My Media Litmus Test

A little known fact about yours truly.

Since the release of Hollowstone and garnering a respectable following online through places like Ars Marginal, I’m often solicited to review and endorse books, tv shows for virtual strangers and their websites. For many I’ve taken up the opportunities, as many of you are aware and for others I turn down these requests.

It’s interesting because while the solicitors don’t know me well or at all, for some reason they think they are entitled to my time and energy. However if they knew me for five seconds they would know why I might be turning out endorsing the media. Like most people, said time is precious but more than that I have a Litmus Test that I use whenever I ponder on considering new media to consume. Now while there are obviously exceptions to the rule, more often than these are guidelines I run with.

This Litmus Test is a series of simply questions I’ll ask before I even entertain watching a television show, reading a novel, a comic book, etc.

Question 1: Is the lead or central protagonist a person of color?

Question 2: Is the lead or central protagonist an LGBTQ?

Now if the title in question has already failed to pass the first two checks, it’s not looking good but it doesn’t mean it’s automatically eliminated. There are 3 saving grace questions I’ll pose then.

Question 3: Is the writing exceptional? And by exceptional, I mean would I as a fellow writer be impressed? By exceptional, I mean is it on some Octavia Butler, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Joss Whedon, Russell T Davies, JK Rowling level of exceptional?

Question 4: Is there eye candy? Because if the eye candy is pretty enough I might be willing to overlook a lot but there better be some smoking eye candy?

Question 5: Does this project feature Gina Torres in any shape or fashion. Because if the Goddess herself is involved, game on!

No? Nada? Then chances are I won’t be reading or tuning in.

“Oh but Denny,” many of you say, “You’re being SOOOOOOOO unreasonable?”

Am I? Am I really?

I missed the law that was passed that said that I am obligated to support any and all straight white media that passes my way. I missed the part where my personal decisions about what media I choose to view affects anyone else.

However you tell some fans why you have legitimate issues with the new regime running Doctor Who or why you think Game of Thrones is a train wreck they act like you just assaulted their first born or something.

And then when you voice how you’re sick of minorities being denigrated and erased, mofos look at you like you’ve lost your damn mind. Like in the 21st I’m supposed to be grateful for table scraps, of one dimensional token sidekicks and racist homophobic caricatures. I should be grateful and have faith and trust and wait for things to gradually get better. I’d be better off waiting for Godot and waiting to exhale.

But answer me this, how many straight white people do you know go out of their way to view media where they aren’t featured as the primary or central protagonists. How often do they seek out QUALITY media (and no BET and Bravo don’t count), that features POCs and LGBTQs with RESPECT? How often do you see them going out of their way to better learn about their brothers and sisters of different ethnicities and different orientations?

Exactly. Just like I thought.

There desperately needs to be more diversity in the media. While my options are immensely limited, the fact of the matter is I do have options, thanks in large part to the world wide web.

While Hollywood continues to hemorrhage money and can’t understand why most of its movies are tanking, they still have yet to figure out why series like Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers and Unwritten Rules have been a huge hit.

Keep your crappy NBC dramas, my must-see TV Thursday is reserved for Olivia Pope on the hit series Scandal. My Friday nights are with a sexy dame known as Nikita.

Keep your Nu Who, I’ve got seasons of Torchwood, the Sarah Jane Adventures, and the RTD era of Who that are not getting old anytime soon.

While some of the comics I’m reading are often to critique in how NOT to storytell, there are so many shitty titles that I’m happy I’m not reading: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, pretty much everything in Marvel. In fact the only thing I am reading and enjoying are Ultimate Spider-Man (Miles Morales), X-Factor, any Storm-centric X-Men issues (the goddess still gives me life), classic Midnighter and the vintage Cassandra Cain. And less I totally geek out, I won’t mention how much I live for Kevin Keller.

Keep your 50 Shades of Grey and Save Your Pearls, my reading list consists of Catherine Llundoff’s Silver Moon, Scott Tracey’s Witch Eyes series, Sarah Diemer’s the Dark Wife, Ankhesen Mie’s Folklore, I can continue on and on.

I can read high fantasy plays that feature leading queer black and Latino protagonists.

And for stuff that I want to see but is not out there yet, well, I just write and publish my own stuff.

So no, I don’t have to settle and I’m not going to settle, and I couldn’t be happier with my choices. I’m being sufficiently entertained, the art is challenging me and transcending me as art should but more than that, I’m supporting marginalized media.

If the media can’t pass one simple test, then it’s not really worth my time. As far as settling for table scraps, those days have long since passed.

Recommended Reading:

Counting Colored Cash: http://arsmarginal.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/681/

Web Media: http://arsmarginal.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/web-media/

You Got That Moxie Baby: http://arsmarginal.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/you-got-that-moxie-baby/

10 thoughts on “My Media Litmus Test

  1. It says a lot that just those first 2 rules alone eliminate 99% of what’s out there. Especially if you want a protagonist – oh a protagonist? oooooh nooooo. I look down the list of the vast number of things we’re reviewing now and have revierwed and even finding minorities in decent roles is hard, protagonists near non-existent and non-tokened roles rare as diamonds.

    But we’re expected to watch and identify with protagonists that aren’t us – yet ask non-minorities to do the same and you may as well as them to eat their own hands.

    I can completely understand just avoiding the whole lot – I’m sorely tempted myself – but instead I’m settling for consuming then screaming about it and then screaming at the people trying to stop me screaming

  2. Yeah, it says a hell of a lot when you look at those first two questions.

    I just don’t see what’s wrong with having a lead who is not yet another straight, white, male. I would watch some of the shows on Space, Canada’s version of the Sci-Fi channel, and there are still some straight, white guys, and it confounded me because this show in particular, The Listener I think, takes place in Toronto, which is a central hub for transportation and immigration, as it’s close to our capital, Ottawa. They had POC on the show, but more often than not, from the few episodes I saw, they were playing the roles of victims.

    And I once thought about this, and more often than not, that when I go to point this out, I have to put out the disclaimer that I don’t hate the caucasian actor who got the lead. I want something different, and yet they’re not giving it to us, and they can turn around and say “Oh, you’re being racist!”

    Or in my case, a hypocritical racist…

    And I LOVE the Sarah Jane Adventures. It may have her name on the title, but she shares equal screen time with her younger cast members, like Clyde and Rani, and they were never weak or stupid. They made mistakes, yeah, but they usually worked their way out of it.

    And yeah, I will stick forever with Hayat Ali’s vampire novel, the Alpha Promise, instead of looking at Twilight, and read Amaya Radjani’s romance novels than anything else out there. Heck, Amaya’s Corruption novel was my VERY FIRST romance novel.

  3. you don’t know me, and i am rather unsure as to how i found your LJ [which lead here] but since i’m addicted to books [and to GOOD books, and books that tend to hit your litmus test, at that!] i’m hoping that you’ll enjoy/appreciate a few suggestions on reading material that does hit them [or, at least, tries]
    first, and this is mostly me just saying “I got my name in a book! without being redshirted!!!” i was the editor for Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s e-book “Arcanum 101″ – which has, as main character and main protagonist, a latino kid name Tomas. strangely, while Lackey is famous for being one of the first main-stream fantasy authors to have a gay-male main character [Magic's Pawn and the rest of that series] she hasn’t had one *recently*, that i’m aware of. on the other hand, she and Edghill have scads of POC characters, main and secondary, who are *real* [one of the Elemental Master's books, the main character is a woman from India, a "half-breed", in Victorian England studying to be a doctor - triple threat! non-male, non-white, non-mundane.] and their most recent YA has a character who may be trans, or may just be trying to hide the fact that she’s a woman; it’s not entirely clear since it’s just the first volume of a larger series. also a Native character, who wasn’t just a “noble savage” expy, so that made *ME* happy, but that’s because it tends to be even harder to fine Native characters [who aren't "noble savages" at least! i'm not savage, i'm just sayin'...] than other POC.
    then there’s N.K. Jemisin, whose “Inheritence” trilogy just… wow. also, the second book has a disabled protag, who does fall into “super-crip” territory at time, but at least isn’t written as a “look, i’m disabled so i have to give an after-school special about it!” character; that was ALSO nice, though i do get rather sick of the super-crip thing. [i'm disabled, it's NOT fun and if got super-powers they're really really REALLY late showing!]
    Jean Johnson, who is moving into Military Sci-fi with “A Soldier’s Duty” and “An Officer’s Duty” – the main character is of south-east Asian descent [but from a colony world, and in reality she's only half-human] with one of the most interesting and intricate plots i’ve *ever* read. along with aliens that are REALLY alien, while still being sympathetic, which is gold!
    Eric Flint writes and edits the “Ring of Fire” aka “1632/163X” series, and while *many* of the main characters are white West Virginians, many are NOT – including a kick-ass ex-Marine Doctor James Nichols and his grown daughter Sharon [who the locals of the 17th century continue to refer to as "Moors", because this is the time period BEFORE the systemic exploitation of Africans, when to be black was exotic but not necessarily "lesser"] and many, many Jews, Sepharidic, Ashkenazi [sp?] and “hidden”. there are stories that deal with LGBTQ people, though not many, given that 99.7% of the “cast” are people native to the 17th century.
    last, but NOT least, i feel have to mention the Russian masterpiece – “Night Watch”, by Sergei Lukyanenko. the English translation is *very* good [which, yay, my russian SUCKS] and while it doesn’t deal with a LOT of racial issues per se, it does show them, and from a viewpoint very, very different from our Western/USian-centric POV

    there are literally tons of others i could mention that have at least strong secondary POC or LGBTQ characters [though even many of these are problematic at times] but you specifically said “protagonist” and i’ve stuck to it, even if they’re part of a large group of protagonists [seriously - when you get to Sharon in the 163X books, she's so INCREDIBLY kick-as!!!]

    i hope i’ve helped another person who loves stories find some good ones.

  4. “non-tokened roles rare as diamonds” Oh Sparky. Were you making a joke there about Pearls and Coal? :-) Dennis. I so appreciate your standards. I say it often but it can’t be said enough. Media is pedagogic and if it’s got that much power then I will damn sure defend my and my children’s psyches from garbage (well, what I consider garbage) by refusing to engage.

  5. Far as I’m concerned, rules 1 & 2 have become standards in what I choose to read. I’m just not bothering with much else beyond that. Life is too fucking short. I will be linking to this post in the near future.

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