Friday, May 25, 2012

Life Ruiners (and Cumberbitches)

You might have heard the term life ruiners before (you probably have. Unlike me, you probably learn about weird cultural quirks via people or other internet sources, instead of my method of basically spying on Tumblr. Really, I'm beginning to feel like a spy, a mole amidst their daily business. It's beginning to get weird). In case you haven't heard the term, Urban dictionary's definitions are rather interesting. Here's their first entry:

There you go. Pretty straight forward. You want it expressed musically? Okay, we can do that. It's kind of like this:

This is probably the weirdest usage of this song, but seriously, every time I see someone talking about life ruiners on Tumblr, this song pops into my head as the soundtrack. To sum up, in one way or another, someone (usually a famous actor) expresses some perception of perfection and thus, because said person is perfect and unattainable, you hate this fact and are perceived to take it out on them. It's also sort of like this. Or this. Or this:

(OMG, who thought of the Jack Harkness reference? CANNOT UNSEE). (Sorry, sorry, two of them are both about Cumberbatch. Not by choice - there's just a lot of people dubbing him a life ruiner frequently on Tumblr hemisphere I inhabit. I admit to a convenience sample, for you researchers keeping tabs). Where was I? Ah, yes. On first look, this whole life ruining thing makes no sense - one moment, a fangirl can be expressing their love for a certain actor and then expressing how much they hate them because they've given her unrealistic expectations for other men, caused her to spend copious amounts of time thinking about someone they don't even know, and overall ruining their lives. But Tumblr users have a different perception of this term of "life ruiners" (this post in particular referring to the lovely Tom Hiddleston):

Where I'm usually in the mindset of the blogger greenwanton here, apparently the word means exactly the opposite. It's actually a term of endearment.

Further discussion is given here:

Either this highlights my utter n00b status in the land of internet communication. Or the fact that things on the internet just don't make sense.

I'm confused by this whole thing. I wanted to say that this is kind of inappropriate, showing this hate for someone you otherwise admire. But now it's supposed to be a sort of endearment. Perhaps it just comes with the territory. I mean, having a Tumblr requires the learning of jargon; words like "ship," "canon," "OTP," and "YOLO" are pretty necessary to know if you want to make any sense out of most postings (for those of you who blissfully unaware of this jargon and have dedicated such brain space to something (some would deem) far more useful, "ship" is short for relationship and refers to the act of pairing two characters from a show, movie, etc together in a relationship; canon means it's generally accepted idea or theme or law in fan culture; OTP is short for one true paring, and YOLO is you only live once. Unless you're Jack Harkness. And the Doctor. And Rory. And apparently Sherlock Holmes (look I'm just coming off the Reichenbach falls here. My mind is still boggled and flipping through all the possibilities of how the hell Season 3 is going to work out. I've already admitted defeat, but it's fun nonetheless. I look forward to your brilliant plot twists, Misters Moffat and Gatiss)).

Obviously, "life ruiners" is working as a sort of jargon. But it still bothers me. At some level, some fan girls probably actually feel that their lives have been ruined by their obsessions with actors/shows/what have you. While they're likely in the minority, it's what is represented, even by fangirls themselves. Not all fangirls are like this, thank you very much:
You know what's weird? In order to find a picture like this, I had to search for Twilight fangirls. They have a reputation of being really extreme and photos like this further reinforce this. Now I have met some pretty hardcore Twilight fans - noting one who ACTUALLY wants to name her child Reneesme - but why is it so much easier to find these sort of reactions for Twilight than other fandoms? Does Twilight just have crazier fans - or at least a higher concentration? (Extraordinary claims need extraordinary measures, any statistics prof will tell you.) Are there just more documentations of these sort of fans because the fandom is so popular and well-known? Do these sort of reactions take other forms in fandoms (such as text posts rather than photographs)?

The thing is, we don't really know what's going on in this photograph. It's linked to post-Twilight depression but there's no actual source for the pic. For all we know, this girl just saw Twilight and couldn't believe that film wasn't a comedy (fun fact: I laughed through the entire thing. For many reasons, but greatly in part because of its interpretation of American public school. Really, that's what some people think high school is like? Really? That and High School Musical has made it look like a freaking amusement park (which, in case you haven't noticed, I'm some degree bitter about. Because it's really not)). This is a probably unlikely explanation, but, you know, it's possible.
This comes up when I Google women. Fuck you, Google Images.

The thing is, lots of things get attributed to what fangirls are like. They're supposed to be crazy, angsty, obsessive, unlucky at love... well, you can fill in the blanks yourself. I think one reason I've brought up feminism so much on this blog is because a lot of the assumptions that are made about women echo those about fangirls. There's this urge to peg women into certain types - femmy, athletic, nerdy, bitchy, money hungry, MILFS, on and on and on. And there's a similar vein for fangirls. You're  super obsessed, or nerdy, or happily enraptured, or whatever other facet you can think of. But then there's "normal;" the outside, the un-obsessed, the lucky people who are "mainstream" society.

"Normal." You know, I need a psych tangent right now. As a tortured psych-cultural studies scholar (two fields that pair wonderfully together but really, really don't get along), I've really grown to hate this word. Who decides what's normal? We do. As a society, we just mark off boundaries of what is acceptable and what's not. Sometimes it's for good (Murder? Never going to be okay. Good thing). Sometimes it's not so good ( "Everyone should tan because it's awesome" = bad). Sometimes it's really bad ("Homosexuality? Mental disorder!" = so bad psychology may never live this one down. Seriously, this was in the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, AKA what psychologist use to define mental disorders, until the 1970s). I don't like where normal  sometimes takes us. So I'm becoming increasingly wary of it and trying to not use it as much as possible (which is so hard to do; it's such a common word; hell, it's a "normal" word. Ugh). However, a music therapist who I heard guest lecture this year said something really cool about normal; he said that while writing lyrics with some of his patients, they came up with the line, "Normal is just a cycle on my washing machine." And it is.

Okay, okay, reining myself in from my psych tangent, my point is, normal is not so easily defined - just like fangirls, just like women, just like humans. There is no right way to be, there is no one way or the other, there isn't even a bunch of correct options. THERE ARE THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS. There are things wonderful and shortcoming about all of them.


Sorry, I love my caps lock too much.

I began this blog wondering if these assumptions about fangirls had any validity, mainly because I saw things like life ruiners expressed so frequently online. And from what I've seen so far, it's kind of a mixed bag. Stereotypes have to stem from some sort of truth and so there are people online who are highly obsessed or angsty or unlucky at love (in all the multitudes of definitions those words carry with them) but it seems highly unlikely that too many people are all of this at once.

But is there an urge to peg oneself in this way because it's accepted as "the norm?" Do even "outgroups" like fangirls have a "normal" level? Often I see things reblogged about how it's the "rules of Tumblr" to do certain things. Is there an sense that certain behavior is expected because, well, it's the internet?

Yeah, probably, to some extent. I mean, there are obviously things that are not okay (being a royal douche and saying totally hurtful things). There are somethings that are cool (general fandom stuff) and there things that are highly encouraged (reblogging certain posts, making Mean Girls references, no matter how obscure). It's an online community; there are going to be certain trends. But to what extent are these trends reoccurring because people just want to fit in? At what point does your original opinion dissolve and you begin just going along with the flow, adapting to what's around you because it seems to be the norm?

I'm not trying to make Tumblr sound like some crazy conformist mechanism (it probably is somewhat conformist, in certain facets, but again - I don't think that's the main influence of it; I don't think there is one main influence overall). But there are ways I think it neutralizes your reactions to things. I mean, when I first got my account, I was shocked by how fan culture sexualizes their reactions to photos or gifs of actors. Now I've gotten used to it (although I still haven't decided whether it's a great leap for an acceptance of sexuality or if it's demeaning to the people being idolized. Probably both).

One thing that I have not gotten used to (and this will finally take us back to the idea of Tumblr jargon) is the nickname some Benedict Cumberbatch fangirls have given themselves: Cumberbitches. It may be witty. It may be clever. It may sound cute. But I still don't like it. 

It's just so degrading. For all parties involved. Yes, it's showing your loyalty and your support, but don't you think there's better ways of showing that than using a demeaning term that captures and supports the oversexualized, obsessive qualities that people stereotype fangirls with and use to dangerously idolize actors. You could argue that it's some sort of reclamation of language. You could argue that the power is in what it doesn't say - that these girls are smart and clever and kind (which they are; they seem an incredibly saavy intelligent group in many ways) and thus defying stereotypes through using stereotypes, you could argue that I'm a snooty academic and I have no business spouting my opinion on what's wrong or right (there's truth to that).

But I just don't like. I can't even make myself like it. It sounds demeaning to me. And I can't get away from it.

Apparently I'm not the only one who's not terribly fond of it. I heard rumors on Tumblr that Mr. Cumberbatch himself was not exactly a fan and I was able to track down the video where it came from (it's at about 3:40; unless you want to watch the whole thing, which I recommend - it's a great interview). But even here Cumberbatch is incredibly graceful about the whole thing, still showing his appreciation for his fans even when what they do worries him.

Which is a far sight more astute than my "I DON'T LIKE IT" whines (which is really what I feel like I'm doing). But in my defense, maybe I'm allowed some whining after Googling Cumberbitches and coming across things like... well, things I'm hesitant to post but am doing so only because I can't describe them:
Really? Gang banging? Under what circumstances is that EVER okay? Philoso-raptor, how dare you.

And this one (which just makes me cringe over and over and over):

And now I begin to see how I adapt to things on Tumblr. Calling someone a life ruiner jokingly, affectionately, suddenly no longer seems like a big deal. Why make a mountain out of a molehill when people mean this seriously, when a fangirl seriously dislikes a celebrity just because they're dating someone, another woman that the fangirl then demeans?

Of course, you could play devil's advocate and say, "Well, they have a right to their opinion; who are you to say they're wrong?" This is 100% true. But does anyone else get this ugly clenching feeling in their stomach when they see something like this? Doesn't it just feel harmful on some level? There's a difference between stating an opinion and harming someone in the process and I believe no opinion should actually harm. I happen to feel this one crosses the line. And considering that this image, the philoso-raptor, and a bunch of pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch were the only things that came up when I Googled "Cumberbitches," this sadly set the precedent. Because while Cumberbitches may have multitudes of diversity, pegging themselves under one term that carries with it a certain amount of associations allows for them easily to be encompassed in representations like this. One small opinion is blown out of proportion and comes to represent a whole, a whole that becomes faceless because due representation isn't given. Fangirls might be their own sort of minority and in my opinion they're getting - and in some ways giving - themselves a bad rap.

This is an immensely long post, one I didn't mean to stretch on for this length. But I feel it needs said. I don't want fangirls to be a faceless mass; I want them to be linked, to be a community, but I think it should be recognized that each person is unique. They are more than a faceless mass screaming their heads off at premieres and I hope that others - and themselves - see that. And really, I this is more the vibe I get from fangirls:

Not that I should be trying to peg in and define fangirls either; but I hope that this is different from simply defining. I hope it presents a more diverse, varied portrait. But I worry that I'm just painting another picture, trying to show an opposite, an antithesis, when there is far, far more in between. Basically...
You and me both, Sherlock. You and me both.

See, I shouldn't blog when it gets late. I get all wibbly-wobbly and confused. But then, fangirls are complicated. I think it's very wibbly-wobbly (timey-wimey). But for now, I'm going to grapple with my morality somewhere else - and leave you with this very mind-bending crossover:

Cannibalism. We just went there. Oh boy... (but I'm not going to lie; when I saw this in the movie, I couldn't believe the hedgehog coincidence. Boy, the world is weird).

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