Actress Chase Masterson (best known for playing Leeta on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) co-founded the Antibullying Coalition with writer Carrie Goldman, the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs To Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins). Together with people like John Barrowman (Torchwood, Arrow), Jane Espenson (Once upon a Time), Joe Gatto (Impractical Jokers), and fellow coalition co-founder Matt Langdon, they have discussed their work, ideas, and thoughts of encouragement at numerous popular culture conventions. (See previous coverage, "End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in our Culture.") After a panel we did together at New York Comic Con, the Antibullying Coalition turned into the Pop Culture Hero Coalition (@SuperheroIRL). Chase, Carrie, and I later discussed the coalition's evolution.
Travis: What does the Pop Culture Hero Coalition do?
Carrie: The Pop Culture Hero Coalition (formerly called the Antibullying Coalition) is the first organization that uses the universal appeal of comics, film, and TV to create anti-bullying school programs that students find relatable and accessible. We also run End Bullying panels and workshops at pop culture conventions nationwide. By drawing on the experiences of characters in epic stories such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, Superman, and the Avengers, we teach people of all ages to analyze situations that require bystanders to make courageous decisions. We use these stories to inspire students to act as everyday heroes. They discover their hidden power to help others in distress in the real world.
One of the important ways to achieve this work is to raise children who are emotionally intelligent. Our students must learn to recognize when they are feeling uncomfortable emotions such as fear, anger, or envy, and they need to practice managing and expressing those emotions in a safe and healthy manner. Led by the expert psychologists, authors, and researchers of the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, we explore how famous characters have allowed fear and anger to guide their destructive decisions. The goal is to teach children how to have agency over their actions and how to make better choices, even when they are struggling with painful feelings.
Travis: Why did you drop "Antibullying" from the coalition's name?
Carrie: Originally, we were called the Pop Culture Antibullying Coalition, but we determined that the scope of our work is broader than solely working to end bullying and cyberbullying. We work to address all forms of inequality and hate, including racism, misogyny, and gender discrimination. In teaching people to act as heroes and allies to those in need, we inspire positivity and hope.
We are a registered nonprofit organization and we welcome support and assistance! Our website is www.popculturehero.org.
Travis: In her foreword to Star Wars Psychology, Carrie described how she got involved in anti-bullying efforts, and she mentioned your important role, Chase. How did you come to get involved with Carrie's efforts?
Chase: Since 2008, I’ve been doing volunteer work in social justice, mentoring men and women coming out of gangs at a place called Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Many of them are bullied into joining gangs, threatened with their lives. And it’s happening less than ten minutes away from Hollywood. I’ve gotten to know the Homies very well, and I’ve given a lot of thought to the dynamics of oppression, and of identity. I taught a class at Homeboy for four years where I gave psychological tools to the Homies to keep themselves safe from the mental and emotional effects of bullying and peer pressure, and the temptations of recidivism. Oppression is pervasive, in every segment of society. Bullying is what it’s called in schools and on the Internet, and in other places, we use other terms. But it all has the same roots: fear, greed, insecurity.
When I’d been at Homeboy for two years, I read about a little girl named Katie, who was bullied at school for being different — for being a girl who loves Star Wars. Carrie, Katie’s mom, wrote about it in a blog post that went viral. And I was one of many who stood up for Katie’s right to be exactly who she is. I kept in touch with Carrie, and we shared our understandings of the bullying issue. Carrie wrote an extremely powerful book which Harper Collins published, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kids Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear, and she asked me to help her get it into Comic-Con.
I thought about how many fans I’ve met over the years — absolutely lovely people — who have been bullied, and I wanted to stand up for them. And realizing how pervasive the issue of oppression is — online, and in schools, workplaces, racism, misogyny, and even war — I said, “let’s form a Coalition and get the phenomenon of fandom to help overcome this problem.”
There’s huge power in fandom. If we can excite people about heroism in real life as much as we’re excited about heroism on screen, we can have a whole different world.
Travis: Chase, your Deep Space Nine character, Leeta, eventually marries Rom, a Ferengi who spends much of the series getting bullied by his older brother.
First, would you describe that so it’s in your words instead of mine?
Chase: I’m grateful that Leeta and Rom’s story line was so popular and is so enduring with the fans. And I think the reason is that Leeta and Rom’s love is a very Star Trek story. We all want to be seen for who we really are inside, to be acknowledged as being worthy of love and of cherishing, despite those who might brand us as unworthy, not socially skilled enough, or accomplished enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough, or cool enough. It hurts when the world judges, invalidates and dismisses us.
And then when someone comes along and sees who we really are, and sees the goodness buried deep inside that pain, suddenly there is hope. And within that hope, beautiful things happen, and we grow, and gain confidence, and accomplish amazing things in the light of love. Rom was always brave, deep down, but when he was oppressed by Quark, his courage was hidden, even from himself. Leeta saw in Rom what he couldn’t see in himself, and she loved him without flinching, standing up for him and their love, even in the toughest of times. Rom was pretty enough on the inside that Leeta loved, and was wildly attracted to, his outside, too. And Rom loved Leeta in a pure way, also wanting to give and not just take, unlike so many people that Leeta had encountered, especially in that she had escaped from occupied Bajor.
Travis: What can anybody learn from watching an alien like Rom?
Chase: We learn that underdogs can win. That if, right now, you're feeling like the kid brother who always gets the short end of the deal — but you have a good heart and truly care about doing the right things — there may be love, and respect, and life better than you ever dreamed, just around the corner. Leeta and Rom’s story is a message of hope, and Star Trek is a show about hope.
Travis: What does Star Trek, set far in the future and mostly away from our world, have to do with the issues related to real world bullying?
Chase: The issue of real-world oppression, which includes bullying, has always been at the heart of Star Trek. What Trek fans understand so clearly is that the stories of heroism over the Cardassian Occupation, and the Borg, and every other Trek villain, are all allegories of triumph over injustice in today’s world.
How can Star Trek inspire people to stand up for what’s right in our own world? How can it inspire real, everyday heroes?
From the very first story, when Spock risked his life for Captain Pike in the original pilot, Star Trek showed us what heroes do: Stand up for other people. Do what’s right. Seek justice. When necessary, take risks. Not count the cost of our own comfort, and sometimes even our lives. And at his very end, in Wrath of Khan, Spock paid the ultimate price to protect his friends and colleagues; hero that he was, that was the “logical” choice.
Spock’s utter humanity showed us what, so often, humans don’t do. And as Kirk said, “Risk is our business.” Star Trek has so many of those messages…Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations…standing up for inclusivity...heroism in war, heroism over racial and sexual prejudice. That’s what Roddenberry intended; it was, as he termed it, a series of morality plays. Star Trek resonates with us because the stories are transcendent, calling our higher selves to action.
In being called to “boldly go where no man has gone before,” we watch our onscreen heroes travel through space. But each of us has a place where we have never gone before: an ever-deepening commitment to working actively for justice and peace. We are called to boldly go where only courage and selflessness can lead us.
That’s what Gene Roddenberry intended.
That is heroism. And it’s fun.
We are meant not to simply love the stories of Star Trek, but to live them. When humanity decides to truly do that, what a different world it will be.
Note: Much of what Chase wrote for her part of this email interview appears as a sidebar in the book Star Trek Psychology: The Mental Frontier.