In this week’s Ask Me Anything the question is another important one. While less personal than our previous questions, it touches on something that impacts all of us in a way that we are unlikely to even be fully aware of. I am not an expert in this particular field, it does impact me and so I hope my answer adds something of value to the conversation:
Some people complain that entertainment shouldn’t be a commentary on politics or culture but I disagree. Why do think LGBTQ+ representation in TV shows and film is so important?
This great question has been on my mind a lot lately. As your very question demonstrates, we can look at two aspects of this issue. On one hand, we can unpack why so many would resist such representation. And on the other, why such representation is so important. I’ll try to touch on both but I suspect most of my energy will be focused on the latter.
So much of popular media has served to reflect (or play off of) the thoughts, ideas, assumptions, and expectations of those at the center of social power. While some of that has been done intentionally- such as the intentional avoidance of hiring BIPOC actors in the last century, leaning instead into white actors in blackface- some of it has been the unconscious result of living into what the decision-makers deem “normal”.
One of the results of these dynamics is that the material produced ends up representing “reality” (even in things as fictitious as science fiction or fantasy) that highlights and exaggerates that normativity. It creates something of a feedback loop that perpetuates and even strengthens the hold of normative assumptions. It also inevitably means that those at the margins of power- usually women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, the poor, etc.- are also impacted, either through negative and/or shallow representation or no representation at all.
The challenge is that when the dominant culture accepts the representation as “normal”- that is, that it is accurately reflective of “reality”- efforts to bring wider representation can…