down potential panelists. While you’re working, here are some FAQs about panel applications with answers from our very own Panel Program staffers.
[Image Description: Three panelists from a past GeekGirlCon sit laughing with each other.] Adaptation, Appropriation, Influence: Using Other Cultures to Build Fictional Worlds, GeekGirlCon ’16. Photo by Danny Ngan.
You may or may not have heard of her, but I’ve recently developed a hearty admiration for Sailor J. Slightly newer to the scene and sitting at about 206k subscribers, Sailor J is the “beauty guru” / content creator we’ve only dreamt of until now. She’s witty, smart, funny, and incredibly adept at bringing political and social commentary to the YouTube medium.
Sailor J, or JJ Smith, makes lifestyle vignettes about everything from fandom to the astrology. I first stumbled upon her channel when GETTING A MAN 101 made its way into my inbox—but let’s pause right there, it’s not what you think. Usually guised as a makeup tutorial, Sailor J puts together a satirical manifesto as she openly mocks archaic views about women and ignites a conversation about intersectional feminism through an overly familiar format. “If it rubs off on anything…they’re going to know you’re a witch,” she exclaims to the viewer while buffing foundation across her cheeks.
But, she has something else to say.
The video, just under five minutes, takes you through the steps any beauty guru would. She glenty swipes a light champagne-colored eyeshadow across her lids, but she’s using the gesture to challenge the false perception that women wear makeup for some ulterior motive—to please or attract the opposite sex. In the same vein, How to have Bedroom Eyes takes us through a similar formula. She talks about shading and blending—but it’s more than just creating depth by smudging a dark shade of eyeshadow across the curve of your brow. Whether she’s talking about contouring or criticizing some women’s need to put down other women, Sailor J is combining satire and very real, relevant conversations on an often quiet side of the platform.
Beyond social commentary, tackling political conversations on Youtube can be just as difficult as in the classroom or at work and is something that we seldom see in the beauty and lifestyle corner of YouTube . She caught the attention of sources like Allure when she put out a video titled How To Do Thanksgiving Makeup That Has Nothing To Do With The 566 Federally Recognized Tribes. While writing #NODAPL across her cheeks and mocking Disney’s Pocahontas, Sailor J points out a disturbing trend in “native-inspired looks” that pollute Youtube and social media each holiday season, using makeup as a form of appropriation. “It’s all about your (the white, female content creator’s) convenience, not the wellbeing of a traumatized nation of people.” It’s a conversation that we’ve been been having, but her utilization of the same platform as a direct combatant to the conflict is ingenious.
Sailor J says what we all want to say, what we need to say. She’s gritty, even giving this gamer’s salty vocabulary a run for its money, but she’s right. Content creators, regardless of medium, have the ability to use their platform to build on ideas. From her makeup tutorials to her book reviews, Sailor J is a refreshing light coming from a void where we need better representation and smarter conversations. Makeup can be makeup, there doesn’t need to be a deeper meaning behind which color you choose to blend into the crease of your eyelid, but seeing Sailor J utilize that not-so-basic gesture and turn it into critical commentary on society is something that we need more of. Even shown through the lens of satire, these faux-lifestyle guides and tutorials aren’t as jocular as they may seem, because, rather than mocking the genre, Sailor J is leading an attack on objectification and discrimination. While you might pull a spit-take or two at her jabs and jokes, she truly is, in her own way, guiding us to live a better lifestyle: one where we’re loud and counter the toxic perceptions that we face each day.
Going into my second Con as both an attendee and a copywriter, I was incredibly excited to attend the panel “¿Como Se Dice ‘Nerd’?” Last year, this panel was without a doubt one of the highlights of my entire convention experience, and this year proved to be no different. Moderated by Sylvia Artiga, a writer and the creator and manager of ¿Cómo Se Dice Nerd?, an online spaced dedicated to celebrating Latinx nerds and their contribution to art, music, and pop culture, the panel explored the fraught yet joyous intersection of Latinidad and geekdom. Artiga’s fellow panelists included Tristan J. Tarwater, a prolific comic and fantasy writer, Isabel Ann Castro, an illustrator who acts as co-founder and art director for St. Sucia, an international Latinx art and literature zine, and organizer for the San Anto Zine Fest, and Joamette Gil, an illustrator, cartoonist, curator, podcaster and publisher.
Image Description: Panelists speak at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel was guided by a variety of questions surrounding creativity, community, and identity. How does language, nationality, race, and history influence the way Latinx nerds interact with fandoms, hobbies, and geekery in general? What are some of the works or places that make Latinx nerds feel welcome and represented and what feels isolating? How can geeky interests be used to confront issues of colorism, colonialism, and culture clashes in the Latinx community?
The beginning of the panel focused on introducing the panelists, a diverse group of self-identifying Latinx nerds from a wide variety of backgrounds. The panelists immediately reflected on the difficulty of the time in which the panel was taking place. This year, the convention took place during the utter devastation of Hurricane Maria, and the ensuing governmental and aid response (or lack thereof). Artiga and her fellow panelists noted that it was a “heavy time” for the Latinx community, and that GeekGirlCon provided an opportunity for those carrying so much stress and heartache to still recognize how much they simultaneously deserve joy and fun.
The panelists then highlighted some of the ways in which their geekery interacted – and often clashed – with their Latinx identity growing up. As fledgling nerds within a Latinx community, the touchstones of nerd culture that they loved were often seen as “American” (read: white), leaving the panelists in a difficult position in which “American-ness” was both venerated and discouraged. As Tarwater pointed out, “the whiter you acted, the better you could do,” highlighting pressure from within the Latinx community to comply with the forces of assimilation in order to get by. Artiga underscored this point, noting that there is a “painful and complicated narrative of passing into ‘Americanness.’” Ultimately, many of the lessons that the panelists absorbed growing up played into the false narrative that if marginalized people play by the rules of assimilation they will succeed and be accepted. Part of their individual and collective activism lies in recognizing the damage of this narrative, making sure that the Latinx community knows that it doesn’t “have to play the game anymore,” and creating new spaces for Latinx people to thrive without having to adhere to the strictures of a white, capitalistic, colonialist society.
In order to create these spaces, the panelists spoke about the crucial importance of the internet as a tool for communicating, collaborating, sharing work, finding your voice, finding an audience, and, ultimately, expressing yourself independently and authentically. In this way, Latinx creators can push for their own representation, creating media that speaks to their experiences far more directly than anything in the mainstream. The internet also tends to have a snowball effect, creating large-scale change out of small-scale projects and mobilizing people around common goals and experiences. To this end, the panelists highlighted the hashtag #latinxscreate, which provides one such space to share and celebrate Latinx work that is also inclusive of the Black community.
Image Description: Audience members at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel moved on to a discussion of the challenges facing Latinx nerds and how to face them. The panelists noted how much guilt can be involved in the process of creation for Latinx individuals – a sense that pursuing their passions means betraying both their community and their ancestors. They reflected on the importance of being self-centered rather than selfish, of paying attention to what you are and what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt others. They spoke of the fact that guilt will inevitably crop up, but alongside it there must be space for a reclamation of happiness and joy, and a recognition that incredible suffering has occurred in the hopes of building a better future.
The panelists then offered a few examples of great representation of Latinx identity within mainstream media, such as characters from “Jane the Virgin” and Cisco from “The Flash,” as well as the re-vamped America comics from Marvel. Alongside these positive representations, the panelists also expressed uncertainty about Claire Temple from “Luke Cage” and frustration over the fact that white brunette actors are often substituted for Latinx characters and that Afro-Latinx women are usually cast as Black characters. Because of the disappointing nature of so much media representation of Latinx identity, many of the panelists spoke about purposefully avoiding content that promises Latinx characters in the understandable fear that they won’t deliver. The representation that is necessary is of Latinx characters as authentic, well-rounded, diverse people – a low bar, but one that mainstream media all too often fails to meet.
Image Description: Panelists speak at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel concluded with a question and answer period. One attendee reflected on the fact that too many Latinx characters are written by white people and the result is almost uniformly terrible. They wondered where consumers should be looking right now to nurture Latinx creators. In response, the panelists pointed to the aforementioned #latinxscreate hashtag along with the #comesedicenerd hashtag as valuable resources, as well as the power of writing and creating for yourself. They noted that it’s important for Latinx creators to allow themselves space to fail and get it wrong, but that putting their work out their is too important to stay silent out of fear.
Another attendee asked about Latinx-owned businesses to support, to which the panelists noted that many creators at the Con itself were incredible and more than worthy of support. They also highlighted zine fests, creator Patreon pages, and the importance of supporting friends and utilizing community resources, as well as prioritizing money to support independent creators of color. One of the final questions centered around “passing privilege” as a light-skinned Latinx person, and wondered how they could interact within Latinx spaces without bulldozing and taking advantage of their privilege. In response, Artiga noted that “there is space for people to be the scaffolding and make the space” for others to speak, to provide crucial behind-the-scenes support and signal boosting and to use privilege and the energy that privilege provides to call out racism and prejudice where those with less privilege might feel unable to. Ultimately, the panelists also emphasized the fact that light-skinned Latinxs are “part of the story too,” and have an importance space within the larger fight for greater representation of the incredibly diverse Latinx community.
This panel was thought-provoking, beautiful, and an important reminder of the power that creators have when nurtured by an inclusive and committed community. Here’s hoping that the panel will be back to provide additional insight and inspiration at this year’s Con!
(Also, a reminder that, more than three months after Hurricane Maria, nearly half of Puerto Rico’s residents still do not have power and the devastation from the hurricane (and the lack of an adequate governmental response) means that attention and support is as necessary as ever. Alongside supporting Puerto Rican creators, please consider checking out the following links and directly contributing to disaster relief efforts:)
I have a confession to make: I haven’t been a “Riverdale” fan for very long. I’m sad to say that I never read the Archie comics growing up, and my major investment in the Riverdale universe pre-CW adaptation was an extreme love for “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and a sneaking suspicion that Betty and Veronica should almost definitely be the major romantic pairing in the series.
When the TV series debuted in January, though, my ignorance quickly turned to true love. With my newfound enthusiasm and rookie knowledge securely in place, I arrived at GeekGirlCon ‘17 convinced that the panel The Road to Riverdale: A Look at the Evolution of Archie and the Gang was going to be a joyful, geeky celebration of all things Riverdale, and it did not disappoint.
Source: Giphy. Description: Betty Cooper clasping her hands together and looking excited.
Moderated by Mary Gallacher, panelists Mia Gipson, Devi Sword, and Jeremy Huff explored not only their own hopes, ships, and disappointments surrounding the show itself, but delved into the history of the Archie comics as well.
They described how the characters of Archie and his friends have been staples of pop culture for 75 years, encompassing multiple comic and television spin-offs and becoming a sprawling and beloved franchise. After each of the panelists spoke about their own journey with the Archie comics, and their arrival at “Riverdale,” they explored the way that Archie characters have populated other films, television shows, and spin-off series, such as the Melissa Joan Hart “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” series and the “Josie and the Pussycats Movie.” In fact, all the major characters from the Riverdale universe have been given comic spin-offs of their own, leading to a rich and highly populated universe. As part of this background, the panelists highlighted a YouTube video from NerdSync called “The Bizarre Origin and History of Archie: From Comics to Riverdale Explained!” This video gives a fascinating glimpse of how such an iconic franchise has expanded and evolved over its long history.
After providing background to the series, the panelists were able to fully delve into their love for “Riverdale,” pointing of the show’s highlights, exploring concerns and critiques, and expressing their hopes for the series as it continues.
Though many aspects of the show were enthusiastically celebrated in the panel, a couple specifically stood out. One was the level of diversity in “Riverdale.” While the show has a long way to go to provide adequate representation for many identities, its portrayal of Veronica as a latinx character and the strength of the characters Josie, Valerie, and Melody are highlights that point to where the series could go in terms of greater representation in the future.
The panelists also agreed that the moment when Alice Cooper stands up to Hal over what has happened to Polly (only vague spoilers here!) felt absolutely triumphant, especially given the fact that so many parents on the show are problematic to say the least.
Concerns and Critiques
One common criticism of the show is that it diverges from the comics. The panelists, however, believe that while the show has put its own signature spin on the original stories and characters, it retains the spirit of the Archie universe, and, moreover, was never meant to feel exactly like the original. Part of what makes it so compelling, after all, is its darker tone and more mature themes, capturing the concerns of its teenage-and-beyond audience.
On the other hand, a critique that is merited is the major, deeply unfortunate change in the Ms. Grundy storyline. This problematic storyline proved controversial for fans and represented a huge overhaul – and, for many, a betrayal – of Ms. Grundy’s character. The panelists pointed out that they were at least satisfied that none of the characters treated the predatory relationship between Ms. Grundy and Archie as though it was okay or acceptable.
Source: Giphy. Description: The character Ms. Grundy looks up with a sad expression on her face as she plays the cello.
Another major controversy is the portrayal of Jughead’s sexuality. In the comics, Jughead’s sexuality has been portrayed in various ways, but as of 2016 his asexuality has been part of the canon. The show, however, has not identified Jughead as asexual, and his relationship with Betty has caused fan concern that this aspect of his identity won’t be addressed at all, leading to even further disappointment and a near-total lack of representation for the ace and aro community in TV and media. The panelists agree that the handling of Jughead’s sexuality has been disappointing, but notes that there may be cause to hope. After all, long-term the show could be providing representation of ace people who have relationships if Jughead is identified as asexual, or even that this characterization of Jughead could be demisexual rather than asexual.
Source: Giphy. Description: The characters Betty and Jughead kiss.
At the time of the panel, the second series was about to premiere in only 10 days, and the panelists were feverishly excited about what they were looking forward to seeing as the upcoming season, as well as hopes for the show’s future more broadly.
Among these hopes and expectations was more representation for Josie and the Pussycats, since Josie, Valerie, and Melody are often under-utilized characters, a more in-depth exploration of Moose’s sexuality, an appearance by Jughead’s little sister Jellybean, more screen time for Kevin, and a bigger glimpse at Riverdale’s Southside.
Apart from their hopes for the series itself, the panelists were all deeply excited about the upcoming adaptation of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Though this new show means that the character of Sabrina most likely won’t be a regular in “Riverdale,” the panelists were hopeful that this series might provide representation for paganism or wicca.
After the bulk of the panel, the panelists opened up the discussion to the audience, welcoming a variety of questions from fellow enthusiastic “Riverdale” fans. One audience member spoke about the Ms. Grundy storyline and how it furthered the problematic trope of predatory student-teacher relationships in TV (such as the uncomfortable love story between Aria and her English teacher Ezra on “Pretty Little Liars.”) Another question revolved around what forms of diversity the panelists would love to see represented in “Riverdale,” especially representation of trans and nonbinary characters. Another audience member wondered hopefully if the CW might legitimize the love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica as a polyamorous relationship. Lastly, the problem of queer-baiting in “Riverdale” was addressed, with an audience member hoping for more actual queer femme representation and a move away from this destructive trope, which has especially been present in the relationship between Betty and Veronica.
With the show about to wrap up its second season in January, and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” on its way, this panel couldn’t have come at a better time and served as a fun-filled, hilarious, and thoughtful reminder of all the reasons that so many of us have fallen hard for “Riverdale,” whether we’ve read Archie comics our whole lives or – ahem – only began our infatuation a few months ago.
Source: Giphy. Description: The character Cheryl dancing in her cheerleading uniform.
Let me get the obvious out of the way first: I’m a fan of G. Willow Wilson’s work. Her storytelling finesse, and experiences as being at the intersection of several identities speaks to me. I recently saw her in conversation with KUOW’s Jamala Henderson as part of Humanities Washington’s speaker series, talking about identity, the comics industry, and of course, Ms. Marvel. Part of the flyer for the event introduced Willow (the G is silent) thusly: G. Willow Wilson lies at the epicenter of multiple fault lines of American identity.
Resuming our GeekGirlCon staff interview series, we have Activities Manager Colleen O’Holleran in the hotseat this month! Colleen has a lot of thoughts about the horror genre, so if you want recommendations for TV, movies, and books, read on!
Not going to lie, when I first read the description for Refill Your Hearts: Fandom Librarians Recommend Stories to Get You Through the Bad Times, I was a little skeptical. The panel was meant to be a group of fannish librarians providing personalized reading and viewing recommendations for the audience. According to the description, they would focus on uplifting fanfiction, online and self-published fiction, webcomics, tv shows, movies, and other media created by and centered on women; queer, trans-, and nonbinary people; people of color; neurodiverse people; and other marginalized groups. As someone who has read fanfiction for over sixteen years, I was specifically doubtful that the panelists would have read enough fanfiction in enough fandoms to make useful recommendations to the audience. I did love the idea that they might have a couple story suggestions that would fit my preferences, though, and I wanted to see how the panel would play out, so I gave it a try.
As a pop-culture geek, I’m all about the suspension of disbelief. Give me mythical creatures, interdimensional travel, and fireball explosions in the vacuum of space—I prefer creativity to realism. But I also enjoy digging into whether or not fictional realities play by their own rules, and GeekGirlCon ‘17’s “The Science of Wonder Woman” panel did not disappoint.
“The Science of Wonder Woman” was a fantastic discussion of the Wonder Woman film from a scientific perspective. The panelists included astronomer and physics professor Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, forensic chemist and GGC DIY Science Zone project manager Dr. Raychelle Burke, and science writer R.K. Pendergrass.