If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who’s pretty into fandom. And if you’re like me, you get almost irrationally attached to your favorite protagonists. I’ve even been known to lose sleep worrying about the fates of my favorite characters.
But these stories we love so much are more than just distractions. More than escapism. A well-told story speaks to something fundamental about the human experience. It helps us understand ourselves and others better. It makes us think and feel.
Aimee, my co-founder here at She-Fi, recently shared this article with our She-Fi Facebook group (which you should join, ladies!). It’s about a queer, teenaged girl who recently visited a comic book shop in Indiana looking for Supergirl comics because Alex Danvers [Chyler Leigh], Supergirl’s [Melissa Benoist] adopted sister on the CW TV show, helped her process her thoughts and feelings about her own sexuality. Alex’s coming out story is powerful because, through learning not to judge herself or deny who she really is, she begins to accept herself and find happiness. The girl in the comic book shop broke down in tears because the story resonated with her so much. She said that Alex’s story helped her stop feeling like she wanted to die. This is why representation in TV, movies, and comics is so important. When we can see ourselves reflected in the stories we love, it helps us start to understand that we are worthy, valuable, and lovable exactly as we are.
Neil Gaiman has a story about his cousin who read Gone with the Wind and recounted it to a group of girls in Poland during WWII. Possessing a book was grounds for the death penalty – without any sort of trial. But she did this anyway because, as Gaiman explains, there’s something about experiencing a story that’s worth dying for.
And Stan Lee has said the following about writing comics:
“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer, while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”
He’s right. And what’s more, entertainment is really just the beginning. The media we consume can, in some ways, lay the foundation for our ideas about the real world. Many people credit Ellen and Will and Grace, for example, with helping to shift public opinion about same sex marriage. Star Trek made a statement with the famous kiss between Kirk [William Shatner] and Uhura [Nichelle Nichols], which was quite daring for its time. These things matter.
And given the political climate this year, stories can take on an added significance. To have a story like Alex’s air so shortly after Donald Trump’s win is meaningful. It’s taking a stand. It’s saying we’re going to continue moving history in the right direction.
There is, of course, a longstanding debate about the real impact of art when it comes to social progress and social movements. If you really want change, critics say, why spend you time writing a novel or a poem or a song or a TV pilot? Why not go out there and demonstrate? Write and call your representatives? And it’s true, there is an immediacy associated with activism that may be lacking in the creation of art. But we need both. It’s not an either-or situation. And it is possible for each of us to do both. In fact, art can be a form of activism.
The shows and movies we watch, books and comics we read, and songs we listen to help to shape the cultural zeitgeist. We need activists to help get those changes that can be made now actually implemented. We could all take a lesson from Standing Rock. And at the same time, we need art and media to help evolve the mainstream cultural thinking on a broad scale, to ensure that things continue to move forward.
So if you’re feeling disillusioned this year, go out there and make noise! And then come home and write a story. Write your story. Share it with your friends. Ask them to share it, too. Encourage them to write their own stories. Light up those timelines with stories that promote a different way of thinking from the one that won Trump the election. If you can, try to share your stories with people beyond your immediate friends list, because we all know that social media is, sometimes, just preaching to the choir. And it’s true that there is a danger with “Facebook activism” that we’ll get lulled into thinking it’s all that needs to be done. It’s not the only thing we need to do to create real change. But it is part of it. Changing the conversation is an important aspect of social progress. This stuff can make a difference.