On March 19, 2015, Ashley Judd published an article on the news website Mic about the threats of violence she received after tweeting about Kentucky basketball. Judd tweeted that Kentucky’s opponent was “playing dirty & can kiss my team’s free throw making a—.” In response, basketball fans called Judd a “whore,” “bitch,” and “cunt” and made threats of physical and sexual violence.
AP Photo/David Richard
These responses are deeply problematic—not just because of their extremely violent nature, but also because they are used to target women online. Judd asserts that even when people like her uncle make similar points about Kentucky’s gameplay, he does not face threats because of his position as a “male sports fan.” Judd rightfully points out that the tweets she received represent a “devastating social norm experienced by millions of girls and women on the Internet.”
Cultural studies scholar Emma Alice Jane calls this gendered e-bile, “a hostile misogynist rhetoric on the Internet” and “a type of discourse marked by graphic threats of sexual violence, explicit ad hominem invective and unapologetic misogyny.” Like Judd, Jane points out that gendered e-bile is not unique to people who are particularly famous or controversial. Rather, these kinds of threats are widespread and common—so much so that Jane calls them “a lingua franca in many sectors of the cybersphere.”
Wisconsin fans can help make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen for women like Ashley Judd. As we all watch Wisconsin play in the NCAA men’s basketball championship tonight, and as we discuss their play afterwards, we must welcome the voices of women fans. We need to make sure that Badgers don’t call Ashley Judd — or women like her — a bitch for daring to talk about basketball.
If anything, this year’s Wisconsin men’s basketball team has taught us that being a Badger means staying loose, having fun, and playing good, clean games. For Badgers, those three things aren’t contradictory—they are what makes Wisconsin a winning team. And they can be what makes Badger basketball fandom the fandom that everyone else wishes they had. We all know our team is better than Duke. Let’s show them that our fans are too.
Jane, Emma Alice. “‘Back to the Kitchen, Cunt’: Speaking the Unspeakable about Online Misogyny.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 28, no. 4 (2014): 558–70.
On June 2, 2014, reports began coming in that Thai protesters have been holding three fingers in the air, making the 3-finger salute depicted in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. The Hunger Games has circulated widely around the world in both book and movie form. It sold more books globally than even Harry Potter and has more than 50 million copies currently in circulation. While the Thai protesters are not the first to utilize the Hunger Games 3-finger salute (see Senator Santiago and the Harry Potter Alliance), the Thai protesters have achieved widespread media attention and have brought up questions about how we are to understand the use of a symbol from a fictional book in a real world protest. I answer some of those questions here by arguing that Thai protesters using the 3-finger salute perform resistance that critiques the Thai government, even in an environment highly controlled by the state.
Set in a dystopian future, The Hunger Games tells the story of sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen. She lives in a nation called Panem in which most of the twelve districts are mired in poverty for the benefit of the Capitol, where citizens live in comfort. During the annual Hunger Games, the Capitol requires each district to offer up one boy and one girl between 12 and 18 to fight to the death. The Capitol requires this as retribution for the districts’ rebellion decades ago and uses this as a way to maintain control. Televised across Panem, the Hunger Games are designed to maximize entertainment value for residents in the Capitol while also reminding residents in the districts that they are utterly powerless. In Book 1, Katniss volunteers to take her younger sister’s place when her sister’s name is drawn for the Hunger Games. When Katniss and Peeta, the male tribute for Katniss’ district, manage to survive the games together and defy the rule that only one person may survive, they spark a kind of revolution across Panem. Books 2 and 3 follow the development of that revolution from quiet resistance to full war. The 3-finger salute serves as one of the central symbols of the revolution.
Katniss giving the salute in the arena after Rue’s death in the first movie.
In the trilogy, the 3-finger salute begins as a local tradition but quickly becomes a symbol of resistance. Katniss describes the 3-finger salute as “an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love” (The Hunger Games, Book 1, pg. 24). When Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, the crowd refuses to clap and gives her a 3-finger salute instead. Later, Katniss uses the 3-finger salute as a form of resistance when her friend, Rue, dies in the games. Katniss yearns to show that she is “not just a pawn in their [the Capitol’s] games” but she has little power. So Katniss raises a 3-finger salute to the cameras broadcasting the games live across Panem, showing respect for Rue, while also resisting the Capitol’s devaluing of human life. The people watching the live broadcast in District 11, Rue’s home district, return the 3-finger salute to Katniss and then riot against the Capitol’s police force.
Rue’s district giving Katniss the 3-finger salute during the press tour in the second movie.
In Book 2, Katniss and Peeta are forced to go on a publicity tour across Panem, held up as the victors of the Hunger Games. When they arrive in Rue’s district, Katniss goes off script and speaks of Rue as brace and selfless. The people of Rue’s district respond with the 3-finger salute. The audience member who first held the 3-finger salute was publicly shot in front of the crowd as a warning against further resistance. The 3-finger salute in The Hunger Games signals respect for fellow protesters and resistance to a brutal regime.
The 3-finger salute used in Thai protests functions as a form of resistance when the state-controlled environment makes that resistance particularly difficult. Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, explains that in Thailand information is controlled, media is censored, and public gatherings are banned. While posters can be confiscated and lead to arrests, the 3-finger salute is both safer and perhaps more effective. This is part of what makes the 3-finger salute in the Hunger Games narrative so effective. People across the poorest districts lack the power to protest, revolt, or circulate messages of their own, but the 3-finger salute functions as a symbol or resistance even in these difficult conditions. Indeed, the Thai military and police, like the government in the Hunger Games, seem to recognize the symbolic power of the 3-finger salute. In Thailand, one person wielding the peaceful salute in public has been detained, though the military is currently determining what further course of action to take. As a symbol rich in resistance, critique, and solidarity, the 3-finger salute may pose a significant threat to the Thai military government.
The 3-finger salute not only performs resistance, but also critiques the Thai military and government officials. When protesters hold their 3-finger salute in the air, they assume the role of Katniss and put the Thai military government in the role of Panem’s government. In this way, they frame the Thai military as corrupt, self-serving, and brutal, willing to go to any lengths to put down resistance and maintain the status quo. As Thai protesters hold up their 3-finger salutes, we are invited to see the Thai military actions as unjustified and undemocratic. Thai protesters further imbue the 3-finger salute with democratic meaning by combining it with the French slogan “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” The symbol of resistance also becomes the symbol of democracy.
The 3-finger salute seems to be emerging as an increasingly important aspect of the Thai protests. The New York Post reports that Sombat Boonngam-anong, a “Red Shirt” and social activist leader in Thailand, called for protesters to continue holding their 3-finger salutes in the air. He said, “Raising three fingers has become a symbol calling for fundamental political rights.” By raising the 3-finger salute, 3 times a day in public places, he says, Thai citizens can “escalate the anti-coup movement three times a day together.”
Between the images and tweets emerging online and the reports from journalists on the ground, we have some sense of how the 3-finger salute is currently being used. But that understanding is of course limited. There may be much more going on among protesters that we cannot see. It’s also important to remember that political and social action changes quickly, and the symbolic meaning of the 3-finger salute may change as the context shifts or new participants are brought in. The last caveat I want to offer is that I am not an expert in Thai politics or culture. I am an expert in popular culture and politics. I hope readers and journalists combine the analysis I have offered here with analysis from experts in Thai politics. With reports and editorials like this, we desperately need analysis that brings us closer to a fairer and more complex understanding of what is going on in the Thai protests. This blog post is the first step in that direction.
For the last five years, I’ve been making the argument that fan culture is rhetorically significant because of its potential to create fan-based civic engagement. Fan culture is the community, practices, and histories that are developed by fans of popular culture, like sports, TV, movies, and comics. While fan culture is obviously central to disciplines like media studies, I argue that fan culture is important for rhetoricians when fans participate in fan-based civic engagement. In these instances, rhetors invite fans to volunteer, protest, and vote because of their fan identifications: they vote for Obama because that’s what Harry Potter would do. But this weekend,two groups of fan bloggers pushed me to see the ways in which fan culture is relevant for all rhetoricians—not just rhetoricians like me who study fan-specific rhetoric.
On Saturday, May 24, 2014, Kate Lansky, Jennifer Cross, Renee Ismail, Lauren Jankowski, Jessamyn, and Isabel Schechter led a panel at WisCon (a feminist science-fiction conference) titled “The Problem of Women and Perceived Authenticity.” The panelists discussed the ways in which they have their authenticity questioned in professional, personal, and fan settings and how they respond to or combat those accusations (you can find a storify of their twitter feed here). The “fake geek girl” discourse is central to this discussion. Widely circulated, this discourse asserts that women are not real gamers because they don’t play the right games, women are not real fans because they dress up as characters only for male attention, and women are not real fans because they haven’t read every comic book. For a brief introduction to the fake geek girl discourse, see the idiot nerd girl meme here, John Scalzi’s well-known blog response here, and a great video from feminist fan-leaders here. This panel asked us to see fake geek girl discourse as related and interlocking with other discourses that question women’s authenticity as a way to discipline and restrict power.
According to the panel abstract, women routinely face attacks like: “Women don’t write ‘real scifi.’ Women who say they’re gamers but don’t play ‘the right games’ are posers. Women exaggerate or lie about rape and harassment. Women can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies. Women wear clothes and make-up to ‘trick’ men into thinking they’re pretty. Men don’t listen to women as the authorities on their own experiences but listen to other men if they say the same thing.”
This panel asked us to see how discourses that frame women as inauthentic, fake, and untrustworthy extend across many contexts. That means that the “fake geek girl” discourse strengthens and maintains other discourses about women in science, law, and tech culture. Accepting the discourse that women fans are “fake geek girls” strengthens the discourse that women are inauthentic decision makers who, for example, need doctors and politicians to make decisions about their abortions for them. In other words, the fake geek girl discourse isn’t only relevant to fan scholars: it’s relevant to rhetoricians studying topics like abortion discourses, feminist social movements, and more.
On May 25, 2014, Arthur Chu at The Daily Beast published a blog post titled “Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds.” Although Elliot Rodgers, the man who shot and killed eight women at UCSB, did not seem to identify as a geek or fan, Chu argues that Rodger’s manifestos sounded a lot like the “standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder.” Chu argues that male nerds are taught that women reject you, but if you try hard enough someday you’ll get the attractive, non-nerd woman to date you. Chu points largely to media depictions of nerds, but I think many feminist fan bloggers would argue that it is embedded in the social practices and community values of fan culture as well. The point here for rhetoricians isn’t whether Chu (or others) are right or wrong about Rodgers. The point is that Chu articulates the ways in which fan culture contributes to, strengthens, and maintains discourses of misogyny and male entitlement. If we want to critique and disrupt discourses of male entitlement, we need to also disrupt discourses of misogyny in fan cultures.
Part of the lesson here is that fan culture does not perfectly reflect our US larger society nor does it set up impervious boundaries. If it did, rhetoricians could safely ignore it in most instances. But we cannot assume that discourses circulating broadly are circulated and articulated in the same way in fan cultures, nor can we assume that discourses circulating in fan cultures do not strengthen, maintain, shift, or contest larger discourses.
What does this mean for rhetoric scholars? It means that we simply cannot ignore fan cultures and the discourses they circulate. Fan cultures are relevant to the rhetorical research questions we pose. As a result, we must seek out fan texts that constitute the discourses we are studying and we must theorize fan identities, fan cultures, and fan discourses. Doing so will make our analysis richer and our theorizing more complex.
“In the Harry Potter story, the dark wizard Voldemort dies hard because the seven horcruxes, which contain parts of his soul, have been destroyed. If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.”
Liu calls Japan’s actions a “serious threat to global peace” and calls the international community to “high alert.”
“East Asia is now at a crossroads. There are two paths open to China. One is to seek dialogue, and abide by the rule of law. The other is to play the role of Voldemort in the region by letting loose the evil of an arms race and escalation of tensions, although Japan will not escalate the situation from its side.”
Hayashi ends by calling for dialogue between China and Japan.
While it may seem funny to hear Harry Potter references in serious, carefully planned diplomatic discourse instead of conversations among 12-year olds, China and Japan’s references to Voldemort are in fact quite serious and strategic.
First, Harry Potter references work to gain the attention of a Western audience. For them, the Harry Potter metaphor is familiar, even if the detailed regional history of Asia is not. By calling Japan Voldemort, and the Yasukuni Shrine a horcrux, China offers a simplified version of the bitter history between two nations. Since the territory dispute could be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century and the history textbooks in either nation fail to reflect the entire truth, a reference to the world’s most popular fantasy novel saves a tedious record of time and events and easily appeals to Western audience.
Liu’s op-edvirtually repeats the major arguments in China’s previous diplomatic discourse. The Voldemort metaphor, however, marks a new rhetorical style in contrast to the conventional dry and dogmatic statement. This strategy not only justifies China’s claim to the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands by reminding the world of Japan’s brutal invasion in WWII, but also argues that Japan’s intent is to take over the world. Voldemort’s goal throughout the Harry Potter novels was to gain complete control over the wizarding world through any means necessary. Each time Voldemort was killed, a horcrux would allow him to begin his evil plan again. China argues that Japan’s militarism is just on the horizon. Calling the Yasukuni Shrine a horcrux indicates that Japan has not fully repented her sins in the past and the enshrining of convicted war criminals would re-open the door for Japan’s militaristic actions.
Japan also picked up the Voldemort metaphor to develop her own version of Sino-Japanese relations. In response, Japan refutes China’s claim that Japan is Voldemort and instead argues that China is actually adopting Voldemort’s evil goals. Hayashi seeks to redefine Voldemort’s most important characteristics, shifting from the presence of horcruxes, to an escalation of conflict at the expense of dialogue and democracy. Hayashi asserts that militarism is a ghost, not a horcrux: it might be haunting, but it cannot come back to life.
Second, China and Japan’s Voldemort references serve to identify the other as “evil.” In China and Japan’s references to Voldemort, they adopt a level of discourse that assumes that the other is completely evil, with no reason to trust the other side. Consequently, the disagreement over the Yasukumi Shrine or the Senkaku Islands becomes a question answerable only through dichotomies: evil vs. good, right vs. wrong. A discourse reduced to questions of evil vs. good leaves no room for dialogue, compromise, and negotiation. Adopting such dichotomous language demonstrates the increasing tension between China and Japan.
Voldemort. Image property of Warner Bros.
While such vitriolic language may be typical in domestic media and political commentary in each country, such accusations are not often seen in diplomatic discourse. On the other hand, a polarized description of the world and constructing an evil other as the enemy are common strategies in war rhetoric. Targeting an international rather than a domestic audience while using this type of rhetoric indicates that both China and Japan urge their audiences to take sides.
The stakes in the dispute are high for both Japan and China. Both nations are seeking to break the restrictions caused by post-war geopolitical structures. Japan attempts to revise the Peace Constitution and achieve normalization of the army. China hopes to break the First Island Chain to acquire more freedom along its coastline. For Japan, the normalization of the army is like a closure of the past, while China seeks the start of a new future. Calling the other side evil justifies each country’s geopolitical goals.
At a time when both Japan and China are looking to gain support from the international community, convincing Western audiences may be an important goal. Ultimately, the question becomes, why aim to reach Western audiences by using evil vs. good language? We believe there are at least two reasons for this choice. First, they might have learned it from the West. If George W. Bush could successfully wage the war against terrorism through an “us vs. them” argument, why can’t an East nation use a similar strategy? Second, historically, both China and Japan have been portrayed as a threatening evil power to the Western audience, and especially American audience. Invoking the public memory of a Pearl Harbor Japan or a Communist China would push the United States to take a side in the dispute. Whichever reason, it is clear that Western audiences may be hearing more from China and Japan in the coming months. Who knows—we may be hearing about metaphors from The Hunger Games next.
Since the Spring Game, the touchdown has garnered more than 8 million views on YouTube. It has been named the best moment by USA Today and the Big Ten and earned Jack an ESPY. While the touchdown itself allowed Jack to live his dream of playing with the Huskers, Jack and his family have also been using the opportunity to increase awareness of pediatric brain cancer and raise money for medical research. So far, The Team Jack Foundation has raised $1 million for cancer research through donations, the sale of Team Jack t-shirts and bracelets, and galas and bowling fundraisers.
More important than making the top ten year end lists, Jack’s touchdown is significant because it has been fully integrated into the values, traditions, and meaning of what it means to be a Husker fan. Jack’s touchdown, and the Husker football team’s welcoming of Jack, has become a way to define what it means to be a Husker, identify Husker values, and prioritize those values.
After the Spring Game, fans pointed to Jack to define what it means to be a Husker and to share pride in that identity.
Throughout these tweets, fans share their pride in the Nebraska football program and allude to something special being shown with Jack’s touchdown. Jeff Koterba articulates what these fans leave unspoken: that Jack’s touchdown showed Husker values at work.
Jeff Koterba cartoon for April 9, 2013 “Jack Hoffman Huskers”
In Koterba’s cartoon, Husker football players are no longer students, athletes, or celebrities, but rather are representatives of the values upheld by Husker Nation. The editorial states, “It’s easy in today’s high-stakes world of big-time college athletics to overlook things like sportsmanship, generosity and inspiration. All suited up Saturday in Memorial Stadium.” Indeed, the cartoon shows what happens when Huskers values are enacted through the Husker football players on the field and the Husker fans in the crowd roaring as Jack crossed into the end zone.
Husker fans like Sean Carey and Tyler Quick assert that these values are more important than any winning streak. For Huskers, sportsmanship, generosity, inspiration, hope, heart, and soul are prioritized over winning.
Andrew Dillon goes so far as to say that Jack Hoffman may be the greatest running back of all time. By doing so, he contributes to prioritizing the values Jack embodies over winning football games.
Husker fans have fully embraced Jack’s touchdown. For Huskers, it is a point of pride, shows what it means to be a Husker, and demonstrates that values like sportsmanship, hope, and inspiration are more important than winning. Of course, these values have long been a part of the Husker fan community. Tom Osborne, the Husker’s head football coach from 1973-1997, famously embraced a coaching philosophy that emphasized more than winning: a game well played. But after Tom Osborne stepped aside as head football coach, Husker Nation underwent a minor identity crisis.
Frank Solich was hired in 1998 and found moderate success, but after a 7-7 season in 2002 and firing many of the assistant coaches afterwards, only one third of Nebraskans polled thought his team “represented real Nebraska football” (Aden, pg. 57). When Bill Callahan took over in 2004, he introduced big changes that yielded minimal success: he gutted Nebraska’s walk-on program and introduced a west-coast offense. Callahan was eventually fired in 2007 (Aden, pg. 58). These Solich and Callahan years shook the foundations of Husker Nation. Nebraska’s current coach, Bo Pelini, has been unable to repair all the damage—indeed, such a task may take years.
This makes Jack Hoffman’s touchdown even more important for the Husker fan community. His touchdown provided an opportunity for fans, players, and coaches to recommit themselves to particular values and reconnect those values to Husker fandom. When Jack made that touchdown, Huskers were reminded of what it takes to be a Husker and why that’s so special.
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