Talking Berena on Lesbian Visibility Day

On Friday I presented a short session at Fantastic 2019, a conference about fans and fandom that took place over two days at the University of Sheffield. I’d pitched a brief paper about some experiences from the Berena fandom for one of the lightning sessions – energetic eight-minute presentations rather than a longer academic talk – and the organisers were particularly interested in the aftermath of December’s episodes, and #BerenaDeservedBetter.

[Apologies: the gifs don’t work on this platform, and I can’t get the video of the zine pages to autoplay on slide 3, but if you want to view the zine properly, just click here.]

Having introduced Berena and how I’d ended up (a) a fan and (b) working on a project to capture the meaning of this storyline for fans, I talked about when and how things started to go wrong, and the paucity of the response from the BBC to the evident anguish online. I told people about the campaign that had come together to try and engage Holby City and the BBC, and how that was now broadening to thinking about wlw representation beyond a single broadcaster, and how we can effect change.

I also spoke a bit about the conversation I’d had with the head of the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit about how poorly the complaints process, and the corporation’s editorial guidelines, are set up to handle this kind of hurt and this kind of audience. [I’m still working on a post about that conversation, sorry.]

Oh, and did I mention I did the whole thing in trauma scrubs and a Holby hoodie? Well, it was Lesbian Visibility Day, after all.

I wasn’t quite sure how the presentation would go down – it was very short, after all, and it would have been quite a coincidence if anyone else at the conference was a Holby/Berena fan – but the response was really positive.

Not only were people talking about what happened, and how poor the BBC’s response had been, but the conversation moved on to Twitter, mixing fans and academics in just the sort of way the conference intended.

This was the first Fantastic! conference, but I hope it won’t be the last. It had the fun of fandom – glitter cannons! zine-making! cosplay! – as well as providing a forum for people to talk about all sorts of fandoms, and pose some really interesting questions. If we watch and enjoy problematic content, for instance, are we complicit? If feminised popular culture is derided, and women’s participation in claimed masculine cultures is also derided, where does that leave us? And is it okay to be needy about getting kudos and comments on fan fiction, or are we importing capitalist ideals into a sharing economy?

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