Parallels in Fandom: “That’s the Last Time You Call Me a Whore.” A Feminist Look at Firefly’s Companions

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Firefly— Joss Whedon’s short lived, much loved sci-fi western— is a vast universe to be contained in a mere fourteen episodes. While the story was continued in the major motion picture Serenity and in the comics that followed it, the general audience still didn’t get a very good look at the inner workings of Whedon’s creation. Placed after a universal civil war 500 years in the future, a rag tag group of outsiders are crew to the transport ship Serenity. Taking on whatever jobs they can— legal or not— they travel the universe just trying to keep food on the table. They have a captain and co-captain, a pilot, a mechanic, muscle, and in the first episode pick up a Shepard, and a medic on the run from the benevolent Alliance with his supposed psychic little sister. They also have Inara Serra, a “Companion” leasing one of the ship’s shuttles to serve her clients in. Her job? To the untrained eye, being a Companion may look like “whoring,” but look deeper and the woman’s role is a lot more intricate and shows what sex work could become in the future; how its stigma could be removed and the industry made safer.

Companions find empowerment in their occupation where most would see it as demeaning. They are in full control of how they work and with whom (Episode 4 “Shindig”). Companions are mandated by a Guild on the planet of Sihnon, which requires yearly evaluations and keeps a record of their clients, good or bad (“Shindig”). The Guild trains Companions in not only the art of seduction but also teaches art, music, languages, eloquent speech and even traditional tea ceremonies. A Companion is considered a well-respected role of the society.

Companions operate similarly to how Geishas in ancient Japan did. The thing that separated a Geisha from strictly a sex worker or Oiran is their attention to art and eloquence. Geishas went through similar training to Firefly’s Companions. “To become a Geisha, one was committed to a house through various means. A woman, who acted as a madame of sorts as well as a maternal, guiding figure, ran these Geisha houses, okiya. A girl joined an okiya as a child and began training in the arts… These are women who have carefully trained in traditional Japanese instruments and music, dancing, calligraphy, literature, poetry, and the tea ceremony,” says Caileen Machard in her essay “Geisha in the Wild, Wild West: How the Companions of the ‘Verse are Influenced by Geisha Culture.” After their training, Geisha women would then go to work either in their okiya or, if they were lucky, would live in one specific patron’s house, working only for them with their living expenses covered. This was known as danna (“Geisha: A Life” Iwasaki 56).

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In the fourth episode of the series, “Shindig,” one of Inara’s clients, Atherton, takes her to a ball and offers her a deal. “I’m trying to offer you something, you know. A life, if you want it. You can live here on Persephone as my personal companion,” he tells her.  She would be able to live rent free much like Japanese danna. Inara considers the proposal as she clearly fits into the society there, even knowing several of the attendees at the ball by name. She nearly agrees to save Malcom Reynolds from the duel the two men later engage in, but in the end rejects Atherton.

It is important to understand that sex isn’t the primary concern for a Companion or in a Geisha’s life (Iwasaki). While Companions in Firefly seem to rely primarily on sexual engagements, it is not the only service they provide. Inara is shown serving tea to her client at the beginning of every engagement. In the seventh episode of the series “Jaynestown,” she offers valuable advice to Fess Higgins which ends up saving the rest of the crew. She also has social power. “She is pretty much our ambassador.  There’s plenty of planets wouldn’t let ya’ dock without a decent companion on board,” says Malcolm in the first episode. In the second episode “The Train Job,” Inara uses her social status to her advantage and struts into the Paradiso Jail and saves Malcolm and Zoe from a suspicious sheriff who has been questioning them. Inara’s profession gives her significant power in the verse.

Sex workers aren’t typically viewed in a positive light. Many people see it as degrading or immoral, and in cases of human trafficking this is true. It’s also seen as unsafe and many believe it breeds violence. This is also true in certain cases. “When a pimp compels a prostitute to submit to sexual demands as a condition of employment, it is exploitation, sexual harassment, or rape — acts that are based on the prostitute’s compliance rather than her consent. The fact that a pimp or customer gives money to a prostitute for submitting to these acts does not alter the fact that child sexual abuse, rape, and/or battery occurs; it merely redefines these crimes as prostitution,” says the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Illegal, organized sex work is rarely ever ethical in the U.S. Sex workers are subjected to crimes that— if it weren’t sex work— would be federal offenses. Sex workers are taken advantage of and degraded. Even in the Firefly universe, danger in sex work is prevalent. In episode fourteen, “Heart of Gold,” a group of sex workers are put in danger when a local big shot tries to steal the baby of a prostitute he impregnated. The brothel is an illegal one, not mandated or approved by the Guild. The workers there were never trained by the Guild and aren’t under their protection. What the brothel does is illegal because they aren’t certified Companions. While the leader of the brothel is anything but benevolent, the fact remains that the sex workers there live dangerous lives. However, part of the danger in sex work may be due to the fact that it isn’t legal or regulated in most countries.

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Inside a business in the Amsterdam Redlight District.

Amsterdam has a vibrant sex work scene that is highly regulated. Like any other business, sex establishments face municipal regulation over location, organization, and how business is done. To prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, city health services offer sex workers access to free or no-cost clinics to find out their status and receive any necessary treatment. A bill made in 2000 helped lower instances in which the erotic industry is harmful to the sex worker (Amsterdam.info).  Amsterdam authorities “regulate prostitution, aiming at protecting minors, eliminating forced prostitution and combating the new phenomena of human trafficking. Any sex business must obtain from a municipality a license, certifying that it has fulfilled the legal requirements to operate.” (Amsterdam.info). Because sex work is legal in Amsterdam, it creates a safer, less shameful environment in which sex workers can operate. “Under circumstances in which sex work is accepted and regulated in society, in which the sex worker is protected and granted the same rights as any other laborer, sex work has the possibility to be beneficial to women,” says Kelly J. Bell in her article “A Feminist’s Argument On How Sex Work Can Benefit Women” (1).

This is exactly how Companions work in the Firefly universe. Because of the Guild’s strict regulations, Companions are safe to do their work and benefit from both their income and the social status that comes with their title.. They can blacklist clients who have hurt done them harm (“Shindig”) and only choose clients who they wish to work with. They have services to help them in case of STD’s or abuse. Companions serve as an example of how sex work in our society can progress with safer regulation and removal of the stigma around the industry.

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In the case of the brothel in “Heart of Gold,” part of what forced the brothel to ask for the crew of Serenity’s help is because they knew no one else was going to be there for them. They were working illegally, without approval of the Guild. Were they a legal brothel with certified Companions, they would have had protection and regulation under the Guild. Because they were working illegally, they had to find other means of protection. Luckily, the leader’s connection to Inara afforded them that.

The Companions of Firefly are strong. Inara is extremely bright and can stand her ground in just about any situation.  Another Companion in the series, Saffron, is not exactly the best example of an upstanding character, but it can’t be denied that she’s one hell of a woman. Malcolm calls her a “brilliant, beautiful, evil, doublecrossing snake.” (Episode 13 “Trash”) She’s not a good person by any means, however she is strong and doesn’t let people step on her. Saffron knows what she has and she uses it to her advantage. There’s nothing degrading about what she does. Companions like Saffron and Inara are strong women who have full control of their bodies and demand respect from the people around them. So do real life sex workers.

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Saffron uses her charm to get out of trouble.

Part of this empowerment comes from the writer behind them. Joss Whedon is widely known as an avid human rights advocate, especially when it comes to equality between the sexes. Inspired by his feminist mother, Whedon has always had a fascination with strong women. “His excitement at a young age at seeing a girl character ‘let into the club’ had grown into a desire to tell her story himself, because it was story he himself wanted to live: ‘Somebody who appears to be or is weak becomes stronger. But in almost every case, that persona is female.’ “ (“Joss Whedon; The Biography” Pascale 31). He has been honored many times by Equality Now for writing so many female characters that are not only strong, but iconic. His works such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and of course Firefly have extremely intelligent, independent and strong females, often as the main characters. At the 2006 “Make Equality Reality” event, Joss Whedon gave a speech in which he spoke about the many responses he has given to reporters who ask him “Why do you write such strong female characters?” His final answer to this question was haunting: “Because you’re still asking me that.”

What Whedon has managed to do with characters like Inara and Saffron is craft a world in which sex work is the norm. Women do what they will with their bodies and have protection and resources should they ever need it. They’re highly intelligent and commanding individuals with high regard in their society. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is. If we can bring real life sex work into this same, positive light, we can create a safer, stigma-free environment for which the industry to operate. 

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Edit: It was brought to my attention that certain phrases in this article were too vague and came across as insulting. I’ve since changed them to reflect my argument more clearly.

Works Cited:

Whedon, Joss. “Firefly.” FIrefly. 20th Century Fox. California, 20 Sept. 2002.

Machard, Caileen. “Geisha in the Wild, Wild West: How the Companions of the ‘Verse Are Influenced by Geisha Culture.” Watcher Junior 7.2 (2014): n. pag. Whedon Studies. Web. 9 Apr. 2015. <http://www.whedonstudies.tv/&gt;.

Iwasaki, Mineko, and Rande Brown. Ouchi. Geisha: A Life. New York: Atria, 2002. Print.

Bell, Kelly J. “A Feminist’s Argument On How Sex Work Can Benefit Women.” Student Pulse. Student Pulse, 2009. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “Top 10 Pros and Cons: Should Prostitution Be Legal?” Procon.org. Procon, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

“Amsterdam Prostitution.” Amsterdam Prostitution. Amsterdam.info, Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Pascale, Amy. Joss Whedon: The Biography. Illinios: Chicago Review, 2014. Print.

Whedon, Joss. “Joss Whedon Equality Now Award Acceptance Speech.” YouTube. Equality Now, 8 May 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Photos are credited to FOX, Mutant Enem, Daily Mail and behindtheredlightdistrict.blogspot.com.

Parallels in Fandom: “I Can’t Stop, Buffy!” Magic as Addiction

Addiction is one of the most difficult diagnoses to overcome. Dependance on drugs and alcohol can destroy a user’s life both medically and socially. The effects of drugs and alcohol can make the user feel anything from invincible to euphoric or simply make them blissfully numb to their problems. This weight off one’s shoulders can feel almost magical at times, making drugs and alcohol very addictive. It’s no wonder, then, that magic has been used so often as a metaphor for addiction in Television and Film.

In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Wrecked” (season 6, episode 10), Willow grapples with an intense addiction to magic and puts Buffy’s sister Dawn in danger. She is reckless, irresponsible and unable to control her urges. This destructive addiction has been a long time coming, however. Ever since the sixth episode in the season, Willow’s use of magic has bordered on the unhealthy. When Tara and Willow fight about the redhead’s reliance on magic in “All the Way” (season 6, episode 6,) Willow decides to make her girlfriend forget about the fight rather than deal with it. Similar to how an addict might use a substance to escape their problems, Willow uses magic to dodge the issue completely. When Tara finds out, she is furious and threatens to leave Willow if she can’t go one week without using magic. When Willow inevitably fails this endeavor, Tara packs up her things and leaves.

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What a lot of people don’t realize about addiction is that it affects the entire friend and family group of the addict. Addiction is the number one health problem in the US and has affected millions of family members. Addicts drive many of their loved ones away with their actions and those that stick around suffer alongside the addict. The international organization Al-Anon provides support groups for the loved ones of alcoholics. Many drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers have groups or classes for families of the addict in the center’s care such as the Family Program at the Center for Dependency,  Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) in Colorado. “Family members often blame themselves or try to control an addict’s behavior, but only the addicted individual can stop the destructive cycle,” CeDAR says on their website. Programs like these help attendees cope with their loved one’s addiction and learn what they can do to help as well as how to keep themselves safe and sane during the addicts recovery. They learn to be caretakers without giving up their own mental health in the process.

One thing that is imperative to understanding a loved one’s addiction is that the only person who can save them is the addict themselves. Tara quickly learns that there is little she can do to help Willow if her girlfriend doesn’t want to get better. In the end, she realizes that she can’t sacrifice her own happiness and wellbeing to stay with Willow and makes the right decision in leaving her. Buffy helps Willow the best she can, being supportive and removing all the magical items from the house, but ultimately it’s Willow that keeps herself sober.

Because both Willow and Buffy are out of the house during “Smashed” (season 6, episode 9), Tara has to stay the night with Dawn. While she only plans to stay for a short amount of time until one of the two girls comes back, she ends up staying the whole night. Willow’s magic induced actions keep Tara from going home, taking advantage of her. If Willow had been home at a reasonable time, Tara wouldn’t have had to spend her whole night taking care of Dawn. While Tara is happy to spend time with Buffy’s little sister, she still wakes up worried about the fact that no one came home last night and leaves the house in a huff after she realizes the reason Willow was out all night. Once again, Willow’s addiction to magic comes before her loved ones. This is common in families with addicts. When one spouse is acting irresponsibly and allowing the substance to rule their life, the other has to pick up the slack and often ends up taking on more than they can handle or should have to handle.

In “Smashed” Willow is distraught over Tara leaving but still hasn’t learned her lesson as she tells Amy, still a rat at this point, “We need to get you a nice companion rat that you can love, and play with and grow attached to until one day they leave you for no good reason.” Willow doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong in using her magic to dodge her relationship problems. She’s still in denial that there’s anything wrong with what she’s doing. Most addicts refuse to believe that they are dependent on a substance for a long time before getting help. Some addicts never admit to having a problem.

One thing that many addicts go through is disinterest in the activities that used to bring them joy. All they care about is the substance to which they’ve become addicted, when they’re going to take it again, how they’re going to get it, and where it’s going to come from. In the Magic Shop, Willow takes her laptop out to help with the investigation on what happened at the museum. For a brief moment, Buffy and Xander believe that she’s going back to the basics of being a Scooby; using her hacker skills rather than magic. Quickly though, we see that Willow is using her magic with the computer. She’s lost interest in her computer skills and is using magic instead. It’s obvious that Xander and Buffy are uncomfortable with what Willow is doing, but the witch hardly pays them any mind. “Guys. I’m fine,” she insists. Again, she refuses to see her problem.

When Amy is finally turned back into a human, she and Willow take to the streets. “It’s nice,” she tells Buffy, “having another magically inclined friend around.” Amy manipulates Willow into taking her out, suggesting that if she doesn’t she’ll be lame for sitting around in the house all night like she did in high school. Determined to prove Amy wrong, the two hit the town. As the night unfolds, the two witches misuse their magic and turn The Bronze into a chaotic mess. By the time they arrive back at home at the beginning of “Wrecked,” it’s well into the morning and Willow is so tapped out she can’t even close the curtains.

In “Wrecked,” Amy takes Willow to see the evil warlock Rack who operates out of an invisible and constantly moving crack-house-like dwelling. Though Willow is made aware of the fact that visiting him could be dangerous, she follows Amy there nonetheless. Inside, are a few of Rack’s clients slumped in their seats. When Rack emerges from his office, two clients get antsy. “Rack! Rack, it’s my turn,” says one desperately. “No man, you said I was up,” says another. “Bull! I’ve been here for hours!” says the first. Both of them look gaunt, sweaty and are shaking, much akin to a heroin addict in withdrawal.

Rack himself looks like he’s been strung out on something for decades as well. His skin is warped. His eye is messed up. He fits the bill for stereotypical, creepy drug dealer. The way he operates is very much like a drug dealer as well. “You have to give a little to get a little, right?” he tells Willow before taking some of her magic for his own. Afterward, Willow and Amy are shown high on the dark magic he supplies. Amy spins around in a blur while Willow rolls around on the ceiling in ecstasy, hallucinating as if she were on a psychedelic drug.

willow on ceiling

Addicts frequently have someone who is either doing the substance with them or allowing them to do it regardless of the harm it might pose. More often than not, they are addicted to the substance as well. These people are called enablers and they do exactly what it sounds like; they enable the addict to keep interacting with the substance. Sometimes these people are friends, other times they’re dealers, but regardless of their relationship with the addict, they’re toxic when it comes to recovery. Frequently, addicts in recovery will move away from the place where their enablers live. It’s very hard to keep away from a substance when you have someone reiterating what the addiction is already telling you do to: “Just one more time.” That’s why when people go to residence rehabilitation centers, they often aren’t allowed to see their friends. Only family members are allowed to visit unless they’re proven to be enabler’s as well. People are put into residence rehabilitation centers because part of recovering is cutting yourself off from those who got you into the substance in the first place, and it’s easier to do that if you’re living in a controlled setting until you’re strong enough to live on your own again.

Both Amy and Rack are Willow’s enablers, and it isn’t until Willow cuts herself off from them completely that she’s able to recover. In the end, Amy doesn’t really care about Willow as shown when Buffy catches her stealing herbs from the witch’s room. This is common in heavily dependent addicts. They’ll steal from people to get the money they need for the substance their addicted to. In this case, Amy is stealing herbs to exchange for magic from Rack.  All she cares about is getting her next fix from Rack and all Rack is concerned with is getting some of Willow’s magic for himself. Enabler’s don’t actually care about the people their enabling. If they did, they’d recognize that the addict has a problem and would try to keep their friend away from the substance, rather than helping or allowing them to interact with it.

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Buffy catches Amy stealing

When Willow wakes up on her bedroom floor the next day, she is slowly starting to realize the gravity what is happening to her, but doesn’t quite understand how bad her problem is until that night. On her way to a movie night with Dawn, Willow takes a detour to see Rack. She takes Dawn into the dangerous neighborhood and leaves her in Rack’s waiting room for hours while she gets her fix. When she finally emerges, it’s too late to see a movie, and Dawn is furious. At this point all she wants to do is go home, but Willow, still high, convinces her to stay out. As they walk down the street, Dawn gets more and more nervous but Willow only patronizes her. Suddenly, a demon jumps out in front of them. Willow thinks it’s a hallucination at first until it lashes out at Dawn, scratching her cheek and tells the witch that she summoned him.

This demon is a physical manifestation of Willow’s addiction. It hurts the ones she loves, puts both their lives in danger and causes Willow to act recklessly. Adding this demon into the mix was a genius move on Whedon’s part. It gives the audience a clear, definable metaphor for addiction. For many addicts, their addiction feels like an entirely other creature. It’s something inside them that destroys their life. Much like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a metaphor for alcoholism, Willow’s demon is a metaphor for her addiction.

Willow and Dawn flee from the demon and jump into the nearest car. Willow drives away, but isn’t really paying attention to where she’s going. She swerves back and forth and laughs as Dawn screams in fear. Willow acts very much like a drunk driver and in the end, wrecks the car, breaking Dawn’s arm and in the process severely wounds her friendship with the young girl.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, someone is injured in a drunk driving accident every two minutes and 28 people die on a daily basis. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the rate of driving under the influence is highest among ages 21 to 25. Willow falls right into this age bracket. Her magic in “Wrecked” puts Willow under the influence and is a clear metaphor for drunk driving.

Willow begs for Buffy's help
Willow begs for Buffy’s help

By the end of “Wrecked,” Willow finally understands what she is giving up for her dependance of magic. Her girlfriend has left her, a demon has been summoned from her misuse of magic, she nearly kills Dawn, and Buffy is beyond pissed. Everything she cares about is falling apart and she is so desperate for help at that point that she falls to Buffy’s feet and begs. “I can’t stop, Buffy! I’ve tried and I can’t… God, I need help! Please, please help me, please!”

In the months following, Willow goes completely cold turkey from magic. She realizes the power she feels from using magic isn’t worth hurting the people she loves. That night she lies in bed, hyperventilating, covered in sweat and shaking as she works through the withdrawal. She could simply cast a spell and feel better, but she is determined not to let her addiction rule her life and suffers through the night in silence. Later on, Willow cuts herself off from Amy and she and Buffy get rid of everything magical in the house. Episodes later when Anya tries to force Willow to use magic in order to help them defeat the big bad, she refuses. Tara backs her up and slowly their relationship begins to repair itself.

When Willow relapses over Tara’s death, she goes on a rampage and isn’t herself anymore. She does things completely out of character with the lovable and kind Willow we’re used to seeing. Once again, it’s not until she sees someone she loves hurting that she’s able to stop. It’s not until Xander tells Willow that her loves her that she’s able to stop again and goes to live with Giles for a while as she learns to control her magic, similar to an addict leaving their home to a live in rehabilitation center.

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Relapses are almost inevitable when it comes to recovering from an addiction. Addicts work extremely hard to keep sober but relapses are common, especially in the first year of recovery. Many rehabilitation centers will award coins for every milestone of being sober. CeDAR gives out a gold coin after one of their patients is sober for a year, signifying the intense effort they went through to keep from using. While Willow is eventually able to control her magic and use it only when she needs to, addicts in our world can’t do that. Once someone is diagnosed as an addict, they can never interact with their substance again or it’s considered a relapse.

Addiction narratives like Willow’s are extremely inspiring to both those going through an addiction and the family members of recovering addicts. When one sees their favorite character survive something that they themselves are going through, it can empower that person. By seeing Willow overcome her addiction, Buffy fans who are also addicts can relate and find the strength within themselves to keep fighting. That’s why it’s important to point out these parallels when we see them. Fiction is incredibly powerful when it comes to coping with adversity. It gives an example of how someone might overcome that adversity and through those narratives we find our own way of conquering adversity. The idea is, if Willow can do it so can addicts all over the world.

Photo credit to Warner Bros.

Video credit to Warner Bros. and Al-Anon.

Parallels in Fandom: Partially Deceased Syndrome VS Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; What “In The Flesh” Has to Teach Us About the PTSD Stigma.

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Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) Photo courtesy of the BBC

“I am a Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferer and what I did in my untreated state was not my fault.” – Kieren Walker

In the post-apocalyptic world of the small (and recently canceled) BBC show In the Flesh, zombies have been renamed “Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers.” Through medication they have returned to their original state, memories intact. On paper, they have their old life back, placed back into their family homes, able to live the way they did before they rose from the grave. But in reality, things aren’t quite that simple. Living citizens are still angry over the deaths PDS sufferers caused in their untreated state, and in small towns like Roarton, being partially deceased could get you a bullet in the brain. Neighbors are terrified of PDS sufferers’ medication wearing off and that if it does, they’ll “go rabid” and return to being dangerous zombies. Most citizens want them out of their town and use the derogatory slur “rotters.” PDS sufferers are forced to wear makeup and eye contacts to hide the fact that they aren’t living anymore and the stigma is down right life threatening.

While In the Flesh is not the most popular show, characters like Kieren and Jem have a lot to teach us about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the stigma surrounding it. In just the first three minutes of the first episode, Kieren is shown having vivid, disturbing flash backs of the people he killed when he was in his untreated state. These flash backs continue throughout the show and Kieren becomes depressed over his inability to control them and the government’s lack of care.

Those who suffer from PTSD frequently have vivid flashbacks and nightmares of the trauma they’ve endured. Like Kieren, they can’t let go of the events that happened to them. PTSD sufferers often grapple with suicidal ideation, similar to how Kieren feels during the show. His sister points out that he “can’t kill himself twice” alluding to the way Kieren died in the first place. Feeling guilty for his actions, Kieren grapples similarly to those with PTSD.

Jem, Kieren’s younger sister, is a veteran who fought untreated PDS sufferers in the Human Volunteer Force (HVF) during the zombie outbreak or “the rising” as it’s referred to on the show. As the show continues, we find out that Jem is suffering from flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme feelings of guilt and anxiety. She shows all the symptoms of PTSD and with no tools to help her transition into civil society again, her anxiety just keeps getting worse. It doesn’t help that one of the people tied up in her guilt happens to be her brother, a PDS sufferer she couldn’t bring herself to kill during the rising.

Jem Walker (Harriet Cains) Photo courtesy of the BBC

Studies show that 1 out of every 9 women will develop PTSD in their lifetime. This makes them twice as likely as men. While Jem suffers because of her time in the HVF, this number is likely higher because 1 out of 6 women in the US will experience an attempted or completed rape at some point during their life. The stigma around PTSD is focused on veterans, but many people forget that rape victims make up a large portion of PTSD sufferers.

One fear that the living have about PDS sufferers is that if their medication wears off, they will return to their untreated state and become violent. The stigma around PTSD sufferers is very much the same. Especially with veterans, many people believe that PTSD sufferers are violent and will lash out at any moment. With the April shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, this stigma has only deepened. Suspected of having PTSD, Ivan Lopez injured 16 and killed 3 before killing himself. While Lopez was being evaluated for PTSD,  there was never a diagnosis. Despite there being no concrete evidence of Lopez having PTSD, many people believe he did and have therefore attached the diagnosis to violence.

Ivan Lopez, Photo courtesy of Fox News Latino

However, the opposite is true. PTSD sufferers are no more potential to violence than anyone else. Blogger and PTSD sufferer C.J. Grisham writes, “I get extremely nervous in crowded situations and become hypersensitive to my surroundings. Before entering any building, I make a quick survey of all people around me and seek out any and all exits. I sit with my back to a wall so I have a good view of people approaching me. I get startled and anxious at unexpected and loud noises. What I don’t get is violent. What I don’t do is threaten people.”

Clinical Psychologist and Military Researcher, Herrera-Yee says of PTSD sufferers that “you’re more likely to see it as someone who is withdrawn, anxious and numb, who’s lost interest in life. Some veterans explain it to me this way: ‘The last thing you want is to go out and lash out.’” Despite this, the stigma of violence still remains, much like the stigma surrounding PDS sufferers. Kieran is small, and soft-spoken. He spends much of his time inside, avoiding people because he is ashamed of what he did. He takes his medication daily and is probably the least likely to lash out or go rabid. In fact, when *SPOILER* forced to go rabid by being subjected to the pill “Blue Oblivion,” he attempts to tie himself to a grave to keep himself from hurting anyone. It isn’t the PDS sufferers who are most likely to lash out, but the living surrounding them who treat them like second class citizens and want them out of their town by any means necessary.

While having PTSD isn’t quite as obvious to the untrained eye as the living dead, the stigma is still very similar. No one is threatening to gun down anyone who has PTSD, but the same fear is still very much there. Similar to Kieren having to hide his condition with makeup and eye contacts, many PTSD sufferers feel they cannot talk about their disability for fear of judgement and many feel ashamed for having it in the first place.

PTSD is a serious issue with a terrible stigma surrounding it. People who don’t understand PTSD (or don’t care to) can be afraid of people who have it. It’s important to educate the public about this disease because with knowledge comes acceptance. By using In the Flesh as a teaching tool, we may be able to get rid of the misconceptions surrounding PTSD.Though the show has been canceled, its messages are still important. Like Kieren, many PTSD sufferers are very much harmless and deserve our love and respect. 

For more information on PTSD and its treatment, please visit http://www.ptsd.va.gov/ for veteran focussed PTSD and http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml for general information about the disorder.

Cover photo and video courtesy of the BBC.

Parallels in Fandom: “Family Don’t End With Blood” How the Supernatural Fandom is Taking Care of Its Own

In the CW show Supernatural, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester drive cross country all over the US hunting demons (including vampires, werewolves, and other monsters). Demons in the Supernatural universe prey on the innocent. They love to inflict fear, self-loathing, and play with people’s minds for fun through manipulation and gaining one’s trust. As Dean so simply puts it in the first episode, the Winchesters’ job is “Saving people, hunting things; the Family Business.” Throughout the show, Sam and Dean take down each and every demon they come across and have been doing so for ten seasons.

If you’re a fan of Supernatural, or have a Tumblr account for that matter, you know how important family is to the central characters. You also know that the term “family” doesn’t always mean blood relatives. Sam and Dean would go to the ends of the Earth for each other. They have literally gone to hell and back several times with detours in heaven and purgatory to keep each other safe.

Both Sam and Dean fall off the wagon countless times throughout the show, often multiple times every season, but each time it’s their dedication to each other that brings them back from the edge. In Season Two, Dean sells his soul to bring Sam back to life, understanding that he now only has a year left on Earth. More recently, *SPOILER* Dean becomes a demon and Sam relentlessly chases his brother down, then successfully purges the demon blood out of him, changing him back into a human.

But that kinda of loyalty, determination and compassion doesn’t end between the two brothers. Characters who are not related to the brothers also go to long lengths for their wellbeing as well, such as Bobby, Castiel, Ellen, Jo, Kevin, Garth, Charlie, Jody, Benny and Ash just to name a few. Wherever one or both brothers go, their chosen family is right behind them, catching them each and every time they fall.

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From left to right: Castiel, Sam, Jody, Dean, Bobby, Jo.

Bobby serves as a surrogate Dad for the boys when their father is absent, obsessively running after the demon who killed their mother. Whenever the boys are in jam, they call him and he always has their back. Even *SPOILER* from the grave, Bobby saves them numerous times. He always has their back.

Castiel literally pulled Dean out of hell after the human’s death. He rebels against Heaven, gives up his life as an angel, and dies numerously for the Winchesters. No matter what Castiel’s godly mission is, the angel never waivers in his loyalty and compassion for the brothers.

Ellen and Jo willingly sacrifice themselves for the brothers and the greater good. Kevin is dedicated to deciphering the tablets and comes to the boys rescue whenever they call. Garth takes over Bobby’s role of a walking “ganking encyclopedia” after Bobby’s death. Charlie is their go-to hacker throughout the show and comes to help at the drop of a hat. Jody, a sheriff, helps the boys evade the police and yanks their ass out of trouble countless times. Benny helps Dean find Castiel in Purgatory, then sacrifices himself to get Sam out. Ash helps the brothers multiple times with his computer skills and hides them from Zachariah in Heaven.

Charlie Bradbury, Hacking Genius and Geek Goddess
Charlie Bradbury, Hacking Genius and Geek Goddess
Kevin Tran, Prophet
Kevin Tran, Prophet
Sherif Jody Mills, Badass
Sheriff Jody Mills, Badass

The dysfunctional, makeshift family in this series will do anything for each other. They’re not blood, but they consistently take care of their own. It’s no wonder the fans of Supernatural have a similar feeling towards each other.

Starting on December 26th and 27th, hundreds of Supernatural centered Tumblr accounts were sent malicious, anonymous messages urging the owners of those accounts to kill themselves. The fans targeted had talked openly about their struggles with depression and self harm and the attackers were deliberately preying on that vulnerability. Their sole intent was to convince people— those they knew were struggling with self-worth— to commit suicide and did so through manipulation, even pretending to be people the victims knew in real life.

Unfortunately, the attackers were successful with numerous Tumblr users being hospitalized. While there is a lot of speculative information out there due to hacking and it’s difficult to track down the entire story, the fact remains that the Supernatural fandom is under attack by demon-like individuals and if there’s anything Supernatural fans are good at, it’s getting rid of demons.

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Once word got out about the anonymous hate, Supernatural fans all over the world began combating it. Instead of salt and holy water, however, the fandom has turned to love and kindness to fight against the harm these particular demons have inflicted. Fans rushed to the rescue, sending out countless messages of love and support to outweigh the hateful messages and urged victims to turn off anonymous messages in their blog settings. The hashtags “FamilyDon’tEndWithBlood”, “AffectedByHate” and “HuntersDon’tSupportBullying” began trending on Tumblr and Twitter. Masterposts began popping up, listing Tumblr users in need of support, what condition those users were in, and urges to call for help if anyone knows the users personally.  There were also numerous “safehouse” blogs that quickly appeared, giving those affected a virtual place to run to if attacked.

Soon, fans were writing “Family Don’t End With Blood” on their skin with permanent marker and sharing them online in support.

When word got to the cast and crew of Supernatural, tweets and blog posts of support hit the web. Mark Shepard (Crowley, ironically the King of Hell and number one demon of Supernatural) sent out numerous tweets, expressing his love for the fandom and urging those affected not to listen to their attackers, as difficult as that may be. Misha Collins (Castiel) reminded fans that we can’t necessarily stop hate, but we can choose to ignore it. Felicia Day (Charlie) urged fans to stay strong and reach out for help. Visual Effects Coordinator, Ryan Curtis posted crisis hotline numbers as resources for fans to use. Osric Chau felt that 140 characters wasn’t enough to express his feelings about the event and wrote a post on TwitLonger about the incidents. While Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles have yet to make a statement, both have spoken many times about how supportive the fandom is and how much they care for their fans.

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A change.org petition is in the works to find and press charges against the IP address of the perpetrators. “Within the coding of Tumblr, the IP adresses for messages are stored, even for anonymous messengers. Go into the code. Find the people responsible for this and work with the police and internet service providers to identify these people so that they can go to jail for these crimes. These people should never be allowed to access Tumblr or any site where they can perform this kind of hatred again,” says the petition’s description. It currently has over 8,200 supporters with less than 2,000 needed (as of December 28th.)

No one knows why the Supernatural fandom in particular was targeted. It is very hard to understand why anyone would be so malicious towards perfect strangers. However, like Sam and Dean, fans have taken up arms against this hate. In the same way a circle of salt might keep out a demon on the show, fans have fought and are still fighting to keep these very real demons from doing any more harm than they already have. Our hearts are with the family and friends of those affected.

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If you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, please know there are resources out there for you. If you live in America please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255. If you live in the US or Canada you can call 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text ANSWER to 839863. You can also look down below at the list of hotlines Tumblr user awlahey has drawn up or check this list for a crisis hotline in your area.

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Photos courtesy of Twitter and Tumblr and the CW.

Parallels in Fandom: Three Finger Salute; The Hunger Games In Real Life

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With the recent release of the third installment of The Hunger Games franchise “Mockingjay Part I”, audiences are flocking to theatres to see brutal fight scenes and heartbreaking struggle on the big screen. The Hunger Games franchise is phenomenally successful, although this year’s film didn’t bring as much money in as anticipated ($123 million. How that’s a disappointment, I’m still not sure.) Millions of fans around the world were excited to see the newest film, dressing up as Katniss and other characters. My college even had a Hunger Games costume contest during dinner (ironically) to celebrate the release. And yet, for many viewers, the story’s themes hit a little too close to home.

Economic inequality is rampant in our world. People live paycheck to paycheck. They survive on food stamps that often fail to buy essential items. This Christmas, there will be many families who will have nothing to put under their tree. Graduates struggle to pay off student debt every day. And what may be worse of all, is if you are born in poverty, you’re likely to stay there, much like the citizens of Panem. There is no transferring from district to district. If you live in District Twelve, you will work in District Twelve, you will starve in District Twelve, and you will die in either District Twelve or the Arena. Meanwhile citizens of the Capital live comfortably. Our world, unfortunately, works on a similar system. Those who are born into poor families, are likely to stay poor. Those who are born into financially stable families, aren’t likely to find themselves in economic struggle. While we don’t have a President Snow or a Hunger Games, per se, but 98% of our citizens still live very much like those of Panem while the Capital lives abundantly because of the misfortune of the lower class.

There are little to no government aid programs in Panem. Katniss’ father dies in a mining accident and the family loses a large part of their income. Were there a worker’s union in Panem, this never would have happened. And had it not happened, Katniss’ mother wouldn’t have gone into a deep depression and with no access to mental health care, been unable to work, further cutting the family’s income. Due to neither of her parents able to bring in income, Katniss had to take care of the family herself. This left the family to starve because the Capital provides no food stamps. Not only that, but the justice system is corrupt and feeds on the racial division in the Districts. And all of this is because of the Capital, which controls all twelve districts, and shares none of the wealth.

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Seem like fiction? If only. Only 6% of Americans have union protection in the workplace and have met the same fate as Katniss’ father. Millions of Americans can’t afford desperately needed mental health care and lose their jobs like Katniss’ mother. One in six Americans go hungry, and food stamp benefits were slashed in the last year. African-Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white citizens. 2% of the country still controls the majority of the wealth. The Hunger Games may seem like just a franchise, but there is a lot more going on here than just a simple book.

It’s not just our government that’s causing economic inequality. Companies such as McDonald’s and Walmart pay their employees so low that most workers can’t afford to feed their families without a second job or reliance on food stamps.

Walmart pays its associates less than $25,000 a year. That isn’t enough to cover the basics for worker’s kids, let alone pay their bills or support their families. Managers of Walmart are also known for manipulating work schedules so that employees have a hard time working full-time; therefore, these workers don’t receive benefits and usually receive insufficient paychecks that negatively affect families, budgets, and ultimately lives. What’s really upsetting is that Walmart brings in an annual $16 billion in profits and a recent Fortune article stated that Walmart could afford to give workers a 50% raise without hurting its stock prices. There’s no reason Walmart can’t afford to pay their workers better. Not to mention, many workers were unable to spend Thanksgiving with their families this year.

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McDonald’s is even worse when it comes to economic inequality. McDonald’s employees make less than $11,000 a year. Managers at McDonalds are also known to manipulate schedules so that employees aren’t eligible for benefits and employees do not have the right to unionize, which keeps them from being able to bargain for better wages and working conditions. The CEO of McDonald’s, Donald Thompson made $9.5 million in 2013. It would take an average McDonald’s worker 864 years to make that.

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These companies are just like the greedy Capitol of Panem. Just like the Capitol, they are cashing in on the cheap labor of its people and offering no workers compensation or benefits. Were these companies to raise their wages to $15 an hour (which they could afford to do) employees would experience a significant increase in the ability to take care of themselves and their families. Not only that, but a recent study by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce shows that Walmart pays its workers so low that most employees have to rely on food stamps and other Government programs. This cost taxpayers $900,000 at just one Walmart Supercenter in Wisconsin. They estimate that Walmart costs taxpayers roughly $8 million in subsidized food, living, and healthcare all because they won’t pay their workers enough to get by.

So what can we do about this? We can become the District 13 of our country. In “Mockingjay,” District 13 is an underground militia determined to unite the Districts of Panem and bring the Capitol to justice. They do this in several ways, but waging a full out violent war isn’t going to help our fight against economic inequality. A large part of District 13’s strategy for overthrowing the Capitol is educating the people of Panem of what President Snow was doing; taking the public eye away from the glittering jewels of reality television, fashion, and materialism and focusing it on the real issues. We as activists need to take economic inequality and put it out in the open. We need to show our country how pressing an issue this is. Education is our strongest ally in our fight against inequality.

The Harry Potter Alliance has been fighting for economic equality for over a year now and on Black Friday members visited Walmart and McDonald’s locations, passing out flyers to location managers about the way their workers are treated, informing them of the awful truth of what the companies they work for are doing. The HPA has also been using the hashtag #MyHungerGames and urging people to share their economic inequality stories with the world through everything from short tweets to long blog posts. By doing this, they are showing the real faces of economic inequality; the real faces of the Districts.

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We need to take the public eye off of which guys are hottest in The Hunger Games franchise and reveal the bigger themes going on in the films and in our own country. Who cares if The Hunger Games have hot guys in them!? Suzanne Collins wasn’t thinking about hot guys when she wrote the series. Her concern was bringing these issues to light and inspiring people to do something about it. We can be the District 13 of our world. We need to raise our three finger salute to the skies and overthrow the Capitol of economic inequality.

 

Photos Courtesy of The Harry Potter Alliance, http://www.fastfoodforward.com, MCT, and Lionsgate

Video Courtesy of The Harry Potter Alliance

Parallels in Fandom: Leadership and Feminism; The Hermione Grangers of Our World

With her recent speech for the He for She campaign at the United Nations, actress Emma Watson (newly appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador) showed us what leadership and feminism looks like. Although she has received backlash for the speech, her point stands. When it comes to activism and human rights, we must all take a leadership role regardless of our gender or opinion on the word “feminism”. We have people to lead us in this fight against inequality not only in the real world, but also examples of these heroes in our fandoms.

While Emma is not the character she plays in the Harry Potter franchise, it is no surprise that she follows in the footsteps of Hermione Granger, who in fact was a feminist and human rights activist herself. After the completion of the series, JK Rowling revealed that Hermione would go on to work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures for the Ministry of Magic. There, she continued her work with the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.) to gain rights for underprivileged non-humans such as house elves. She later became Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and with the help of Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, abolished pure-blood favoring and biased laws.

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger

S.P.E.W.

Both Emma Watson and Hermione Granger have inspired girls all over the world to be strong and stand up for what they believe in. I remember being a child reading Harry Potter and looking to Hermione for guidance. She was bullied for caring about knowledge, for being different, and I was facing a similar adversity in my own life. I pictured Hermione and in her saw a way to combat against the misogyny and inequality in my life, though I didn’t know the words for them at the time. I still look to Hermione when I’m lost. I just started college and occasionally get scoffed at for raising my hand so much in class. When I’m frustrated with this, I tell myself “I am like Hermione Granger. If she can get through this, I can too.”

In her essay “Feminism and Equal Opportunity” found in Harry Potter and Philosophy; If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts edited by David Bagget and Shawn E. Klein,  Mimi R. Goldstein points out that Hermione Granger is not just one of the guys. “We often see… stereotypes that a woman must be saved by a man or that she must be taken care of by a man. Contrary to this stereotype, however, Hermione often acts to rescue Harry and Ron at crucial junctures in the plot.” There are multiple examples of this in the Harry Potter series. Hermione is never afraid to back down. The most potent example of this, perhaps, is in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Malfoy and his goons have the audacity to laugh at Buckbeak’s execution and Hermione punches Malfoy in the face. While Hermione is not typically one for violence and this scene is not necessarily advocating that one should punch a bully in the face, the metaphoric resonance still rings clear. Women like Hermione Granger who are strong, will not allow themselves to be treated as weak, and will stand up for what they believe in. In this case, Hermione makes it clear to Malfoy that laughing in the face of injustice is not to be tolerated. When she first pulls her wand on him, he is terrified and sniveling. She pulls it away and he laughs at what he thinks it is her inability to fight him. Immediately, however, she turns around and gives it to him right in the kisser. She fights a pureblood, muggle hater in the most deliciously insulting way possible. She doesn’t use her wand. She fights him like a muggle.

 

Emma talked in her speech about being labeled as “bossy” as a kid because she had an interest in directing her elementary school play. The boys in her grade, however, did not face this when expressing their desire to direct. While the Wizarding World holds women as anything but second class citizens, Hermione Granger nonetheless faces a similar discrimination in the Harry Potter series because of her thirst for knowledge. Despite this, Hermione is never unsure of herself. She knows she’s smart. She knows she’s strong. She never lets anyone tell her what to do or to dilute herself. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she convinces the Ministry of Magic to give her a time turner to allow her to take as many classes as possible. She never lets those who taunt her take away her thirst for knowledge.

JK Rowling once said that she based Hermione very much on herself, as she too was labeled as bossy in school. All of these women have risen above their adversities and gone on to fight for their rights and the rights of others. Emma and Hermione both hold high positions of influence in their governments.

We must take on leadership roles when it comes to activism in our world. It can be somewhat daunting to do so, but there are resources out there to help us be Hermione Grangers. One particular resource is the Harry Potter Alliance and their first annual Granger Leadership Academy. Taking place October 17th, 18th, and 19th in Auburn, Alabama, the GLA “is designed to bring our greatest leaders together in one place and allow them to establish strong connections with each other, share ideas, learn from our talented staff, and emerge well-equipped to lead their community to a more just and magical future” says the conference’s website. Think Hogwarts, but instead of taking classes, you’re just going to Dumbledore’s Army meetings. Tickets are $50 for the whole weekend and on sale now.

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The Harry Potter Alliance is holding their annual Equality FTW fundraiser right now through Indiegogo. All the money raised will go into initiatives for fighting for equality such as the Granger Grant which gives up to $1000 to groups and individuals who have a concrete plan for activism in their community. The HPA has also put into effect a real life S.P.E.W. as the Society for the Promotion of Equality Winning which will benefit from the fundraiser.

Emma Watson has extended an invitation to all of us, both men and women, to fight for equality among the sexes. We must take this invitation and be leaders in our community. We must take up the goblet and be the Hermione Grangers of our world.

 

Photos courtesy of Harry Potter Wikiawcvb.com, and The Granger Leadership Academy

Videos courtesy of The United Nations , Warner Bros., and The Harry Potter Alliance

Parallels in Fandom: “Wizards VS Peacekeepers” Police Brutality, Racism, and Media Censorship in Ferguson

Police brutality has been making headlines with the recent murder of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Peaceful protests asking for justice that have followed the shooting have been assaulted by police with the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. Policemen have even fired into residential areas as protesters fled, with no regard for citizens who were not involved in the protest or regard for damage to personal property. Those documenting the protests and other acts of police brutality have been told to shut their cameras off and have been faced with violence if they do not comply. Even reporters from major news organizations have been arrested without cause and assaulted in at least one reported account. These infringements on civil rights have gone for the most part unpunished; officers getting the equivalent of a slap on the wrist from their superiors. Our country’s police departments are becoming more like military operations every day.

While watching a livestream of the protests happening in Ferguson, I thought of two books that parallel to what has become of our police department. Both The Hunger Games and The Harry Potter series touch on police brutality, racism, and media censorship.

For those of you who haven’t read or seen The Hunger Games, it takes place in a futuristic America named Panem which is split into twelve districts with a powerful Capital that rules them all. The equivalent to a police force in these districts are ironically called Peacekeepers and they keep the citizens in line by any means necessary. The means necessary frequently involve— especially in the second book, Catching Fire— brute force, public floggings, and strict curfew with deadly consequences if not obeyed. Anyone who speaks out against the Capital, whom the Peacekeepers serve, is met with swift retribution.

In Catching Fire, after Katniss, the heroine, speaks about Rue, a young girl who was murdered, during the 74th Hunger Games Victory Tour, a man from Rue’s district raises his hand in a three finger salute and whistles Rue’s famous four note tune. This starts an uprising in the district and the man is shot for inspiring it while others meet similar retribution.

The protests that have been occurring in Ferguson, MO have been met with paralleling brutality. Those who are standing up and demanding justice for Michael Brown have put their lives on the line for what they believe in, and police officials are having none of it. They have been gassed and shot simply for exercising their right to assemble. It’s shocking to see how similar these policemen are to the Peacekeepers of Panem.

Photo Credit to AP

The character named Gale in The Hunger Games is arrested and whipped by Peacekeepers for poaching. Katniss jumps in front of the Peacekeepers and her celebrity status effectively saves Gale from more abuse. She is the “darling of the Capital” and the Peacemaker realizes he can not harm Katniss without President Snow coming down on him. If it weren’t for her celebrity, she would likely be shot and killed for standing up.

This again parallels to what is happening in Ferguson, as Ryan Reilly from the Huffington Post and Washington Post Wesley Lowery were arrested in a McDonalds, assaulted, detained, then let go without any paperwork. They had interviewed one of the police men earlier that day. Had these reporters been regular citizens documenting the events of Ferguson, they would most likely still be in jail. Fear of backlash from the media is likely why the reporters were set free without charge, similar to a fear of backlash from the Capital in The Hunger Games in the case of Katniss standing up for Gale.

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So how does Ferguson relate to Harry Potter? One major theme of Harry Potter is indeed racism. While racism in our world is primarily about the color of one’s skin, it is quite different in the Wizarding World where everything has to do with bloodlines. Draco Malfoy frequently uses the slur “Mudblood” to insult Hermione Granger and does so again in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Filch’s cat Mrs. Norris is found petrified. “Enemies of the Heir beware? You’ll be next mudbloods!” Muggleborns like Hermione have to work extra hard to overcome the stigma put on their bloodline. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we see that this type of racism is even evident in the Ministry of Magic when Harry, Hermione, and Ron pass by a statue in the building that depicts muggles and muggleborns being crushed under a pillar. Th pillar reads “Magic is Might” and purebloods stand atop it.

Harry Potter also relates because of how it talks about media censorship and consolidation. The Daily Prophet starts harmless enough, but as the books progress, and especially in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it becomes a tool for the Ministry of Magic and by extension, Voldemort himself. The Ministry refuses to accept that Voldemort is back and labels Harry as “Undesirable Number One” for spreading the truth about the Dark Lord’s return. When reading The Daily Prophet, wizards wouldn’t find anything about the Wizarding War or the horrible truth of what Voldemort was doing. The only reliable news outlets such as Potterwatch had to act carefully for fear of retribution. Xenophilius Lovegood, owner, editor and reporter of the independent paper The Quibbler, is one news source that does not escape retribution. After printing articles about Voldemort’s return and the war, his daughter Luna is kidnapped and the reporter is forced to print lies, then ultimately kidnapped himself. Because of how cautious reporters had to be during the war, few citizens had access to the truth.

Reporters big and small on the scene at Ferguson put themselves at risk. “Turn your cameras off!” is frequently shouted by police before shooting into the crowd. Like The Ministry of Magic and Voldemort in Harry Potter, they don’t want the truth of what is happening to reach the public. Police will target reporters and often damage camera equipment. Police have even gone to taking down sites where livestreams of what is happening are posted. There is so much false information being passed around that many people don’t fully understand what is happening. There has been speculation on whether the name of the officer released as the one who shot Michael Brown is actually true.

So what? How will spotting the similarities between fiction and reality make a difference? Well, it has made a difference in the past. In 2007, StopBigMedia.com teamed up with The Harry Potter Alliance in an attempt to stop media consolidation. They launched the website Potterwatch to “illustrate the dangers of allowing giant corporations to swallow up local, diverse media outlets.” They did this in three ways. First, they pointed out the parallels between media consolidation in the Wizarding World and media consolidation in our world. Second, they released “Rocking Out Against Voldemedia” a free compilation album of Wizard Rock songs on the topic of media consolidation. Lastly, they urged fans to write their congressmen about the issue. And you know what? It worked. The two groups made the Senate reverse the FCC’s ruling.

When we take a familiar story like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter and we tell people, “Look! The same thing is happening right now and you have the opportunity to stand up and stop it!”, people can better identify both what the problem is and how to combat it. If fictional characters can fight against this and win, why can’t we? The answer, of course, is that we can. We can stand up like Katniss and Harry Potter and fight against brutality and racism. We as fans can come together and be a Dumbledore’s Army for the real world. The Harry Potter Alliance is already asking fans to cast a Sonorous Charm, the spell that makes your voice louder, on the protesters in Ferguson by sharing, retweeting, and reblogging documentation of the brutality. Both they and author John Green, a huge supporter of The Harry Potter Alliance, are keeping tabs on Twitter feeds and livestreams that are reporting on the issue. When it comes to Ferguson, our most powerful magic is our voice and we must use it. If we don’t, the Voldemorts and President Snows of our world win.

Sources: News.Mic, The Harry Potter Alliance, and Freepress.net

Photo credit to AP and Wesley Lowery

Cover Photo Credit to The Baltimore Sun; The Dark Room

Music credit to Roonil Wazlib

Videos credit to The Harry Potter Alliance, Freepress.net, and Warner Bros.