[UPDATED] Animated Comedy Series Gen Zed the Latest Victim of Cowardly Internet Harassment
Because diversity is scary.
[Trigger Warning: Discussion of internet harassment. Most of the offending material is behind links, but there are transphobic remarks and racial slurs below. Be warned.]
They haven’t yet released a single episode. All that exists of Gen Zed online is a 2 minute trailer. Yet, as we learned during Anita Sarkeesian’s harrowing ordeal after simply announcing the possibility of her Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series, all that needs to exist is a desire to make the pop culture landscape more diverse for the truly hateful to come out of the woodwork.
The lovely (/sarcasm) people at 4Chan and 8Chan (among other offshoots) have decided to make Gen Zed their next target for harassment, because it made the mistake of having a trans female protagonist (who’s played by a trans woman who happens to also be Jewish and a lesbian), along with a black character, an Asian character, and a white character that isn’t completely perfect. What’s more, the series is written by an English Jew! I know, horrible right?
It all began on Sunday night, when Gen Zed‘s YouTube channel was suddenly flooded with negative comments. Show creator Hayden Black recalls that, “I was definitely thrown those first few hours as I’d never seen this type of hatred before and my knee-jerk reaction was to delete virtually every comment. Since then, we’ve seen a lot of this show’s shit trolling which doesn’t bother me at all. But I’m wondering if it’s so lame, why are you telling us this thousands of times a day? What are you so afraid of?”
It wasn’t just YouTube comments they were receiving. They began to receive all sorts of horribleness via Twitter, Facebook, and beyond. Like the charming photo above, for starters. There was nothing about this show (correction, this TRAILER – remember this is all based on a two minute video) that these channers didn’t have something to spew vitriol over.
There’s the trans woman angle: here, here, and here. Then, they decided to hate the fact that the show’s lead actress is trans and Jewish: here, and here. Then, they went after the other characters on the show in really bizarre distortions of logic like this, or this. There was plenty more that Black sent us that we’re not going to share here, but you get the idea. It was a lot, and they’re still getting it today. There’s even an entry on good ol’ Encyclopedia
Even worse, you may have noticed that the video for the trailer in our original post about Gen Zed is no longer available (and this is after the video had approached 100,000 views). Guess why?
Yup. Channers joined forces to flag the Gen Zed YouTube channel so that YouTube would ban them. The team over at Gen Zed is currently working it out with YouTube, and hopefully the channel will be up again soon. But no matter what, no creator should have to deal with this level of abuse. What’s interesting is that we’re used to women bearing the brunt of the harassment alone. In this case, all of the hatespeech is coming through to a cisgender, heterosexual male creator who was trying to give other voices a platform.
I had the chance to speak with Black, as well as the show’s star, Julie Rei Goldstein (who does the voice of Shona Sommers), about how they’re dealing with this experience, and they seem to be taking it in stride, despite the obvious horribleness of it.
Teresa Jusino (TMS): How did you first become aware of what was going on?
Julie Rei Goldstein: I’d just gotten home from dinner with some of my family for my birthday when Hayden called me.
TMS: How does this kind of harassment make you feel and impact your life?
Hayden Black: The ultra-racist/bigoted stuff aside – which has been about 30% of the comments – I’m amazed that people are so obsessed with Gen Zed. I mean, this is a two minute trailer and people aren’t just feeling the need to kick it via the comments sections. They’re creating artwork and videos to kick it! One of them is an 18 minute rant. That’s 9 times longer than the trailer! How many other 2 minute promos can rally this sort of response?
Goldstein: It just makes me feel sad that people are still holding on to all this hatred and prejudice in 2015. I don’t read everything because I’m just too busy. I don’t really feel like I need to protect myself because I’ve been through the ringer for over a decade and it takes a lot to get to me nowadays. Maybe 10 years ago I might have buckled under the hatred, but that’s just not me anymore. I’m much stronger than that. My main concern is always those around me. I don’t want to see anyone hurt because of vitriol that’s directed towards me. Furthermore my bigger concern in the Trans community has never been about myself, but those who aren’t as strong as I am emotionally. Some in our community tend to dismiss discussions about slurs, hate speech and so-called word policing as trivial, something we should all just get stronger and overcome, but with the astronomical depression and suicide attempt rate in our community, I just can’t accept “being strong enough” as the barrier for survival.
Black: I see the the stuff on YouTube as I delete it. I’ve stayed away from certain message boards but friends have been reading them and sending me (unsolicited) updates. Some people there are convinced we’re writing those posts ourselves; some are amazed that the Twitter account (of a fictional animated character) is written by a real live human being; etc etc. If only we could harness that power for something other than bashing a 2 minute cartoon.
I do wonder how individual people take their shit – because I’ve heard horror stories from other people, other minorities, about how it felt the day these kinda people turned to focus their ire on them. Julie has been taking it in stride; her strength is such an inspiration.
At the end of the day, I’m creating a comedy about four college-age kids, one of whom is Trans, one of whom is African-American, one of whom is Asian-American, and one of whom is Caucasian. This is scary? If you don’t like the subject matter, the comedy itself or the animation, don’t watch it. But the fact that thousands of people are going out of their way to punch and kick us means it’s already a lot more than that.
TMS: How do you think this will affect Gen Zed’s progress, if at all?
Black: It will help us grow our audience because along with the nastier comments, we’ve gotten loads more people adding us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram. And it gives the haters something to bond over.
Goldstein: It fuels us to keep moving forward. All they’ve really given us is proof of why we what we’re creating is necessary and important. Many of their vile comments were denigrating Trans people who aren’t even involved in Gen Zed, bringing up the same bigoted arguments you hear from anti-LGBT organizations who want to legally deny us access to healthcare, public accommodations and employment.
TMS: Being a cisgender heterosexual dude, had you ever experienced this level of vitriol on any of your other projects? Were you surprised by the level of negativity that came with simply creating a trans female lead?
Black: Nothing like this at all – well, my mother has said some nasty things but what can you do. And yes, I’m surprised; surprised that so many people are scared by a positive portrayal of a Trans woman.
TMS: What’s the status of the YouTube situation as of right now?
Black: We’re talking to YouTube to have it reinstated. One of the trolls reposted the Gen Zed promo on his YouTube channel after the official one was taken down this morning. And another troll posted on Twitter that now it’s taken down he can’t keep making fun of us. So no matter what else they say, they clearly can’t get enough of us!
TMS: What would you say to the trolls if you could?
Black: There’s so many more interesting things to do on the internet – like watching porn.
Goldstein: If you think you have a valuable creative contribution, by all means follow your passion. What they’re doing is cowardly, but creating takes courage.
It astounds me that a site like 4Chan or 8Chan or any other chan can exist out in the open, be so clearly devoted to being a base for hatred, and be allowed to exist. Yes, individuals and private companies/organizations have the right to free speech, but when a site is used to organize attacks on people (doxxing, stalking, etc) that put them in danger, that’s no longer free speech. That’s committing a crime against others.
Meanwhile, the fact that Gen Zed has already become such a target and that the channers find it so threatening to their “way of life” due to its portrayal of a diverse cast means that it’s exactly the kind of thing we should try to encourage and see more of. If you’d like to keep up while their YouTube channel is down, you can check out Gen Zed‘s Twitter, their Tumblr, their Facebook page, and their website.
UPDATE: As of Saturday, August 29 at 5 p.m. ET, Gen Zed‘s YouTube account has been reinstated. Check out the trailer and more here.
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