Oh, the Drama

If you haven’t read it yet, check out Holly Pervocracy’s recent post on “The Geek Social Fallacies of Sex.” There’s lots of food for thought, there, but my attention was caught in particular by this section:

GSFS 4: Drama is always worse than the thing the drama is about.

I guess the xkcd comic has a little bit of this one.  Drama’s never fun, but it beats the fuck out of suppressing real issues.  In my time in geek circles, I’ve seen reports of sexual harassment and even outright assault silenced with “well, I don’t want to make drama” or “but whatever, that’s just drama.”  A woman in the group is a sexual predator? Gosh, I don’t spread gossip.  A man needs to be disinvited from parties because he’s repeatedly threatened people at them? No, kicking him out would make a scene, it would make drama.

In geek sexual communities, the illusion of smooth functioning and of everyone being bestest friends with everyone can supersede people’s needs for comfort and safety.  A lot of this has to do with the “Ostracizers are Evil” non-sex GSF, but it gets worse when you add sex to the mix, because defensiveness about our non-traditional sexuality suppresses important issues even further.  Like, if you admit that people violate boundaries in BDSM circles, then you’re admitting that BDSM isn’t a perfect haven of consent and negotiation, and that’s just going to play right into the mainstream idea that BDSM is abusive!  So we end up defending abusers to prove BDSM isn’t abusive.

“Drama” is a trivializing word.  Let’s try “conflict,” instead.  ”I don’t want to treat him any differently just because he gets a little handsy with women, that would cause conflict.”  It doesn’t sound so superior and level-headed now, does it?

I’ll be using this as an explainer on the topic of drama for some time, I think. There are a couple of things I want to add as well. Drama is one of those things fiction writers (are supposed to) build, so we know a little bit about how it works.

You can build drama out of cheap, petty, pointless behavior, but anyone reading you will know it’s artificial. If you see something like that happening in real life, what you normally do is scratch your head and wonder what’s happened in the past or behind the scenes that you don’t know about. That’s because it takes passion to build drama.

When a conflict occurs, there are two ways for it to play out, assuming it’s more than a misunderstanding. The parties can, unilaterally or together, decide that disagreement is just fine. They can decide to walk away from one another. Or they can decide that agreeing to disagree is not an option because whatever is going on is important enough to merit all the drama.

That’s right. Next to nobody is in this for the drama (and those who are are shallow enough that they aren’t going to have much of an enduring following unless they’re much funnier than they think they are). They’re in this because the underlying issues–which may or may not be the immediate subject of debate–are important to them.

That also means saying, “Oh, this is just drama,” is not going to help one little bit. Ever. Nothing is going to rile up a person who is passionate about an issue, nothing is going to create an avalanche of verbiage, like saying, “What issue? There’s no issue.” You don’t get to tell other people what issues they’re passionate about.

So you don’t like the drama. What do you do? Well, you have a couple of choices. The first should sound familiar at this point. The first is that you can walk away. Not every person has to be involved in every conflict. You may not have the time. You may not care about the underlying issues the way the people involved do, or you may care about the issues but be ambivalent where the issue conflict. All that is fine.

Alternately, you can express a commitment to the underlying issue while staying out of the details. You can tell the people engaged in the conflict where you stand–though not necessarily on any of the behavior, since that’s frequently used as a way to distract from the issues and derail conversation about them. Backing people up on the things that make them passionate can give them room to make their points with just as much passion and less drama. It can even give them room to agree to disagree when they don’t feel their passion is being invalidated.

You don’t have to enjoy drama for the sake of drama to understand that it has a point and a purpose. Understanding what those are makes dealing with drama much less uncomfortable.

Oh, the Drama

5 thoughts on “Oh, the Drama

  1. 2

    Fallacy 4 is a big factor in rape culture. I’ve seen women get raped, but not say anything because they don’t have hard proof. Since no one has been warned, it stays pretty easy for the rapist to find new victims.

  2. 3

    I don’t find ostracizing to be useful behavior, though. It neither points out the flawed action nor does it solve the problem – it merely pushes it somewhere else. And without bringing it into public, it’s hard to tell if it’s true or not.

    I don’t think, however, that it takes passion to build drama. Nothing is more inconvenient than ‘oh no, drama’ hue and cries drowning out the actual issue by stampeding for the earplugs.

  3. 4

    I’m a geek (it’s in my username and everything! :P) and I run with a geeky crowd, and actually, I have a useful example of why “but, but drama!” is a toxic and counter-productive attitude to have:

    After a few years where “But that would cause drama!” reigned supreme and nearly caused a schism in my gaming group, we all sat down and came to an agreement:

    Our unspoken rule of no ousting someone just because they’re “weird” in the “odd habits” sense (because most of us are considered “weird” too and know exactly what it’s like to be a pariah because of it) would be maintained, however:

    1, any threats of any sort = auto-uninvitation from everything, with possible readmission after a month or so if everyone else in the group agrees. Threats aren’t cool, and if you’re making people feel unsafe, you don’t deserve to be here.

    2, violence of any sort gets same response as above for essentially the same reason, except no readmission for at least a year.

    3, sexist, racist, homophobic, etc comments, and harrassment and verbal abuse are dealt with on a case-by-case basis (as there’s a difference between a guy who talks to all womens’ chests, makes sexist comments every other sentence out of his mouth, propositions the women around him repeatedly and after prior rejections, makes veiled threats of rape against any woman who stands up to him, and generally is a constant fountain of sexual harrassment, and someone who just blurts out, “that’s so gay” because it’s common slang where the person grew up and he/she wasn’t thinking), but in a nutshell if you make a habit of making people feel unwelcome, and you refuse to change after your habit has been brought to your attention, you’re unwelcome.

    Fun thing: In the four years since we came to that agreement, we’ve only had to kick one person out permanently (the aforementioned fountain – he was actually the reason for the agreement in the first place, as all the women were going to leave if he didn’t get booted… he’s like that everywhere, all the time, and has numerous warnings by bosses and schools and other extra-curriculars and hasn’t changed at all so we knew a temporary solution wouldn’t work) and give two temporary suspensions (one for a guy who threatened violence who would come back if work allowed it, and one for a guy who wouldn’t knock off racist jokes aimed at a native member of the group – he doesn’t want to come back since the group took the Native guy’s side on the racism thing). A total of three leaving for “drama,” vs the same number leaving every three or four months before we set up ground rules and started taking this sort of thing seriously.

    So, yeah: Avoiding drama is counter-productive and will make your geek experience less fun. Don’t do it. Explicit ground rules that everyone follows and is held to are a good thing, especially if you’re dealing with people who don’t pick up on social cues that well (we have three on the autism spectrum, two including me with ADHD, and a few others with mental illnesses).

    And the existance of the ground rules and a way for resolving grievances makes people more comfortable to mention things that annoy them rather than letting them fester: As I mentioned, I’ve got ADHD, I’ve learned I have to not bring clicky pens to game because I literally can’t not click a clicky pen if I have one in my hand – it’s a fidgeting thing – and they are apparently highly annoying to guy in the group… They in turn now understand that if getting up and moving around a lot, I’m not bored, I’m trying to stay focused. They also get not to bug me if I’m concentrating on something because if they do, it’s really hard for me to get my concentration back so I find it really annoying.

    Sorry for posting a testimonial type thing here, but dealing with problems as they arise >>> sweeping problems under the rug and pretending they don’t exist. That rug gets pretty uncomfortable to walk on after a while if you’re always sweeping stuff under it.

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