“Just Don’t Watch It”

As I watch many many many programmes and critique them I inevitably get someone saying the same damn thing:

“Just don’t watch it!”

There are many replies to this, but irritation has worn me down until even I, who am not generally given to swearing, have to ask

“What the fuck do you expect me to watch?!”

Seriously. I’m a gay man who likes to watch the fantastic – primarily Urban fantasy, what do I watch? Because we’ve now reviewed 37 television series from start to finish (or current) and we’ve got two – TWO – with a GBLT protagonist. Lost Girl, headed by a bisexual woman and her true love/primary love interest is already underscored as being a man. And Sanctuary where Helen Magnus is a bisexual woman – you may have missed it though since it was one reference in one episode of 4 seasons – the rest of the time was focused on men. We don’t even have a GBLT person as part of an ensemble cast.

20 of those don’t have even a brief, token GBLT presence. Not for one second, not a bit actor, not a one off, not a thing. Completely and utterly straight from start to finish. Some of them have managed to reach their 5th season without any GBLT people.

4 of them have a GBLT character who appeared for one or two episodes – out of 8 seasons in some cases (yes, Supernatural, that’s you. Though your subtext means the slash fans love you and ignore your erasure) Of course that doesn’t stop these shows have a running commentary of bad gay jokes (Being Human US, Misfits – ye gods Misfits, the very poster child of a hot mess) or used these single episodes to push the horrible tropes (Being Human UK with the gay vampire killing his human lover).

2 of them have a recurring token. But, frankly, that’s generously deciding the Manscaping medieval prince who faints at the sight of blood (the dead Renly) and his lover, the knight of flowers count as tokens rather than one-offs on Game of Thrones. And despite Danny being nothing more than a token who only shows up in one episode in four whenever one of the straight characters needs something, Teen Wolf will always be loved by the slashers (If you want any greater evidence of how this damages us, both Racialicious and Kiss My Wonder Woman have actually praised Teen Wolf for their handling of sexuality while criticising it for its greater inclusion of other marginalised people. Yay for homophobic double standards!)

2 of them have recurring minor characters – but while I love Dark Angel’s Original Cindy, as the series progresses she just becomes more and more of a support character for Max. It’s pure desperation that has me include Bill Forbes 5 episodes on The Vampire Diaries a recurring character – and after his conversion therapy episode I could do without that as well.

So that leaves me with 7 shows with major GBL characters. With the protagonists that brings it to 9 out of 37

And these 7? We have American Horror Story with raped and murdered gay men, raped lesbian and graphic depictions of conversion therapy. Yay. I couldn’t even watch it in one sitting.

Almighty Johnsons has Sjofen, “the goddess who goes both ways” who has a one night, off-camera fling with Axel (a man) when he’s magically turned into woman and then focuses entirely on men from then on – but they make lots of jokes about her.

Hex and it’s many many many many, ye gods many, dead gay men and lesbians. Sometimes the same character died twice.

True Blood which I’ve already complained about.

Bedlam with a closeted character who was finally revealed as gay, had one kiss with a guy before vanishing without explanation.

So, that leaves Warehouse 13 (which, on day, will stop putting Jenks in the plot box and leave the gay jokes behind), Buffy (which wiser folks than I have complained about)

This is the genre I’m watching. This is what I get served up to me. So, again, what the fuck do I watch? What do I watch which doesn’t prompt me to criticise? And this is just criticising on grounds of sexuality – throw in race, gender and ability as well and the hot mess just gets hotter and messier.

There now follows a moment where everyone tells me to watch Glee or Modern Family or some other soap and sitcom, completely ignoring the genre that interests me. It’s ridiculous that when faced with an entire genre of erasure and shit – multiple genres of erasure and shit – the answer is to try different genres! I don’t like sitcoms, I hate soaps, I loathe high school dramas and I don’t remotely see the attraction of musicals. I don’t want to be bored to tears so I can cling to a show that actually realises we exist.

This is the same reason I rarely boycott shows, because I end up boycotting my entire genre and all the shows I have any chance of actually enjoying. Is that depressing? Yes, of course it is – but that’s reality but that’s also why I want to change things.

Which is why I won’t “stop watching it”. I will keep watching it. I will keep watching it and I will find the parts I enjoy and I will continue trying to be part of the genre I love. And I will continue banging on the window when they try to shut me out, continue shouting when I’m missed and demand that it be better, that it does better. For me to stop watching it would be for me to finally give up on the genre, for me to decide it can’t be fixed and needs to be rebuilt before I get involved again – I’ve already done that with some book genres, and it wounds me to feel driven to it.

This genre has a problem with marginalised people. MY genre has a problem with marginalised people. And it’s not going to be fixed by closing my eyes and pretending the problems don’t exist. Nor will it be solved by anyone who is hurt by these problems being driven away by people demanding our silence, demanding we “just don’t watch it.”

Advertisements

When is Erasure Acceptable?

Whenever we criticise portrayal – or, more often, erasure in some media or other, there is always a backlash. Always some excuse why the depiction was totally ok or why the erasure is completely and utterly justified. Always. We could be arguing against a portrayal of an all white Tokyo or an all-straight San Francisco and there’d STILL be someone rushing forwards to defend the erasure. So I’m going to shoot down one of the defences – not that it’ll stop them but at least I can copy and paste a link rather than typing out the smack down all the time. Hey, I’m getting repetitive strain injury from this, I need some time saving methods!

So let’s hit a biggie: Is it Ever Appropriate to have a Completely Erased Programme/Book/Game?

This comes in many forms: my book is set in the outer Hebrides and no minorities live there (because we have better sense)/I’m writing my lived experience and I have no X friends/I don’t want to tokenise etc etc etc. So let’s tackle this and wrestle it to the ground and start with the core problem.

You do not write in a vacuum.

Maybe you had the bestest of best reasons why your cast is so white in bright lights we get snow blind and straighter than a damn laser, no, really, maybe you really really do have a good reason. But whatever that reason is is lost among a sea of media that is erased simply because of good ol’ prejudice. There is nothing differentiating your oh-so-reasonable erasure with the constant prejudiced erasure we have to endure every time we pick up a book, open a magazine, turn on the television or see a billboard.

And even if your honestly-totally-not-prejudiced erasure is still meant with the bestest of best intentions doesn’t mean that yet ANOTHER erased portrayal isn’t harmful – it still adds to the weave of erasure, it adds to the unrelenting message that our stories aren’t worth telling and the overwhelming feeling that we don’t belong, aren’t a part of this world and are the dreaded Other, to be hidden and avoided? Your magical intentions don’t change that your work is part of the unrelenting erasure out there – and yes, that sucks. Yes it sucks that you can’t create your appropriately erased and well intentioned piece of media without it slapping all us marginalised folk in the face, again.

Guess what? It doesn’t suck nearly as much as being those marginalised folk being slapped. You’ll survive and you’ll forgive us if we’re not exactly lining up to help dry your tears.

So let’s look at that location excuse. Yes you’ve tracked down demographic statistics and managed to find Whitesville in Straighttopia, go you.  And that’s exactly what many of us oh-so-cynical marginalised folks believe you’ve done – hey, kudos for effort, most the erasers just take an all White, straight New York or Atlanta or London or Paris or Toronto or Vegas or LA or some other massive, diverse city and erase it, so at least you’ve gone to some effort in your erasure.

What? You’d never ever do such a thing? We don’t know that. We don’t know that you didn’t choose Arse-End-of-Nowhere Maine rather than Arse-End-of-Nowhere Missisi… Missiiisi… Louisiana because you thought you’d get away with your all erased cast. Why should we give you the benefit of the doubt – rule number… well some number, when interacting with marginalised people – we have zero reason to assume good things about you. We have every reason to expect the worst and regard you with our mean cynical eye.

Besides which, we’re there. Yes, in Arse-End-Of-Nowhere Maine, in the Outer Hebrides, we’re everywhere – there isn’t actually a guaranteed minority free zone anywhere on this planet. Unless you want to cast your fun, zany story in Antarctica or the bottom of the sea.

But, in the end, whenever you produce media that is all erased (or includes only tokens) you harm us, you demean us, you add to the culture of prejudice that rejects us – and yes, you’re going to get us saying mean mean mean things about you, Precious. And I don’t think there’s any way your erased media is going to avoid that.

So what’s the solution? How can you produce your “realistic” erasure without us being such big meanies? Cultural and societal shift. Sorry, that’s about it. If you want your erased work not to be a slap to marginalised people, if you don’t want your precious magic intentions questioned and if you don’t want to harm us – then we need to change the culture. Because erasure (and tokenism – which is mini-erasure and erasure by another name) will only be non-harmful when it is no longer the norm. When we can turn to your media type and assure that we will be consistently well represented then your all white/straight/whatever piece will be free from this damaging context and be free to be as erased as your little privileged dreams wish. Because it won’t matter – because it won’t be part of a grand context of excluding us.

Until that happens? Well until then, when you produce your super-erased media we will criticise it and your excuses won’t cut it. Deal with it – because we have to.

Men are from Chandler, Women are from Christie

The odd couple is one of television’s go-to moves — and so is the idea that no two people are as mismatched as a man and a woman, especially a man and a woman with sexual chemistry. The whole Mars/Venus crap gets name-checked when a man and woman share the lead in a show: it’s heteronormative and reductive and can be excruciating to watch — but it’s also pretty revealing about mainstream cultural attitudes toward gender roles.

Especially when the couple teams up to solve crime. The result then is a pair of narratives in search of the Truth-with-a-capital-T: one short truth story, that starts with a body and ends with a killer and is solved over the course of a single episode, and one long one, that plays out as the couple learn more about each other and their mutual sexypants feelings.

Let’s start with the ultimate mystery romance show: Remington Steele.

Keep reading