Buffy bullying incident follow-up: gender and character bashing

I’m on my flight back to New York (pro tip: American Airlines may have in-flight Internet, but it doesn’t have power outlets in coach), and thought I’d take time that’s unlikely to be productive in any other way to respond and follow up on the Buffy singalong situation of the other day.

First, I don’t care if you like Dawn or not. No, really. I’m pretty ambivalent about her myself. And, I recognize that being late to the fandom (that’s one of the things my essay in Whedonistas is about) means that I experienced the show differently — I wasn’t waiting a week between episodes, and I wasn’t in that discussion hothouse that happens when shows are aired for the first time.

I’m actually totally okay with the fact that many, possibly even most, of the commenters on my first post about this got (and gosh, there sure were a lot of you — this blog had previously gotten about 1,000 hits on its busiest day; thanks to Whedonesque it was over 5,500) side-tracked on how they feel about Dawn. I actually often like digressive conversations, and it was interesting.

However, my post really, really wasn’t about Dawn, and it felt like a lot of people missed that. It was about someone who may well have fit the legal definition of a child being bullied by a room full of adults because she stuck up for a character based both around her own affection for that character and the wishes of the show’s creator. This wasn’t, despite the fact that I am someone who often feels the need to defend the honor and memory of characters, about bullying Dawn. This was about bullying a fan, in the room, who was at a power disadvantage to those doing that bullying.

Character hate and character bashing can be weird. We get it a lot in Doctor Who and Torchwood fandom too, where, I suspect, the most common targets are Rose (DW) and Gwen (TW).

What’s character bashing? Lots of things qualify, but I can think of two easy, obvious and common examples: when fans, for no narrative reason, hold characters to a higher standard than other characters with comparable storytelling purposes; and when characters are portrayed in transformative work (e.g., fanfiction) in a way that exaggerates their perceived negative qualities in a way that’s aggressive, punishing, shaming and non-satirical (i.e., a character who has an extramarital affair appears in fanfiction as sleeping with a different person every night, being abusive to their spouse, and being relentlessly mocked for their sexual behavior by their colleagues in a story with A- and B- plots related to none of these things. It’s just the bullying of a fictional character as filler).

Character bashing is one of those things I really don’t get, and I don’t really study it, and so hesitate to make any sweeping conclusions about it. Certainly, there’s got to be a certain level of catharsis in getting out one’s irritation about a character that drives you mad (I, certainly, am not above shouting at the TV when I find Connor particularly irritating on Angel — I loathe that character, and often resented having to watch him, even as his presence was necessary to facilitate what’s one of my favorite arcs in all of television).

But one thing I have noticed is the way in which gender tends to be central to character bashing and the way in which character bashing often seems to provide a framework for bullying (i.e., of other fans who disagree), or, somewhat more subtly, a surrogate target for bullying.

Now, you’d think I could get behind at least the surrogate target thing. That at least prevents real people from getting bullied, right? Wrong. When people are shouting out things like “I hope you get raped” at group screening events (something I’ve now heard happens at some OMWF screenings, but at least did not happen at the one I reported on), that has an impact on real people. As does when female characters are vilified for being sexual, flawed, attractive, popular and/or successful. Or, when male characters are aggressively and relentlessly ridiculed for their performance (or rather non-performance) of masculinity.

So did gender come into play with what happened at the OMWF singalong at Gallifrey One? You bet. And it was as vivid and fascinating as it was awful.

The people yelling “Shut up, Dawn!” which is what started the whole thing, seemed to be mostly women. Women showing disdain for a young female character for speaking. And what was Dawn saying? Oh, just the truth that revealed the awful crap that Willow was doing to Tara at that point in the narrative. So what was that about? Willow/Tara love? Hatred of a snitch? Contempt for Dawn indirectly calling Willow out on her bad and arguably bullying behavior? Or just resentment for another pretty girl the audience is supposed to have some modicum of sympathy for?

Meanwhile, the people who then started yelling, by insisting both the upset fan and Michelle Trachtenberg “toughen up,” at the girl who spoke up about the anti-Dawn outbursts, seemed to be mostly men.

At this point, a few people yelled out trying to get everyone to knock it off. Which is when the hostility at the young fan escalated (and again, let me remind you — very possibly underage and expressing the wishes of the show creator), and I shouted, “Stop bullying other fans.” That worked (to my relief and surprise), and to me seems to indicate that people knew they were behaving badly.

Which is why when I went up to the fan after the screening and saw her surrounded by several people (somewhere in the 6 – 10 range), I assumed they were there to offer her support or apologies. Nope, they (and again, here, mostly men) were explaining to her why they were correct both in silencing Dawn and in telling this fan that Dawn deserved this and that she is required to “toughen up.”

What was perhaps most remarkable here is that the fan continued at this point, not to defend herself, but to defend Dawn. This is stories mattering in action. There have been so many times in my life where I protected fictional people when I didn’t yet feel ready to openly protect myself. I don’t know this fan, or her internal framework, but I was moved by what seemed like an honorable defense of joy from the moment this mess started.

So let’s recap:

– Women bashed a female character for telling the truth;
– Men then enforced the ability of those women to do that and while mocking a young fan who may have been legally a child;
– Afterward, instead of going to see if the kid was all right (because this is our con, our fandom, our community — Gally is a small con (this is the first year it broke 2,000 people) with a legendarily family atmosphere), people went up to her to reinforce their perception that she and her feelings were wrong and used their status (age and gender) to do so.

After this experience, I think we perhaps need fewer OMWF singalongs and more group showings of “The Pack.”

And if you’re the fan whose defense of Dawn ultimately necessitated this post and the previous one on this subject? I’m so sorry. I’ve been the subject of big discussions on the Internet because I’ve had the audacity to stick up for people or express my opinion. It sucks, and it’s stressful, and the last thing I EVER wanted to do here is contribute to your bad day. Because I didn’t get to watch Buffy until I was 38, it didn’t really get a chance to change my life or make me brave. But among other things, I’m a woman who fights, and I am so glad this show and the community that should exist around it means so much to you. I hope this hasn’t put you off either Buffy fandom or the Whoniverse. Despite what happened on Saturday night, I promise you, most of us do believe that intellect and romance should trump brute force and cynicism.

Thank you for helping fight that fight.

ETA 2/23/2010: A few final thoughts about the discussion this has engendered.

55 thoughts on “Buffy bullying incident follow-up: gender and character bashing”

  1. That was a gorgeous and concise blog post. (and the part about watching “The Pack” totally made me laugh) It’s all kinds of disheartening when people take television they love to the extremes of putting other people down. This is especially ironic and tragic when it’s a show like Buffy, which prides itself in countercultural gender roles (specifically in regards to women) and a love for the misfits in society. I hope the girl who defended Dawn realizes that she was brave in doing so, and regardless of some inappropriate responses from some fans, most people in the Buffy fandom are supportive and wonderful. Or at least that’s what I’ve experienced.

    1. Thank you!

      I think Buffy does some great gender stuff with men too that isn’t just about critiquing male gender expectations but showing alternatives. Andrew’s arc particularly stands out to me in this regard, but there’s some interesting things going on around Spike and Wesley too. I’ve never really known what to make of Ethan Rayne though — that’s a character I really, really enjoy for the Giles backstory hints, but the degree of queering the villain is very murky for me. It feels reasonable in a literary way, and he reminds me of men I’ve known (just, you know, with extra chaos magick),but at the same time, as a queer person I’m a bit overwhelmed, and not in the good way, but some of the cliches in play there. It’s hard, of course, for me to know how he read when those episodes aired. It was such a different time on TV regarding sexuality and gender.

  2. Because I advised youth, I understand the power dynamic you are talking about. I’m pretty sure that the people who surrounded her weren’t conscious of what they were doing and I’m glad you’ve posted this. More people need to understand what is going on when they do this and why it’s even more wrong than if it were an age/gender peer.

    1. The people speaking to her afterward about her being wrong and their being right were being courteous in tone, so from the outside it seemed more condescending than threatening, and at least demonstrated some sort of effort, but I’ve been in that fan’s shoes, and it can be really scary, especially when you’re smaller than the other people involved and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end until you drop your own convictions.

      Thanks for reminding us all that sometimes we can perpetuate this stuff without being aware of it, and that’s why examination of this stuff can be useful as opposed to our shrugging it off and going “well, crap happens and life is cruel.”

  3. Thank you for writing about this and instead of extending this young girl’s discomfort let’s hope it lets her know that she is brave and to keep on being who she is despite the bullies. I can’t help but feel that amongst all those people that young girl is the one who truly gets and deserves the buffyverse. From their actions it seems like a lot of these people need to sit down and watch the shows again paying attention to some of the great ideas they contained.

  4. Thanks for writing about this. It’s terribly sad whenever bullying happens but even worse that the people doing the bullying totally contradicts the message of the show they purport to love: That young people, especially young women, do have a voice and a power that should be heard and supported, even if you don’t agree with it.

  5. What a great blog about an awful subject.

    I just don’t get it.

    I’ve been a massive Buffy fan ever since the show first aired and I never had a problem with Dawn. I thought she was an interesting dynamic to introduce to the show and I’ve always thought Michelle did a great job in playing her. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion but to actively hate the character to the extent of bullying a young fan who appreciates Dawn is utterly despicable behaviour and runs contrary to everything Buffy stands for. Joss would be disgusted.

    I’ve always wanted to go to a OMWF sing along. If this is what happens, then I’m not sure I want to anymore.

  6. 1.) People are entitled to their opinions whether or not somebody disagrees.

    2.) They are entitled to express such opinions, and express them as fact.

    3.) Being a minor doesn’t preclude you from having your feelings hurt.

    Hate to say it, but toughen up.

    1. 1.) People are entitled to their opinions whether or not someone disagrees, unless they are teenage girls who like Dawn, in which case it’s okay to shout them down.

      2.) People are entitled to express their opinions, unless they are teenage girls who like Dawn, in which case it’s okay to shout them down.

      3.) Being a minor does not preclude you from having your feelings hurt, and being an adult does not mean you should show basic courtesy towards other people, even when they are minors.

    2. You’re contradicting yourself:
      1.) People are entitled to their opinions whether or not somebody disagrees.
      The anti-Dawn crowd stated (shouted) an opinion, and then got mad that someone disagreed with them, and tried to silence that person because they wanted to not have there opinion challenged.

      Freedom of speech doesn’t make you immune from criticism. Me criticizing you’re opinion is not, me infringing on you’re freedom of speech, it’s me exercising mine. Opinions aren’t facts, even if you state them as facts.

      Seems like they need to take there own advice and “toughen up”. One girl stood up to a group of people who she disagreed with, but she’s the one that isn’t tough enough? And somehow her being silent would have proved she was tough? That the opposite of what free speech is.

  7. I found this via Wheadonesque, but I’ve read your (utterly smoking hot) Torchwood fanfic previously. I can’t imagine why adults (or indeed anyone) would behave in such a manner. Your comment above about the behaviour of the ‘fans’ afterwards is spot on. If anything that is more bullying than shouting at her, because they would argue that they were being totally reasonable. Ick.

    Excellent article, as was the previous one!

  8. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. While I am not a great fan of Dawn, I happily love to demand that she “shut-up”, during such showings. My reasoning is that at those points, Dawn is usually spouting something that needs to be kept quiet.
    But I would LOVE to have been one of the “yellers” who would have stood up for this young girl/woman. That’s completely unfair. Never, never should some people’s good time squash someone else’s good time. It’s a fictional character, guys. Hate her (Dawn) if you want, but don’t hate who loves or even likes her. Geez, that’s pitiful.

    We love to tout our fandoms as loving and accepting. Yet, let a few Star Trek and Star Wars fans get together, and you can have a riot to equal any British soccer match. Kirk vs. Picard, Tennant vs. Smith, Marvel vs. DC. We’re no different than anyone else in the world.

    Also, I loved your last quote–and know where it’s from. 🙂

    1. I COMPLETELY wish you had been there. As I just said in comments to someone else, I don’t think the “Shut up, Dawn” stuff is inherently problematic, but when mixed with the rest of what happened it really, really put me off a practice that otherwise might have amused me or escaped my notice. I would be more comfortable if everyone got some audience talking back though as opposed to just Dawn, which was what I witnessed.

  9. Thank you for both of your posts on this. As one who’s been the target of bullying and as a fan who *does* see the value of Dawn’s character, thank you. I hope that the young woman knows that many people are behind her.

  10. Thank you for standing up for the young woman. I don’t think I’d have had the presence of mind and courage to do so.

    Off-topic: Dawn very much grew on me, as she grew up and into herself.

  11. I agree with you about the bullying of the girl, but the wishes of the show’s creator — and you know I love me some Joss — do not have much of anything to do with my reaction. In fact they influence me the other way, toward irritation at the idea that you can release fictional characters into the world and still expect to control how people react to them. (Joss’ snit fits about people who didn’t like Riley were a lot like people claiming if you didn’t like CoE it must be because of Ianto. Trust me, from personal experience, no.)

    I am, in fact, somewhat ambivilent about whether the initial shouting was inappropriate — l like my sing-a-longs full of singing and not much else, but if positive shouting was or would have been okay, then I would say negative shouting (at the characters, not the fans) should be okay too.

    However none of that makes the telling the girl to toughen up okay. I don’t know that it would have been okay even if she was technically a grown up but younger and outnumbered and alone, but being arguably an actual child makes it worse, because we really should allow for the possibility that Dawn is a character she identifies with, and few people if anybody goes to such an event if they can’t relate to that experience.

    1. I totally agree, both about the show runner’s wishes having nothing whatsoever to do with our feelings about a character and about the bullying. I’m also not sure I would have found the initial shouting to be inappropriate if there hadn’t been such terrible fallout from it, since it seems to fall sort of into the category of MST3K, but everything that followed made it extremely inappropriate.

      1. Relevant comment to Stakebait now appearing below here because of how the blog manages comment. (oi, just off a plane!)

    2. For the relatively irrelevant record, I wasn’t squicked by “Shut up, Dawn” until everything else went down. Then, the “Shut up, Dawn” situation seemed to echo through the situation in a way that made me uncomfortable. I would also not be uncomfortable with the “Shut up Dawn” if it was part of larger sporking (a la, RHPS), but when people are only singing and yelling “Shut up, Dawn” to me there’s something wacky to examine there, at least because of the way I got introduced to this.

      I also, don’t particularly care about the creator’s wishes (I like being a dead author to my own stuff, frankly), but I do think it was relevant because it contextualizes the fan’s speaking out. She wasn’t just trying to stop a universal and well-liked practice that hasn’t been the subject of significant discussion before. I think it made her trying to get other people to knock it off have a different context than it would have otherwise.

      1. That makes sense. In any case, that poor kid.

        I thought your analysis of the gender dynamics in the situation was spot on, btw.

  12. Thank you for your follow up on this. Awhile back, James Moran corresponded with me a few times about Gallifrey and how fun it is. I’d never heard of it before. How terribly sad to learn more about where this occurred. It isn’t Gallifrey’s fault, but you would think the people attending would be of a certain character (especially since Racheline points out the gathering has a family atmosphere) ensuring something like this couldn’t happen.

    There are posters at Whedonesque still defending this idea of “toughening up”, and it is disturbing. I’m not sure at all I understand from whence these feelings percolate and then emerge, but bullying and all of its by-products is something we need to be vigilant on and hopefully expunge one day from society. I gave this analogy below there of something I had become aware of and read about when I was in my early 20s. It still rings true today:

    “I remember long ago as a student of opera, reading an article about Joan Sutherland and her conductor husband Richard Bonynge attending La Scala. At this opera house, perhaps in particular, it was the norm for the claque (basically organized factions of fans) to hiss, whistle, boo and torment the singers on stage (and believe it or not, still is today – top singers will for the most part no longer perform there) if they were not paid off or if they felt the singer had given some insult to Milan or La Scala. Sutherland said they got up in disgust while watching a performance, saying in so many words, “We are not gladiators, this is not the coliseum”.

    This kind of behavior and that exhibited at the Buffy singalong, lowers the general zeitgeist of art. Several people here have said they question attending one ever, or may not ever attend one again. And that’s just wrong.”

    And not just art, of course. Decent human interactions.

    1. Yeah, I’m currently trying to decide if I’m going to post about the “toughening up” thing or if I need a break from bullying topics for a little while now. But, among other things, the short version is being tougher would give me less of the life I have. Access to my sensitivity is why I am able to work as someone who tells stories in different mediums.

      I am also really sad that this happened at Gally, but with 2,100 people at the con it really was only a tiny, tiny fraction involved or even silent in the face of it.

  13. FWIW, I just started watching Dr. Who, but I am aware that there was a fairly non-trivial amount of bashing of the companion who was a woman of color, which contained distinct racist tropes that were of course roundly denied by all of those exercising them.

    1. Oh yes, the Martha situation was awful. I was not in DW fandom until after that season aired and sort of heard about everything that went down after the fact, but it was Not Good (as understatement of the year). I think she slipped my mind in this post because I’m still hearing anti-Gwen and anti-Rose stuff and I feel like the Martha thing was AWFUL, but if nothing else, the racism there went underground (not a solution, of course, but I’m seeing less, which doesn’t mean it’s not out there. Certainly most of the ugly I see is more TW-focused because I’m more socially active there).

  14. Yanno, I flashed to our panel from last year. With people crying and defending their refusal to accept Ianto’s death and *Paul Cornell* actually making the damn effort to reach out, even though it was his friend who got death threats.

    And as emotional and beautiful and awkward as it all was, nobody got bullied in that spacetime. Nobody got told they were wrong or that they needed to toughen up.

    I even got defended online in one of the SIJ groups afterward by one of the SIJ people at the panel.

    And then I see this, and I just wonder where the fuck it all went so horridly wrong.

    1. Paul was one of many superheroes last year. John Fay was also fantastic with one of the SIJ people, being quite revealing in a conversation in the bar about stoires that had deeply moved him at various points in his life.

      I did have a chat with a fellow on Saturday night who felt next year we don’t need a “fans behaving badly” panel so much as we need a “how can we make stuff better” panel. I’m inclined to agree.

      1. Yanno, save for some time constraints I almost went to that panel. As it happened, by sheer coincidence, I tweeted about a rude fan in another panel and used the hashtag fansbehavingbadly, not even connecting it inside my head to the panel of that name.

        I got a reply from some dude in the UK *wanting to know if the panel had talked about him and could I tape it for him*.

        Because being called out by name on that sort of panel should be considered a badge of honor? What?

    2. >>>Nobody got told they were wrong

      No but the pannel was pretty locked step in believeing that they were right

      And didn;’t REALLY listen to what people were saying making their own minds up about what was said.

      And then Paul well he just waited until after the panel to tell me I was wrong

  15. RE: Martha. I can see why people might not like the character, as she was unnecessarily mooning over The Doctor, right after the whole Rose climax. I had said, even at that time, that they needed a “Tegan-like” character to follow up Rose. Someone who was the opposite. Martha was too much of the same, so that didn’t help her case with the fans. The next year, they followed up with Donna, which was perfect.

    When people don’t like something, or someone, fictional or not, people will “not like” them in varying degrees of appropriateness and varying degrees of dislike. This is just the law of averages. Also, many years ago, I had to teach myself that specific obnoxious remarks about the way someone looks (race, beauty, weight) will be brought into play whenever someone doesn’t like you. It’s not about those attributes, it truly and only about the level of dislike.

    Remember people, the level of this particular incident was described as not being AS intense as we may be taking it, on site and in person. As described earlier, it was more of an unknowing intimidating factor, “How can you LIKE such a character? She’s horrible!” Our article-writer is just expressing her surprise to how unsightly it was, CONSIDERING it was a family-atmosphere Con. No one tarred and feathered anyone. No one ended up in a fist fight. No bruises. Not likely even any tears. Just a bit of unacceptance. Which, of course, is a shame, but it is not a tragedy.

    Still, I would have been ALL OVER defending the girl! 🙂

    1. When people don’t like something, or someone, fictional or not, people will “not like” them in varying degrees of appropriateness and varying degrees of dislike. This is just the law of averages. Also, many years ago, I had to teach myself that specific obnoxious remarks about the way someone looks (race, beauty, weight) will be brought into play whenever someone doesn’t like you. It’s not about those attributes, it truly and only about the level of dislike.

      Well that’s one way to erase institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Tell people they’re just imagining it.

    2. I don’t consider “No one was injured or sobbing” to be a good measure of whether a social interaction was acceptable.

      While people will use hurtful generalizations as extra ammunition when they already dislike someone, that road also runs both ways. People can and do take an automatic dislike/distrust/poor character judgment of others based on color, weight, age, etc., and that comes out in the words they use to belittle.

      I don’t presume to speak for the original poster. However, I’d like to call your attention to the assumptions in “Our article-writer is just expressing her surprise to how unsightly it was, CONSIDERING it was a family-atmosphere Con.” That wasn’t my understanding of the post at all.

      It is especially appalling that these things happen even at a con where people seem generally committed to kindness. It says a lot about the pervasiveness of bullying. Speaking only for myself and not the writer of this post, I wouldn’t use the word unsightly. It implies that the point is making our immediate environment pretty. I don’t think sweeping it out of the ‘nice’ con and onto the street is any more acceptable.

  16. As a long time fan, I get a lot of flack for praising Dawn as an integral character to the show, and one of the most direct embodiments of at least one BVTS’s central conflicts: seeming insignificant or maybe downright a pest, but actually being more important than can be expected or, at times, willingly accepted, by those who do not personally like you (like Buffy herself!).

    As an adult gay male (that poor girl in your post!) I have felt bullied and marginalized by fans for liking Dawn. Dawn is important, she doesn’t have to be liked, and, more relevant to your post: if I like her, don’t jump down my throat!!

  17. I’m astonished at how anxious it made me to hear this being described.

    I started going to cons as a girl of 15, and I was involved in cosplay and vidding, and while they were by and large really positive experiences for me, I remember how many times I’ve had someone patiently explain why I was wrong. And I figured out, eventually, what I was supposed to learn: I was not a member of the set of people whose opinions counted.

    It is really rough to be a teenage girl attending conventions. You’re told that you’re going to find kindred spirits and it turns into just another place where your opinions aren’t worth listening to.

    I don’t want the world to be like that for that girl.

  18. “There have been so many times in my life where I protected fictional people when I didn’t yet feel ready to openly protect myself.” This, oh so much.

    That girl is a FAN. The people yelling at the screen, enforcing their group norms of hatred for young people and women, much less both (it’s not just Dawn: Wesley, Arwen, Rose, Cho, Every Pink Power Ranger Ever, Jennifer Keller, etc.), supporting in-group violence over creating an inclusive space, those bullies aren’t fans anymore. They’ve become a high school clique that never grew up, where it is about themselves, not the fandom.
    I hope that girl knows how right she was; I’d give her a fan of the year award if I could, because that’s what it’s actually about. It is about speaking up for the stories we love when faced with overwhelming pressure to conform.
    Thank you for speaking up, and sharing the story. The more we talk about these things, the more hope I muster that tomorrow will be different than yesterday.

  19. James Marsters talked about the dislike of Dawn at FanExpo last year. Basically he said the characters are liked because they are outsiders. Joss tried to make Dawn the outsider among outsiders to make her more sympathetic, but trying to make it happen made it backfire. Also Joss made Spike not liked by the group, which in turn make him the ultimate outsider and a very popular character which was not necessarily his intention.
    I do tend to like characters more when others dislike too much when I don’t. I don’t like the idea that I’m not a real fan of something unless I dislike a specific part of it. i.e. I liked Riley and season 4, and I don’t think season 7 was as bad as some seem to think.
    But as has been said, this isn’t a referendum on Dawn. I’d like to think I’d have stood up for the girl in question (unintentional reference) like in Season 5, Episode 6 “Family” (intentional reference) but I don’t function well in unexpected social situations so I likely wouldn’t have had the awareness to understand the situation and what my place would/could/should be in it, quickly enough to act.

    I’m reminded of when about Dawn, Buffy asked “What is she?” and the monk said: “Human, and helpless, she’s an innocent in this. She needs you.” That’s a person, character or not, that you should stand up for, and then especially if they’re a real person who’s human, helpless, and/or innocent. We should “help the helpless” and anyone who disagrees on that is really missing the point

    1. One of the interesting things that I keep coming back to in this is how hard it was for me to watch Buffy when I first started. I had to keep asking my partner to reassure me that these people would get more sympathetic to me. Because at first, I didn’t see Buffy and Willow and Xander as outsiders. Sure, they weren’t Cordelia levels of popular (and I could barely watch Cordelia at first, but grew to love her), but they didn’t strike me as people who got actively bullied. In fact, they were good looking enough and lucky enough to have a group of friends that I kept feeling like they might have been bullies to someone like me had we shared worlds (this is also an issue I have with the Harry Potter books, especially the backstory stuff about the marauders).

      Likable, sympathetic outsiders are hard to write. This gets harder, I think, on TV, wherein the outsiders must have broad appeal, and, as you note when you try to create a character that is an outsider amongst outsiders — how is that defined? I think it’s executed masterfully with Cordelia (of course a popular girl, or former popular girl is an outsider among outsiders) and Wesley (who remains an outsider ’til the end because he insists on believing himself as such) and Andrew (who eventually is so totally in, just by enduring and growing). Dawn, I think, suffered less from her narrative purposes than from having to be so central to the show for a while. I think outsiders among outsider characters work better when they are characters on the edges of the narrative or at least that begin that way until they move towards center.

      1. “I think outsiders among outsider characters work better when they are characters on the edges of the narrative or at least that begin that way until they move towards center.”

        I think you may have hit the nail on the head as to why Tara was popular and Dawn was not.

  20. I’m not sure what you saw in the character of Ethan Rayne as being ‘queered up’? Other than being English and suave?

  21. Thank you so much for your courage!! I still find it incredible that fans (yes I realize that the word is
    derived from fanatic) will gang up and bully another fan for expressing a difference of opinion.

  22. I wrote a really long response, so rather than clog up your comments section I posted it on my own blog. Thank you for writing about this and bringing some light to this ignorant ritual. If people are going to continue with these screaming screenings hopefully they can at least keep other people’s feelings in mind and keep themselves in check.


  23. RM,

    What did you mean about “the marauders backstory” in the Harry Potter books?

    I love how Harry’s kindness to true outsiders such as Moaning Murtle or little Colin with his camera or Griphook (whose name he remembers) usually turn out to be what saves him. His mother’s kindness and friendship with Snape, etc. So could you clarify. Not really on topic but I’m curious.

    1. “Snape’s Worst Memory” is a scene of him being bullied by the Marauders, a group which includes Harry’s father. I certainly did not get the impression this was the first time this happened. Arguably, it’s clear that Harry’s father changed. Sirius didn’t (granted, he didn’t have the opportunity). Remus had his own griefs that made it hard to let go of that mess, and Peter’s choices may be the most interesting there.

      But if you look at that generation: Peter, Sirius, Remus, James, Severus there’s a very clear map, I think, that shows how bullied kids turn into bullies (Severus and Peter being the most obvious; followed by Remus who always had qualms; and Sirius who are arguably abused at home) and how how popular kids can be assholes when they run with their social power (all of the Marauders are guilty of this to varying degrees; James we assume reforms, but he’s also the guy who had the least excuse in the first place as far as we know).

      In fandom, my experience has been everyone thinks the Marauders are AWESOME. Well, they were sort of awful if they they weren’t your friends. Really, really awful.

      To me what’s compelling about the HP books is that it’s largely a tragedy of young men — everyone in the Marauder’s generation got such a terrible deal. And everyone’s tragedies (even Albus’s) are about choices they made as young men (and I do emphasize men here, because there is a heavy gender imbalance in the named characters of the wizarding world). I feel that, and the bullying narratives, get over-looked in some places (sure, we all get that Luna and Neville are bullied), because some of the bullies in the books are far more likable than others.

  24. I think the people who keep calling for other people to “toughen up” are *actually* saying, “Stop disagreeing with me because it makes me think about how much of an obnoxious, hateful git I’m being, and I hate that!” They’re the same people who tell people with PTSD or depression or panic attacks that they just need to “get over it.” They like being on the moral high ground that comes of not being disabled, or of not having an unpopular opinion, or whatever.

    The moral high ground: where people go when they don’t actually want to engage the sea of variable opinions and experiences.

  25. I was there. We were sort of hiding along the back wall as we got there late. We like Dawn. I’ve heard the “shut up, Dawn” thing before, and it’s never sat particularly well, but since it seemed to be a “thing”, we just didn’t join into that ourselves. When she spoke up, I was surprised to hear so many people turn their character-hate towards her. Thank you, rm, for speaking up.

    But yeah…cons are often viewed as a safe space, a place where we can be ourselves among others as passionate as us. And that girl that spoke up? Watching her throughout the weekend, yes, she is EXTREMELY passionate about her fandoms. Character bashing in general has always been a sore spot for me, but when we start bashing the INDIVIDUALS who defend the characters? That’s even more wrong. Even if it was not “intended” as bullying or bashing, telling someone that their opinion is invalid and that they need to toughen up, especially when that someone is so young…*shudders*.

    Yeah. Not cool. We need to be nice to each other. If we geeks don’t stick together, then who DO we have?

  26. I have to say I was at Gally and missed this. However the point for all those that say toughen up falls short when you think about recent events of young people having committed suicide do to bulling. I would think people could learn to behave. Gallifrey is a fun event and egos should be checked at the door along with many personal opinions. You might actually learn something about your fellow humans if you learned to listen for once. There are other ways of making a point without it turning into the mob rules. You could show compassion maybe with a dash of understanding.

  27. I was at the con with my 15-yr-old daughter and her friends, but skipped out on the sing-along before The Incident. (Screen was too small, too low, and I am a picky/cranky old woman.) I wouldn’t have known this happened without your post, as my kids — who were in attendance — didn’t bring it up. Turns out, it was an acquaintance of ours who was Dawn’s Defender. For the record, she is an adult in her twenties, is apparently not scarred by this incident, and is also not exactly a Buffy fan in general. According to my kids, she now feels that she derailed an event for the fans of a show that she doesn’t care all that much about.

    I’m glad she feels that way, I guess, rather than upset and victimized, but I am still disturbed by people’s quelling response to her comments. I’m not a fan of the “shut up Dawns” at these events, but in typical contrarian fashion, they did force me to recognize that Dawn was the only one speaking (rather than singing) the uncomfortable truths that needed to come out in this episode, and it has made me much more sympathetic to her character.

    I refuse to accept that the point of the Buffyverse is to silence young women, so, all the discussion has led to discussion with my daughter and her friends, who were all firmly in the “shut up Dawn” camp. They’ve had to re-think/defend their position, which seems to be that Dawn letting the cat out of the bag lead directly to Tara’s death. ??? Who knew?

    Because of your posts, I’ve had a chance to indulge in some great discussions with young women about self-determination, self-expression, not allowing imposition of another’s will without consent, and other important things that I thought they’d already understood. I keep forgetting that these lessons need constant reinforcement at their age, when outside influences are such a potent thing, for both good and ill.

    I’ve had these discussions with them in the past about the way “Twilight” fans get shouted down at Cons. I have no love of Twilight, and no objection to my daughter wearing her “Buffy staked Edward. The End.” shirt, but I really hate the way people try to shout down the trailers and otherwise silence the teen-aged girls who are there to engage in fanlove. Nobody behaves that way to the fans of “Nightmare on Elm Street” or other entertainments directed at boys of a similar age. Grrr.

    There’s always going to be work to do, is the moral of the story… Thanks for the reminder.

  28. Bullying is when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who they think is weaker, fatter or smaller. Sometimes it involves direct attacks such as hitting, name calling, teasing or taunting. My son is smaller than other kids of his age. He’s been bullied by some kids and I can’t just take that for granted so I decided to register him to SafeKidZone. It’s a panic button alert installed on his cell phone that if he is being bullied or threatened by other kids he will just press the panic button and his selected group of friends and family members will be notified that he needs help. If he is in a serious emergency the incident will be escalated to the nearest 911 in seconds with complete information. If you want to check out, this is their site http://Safekidzone.com/

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