When people are faced with a traumatic situation, there is a variety of ways that they can react. Some become angry, others are overwhelmed by sadness. Unfortunately, very few speak about their experiences and actively seek help from others. A minute percentage, however, decide to use their trauma to help others.
At the TEDxVienna About Time conference, I had the chance to speak to one of those rare individuals who have dedicated their lives to helping others. Chase Masterson, actress and founder of the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, has had to deal with bullying, shaming, acts of psychological violence, addiction and so much more – yet still, she’s decided to speak up about her experience. We had an amazing conversation about the dangers of Wikipedia, casual misogyny in Science Fiction and her TEDxVienna Talk.
First TEDx talks
How did it feel to give your very first TEDx Talk?
What a phenomenal experience! I was especially honored to be in a place as incredibly beautiful as Vienna. It’s just such a huge honor, and such a treat. On top of it being Vienna and the tenth anniversary, the theme was incredibly beautiful: About Time. Time is our most precious commodity, and I think that this gives way to discussions about our other most precious commodities: the planet, water and other such things. It’s just so important to take care of what we have and to know that time is limited.
The TEDxVienna team is incredible, and we had an immeasurably powerful group of speakers.
During your talk, you told many powerful stories from your past as an educator for Homeboy Industries. Was it difficult to be this open?
It was, in a sense, yes. It was hard to be this open and vulnerable in front of 1300 people. When I walked in for the rehearsals, it was such a huge space – the biggest audience I’ve ever had in my whole life. I stayed late the day before the conference, looking at the hall. Everyone else had already gone to the speakers’ dinner, and I looked through the audience, by every single seat, and I just gave it good energy and love.
That really showed during your Talk!
Women in SciFi
When I was researching for this interview, I did as anyone would do, and I went through your Wikipedia page. What I found, however, struck me as quite odd. Like for any other person found on Wikipedia, there was a list of accolades you’ve received in the past. Of course, you have done a lot of acting. However, most of the awards that were listed on the internet are for “Sexiest Woman in SciFi” or something along those lines. Do you feel that sexualization of women a problem in the SciFi community specifically?
Yes, I do! I’ve very often felt invalidated by that. It’s amazing how people who you’d think would know better don’t see beyond external stuff. Even the character of Leeta – she had a lot of heart – was liked in a very objectified way, to a certain extent. I would’ve liked to do more with the role. Of course, the writers gave me a lot to work with. Still, I have always been frustrated that people have seen me in this objectifying way. Because like with anyone else, there is so much more to me than my looks.
The work that I’m doing with the coalition is the closest to me. I’ve had some good roles where I play strong, independent women and yet, it is still a matter of the depth that you get to experience in your daily work. Interestingly, when I was working frequently with Homeboy, I had people in entertainment say, “Why are you wasting your time doing all of this non-profit work? You should be focusing on acting!”. Surely, I was younger then and I maybe could’ve gotten more roles, but it made me really think about whether drama had to be onscreen in order to be relevant.
The scenes that I played out on a daily basis with the kids in my class at Homeboy are far more powerful than almost anything I’ve ever seen on television. It made me have appreciation for so much more than entertainment. We can be very short-sighted in the entertainment industry.
Definitely! I also really think that the work you’re doing with Homeboy and now with the Pop Culture Heroes Coalition is incredible. I just think there’s still a lot of internalized misogyny in the Science Fiction community. Would you agree?
Yes, there is. That is extremely unfortunate. And again, it boils down to unhealthy identity in the men that are doing this. They need to be and feel secure enough as people to know that there’s room for women that are not “one-dimensional”. We saw all of this tragically take place in Gamergate, with so many women getting harassed.
A Real-Life Hero
What is something that you really want young girls to know?
I want to tell them that they can do anything. They can be anything they want to be, and they will be happiest if it involves helping others be all they can be.
I believe it was Albert Schweitzer who said, “The only ones who will be really happy among you are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”. There’s also a neuroscientific aspect of this. Excuse me for being so very untechnical about this, but basically, there are chemicals being are released into our brain only when we are giving to others and supporting them.
I’ve heard other actors who do intense charity work say similar things. Acting on screen is important, lovely – it’s art. However, acting on camera doesn’t hold a candle to talking to people in real life.
That’s a very quotable sentence right there!
(laughs) Thank you!
I have one final question for you, maybe one that is slightly more light-hearted than the rest of them: You’re sort of a Renaissance woman – you act, you dance, you sing – but what do you like to do best?
That’s impossible! I think all three. They’re all a form of expression that just depend on what you want to do at that moment. I’m still acting, I just finished a movie last month. Acting roles still don’t happen that often. As an actor, you really don’t just want to be waiting for the phone to ring. I realized when I was working intensely at Homeboy, I could be either doing that or waiting for my next CSI audition. Now, that’s no way to live, right?
I think it’s just a matter of being able to live your life and being able to express yourself in whatever way you’re given the opportunity to!
Thank you for your interview and thank you for your talk and sharing an incredibly inspiring message with the world.
Thank you for having me!
What is to Come
Chase Masterson will be the artist in residence for the Museumsquartier for the entirety of November. She’s working on a project that encourages people to destigmatize the act of apologizing for past behavior. It’s about forgiving and letting go of past anger. For this project, she’s working with volunteers who do a short interview on camera, answering six questions. They hope to meet people of all backgrounds. Please check out the Museumsquartier page about this amazing project!
Make sure to watch Chase’s TEDx Talk from the About Time conference!
[Answers have been edited for length and clarity]