Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.
I just came back from Gally, the big-ass Doctor Who convention in L.A., and I am already counting the days until next year’s. Gally is like a big party full of friends you don’t necessarily know yet. Gally always has some cool stars, writers, and directors, but for me the highlight of the con is the panels, the cosplay, the random crafting and creativity of fellow con-goers. Because what makes Gally magical is the fans, and what we take away from the show, what we do with the show, how we interpret it.
I only went to four panels this year, because I planned my sleeping poorly, so I’ve asked Nightsky to come join me in writing up the convention. She went to some of the panels I highlighted and slept through.
21st Century Doctor Who Fandom: The Cosplay Factor (Courtney)
This was a fairly disappointing panel, though I admit my expectations were high. I was on the panel, and I pitched it to the convention. The conversation started off with a “Why are we even doing this? Cosplay is simple and easily understood!” which was an inauspicious place to begin.
We meandered at first, partly because no one seemed to know why we were there (except me, and no one was listening to me at first), and so it became a “yay, cosplay!” panel for a while. Bob Mitsch talked about how awesome it is to have creators and authors appreciate your cosplay, telling a story about how Matt Smith said on TV that the Doctor cosplays were neat. It was kind of a cool story, but I felt like we were placing way too much stock in what actors and other authorized creators thought. Cosplay isn’t about Matt Smith. If he hated it, we’d still do it, because it’s about fans and their interpretation of the show.
So we moved on, thankfully, but only because Bob was very silly and said he wanted to figure out what the “cosplay factor” was. In one word. But it meant that we began actually talking about what cosplay is and why people do it and what role it has in the fan community. The first thing we decided was that cosplay is an act of love, which, awww.
At some point I articulated something I’ve been trying to figure out for years: Cosplayers come at cosplay with different sets of motivations. Usually, these are motivations as fans and motivations as costumers. As fans, they may want, for example, to choose a character because they love them. As fans, they won’t care if they are buying pieces or making them, because what’s important is the interpretation they are putting forth with their cosplay. As costumers, however, they may want to choose characters they don’t like much, because their costumes are interesting or challenging. They’ll probably want to make or alter most of the pieces. And these motivations, obviously, can be at odds with each other. It’s like a see-saw. For some cosplayers, the fan motivations vastly outweigh the costumer motivations, and for some the costumer motivations sometimes trump the fan motivations (though usually only for some cosplays, not all of them).
At this point Bob just started stringing words together, saying the cosplay factor is “love, creativity, meaning, seesaw,” and a bunch of other silly things that made no sense out of context. He’s a funny dude. [Nightsky: I think he was trying to isolate the “cosplay factor” like the Daleks tried to isolate the “human factor” in “The Evil of the Daleks”.]
The Remix Culture (Nightsky)
Yes, while Courtney was off doing something frivolous like “eating” or “sleeping” or maybe even attending Louise Jameson’s show, I was in panels. Because it is, frankly, kind of awesome to be on a panel. First up was a panel on remixing, especially as manifested in fanvids.
Despite my best attempts at keeping the discussion on remixing itself, it kept drifting over to fan/creator interactions. I’d really been hoping to steer things over to a discussion on participatory culture: one of the worst things Hollywood has done for us is to instill and perpetuate this notion that culture flows one way, from them to us. I think that’s crap. I think culture is a conversation, which is why I’m so happy to see fanac in all its various forms: people all over the world saying that culture is theirs, that they have every right to participate no matter what the elites think.
Doctor Who, Sexual Tropes and the “Gay Agenda” (Nightsky)
This was it, the biggie. From a rant that sort of slipped out of me at the end of last year’s “Chicks Dig Time Lords” panel, I pitched a couple of panels with themes like “Asexuality in Doctor Who” and “Queer Readings of Who”. The Powers That Be (wisely) merged those with a grab bag of related pitches, and out came this panel, which I delighted in calling “Sexytimes in Doctor Who”.
My fellow panelists and I, and our standing room only crowd (!), quickly launched into a spirited and often contentious–but always awesome–conversation. Panelist Mark described how important it was to him, as a child, to have a space that wasn’t heteronormative. Aware he was different from the other kids, increasingly aware he was gay, but rejecting the portrayals of gay men he was surrounded with, Mark found refuge in the Doctor’s uncomplicated otherness. Sarah, the panel’s other ace (!!), described the feeling of betrayal when the new series Doctors started finding love: asexuals get one, maybe two, canonical aces across all media, and now we can’t even have those? After briefly touching on some of the queer moments in the classic series, we launched into queerness in new Who. Someone in the audience opined that RTD-era Who had gay people around for no particular reason, while Moffatt-era Who seems to showboat a little more. Someone else pointed out Sky Silvestry, the lesbian businesswoman from “Midnight”, and noted that she didn’t appreciate another airing of the “psycho lesbian” trope. A young transman called out all Who, old and new, for falling down on trans* inclusion. I realized afterwards that I’d forgotten to discuss Alpha Centauri, an interesting genderqueer alien from the old series’ Peladon stories, and how… remarkable it is that every single alien species in the Whoniverse is sexually dimorphic.
I’d planned to go straight to sleep afterwards, but instead I stayed up until 1:30 talking about gender normativity with my roommate, a journalism student from Canada. I love Gally.
Also, “RTD and his Gay Agendas” is the name of my next trock band.
Time Lords & Time Ladies: Interpretive Cosplay and Crossplay in Doctor Who (Courtney)
This was by far the most rewarding panel to me. I moderated, and I was joined by a number of very smart cosplaying ladies.
For me, the highlight of this panel was our discussion of race, body size, gender, and “accuracy” as a function of privilege. At some point, we started talking about the difference between interpretive and “accurate” cosplay. The crossplayers, for the most part, cared a great deal about accuracy, but also recognized that their bodies don’t fit what’s happening on screen. And a woman in the audience chimed in to say that, as a fat person, she could never hope to achieve screen accuracy. So I relayed something that had irritated the hell out of me on a panel last year that I attended. The panel was on cosplaying as the Doctor, and I only went because squirrelyTONKS (who was also on the interpretive cosplay panel), femme Doctor extraordinaire, was on it. For the majority of the panel, the boys were just talking away, and squirrely wasn’t getting a word in edgewise. In a lull between discussions of pinstripes, she put herself forward and asked if anyone in the room was planning on doing a femme Doctor. Instead of, you know, letting anyone say anything, one of the men on the panel said, “Oh, I think women are so lucky that they can be so creative with the Doctor costumes,” the implication being that men can’t be and thus have to spend hours searching for the exact right fabric. Of course, that’s incorrect. Men could be more creative with the Doctor costume. They could be a steampunk Doctor, or a punk Doctor, or a medieval Doctor, or a gay pride Doctor. But also, I pointed out, that is a very privileged thing to say.
Being able to care about accuracy is a function of privilege in the fan community. The man who said that could say that because his body, for the most part, matches the body of the actor onscreen. He’s a White, abled, relatively thin, cis-male person. He doesn’t seem to comprehend that women can’t just do the cosplay. They have to work it around their marginalized bodies. So do fans of color, (dis)abled fans, and trans* and genderqueer fans. [Nightsky: Michelle, a fan of color who cosplays the Fifth Doctor, made a great point here: White fans get more of a pass on “looking like the Doctor” than fans of color do.]
During this conversation, squirrely mentioned that she would love to do a Toshiko Sato cosplay, and I…I had some opinions. (N.B. I love squirrely to death and think she’s the sweetest.) The problem with White cosplayers doing cosplay of characters of color is that we already white-wash people of color constantly. (We do this literally, by selling them products that damage their skin, and figuratively, by doing things like replacing an entire cast of characters of color with White characters.) The other problem is that fans of color, when they want to see someone on screen who looks like them? They have some limited-ass options. Really. And women should know what this feels like, we are at a femme Doctor cosplay panel! We know what it’s like to want the hero to sometimes look like us! And people of color are far more limited than White women are when it comes to finding characters that look like them. To me, a White cosplayer costuming as a character of color is a slap in the face to fans of color. Like, “You know how I have ALL THE CHARACTERS and you don’t get hardly any, and even less that are badass? Well, get over it, because I’m taking YOURS too.” And I know that’s now how most White cosplayers think about it. I know that squirrely would never think that way. But man, it comes off that way. You are White, you have plenty of characters to choose from. You do not need to take the few awesome characters of color and white-wash them too. /rant
This discussion seemed to be what lots of people enjoyed the most. I asked gallifreygirl, who was at the panel, what she thought about it and she said her favorite part of the discussion was that we “didn’t just touch on gender but on race and body image as well. Anything that doesn’t fit in with ‘screen-accurate’ representation of the Doctor (because the cosplayer isn’t male or white) has to be interpretive.” When I asked her what she ultimately took away from the discussion, she said “That there’s a lot of room in Doctor Who fandom for playing with gender, and that as a fandom, Doctor Who is a lot more open to this than many others. I think perhaps because the fundamental ideals of Doctor Who, of an exile/outcast finding a place to belong appeals to minorities. There is still a lot to discuss about interpretive crossplay/cosplay and I do hope this panel gets an encore next year!”
I’m definitely pitching it next year, so I hope they let us do it again. (And this time, I’ll record it, because I kicked myself for not doing that this year.)
[Nightsky: Somebody else (I think it was Tor.com’s Teresa Jusino) made what I thought was an outstanding point: screen-accuracy is, ultimately, a limitation. You can hire costumer and fellow Gally attendee Steve Ricks to make you an outfit that people will wonder if you’ve stolen from the BBC... but where do you go from there? Femme cosplay, by rejecting screen accuracy, has limitless possibilities.]
Why Aren’t There More Captain Janeways? (Courtney)
This panel was pretty disappointing. It sometimes seemed like it could have gotten somewhere interesting, but it was mostly writers. So it was really a panel about industry stuff, and less about cultural expectations of women and how TV reflects those. At some point, Jill said, “You can write the best character, and the network says, Great! Now let’s cast someone hot and young.” And for some reason, this led to no discussion of the limited definitions of “hot” we have in our culture, TV or otherwise. It also didn’t lead to any discussion of the fact that the network is also usually saying, “young, hot, and White.” Literally, no discussion of race the entire panel.
I know it sounds like I have high standards for these panels, but that’s because I’m missing an entire hour of meeting awesome strangers in the hallway and seeing cosplay. And these panels can be amazing. I’ve been to more than one incredible Gally panel. So I kind of expect them all to push themselves to be more than just phoning in. Let’s talk about nitty-gritty stuff, because it’s fucking interesting! I know lots of panels like to pretend Doctor Who fandom exists outside of the world and politics and oppression, but a panel about discrimination against women should know better. So if we’re going to talk about oppression, let’s talk about oppression. Listing “strong female characters” and asking the audience to cast a female Doctor for an hour is phoning it in. Especially when all the actresses we chose were thin and White.
Inspector Spacetime: The Panel (Courtney)
I didn’t know what to expect when I went to this panel, but as a die-hard Community fan, I couldn’t miss it. Most of the panel was everyone pretending Inspector Spacetime was a real show, and that we were all fans of it, and that we were having a very generic panel on it. So the panelists would ask things like, “What was your favorite episode?” and “What’s your first memory of Inspector Spacetime?” and the audience would ad lib like we were in an alternate universe. It was pretty funny. There’s a recording of the panel on YouTube. You should go watch it.
[Nightsky: Here’s another interesting example of participatory culture. Like a cross between Doctor Who and Mornington Crescent, Inspector Spacetime depends on the “yes, and” of zillions of fans. It’s ridiculously meta.]
Feminism and Doctor Who
Courtney: Oh wait, this wasn’t a panel. And that was the most disappointing part of Gally for me this year. Last year they had a “Is Doctor Who Feminist?” panel, which was mostly awful, but still, this should be a topic of freaking discussion. In the year of Steven Moffat, this is more relevant a discussion than ever. I mean, I started a feminist Doctor Who blog, and before we had even posted anything, we were averaging 130 hits a day. I had 90+ people interested enough in writing for it that they had sent me their email address. This is obviously a hole that Doctor Who fans need filled, and a discussion that we need to be having, online and at Gally.
Nightsky: This was a disappointment. “Sexytimes in Doctor Who” (q.v.) had a lot of feminist content, true, but the subject is big and important and multi-faceted enough to support several panels. I hope to see a dedicated feminism panel at next year’s Gally.