I am a huge Doctor Who fan. People who know me may have noticed this. It probably accounts for the fact that for my recent birthday, I received a huge TARDIS cutout, a TARDIS teapot, a Dalek book light, and some other things. So when I heard that Alex Kingston (otherwise known as the amazing River Song) was going to be at the Gold Coast Supanova pop culture convention, you can probably imagine how excited I was.
I have never been to a fan convention before, mainly because I live in Australia and have very little money to spare. I knew the basics of how things would work, and that you could get photos and autographs of actors and actresses (and writers and artists). I desperately wanted to see Alex Kingston in real life, to talk to her and admire her hair. So I went along with two friends, and got crazy excited, and got photos and autographs and briefly was able to talk to the actress who plays my favourite television character. And it was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Alex was wonderful and stunning, and cheerful and she asked my if my middle name was Steven Moffat when I told her a theory I had about Madam Kovarian and Melody Pond, and she gave me a hug.
At the same time, it made the feminist in me uncomfortable, and it wasn’t until about three-quarters through the day that I realised why (probably because the feeling of wrongness was masked by my utter excitement before). I knew that it wasn’t possible for people to actually interact with Alex for a while, and that everything would be very “hello – goodbye” in terms of getting photos and autographs and actually being able to talk to her. But after a while, it hit me just how commodifying the whole process seemed, how objectifying. You pay your $50, line up for an hour, you hand your bag to a volunteer, you walk into the photo background, say hi, someone snaps a photo, and you’re out. You jump up and down in excitement and then go get your photographic evidence that you stood next to someone famous. And the famous person stands there and has hundreds of photos in a row taken, with hundreds of people who just wanted proof of a brief encounter with someone on TV.
I know that no-one forces celebrities to go to fan conventions and sign autographs and pose for hundreds of photos. But at the same time, I felt like I was contributing to a process of objectifying someone, of turning them into a product or a commodity. And in the end, that feels wrong to me, no matter how excited I was or how amazing I think Alex is. I don’t want to be someone who reduces a person to a name or a status icon or a product to be consumed. That’s kind of important to me.
So while I was waiting for an autograph and the chance to tell Alex my wild theory (a few hours after having my photo taken), I decided to do what I could to make the situation a little more feminist. I thanked Alex for coming all the way out to Australia and said how much I appreciate her being there today. She seemed to appreciate that, which was nice. I asked if I could have a hug instead of just assuming it’d be ok. I’m not sure if that makes any difference at the end of the day for her, but I felt like I needed to make sure that I thought of her as a person like me first, instead of just an icon with awe-inspiring hair and a gorgeous voice.
So thank you, Alex, for the chance to talk to you, however briefly. I’m so happy I came to Supanova to see you, because it was truly amazing and probably a one-in-a-thousand opportunity. At the same time, I’m not sure I’ll go to similar things again, now that I’ve been there, got the T-Shirt, and had the chance to think about it properly.