Media Representation: The War for More

My neck is tired. I  have been doing some full body eye-rolling lately. There is a war going on about where and when women and minorities can do cool stuff in public. And y’all? If this is something we need to fight about, I don’t need your peace. I am content with war, if my options are that or capitulation to an entity with no claim on me.

Diversity is winning. New voices are acquiring megaphones. Change is coming.

But one of the most contested battles lately is over how we convince the parts of society unsure how to divine the crystal ball of culture that all we want and what we need is as follows:

  1. We want to see the world we live in reflected in our media
  2. We don’t just want the veneer. We want everyone crafting the stories to be part of this process.

You are not going to get an audience for a cult classic when you castrate the parts valued by the cult. Ghost In the Shell could have been the best sci-fi movie ever released. But with a white person in the place all fans knew should have been held by someone of Japanese heritage, fans were going to be mad, and non-fans were likely going to be put off by a story associated with such an angry cult.

So close.

You are not going to get a pat on the back for having a token character on a show who either has all ethnic identifiers removed from their character, or who double down on a stereotype.

Yet so far.

The only way to avoid these issues is to have voices comfortable in their identities help mold the world around those stories. Notice the difference between the Sansa plot in “Game of Thrones” and the treatment of Jessica Jones in her titular show. Both involve feminine horror and are played as honestly as the actresses can. But one is casebook example of a version of the survivor’s story, written by women, and Sansa is just the styling, with none of the substance, written entirely by men.

So. How do we correct this? The best way is to show all of these articles we keep writing to movie execs until they’re so convinced that everything they’re doing is wrong that they listen to the money-givers. And then step two, we wait for various movie execs to die or retire and replace them with underrepresented people in the industry.

The second way is with us. We, the media consumers, keep speaking up with our words and our dollars. There is some in-fighting on this one. One school of thought holds that we should give movie execs positive reinforcement anytime they include someone in a project who is representative of a group we’d like to promote, and should therefore attend every single mainstream movie with someone who isn’t a straight white cis man at the helm even if the movie is just two hours of snoring.

This is a great strategy for some media. Disney’s Brave was one of the first kids movies to come out where both parents were alive, the daughter was alive, and the happy ending didn’t have a marriage. It was sort of a train wreck of a plot, but they were really going out on a limb, and you could tell they were out of their depth but still doggedly swimming for the distant shore. So yeah. They got my dollars.

Ghostbusters, the reboot, was another film that was obviously trying and nervous. There are dozens of articles on why it flopped, but I am glad I went. We found it enjoyable, and it was a work that held additional meaning. It was diving into territory that was at once so banal as to be overlooked and so new as to be revolutionary.

There is another option in place of positive reinforcement. It is an option I find that I tend to apply tactically, and that usually is targeted against a particular person or company.

Sometimes companies think we’re idiots. They think we don’t see what they’re doing, that our opinions are uninformed, and that the thing that makes or breaks a concept for us is no big deal. Sometimes we tell them to their faces what it is we find exceptionable and they refuse to believe us. And then they treat women and minorities like executive boards at failing companies around the world:

The last resort. The idea so crazy it just might work. They offer the CEO position to a woman whose resume makes the other officers’ resumes piss themselves in fear, put her in the spotlight, refuse to take her cues, and as the show tanks, they shake their heads. Just as they suspected. Women can’t do anything better than men. Minorities are simply not up to the job.

And I say, with all due respect and in full understanding of why someone would agree to be trapped in that position fuck that.

When someone is trying something new with the intention of doing good, we want to encourage them. We are like Gordon Ramsay with his child chefs, cultivating knowledge and praising experimentation, even when it’s not quite right. When someone who should know better takes the form of a new idea and paints it over the substance of an old idea, it is no longer new. It is a slap in the face of everyone who saw how well the new ideas performed, who nursed hope in their hearts that the future would be better, and we are within our rights to act like Gordon Ramsay does with so-called professionals.

Gordon Ramsay. . Gordan Ramsay with Kids vs. Gordon Ramsay with Adults ). Do people expect him to yell at kids? he only yells at idiots

Yes. This feels right. It is proper.

Parading a captive as the ingenue of the old system is a deathwish, and I think we should respect some companies’ right to choose their own demise.

We are told that the Wonder Womans* and “Girls” of the world are the battlegrounds we must meet on.

Must. Mandated. Required.

But…why? Why can’t we spend our resources on media trying new and provocative things only? Why must we keep the rest on life support? DC Cinematic has been on my shitlist for ages. They haven’t produced anything good since the Nolans fought everyone for creative control of The Dark Knight Rises. DC saw what worked well, and instead they forced us to have Batman vs. Superman.

Yeah, no. No, you can go to Hell, DC. We still have Marvel, and dozens of producers hungry for licenses to content you hold. Or, even better, beloved content outside of DC’s scope, stories epic and rich, penned by hands that look like the hands of my boldly-hued world.

Is there such a thing as a reverse siege? Where the army gathers in the field, and you just don’t show up, and instead go grab their castle? I want to do that.

Capture the flag is how it works IRL, IIRC.

So there are the options. And I have to say, I think there’s room for both tactics, even in the same battle. Guys, you should go see every woman-fronted movie you can afford. As we all know, your dollar is worth 1.3 times as much as ours. White people go see “black” movies. Support stories even if you don’t see yourself, because that’s exactly what we make other people do in deference to our stories.

But those of us being fed scraps while being told we should be grateful? We are under no obligation to show up for every challenger who would fight for our strongholds. We only need to meet the worthy foes. The rest are noise, and our outriders should be able to set them right soon enough.

 

*I realize this isn’t out yet and may be excellent. If I hear that even some of my fears are unfounded, I will humbly request forgiveness, and also give them my dollars. But it’s just…DC. AND DIANA!! They best not come for her, I swear to Amazonians everywhere.

 

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