I had the opportunity to talk with actress Chase Masterson this week about the Pop Culture Heroism Coalition, an organization dedicated to addressing the prevalent issue of bullying in society. The interview is meant for our next print copy of Bleeding Cool Magazine, but I wanted to take an excerpt from the interview and run it on-line not only to raise awareness for the coalition but to also promote the fact the will be attending the New Jersey Comic Expo this weekend where she will be hosting a panel on
- DAN WICKLINE: Among other roles you are known for your time as Leeta on Star Trek DS9 as well as a recent appearance on The Flash. But you have been hitting the convention circuit lately for a new purpose, the Pop Culture Heroism Coalition. As you are the creator of this organization, how would you describe it to the folks who haven't come across it before?
CHASE MASTERSON: The Pop Culture Hero Coalition is the first-ever organization that uses the universal appeal of comics, film & TV to make a stand against bullying, racism, misogyny, cyber-bullying, LGBT-bullying, and other forms of hate. We're a 501c3 non-profit that uses the phenomenal popularity of pop culture to work in schools, communities, and comic-cons. We've been told we are saving lives.
- It is one thing to get involved in a cause, but something more to start an organization. What was it about the anti-bullying movement that compelled you to get involved when there are so many equally worthy causes?
I realized that oppression is the primary cause of so many types of pain in the world; in schools, it's termed as bullying, but on other levels, it takes the form of racism, misogyny, discrimination, financial injustice, violent extremism and war. It's all the same basic issue: aggression and victimization.
And I have spoken to so many fans who have been victims of bullying. I wanted to do something to support pop culture fans who have been bullied — to help them feel seen and heard, to encourage them to celebrate exactly who they are. To let them know that being bullied was never their fault. To bring healing. And finally, to create a culture where this does not continue to happen.
I want to take the types of stories we love onscreen — which speak of justice and inclusivity — and make them happen in real life. And with the power of fandom behind us, that's what the Coalition is doing.
Of the top 100 highest grossing films of all time, 92 are considered genre films. I believe we love to watch them because, deep inside, we know we're meant to live out those themes of heroism in own lives.
If we can take even a fraction of fandom's enthusiasm for entertainment and put it to work in the real world, think about the difference we can make in people's lives.
DW: How did the Pop Culture Heroism Coalition come about and how did you get involved with Carrie Goldman and Matt Langdon. Where did the idea of tying an anti-bullying movement to comics, film and television come from?
CM: There's an interesting parallel story. Since 2008, I have been volunteer-mentoring men and women coming out of gangs at Homeboy Industries, the largest program for gang intervention and at-risk kids in the world. The Homies have all been serious offenders, all coming out of prison, and we help them put their lives together. I asked one of them, who had done 29 years, why he got involved in gangs. He told me that he and his friends were bullied on the playground in grade-school — and to counteract that, they formed a little gang. And they grew, and their rivals grew. And they eventually merged with the Crips. That bullied kid eventually became the head of the Crips both outside and then inside Folsom State Prison.
And I started contemplating how aggression spreads — how insidious and pervasive it can be. And I contemplated how healing happens. Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people.
Unrelatedly, in 2010, a 1st-grader named Katie was bullied in Chicago for carrying a Star Wars lunchbox. The kids at school told her she wasn't supposed to like Star Wars because she's a girl. And then Katie wanted to stop carrying that lunch box. Katie's mom Carrie Goldman has a popular blog, and Carrie wrote about Katie and the issue of gender bullying. Huffington Post picked up the story, and hundreds of people posted messages encouraging Katie to be proud of exactly who she is. I was one of them. Carrie decided to write a book on bullying, and we kept in touch. I did an interview for the book and referred a few friends, including Peter Mayhew, and he and Katie became friends.
So there, 1st grade.
Harper Collins bought the book, and Carrie asked me to help her get it into Comic-Con. I said, "yes — and then let's form a Coalition and bring the power of fandom together to stand against bullying." So I called the United Nations Association (I just googled their phone number), and I said, "this is Chase from Star Trek, and we're making a stand against bullying at Comic-Con — want to join us?" And they said "yes, please, we've always wanted to go to Comic-Con!" And Carrie called the Anti-Defamation League, and I called the NOH8 Campaign, and we just started building. Cartoon Network came onboard, along with the International Bullying Prevention Association and GLSEN and a bunch of other organizations.
And Carrie's book, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear, has won numerous awards and is one of the go-to resources on the subject worldwide; Carrie has become an in-demand speaker across the U.S.
I found Matt Langdon while searching Twitter for like-minded people. He's based in Australia, and he's the Founder of the Hero Roundtable, the world's only international conference on heroism, and Carrie and I have spoken at it. He's one of the leaders in the heroism movement worldwide (yes, that's a growing thing). So we asked him to partner with us.
My work over the last 7 years with Homeboy taught me that we really can make a difference in heroism over bullying; transformation can happen in the lives of even the most hardened offenders. That gives me hope that we can transform the lives of both bullies and victims in mainstream society and avoid the onset of the crippling effects of bullying, which studies show range from missed school and dropping grades to violent incidents, severe depression and suicides.
Now PCHC not only focuses on comic conventions and pop culture events but also brings their message to schools and communities. What types of programs do you do in these different venues? How do you communicate your message at conventions and how does it differ in a school setting?
All Pop Culture Hero Coalition's work is research-based and geared toward each specific audience. At cons, our team does a range of panels, varying from "End Bullying: Becoming a Superhero In Real Life" to "Teaching Ourselves to be Heroes: Bully, Bystander, or Batman." In each of them, we address the issues of healing for attendees who have been bullied, as well as ways to be pro-active when we witness injustice — how to live in everyday heroism. We work with clinical psychologists who specialize in using lessons from geek culture, including Dr. Andrea Letamendi, Dr. Janina Scarlet, and Dr. Travis Langley.
School outreaches, which Carrie and Matt hold, include digital surveys to determine which types of aggressive behaviors kids are engaging in and experiencing; then the workshops address these issues in specific ways for kids, parents, teachers and administrators. Topics include "Social Media and Social Conflict: How to Have Online Interactions That Remain Healthy," "What Should I Do When My Child's School Isn't Responding Effectively to a Bullying Problem?" and "Teaching Kids to be Heroes." •
- DW: You are going to be at the New Jersey Comic Expo on November 21st and 22nd and I believe a panel is scheduled. What can attendees expect from the panel and what else will you be doing at the show?
CM: I'm really excited about NJCE and enthused about the focus they're giving the Coalition and these issues. I'll be doing a one-person panel, showing some extremely compelling video and slides, and talking about both heroism IRL and healing from bullying. It's gonna be fun and powerful.
- DW: If folks want to help out or get involved with PCHC, how can that do that?
CM: Thanks for asking! We're all in this together, and there are several ways to make a difference:
- We are a 501c3 non-profit, and donations are tax-deductible. We are all-volunteer, but we need help with expenses, and you can make donations at www.PopCultureHeroCoalition.com.
- Airline mileage contributions are an excellent way to assist.
- If you'd like to volunteer, please email us at info@PopCultureHeroCoalition.com with "Volunteer" and your city name in the subject.
To see Chase this weekend at the New Jersey Comic Expo, click here.