nobrandhero: (companion pikachu)
I've been pondering how to respond to some statistics on shipping popular on AO3, because it's such a fascinating subject and... also way too complex for me to dissect properly. That said, I'm gonna give it a shot anyway. There are just so many possible reasons for this extreme preference for M/M relationships in a (primarily female) fandom setting.

The first place I'm gonna throw the blame at is our media. In a world where almost half of our movies still can't pass the Bechdel Test, it's barely even possible to ship an F/F pairing. There are five men in the Avengers and one woman. I'm going to focus mostly on female representation because that’s my area of expertise, but there are six white people, six presumably cishet people, and zero PoC or queer people on the Avengers. That is a distressingly common cast these days and does not leave much room for shipping outside of white, cishet, male/male relationships.

When there actually are more than two women in any given show/movie/book, they rarely interact. Obviously lack of canon interaction has never stopped anyone from shipping two characters before, but generally speaking the popular M/M pairings still show a lot of on-screen chemistry. The even bigger problem is, female characters are often the least fleshed out characters in the cast. No one wants to read two cardboard cut-outs make out. Note that the fandoms that do have popular F/F pairings tend to have a lot more female characters than average.

Moving over to the fandom side of things, there are some ways that female writers might prefer male characters that have nothing to do with their fandom of choice or sexism. Male characters make taboo concepts safer to explore. A fair number of female fic writers are exploring themes of sexuality for the first time, so it helps them when they’re able to distance themselves from the subject matter by involving only masculine bodies.

This is probably true for most kinks. They get the satisfaction of trying out that subject matter, learning about it and trying to discern what it means to them, without feeling personally involved. It's probably extra important when it comes to the subject of dubcon/noncon and other more unpleasant experiences. (As much as noncon in fic makes me shudder, I can't condemn it knowing there are confused fourteen-year-olds using it as an outlet for a subject that they're learning can or sadly may already involve them.)

It also allows women to move away from traditional relationships. We're still living in a society where women are expected to be submissive and the "lesser" member of the relationship. Women aren't "allowed" to just be friends with a male and friendzoning is considered an insult. The traditional power dynamics of a hetero relationship are just plain kind of nasty. If a relationship involves two men, on the other hand, suddenly the balance shifts. Society doesn't have as many expectations for gay relationships, so a writer can do whatever they want without having to unlearn anything. (Yes, they conveniently don't realize homophobia is a thing, that is its own problem.)

All that aside, I can't ignore there's an even uglier factor that crops up in fandom: a depressingly high number of young women suffer from pretty bad internalized sexism. They don't like female characters (though sometimes I can't really blame them, considering how poorly female characters are written at times). Being female is seen as a crime. They only like the male characters, so why would they pair up anyone else?

What is it going to take for female characters to crop up more evenly in fandom? I'd say an increase in well-written women within our media is the first important step. Ficcers can't write F/F if there aren't enough female characters to make up many ships to begin with. And maybe if there were more fictional female role models around, internalized sexism wouldn't be such a common problem either.

Okay, I think that's the best I can do. There's also an article on The Toast that tackles a few of these topics better than I could, so you should check it out if this subject matter interests you.
nobrandhero: (turntechGodoka)
It's hard to miss that a fair amount of the Homestuck fandom is pretty sick of the overabundance of "Strider manpain" within fanworks at this point. It's understandable, Dave is not the most precious baby in the entire cast and yet he gets an unfair share of attention, but I find it mostly fascinating. Why does he attract such a huge fan following -- specifically a following that loves to analyze and amplify his angst in swarms? Other characters have sadder backstories, harder obstacles to overcome, and yet the rich douche from Texas gets the most woobie love.

Maybe I'm off-base, but I think it has a lot to do with how he comes across in terms of relatability. He doesn't have the worst obstacles, but they're the type of obstacles most likely to "ping" with an audience. The other characters are harder to project onto, which is why the other beta kids don't catch as much of an angst fan following in comparison to Dave Strider, even though they usually deserve it just as much if not more so. Let me give some examples.

First off, John's problems are small potatoes. They just are. He has a nice home, a doting parent, and his biggest complaint in life is that his dad thinks he likes clowns. Even later on, when he's confronted with his parent's death, he keeps a surprisingly neutral attitude overall. John doesn't dwell on negativity and thus provides very little angst fuel.

He does have tiny pockets of "blink and you miss it" emotional reactions, but they're similar to reactions one might have over a stubbed toe: there's a moment of intense emotion, then thirty seconds later it's as if it never happened and the pain's gone forever. When he does finally snap and make it clear that the pain is still very much dwelling in him, it's in a way that no one ever wants to admit they relate to: teenage temper tantrums. His dark side is too rare and too extreme to provide a hook for readers to hang their darker feelings off of.

Jade, meanwhile, has led... an interesting life. Her guardian died in what appeared to be suicide when she was young (aw, that could be relateable)... after which she stuffed him (what), and was raised in complete isolation by her dog (what), and knew she was going to die young because she had her dream self's corpse in the attic (WHAT). Jade Harley deserves all the fucking angst, all right? That is a RIDICULOUS amount of bullshit for a little kid to grow up with.

Despite all that, though, she is one of the most chipper and selfless characters in the whole damn series. Which means, naturally, that a general readership can't relate to her. Her tragedies are beyond a real world scope and, even beyond that, most of us probably can't imagine her levels of altruism. You can't easily project darker thoughts onto a character who succeeds so well in banishing them. She does have a hidden dark side, but she stuffs it so deep that it takes her Sprite self and grimbarkness to release it. Like John, her negative emotions are very all-or-nothing.

It surprises me a little that Rose isn't milked for angst more often: she thinks her mother is out to get her and doesn't realize she truly loved her until it's too late. That's such a near-universal teenage moment that it's not even funny. But at the same time, it requires a fair amount of self-reflection to admit that we've misread our parents -- especially in a readership that is heavily comprised of teenagers who often haven't had the distance to make those kinds of epiphanies yet. (Note: Sometimes those epiphanies are "Wow, my parents are dicks." All the same, age often means taking note of your parents' humanity, for good or bad.)

Plus, as odd as it sounds, Rose probably hides her negative emotions the least of all the beta kids. She may skirt around her shortcomings, if she's self-conscious about them, and turn to alcohol instead of confronting her fears, but when she's upset, shit can explode. Where the Prospit kids are too laid back in confronting their psychological problems, Rose might be too extreme. I don't think most people want to relate to someone whose coping mechanisms involve turning to the dark arts.

Which leaves us with Dave, who is at about the same Personal Tragedy Level as Rose (that is, above John's warranted angst but below Jade's). Somehow, this little douche tends to provide the most angstfuel in the fandom and I'm fairly sure it's because his problems are personally complex but universally simple: He wants to live up to and exceed his role model. He wants to be cool to the point he loses track of what he actually likes. He pretends he can handle shit that he can't. He tries to mask his uncomfortable emotions but time and again lets them slip in telltale ways.

He embodies those "Does anyone else ever feel like they want to do x but they’re just too y?" textposts that get seventy thousand notes on Tumblr. Not only does he fail to live up to his own expectations, but he can't even hide it when he tries. He's vulnerable in places that the other kids have strong defenses. Is it really any surprise that hordes of teenagers (consciously or subconsciously) relate to his often futile struggles?

Then the Alphas come along and tear all this theorizing to shreds, because hell if I know why Dirk gets all the fandom manpain focus like his ecto-son. (After his self-loathing and depression conversation with AR? Sure, that makes sense. But I'm faaairly sure he's been a fan fav long before that pesterlog was released.) If I had to hazard a guess, it's possible that people project Dave's issues onto him on top of the whole living in isolation + unrequited crush stuff. I'll have to give it more thought.
nobrandhero: (turntechGodoka)
I was reading one of those cringe-worthy "Don't blame poor, misunderstood Eridan! Feferi and Sollux were being mean, so it's their fault he killed/KO'd them!" defense posts and accidentally had kind of a weird realization about Eridan's behavior. Nothing that justifies him, obviously, but there's a pattern to every time Eridan physically harms someone: he goads them with something drastic, they attack him in retaliation, and he doesn't strike until they've made that first move.

Basically, Eridan taunted his friends -- sometimes outright cornering them -- until they attacked, but he wouldn't pull the first punch. It makes me wonder, was he trying to manipulate an excuse to attack them, under the guise of self-defense?

In Kanaya: Return to the Core, Eridan doesn't attack until Sollux steps up to a duel (to prevent Eridan from getting them all murdered), at which point he has no qualms slamming Sollux against the wall. Likewise, he didn't kill Feferi until she came after him. He had to have known she would attack (whether to avenge her quadrantmate or to stop him from reaching Bec Noir) and he definitely harbored some malice against her, seeing as he had shown himself capable of knocking out his opponents but outright killed her, so I'd still count that as goading.

Then he reaches an impasse with Kanaya. He can't leave with her blocking his way, but she isn't making the first move and, if my analysis is correct, Eridan apparently won't make the first move. So he destroys the matriorb in order to push her over the edge, giving him his excuse to kill her when she leaps at him.

None of this justifies his actions in any fucking way, but it's still kind of an interesting behavioral pattern. I'm not entirely sure what it means for his character, but my best guess is that it's how he justified some pretty fucking horrific choices just to himself: "I didn't murder anyone; they attacked first, so it was just self-defense!" He gave himself wiggle room for denial, basically. (Reminiscent of his killing the angels in his Land, perhaps? He riled them up until killing them actually was self-defense?)

It also explains why he left Karkat alone after annihilating everyone else in the room: he didn't have beef with him (he actually seemed to respect Karkat more than the other trolls) and Karkat was in too much shock to intervene, so there was no reason to goad him into stepping into his crosshairs of "self-defense."
nobrandhero: (turntechGodoka)
When the chat with Meenah braiding Vriska's hair was released, I saw two very strong reactions on my Tumblr dash. One was, "Oh my gosh, she's repenting and learning from her mistakes finally!" The other was, "No way, she's only sorry because her past actions hurt her image!" There really wasn't much in-between and, the more I think on it, the more it feels like both sides are oversimplifying the matter.

Vriska is a really complex character: She is a terrible person with good intentions. She wants praise, but she wants it for doing something that is good. She wants to be a hero, but she doesn't really have a moral compass. In essence, I think she'd make a fantastic Slytherin, because she seems to be a strong believer in "The Ends Justify the Means."

Does she feel bad for using and abusing people to reach her goals? No, she thinks their sacrifice was worth it for the Big Picture. It's worth taunting and abusing Tavros because, in her mind, that will make him stronger down the road. It's worth tricking John into getting killed on his quest bed, because it will make him God Tier. It's worth harming legions of ghosts, because their deaths will save the rest of reality.

(It's worth feeding innocent trolls to her lusus, because it will keep her alive.)

That's kind of the scary thing about Vriska: she lacks empathy, but her reasoning can actually make sense. If she's right and her strategy is truly the best way to stop Lord English, would sacrificing all those ghosts be worth it, considering they'd be killed either way if Lord English isn't stopped? (This feels like a choice in a Bioware game. "Would you like to do horrible choice X, or slightly less horrible choice Y that may or may not lead to even worse scenarios down the road?")

So when Vriska comes to notice that her ends aren't justifying her means anymore, she finally starts to question herself. We see the doubt start to creep in when she talks to John after killing Tavros, but whatever lessons learned there seem to have mostly worn off since dying. After the Aranea thing, if she'd vented to someone who wasn't freaking Meenah (who, let's not deny, is pretty much just as bad as Vriska in terms of potential for unrepentant chaos), I can't help but wonder if she could have been directed to self-reflect on her real flaws finally.

I think we saw hints of Vriska’s potential regret in the "Terezi let her go" doomed timeline: it was worth the risk of going off to fight Bec Noir... until it resulted in the death of her friends. Yeah, she probably wasn't happy that she failed as a hero and that it made her look the fool for trying such a dumb stunt, but it seems pretty obvious she was also upset that people were hurt because of her. Too bad those memories went to a doomed offshoot and the Alpha Vriska can't learn from that mistake.

Her pattern of "Do something mean, regret it, go back to being mean not too long later" doesn't bode well, but if she could recognize how much pain she causes and that she doesn't know what's 8est for other people, I think it's possible for her to repent. She skirts around the edge often enough that I suspect she has it in her, but I'm not sure what it will take for her to really be able to stare that truth in the face.

(Just for context: I think Vriska is a terrible person who I would never want to meet in real life, but I cannot deny she is still one of my favorite characters in Homestuck. In other words, I am not hating on her, nor am I really trying to defend her. I love how complexly awful she is and I hope she'll get her head on straight by the end of the comic (though I'm not counting on it). It just seems like most people classify her as either "all good/misunderstood" or "all bad," and I think she's got a little more going on than those two options.)