The joint Law & Order: SVU and Law Order: Organized Crime fandoms are spiraling all over the place this week because of a post by Isabel Gillies, who played Kathy, which basically is about her being upset at the negative posts about…Kathy.
A fictional character.
Let’s start there, as we go on this journey full of feelings. And let us also point out that Kathy, in one of her last acts on her fictional version Earth, did a horrible, abusive thing. Yes. It was abusive. Whether or not we ever get any kind of background on why the character did what she did—and, considering the complete lack of development for her, that’s highly unlikely—it still doesn’t change the fact that gaslighting is abuse. And make no mistake: Two out of three of the lines we heard of from the Big Exciting Letter were, in fact, gaslighting. Not to mention, given what we know about what has gone on in the past 10 years for the character in question, they were cruel.
“And there was this letter which to this day, I still don’t know what the heck was in it – truth – I don’t care.”
So, Gillies very proudly doesn’t care that some of us, who have been through emotional abuse (hi), were triggered by the amount of gaslighting Kathy did with that letter. But she, Mariska Hargitay, and Chris Meloni all want us to care that her feelings were upset about viewers’ visceral reactions to a fictional character. And the thing is? If there wasn’t so much punching down going on, if there weren’t three people with privilege—two of whom have an insane amount of it due to their fame and fortune — getting tons of the plebs maligned all over the internet and lumped into “Oh, those meanie mean shippers caused the poor actor to have a breakdown with their Mean Girls memes,” this could probably be a very different discussion.
Of course, letting off some steam over the whole Kathy Stabler situation has…apparently(???) caused showrunner Warren Leight to talk about how making the distinction between the character and the actor in this discussion is about people not having empathy. Which, like, pot and kettle, I guess…because Leight knows none of us and is insulting us as actual, real human beings when saying that we’re all a bunch of monsters.
Crickets from the Almighty Kind T.H.I.N.K. Brigade on that.
And then…when all the very real issues in this disaster of a country, we now have Joe Biden’s Press Secretary — like, U.S. President Joe Biden — saying, on her official account, that fans of a TV show who make memes about an abusive fictional character…”have poisonous venom pulsing through their veins.”
The massive power disparity here was already bad enough. The personal attacks from fan to fan were embarrassing enough…but this?! I don’t see anything about being kind to others or “T.H.I.N.K.” in relation to this. I also never see it when people are cheering “Badass Benson” for taking down a perp. That’s ok. I guess it’s ok because it’s being glad that the “real” bad guys were taken down, not someone who did something silly like hurting Liv’s feelings at best, gaslighting, after all, she’s been through at worst?
I wish I could say the overwhelming feeling I have about all of this was anger. I mean, it’s there…but it’s not dominant. I’m mostly stuck on disappointment. Sadness. Mix in a bit of “wtf,” and emptiness is kind of starting to kick in. I was so excited for this season after not really feeling this whole fandom thing, much less this whole writing thing, anymore.
Not so now.
Anger is easy. It feels righteous. It doesn’t hurt. Anger doesn’t send you back to that place—or, in my case, those multiple places—where you were made to doubt your own sense of reality, or where you spent forever waiting for someone to come and save you from a toxic situation, only to have everyone around you fail you again, and again, and again. And again.
So, then it’s, “Why do you care so much about a fictional character if you’re telling someone not to get so upset about people’s reactions to her?”
Therein lies the problem. Again, there’s a difference between us fans, who depend on our fictional escapes and our wish-fulfillment in terms of a show about “criminal justice” (lol ok, like that exists), and getting dragged by High And Mighty Celebs With Huge Platforms…and people with a ton of privilege being sad about a fictional character getting memed. It’s hilarious to me that a showrunner whose series is dealing with a lot of power imbalances so far this season…doesn’t see that.
And it’s, quite frankly, gutting that the person who plays the Great Hero hasn’t bothered to stop and T.H.I.N.K. about how that might feel either. “Badass Benson” threatens to shoot some balls: Ok to celebrate. Gaslighter was exploded: Not ok to joke about. See the problem, here?
And for the record: Gallows humor is a thing, too. Look it up.
Some of us latch on to what happens in fictional worlds just to get us through the day. I mean, I don’t claim to know anything about anyone else’s life and/or what kinds of struggles they’ve had, but I have to say that maybe you shouldn’t be talking about people being glad someone fictional, whose lies reminds me of your own personal trauma, are poisoned. Or lacking in empathy. Or blahblah whatever else.
Some of us look at Olivia Benson and see the type of compassionate justice in this terrible excuse for a world that we desperately wish actually existed. Somehow, she keeps finding a way to care about other people, even in a world that seems to hand her nothing but heartbreak, nothing but darkness and ugliness beyond comprehension. Her continuing to care, to put herself out there, is never portrayed as weak or foolish.
Some of us (hi) latch on to our fictional characters as our outlet. We see our Olivia Bensons as our heroes and our ideals. If Liv can somehow get to the other side, maybe we will too. At least on television, there might just be justice in this world. Would love to know where the empathy for that is.
And when we see a character do something objectively awful, we latch on to that, too. Granted, this is in no way defending anyone idiotic or toxic enough to equate Kathy Stabler with Isabel Gillies and start sending her negative tweets about her character. Or to somehow insult Gillies herself for having had the misfortune of playing a character who, quite frankly, was never anything other than a poorly-written one. Her feelings of seeing Kathy dragged to hell and back are valid; I just don’t necessarily believe that using the massive platform of celebrity, especially when aided by The Big Stars and the PRESS SECRETARY, to silence the people who’d been disgusted by Kathy’s abuse was a great idea either.
If we’re talking about thinking before we speak, perhaps we should take a moment to think about who we might be silencing. What, in terms of using the art to cope with ugly reality, we may be painting as worthy of chastising. Which groups of people, struggling to get by, we and our wealthy friends may be labeling as full of “poison” simply for existing and having opinions on the media we struggle to pay to consume.
Is it really so difficult, way up in the clouds of success and celebrity, to understand that people get attached to the end result in ways that are deeply personal and lead to very strong feelings? That making Mean Girls burn book jokes about Kathy Stabler might have been exactly the distraction an actual, real person needed to get through the next awful thing? Or that, at the very least, it didn’t make that person a bully or “venomous” to have done so? Truly? Does that person deserve to now be attacked…because Gillies didn’t like a meme? Because that’s actually happening. I’m again mentioning that.
I’m also going to mention the people who have told me I should basically love my abuser or some bullshit over all this. Or that I shouldn’t be cool with punching Nazis…even as a Jewish girl who works at the synagogue and gets bizarre mail and calls all the time.
Empathy: Absent. Maybe all that poisonous venom running through my veins is because literally, not enough people are standing up for people like me like they should. Certainly none of these “genuinely good and kind, real deal” celebrities. Miss me with pretending to be saints when you work in an industry like that and are friends with some of the people in it.
While we’re at it, where was the lecture on thinking before you speak the day that Ice-T made a joke about Cosby being released? I’m sure all the survivors who watch this series and follow the actors on it enjoyed that one! *insert sarcasm* Maybe, clean your own house first before you come sneering down your wealthy noses at others, is all I’m saying.
That went well off track, but as someone who has suffered many blows, both tiny and massive, over the last 37 years—and supposedly, a series like SVU is supposed to be about the victims — perhaps it was necessary to say.
So. In conclusion, when dark humor is aimed at a fictional character, using the power of celebrity to punch down on the people consuming it is not the “kindness” hill to die on. It’s not the cause to fight for — especially not when the series that started this whole discussion has recently let go of two minority characters, to mostly crickets from the Big Deal Celebrities who found time and energy to address this overblown mess from a woman seemingly suffering from yt woman syndrome.
It’s disappointing that this is what we’re talking about here, and yeah, it’s got to be a strange sense of painful to see someone you played for 12 years hated…but that should probably be taken up with the people who wrote her as the villain, not those of us in our “little people” lives who took issue with what she did. We certainly didn’t need the multiple down-facing blows from those at the top to pile on and add to it. Especially when what Kathy Stabler did…was abusive toward two different characters who have already suffered plenty.
More than disappointing, though, it’s truly painful to be made to feel like using that fictional outlet as we do is somehow wrong or that we’re terrible people. Or like we have somehow actually disappointed some of the people we look up to the most in this world, particularly when it’s not exactly like we have any stability, whatsoever, to fall back on, unlike those who dropped down from On High to chastise us for having feelings about seeing one of our many abuses imitated on screen.
It’s probably not even that deep for most viewers. And that’s fine, too. But for us, this matters. These actions and the following reactions matter. And that’s why we’re here and why I’m talking about it. Because I matter and so do those who connect with these characters and the things that happen to them along the way.