i’m having a lot of thoughts about representation in media and writing groups you don’t come from or are not yourself and i’m mostly thinking about the things i’ve learned from the late, great dwayne mcduffie, and his Milestone Comics, and him talking about “icons”
and i remember, he talked about, and wrote about, how if you have just one member of a group in your story, they become the sole representative, they become that “icon”. if you have one woman, one queer character, one black character, one trans character, just basically one non-cis-white-straight dude that, whether you expected it or not, they are the icon. they are the representative. and they will be analyzed and criticized to hell and back, they will be put under the microscope. they will have to mean everything to everyone, or mean nothing at all. and i think a lot of writers buckle under the pressure, or the fear of screwing up, and go with “nothing at all” - IE, “a supporting cast member who pretty much never gets to do anything at all” - or they go with no representation whatsoever. it’s too scary for them to handle.
like, i think my favorite example of this is sailor moon. usagi is a clumsy motherfucker, flat out. she’s goofy, she’d often rather chase boys or eat or take naps rather than fight crime, she can fall on her face whether as usagi or in the middle of battle as sailor moon… she’s clumsy, she’s goofy, she’s not what exactly a battle hardened warrior of steel when she starts out!
and she’s loved! she is loved to DEATH. she’s a fantastic, likable, empathetic character, she’s great for audiences to connect with. but i think about her, in relation to the rest of the sailor moon cast, and i think about how there is this vast group of women in the show, from the main cast to the supporting cast, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses, histories, relations, and their own firm, developed personalities.
now, imagine if we took usagi OUT of sailor moon. imagine if we dropped her in some other piece of media, where there are no other women of significance in the story, and usagi - or someone exactly like her - was the only real standout woman in the story.
would the reaction to her be as positive? i’m banking on “probably not”. a girl who procrastinates saving the day to hang out at the arcade or try to meet up with the dude she likes, who’s frequently tripping over herself, or being scared to death initially by the threats she faces? i can’t easily imagine fandom or critical reaction to her being be so kind.
and it’s like, just think on all the media where there’s only one woman, only one PoC, only one queer character, on and on, and think on how shitty or minor their appearances seem to be, or just as often, how little they get to do compared to everyone else, what kind of storylines they get locked into, if any at all
you don’t want just one, is the point. if you’re creating a character and going “this is THE ____ character” in your story, you’re already in for pain. not only have you drastically limited yourself, and your character’s interactions, but you’ve created a singular representative. are you sweating “how do i write ____ characters?” there’s a lot you can do, like, obviously, actually talking to and (this is important) listening to people from those groups, reading stories from those groups, on and on, just fucking digging in and reading and listening instead of speaking, but a very fucking important basic thing is not limiting yourself to making them “THE” character, “THE” representative. it’s pretty shitty for everyone involved, generally.
there will be no variety of representation, no diversity of personality or to these characters, if there is just that one singular character to represent an entire group, and that will suck out loud.
you have to get beyond the idea of the one character, the singular, the “THE”, so to speak. where you would make one character from a group, instead, start with making three. see where that takes you. this is not the end-all, be-all of writing from groups you aren’t a part of, but it is a fucking important and huge step, getting beyond the idea of the singular, the perfect “one”, and getting into writing multiples, many, with all sorts of thoughts and personalities and lives.
There’s a world of difference to me between showing a masculine-presenting woman with an interest exclusively in men in a universe with no canonical queerness and showing a masculine-presenting woman with an interest exclusively in men in a universe where some of the other characters are canonically queer.
The latter is just showing that gender expression doesn’t always match up with sexual orientation the way stereotypes would have us think that they do, but the former is almost mean; it’s like saying “even the women you’d ordinarily consider as subtextual representation are straight! You don’t exist here in any way!”
The thing is, representation matters, and one of the worst things that this kind of narrative does is that it expects an LGBTQ audience to be satisfied with the bare minimum. When this bare minimum is not met with automatic praise and thanks, the audience is punished in any number of ways, from a producer’s social media snarkery to claims by the mainstream media that the darned homosexuals just aren’t grateful enough. Even the smallest amount of negative reaction is cited as reason enough to not bother with such a storyline in the future.
It’s sort of like showing up to Thanksgiving having said you’d bring green bean casserole, except you brought a single green bean on a paper plate. Even though this will obviously not feed any of the other guests and barely counts as a green bean casserole, you sneer at those who are protesting, telling them that they never specified what a green bean casserole is and besides that, they’re being whiny babies. You wave the single limp green bean in the air and tell them that it’s obvious they’ll never be happy, that they’re complaining for the sake of complaining and it’s no wonder they don’t get to eat quality green bean casserole, because nobody wants to share green bean casserole with such an aggressive and unfriendly group. In other words, making a character gay only to immediately write them out of the show makes me feel like shoving a green bean up someone’s nose.
”—excerpt from the piece i’m writing for autostraddle on why i’ve stopped recapping once upon a time, because they pulled some bullshit (via trashydyke)
“I think the average guy thinks they’re pro-woman, just because they think they’re a nice guy and someone has told them that they’re awesome. But the truth is far from it. Unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations.”—Junot Diaz (via luciaferr)
The genre has no problem imagining a future full of spaceships and aliens. A racially integrated society, though?
I thought this was a really interesting article, outlining what the author, Noah Berlatsky, sees as four main ways Hollywood sci-fi handles race. They are:
Metaphor (as in The X-Men or TOS’ “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
Tokenism (again, something you can see on Star Trek and Berlatsky argues also applies to Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian)
Diversity - imagining a world where whiteness is not the default. Berlatsky points out this almost never happens in Hollywood but some SF writers like Ursula K. Le Guin do this frequently
Direct approach where racial issues in Sci Fi are dealt with “as if they are affected by or continuous with racial struggles in the present”. He cites Hunger Games as an example, where District 11 is presented as a segregated, impoverished black district, implying racial discrimination.
I think it’s a very fair case to make that creators - especially white people working on Hollywood movies and mainstream TV - should consider why it feels more comfortable to avoid addressing racial issues directly and take action to improve representations of people of colour in terms of quantity and quality.
I do take a bit of issue with Berlatsky saying Uhura “backfired” in TOS because she was too tokenized. Certainly the TOS creators could’ve done more with Uhura, but she was still a hugely important character.
Berlatsky points out the techniques above can each be used well or poorly (For example, I would argue “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” would be metaphor being used well). Can you think of other ways we see these methods used in Star Trek, for good or bad?
what if “lucy” was about lucy liu casually beating up pervy white dudes instead
and the story was about an asian woman who gets justice from the white men who used and abducted her
and it was an effective commentary on white imperialism, the violent commodification of asian people and asian culture by western society, the demonization of asian people, and the continuing history of violence on unwilling asian bodies especially those of asian women by white people
and what if when a pervy white dude asks the asian woman “do you speak english” while he’s in fucking taiwan, she shoots him in the head instead
what if this movie wasn’t going to be a bunch of white imperialist nonsense masquerading as something “progressive” at the expense of faceless nameless asian bodies
Have you noticed the many near rape experiences casually portrayed in anime? I remember watching an anime and this guy was about to force himself on this girl but his brother burst in and distracted him so the girl got away. It wasn't even like he tried to actively stop him. He just opened the door, stood there and said something and then the girl took the chance to get away. Then she ran to the guy by the door and turned to the other guy spouting some cliche "I won't lose to you!" speech.
(cont.) It was like she or the brother who interrupted them were even phased by it. This is rather upsetting because these kinds of scenarios are done so often and it’s like no one thinks twice that these male characters are forcing themselves on these girls.
Yeah, I’ve noticed. I don’t think it’s my place to critique anime as a whole though, just note and warn people when specific instances come up because I need to discuss stuff that triggers or bothers me and note it so others wont be triggered.
It’s not like near-rape experiences don’t tend to get casually or otherwise problematically portrayed in Western media too.There’s a zillion examples. I certainly don’t think we have any superiority regarding the issue, it just expresses itself in different ways.
If anyone critiques a trend like this in anime as a medium, it should be a Japanese person, not a white girl. I’ll stick to noting trends in Western media.
For instance, DC Comics doesn’t seem to believe men can get raped. Also “rape-as-origin” is still very heavy. I can talk about that stuff all day.
tv show. white man. hes sad. he has to do important thing but its hard. his girlfriend died probably. TWIST!! theres another white man. maybe MORE. hes sad too but for different reason. its very deep probably. theyre best friends but not gay but maybe they are haha fandom!!! every girl dies or goes away. just not gay white man friend. 10 seasons 100 million viewers. what will moody white men do this week.
“This kind of reaction is not uncommon, for Skyler in particular and for women – often wives – on top-drawer TV dramas in general. Characters like Skyler become targets of vituperation unimaginable to their male counterparts, most of whom engage in vastly more destructive and immoral behavior every episode. By failing to indulge every whim of the the male antiheroes around whom their shows are built, the women become obstacles to those men getting exactly what they want when they want it at all times, which is the core fantasy of antihero fiction. Cold cunning, ruthlessness, rage, self-interest, a propensity for physical violence – we gender these unheroic characteristics as male, and celebrate them; passivity, bitterness, grief, emotional enmeshment, a knack for attacking and deflating egos – we gender these unheroic characteristics as female, and loathe them. Skyler White, Betty Francis, Megan Draper, Catelyn Stark, Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, Carmela Soprano: On the sole count of “being women,” Fan Court finds you guilty as charged.”—
Sean T. Collins, totally nailing it. I can’t speak to Game of Thrones, but I maintain that the characters he mentioned from Mad Men and Sopranos are really great, well-written characters and the audience’s issues get in the way of many people fully appreciating them.
[Sean here—I wrote this for Rolling Stone regarding Breaking Bad, so there are spoilers if you click through the link, but this passage references Game of Thrones, with what I think is good reason.]
In other words: a character that is praised for their…oh, who am I kidding, his callousness and cruelty will be especially callous and cruel towards marginalized people because that is what our society allows. Encourages. It´s easier to act that way towards Them. There is no equal playing field. If the character were crueler towards the privileged (if he kissed down and kicked up), it´d have to be conscious, but then he wouldn´t be a courageous anti-PC outlaw, would he? He´d have to be sensitive, somehow, or even, heaven forbid, socially conscious, which is anathema for a Gritty Hero for Today. (read: Today´s Threatened White Masculinity)