Interview of Kittya Cullen by Cara Marta Messina
Conducted on 2020-01-13
How to Read
This interview transcript has been qualitatlve coded (learn more about qualitative coding and my process here). Qualitative coding, in a general sense, is marking up particular data with particular themes. For this transcript, you can both read what Kittya Cullen said as well as how I coded their interview.
The bold font in Kittya Cullen's answer are the points in the text that have been coded. The underlined font is also coded; the underlined font is specifically marked with the "power and identity" code.
cara: I'm going to start with a little bit of an introduction, just so when I'm listening back I can know everything and know all the details. So, today on Monday, January 13th, 2020, I am interviewing Kittya Cullen. So, while you've already signed this consent form, can you verbally confirm that you agree to have this interview audio recorded and the audio recording potentially published on my dissertation website?
kittya: Yes, I agree to do this interview for the dissertation.
cara: Awesome. And do you mind just stating your alias out loud?
kittya: I used Kittya Cullen for this interview.
cara: Perfect. Thank you. All right, so let's get started. Can you tell me a little about yourself as a fanfiction writer?
kittya: I suppose at this point I've been writing for about seven years in fandom. Aside from that, I have dabbled back and forth in other things, but in terms of being a participant of fandom, it's been about seven years. I have been around, let's see, at least since 2006, but that wasn't really in terms of online fandom participation or anything of that sort. It was mostly just watching children reading books and being invested in them, but not necessarily having, let's say, a fandom community as we know it today. I mean, that makes sense given my age because at the time I would have been in my early teens, and where I lived it wouldn't have really been feasible to be involved in fandom in the way that I am now in terms of tweeting and writing and just being in discussions about meta and so on. In terms of just the process, I think I started writing fan fiction in earnest because I was homesick. Because I had recently moved, and so it was with the intent of writing something that was close to home but also part of fandom that I started doing that.Code: motivation That was like early or mid 2012, '13, somewhere around there.
cara: Awesome. So what was it about writing fan fiction and participating in the fandom that made you feel close to home?
kittya: Well, it was more to do with the fandom that I was in at the time. That was an Indian television show that I was watching, and I happened to be looking for ways to continue to consume the show because I'd been watching it back home, but back home I had English subtitles and so on.Systems of Power: cultural-differenceCode: canon-relation But when I moved here, it wasn't possible for me to do that at the time, so I found the back end ways of watching. And then I realized that while I could still watch it, I couldn't understand it. So I got into forums and fans would translate for those of us who didn't speak Hindi.Systems of Power: cultural-difference And obviously people would answer questions if you asked because you couldn't get everything in the translations or the summaries. And during that time, we would talk about the plot of the show, what the characters were doing, where we were expecting things to go at that time. It was just a lot of the basic things at fandom.Code: fan-politics, fan-practices-uptake
cara: Awesome. What was the name of the television show?
kittya: That one was [inaudible 00:04:05]. It was basically about remarriage. One of the characters was a widower and the other was a divorcee. At the time that the show was airing, it was kind of taboo for divorcees who were women to get remarried, and it was rare for a widower to be portrayed as someone who was intensely devoted to the wife that he had lost, so it was a combination of really interesting things.Systems of Power: heteronormativity cultural-difference feminismCode: canon-compliment I mean, I watched other shows at the time, but that one ... I guess it seemed to come along right at the cusp of me being able to participate in communities, so it was a game changer. And because I grew up in a country where we have a large Indo-Guyanese population, so Indian content was part of our regular air waves and the music and sound that we listened, so it shaped what I was interested in.Systems of Power: cultural-differenceCode: canon-relation
cara: Awesome. Thank you. So how did your participation then in the fan communities change over the years? And if you could talk a little about what fandoms you currently participate in and why you currently participate in those?
kittya: Okay. I'd say it went from being casual in terms of, "I like this book or I like this show, and there are things that irritated me, but whatever, I can move on with my life." To-
cara: I know that feeling so well.
kittya: To realizing that there was a community of people who were also interested in discussing how these shows and books and games et cetera were failing us, whether it was in terms of the content or the representation or just releasing new things like thought arcs that weren't followed through on.Systems of Power: otherCode: fan-politics, critical-uptake So, in terms of where I first began, it was I think probably Twilight, which tends to be a turning point for lots of people.
kittya: But I think with Twilight it was just that phase where you finally find a story that speaks to you, even if you kind of hate it when you look back at it when you're older. But at the time, how Bella was written both as someone who was insular and chooses to form or has a small community and so forth and deals with depressionSystems of Power: disability or whatever it is, it just seemed to be something that I could relate to. And so I was both interested in that, and I guess in the power fantasy that she was written to come in to. Usually, at least for me at the time, it wasn't really common to see those characters have that kind of a glow-up, you can say.Systems of Power: feminismCode: canon-relation, motivation So there was an interest in just playing in that world and those powers and just the very idea of doing something fun. I think I stumbled upon those ... I can't think of what it's called, the English variety, because I did stumble upon it in my time in the Indian fanfictions and it was called something slightly different. But basically where you would participate with one fan writing a line, the next fan writing another line and so on and so forth. So that was the first time that I actually wrote anything fandom related.Code: genre-other
cara: Sort of like role playing?
kittya: Yeah, role playing. And then there was a bit of a lull until my delving into the Indian forums. And there we would do the meta analysis and satirical writings and so on. Code: genre-other Actually, I completely forgot, there was a period where I would write like a satirical review of what was happening, because I don't do that anymore for anything really. But it was an opportunity to experiment with writing and being critical of source materials and so on.Code: critical-uptake, genre-other It was, I don't know, I guess you can say it was a nudge to move from passive consumption to active consumption.Code: important-quote, fan-practices-uptake
cara: Awesome. I have a few followup questions based on that. So when you first started answering, you talked about how something that really drew you to fanfiction and participating in fan communities. Is it ways in which shows were failing us, specifically around representation and content? And of course plot arcs, but isn't that always the case? And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about your experience with shows failing you, especially in terms of representation.
kittya: Okay. So I am currently in the Supergirl fandom, which has been a mess. I'm saying that nicely.Code: criticism I don't know that I was actually thinking about it in terms of shows at first. I think it was more that it was very books for me because I grew up in the Caribbean ... Well, on South America but as socially, politically part of the Caribbean, so most of the content that we were consuming was either shows from the US or whatever, maybe European shows might have filtered through, and that also was the case for the books that we were reading. And while it was the case within school for us to consume Caribbean literature, it was harder to read Caribbean literature as a person on my own.Systems of Power: cultural-difference racismCode: canon-relation I don't know. It was more common to find things like [inaudible 00:10:54] books or the Twilight series or Harry Potter and so on than, let's say, A Year in San Fernando or things like that, or anything from V.S. Naipaul and so forth. So it was just discovering a collection of books in my own home from my aunt and my mother and so on, their teachers. And my aunt in particular, she teaches English, and so they had old texts that I found and started reading them. And that's when I began to realize that the books that I had been reading were excluding me. It was something that you sort of knew but you didn't quite know. Systems of Power: cultural-difference racismI guess it comes back to not knowing what you're missing until you finally have it. So when I first read texts were people were actually talking about foods that I would eat or where people were living in communities like mine, where people spoke that way that I spoke, et cetera.Systems of Power: antiracism cultural-difference Because even though I speak, let's say, like this, how I speak with my family or how I speak with my friends from back home, it's a little different even though ... So, my particular country, we speak English, but it's a particular kind of English.Systems of Power: cultural-difference other So just seeing that in text and then realizing that the fantasies and so on that I was consuming were ... I don't know, it had these strange things that just didn't quite compute with where I was living. That's where it really clicked for me. And from that point onward, I think that's where I began to see it in everything else. The biggest shift didn't really come until I moved to the US, because back home I was part of the majority, so even though it's absent, you were still seeing yourself in other ways, whether that's being who was teaching you or who was in the news as a politician, et ceteraSystems of Power: antiracism cultural-difference. But here it was a completely different ballgame, so it felt more insidiousSystems of Power: racism cultural-differenceCode: important-quote, canon-relation, I guess I can say.
cara: Great. Thank you so much for answering these questions. So I'm going to move into talking about the specific fanfiction itself, Marching Ants, just because we're at 15 minutes. I want to make sure we get into really talking about your fic.
cara: Can you describe your motivation behind writing The Marching of Ants? ... or Marching Ants. Sorry.
kittya: This was almost five years ago, so it's [crosstalk 00:14:03]. But I think at the time it was that we had just finished the show. It had gone in a direction I was not expecting. In fact, my cousin was the one ... Let me see. Actually, no. I was on Twitter casually scrolling through something, and someone from back home happened to mention how the finale of the show had gone. Given my own cultural background and the cultural background of the world in general, I was pretty surprised about that, so I started consuming fics and reading the showSystems of Power: LGBTQplus cultural-difference ... Sorry, not reading the show, but watching the show to get through it to see ... If I could see where it was going and if I would be as surprised as everyone else had been. So when I got through the show, I was surprised, and I was really happy about how it had gone. I felt a need to contribute to the fandom in some way.Code: important-quote, canon-compliment, motivation But also the fics I had read after the show had finished seemed to focus primarily on how Korra was dealing with ... Obviously, it was a really traumatic experience and so on in how she ... what had happened in the gap years that they hadn't shown us for Korra.Code: fan-politics, fan-practices-uptake And while I thought it was important, it sort of felt like with ATLA, with Avatar: The Last Airbender, we had the opportunity to see the inner workings of other integral characters who weren't necessarily main characters but still had really interesting internal happenings. And we didn't quite get to see that with Asami or Bolin or Mako, and I kind of wanted to see that explored in my own way. And with Asami in particular, and this was surprising for me because usually I'm all for the main character. I never really remember to think about the other ... But with Asami, it felt like there was this big gap available to us for exploration.Code: implicit-explicit, motivation I think I just also wanted to see what it was like for that character to lose someone who was so important to her and then to, I guess, have maybe her friends and so on drift away because the linchpin of that entire dynamic for them was no longer there. And just the community that she would have formed, let's say, with the airbending family and so on, even though they might have [inaudible 00:16:55] to talk to each other, I don't know if the intimacy and so on was still there. So I kind of wanted to explore that and see how Asami herself was dealing with it. Because for me I like to see how the characters are responding to what's happening to them rather than having the plot happen to them, and with Asami there was just so much room to do that.Code: implicit-explicit, motivation
cara: Awesome. So what do you believe some of the strengths of your fic are?
kittya: For this particular fic, I think it was just the imagery. I was really trying to grasp something that in some ways is so intangible. I was trying so hard to get just that feeling of desolation and aching.Code: reflection In hindsight, now I think there was also just this ... And I think you ask about it in a later question. But the metaphor itself of the Marching Ants, it was this way of articulating the anxiety that comes along with that.Code: reflection I don't know. I think depression itself is something that is more easily articulated than the anxiety that may come along with it because it's not so much that it's a starting point, but sometimes it's already a trigger event that has occurred. And so with Asami, I was looking at how loss had triggered that within her, and how that lost was manifesting physically and emotionally for her and also in how she was viewing the world. So I think it just came back to capturing that, the imagery of it, the tone of the chapter, the voice of it because, at least to me, it works really hard to put us in Asami's shoes and make us experience it exactly as she's experiencing it.Code: important-quote, reflection
cara: Awesome. I'm going to skip over just a few questions. I'm going to jump to the questions about your tags. I was wondering if you could talk a little about why you use the particular tags, family, love, canon, related and relationships. Tags are really interesting because they're just a way for writers to sort of reach out and catch their audiences, so why did you decide to use those particular tags, and what other tags might you have used?
kittya: Partly, I wasn't quite sure what tags to use because I was still learning.Code: fan-practices-uptake It's still a learning curve. I still don't know [inaudible 00:20:15]. But at that time, I think there was just a focus on what, I now know, I might call found family. And also on being canon-compliant, but still ... I was working in an area where there was nothing for canon yet. I'm assuming that with the comics now, we'll get more information on that regard. But at the time, there was nothing in that area. So I wanted it to be known that it was still within canon's bounds, but there were going to be things being explored that weren't articulated in canon.Code: canon-compliant implicit-explicit And in terms of relationships and love and so forth, it was I guess just coming back to what I like to explore in fiction, which is how people are interacting with each other, what it means for them. And especially for certain characters who are ... I'm not sure how I'm thinking of this, but I think what I'm thinking of is where the audience may usually dismiss them or not consider them worthy of further exploration. Systems of Power: otherSo I like to see for myself how their worth is existing within these relationships, what it means for them and what it can mean for the audience and so forth.Code: critical-uptake, motivation
cara: Awesome. Thank you. I like the mention of found family in particular. So you also answered the next question in a previous question, which is just about why you decided to write it after it aired, because you started watching it then. So maybe we'll jump to the specific moments in the text. So you talked a little bit about the marching ants metaphor as well. Do you want to expand on anything that you mentioned before with the marching ants metaphor?
kittya: I think the only thing I'd probably add is that ... I don't know. I guess the sensation of ants ... I come from an area where you commonly come into contact with animals and so on, so I'm familiar with the actual physical reality of ants crawling across your skin, and there's a way that it feels. It's like a sort of weird, prickling sensation that is very disconcerting, and I guess I wanted to translate that into how the story reflects Asami's own experience with whatever she's feeling. And that imagery just seemed to click with that, just the experience of having something under your skin and on your skin, even if you can't quite articulate what it is.Code: reflection Yeah, that's about it.
cara: Awesome. Great. What drew you to write about Asami and her father's relationship? And I'm also going to add another question of, you talked a lot about sort of capturing feelings of loneliness and desolation, so what are you two writing about her relationship with her father and her found family and that sort of loneliness she's feeling?
kittya: With the case of Asami and her father, I think it just came back to how they wrote the final book for the series. I found it fascinating that Asami had reached out to her father after what had happened.Code: canon-compliment, motivation Because I mean he had tried to kill her, and that is a pretty massive change in a relationship, especially when you consider how close they seem to be at the beginning of the series. Because it's just Asami and her father, and this is basically the only family that she has. And even when we meet Asami, and she gets to know the other people in Korra's circle, we see that Asami herself doesn't seem to have any other friends besides Korra and Mako and Bolin and the others in the Avatar community. So it was just that, I guess, how disconnected from everyone else she must have felt for her to have reached out to someone who harmed her so deeply, especially after she had gone with that much silence. And just also her reaction to Korra bringing it up when they meet again. I think there was just something about the way ... So, in Korra's reaction, we can see that there is care and concern, and Asami does get that, but she's also I guess maybe hurt or frustrated because Korra ... While Korra was absent from the world they had all made with each other, Korra did have her parents, and she's always had this community of people who are invested in her upbringing, her growth, whatever is going on in her life. So, even though Korra herself was experiencing this deeply traumatic, terrible thing, and just trying to recover and even just get back to walking, if that was possible for Korra at the time, she still had all these people who she could draw on. Whereas, for Asami, Asami didn't have anyone, or at least maybe in her head she didn't have anyone. So she went back to someone, I guess who is an ... I wouldn't say an abuser because there isn't that dynamic for them. But in the way that the relationship shifts from love and care to an act of violence ...Systems of Power: other I don't know. I just wanted to explore that. It's just fascinating to me to see how people who were deeply hurt somehow still find a way to circle back around to the people who have hurt them.Code: implicit-explicit, motivation
cara: Awesome. So in your author's note, you mentioned the story begins after book three finale in part because, "When I first really connected to Korra, the avatar and the human." So why do you feel connected to Korra, both the avatar and the human?
kittya: I think in the first two books, even though Korra does have moments of vulnerability, I guess her experiences are fantastical in a sense.Code: canon-critique Up until that point, we had seen her dealing with things that most adolescents are not dealing with, politics to that degree where you are involved in the world stage, in the world stage's effect on the rest of the world and so on and having this massive responsibility where you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Even with the earlier series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, we don't really connect to some of the other characters until that episode where Zuko and Azula and Ty Lee and so on, they're on the beach and they're talking about how their parents treated them or how they reacted to their environment and so forth. We didn't really quite have a moment like that in The Legend of Korra because there wasn't time to do so. But when they allowed Korra's entire foundation to be shifted both physically and mentally, it changed something. It was sort of ... To me, it was groundbreaking in how they handled that because we get to see Korra, who is this all-powerful person, come to grips with what she might be like after having this really terrible thing happen to her and want sort of responsibilities she once had, and how it's still there, but she has all these other things she now has to deal with as well, like her mental health and her physical recovery and so forth.Systems of Power: disabilityCode: important-quote, canon-compliment I don't know, it just ... There may have been other works of fiction that never really covered that, but for me in particular that was when Korra just seemed more human.Code: canon-relation
cara: Awesome. That makes a lot-
cara: Oh, that's okay.
cara: No, you're good.
kittya: No, just to actually answer the question, this one. I think it was that ... Okay. So in the first book, Korra gets to her lowest point. The implication is that she's about to jump off a cliff. But we don't really get to dwell in the true feeling of that moment, the have to fix it immediately because of the idea that the show may never get to come back to this point, so we don't get to actually see what that means for her.Systems of Power: abelismCode: canon-critique But with books three and four, we see Korra actual deal, for more than one episode, with how she's effected by these things, and to me that was different.Code: canon-complimentI don't know. It was just interesting. You actually get to see an avatar. And yes, Aang did deal with this too, but it's ... I don't know. It's just different for me. Deal with PTSD and depression and just all these changing things.Systems of Power: disability It was interesting.Code: canon-relation
cara: Great. Continuing the idea of trauma, you wrote, "Asami gasped when the guard touched her, flinching away from him. It had felt so real. Been so real, she could even feel Korra's body beneath hers, shaking as she tried to wake Korra from the nightmares." Can you talk a little bit about this moment and your representation of Asami's trauma and how you link it to her relationship with Korra?
kittya: I think I was both going for an understanding of how Asami herself is effected by this really terrible thing we see happen to Korra.Code: reflection Because at that point, everyone has seen someone who they think is all-powerful and infallible, invulnerable to an extent, be ... I don't want to say broken, but be injured in a really drastic way and them not being able to do anything much to help with her recovery in concrete ways.Systems of Power: disabilityCode: canon-relation And in thinking about it now, I think it's just also the fact that Asami has watched her mother die and her father become this other person. And later on, although this is ... This particular story doesn't deal with that, though I technically was going to if I ever finished it. But I don't know, just her seeing people that she loves be hurt and/or die, and not be able to do anything, at least in her mind, anything that can alleviate what they're going through or prevent what is happening, especially for someone who is, or at least within the text was, an inventor. I don't know. It's just to be someone who builds and creates with the purpose of fixing or making better, but then not being able to do so for someone within your personal life.Systems of Power: disability But the imagery also for that chapter was, I guess, built in subtext because I wasn't quite sure yet how to engage with what was happening in ways that were visible to other people outside of the fan community, the slashfan community.Systems of Power: heteronormativity LGBTQplusCode: fan-politics, audience reflection
kittya: My later works are more, I guess, overt. But I don't know, just how Asami deals with that and the intimacy of caring for someone in that way, it just seemed like a really interesting juxtaposition.
cara: Yeah, great. So for you this was sort of a moment where you were exploring and engaging with the slash fan community, but you didn't necessarily want to fully write it in yet. Is there a particular reason why you wanted to sort of keep it not as overt or just more hint at it?
kittya: It has less to do with fandom itself and more to do with the external world. And even now it's, I guess it's ... I don't know. I think it just seemed like the safer option at the time. Systems of Power: homophobia-transphobia But the more time I've spent in that part of fandom, the less I guess I've cared about how it's read or whatever it is. But at the time, it just seemed wiser, particularly if I was having others who may not ... Because fan works and original work for me are on the same level, and so I'm not concerned, I guess, with people reading it for ... people reading it and not seeing a difference in quality, but rather how they experience the content. And so I think I was still considering who the audience would be.Code: important-quote, fan-politics, audience I don't know. The shift in audience concerns came later. So I think writing it now, I would probably handle some things differently. And I probably will handle some things differently if I go back to write in that particular fiction.
cara: You should. Excellent. Thank you.
kittya: It's on my list. [crosstalk 00:35:53] fictions I keep promising myself I'll go.
cara: I finished maybe four fanfictions I've ever written, so I understand that feeling. Big dreams. All right. Thank you. So there's one last quote that I wanted to talk about. You mention and you write, "For benders, manipulators of the elements, the old tradition had never necessarily applied, although there were lingering stories of past gender inequality in the water tribes. A woman could be as strong of a bender as a man, in fact, stronger than a man. Women ruled as queens without murmurs. Some had aspired to and attained the position of fire lord in the most traditional nation of them all. While the earth kingdom queen had a terrible end at the hand of Zaheer, it had certainly not been because of her gender." So I have a few questions about this. For you, why is there tension in tradition around gender roles for benders and non-benders?
kittya: I think it's just existing personally as a marginalized person. The way that that storyline was handled in LOK, I think I wasn't quite comfortable with it, just the very idea of the movement disappearing because of one man's end. It seems so unrealistic because there was a real situation with inequality there. Because we see that the world has adapted to cater for benders, and we don't quite know non-benders are faring in that world, what kind of opportunities they're having. And based on the conflict that the show raised, it was clear that non-benders were in a position where they weren't having ends meet or they weren't getting the jobs that they hoped to get.Code: canon-critique So both as a black person and as a woman, it was just important for me to recognize that in text and get around to exploring what that might have meant for other characters who weren't within the Circle of the Avatar and had powerful connections.Systems of Power: feminism antiracismCode: motivation The universe raises really interesting conversations about inequality and power and change and so forth, but we kind of always see it from the position of the privileged. And I think that's my favorite thing about fandom and fan fiction, how fans sort of delve into all these areas in canon that either there wasn't time to explore or it didn't really seem to be important enough to explore, so things like inequality. When I write now, it's just always in the forefront, "How can I better represent experiences of people in the world," not just for myself, but for other people, what they're going through.Systems of Power: otherCode: important-quote, canon-critique, fan-politics, critical-uptake
cara: Great. And I like too, the sort of thinking about the inequality between benders and non-benders, that did sort of bring in gender roles, which I think again is sort of a really additional and interesting layer of that. So you sort of answered the other questions too. I guess maybe I'll ask the last question then. Why is talking about these tensions important for your story?
kittya: With gender roles in particular, I think it's fascinating that within the Avatar universe, we got to see all these really powerful girl and women characters who were, for the most part, respected, at least in later years.Systems of Power: feminism Because when we first meet the Avatar world, we know that for a fact Azula isn't ... Even though Azula has all this power, she's in this position where she could eventually have the throne, she isn't respected by her own father.Code: canon-compliment And there are moments in the story where even Katara ... And I think I'd actually forgotten about this until someone else had written it in their own fanfiction, which is part of what's so fun about reading fanfiction. There are all these ideas that you don't quite pickup on right away, but someone else mentions it, and it clicks, and you start to rotate the world and look at it from a different angle.Code: important-quote, compliment, critical-uptake But even Katara in the beginning, it was kind of frowned upon for her to use waterbending beyond healingSystems of Power: sexism, and she goes on to become one of the greatest waterbenders the world has ever known. And we even get to see her have this really powerful but terrifying and concerning moments where she bloodbends someone who is, up until that point, we assume more powerful than her and more ruthless and so forth. So it was interesting to see all these female characters get to be complex and powerful and not have that held against them,Systems of Power: feminism unless you count Azula and how that ended for her.Code: canon-compliment
cara: Oh, Azula. That Agni Kai is just such a good scene though. It still gives me the chills.
kittya: That was just so devastating to see unfold because it comes back to the fact that Zuko had the kind of support that Azula never quite got, so he got to learn and grow past his trauma and how that had shaped him and warped his thinking. Whereas, for Azula ... When I was younger, I think even though I felt some pity for her, I didn't quite grasp just how unfair it was that she didn't have the opportunities to change that he did. So with age and with experience, it's just tragedy upon tragedy, especially when we learn later what happens with her mother. But it was nice to see the LOK universe expand upon that and show us that things had changed in some ways. For one, we have Korra, who is the avatar, and she is this figure who is not the conventional or gender-conforming version of femininity that we're accustomed to. She's allowed to be athletic and walk around in pants without concerns about what others are thinking. Even though she does think about her gender presentation, it comes from a place that's not her considering herself inadequate, but because she saw other people I guess idolized in this particular form of femininity being expressed, so we see Korra and we see Lin and we see Sue and Kuvira, and they're all these women who either have power or they're dealing with their own traumas or they have complex relationships with their mothers, and they have complex relationships with their children as well, if they do have children, and so forth.Systems of Power: feminism I don't know. It was an example of how that world had changed or was changing possibly for the better.Code: canon-compliment
cara: Awesome. So we are at 45 minutes, so I don't want to take up too much more of your time.
kittya: Oh, it's fine.
cara: Are you sure?
kittya: Oh yes.
cara: Awesome. Okay, then I'll keep asking questions. I feel like I'm just learning so much from you. I just love listening to your analysis and your perspectives.
kittya: I just love talking about Korra [inaudible 00:44:34].
cara: I know. I want to talk back too. I want to have a dialogue, and I'm like, "No, I have a different goal with this."
kittya: [inaudible 00:44:42] I kind of came to the fandom late. I consumed fanfiction. I wasn't part of the fandom itself, so I didn't quite get to be part of ... Maybe I should be happy for that because I missed all the fan wars.Code: fan-politics
cara: Yeah, it was brutal for a little while.
cara: I missed the smug satisfaction, but I also missed all the stress and anger, so I'm happy for that.Code: fan-politics
cara: I was on The Last Airbender subreddit, and it was very tense. There was a lot of frustration going around.
kittya: Considering my Supergirl years, I can imagine. And then when you [inaudible 00:45:32] Korra is an avatar who's a woman.Systems of Power: feminism She's not a dainty fainting flower that they love.Systems of Power: heteronormativityCode: fan-politics
cara: Gosh no.
kittya: [inaudible 00:45:43] And when we turn to Asami, Asami is allowed to be a femme fatale in a way. And they changed their own writing where they were going to have a [inaudible 00:45:51], but they found these characters interesting enough to keep her on and make her part of the protagonist's world and important to it. So, just so many interesting happens in that show. I will talk about LOK and ATLA until the day that I die because it really is phenomenal [inaudible 00:46:08].
cara: Yep. Yep. No, I 100% agree. It's like my favorite serious.
cara: So, other question too. What did you learn from writing Marching Ants?
kittya: I think for that particular story I had to remind myself, especially because I had read so many fan fictions where this was ... And I know it's understandable, but I kind find it a flaw for some people. Just keeping the world in focus.Code: criticism Incorporating real aspects of that universe because it shapes how the characters are responding to things and what their experiences are like. And it also makes it more real for a reader to see those things as well, at least for me personally. So, just world building even on my own and also incorporating things that were already established in the universe. Because there is this thing in fanfiction where we assume that all people who are accessing it are familiar with the text. And while that is often common when we want it to function beyond that world to have relevance in other ways, I think for me personally it's important to integrate more parts of the world, of the universe.Code: important-quote, fan-politics, audience I don't know. For me, it was just reminding myself that, even though I'm writing something where there are people who are familiar with the text, it's also important to fill in the blanks sometimes.Code: audience
cara: Awesome. Okay. So I want to just move to talking a little bit about some of the larger analysis I'm doing with the Legend of Korra fandom and our cover of our own. So I know you were actually able to skim the article I published, which was awesome, so thank you for doing that. I wanted to also ask you a little bit, if you could talk through your own sort of interpretations and experiences with results. SO I know that you didn't start participating in the Korra fandom until after the series was finish, but part of my analysis is looking at how the fandom really shifted, especially as the characters really began developing and as the writers really changed their original intentions, like you were saying, with Asami being femme fatale and then with Asami and Korra's relationship, and how that development in the show really shaped the fan community. In doing an analysis of the most common relationships across from before Korra and Asami became canon or even subtextual, and then around the time ... around the end of book three when Korra and Asami's relationship starts to sort of seem to turn and make a turn towards one of romance, and then finally at the end when their romance is confirmed. So that's sort of the three different points I'm looking at. So, before there's any kind of subtextual relationship, the most popular relationships were Korra and Mako, Korra and Asami, and Bolin and Korra. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about, why do you think people were so originally drawn to Korra and Mako at first and Korra and Bolin?
kittya: I think, and I'll probably go with my own fandom experiences, it just comes back to how the world is constructed externally. So just even the idea of imagining inside of what was placed before us, it takes a special kind of familiarity with the boarders of the world to imagine a world that is different from what is presented to you.Systems of Power: other At the time, I don't know, it was just that Korra and Mako were what was the norm. And so I think it made sense for some people to only be able to see that happening. I mean, I didn't see the possibility of Korrasami until the very end.Systems of Power: heteronormativity But when I circled back around after having spent about several months reading several fanfictionsCode: important-quote, fan-politics- [crosstalk 00:51:24]
cara: Just getting all you can take.
kittya: But yeah, I just, spending so much time reading so much fanfiction from LOK and then branching out into Steven Universe and moving from Steven Universe into Supergirl, there was just more of an interaction with another side of fandom, the slash side of fandom. I don't know. I think you have to be integrated with others who are looking for more than what's presented, looking for more than what's norm, what's the acceptable way of telling a story of any kind of relationship really. Systems of Power: LGBTQplusBecause even when you talk about what characters are bound to get more attention and more interesting and so on and so forth, when you look at fandom in general you'll find that when those characters are black or just generally a person of color in comparison to a character being white, that people are least particular when the fandom's dominated by white faces and so forth. They are more likely to explore those characters and to humanize them and to want to get to know them better, while other characters and what their hopes and dreams and ideas might be for the world are pushed to the side.Systems of Power: racismCode: important-quote, fan-politics So it was just engaging with the world in that way made me see ... One second. Sorry.
cara: No, it's okay.
kittya: Okay, sorry.
cara: No, you're good.
kittya: I don't know. I'm not surprised. Plus the allocishets tend to dominate fandom in general, so it made sense that they would sort of own the sandbox and everyone else should be playing to the side.Systems of Power: heteronormativityCode: important-quote, fan-politics
cara: That's a good way of putting.
kittya: I mean, people are out there writing Korra Tarrlok fanfic. Okay, but Korrasami just seems too weird, okay people.Systems of Power: homophobia-transphobia I mean, I was also part of it too, that people were so willing to see all these other, in some ways really twisted, relationship dynamics,Systems of Power: other but couldn't quite bring themselves to see what others were seeing when they took the allocishet glasses off.Systems of Power: heteronormativity I was part of that group as well, until in the end.Code: fan-politics I didn't really see the shift until, I think, the third book when they were going through the journey of just how the Earth Kingdom is changing and they have them training together, and so [inaudible 00:54:39] Korra and the family training together. Then I began to see the inkling of what they might be going towards. I was like, "Ah, there it is." And then finally when we are at that moment where Asami's telling Korra that, whatever she needs, that she's there for her basically. When I saw that I was like, "Okay. This is pretty blatant. I don't see how anyone is not seeing this."Systems of Power: LGBTQplus But I can't judge because when you go back and you see the way that Korra and Asami speak to each other in the beginning, it's there, but it's not intentional subtext. It's like ... I mean, it makes sense that some people didn't see it.Code: fan-politics
cara: Yeah. Even in the season four finale, there was still people who were insistent that their relationship was still a friendship. And I'm like, "They're holding hands walking off into the sunset."
kittya: When that happened I was like, especially as someone who had seen other animated shows and so was familiar with the trope of the heroes walking off into the sunset together or holding hands with each other, that particular ending, it just seemed to imply so much. After I had finished watching the show, I went down to see one of my cousins, who's younger than me but he's also spent a lot of time watching anime and animated shows and so forth, and I just brought it up in passing casually to see what he would say. He was like, "I can't believe they did X, Y, Z." And I was like, "So you see it too," which means that it's pretty much right there for anyone who is actually paying attention and familiar with visual cues in storytelling. Actually, I think it may have come back to that as well, a combination of both familiarity with visual cues in storytelling, both a tendency to read closer in text in general, whether it's literature or visual media, as well as having familiarized yourself with another community. I'm always on the fence sometimes when I'm talking about how people are seeing or not seeing certain things. Because even with my current fandom, it's like half the people are saying that we're delusional or creating things where there aren't things. And then other times you see these exact phenomena occurring in cishet media.Systems of Power: heteronormativityCode: important-quote, fan-politics So, it's like it's there. They know what they're doing. They're just trying to decide if it's worth it.
cara: Is that with Kara and Lena. I've only watched up to season three of Supergirl, so I've heard some rumblings, but I haven't-
kittya: At that time ... When I first came across it, I was like, "They're probably overreacting," because I know how fandom can get.Code: fan-politics
kittya: So I came as a skeptic actually. And then I sat down. After getting through the first season, I sat down into the second season. And then there's this moment where ... And no offense to Katie, but her character is ... She tries, but I think somehow never seem to be cishet. There's this moment where she's speaking to ... She's inviting her to this major event, and she takes a moment for a real long, hyper-focused upon lip bite. And I'm like, "In what world am I supposed to view this as platonic? I mean, I know I was raised in a pretty fundamentalist Christian kind of environment, but I think I'm seeing here things that I should not be seeing between two [inaudible 00:58:53] people."Systems of Power: LGBTQplus cultural-difference So that's when I became a believer. And the longer I watched the show, the more it seemed to grow.Code: canon-relation And you could tell where it shifted from this being accidental to the actors leaning into it because they respected the audience, and they were having fun with it. And you could tell, from a fandom perspective, some people who are cishet won't be able to speak to thisSystems of Power: LGBTQplus, but you could tell that the writer's room was split in how they were portraying the characters because I think they got uncomfortable with how fandom was growing so rapidly and intensely around these two charactersSystems of Power: homophobia-transphobia, even to the point where they used the black character as a wedge between themSystems of Power: racism. So, just so many layers of so many awful things happening in that show. Code: important-quote, canon-critique, fan-politicsBut now in seasons four a five, they have really leaned into it, including parallels with canon couples. So it feels like they're heading there, but you never know with these people. You never know with these people.
cara: It could be some major queerbaiting, so we'll see.
kittya: At this point, they may go down as the greatest baiters in history.
cara: Oh my gosh.
kittya: And sorry if I'm taking up your time-
cara: No, no.
kittya: It's been ... I'm at the point where I've had to distance myself because it's just gotten so frustrating and so intense, and you get so much anger with the way it was being handled. But we basically had these two actors leaning into it because they didn't have a problem with itSystems of Power: LGBTQplus, but we see that some of the writers were uncomfortable, or I guess maybe the network or the showrunners were uncomfortable where the story was heading.Systems of Power: homophobia-transphobia And so they moved away from what was organically developing to the extent where they took two characters who never said more than a single word to each other, and one of these characters actively disliked the other character, and said, "Hey, we're going to have these two put together. And we are going to have your favorite superhero be shipped with a slave owner.Systems of Power: racism So, yay, have fun with that."Code: canon-critique
cara: Oh. Oh, okay.
kittya: Yeah. So when you start off with a show that has ... It's basically girl-next-door, blonde, blue-eyed, sort of hyper-feminine in some ways but also gender non-conforming in other ways super heroSystems of Power: feminism dating a black man, or having that black man being put as a love interest when that's usually not the case, especially for that kind of media.Systems of Power: antiracism And then you break them apart in the second season and conveniently replace him with a white man who just actually makes the character feel terribleSystems of Power: racism and derails her show, and starts to get almost as much screen time as she does even though he's not really an integral part of the show. Just so much went wrong so fast. He was so bad.Systems of Power: sexismCode: canon-critique
cara: As it always does. Yeah. No, she got tied down real quick with him.
kittya: Real fast.
cara: All right. I do have to run because I have a meeting at 3:15, but I want to thank you so, so much for taking the time to do this. It's been so wonderful hearing your perspective and hearing about your relationship with The Marching Ants and The Legend of Korra as well as Avatar: The Last Airbender and Supergirl. Thank you so much for talking to me and taking time to do this.
kittya: Yeah, I'm always happy to do stuff like this, so I'm really happy to have been able to help.
cara: And please update me.
kittya: I will get on my soapbox always for anything to do with the Avatar world and for fandom in general.
cara: It's like a running joke in my department ... I've been here for four years now, and it's like the running joke that I'm the Korra girl. Everywhere I go I'm like, "Have you guys seen The Legend of Korra?" And everyone's like, "We get it. You like The Legend of Korra."
kittya: Yeah, my friends feel the same way about me and Supergirl now. So, I'm sorry, but I just can't help myself.