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On Representation

Posted by Sumiki , in Writing, Rants, Not Essays!, BZPower, BIONICLE/LEGO Apr 17 2014 · 442 views

BZPower is the only place on the Internet where I feel as if I can truly state what I feel without fear of someone seeing half a sentence and assuming something terrible about what I'm trying to communicate. I take a middle-of-the-road approach and try to see the good in people, and I feel as if BZPower is the only site that won't blow up in my face when it comes to moderate viewpoints.

- - - - -

Well, the latest firestorm of drama hit BZP earlier - this time on representation in media. It's a change of pace from what these flare-ups are normally about, but that doesn't mean that it's not an important and hot-button issue.

My three major points are bolded.

There is no excuse for not having female characters in modern media.

None whatsoever.

First, though, let's look at what representation really is.

Representation is, for the most part, determined from capitalistic tendencies. Once the media gets in its collective head that the men are the people they should be focusing their energies and spending their money on, the vicious cycle begins. This goes for race as well - I was watching an episode of the brilliant late '90s sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun the other day and the main characters - aliens in the show's narrative - said that they'd chosen to be white because that was the color of everyone on TV. While a throwaway gag in the context of the episode (one which poignantly highlighted the inherent absurdity of racism), it stuck with me.

Women make up half of all the people on Earth, so it's much easier to explain a male-dominated media as an offshoot of a patriarchal society. But if we defocus the issue from one of representation of women and into representation as a whole, things get quite a bit dicier.

People of all races, genders, and orientations exist. I mean, there are over seven billion of us now, so even the most minor of minority groups have significant numbers. One would think that what would follow would be representation for every group equal to their number.

Unless you've been living under a rock, however, it's clear that it hasn't happened.

So ... why?

Some point to internalized prejudices. While this could account for some media behavior, I harbor serious reservations that it accounts for all media - and all media are affected by this. What, then, is the most logical explanation?

Like I said - by following the money.

If you're a member of a group, you're going to want to get a cut of the majority. In America and much of the West, this means white people. If you're the biggest ethnic group, people who want to market stuff to the mainstream will probably market it towards you, because that's where the money lies.

If you're a member of a minority group, I think it's only fair to have media representation for you. The culture that led to the situation we're in has to change.

When minorities appear, they are often in token form. I shouldn't have to explain why this perpetuates stereotypes, but if we look at this from the broad view that I keep trying to get at, then we see that the smaller the minority, the less of a chance that a character from that minority will appear in media. Why? Again, money. If you're a studio executive and you want to make a movie sell, would you include characters that the perceived "majority" would relate to?

Most of them answer "yes," because it's the easy way out. Only now are we started to see the inklings of a fundamental change. The more bits of media that have minorities that are successful, the more that the people who are in charge of the media will see the fundamental error of their ways.

Here's another thing to keep in mind here: Representation does not always mean positive representation.

Let's take The Big Bang Theory. Among its quartet of protagonists, a trio represent some sort of minority: asexuals, Indians, and Jews. All of which are, at some point, played for laughs - or for whatever the writers think is funny. (It's not funny.)

When the most prominent asexual character in modern media is Sheldon Cooper, you know something's gone off the rails somewhere along the line. While gay characters are on the rise, a lot of them are accompanied by harmful stereotypes. Don't even get me started on bisexual erasure and the dearth of pansexual characters.

Hypothetically, every movie and book and TV show could change tomorrow to one where women outnumber men, but yet the women are always portrayed with harmful stereotypes. Let's imagine the same with sexual and ethnic minorities. You'd have more representation, but if it's with even more sexism, racism, and homophobia, how is that better? Mathematically speaking, it's actually worse.

Let's not support mere representation. Let's support good, positive representation. Let's prove to the media that they don't have to follow where they think the money is, but rather, where the moral thing to do lies.

I welcome discussion on these issues, but I am not afraid to defend myself if I see something I wrote taken out of context.

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Tyler Durden
Apr 17 2014 09:03 PM

i back this really hard



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Basically all of this. Much agree.


I'd just like to point out that good representation is starting to grow. Granted, there's much less of it than there should be and stereotyping is still rampant, but I think the media is beginning to get better about it as a whole, slowly but surely. It's not all bad. (I'm not saying/trying to imply you said/implied that, just pointing it out. Covering my bases is all, first time I've really participated in a BZPower "firestorm," I don't want to offend anyone =D)

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So far I don't think it's a firestorm yet. So far everyone who has discussed this topic has remained respectful of everyone else's opinions, and I would like for that to continue. 


(I did, unintentionally, start this - people slightly misinterpreted a blog entry of mine which led to this discussion, but I entertained it because I didn't wish to cross two upper-level staff members, and it sort of needed to happen after that news topic. I hope it doesn't turn into another BIG BLOG CONTROVERSY though. Urg.)

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I'd just like to point out that good representation is starting to grow. Granted, there's much less of it than there should be and stereotyping is still rampant, but I think the media is beginning to get better about it as a whole, slowly but surely. It's not all bad.

That's a very good point - representation is growing. It's not growing as fast as it should, and there are still problems within the representation itself, but things are definitely looking better.
There definitely is a tendency for people to see a bad situation and assume that it's worse than it is. While the issue of representation is still pretty bad, it's not the kind of reprehensible quagmire it used to be. We're not totally out of said quagmire yet, but we're closer to being out of it than ever, which is good.

(Don't worry about trying to cover all your bases - while BZP is definitely better at retaining civility in these matters than some sites are, there are always times when things are taken out of context.)

So far I don't think it's a firestorm yet. So far everyone who has discussed this topic has remained respectful of everyone else's opinions, and I would like for that to continue. 
(I did, unintentionally, start this - people slightly misinterpreted a blog entry of mine which led to this discussion, but I entertained it because I didn't wish to cross two upper-level staff members, and it sort of needed to happen after that news topic. I hope it doesn't turn into another BIG BLOG CONTROVERSY though. Urg.)

(I didn't see this earlier because I was still writing my response to Air Jordan whoops)
I generally think that there are valid points on both sides of most issues, this included. I'm happy that things are more civil with this than, say, the gay kissing banner controversy. That was really stupid.

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Scanty Demon
Apr 17 2014 10:32 PM
Wasn't agreed upon by world leaders that The Big Bang Theory was a terrible show?

Also I always viewed stereotypes as a sign that the writer is lazy and/or really terrible at writing. I'm not saying prejudice doesn't have anything to do with it, but it still is just terrible writing. We also can't forget the people who say without a hint of irony that said minority character "didn't act like a minority character". People honestly say this and it bugs me to no end.
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I keep thinking that there's something redeemable in The Big Bang Theory. It has some pretty good self-consistency and character development, but it's been on for the better part of a decade so their options for keeping things fresh are really quite limited.
I totally agree with your second paragraph. I know people like that (including family members).

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I can't speak for everyone, but speaking as someone Jewish, I find most of the Jew jokes that the Big Bang Theory used - at least before it completely fell to pieces - hilarious.


I have strong opinions on the whole representation issue, and heck, I wrote an entire research paper for my last college english class on the subject, but I've been involved in enough internet arguments about things like this to know that, regardless of side, it's not a headache I find worthwhile personally.

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The Jewish jokes rely pretty extensively on existing stereotypes. Not trying to tell you that you can't find them funny, but they do play off of these stereotypes.

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I'm well-aware. But there's two big things I've come to feel about stereotypes in my experiences with them; the first being that being defensive only makes it worse. Every time I would get angry or defensive when someone made them, one of two things would usually pop into their head, depending on whether they were actually antisemitic or not. If they were, it'd usually be something along the lines of "That's making the Jew kid mad, I bet he doesn't like hearing the truth." and if they were just ######, it'd be something along the lines of "Hah, that's getting under his skin, I should do this more." It just made it worse unless it was a friend, in which case it never happened until the past two or three years when I started laughing this stuff off.


If you get upset, then in the mind of someone that already has the preconception that X is true and is going in with that bias preexisting - which, even if they aren't bigoted, they're typically going in with as a result of how reinforced the stereotypes are - the fact you're so defensive means to them that you have something to hide. The way they're looking at it, if it's not true, then you shouldn't get upset about it, and if you are getting upset, it's because you feel guilty or embarrassed about how absurd your people are. It's the same way that when someone's accused of anything false, all acting out and getting upset does is make them look more guilty.


Is that right? Absolutely not. Things shouldn't be like that at all, and it's sad that they are. But few things in the minds of the bigoted are the way they should be. What we're looking at is the thought process of someone who, in this case, is antisemitic, so their perception is what's important to my argument since that's what impacts their thoughts, not reality. Reality comes in a minute.


Meanwhile, laughing it off or shrugging it off, every time I've done it, suggests that you don't have anything to hide, because it's not true. It suggests that it's a fictitious notion that doesn't bear any weight, and therefore doesn't hurt. Does it hurt? Yes. Even when I've put on a stoic face, things that are genuinely hateful and antisemitic hurt. A lot. But I know that if this is someone that already has those biases and prejudices, all that will happen if I react strongly is it will make them more eager. After all, what do you think is the reaction they want when they call me a money-grubbing hebe? I'd be willing to bet my life they're trying to rile me up and make me mad and/or upset. I'm playing right into their hands if I let it show that I'm upset. If I just let it roll off my back, or even give a positive reaction to it, then that's not the outcome they want, and most people don't plan for an outcome they don't want. It's when things don't go how someone's biases tell them they're going to go that they get confused and question things, and it's when I've taken the hits and kept a smile on that I've been able to educate them and actually do some damage to those prejudices, not when I get angry and upset. People should care about the feelings of others and not making them upset, but if they're intentionally saying hateful things and already look at me like a lesser person, then they're probably not going to care about that, and if anything it'll be amusing to them. It's wrong, but that doesn't make it untrue.


The second thing I've come to feel about them is, being honest, there's some truth in them somewhere. Is it interweaved with a bunch of hateful nonsense? Absolutely. But plenty of it has some basis; every Jewish guy I know, myself included, is a momma's boy. One guy I know is the son of a stockbroker and a CEO, he's filthy rich. Another guy is a short, round, brash, and fun. Another is a goofy klutz who embarrasses himself every time he tries to be athletic. Then there's a girl from New Jersey who is every Jewish woman stereotype rolled into one, she's short, loud, fun, smart, great cook, says whatever she's thinking, and really caring. Heck, I have a big nose, and while it's less because of its monetary value and more because I make jewelry so find them beautiful, I love gold and silver. And all of us - all of us - love to eat.


Does that mean that we all have beards and hats and say "oy vey" every other sentence? No, it doesn't. Does that mean that even the more realistic ones that apply to some of us apply to all or even a lot of us? No, it doesn't. Are all of us the same or incredibly similar? Not a chance. And does that mean that I don't mind the lack of good Jewish characters? No, it doesn't. Why do you think I love BJ Blazkowicz even though I've never played the Castle Wolfenstein games? Because he's a big, mean, butt-kicking Jew beating up Nazis that fits so few stereotypes that you wouldn't know he's Jewish without hearing his name. Magnetism is a fascinating superpower, but that's far from the sole reason I like Magneto. I'd love more well-written, non-comedic/stereotypical Jews.


But, are there certain elements of the Jewish stereotype that, more often than not, ring true? There are. I laugh at the parts that are true, because, well, it's true! I don't know if this is the case for most groups, because I can only speak for those I'm a part of, but for Jews at least, there are aspects of our stereotype we laugh at because if we don't know someone that fits a certain part of the bill, odds are we do ourselves. There has been no greater weapon when it comes to me becoming a much happier person than being able to laugh it off when barbs are thrown my way.


Plus, considering the producer of the show is Jewish, I doubt any of it is done with any sort of malice or hatred.


In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to worry about any of this stuff. But our world's far from perfect. I like it as a whole, but it's far from perfect. If people were perfect, then this wouldn't be an issue, because everyone would have a genuine care for everyone's feelings, everyone would be able to tell fiction from reality, and everyone could take a joke knowing there's no malice behind it. But people are even farther from perfect than the world is.


I don't claim that this applies for every prejudice for every group in every situation - like I said in my first post, I can't speak for everyone - but I do claim that it's applied in my experiences with the ones directed at me. Just because it's a stereotype doesn't mean I'm offended, and just because it's a stereotype doesn't mean it isn't funny. Can it be unfunny and offensive? Absolutely, but it's not automatically either.


This got really tangential and disorganized, I hope it made some sense. Not sure how applicable it is to representation, but I think some of it is.

    • 1
Hahli Husky
Apr 18 2014 03:47 PM



Just wanted to say I really liked this entry and I'm proud of you for it! You stand with us and don't try to speak over us and that's cool. I can see that what you're saying comes from the concerns you've heard minorities express, and that your eyes are open to its presence in everyday life. It's also cool how you keep in mind that a lot of this is a problem in our specific society and not necessarily other areas and societies of the world.


And of course, mentioning the utter lack of pansexual representation is A+ in my book.

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@Necro: There's no reason for me to go through and reply to each point you made - I agree with you and it was very enlightening to get your perspective on these things. All I was trying to say is that some of the gags in the show have their roots in stereotypes. I wasn't trying to make a judgement on whether or not they were offensive.
@HH: Thank you! The idea that this is relevant to every society isn't true, and I believe that there is a very troubling tendency to elevate the problems in our culture over more serious worldwide issues. That doesn't mean that issues such as representation aren't important, per se ... just that it's always good to keep things in perspective.

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If you learn one thing in life, learn this:

You should never, ever question why demons would possess a soda.

just a heads up - Cthulhu would probably eradicate mankind before bringing back Bionicle

so yeah, all I'm saying is, please think twice about this okay

nothing gets democracy flowing like erratic capitalizatION

[the NSA] couldn't say no when I offered them an ostrich farm in exchange

Sumiki -- nice try but we all know Toa Mata Nui stuffs its bra

You have a great understanding of history, but don't forget, war, murder and other poor decisions are also huge characteristics.

Also a long line of really great hats.

Shhh, I'm trying to focus on the negative to justify my dislike of history.

have we mentioned hats

To be fair, I am the one responsible for the invention of Mafia in the 1320s by seventeen bored italians locked in a mine shaft.

It's a long story.


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