Feminism & pop culture hits : The Hathor Legacy on Dexter, and Cupidsbow on fanwork


[image source: LA Times]

Purtek at The Hathor Legacy has a great series on the show Dexter. Part One of “Learning Not to Trust” is here.

[Warning: spoilers through season 2 of Dexter, including major season arc spoilers.]

She focuses on the portrayal of several female characters. There is plenty that is problematic in the series, and that isn’t ignored; but there are also some authentic themes about women’s experience that are quite uncommon in TV fiction, particularly crime fiction. A snippet:

The theme that I really liked here was the impact that a culture of violence (both gender-based and otherwise) and of generalized male privilege has on the ability of the female characters to trust other people (specifically men) and to trust their own instincts about any given situation.

One thing I really liked was that this questioning was portrayed as a rational, learned reaction to having been betrayed, violated and attacked by individuals (yes, usually men) that they had previously trusted, rather than as a paranoid attitude with no basis in reality.


Rita’s learned mistrust exposes some realities about the impact of long-term abuse and violence, and offers an alternative, equally plausible, reaction that contrasts with Deb’s–the desperate desire to believe that the world is not entirely filled with horrible people. A world that supports male privilege tells her that she has no real right to expect that she would know where her partner is when he’s not returning her phone calls and disappearing for days at a time–she steps back from asking too many questions for fear of being controlling.

This tendency to push aside her own instincts or expectations and lack of genuine confidence in her judgment makes her an ideal target for another abuser. These are dynamics of abuse and violence that are often completely ignored on television in favour of the much more simplistic “why doesn’t she get out of this pattern?” message.

[Image source: the Trek Movie report]


Cupidsbow, doctor of space opera extraordinaire, has a post up on the Organization for Transformative Works and the perceived worth of fanwork, complete with a link to an Anti Fanfic Bingo Card.

Many of us have a bit of a giggle at fanfic and slashfic. Delving below the surface, however, reveals some truths. I think that fanwork can be a feminist topic. The vast majority of fans engaging in it are women. Their cultural work is voluntary, unpaid, and denigrated — is this starting to sound familiar?

Follow cupidsbow’s journey, starting here:

When I first started reading fanfic, I felt ashamed of how hard and fast I fell in love with it. I couldn’t understand why I found this stuff so brain-meltingly fascinating. That was the starting point of all the thinking and reading I’ve done, and in the process of finding an answer that made sense, I also found myself rejecting the main principles underpinning capitalism; more than just understanding myself, I re-made myself.

A huge part of that rejection of capitalist ideology was due to fanfiction fandom. I know it’s kind of out of fashion now to say that fanfic is subversive — people have pointed out that a lot of slash, for instance, really valorises the same old ideas of romantic love, with all of the mainstream control of bodies that entails; and that just adding gay sex, or any sex, to something isn’t innately subversive. They are good points, and I agree with them.

I didn’t always agree, though, as “taking emotional stories seriously” and “filling in the private gaps in public texts” were the kinds of things I got hung up on at first. Mostly, I think, because I hadn’t seen feeling-centred or sexual stories celebrated so happily, without the baggage of shame, before I found slash. It felt subversive back then. Now I’ve been around the block a zillion times, and yeah, I can see all the old tropes of romance still in there, just with a bit of glitter over the top.

But the thing is, that’s not what I think the subversion is anymore. I think the subversion actually exists in the nexus of product and practice, of fanworks and fan cultures. Fanfic fans (and likely other creators of fanworks, although I know their cultures less well, so I’m hesitant to make blanket statements) have a fundamentally different way of valuing fannish things than capitalist culture has of valuing everyday products and practices. That’s why it took me so long to really get fanwork — I had to cast off all the expectations of capitalism first.

[For further background, check out her other essays, including “Women/Writing 1: How Fanfiction Makes Us Poor”.

Categories: Culture, gender & feminism

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4 replies

  1. One thing I really liked was that this questioning was portrayed as a rational, learned reaction to having been betrayed, violated and attacked by individuals (yes, usually men) that they had previously trusted, rather than as a paranoid attitude with no basis in reality.

    I’ve only seen one episode, and I noted that already. It was depressingly refreshing, if you know what I mean.

  2. It was depressingly refreshing, if you know what I mean.

    I know exactly what you mean. I have this reaction every time I notice something like this. First thought: “That’s great! That’s so much like what actually happens!”. Second thought: “Damn, do I have low standards. All I’m asking for is someone not to be completely offensive in describing rape victims? Damn again.”
    I like the connection between that and the other linked post here…not just because of the “pop culture” theme, but because the next question is “How do we get from just expecting people not to add to the problem to moving toward actual subversive solutions?”

  3. The link doesn’t work, at least for me, try substituting .com instead of .info: http://thehathorlegacy.com/dexter-learning-not-to-trust-part-1/ Great, another RSS feed for me, thanks!
    I’ve seen all the seasons to date, and I’ve really enjoyed that show (I surprised myself) even though there *are* problems (sometimes I have to watch something, problems are a matter of degree with mainstream telly). The clarity with which so many characters are portrayed is quite amazing, especially for an american show *is cynical*. In the comments to that article, Purtek is enlightened as to future developments in the show that are more sexist, and I’m jumping up and down going “yes! I agree”. The thing with Pasquale, and with Lila, I was quite “ugh” about, they seemed to revert to the usual trashy broad-strokes ideas.

  4. Cheers, calyx – it’s an ancient post, and it looks like the URL has changed. I’ve edited it.

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