There are two categories of people I try not to make blog posts about. One is my students, the other is my family. They never signed up to be made into Hashtag Internet Hashtag Content, I don’t want to make the storytelling practice that seems to have been inherited from my father (that he called ‘preaching’) into something that exploits the people around me who are themselves living, breathing people who do do not want to be, nor deserve to be, pinned to this page as a moment that will live on in my mind and in the minds of others. Hannah Gadsby talks about this, how her own mother’s homophobic comments are effectively preserved in amber, as part of her show, meaning that even though her mother may have grown past those comments, Gadsby repeated them to herself and others endlessly for years.
(Gosh, I like Gadsby’s work)
Anyway, because of this I have had something repeatedly run into me in the past few weeks that I have resisted writing about, because again: I don’t want to write about these people in my life who didn’t sign up for it, even though they are overwhelmingly common and repeated experiences, which is usually a sure sign for me that it’s time to put some words down.
The good news is that after contemplating the difficulty of writing about this, I had the realisation that this isn’t something that’s bugging me when students and family do it, I’m just being bothered by everyone doing it, and that got me thinking about modes of communication.
Now, I am a fan of the work of Marshall Rosenberg, not because he was right about everything or because I’m an advocate for the fulltime adoption of nonviolent communication, but because he was very good at correctly recognising that our conventional communication model is about victory and it will get that through oppression or manipulation if we can. And as a direct result, I will ask someone the question, in my day to day, what do you want, and the people over whom I have some degree of power – be it infrastructural or social or familial – will seek to find ways to give me the right answer.
Here’s a base example, which in this case I use because the person it would otherwise be with is Fox, and Fox does not have this problem at all, so, if you’re reading this and trying to extrapolate, or if you are Fox and you’re going ‘hang on, I would never,’ I am using this as an example because you’re basically bulletproof. Nyeh. Anyway:
“What do you want?”
“Well, I was thinking that if we did the laundry on Tuesdays, it would get the drying done over the week rather than weekend mornings.”
This frames the answer not in terms of the want of the person saying it, but instead about a shared, perceived value of the result. It’s not that it’s bad to have this kind of plan, it’s that it’s not addressing the question. It might even be that this answer has the answer in it: I want the laundry drying during the week. That’d be enough! It’s the way that when the question is asked, the want is ignored in favour of the result.
It seems like such a small rhetorical thing, but it’s important. It’s important because if I ask you what you want and you respond with what you think I want to hear, I’m not hearing what you want, I’m hearing what you think of me. It’s a fundamentally passive position, and it means I don’t get to know you.
How’s this come up in fandom stuff?
It comes up in fandom stuff when people are unwilling to centre themselves, and their wants, and their responses to things, in the discourse about media.
It can’t be I want this scene. It can’t be I like this pairing. It can’t be I dislike that story trope.
It has to be this scene is necessary. It has to be here is how this pairing is a moral ill. It has to be here’s how my identity legitimises my writing.
This creates extremely weird behaviours. There’s a bit of a canard about the Hamilton fandom being what I will now in a comically understated way refer to as a bit lively when it comes to this. Oh, there’s Miku Binders and Fake HIV and the cannibal mermaids and all that stuff, but I tend to look at it in terms of a kind of pressure cooker. Hamilton takes something that’s very bad (the formation of America by a bunch of extremely terrible people), connects it to something undeniably good (kickass musical theatre), and then leaves this audience in this complex space, unable to grapple with the most important element of their interpretation, themselves.
If you can recognise yourself, if you can recognise your own wants, it will help you realise that you don’t need to prove the value of your loves. You don’t need to approach playing games as if every game is meant to become a career. You don’t need to watch anime because it will make you more cultured.
You can just want things.