BayCon 2015 continued…
Saturday morning started with the Pop Culture Princess (R)evolution panel. I’m not sure how I ended up on this panel, except that I have so many nieces under age 7 and I’m honestly curious about the princess phenomenon. The questions from moderator ElizaBeth Gilligan and from the audience led to some lively comparisons of female characters with agency (Princess Leia) vs passive ones (Buttercup in The Princess Bride). We talked about the appalling dearth of racial and ethnic diversity in the princess canon, and the fact that even when Disney does make a movie with a non-white princess (Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, a perfectly acceptable role model for my nieces), the Disney merchandise machine is not activated to make her a core part of the brand. I’ve heard the argument that it takes time for a princess to gain elevation in the recognizibility ranks. But Elsa, another princess-come-lately but a white one, has utterly taken over the Disney parks. We talked about how princess movies have begun a welcome exploration of other relationships besides the boy-girl one. I got to deploy my one useful fact: that in the original stories collected by the Brothers Grimm most of the “wicked stepmothers” and the occasional cold hard stepfather you encountered were the biological parents, not the step-parents, of the child heroes. We’re all more comfortable with sterilized fairy tales where your own mother and father are not the ones who work you down to a skeleton or call for your liver on a plate, but that’s not how the source material went.
Next I sat in the audience for the Persistence of Racism panel. I knew about the racist fuckwittery of the 2014 Hugo Awards, but I’m still new to fan geekdom. Here I started to get a sense of just how deep a well of trouble the community is in. Most of the panelists were absolutely brilliant, with witty stories from moderator Sumiko Saulson and Bradford Lyau and a patient comment from Gregg Castro about how the word “tribal” gets thrown around the con community. The audience, however. They left me sad. “Questions” devolved into vague comments from white people on the theme of “I was bullied for being a nerd.” Yes. I get it. Most of us geeks have camped out on the margins of the mainstream, one way or another. But, um, audience? We’re almost all white here. When are we going to talk about racism, how racism hurts all of us here, how the Black Lives Matter movement and the culture’s response to racist police brutality ties into the art we’re creating? Or even just about Octavia Butler being accepted as a “writer” instead of a “black woman writer?” I applaud the panelists for taking on that massive conversation, but I went away feeling low.
Then I was on the Many Threads, One Fabric panel, a wide-flung conversation about subcultures within the geekdom (and where I tried to make a point about how SFF has evolved and said I’d tried to read H.P. Lovecraft but had to stop because of the blatant racism, but then I instantly realized I was iconoclasting an icon who is very much still in active worship). I got to hear moderator Gregg Castro talk about his work as a tribal advocate and how being at a con was vacation for him (though the man was obviously still working pretty hard) despite being one of a very, very few people of color. I talked about writing a book with a lesbian teen as a main character and how being published with a niche LGBT press is both something to celebrate and something that reflects the wimpiness of the mainstream publishing industry. I mean, long live independent presses. But the big five (or two, or however many it is now) are missing out on the freshest voices.
After that my sore brains needed soothing. I revived myself with a stroll through the art room. I spotted Artist Guest of Honor Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s booth and was hypnotized by her watercolors. I lusted for a print of a Hello Kitty with rows of shark teeth (wish I could remember the artist’s name). I took pictures of Sith Lords and got a mini-swordfighting lesson and just generally had pleasantries with cosplayers. Con people are nice. That’s my conclusion. I was a newbie and I was there alone, and everyone I met had something kind or cheerful to say. If I’m going to be stranded, I’ve found my desert island. I sat on a vacant couch to try to read the pages for my writing group and two guys came by to find out if I had any alien DNA (it’s a Skye thing) and then we talked about the Oakland foodie scene and mourned the closure of the Holy Land restaurant and I couldn’t get any work done at all. I gave up and got the people of the Science Fiction Museum to let me captain their starship.
I tried again later to read my pages for writing group, but Gregg Castro found me sitting alone at the bar and asked me to join him and his wife and Bradford Lyau for dinner. Instant friends. Good conversation. That’s what this weekend was about. Not for getting your homework done. That’s what the long drive home with your Tim O’Brien CD is for.
Then I went to the Variety Show, where everyone backstage danced to a Taylor Swift lip-sync and Mary Robinette Kowal presented a hilarious and somewhat sexually inappropriate puppet show and Amber Benson sang Under Your Spell, reading the lyrics from her phone, because they’re both awesome like that. And I played a song and got to take this little old thing home.
Next: Girls, boys, girly boys, boyish girls, and every kind of superhero in between!