All That Matters is What We Do: Fans, Community-Building, Love, Social Justice, and Other Activist Lessons from the Whedonverse

All That Matters is What We Do: Fans, Community-Building, Love, Social Justice, and Other Activist Lessons from the Whedonverse
Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses 6 – Featured Speaker
California State University – Sacramento

Due to popular demand this presentation is now made available here in its entirety, as a downloadable PDF, and as a narrated video. But first, some reflections on the experience and an introduction to the content.


When Rhonda Wilcox and Tanya Cochran wrote me last October with an invitation to participate in Slayage 6 as a featured speaker I was so stunned-giddy it took me nearly an hour to be able to write back with my enthusiastic “Yes!”

They noted my work in recent years and requested I focus on fan activism and social justice, adding “Anything that calls to you, within that broad category, would be lovely.”

Broad category? GULP.

No, YAY.


I’ve been speaking publicly for almost 10 years now, and wasn’t nervous about getting up on stage – especially in front of community members. But the more I thought about it, thought about I wanted to say in this forum, with this context, the more I realized I would need to get personal to have the kind of impact I wanted. What made me nervous was being personal, and not traditionally “academic,” in front of a group of scholars.

Additionally, while I love talking about my work, a combination of survival skills and stoic Norwegian heritage has created a situation where a lot of my deeper motivations for social justice work have been compartmentalized. And while I wanted to acknowledge those, I didn’t want to dwell on them, and I certainly didn’t want the presentation to be about me. I wanted to use myself as an example to illustrate that we all have unspoken reasons for activism and community-building; reasons why we choose, create, and nurture families.

I checked in with Rhonda and Tanya with the following:

I’m in the beginning stages of mulling this over, but my gut feels like this might be more of a personal reflection than a strictly academic or informational presentation. The things that keep returning to my mind are how throughout the past 12 years, Whedon’s work has helped inspire and create community through different outlets in my life; Willow talking about root systems – and how everything connects; Mal aiming to misbehave; and most recently, the wonderful Moscow Watcher quoting Angel about how what we do matters. The larger conversation about fan activism and community building will be addressed, but it will be rooted in what it means to me, and how it inspires and transforms those around me.

I don’t want this to be a self-centered presentation, but as the initial invitation mentioned my social activism (community building/organizing, media criticism, etc) and I assumed that’s what you’d like me to talk about, in looking to find the points where those works connect with the works of Whedon I realized my motivations are more “sentimental” than “scholarly.” So while I might talk about, say, Rhizomes, I likely won’t be presenting “a Deleuzian approach to social justice in the Whedonverse.”

I was advised to go for it.

One of the biggest surprises for me in the process of writing this was the realization that my activism has grown from the optimistic, yet very powerful, “stand up and be strong” message of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the more realist (and perhaps “adult”) daily resolve and small kindnesses espoused by Angel.

One of the biggest surprises in giving the presentation (and truly it was a gift, both given and gifted) was that I burst into tears – on stage – in front of people – and that I wasn’t bothered in the least.

This is some epic spiritual evolution on my part, and in this instance made possible by you.

As I later noted, this was the most personal presentation I’ve ever given, and I shared both strengths and vulnerabilities that I haven’t shared in a public forum before – doing so with the hope that personal braveries would have a communal impact. I looked out and saw a sea of tissues (and kerchiefs!) being drawn from bags and pockets. Hands and sleeves wiping eyes and noses. I was overwhelmed by your response (and might have missed a couple of sentences). More than that, your collective willingness to share your braveries, your sadnesses, your joys, your yearnings for connections and manifestations of love with me in that space proved what Tanya emphasized in her opening remarks – “We’re here because of each other.”

Thank you all for being chosen family, and for supporting me, each other, and our Potentials we haven’t met yet.

Slayage is meant to be an academic conference – and it is. The depth of scholarly engagement is impressive, and made all the more captivating by our collective passions for narrative – even as we approach the content from differing perspectives and disciplines. As I noted in my speech, my father taught me that a mark of a first rate mind is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time. (I would add the mark of a first-rate heart is one that has both compassion and empathy.) Slayage, and by extension GeekGirlCon, creates space where Love – or at the very least, Respect – allows for us to have opposing thoughts while also considering them as valid, important, and potentially, influential.

Slayage 2014

Photo Credit: Kadee Whaley

I’d like to add some specific names to the acknowledgements I included at the end of my presentation –though I want to be clear that my appreciation includes the entirety of the Whedon Studies Association, as well as, the history of Staff and CONtributors at GeekGirlCon, and all of the people you all love and are inspired or supported by in your endeavors.



In addition to Rhonda Wilcox, David Lavery, Stacey Abbott, Lorna Jowett, Roz Kaveney, Nancy Holder (and Belle Holder!), Alyson Buckman, Hélène Frohard- Dourlent, Nikki Stafford, Nikki Faith Fuller, Jo Jo Stiletto, Dale Koontz Guffey, Ensley Guffey, Amy Peloff, Ryan Wilkerson, the Whedonesque Burlesque Sparkle Tribe, the contributors to Fan Phenomena: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and GeekGirlCon, I’d like to thank Jamala Henderson for saying over lunch (and I’m paraphrasing her supportive and moving encouragement), “I want you to do me a favor and forget everything you think you should do or say – and I want you to get up there and tell a story. But because the story you have to tell is powerful.” I’d like to thank Mary Ellen Iatropoulos for being first and foremost a brilliant woman, and second for being the best co-featured speaker I could have been paired with. I’d like to thank Cynthea Masson, Madeline Muntersbjorn, Wendy Sterba, Katia McClain, Bronwen Calvert, Stacey, Lorna, and Dale, among others, for their responses and reflections and stories after the presentation. I’d like to express my appreciation to Cynthia Burkhead for holding down the fort like a boss – and with a smile. Beth Rambo gets a nod for being my first Slayage hug in Sacramento, as do Samira S. Nadkarni and Stephanie Graves for their excellent live-tweets of “All That Matters is What We Do.” Nikki Stafford – thank you for an incredible, and playful, introduction. Thanks to my sister slayer, Amy, for being my traveling companion – and to Taylor Boulware for playing with us. I’d like to thank the WSA Board for their year- round work, Alyson Buckman for convening the conference, and the WSA “Mr. Pointy” Award Jury for honoring Fan Phenomena: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a finalist for the 2014 Book-Length Mr. Pointy. Many many thanks to my amazing husband for his technical expertise, design savvy, epic love and support of me, and great appreciation for the work of communities such as The Whedon Studies Association. I hope you all get to meet him someday.
And finally, I want to express my delight in all of you who indulged in the Squirpocalypse at Slayage 6 Meme & Tumblr.

Much Ado About Squirrels

Image Credit: Ian Dawe

“All that matters is what we do: Fans, Community-Building, Love, Social Justice, and Other Activist Lessons From the Whedonverse”

Presented 6/22/14 at The Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses 6 at California State University-Sacramento
Published 7/8/14 on Ink-Stained Amazon
All Rights Reserved

A few notes about the options available.

Option 1) The presentation is in a PDF form with slides and text. Video clips and the rhizomatic animation are visible only when the document is opened in Adobe Reader.

Download and View the Presentation as a PDF
(Zip file, 114MB)

Option 2) A narrated video version. This presentation is meant to be performed – and is certainly more impactful that way. It was meant for everyone in the room that morning, and in the media translation some of that magic we shared will be lost. Hopefully, the content will still be useful – and still meaningful too. This option is provided in the spirit of accessibility Tanya Cochran emphasized at our conference. (*Note: All of the visual and textual citations are included in the PDF)

This presentation is to be used for educational purposes only, and should be fully cited and credited. Additionally, I ask that if you download this presentation you consider making a small ($5) donation to the Whedon Studies Association. It’s not required, but it would be appreciated.


Comments are closed.