Under Representation in Media

Let me set this out right from the beginning; I am not talking about the under representation in mass media of non-Caucasian people, of women, bisexual or transgendered people or people with disabilities. These and others are large groups of people who have been ignored, marginalised and vilified by society as a whole in one way or another and one of the ways to kick society's ass into recognising them as people and to get their needs and wants recognised is to push their existence into mass media.

*breathes*

Okay, disclaimer out of the way.

There's a new show out there called Girls. As far as I can tell from the widely varying reviews, it is a comedy about a group of twenty-something women living in New York City. It's "real" and "relateable" and "relevant to young [white] women."

Okay, that's cool and everything. Some people like to watch shows about people going through the same crap they are (for whatever reason; there's a whole other blog post there). I have to ask though; why is this such an important thing in TV scheduling? Why do so many people appear to want so much fictional entertainment about people who are just like them, going through the same things they go through?

Apparently, the likes of The O.C. and Eastenders are designed to reflect the lives of the people they are aimed at; people in the same situations, making the same choices. Personally I watched The O.C. for the pretty actors and overly melodramatic storylines, but I'm probably not its target audience.

For me, the vast majority of fictional entertainment is about escapism (with satirical mocking of people in power and education/thought provoking bringing up the rear). It's why I play computer games. I want to lose myself in another world, in different lives.

It's why I couldn't stand The Royale Family; it was about people like the people that I know, doing the things that people I know do. I, er, live that life. I don't need to watch it on television. It wasn't like, say, Dinner Ladies (I have worked that job, I have known those people) where the appeal came not from the characters or familiar situations but the clever and fast dialogue and the outrageous ways in which hose initially familiar situations played out (as with other "every day" comedy greats like Fawlty Towers and Brittas Empire).

I didn't watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer for its "slice of life" sequences, but the vampires, demons and magic. The "slice of life" was an integral part of the whole (because combining genres makes tasty TV), but remove the supernatural from it, and it really would have just been another teen drama. Excellently written and acted, but still another teen drama. The supernatural was the spice to the "slice if life". It lifted the show out of the humdrum normal-ness that is every day teenage existence for its intended audience.

Coming at this "problem" from a slightly different angle is the complaint that "none of the characters are relateable." I can count on one hand the number of characters I have ever related to in any significant way, and most of them don't share either my race, gender, sexuality or religious persuasion (some of them weren't even human!) so they were not (as I'm told) wholly relateable.

This has never, ever stopped me enjoying a show or film to the point of NEEDING to watch it, and the inclusion of such characters has never heightened my enjoyment of a piece of entertainment to levels far and beyond that of others. It's fine if characters like me are included, it's not important if they're not.

I once had a discussion with someone about the need, or not, of the very human character of John Crichton in Farscape. In a "fish out of water" situation, as Farscape is, usually the fish or those around the fish represent Us, the prevailing society for which the piece was made for. We are either supposed to relate to the fish and its fears and strengths or we are supposed to see The Other in the fish and be taught about its fears and strengths. Either way we come out of the viewing having explored Us and our relation to The Other in various capacities.

The question was; do we actually NEED John Crichton in Farscape to explore The Other and, via metaphor (as scifi does so well), Us? At the time I argued that society was incapable of watching a show without a character whose eyes it could view a strange world through. Society at large could not take the leap forward and put Us into the shoes of Them; The Other always has to be viewed from the outside. However, I had no idea why; it was merely an observation. I don't think that Farscape would have been poorer if John had been replaced by another prisoner on Moya with similar character traits to his own but a wholly alien background. It would have been a different show, that's certain, but not poorer.

Actually I sort of found the "here's a brilliant human helping the poor dumb aliens" schtick a little annoying, but not enough to wipe out the great love I have for Farscape.

I still don't know why we need characters with which to wholly relate to, to see ourselves in. Are we that ego-centric that we cannot love, suffer and rejoice with those who are very different to us? Can we not relate to The Other without being taken by the hand by a representation of Us? Surely there will always be something within each character that we can agree with, a conviction or personality trait that we share?

Maybe I've spent so long having no-one to relate to on screen and paper that I'm numb to the pain of unrelatable characters? Maybe I should be fighting for more characters like me (an entire cast of Me? Hah!). But then I don't even write characters that are like me. My female leads have flaws and strengths I don't possess. They have beliefs and personal codes of ethics that I don't share. Not even my deepest, most ego stroking Mary Sues that I put into works that will NEVER see the light of day are like me... most of them have way more flaws and issues (I am nothing if not a Schadenfreude worshipping sadomasochist).

And that's where my feelings towards characters that are just like me lie; within the indulgence of the Mary Sue. A character like me gives me a warm fuzzy in the same way eating a whole box of chocolates does. I don't need it, although I enjoy it when it's there and it's nice now and then it does make me sick after a while, and too much of it will put me off for a long time.

So, I've said my piece, now give me yours; why would you like to see more characters like you in your fictional entertainment? Why is "relateability" important to you?
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