Sunday, March 11, 2018

Representation and Villains

Lately, I've been hearing about representation in media.  People want to see people like themselves on their TV shows, movies, video games, books, etc.  I think this can pertain to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, body-size, skin color, religion, disability, life choices, etc.

It's not realistic for every piece of media to include every type of person. But if each piece of media includes a nice bit of variety, I think most types of people will be able to find people like themselves.  I think more people will feel included, and being included feels nice.

I finished watching season two of H20: Just Add Water a few days ago. It got me thinking about how there's something even worse than excessive homogeneity. This is where there is someone who doesn't fit the mold, and that person becomes the villain.  Or in media that is more diverse, there might be one person of a certain type, and that person is the villain.

H20: Just add Water is far from diverse. All the main characters are white. There are some very minor characters that are black/brown, and I saw the show exercising their diversity muscles by having an extra who uses a wheelchair. But besides the minor exceptions, the show is very homogeneous.

In the second season of the show, the main villain is Charlotte (Brittany Byrnes). She's the gaslighting victim I talked about in my previous post.

Charlotte starts off annoying, controlling, and slightly manipulative. But initially it was at a level that gave me hope she'd develop into a more sympathetic character. Instead she turned extremely nasty.

Charlotte differed from the three other female characters in terms of body size. Rikki (Caribe Heine), Cleo (Phoebe Tonkin) and Emma (Claire Holt) are all movie-star thin. They have Disney Princess bodies.  Charlotte, on the other hand, is less thin. She's not fat. I wouldn't even call her chubby.  But she does not have the typical Disney princess/movie star body.

If H20: Just Add water had variety in body sizes, then I don't think it would matter that a less-thin girl ends up being the villain. But when there is only one non-thin main female character, and she's awful, I think it sends a message—Thin girls are sweet and deserve to be mermaids. Not-thin girls are manipulative cows and do not deserve to be mermaids. 

I have many other examples in my mind of this representation problem. I'm trying to decide where to start.

Maybe...Black Panther.  Since that is a recent and popular movie, I feel compelled to give a spoiler warning.  So...there. You were warned.  Skip the next few paragraph if needed/desired.

Black Panther plays nice with white men. Yes, one of the villains of the show is a white man (Andy Serkis).  But then the movie also has a white man (Martin Freeman) that is funny, brave, and heroic.  White people can see the movie without feeling slapped in the face.

I don't think the same can be said for African-Americans. Yes, black people, in general, are VERY well represented in the movie.  But as far as I can remember/noticed, there's only one substantial African American character (Michael B. Jordan), and he's the main villain. Granted he's sympathetic, but almost all villains are. So I'm not sure having sympathetic problems and grievances are enough to make up for an imbalance.

Let's see.


City Homicide. I watched an episode fairly recently in which the villains and victims were Asian. The white people, and one Aboriginal person, had to come in and save the day. It felt racist to me. I think it would have felt less racist if some of the show's regulars were Asian.

Another example is Judy Blume's novel Fudge-a-Mania.  It has a very negative portrayal of a homeschooling family.  I don't know how things are now in terms of homeschooling representation in fiction, but when we were a young homeschooling family, it was not often that we'd see homeschoolers.  It's hard when homeschoolers are finally included, and they're creepy.  It's offensive. I would have been much more accepting of the negative portrayal if the Fudge series had also included positive portrayals of homeschooling families.

Now I'll give an example of a show that has done things right.

Coronation Street.

One of the first storylines I saw on the show involved a manipulative, violent black woman (Natalie Gumede). But there have also been decent black women on the show, so there's no message of black women being evil.  The show also has a gay character (Bruno Langley) who has been a bit naughty at times, but this is balanced out with gay characters who have less wickedness.

Of course, all this could be taken too far.  It would be crazy for every trait of each main villain to be also represented by a more decent character on the same piece of media. The main villain on Coronation Street lately is a bald construction worker (Connor McIntyre) from Liverpool. I don't think Coronation Street needs to fret about making sure they also have positive representations of bald people, construction workers, and people born in Liverpool.

I think balanced representation is most important when it comes to the amount of representation a group gets in general. Get Out has no decent white people.  They're all pretty much evil.  But this didn't bother me, because there are PLENTY of movies, TV shows, books, video games, etc with decent and/or heroic white people.  The same can't be said for a lot of other people—homeschoolers, gay people, Asian people, vegans, very religious people, atheists, Muslims, Jews, people who use wheelchairs, etc.

I think when a group is rarely represented in media, it's even more important to be sensitive to how they're being represented. 

Thinking about this....

I think the only group that's very strongly represented in media is white, straight, slim, able-bodied people with mainstream lifestyles.  So if a villain lies outside of that group, I think the creators of the media need to seriously consider balancing things out a bit.