Confessions of a She-Geek

September 19, 2015

It’s a Fan’s World

Filed under: Media — Teresa @ 5:35 pm
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Given my on-screen name, it should come as no surprise that I am, and have been for most of my life, a lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and (to a somewhat lesser degree) comics. When I was a kid, the word most frequently used to describe my main focus/interest (aside from “geek” or “nerd”) was Trekkie – although I was into other things, as well. These days my genre-based enthusiasms would likely have me labeled more as a fangirl (which is fine by me).

The advent of social media has brought with it a fairly standard set of fandom… traits? Tools? Avenues? These aren’t all new things by any means, but the scope has expanded. These traits/tools/avenues include on-line discussions hosted on pop-culture sites like The AV Club and Previously.TV; Twitter feeds, fan art/blogs/crafts/fiction/pages/videos, and fan conventions. People who share interest in the same things, can find one another and build a community virtually overnight. And these communities can be amazingly well-organized. As a fangirl (and borderline-Type A), I approve.

I also approve of the emerging trend that channels all this creative energy and enthusiasm into a force for positive change in the world. In an earlier post I mentioned how actor Misha Collins co-founded a charity called RandomActs.org, which is accomplishing some very impressive things, both large and small. What I didn’t mention is that this charity’s growing visibility is largely thanks to the fan base of a tv show on the CW network, called Supernatural. If the stories are to be believed, Mr. Collins started a Twitter account several years ago at the behest of the network executives, as a way of connecting to and increasing the fan base. He realized fairly quickly that the fandom was a huge, but largely-untapped, resource – and (if you’ll pardon the expression), tapped it.

He’s far from the only celebrity to do this. YouTube vloggers John and Hank Green created DFTBA out of the fan community that sprung up around their YouTube channel. Actor Zachary Levi (from genre shows Chuck and the Heroes reboot) donates the proceeds from the annual fan event, Nerd HQ, to such causes as Operation Smile, and there are many, many other examples out there.

I know this isn’t a new thing: celebrities like Paul Newman have used their fame to found and support charities for a very long time. But those activities are based on the actor; not any specific fandom. I’m talking more about the trend for fandoms to unite not only in their love for a tv show/film franchise/comic book title/book series, but also in their desire to make a positive change in the world. This is a new thing, and one that I absolutely endorse.

June 27, 2009

Real-Life Superheroes – For Real?

Filed under: Media — Teresa @ 6:17 pm
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What makes a hero a hero? Usually people who are called heroes have put themselves at risk for a worthy cause. Often this risk is physical. Sometimes it’s financial. And sometimes it involves challenging conventional thought.

We can all come up with real-life examples of heroism in action. Firefighters spend their lives risking their lives for complete strangers. Members of the French Resistance and the Underground Railroad put themselves on the line to put an end to heinous abuses of power. Every day there are accounts of good Samaritans rescuing people from submerged cars or oncoming trains.

Bona fide heroes walk among us. Some of them are recognized for their efforts; others go unacknowledged. On the other hand, some folks who put themselves at risk for other people are branded as fools. The question is, what separates heroism from foolishness?

I read a recent CNN.com article about a growing sub-culture of self-proclaimed superheroes. I’ve been pondering this “foolishness or heroism” question ever since.

Just to be clear: I’m not talking about the sort of fantasy role-playing that happens at events like Comic-Con. I’m talking about real-life people who disguise themselves in home-made costumes and roam the streets of their respective communities, fighting crime and generally trying to help people.

There’s even a World Superhero Registry where these people can go for advice on everything from making costumes to legal issues like how to conduct a citizen’s arrest.

If this superhero movement is a hoax, it’s a particularly elaborate one that’s being perpetrated for no apparent reason. If it’s real, then a number of grown men (and women) have decided for whatever reason to deliberately put themselves at risk for strangers.

Which brings me back to my question. Is this heroism, foolishness, or a little of both? What makes their efforts so different from the random acts of bravery that happen every day? Is it the costumes, which suggest that these people are unable to separate fantasy from reality; that all of this is just play-acting taken too far? What if the costumes were taken out of the mix? Would it still be foolishness if these people were in street clothes, rather than elaborate get-ups?

Organizations like the Guardian Angels serve pretty much the same function; they just don’t call themselves superheroes. Instead, they call themselves a “volunteer organization of unarmed citizen crime patrollers”. Sounds an awful lot like what these real-life superheroes are doing, doesn’t it?

As I’ve been mulling it over, I find myself vacillating between two thoughts:

  • These people are well-meaning nuts who’ll get themselves or someone else killed.
    There’s a reason why police officers undergo such rigorous training; it’s so they’ll have the skills, tools, and knowledge necessary to serve and protect the general public. And even with all that training, police officers still die in the line of duty. How much better will a costumed do-gooder fare – and without backup or legal authority, might I add?
  • Since when is helping strangers foolish?
    If someone’s in danger, and I’m in a position to help them, I’d like to think that I’d have the courage and moral fiber to do it. Laying down your life for a fellow human being is something to be admired, not mocked. Should what one wears while doing it make it any less admirable?

So here’s what I came up with. Is dressing up in costume and deliberately seeking out dangerous situations foolish? I’d have to say yes. It’s one thing for a trained professional who has the gear and skills necessary to do the job as safely as possible. It’s quite another for some random person wearing a goofy outfit to challenge a would-be mugger.

Is helping people, even if it involves putting oneself at risk, heroic? Again, yes. That’s why we revere those who’ve sacrificed themselves in the name of the greater good. You need look no further than the 911 rescue workers who died while attempting to save as many people as possible from the wreckage of the Twin Towers. We call them heroes, even though ultimately, and through no fault of their own, they failed in their attempts. Their courage and selflessness goes to the very heart of heroism, and we rightfully honor their memory.

One might even call them superheroes. Without costumes.

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