Words of Wisdom

Ask Polly: How Am I Supposed to Make Friends in My Late 20s?
https://www.thecut.com/2014/08/ask-polly-how-do-i-make-friends-in-my-late-20s.html

So the first thing you have to do is accept that, despite appearances, you’re not all that different than most people your age. The mid- to late-20s are often an apex of friendless desperation. To make matters worse, people feel very self-conscious about their friendlessness at that age, as if everything should’ve fallen into place a long time ago. Considering how often urban, career-focused Americans move around and turn their lives upside down in their 20s, you’d think most of us would know better.

This is a long essay, but every single word is golden.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Tumblr recently (like this one) setting 25 as an arbitrary cut-off age for tolerance of bad behavior. The underlying message seems to be that, by 25 years old, you should have your shit together and shouldn’t be messing around in fandom.

Dangerous and toxic behavior shouldn’t be tolerated or excused at any age, of course. Saying that young people (or neurodiverse people, or differently abled people) have no control over their behavior is basically saying that they’re subhuman animals with no capacity for rational judgment, which is both offensive and untrue. Putting that aside.

The idea that you have to have your shit together by the time you’re 25 years old is wild. I feel like 25 is actually the age when a lot of people’s shit starts to fall apart, honestly.

While you’re in high school and college, you have a structured set of milestones and multiple ready-made groups of peers. For the first few years out of school, you likely still have structured career goals and probably still keep in touch with many of your friends. By the time you hit 25, however, things start to get weird. A lot of your friends are pairing off and getting married, and some are even buying houses and having kids, which can create subtle conflicts and a lot of pressure. You’re probably also, for the first time in your life, surrounded by people who aren’t your age and don’t share your values and life experiences. Your relationship with your family will probably change as you start being expected to pay for expensive things you formerly took for granted (like insurance) while you begin to take on a larger burden of financial and emotional support. After working in entry-level positions for a few years, you might be considering a career change. You might have even been fired. You might make a terrible life decision and apply to grad school. You might move to another city, or to the suburbs, or to a different timezone.

25 is an incredibly awkward age, and it takes time to figure out how to be an emotionally mature and self-sufficient adult. Some people are innately blessed with wisdom (and money, and a supportive family), but most of us need about ten years or so to get our shit together.

Again, I’m not excusing the behavior of anyone who is creepy or hateful online, but to suggest that 25 is the age when you should stop being in fandom and stop trying to make friends with people who share your interests doesn’t make sense. And “discrimination” is a strong word, but I really do feel like giving 25 as a cut-off point is ignoring the realities of a lot of people coming from marginalized communities who just don’t have the time or money or emotional energy to devote to their interests and hobbies (or to social media in general) until they’re a bit older.

I can totally understand why teenagers might not want to interact with older people online, and that’s fair. Still, I think it’s important to emphasize that there’s no deadline for meeting new people, exploring new interests, picking up new skills, and making mistakes as you gradually learn how to communicate and exist in society as an adult.

We Should Improve Society Somewhat

This is my take on the viral Matt Bors comic. Someone actually said this to me about two years ago, and since then their comment has been living in my head rent-free. With this comic I hereby evict that unpleasantness and release it back into the wild.

I started drawing this comic earlier this year and finished it just to get it out of my drafts folder. In the time since I completed the line art, I made a firm decision to limit the negativity I post on social media. To be honest, most of the experiences that have had a major impact on my life during the past several years have been negative, but I’m not sure there’s any real use or meaning in representing them directly through autobiographical essays and comics. Instead, I’ve found much more satisfaction and catharsis in constructing analogies through the medium of fiction.

Also, I think there are a not insignificant number of people in the world (including the “yet you have a job” person) who tend to latch onto negativity to make bad-faith arguments about topics that could benefit from more nuance. Now that I’m at a stage of my life where I’m considering working on more collaborative projects, I’d prefer to keep that sort of interpersonal drama to a minimum. Thankfully, I’m in a better place now than I was when I started drawing this comic, and I hope the person who wrote this in response to one of my essays is in a better place too.

Still – fuck capitalism.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’m a fan of the artist who illustrated The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I was looking forward to becoming a fan of the book as well. Since it was originally published in 2015, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy reads like a nostalgic glimpse into the history of fandom at a critical moment when the widespread rise of accessible social media brought a new generation of female and queer fans into conversation with more established cultures.

I enjoyed most of the book until the final chapter, “Aim to Misbehave: Geek Girl Feminism.”

I consider myself to be a feminist, so I have no problem with the chapter as a whole, but it was extremely frustrating to read dozens of pages about how “feminism is intersectional” and how it’s important “not to let other people make you feel ashamed of your interests” only to encounter, in the last section of the chapter (titled “Everyone’s a Critic and So Can You”), the author’s plainly stated view that geek girls with “problematic” interests (meaning interests that fall outside of the normative straight white middle-class American view of what should and shouldn’t be represented in fiction) are responsible for perpetuating “abuse.”

The author seems to be referring specifically to people who were fans of the Twilight series of young adult paranormal romance novels. I don’t particularly care for the books myself, but it’s odd that the author would claim to support the intelligence, agency, and decision-making abilities of geek girls but then turn around and say that a certain subset of these young women are somehow not “real” geeks if they enjoy something in a way she doesn’t approve of. Part of the author’s “Geek Girl Litany for Feminism” (pictured above) is, in fact, “Buffy, not Bella.” It’s almost as if the author is saying that female characters created by straight men to be “strong female protagonists” are more valid than the more nuanced and complicated representations created and embraced by women, which is absurd. I’m not attempting to defend the Twilight series, but I want to argue that it seems contradictory for the author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy to be so dismissive and borderline hateful toward its fans.

(Again, I’m not a superfan of the Twilight series, but the main critical concern I have with the books is not how they handle gender and sexuality, but rather with how they handle race. Different people in different communities have responded to this issue in different ways at different points in time, so this is another topic for another day. In the end, all media has problematic elements, and elements that seem “wholesome” now may turn out to be extremely “problematic” as time passes and the culture shifts.)

If I remember correctly, in the early 2010s, female Twilight fans were coming under vocal public attack from the men who used to dominate fan conventions and didn’t like it that a bunch of young women were now “invading” their spaces. This anger rose to a fever pitch when the San Diego Comic-Con, which was long considered to be the premier comic industry convention in the United States, was forced to institute a lottery for tickets. The men who had attended this con every year, including a number of high-profile comic creators, were furious that their opportunity for professional networking and career advancement was being by jeopardized by the sudden rise in attendance from girls who loved movies and books and comics but weren’t “real fans” because they were “amateurs” and passionate about “the wrong thing.” Saying that young women don’t belong in geek-oriented communities is clearly a misogynistic act, and the pervasiveness of this conversation in 2015 makes it even stranger for the author of to echo it uncritically and unironically.

The author apparently used to work with The Mary Sue, so perhaps it’s the case that she was simply following the party line of an online magazine that had, even then, started to publish editorials castigating female fans of certain characters in Star Wars and other geek media. I have to admit that I have even less of an emotional investment in Star Wars than I do in Twilight, but it was disturbing to watch as The Mary Sue took the helm of the crusade for moral purity in fandom that ended up leading to widespread instances of terrible online bullying targeted at young women, often young women in marginalized positions.

To give a personal example of what this editorial policy meant in practice, this is the response I received to a pitch about a popular webcomic that had become a major focal point of queer communities on Tumblr.

What the editor is essentially saying is that survivors of sexual abuse should not write about sexual abuse for the purpose of addressing the issue of sexual abuse. In other words, survivors of sexual abuse need to be silent about their experiences and the circumstances that surrounded these experiences, or their work will risk being seen as “problematic” by self-identified feminists.

This is clearly not a healthy attitude, and it has led to a number of upsetting cases of queer, female, BIPOC, and disabled creators being harassed for telling stories that are true to their experiences but don’t meet the rigorous standards of the fandom purity police. Some of these creators, such as N.K. Jemisin and Roxane Gay, survived and thrived. Many other promising creators, who were perhaps a bit younger or a bit less established when their careers started to take off along with platforms like Twitter and Goodreads in the mid-to-late 2010s, were silenced.

In many ways, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is a snapshot of fandom culture in 2015, and most of it is indeed positive and empowering. Unfortunately, however, it concludes with the seeds of the mentality that grew into what would become known as “anti-fandom” in another two or three years after its publication. Using the terminology of social justice to violently attack and silence young women (and queer people of all genders) is not feminism, and it’s disappointing to see the author end her book about creating more inclusive spaces by advocating for a discursive tool meant to keep the “wrong” type of people out of a community that can only be “positive” and “empowering” as long as it doesn’t allow for the sort of diversity that falls outside of normative straight white middle-class American prejudices regarding what sort of stories are morally acceptable.

The Internet Conspiracy Machine

About a month ago, a post that felt weird to me started circulating within my small circle of Tumblr mutuals. To make a long story short, there was a smart post by a popular Tumblr artist that someone had reblogged with an inflammatory addition. The inflammatory addition was from 2018, so I was curious why it had started circulating again in December 2020.

I asked my mutuals if they were reblogging the post because something specific had happened recently, but they couldn’t give me any background. It seemed that the reblog was nothing more than clickbait making the rounds while riding on the back of the original post. Tumblr being Tumblr, this happens all the time.

But this reblogged addition still felt strange to me. The user who created the reblog had deactivated their account, so I searched for their username to try to figure out who they are. I wanted to figure out if the inflammatory addition was referring to something specific or whether it was just someone venting on Tumblr – which, again, is fair. I honestly didn’t expect to find anything, but I was working on an academic essay on the general topic of the original post and thought it might be interesting to follow up on this lead.

What I found was that the inflammatory addition had originated in 2018 and spread within a circle of blogs dedicated to video games whose users openly identified as male. All of these blogs were only briefly active and hadn’t been updated since 2018. Their reblogs alternated between memes, game release announcements, and incendiary “social justice” posts.

I’m not sure how to explain the particular flavor of circa-2018 “social justice” posts on Tumblr, save to say that they are totalizing, polarizing, and extremely aggressive to an absurd degree. In aggregate, these posts engender a sense that there is an elite group of enlightened people who all share the same position and values, and who must foster their anger in order to stand against their enemies, who are presumed to be an equally monolithic group. Let me be clear that these posts are not about any specific real-world issues or political groups, but more along the lines of general ideological programming spread through discourse surrounding fictional characters and entertainment media. Such posts have nothing to do with critical readings or cultural critique, but instead take the form of brief and easily digestible “this thing is bad” slogans with jingoistic “people who don’t agree are also bad” insinuations.

In any case, what I found regarding the circle of video game blogs on Tumblr seemed suspicious, so I tried to figure out who these users were and where they’d gone. (I was no longer doing research for my essay, by the way; now I was just morbidly curious.) Tumblr has an optional function that allows users to crosspost to Twitter, so I ended up tracking down a few of these blogs via reposts on Twitter, where I ran across a surprising number of deactivated accounts. Between one thing and another – and this was a very deep rabbit hole, so I’m afraid I didn’t document my process as well as I could have – I ended up on Parler, a social media platform for the sort of alt-right people who tend to get kicked off Twitter.

Along with 8kun, Parler is one of the main seeds of the QAnon material that makes its way to Facebook and YouTube, and the conversations I saw on the site were completely divorced from consensus reality. There’s an excellent article about this on The Atlantic (here); but, to summarize, “the QAnon conspiracy” holds that the American government is rotten to its core, and even conservative politicians are almost literal comic book villains. Donald Trump, as someone coming from outside these evil political circles, is only person that “real” Americans can rely on, and he must therefore be defended from Democrats and Republicans alike.

At the time I encountered Parler in mid-December 2020, it was filled with people talking about contesting the election results, by force if necessary. Many of the hashtags, like #HoldTheLine, were military in tone, and people were sharing state-specific resources for obtaining firearms. There were a lot of links to videos associated with the Dorr Brothers, who oversee various regional organizations devoted to “no compromise” “Second Amendment rights.” (NPR has a limited-run podcast about this, if you’re curious.) There was also an extraordinary deal of antisemitism, with coded references ranging from “global capitalists” to “lizard people.”

I did not stay there long. I got super creeped out, to be honest.

The worst thing was that, between all the “Take Back America” rhetoric, links to QAnon videos on YouTube, and announcements for the Facebook Live events of reactionary political groups, people were sharing memes and joke posts about video games… and a lot of them were really good. To my shame, that’s why I stayed on the site for as long as I did, even after it had become painfully clear what I was looking at.

The appeal of QAnon conspiracies is that they speak to the marginalized in their own language, whether that language is video game memes, “traditional feminist” slogans, or decontextualized Bible verses. These conspiracies provide both an “it’s not your fault” justification for why individuals don’t succeed in neoliberal capitalism and a concrete path of action that elevates a normal person sitting at a computer to the status of a righteous crusader.

This sort of messaging is designed to appeal to anyone who feels as if they’re under attack from forces they don’t understand, which is perhaps why it has appealed so strongly to Donald Trump himself. Once I started picking up on QAnon codewords and hashtags, some of Trump’s more bizarre tweets from 2020 (such as “Nothing can stop what is coming”) started to make much more sense.

When Trump posted a video telling the rioters who stormed the Capitol building on January 6 that they’re “special” and that he loves them, this also made sense to me. Trump seemed to genuinely believe, as the rioters did, that they were on the righteous side of a holy war to protect the rights of the marginalized and prevent the fall of civilization at the hands of a nebulous and unspeakable evil.

Given my actual research interests, which have very little to do with American politics, you can probably guess that this whole thing started with Legend of Zelda. There may be some people reading this essay who might feel tempted to jump to the conclusion that the Zelda series is to blame for fostering an apocalyptic mindset because [insert racist generalization about Japanese people here]. I’m not saying that the Zelda games – or gaming culture and video games in general – aren’t without their problems, but please don’t let that be your take-away point.

I’m also not suggesting that the people on Tumblr who reblogged a post I found upsetting are ignorant. After all, most people on the platform are fully aware of how misinformation spreads, and we rely on a carefully curated grassroots social vetting system that serves as something of a Geiger counter to make sure we’re not getting close to anything radioactive. We’re all doing the best we can, and a few isolated posts from malicious actors aren’t going to hurt anyone.

Rather, what has struck me about this whole mess is how the tendency toward authoritarian thinking transcends political lines. I can’t say whether the Tumblr blogs that were active in spreading inflammatory “social justice” posts in 2018 were real people who ended up gravitating to the far right or the sock puppets of people already involved with far-right groups, and I don’t know who started circulating their posts again in December.

What I do know is that “us vs. them” essentialism is just as appealing to online communities in favor of progressive social justice as it is to online communities that propagate QAnon theories. Because of the way social media algorithms privilege content that evokes “engagement,” this type of thinking can spread far beyond these communities and become normalized even for people who don’t know anything about Wojak memes or video games or Tumblr or 4chan, whether they’re financially precarious retirees or recent college graduates who have just started to understand that they will never be able to pay off their student loans.

The key word here is “normalization,” because this is what makes extremists feel as though they have broad support for what they’re doing. For every one person who creates a social media account solely for the purpose of telling an artist or showrunner that she should kill herself because her content is “problematic,” or for every one person who showed up to the riot in DC on January 6, there are thousands of people in each of their extended communities who are directly supporting their actions online.

I think that, if both young people and older people could envision an actual future for themselves as valued members of society, then perhaps they wouldn’t be so invested in fantasies about destroying society. I know this makes me sound like a moderate apologist, but I’m not advocating for “compromise” or “seeing both sides.” What I’m trying to say is this: If there are multiple generations of people who are unemployed, underemployed, deeply in debt, and one random accident away from complete financial ruin, of course they’re going to be upset and looking for guidance, especially while they’re stuck at home or trapped in “essential worker” jobs during an ongoing pandemic. This is not a controversial statement to make.

Neoliberal capitalism is irreparably broken. So many people wouldn’t be in such a precarious position if it weren’t. Something needs to happen, because people need to be able to live without feeling as though they have to fight each other to survive.

In the meantime, social media corporations need to change their algorithms. It’s unnecessary, undesirable, and impossible to destroy the platforms on which authoritarian and apocalyptic discourses are created and disseminated. That being said, these fringe beliefs should not be as accessible, widespread, and normative as they are.

The individual and social formation of identity and ideology that happens online is real, and it has real consequences. I think it’s high time to start taking this seriously.

Wizard Karen

Who Did J.K. Rowling Become?
https://www.vulture.com/amp/article/who-did-j-k-rowling-become.html

Rowling had never been a particularly controversial figure. Her books sold hundreds of millions of copies, they inspired films that brought in billions of dollars, and she used the money she made to save children from orphanages. In 2012, she gave enough to charity and paid enough in taxes to knock herself off the Forbes billionaires list. In 2020, she was tweeting links to a store that sold pins that said F*CK YOUR PRONOUNS.

Read another way, though, the latest turn in Rowling’s story looks perhaps less perplexing than inevitable. It is the culmination of a two-decade power struggle for ownership of her fictional world — the right to say what Harry Potter means. The Harry Potter books describe a stark moral universe: Their heroes fight on behalf of all that is good to defeat the forces of absolute evil. Though the struggle may be lonely and hard, right ultimately beats wrong. For fans, when it came to the matter of trans rights, the message of Harry Potter was clear. For Rowling, this was no less the case.

“She absolutely believes that she is right, that she’s on a mission, and that history will eventually bear her out,” Anelli [the administrator of a prominent Harry Potter fansite] told me. “She thinks she’s doing good work right now.”

Yikes.

I started seeing posts attacking Rowling on Tumblr in early 2018, but none of them actually explained why people were so angry with her. When I tried asking what was going on, I’d get vague answers along the lines of “she liked the tweet of a bad person a few years ago and then said it was a mistake.” 2018 was a year of people on the internet becoming extraordinarily upset about space wizards, so I brushed the accusations against Rowling into the same category as assertions that fictional characters in Voltron and Steven Universe and Star Wars were “abusive.”

I assumed that Rowling, who is active on Twitter, had probably made a few tweets about British politics or politicians that didn’t make sense to young Americans and left it at that.

Wow was I wrong about this. I was so wrong.

This became embarrassingly obvious when Rowling made her stance on transgender rights clear toward the end of 2020 in a way that was so public and performative that it was picked up by mainstream news outlets, but plenty of signs were indeed there beforehand. The article I linked to above is quite lengthy and does an excellent job of explaining exactly what’s been going on, and I appreciate that it provides the context for this discussion in a way that isn’t centered on American culture and politics.

Two-Step Tumblr Thinking

I have a theory about why nuanced discussions of complicated topics have become unnecessarily fraught during the past five years or so. This is one facet of many, of course, but I’ve had enough experience with this particular discursive mode that I think it’s worth describing in concrete terms.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Tumblr promote a style of messaging that is easily consumable and sharable. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Concise and witty observations, one-sentence press releases with hyperlinks, and captioned comics and artwork are the majority of what I share on social media, and I’m grateful to have access to this content without having to scroll through endless reams of blog posts in an aggregate feed reader.

Unfortunately, this sort of messaging tends to flatten discussions. Although I see this on Twitter too, I joined Tumblr in 2011 and have watched in real time as discussions of subjects like race and sexuality have been adjusted to a format better suited to easy consumption and sharing. After becoming more familiar with the patterns of how this tends to play out, I’ve started to refer to this oversimplification of complicated topics as “two-step Tumblr thinking.”

The basic model for this type of thinking is as follows:

  1. [X] is bad.
  2. A piece of media contains [X].

Numerous conclusions can be drawn from these two observations, but they tend to be something along the lines of “the piece of media is therefore bad” or “anyone who likes the piece of media is bad.” These conclusions in turn result in the sort of call-out culture (or cancel culture) in which relatively powerless individuals, often young people occupying positions of relative disadvantage, become the targets of anger and frustration that might more appropriately be directed at social and economic systems or perpetrators of violence and injustice in the real world.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to call out bullshit when and where it exists. Sometimes bullshit is nothing more than bullshit, and calling it out doesn’t need to be “a nuanced discussion.”

Still, simplifying every discussion of a complicated subject like media representation to “this is bad” serves to inhibit critical thinking while erasing perspectives that don’t occupy a mainstream or normative position. In other words, the demand for a flattened mode of discourse serves to reify injustice, not resist it.

To give a specific example, this is an argument I’ve made (here) about the villainous character Ganondorf in the Legend of Zelda games The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess:

  1. Racism is bad.
  2. The villain has dark skin.
  3. But the game is not made by white Americans.
  4. Japan has a complicated history with imperialism.
  5. The dark-skinned villain comments on imperialism.
  6. He does so using (Japanese) language that invites sympathy.
  7. The games were made during a surge in ethnic visibility movements.

Following this chain of thinking, one might be able to suggest something interesting about the games and the different layers of the story and message they convey. You might not come to the same set of conclusions I did, and that’s totally fine. (I would love that, actually.)

The problem is that most discussions stop after the first two steps, so you get:

  1. Racism is bad.
  2. The villain has dark skin.

According to this chain of thinking, the Legend of Zelda games are racist, and anyone who enjoys the games or wants to talk about the character Ganondorf is therefore racist as well. The only place a discussion can go after this conclusion is a squabble over ad hominem identity politics, which is unpleasant even when it’s not happening online.

I’m not saying that positionality isn’t important, or somehow irrelevant and invalid. Rather, if “being allowed to talk about something” is dependent on nothing more (and nothing less) than individual positionality, this creates a tense atmosphere that encourages shenanigans like racebending (which is when white people suddenly discover their “ethnic” heritage) and infighting within the LGBTQ+ community over who is allowed to “count” as gay.

Let me give another example based on an academic article I was asked to review for a well-respected journal. The author was writing about an interesting manga that I would describe like this:

  1. Sexual assault is bad.
  2. The manga depicts sexual assault.
  3. But the manga is drawn by a woman.
  4. And most of the manga’s fans are women.
  5. The artist explicitly addresses the violence of misogyny.
  6. Many fans openly address misogyny in their fanwork as well.

What I would argue (as I’ve argued before) is that this type of storytelling is a form of collective therapy, healing, and empowerment for the objects of violence, who tell stories in which they become the active subjects and literal authors of their experiences.

If this discussion stops after the first two steps, however, you get:

  1. Sexual assault is bad.
  2. The manga depicts sexual assault.

This type of discursive flattening led the author of the article to argue that the manga advocates for violence against women and is therefore, in a very literal sense, just as bad as #Gamergate, a social media “movement” in which anonymous users sent a barrage of rape threats to female game developers and journalists over several months during the summer and fall of 2014.

I have to admit that, as a peer reviewer, I had no idea how to respond to this. One might as well argue that Joyce Carol Oates, in writing about the violence of rape, was justifying rape; or that Toni Morrison, in writing about the violence of slavery, was advocating for slavery. This sort of argument is absurd, obviously, and I don’t think it’s any less absurd if it’s applied to a story that addresses its themes through fantasy instead of with mimetic realism.

Again, I’m not saying that being able to quickly share information about sexist and racist bullshit on social media is bad. If someone in a position of power is abusing their privilege to hurt people, I don’t need “a nuanced discussion” of the matter.

I also want to emphasize that I respect people’s positions on what they are and aren’t able to tolerate in any given piece of media. Speaking personally, I have a set of topics and styles of representation that I avoid on sight (or reputation) whenever I encounter them in entertainment media, and I don’t care how “nuanced” or “complicated” the piece of media’s treatment of them may be. This is valid for me, and it’s valid for every other human being on this earth.

At the same time, I don’t think that two-step Tumblr thinking should be the default for critical discussions of complicated topics, especially not in an academic setting, whether it’s a classroom or a peer-reviewed article. Sensitivity is always necessary, of course, but “Toni Morrison was racist because she wrote about race” isn’t an exercise of critical thinking by any stretch of the imagination.

This especially applies to conversations about cultures outside of Europe. If we want to encourage conversations about “difference,” then we’re going to have to accept that people operating in the context of different cultures have different ways of telling stories and talking about important issues. Again, I’m not trying to excuse bad behavior, but I think discussions of complicated topics could benefit from more research and critical thinking instead of stalling after the first two steps.

Art Commission Red Flags

I don’t have an exact count, but I’ve paid artists for roughly 150 commissioned comics and illustrations during the past five years. This isn’t because I make lots of money (nope) or somehow had lots of money to begin with (also nope), but rather because I’m passionate about art and comics and creative collaboration. I understand that “passionate” is a word a student might use in an application essay, but I have a hobby that I really enjoy, and I don’t do it for the sake of “advancing my career.” I do what I do primarily for selfish reasons – because it’s fun – but I also genuinely want to support the online communities whose work I enjoy.

So, to summarize: I’m not wealthy, but I love art and want to support artists.

I feel as though I have to say this as a preface because I’m afraid people will read this post (or not read it) and jump to the worst possible conclusion about who I am and what my motives are for writing this. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to share my experiences with commissioning artists, because these experiences have gotten much better as I’ve learned from my mistakes.

I’m going to say that about 19 out of 20 commissions go well, by which I mean there’s good communication with the artist and the final product is delivered as expected. There are key commonalities between the projects that don’t go well, by which I mean (both or either) communication fails or no art is ever created. Here are the five major red flags:

– The artist says they’re open for commissions, but they have no examples or prices listed. Even someone taking commissions for the first time should have, at the very least, a formal commissions post (or comparable online form).

– The artist approaches you to commission them, or a mutual acquaintance asks you to commission them on their behalf. “Doing a favor” for an online stranger rarely ends well, especially if there’s money involved.

– The artist is misrepresenting their age and is actually under 18. It’s important to support young artists, but it’s illegal (and more than a bit creepy) to pay them if they can’t legally use PayPal or Venmo. Some young artists have technically polished and creatively sophisticated styles, so how can you tell? Well…

– The artist’s main social media feed gives you a bad feeling. Many creative people are socially and politically engaged, and this isn’t about white-coded “professionalism” or “tone policing.” Rather, if someone’s entire social media feed is intensely negative and filled with strong language, they might not be in the proper headspace to work on a creative project with a stranger. Also, it’s important to trust your gut instinct when it comes to certain dog whistles. (One of the most bizarre failed commission experiences I’ve had culminated in the artist sending me a long chain of angry DMs filled with homophobic and ethnic slurs, that was wild.)

– The artist insists that you sign a commercial contract for a private commission. You should not be entering into a commercial contract unless you’re commissioning an image for commercial purposes. In the case of fandom commissions, a contract like this is blatantly illegal, and the party who bears the legal guilt is the one who offers money for the theft of someone else’s intellectual property – you, in other words.

Regarding that last red flag, it’s my understanding that many professional “fine artists” require contracts for private commissions, generally due to the amount of money and labor involved. And if you have the means to pay a professional painter $5000 to create an oil portrait of your D&D character, then you should absolutely live your best life. Still, the contract you’re signing won’t be commercial, with the main difference between “private” and “commercial” contracts being a matter of usage rights. Generally the sort of people who advertise for commissions on social media aren’t going to be expecting this, but I’ve had few surprises. What the request for a contract means is that you’re probably not the sort of client the artist is looking for, and it’s best to respect that.

If a commission fails, for whatever reason, I think it’s important for both parties to walk away with no hard feelings. For me, this means not badgering the artist, not badmouthing them within the community, and not asking for the commission fee to be returned. In the end, commissioning art is supposed to be fun, and the ultimate goal is to support artists, especially early-career artists who are willing to create custom illustrations that even someone like me can afford.

Still, as I said, I’m not wealthy. I love art, and I love working with artists, but I’m only able to do so through very careful budgeting and corner-cutting in other aspects of my life. I assume that most people who commission art projects can sympathize, and it doesn’t benefit anyone to throw money into a hole. You can support an artist by contributing to their Ko-fi or Patreon, or simply by sharing their work. Failed commissions are tough on both you and the artist, however, so it’s best to avoid trouble before it begins.

It’s always a good idea to be careful with giving money to online strangers, even if they’re very talented online strangers. Still, I want to emphasize that the vast majority of my experiences commissioning art and comics have been overwhelmingly positive. If you’re interested in commissioning art, please allow me to encourage you to go for it!

Voices Are Not Commodities

I Know I’m Late
https://medium.com/@rebecca.albertalli/i-know-im-late-9b31de339c62

So why do we keep doing this? Why do we, again and again, cross the line between critiquing books and making assumptions about author identities? How are we so aware of invisible marginalization as a hypothetical concept, but so utterly incapable of making space for it in our community?

Let me be perfectly clear: this isn’t how I wanted to come out. This doesn’t feel good or empowering, or even particularly safe. Honestly, I’m doing this because I’ve been scrutinized, subtweeted, mocked, lectured, and invalidated just about every single day for years, and I’m exhausted. And if you think I’m the only closeted or semi-closeted queer author feeling this pressure, you haven’t been paying attention.

And I’m one of the lucky ones! I’m a financially independent adult. I can’t be disowned. I come from a liberal family, I have an enormous network of queer friends and acquaintances, and my livelihood isn’t even remotely at risk. I’m hugely privileged in more ways than I can count. And this was still brutally hard for me. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for other closeted writers, and how unwelcome they must feel in this community.
As someone who was disowned by my family after being outed at fifteen, and as someone who was very recently forced to leave a stable job after disclosing a disability, my position on the matter is clear: Personal identity is complicated, and no one should be made to feel pressured to disclose sensitive personal information in a public venue. This is not social justice; it’s real violence performed against people in vulnerable positions.
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Also relevant:

Fun Times on Etsy

During the past 24 hours, I’ve received three separate Etsy orders (each for one inexpensive item) that appear to be from spambots. The email addresses associated with the accounts are strings of random characters, as are the mailing addresses they provided.

I canceled and refunded each order with a short message to the “buyer” stating that I can’t mail anything to a nonexistent address. I also blocked the users for good measure. I then sent a support request to Etsy for each order to report the account and notify them of suspicious activity.

I feel like I’ve done my due diligence, but I couldn’t find any other accounts of sellers receiving orders from spambots. What I did find were reports of all sorts of other scams and misbehavior on the platform.

Based on an hour of research, most of which was spent browsing through various forums, I learned that there are two main types of scams targeted at sellers. The first involves the sale of small items (generally crafting supplies, such as individual beads) for the purpose of stealing the tracking numbers. In other words, the buyer will use the tracking number you provided to “ship” an order they received and have no intention of fulfilling. The second involves high-quantity sales shipping to freight distributors (generally in Florida or California), which will forward the merchandise to another merchant who will then resell it. “Scams” might not be the right word for these transactions, which seem to be associated with overseas merchants from a certain country, but there’s still something fishy going on.

I also learned that the knitting community on Etsy has a lot of drama. It’s apparently not uncommon for someone to buy a digital pattern and then offer it for sale at a cheaper price on their own store, for instance. It’s also not unheard of for someone to make something directly from a pattern they bought and then sell it at a premium without contacting or crediting the original artist. On top of that, there are people who will spend actual money to hurt another seller by purchasing a lot of inexpensive items and then using those orders to bomb the store with bad reviews and formal complaints. Even crazier, some people will order a ridiculous quantity of a custom-made listing (which generally don’t have inventory limits), knowing that the seller will cancel the order and that they will be able to use the cancellation as an excuse to report the store to Etsy.

Along the way, I read a few horror stories about art and crafting commissions gone horribly awry. With two truly bizarre exceptions, every commission I’ve done has been as smooth as silk, and I was shocked by the behavior I read about. To summarize, many people seem to expect that, because they’ve paid the initial commission fee, an artist must devote endless hours to making a long series of requested changes to their work. People also seem to expect that, after this work is done, they can reject the finished piece and ask for a full refund.

In the cases involving individual people (as opposed to overseas businesses), the story generally included a lengthy lead-up in which the buyer raised all sorts of red flags in their conversations with the seller. I think there’s a lot of pressure on people selling their creative work to be “nice” and “accommodating,” and I think this pressure influences them to tolerate strange interactions with people who make them uncomfortable.

The take-away point from all of this is not that Etsy is broken (which is a different conversation altogether), but rather that setting clear boundaries is good professional behavior. The standard American customer service mentality that “the customer is always right” only makes sense as a social contract if both parties enter into it in good faith. If the customer is unbalanced, however, that level of accommodation is toxic, and sellers – especially young women selling their creative work – need to feel empowered to cut off communication and step away from bad transactions.

Social Media Self-Care

During the past few days, I deleted about four hundred posts on Tumblr:

Posts where I reblogged people’s stories, meta, and art with supportive comments and tags, posts of original art and stories and jokes I made for people’s ideas and headcanons, and reblogs of people’s creative projects and commission info.

I applied the same level of attention to weeding my blog on Tumblr that I’ve devoted to developing my island on Animal Crossing, and it was incredibly cathartic.

I don’t need to see a snapshot of myself going out of my way to be kind and friendly to someone who thought it would be a good idea to send me a message asking if they could commission me to drink an entire bottle of NyQuil and pass out with a plastic trash bag over my head, for example.

I was never friends with any of these creeps. It never happened.

For me, the purpose of Tumblr is and always has been to create a small garden of things that make me happy. I scroll through my own Tumblr when I’m stuck in a waiting room, or during some impossibly long train or car ride, or when I’m exhausted but can’t sleep. “Interesting but relaxing” is the vibe I’m going for, and I think I’ve gone a decent job, for the most part. After all, I’m fairly skilled at catering to myself as an audience of one.

I’ve never been comfortable with the expectation to behave like a brand; and, regardless, activity on Tumblr has declined rapidly during the past month or so. I’ve gone from getting well over a thousand notes a day at the beginning of the year to getting less than a hundred a day during the past three weeks, and it only takes me about fifteen minutes to scroll through an entire day’s feed – if I even bother, which I mostly don’t.

What has ultimately come out of my social experience of fandom on Tumblr are lowkey but lasting friendships with professional artists and writers who have mostly moved to Twitter. I understand the value of online anonymity, but I think there are benefits to allowing yourself to be a real and fully-rounded person online. There are also benefits to being able to mute people, as well as being able to choose never to see certain tags and keywords. I’m not saying that Twitter is a good platform, because it’s objectively awful, but it’s become a much easier place to manage the social aspects of fandom.

To be honest, it’s because of Twitter that I no longer think of “fandom” as a discrete area of my life that needs to be contained and concealed as a shameful waste of time. I am a writer who writes reviews and critical essays about media. Sometimes I write fiction and draw comics. This is who I am, and I’ve found it much easier to interact with people when I don’t have to hide aspects of myself. I’ve also found it much easier to pick up the sort of high-quality freelance assignments that enabled me to quit the soul-crushing job that was making me sick.

Maybe it took me a little longer than other people to find my voice and surround myself with a supportive community, but I’m happy I’m here now.