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Opinion: Representation is BS

Updated on August 24, 2016

Social Justice Warriors, as well as some more moderate liberals and feminists, have a common complaint about media. It's not diverse enough, they say. To them, fictionland is overcrowded with white, heterosexual males, and they've had it. Can't we get more government to make sure movies and television shows are all forcibly centered around my personal desires and taste? No? Aw... Maybe next election cycle.

But I don't think the complaint is valid, for reasons outlined below. So let's discuss this idea of "representation" in terms of how fictional characters are supposed to represent minority groups.

1. Not All People The Same As You Represent You

This is how you represent me as a fictional character.
This is how you represent me as a fictional character.

This one is often my issue with the idea that I, as a woman, should always support all female politicians, or all other women, just because they're women and I'm a woman. That's complete crap. I believe in, respect, admire, vote for, or like someone because of their personality, values, and actions, it's not about what's in their pants.

When you really take a look at why they believe we need to shoehorn more female, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation minority characters into existing popular franchises, the logic often assumes that someone "represents you" in fiction if they just happen to have the same sex, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Never mind all the diversity within the huge world of fictional characters that makes this impossible; is Maleficent a representation of all womankind, or is it Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, or maybe it's Mulan? Why can't it be enough to simply understand that fictional characters represent fictional characters, they don't stand in for all of their race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or whatever. If that were the case, we basically just could not have any villains at all; we wouldn't want any real life people from the groups those villains represent to be offended, for example Italians being offended by the villains of The Untouchables being Italian mobsters. We couldn't have any unlikable characters, period, especially if the characters in question were any identity other than cis, straight, white males.

An unlikable fictional character is there for a narrative purpose, she is there to provide whatever it is she is needed to provide for the story to work, but she's not there to "paint an unflattering picture" of everyone who resembles her in some arbitrary way like skin color or genitals.

So, as a woman, I don't feel like every female politician or female fictional character truly represents who I am because they happen to be female. And I think the same goes for a lot of minority groups, who often get talked about as in need of representation with "positive characters". But if negative, stereotypical characters do not represent the whole of minority groups, positive characters don't. Fictional characters represent fictional characters. They're not intended to be anything else, unless the author makes that intention very explicit.

2. People Can Learn From and Relate To Characters That Don't "Represent" Themselves

I go out to see a movie, not a mirror.
I go out to see a movie, not a mirror.

When I was 3 I met my hero, Daffy Duck. Did it matter to me that Daffy was not the same gender, color, or even species as me? No. I was just a big fan of the cartoons featuring him.

But as I got older, I became surrounded by an internet sea of pop culture critics on the political left telling me I needed more characters and performers who were female, like me, to represent me in comic books, movies, rock music, television, video games, you name it, they wanted more vaginas in it. It wasn't just that certain genres and fictional franchises were for boys and others were for girls, oh no. It was all a big, fat, patriarchal conspiracy to keep women down. By like, having Tomb Raider's Lara Croft have an appealing derriere, or by having two female Power Rangers on a team that is mostly male. Or by however Ms. Pacman is supposed to be sexist again? The patriarchy works in mysterious ways.

But all this political rallying for more female characters is ignoring the fact that many girls can have role models who are not female, and boys can have role models who are not male, and vice versa. For people who claim to be inclusive of people with gender variances, did they not stop to consider boys who are feminine and drawn to female characters as role models, or girls who are masculine who are drawn to male characters as role models? I believe personally that children should be seeing and imitating virtuous characters, whether they're male, female, or other. And if a character is particularly memorable and compelling, I'm going to like them, whether they have the same set of genitals as I do or not. In fact, I think it's important to try to see the beauty of characters who are different from us in some way, because it builds empathy.

For example, a movie that I liked very much in recent years was 12 Years a Slave. The tragic tale draws on real historical events and tells the story of a black man, living freely in the north, who is captured and sold illegally as a slave in the south. His story and struggle were brilliantly evoked by the film. I didn't just sit there and go, ugh, I can't get into this movie with a male protagonist, or ugh, I can't get into this movie with a black protagonist. If you think that way, you're basically saying you lack the ability to empathize with anyone who doesn't look like you, or have the same gender as you. Which is exactly the opposite of the mentality that liberalism should be encouraging.

3. Representation is Often Unrealistic

And trying does not really work.
And trying does not really work.

First of all, it should be obvious but evidently it needs being said; no fictional work or franchise can represent all possible variations of the human species. You're going to have people left out, usually because they're in the minority or because they are not similar to the kind of person the target audience is for the work. For example, My Little Pony features an overwhelmingly female cast, because the target audience is female (and bronies, male fans, don't object to this usually, because they are, like I said, capable of liking characters who are not like themselves).

A show is going to have the number and kinds of characters necessary, and not more. What goes into fiction has a lot to do with who the intended audience is for it. The characters that are the most important are likely to resemble the target audience; Sex and the City for example has four middle-aged female main characters, because it was trying to target middle-aged women as a show. There's no bigger conspiracy here. Having a male main character by itself is not support of patriarchy, and having a female main character is not, by itself, a conspiracy against men, or a representation of a desire to subordinate men. People are assuming that a male main character is by itself intended to make a political statement about how men should dominate and lead women. When people say that, they're usually quietly leaving out all the counter-examples of fictional works with female leads or a majority female cast, in things that are aimed at the female demographic.

Sometimes, it just makes sense within the context of the story. One example is that people gave Frozen shit on the internet for having *gasp* an all-white cast. But not only does this just make more sense from a marketing perspective, because the country they're selling to is majority white, but it makes more sense because very few historical Scandanavian kingdoms were run by non-white people. It would be like having a white Emperor in Mulan, it just would not make historical sense. Similarly, I was a bit surprised that they had a black man playing Balder in the Thor movies, because it makes more sense that any character based on Norse mythology would be white.

It also makes sense for males to be the majority of the strong, independent action heroes. In real life, men have more upper body strength than women, and tend to more often take on jobs involving physical danger and risk. The closest thing to a superhero in real life are things like police, fire fighters, and soldiers, people who put themselves at risk to save others' lives. And while women can be these things, the majority of women are not physically cut out for these types of jobs, and many women who could do these types of jobs don't want to, because they're so demanding and stressful. So the general rule is that a cop, fire fighter, or soldier is male much more often than they are female. It's not 50/50 by a long shot. So when we make superheroes, we're really just drawing on these conditions that exist in reality. Feminists like to talk about how the female superheroes have unrealistic bodies in terms of curves and waist size, but they also have unrealistic bodies in terms of what their bodies are capable of vs. what even a reasonably fit and strong female body with that kind of appearance would be capable of in the real world. The point is, it's more realistic to have male action heroes. We can be grateful for the female action heroes there are, but until there is a 1:1 gender ratio in the jobs these action movies draw inspiration from, it's not going to be realistic.

And I for one don't want to see a "five token band" that tries to shoehorn every possible type of minority into one group of stars. Ever heard the phrase, he who tries to please everybody pleases nobody? Or did you stop listening as soon as I dared to say the word "he" as a general term for humanity in general? It's almost as if I don't know what year it is!

4. Tokens and Pandering Are Stupid

It's basically lazy writing. Let's take white action star Mr. X, but this time he's, wait, wait, get this, this time he's black! That will show the teens how cool we are! Black people are cool, right? I'm not a hopelessly out of touch middle-aged white person trying to be cool by making up a fictional idea about what black people are like!

Personally, I find token characters incredibly demeaning and disrespectful. They're basically implying that the actors only got the jobs they're in not on merit, but out of white guilt or feminism. And when people change existing white male characters into women or minorities, or make lazily crapped out female or ethnic minority variations of existing white male characters, it's implying that a new story, new character, and new franchise featuring a female or ethnic minority lead couldn't stand on its own. This traps women and minorities in this victim complex mentality. We won't make a new franchise with a female or minority lead, but instead give women and minorities a boost by changing an existing popular character. We don't need your charity in that respect. People do buy comics, movies, video games, etc. with minority and female leads, even if they are separate franchises, we don't need to be handed franchises that were not originally ours. Just stop, please.

Also, pandering to Social Justice Warriors never works, because they're whiny, entitled, and never satisfied with anything. Oh, you made Thor a woman? Why not a black woman? Why not a disabled woman? Why not a poor woman, an older woman, a fat woman, or a lesbian? Why did she have to be attractive, that's sexist. Why waste your time as a fiction creator trying to pander to people who cannot possibly be satisfied?

5. Minority Groups Have Their Own Medias

Can we get back to the real issue I have with movies: inaccurate future prediction?
Can we get back to the real issue I have with movies: inaccurate future prediction?

Last, but not least, I have to point out that just because most of, say The Avengers are white does not mean all movies are just all white people being white, all the time. In the USA, our nation's ethnic diversity is reflected in the diversity of our media; there are television channels, movie production centers, news stations, sports networks, and more that cater to every possible ethnic group. The mainstream media is white (because the majority of the country is), but not exclusively, while the Spanish channels are exclusively Spanish. Hm.

There are Spanish TV channels for Hispanics, Bollywood films for Indians, and films made in China and Japan for Asians. There's BET and radio stations that feature mostly to all black musicians. And yet, even with all these exclusive media outlets catering to minority groups specifically, the Oscars are criticized for giving too many awards to white people. No one complains if BET gives out awards exclusively to black people, or if a Chinese film only casts Asian actors because, duh, they're in China, and the majority of people are ethnically Chinese. I'm really sick of this double standard where something is ok for minorities and not ok for white people.

And the Social Justice Warrior types, I believe, are really the ones disrespecting minorities by acting like they need so much in terms of pandering and the mainstream media catering to them. They're basically saying that their own forms of media are inferior or not worth considering when talking about representation. That's what these pandering moves are to me, treating minorities and women like children who need to be boosted up on someone else's shoulders.


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      Fred Heiser 3 weeks ago

      You have spoken words of truth that must not be spoken. I salute you!