An Open Letter to Fanboys

Dear Fanboys,

I know you’re upset over the apparent “robbery” of “your” characters: the loss of your Doctors and Thors to women, your white Peter Parker “usurped” by Afro-Hispanic Miles Morales, your straight Hal Jordan “taken over” by queer Alan Parker, your blonde Captain Marvel flying out so Pakistani Muslim Khamala Khan can soar in.

How dare they touch your precious characters, you cry. And all in the name of something as ridiculous as “politically correct” culture.

You cry out to the geekdom gods: “Why have you forsaken me?”

Oh, my dears.

Just stop.

Seriously.

 

This is exactly what you sound like. Do you really want to be Dudley Dursley?

 

Enough with the cries of “P.C. culture is ruining geekdom” and “the canon says this character has to be THIS way,” as if those characters don’t already break accepted laws of physics and science.

 

If a time-traveling, regenerating alien hanging out with their past form makes more sense to you than that same alien regenerating into a woman, you’re being a little choosy with how you apply your logic.

You’re not being persecuted. You’re not losing your stories.

What you’re experiencing is a thing called “change.”

The world and culture are shifting around you. And as such, the representation of that world is going to change.

Straight, cis, able-bodied, white men aren’t the only people calling all of the shots anymore. Not only are more women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and disabled people finally getting the right to tell their stories; they have also been reading, watching, and loving the same characters and worlds you have.

All we are asking is that those heroes look like us once in a while.

But why not make an original character, though, you ask. Why must you “steal” one of ours? Go get your own, you demand!

Ah, yes, why didn’t we think of that? It’s easy, right? After all, your characters seemed to spring up out of nowhere with such frequency, we should be able to do the same.

If only it were the case that movies and shows with diverse casts of characters made by people who aren’t straight, male, or white didn’t take longer to make because producers don’t trust the characters will be likeable or even “articulate.” If only these projects weren’t desperately underfunded to the point that the production companies attempt to bribe their creators with more money if they just cast a white lead. 

Not to mention the frequency with which these beloved, well-rounded shows with this type of casting are dropped.

 

I guess they gotta make way for more episodes of Iron Fist, The Ranch, and whatever else Adam Sandler can cough up.

 

Why aren’t more women and people of color trying to tell their own stories, you ask. Why aren’t they working hard to get in the director’s seat or behind the writing desk?

Here’s the short answer: They are.

They’re working their asses off.

They’re also being met with microagressions like “I’m pleasantly surprised you knew what you were doing,” are blamed for a variety of minor issues for the sake of being a “minority,” and fearing that if they drop any “ethnic” dialogue or bring up too many “issues,” they’ll lose the project for good.

 

Not to mention the legitimate and very threatening harassment they receive online for critiquing video games while having vaginas and posting selfies with their fellow artists. 

These add up real quick and make pursuing a passion that much more exhausting and even dangerous. And it takes a special kind of strength to be willing to pursue what you love when all of that is coming at you every day.

When we get excited over a female Doctor, a woman of color being the main character in the new Star Trek, and actual Muslim women writing the story of an actual Muslim superhero, it’s not because we want to “steal” your characters for the sake of being “P.C.” We are excited, because just like you got David Tennant and 11 other men as the Doctor, and you had Captains Kirk and Picard (take your pick), we get Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and First Officer Burnham. We get people who are like us telling stories about heroes who are like us. We have icons to admire and exonerate, whom we aspire to be one day, just as you always have.

 

It looks like a sun is collapsing behind her, and she’s still taking time to pose all stoically for the camera. How badass is that?!

 

When only one-third of speaking characters are female, despite the fact that women represent just over half the population in America, when just 28.3 percent of characters with dialogue are from non-white racial/ethnic groups, though such groups are nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, and when only two percent of speaking characters are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, we will line up in huge numbers for Wonder Woman’s release and binge watch The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, and Transparent.

When negative mass media portrayals of black men shape public views of and attitudes toward men of color, which can result in self-demoralization and a reduction of self-esteem for people of color and enable judges to hand out harsher sentences and the police to shoot indiscriminately, we will rejoice when Idris Elba heads The Dark Tower, John Boyega is a lead in Star Wars, and A Wrinkle in Time is driven by Storm Reid with Ava Duvernay at the helm.

So instead of complaining, please support us. We have good stories to tell. Heck, we even have universal stories to share, believe it or not.

Support us because you want more people to love fandom and geek culture.

Support us because stories are sacred and affect all of us in sacred ways.

Support us because we’re all a bunch of geeks who are into some crazy, weird, phenomenal stories, so we might as well enjoy them together while the rest of the world casts their judgmental looks upon our weirdness.

Geeking Out is Hard to Do

Melanie Biehle

As of late, fulfilling the “geeking out” part of my blog title has been difficult.

I haven’t been able to buy comic books since I can barely afford rent and food. Instead of re-reading Harry Potter, I’m reading The Hate U Give and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to wake up to the issues people of color in our country face. I also can’t binge-watch anything because I gave up Netflix for Lent, and in turn, they’re getting rid of Buffy on April 1st (seriously, God, what’s the deal with that?).

On the surface, the geeking out isn’t happening. But at the same time, it’s alive and well.

I am reading, analyzing, and studying the books on my Black Lives Matter reading list in order to better understand the pain, hope, and calls to action in these stories.

I am engaging in politics by studying legislation and political processes, and calling my representatives to attempt to engage in the conversation with them, even though this isn’t going so well with my current house rep…

I watch news stories, read commentaries, and try my best to have conversations about these passions without attempting to correct everyone on why they’re wrong.

This is where things get difficult…

Some might think calling this “geeking out” minimizes the important work being done in these movements and makes it sound more like a hobby of mine than an actual struggle in which to engage.

But it’s the best term I can think of to describe how passionate I am about engaging with this, to be as devoted as I am to my these phenomenal works of human effort in ways similar to and more dynamic than the devotion I show to most favorite and fandoms.

These are human stories and lives, and they deserve my and our fullest attention and devotion.

So geek out over politics if it makes you engage in them with thought and articulation. Geek out over social justice if it moves you into solidarity and alliances with people who want the same rights as the most privileged in our society. Talk with people about how to rewrite the damaging narratives in our society into a grand reality in which we see each other as equals and embrace our differences as things to be celebrated, not shunned.

Geek out by writing your stories of worlds only you could dream so we can see the beauty in our own world. Geek out by writing your own story to show others they do not struggle and yearn alone. Geek out by creating art which inspires us to be and do better, to give us comfort and peace in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, to make us remember how good laughter and tears are for our souls, to put us inside the skin of another and see the world through their eyes and gain a little empathy.

Geek on, friends. We need this passion not only to survive, but to thrive.

Fangirl Theology: 7 Theological Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This is a continuation of my Fangirl Theology series and is my third post on the topic, following Doctor Who, the Church, and My Messiah Complex and When All Saint’s Day Meets Election Day (and Fandom). This was originally conceived as a three-part series, but I’m planning to extend it a bit longer. So, if you have any favorite fangirl/fanboy topics you wish to see theologically deconstructed, please comment at the bottom! Thanks for reading!

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Maybe you’re devastated by all this division in our country. Maybe you need some good ol’ female empowerment. Or maybe you’re really curious as to why this post even makes the connections between Buffy and Christian theology.

Regardless of why you’re here, I hope this gives you hope and reminds you that you can slay with the best of them!

Here are 7 theological lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT FINISHED THE SERIES, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

7. We are stronger together. 

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David had Jonathan, Naomi had Ruth, the disciples had Jesus and each other, Paul had the apostles and leaders of the churches (although he was still pretty abrasive with them). The Scriptures rarely have anyone going it alone, because the writers of these stories knew the truth of these ancient words: “It is not good for [people] to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) In the same way, Buffy has the love and support of her friends and family. Even when she feels isolated because of her Slayer duties, she never has to live out her calling entirely alone. In fact, there are times when having her support group saves her life, as is the case in Season Four when she and her friends merge their psyches together to bring down an otherwise unbeatable enemy.

6. Humans are both badass and flawed.

Shangel’s Reviews and US Weekly

I’m specifically focusing on female characters because of the emphasis on female empowerment throughout the course of the show. Buffy can defeat an armada of vampires single-handed, but sometimes she lets that get to her head and doesn’t listen to others when it comes to dealing with life. Willow is kind and gentle but is willing to wipe peoples’ memories so she doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of her actions towards them. Faith is strong and fierce but doesn’t always have the best moral compass. Cordelia is prissy and sassy with the heart of a fighter. These women are as human and flawed as any male, and women need to be reminded that they too are made in God’s divine image and are still desperately human. In the Bible, Sarah manipulated a patriarchal system to get a son out of her maidservant, then proceeded to treat her like garbage. Still, she is considered the matriarch of the Hebrew line. Mary Magdalene had actual demons which required exorcism, and she was the first person to witness Jesus’ resurrection. Just like the women in Buffy, women in the Bible are complex and simple, holy and human.

5. Darkness will not overcome the light, although it can make the light harder to notice at times.

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Pinterest

The Israelites lived through generations of exile and homecoming, which caused significant trauma and pain, along with great perseverance and hope. The Romans crucified Jesus, who embodied hope and restoration, but the grave could not contain him. Buffy and her gang encounter powerful forces of darkness in their adventures together, in the form of Big Bads, unexpected and senseless deaths, and broken relationships. But even though the monsters threaten to overtake them, the power to keep them at bay abounds in equal, if not greater, measure within them.

4. Repentance and forgiveness are difficult and possible, even in the worst of people and the worst of situations. 

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Once More with Extreme Prejudice

Joseph’s brothers threw him in a well and sold him into slavery out of jealousy. After enduring significant hardships, rising to power in Egypt, and meeting with his brothers again (while also tormenting them), Joseph forgives and finds restored relationship with his family. Before he was Paul, Saul of Tarsus persecuted and killed Christians with joy. After his conversion, Paul became Christianity’s greatest champion. Buffy and her friends exhibit this similar struggles with repentance and forgiveness. Buffy’s friends and lovers hurt her in deep ways, and it takes significant time and personal healing for her to forgive them. After Willow, in her “Dark” form, kills someone and threatens to destroy the world, she does the hard work of both accepting and mastering her darkness, and her friends do this work with her. In these stories, repentance is not easy, and forgiveness is not cheap, but they are both possible.

3. Power should be shared, not hoarded. 

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Buzzfeed

Buffy is a unique Slayer in that she insists on surrounding herself with friends and allies who assist her in her duties. While past Slayers lived out their callings in isolation, Buffy shares her journey and calling with others. This idea of fully sharing power comes to its fulfillment at the conclusion of the series. In the series finale, Willow unleashes the power from a magical scythe to empower all potential Slayers so that Buffy is no longer alone in her mission. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit touched all those gathered at the Temple in order to imbue them with the power to share the Gospel by giving them the ability to speak different languages. Power is not something to be held by one but to be shared by many. Only in sharing power can God’s love and kingdom be made manifest in a diverse world.

2. Death affects every single one of us, but it is not the final word. 

Action Flick Chick and Wicked Horror

The Jewish culture of Israel dies, is exiled, and returns, only for this cycle to resume a few hundred years later. Jesus dies and walks out of the grave. Giles loses Jenny, Buffy loses her mother, and Willow loses Tara. Death comes for every single one of us and all of the ones we love. It unites us in our humanity, but it is never the last word. Resurrection occurs in biblical tales and in Buffy’s stories. New loves come, lives continue in new and altered ways, and the world keeps turning. These characters remind us to deal with death in its enormity, grieve well, and learn somehow to move on into a new life.

1. Life is hard, painful, and beautiful.

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Buffy and the gang endure immense hardships in their work together, but they still find reasons to keep fighting the good fight. Buffy encourages her sister to “be brave [and] live” in this hard life. Then, she must live into the reality of her own words after her friends resurrect her, and she must endure the hells of human life after respite in heaven. It is only after a long, intense, and difficult season that she finds something worth living for again. Job struggles through his losses and wonders what the point of life and living is, and even after God appears to him in a whirlwind, his questions are not all answered. However, he gains a new perspective and begins a new life in light of these revelations. There is no guarantee that life will be easy, and sometimes, it barely feels worth the trouble, but deep within the crevices, there is beauty, and it is worth pursuing.

What theological insights resonated most with you? Which ones did I miss? As a part of my Fangirl Theology series, please comment with your own theological insights into your favorite fandoms, or any fandoms you might want to discuss further!

When All Saint’s Day Meets Election Day (and Fandom)

On Sunday, I celebrated All Saint’s Day at my Episcopal Church with our Sunday School students. We played a game called “Musical Saints,” a variation on musical chairs in which each chair is labeled with the name of a saint, and the students pick the chair of the correct saint after receiving a clue.

In my preparation for this game, I discovered that the Episcopalians have a plethora of saints. Everyone from Mary Magdalene to Francis of Assisi is represented, and some modern heroes like Sojourner Truth, Florence Nightingale, Johann Sebastian Bach, and C.S. Lewis also qualify as saints. The ancient, ascetic people were obvious choices to the children and assisting adults, but to the modern, “secular” saints, they asked, “Why are these people included?”

I did not wonder why Bach and Truth were in the same league as Francis and Mary. In social reform, music, literature, education, ministry, and ascetic life, each saint reflected the light of God in the world. They brought to focus something of God’s character previously hidden. They noticed God in places others had looked right through.

Why wouldn’t they be considered saints?

Somehow, we’ve accepted the idea that being a “religious” person, like a minister or an ascetic, is the only worthy vocation to qualify for sainthood.

But some of the saints that have influenced me are not overtly religious.

Some of them are even fictional.

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Between Tuesday and Wednesday, I ended up calling on a few of my favorite fictional saints.

On Tuesday evening, after a long day which involved a doctor’s appointment, working, and voting, I arrived home to watch some Doctor Who (Season Nine) while I ate dinner.

As fate would have it, I found myself on The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion storyline.

The Doctor made his passionate speech, calling out two rivaling species and begging them to make peace with each other. As he spoke, I thought about my neighbor who strongly supported the candidate I feared. I wondered how radical, and maybe even necessary, it would be to take the Doctor’s words and put them into action.

{Potential spoiler graphic for Season 9 of Doctor Who below}

INVERSION OF THE ZYGONS (By Peter Harness and Steven Moffat)

The election ran its course, but I slept through a good portion of it. After hearing the outcome upon awakening, I got myself out of bed to make my daily cup of tea. This was my mug of choice.

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After finishing my breakfast, I sipped tea out of this mug while my roommate and I talked about this new territory our nation is entering. As I sipped, I remembered Harry Potter’s various interactions with people intolerant of difference, and I reminded myself of the importance of being with people who are afraid.

I got through my commute and spent 6 hours at my secretary job. When I left, I changed into street clothes before heading to choir practice, which included one of my favorite T-shirts.

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I wear this shirt on days I need “Slayer-strength” to get through the day, and on this day, I needed all the strength I could get. So before I put it on, I read the names and remembered the characters who bore them. I reflected on all their beauties, imperfections, strengths, flaws, victories, losses, pains and gains, and I carried them with me throughout the rest of the day.

In those two days, I carried the stories of the Doctor, Harry Potter, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my heart and on my body. The tokens I carried did not endow me with powers like super-strength or magical ability, but they reminded me of the adventures the characters went through, the trials they faced, and the friends they found in enemies. In remembering their stories, I found peace that we will work through whatever we face.

I regard these characters as saints, because saints are the ones whose stories we tell to find the strength to keep going.

This is why saints, whether real or fictional, are so important. We need Mary and the disciples, the Doctor and his companions, Francis and Clare, Harry and his friends, Absalom Jones and Sojourner Truth, Buffy and the Scoobies, and many others to remind us of the divine image and humanity we carry.

The Doctor, an alien Time Lord who travels through space and time, acts on his Messiah/God-complex in harmful ways then finds redemption. He is beloved and feared by all who meet him. He’s not sure if he’s a “good man,” and he wonders whether it’s worth winning a battle at the cost of losing a life. He is a man who struggles with the laws he is bound to obey, and every now and then he breaks them. He is a traditionalist who pushes the bar, and sometimes, he pushes a bit too far.

He is a saint to all who have struggled with their own desires to fix and control everything. His story reminds us of the importance of presence, of doing what we can, and knowing how to repent when we have gone too far.

Harry Potter is a moody teenager with a heart of gold, a boy who is loyal to his friends and willing to show compassion and mercy to his enemies. From a young age, he could conjure a Patronus, a charm produced from happy memories, despite all the traumas he faced. He looked at the magical world with fresh and wondrous eyes, and he was absent-minded and easily confused when others seemed to understand everything.

He is the saint to all struggling with deep sadness and pain, and to those whom Death has touched in significant ways. His story reminds us to draw out joy in the midst of pain, to learn to live life in such a way that Death can be greeted like an old friend, and the absolute necessity of never going it alone, even when doing so can keep others safe.

Buffy is a fighter and leader who loves clothes, dancing, make-up, and kicking ass for comfort food. She is an empowered woman who takes crap from no one. She pushes herself away from others, but they bring her back to them. She jumps into the action and asks questions later, but she takes responsibility for her choices when they are less than agreeable. She falls in love, gets hurt, and does it all over again. She listens and learns from and with others, fights to keep her family and friends safe, and is willing to show mercy and compassion when people repent.

She is a saint to all who are seen as less than capable, who have put their trust in others only to be hurt and betrayed, and to those who struggle to let others in. Her story reminds us of the strength and power we carry within us, the need to share that power with all, and the importance of friendship.

Saints are those very human people who teach us to look into life’s darkness and proclaim God’s love triumphant in the end. The Doctor, Harry, Buffy, and many more characters, in their divine humanity, proclaim light in the midst of darkness and show us how to keep seeing this light when everything tries to snuff it out.

I’m thankful that we remembered All Saint’s Day on the Sunday before Election Day. In learning the stories of the saints, we remember the saints in our own lives, both real and imaginary. In turn, those saints empower us to move forward when life as we know it merges into a path of change and uncertainty. If they could do it, so can we.

So in the midst of division, fear, hatred, and confusion, let us look to our saints. Let us embrace their humanity and prophetic witness in difficult times. Let us learn from them, not to become “perfect,” but to become more aware of God’s presence in new ways.

We are all stories in the end. Together, let’s make them good ones for those who come after us.

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Who are your saints? What parts of their stories invite you to make it part of your story? What encouragement do they offer you in times of change?