Media is a pretty big part of life today. It’s such a prominent thing that we usually take for granted, but in reality, it’s what introduces us to many new ideas or things that maybe we were never exposed to or simply hadn’t thought of before.
Because it’s such a widespread industry with so many outlets, we’re introduced to representations we might not have otherwise had access to, especially with the worldwide reach and influence of so many places and people.
However, this can also mean that media can be the first and only mode of contact that a person has with things outside of their bubble of knowledge.
With that in mind, I would like to explain why I’m talking about all this. I’m trying to delve a little deeper into the debate about whether some of these representations are acceptable, or if they are inherently harmful and contributing to a larger problem.
Seeing as this week we are looking into gender, sexuality and media, my topic for today’s discussion focuses mainly on the representation of LGBTQ characters in TV – mainly streaming services like Netflix and Stan, as well as broadcast and cable networks.
Thankfully, there are quite a lot of resources devoted to this, so my job was made significantly easier! Unfortunately, as soon as I started to flick through the resources, it was made abundantly clear that queer representation through these outlets is extremely limited. One particular source (a very handy report done annually by GLAAD) included this little graph to signify just how out of proportion the straight and queer characters were. While this graph focuses only on broadcast television in 2016 and 2017, it’s still a shockingly large discrepancy between the amount of representation on each side.
For broadcasting networks like Fox, CBS, The CW, etc., this 4.8% of characters signifies the largest amount of LGBTQ regular characters across these platforms that has ever been recorded. 4.8. That’s 43 characters out of the counted 895 in the report. Cable boasts a slightly higher amount of queer representation, but a lot of it is poor, and characters are usually not recurring, and a lot of them die.
The streaming services have pushed through here with a strong lead of 65 recurring queer characters this year. While this is a nice step up from other television, it still has a way to go in the regards of queer people of colour or trans individuals.
Good job Netflix for being the most LGBTQ inclusive streaming service this year! It’s iconic hit series Orange is the New Black contributes greatly to this, amongst many other shows it has produced or offers.
While it has been wonderful to see a rise in the number of queer people represented on television in recent years, many sources claim that it is still not nearly enough. While some may argue that “we’ve seen more LGBTQ characters on TV than ever before, why do people need to push their agendas?”, they may fail to notice the lack of diversity with the characters provided.
It seems a bit tricky to assume that a set of characters can be considered diverse when they’re only a tiny fraction of the whole cast. Usually the queer characters in shows end up being one dimensional cut outs of the same few tropes to fill the role of token gay guy or something along those lines. These characters have little thought given to them, but are used to bring in wider audiences due to their ‘inclusivity’.
GLAAD’s report stated that:
Since the beginning of 2016, more than 25 queer female characters have died on scripted television and streaming series. Most of these deaths served no other purpose than to further the narrative of a more central (and often straight, cisgender) character. When there are so few lesbian and bisexual women on television, the decision to kill these characters in droves sends a toxic message about the worth of queer female stories. Indeed, LGBTQ characters should be treated the same as their straight, cisgender counterparts by the rules of their series’ worlds. This means having the same opportunities for romance, nuanced motivation, developed backstory, and the same odds of death. When the most repeated ending for a queer woman is violent death, producers must do better to question the reason for a character’s demise and what they are really communicating to the audience. Moreover, it is not enough for LGBTQ characters simply to be present on screen; they must be crafted with thought, attention, and depth.
GLAAD really hits it on the head here. With this being the main source of representation for queer people on TV, what should people be taking from this?
Firstly, people who have limited knowledge about the LGBTQ community might be jumping to conclusions due to the stereotypes enforced on television. A big one has been the stereotype of sexual deviancy or dangerousness within the community.
Secondly, imagine being a queer person (or not having to imagine) and seeing yourself portrayed as a deviant, vilified and destined to be unhappy or simply die to further the plot of others. Surely this blow to the community’s self-esteem and safety should have been addressed by now.
Media is a way for young people to find out about themselves. Being exposed to different ideals and values opens up the ability to decide for oneself. When the majority of these characters are viewed negatively, this greatly hinders the cause of the LGBTQ people and their struggles.
But creators can create what they want, I hear some people say. I agree. Creators should be allowed to create the content they wish to create. HOWEVER, when that content directly contributes to a larger problem, I feel that some changes should be made.
So my question I’m posing to you:
Is it fair for creators to view their work as a standalone piece of media, or should they have to consider the implications of it being a part of a larger issue?
LGBTQ | The Critical Media Project. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://criticalmediaproject.org/cml/topicbackground/lgbt/
glaad.org. (2017). WWAT. [online] Available at: http://glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2016-2017.pdf [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].
Mediasmarts.ca. (2017). Queer Representation in Film and Television | MediaSmarts. [online] Available at: http://mediasmarts.ca/digital-media-literacy/media-issues/diversity-media/queer-representation/queer-representation-film-television [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].
Lindsey, S. (2017). LGBT Media Visibility and the Traditional Sexual Ethic. [online] A Queer Calling. Available at: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/04/22/lgbt-media-visibility-and-the-traditional-sexual-ethic/ [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].