In 2016, the unexpected happened. Two powerful digital mediums clashed, creating a social movement that shifted the long-established tradition of digital narrative as we know it. Together, television and social media shifted the power dynamic between media producers and their target audience. Gone is the time of once upon a time – stories following a storyline narrated by a handful of specific people: networks, producers, directors, and screenwriters. No more. The evolution of social media sites such as Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter gave way to more audience agency, wherein these platforms evolved into a space where the audience expressed their satisfaction, displeasure, and disappointment.
Historically, the predominant means by which digital narrative unfolds has been a one-way street. From television, to radio and film – mediums resulting in a relatively passive audience. Indeed, interactive digital storytelling, stories that allowed, and in some cases relied on the actions and decisions of the audience has remained in niche groups since its conception. Such is the case for hypertext novels: a genre of electronic literature that used hypertext links to provide context for non-linearity in literature and reader interactions. The reader is presented with different options in way of hypertext and thus, dictates how the narrative will unfold.
On the 3rd of March 2016, a fan favourite on a television series under The CW failed to make a reappearance. In light of this event, roughly a year later ClexaCon was born. The name “Clexa” comes from the combination of Clarke and Lexa, protagonists from “The 100”, the series under The CW – one of the most powerful television networks in America. The uproar came from the LGBTQ+ community, when Lexa unexpectedly died, shortly after the establishment of a possible romantic relationship with the show’s lead, Clarke.
The #Clexa trended on Tumblr and Twitter for months, and remains, to this day a popular and constantly updated tag, ranging from art works to fanfiction. Fans, writers, and artists on sites such as Tumblr, Fanfiction.net, Wattpad, and Archive of Our Own, employ their talents and skills to commemorate, explore, and provide the pairing with happy endings normally afforded to heterosexual couples on television. If the media cannot or will not provide the ideal storyline or happily ever after – then the audience will. This act of producing content with an alternative treatment and ending reveals the predominant narrative told about the LGBTQ+ community through the media: a narrative of discrimination.
The backlash, most prominently seen through social media produced not only solidarity online, but actual physical change that resulted in a movement to end the “Bury Your Gays” trope, otherwise known as the “dead lesbian syndrome” in fiction, wherein gay or lesbian characters die or meet unhappy endings. Moreover, the fans managed to raise over 160k$ for The Trevor Project, in Lexa’s name. All of this demonstrates how the fans managed to gather attention, and bring focus to the questionable nature of LGBTQ+ representation in the media, displaying the power afforded to the audience by the existence of social media. The collective power to alter established narratives.
The annual convention credits its existence to Twitter, where the organizers found each other through the social media site. Indeed, the founding, nature and success of Clexacon effectively illuminates the undeniable power of social media. The convention is essentially a gathering of a specific and underrepresented demographic. The LGBTQ+ community is neither the rule or the exception; never the ever represented or the token characters in movies and tv shows. No, those roles have historically been given to women and the community with African heritage. In a study done by Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative (MDSC) at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, an analysis of the 900 most well-received films from the years 2007-2016 (excluding 2011, covered by a different study), it was revealed that LGBTQ+ representation came in last. While 31.4% of speaking characters were women, 29.1% were non-white. Of these, 13.6% were Black, 5.7% were Asian, and 3.1% were Hispanic. And only 2.7% of speaking characters were depicted as living with a disability. And lastly, only 1.1% of speaking characters were gay, lesbian or bisexual, with no speaking character identifying as transgender.
Tragic as the statistics may be, ClexaCon is a reminder of the tools now afforded to the wider public. Moreover, it can easily be said that the audience is paying attention. Of those 900 films, Moonlight, the only film featuring a gay protagonist won the Oscar best-picture. One out of 900 films. Still not a comforting statistic. However, an argument can be made that had there been more films of the same nature, featuring the same type of representation, then perhaps, there would be more nominations and accordingly, more winners. After all, the demographic does indeed, exist. The gathering of artists, writers, and fans at ClexaCon is an undeniable step towards that direction. As of this year, the convention runs twice, once in the U.S. and again in the UK. The convention is supported not only by fans, but also by an array of artists, volunteers, and sponsors.
The convention proves successful, with a bright and tangible future. Garnering support from actresses in shows such as Supergirl, Wynonna Earp, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. At its core, the entire existence of ClexaCon is a testament to the shift in digital narrative. It illustrates the agency of the audience, the space they occupy, and the potency of stories told through digital media; narrated not only by the networks, producers, directors, and screenwriters, but by the audience themselves.