How Genre Television Can Help Diversify Media

Homogeneity is boring. 

In honor of Women’s History Month, #blackout, and the never-ending excellence that is Mindy Kaling’s TV show (season 4 please!), I wanted to explore not only the lack of diversity in traditional media forms, but also brainstorm a few ways to fix it. Right now, I am an avid television watcher, so we’re going to start there.

In the last 10 years or so, television has really found its high ground. The quality, depth, and artistry of shows has increased exponentially, and seems to have a much larger audience than film. Right now, I think television has eclipsed film in terms of the complexity and resonance of the stories it can tell.1 It hasn’t reached the same prestige as film yet, but as anyone who complained about Oscars snubs for the last three years would tell you, that has absolutely nothing to do with quality.

Much of this increase in quality can be tied to advances in technology, such as DVDs, that allowed fans of TV shows to go back and watch entire seasons of show in sequence at their own leisure. Shows that built worlds and characters dynamically over their runs were (and are) much more likely to attract this kind of fanbase. Television was suddenly dependent on continuity- a consistency in the small and big details that make up a fictional world throughout multiple stories. Episodes were no longer independent from one another. Stories were built to last over the course of an entire season.

Most of today’s best shows have two levels of story operating simultaneously. The first level, is the basic story arc for each episode: beginning, middle, end. This level has been present in every show since television became a storytelling medium. Even some reality TV shows or instructional shows use variants of this form: introduce challenge or task, tackle challenge or task, and then reveal the results of the struggle. TV on an episodic level is no different from the way human beings have told stories forever.

The second level is one unique to serialized storytelling: the development of plot or characters over the course of a season or series. Events or even full episodes form the framework for a story arc, which unlike stories told on the episodic level, do not have to flow continuously together. A key example is the Ying-Yang trio of episodes from the USA Network show Psych. Each of these episodes form a complete story alone: someone is murdered, the murderer leaves clues, the police investigate the clues, the murderer seems to have the upper hand, justice prevails. However, when examined together, these three episodes form another story arc: Shawn’s growth as a human being.  Shawn starts and ends a relationship, while further confirming that he truly values his best friend.

Television shows give enough space to allow characters to grow in complex and organic ways. It also can explore more characters than many other mediums. This presents a massive opportunity for representations of people uncommon in mainstream media. There are so many characters to cast, and so much time to develop them. Shows like New Girl, Community, The Mindy Project, Jane the Virgin, and the lovely Shonda Rhimes lineup are already taking advantage of the part of the human population that isn’t a white male (so, the rest of the population). But the most popular (and overdone) genre shows are not. The biggest offenders, in my opinion, are crime procedurals and sci-fi/fantasies, who have so little excuse for using a majority white cast that the long term lack of diversity on these shows is frustrating (Hello, NCIS, CSI, Criminal Minds, Once Upon a Time, and American Horror Story).

Moreover, many people believe that we won’t get true diversity until the race of an actor has absolutely nothing to do with their character. These people are of the opinion that racial identity bogs stories down (e.g., this review of 2014 from The A.V. Club). This is the biggest BS I have ever heard. The whole point of increasing diversity in media is to expand the stories and characters it can tell. Taking race out of a character’s identity is only relevant in some fantasy worlds where it has no effect on where that character comes from. Additionally, gender, age, orientation, and the bit that often gets left off: where a character is from, all enrich characters and stories. Here, I’m laying out a challenge to television writers and producers:

USE ALL OF THE PARTS OF THE BUFFALO. And by buffalo, I mean the incredibly diverse and beautiful country in which we live. All ages, races, genders, orientations, places of origin, etc.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll look at how writers use race when they’re feeling lazy, and how the various genres could use diversity to improve themselves immensely. Stay tuned!

P.S. Here’s a link to a study on diversity representation in Hollywood, for those who are interested.

This Week in Comic Book Television: Arrow, Flash, and Agents of Shield.

So, as a science fiction/fantasy fangirl, I’ve been following these three shows pretty loyally since they started. (Except for Arrow, which I found mid-season 1, but okay.) I know the storylines. I know the characters.

I also know that if you’re not watching these, this Christmas is the time to catch up, before you miss all the awesomeness that is coming.

[Mind you major SPOILERS ahead for all three shows. So you’re warned.]

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Let’s start with the newbie, the Flash. Barry Allen’s Central City is the fun, quirky, less-jaded cousin to Starling City, and that’s fantastic, because too much dark depressing angst will kill your soul. Furthermore, it doesn’t feel the need to give up on some of those real human moments because it’s happy, and that’s even better.

The real kicker here: Dr. Wells. He purposefully chose Barry Allen. He seems handicapped, but can walk. He beat that one guy up, because reasons. He has the same yellow Flash suit as the so-called Reverse Flash. He also KNOWS THE FUTURE. This whole season has been one big Dr. Wells tease, and you should really get in on this so you can wait in anticipation for the reveal like the rest of us.

Switching networks to ABC, Agents of Shield has been telling us since day one that Skye’s real identity, i.e. her family, was important. So the Obelisk reveal, and meeting her father felt like a good solid pay-off. And then she got super powers. And Triplett died. It was heart-wrenching, almost as bad as watching Fitz and Simmons this season. (Where have the happy days gone, Mutant Enemy? Oh where?) But I will give that as much as I still secretly ship Skye and Ward, as much as I know he’s an evil psycho, there was something very satisfying in watching her shoot him. They might be even now, but I highly doubt he sees it that way. I cannot wait to see where he goes.

Last but not least, this week’s Arrow began by putting a timelock on the “Who killed Sarah?” mystery, something that will only benefit everyone in the long run.  The Thea reveal, much like the Skye reveal, felt natural and accounted for. But then the writers went crazy.

They stabbed Oliver Queen and pushed him off a cliff. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, he’s the Arrow. As in the name of the show. Which means they’re going to either have to come up with some crazy way to resurrect him, play out the rest of Arrow as a flashback (please no, as they are my least favorite bit of this show), or invent some ridiculous “it was all a dream” or “hallucinogens” theory. I’m hoping Thea saves his butt, but one never knows. I will reserve judgement on this plot device until I see its conclusion.

For a Science Fantasy Film, the Science in Guardians of the Galaxy Isn’t That Bad

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Friday. I loved it so much that I went to go see it again today, because this movie is that awesome. The grandfather sitting three seats from me said, “This is the best film I’ve seen in years.” I’ll write a full review sometime late this week, but here’s one of my early impressions. 

Perhaps most importantly to the scientists among us, it only mildly ignores science, instead of throwing it around like things that get in the way of the Hulk. I would like to quickly reference three points (Mild spoilers ahead.) 

  1. Most of the ship battles take place in atmosphere, so the explosions and accompanying sound effects would actually happen. I can think of only one explosion in actual space, and that one was plot relevant, and set up some gorgeous visuals, so I’ll let it slide on grounds of film quality.
  2. People in space freeze almost immediately. This moment is also almost completely silent, because space is a vacuum. They might not freeze/die EXACTLY as quickly as they should, but alien biology seems a semi-plausible excuse, so we’re running with it. Okay? Okay.
  3. Someone humanoid but still alien is thrown in a giant vat of liquid. Upon being rescued from the liquid, the rescuers puncture his lung to remove the liquid, thus allowing him to breathe. Hmm, drowning victims usually have liquid in their lungs, removing liquid… wait, did this movie use something from actual science? What? 

Is everything in this movie compatible with the laws of our universe? No. Is a lot more of it than some supposedly realistic movies in science fiction? Yes. (For reference, see the Movie Sin Counter for Gravity, which features Neal DeGrasse Tyson informing you of space inaccuracies. Also, see my previous post on the subject.) 

So, in addition to being a really entertaining film, Guardians of the Galaxy is also a really smart film. (Although I knew that after the Maltese Falcon reference.) 

Dear Jim Steranko, Please Stop Reviewing Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

Yes, I know you created the incarnation that we all recognize today. You’re the reason Nick Fury is such a bad ass, etc.

I found your reviews while searching the internet for my Comic-con fix. At first I was excited. Then I read them.

I was disappointed, Jim. Because I was hoping you would do in-depth analysis of characters, pacing, plot, the importance or unimportance of staying true to the source material. I was hoping for your thoughts on villians, heroes, and the Rising Tide plot that fizzled out.

Instead, you whine, on and on, in post after post, how this show isn’t big enough for you. How real action heroes should be Nick Fury. How there should be all the big name superheros all the time. Why the show never explodes stuff enough.

What insults me the most is your constant haranguing of Clark Gregg as Agent Coulsen. He’s not believable as an action hero. Why? You mention the suit and tie, but seem totally down with Ward’s use of it in later episodes. Maybe it’s because you feel Gregg doesn’t have enough presence to play the leader of a S.H.E.I.L.D. team. You want someone who looks like an action hero. Like every other show on television, action movie, or comic ever made.

Yeah, I hate to tell you this, but the reason I, and probably some other people, watch this show is because it’s NOT The Avengers, or any of those other generic shoot, bang films that are as ubiquitous in Hollywood. I don’t want to watch a show starring Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. I don’t want to watch a show starring Sean Connery-era Bond clones. That’s really boring.

We already have a bunch of superhero stories told the same way about the same things… but wait… that’s because somebody decided comics should be written for twelve-year-old boys by men who were mentally twelve-year-old boys. Hence, my confusion with your Nick Fury obsession. While I am impressed by the acting chops of Mr. Jackson, the whole point of Fury is to just be intimidating, and one can only watch that for so long. (It’s why the Paton documentary is so painful.)

Thus, Agent Coulsen should act like a real man, and Skye should stop being adorable- although from what I’ve seen, Skye manages to pull some genuine feeling out of every nerdy guy’s favorite stereotype: the hot street smart hacker. (See also: Fitz’s Skye crush.) Furthermore, every time this show attempts to reach out beyond flat beat-em-up stereotypes, you blame it for being too sensitive.

Have you ever seen anything else by Josh Whedon? Like ever? Buffy, Firefly… at some point those shows are all about their characters and their emotions. The First was the scariest bad guy in the Buffyverse not because of its physical heft (not that it really had any), but rather by the way it could worm itself into people’s heads. That shit was scary.

In summary, if you’re going to harp on why Agents of Shield isn’t a one-dimensional, trite piece of action television fluff, you really should not be reviewing it. Yes, a show about people fighting powered people may never be Dostoyevsky, but that doesn’t stop it from being well written, or expanding beyond the tiny space people tend to put comics and science fiction in. You wrote comics for a long time. Don’t limit your own genre.

Thanks,

scienceandstories

[P.S. Can you really not understand what Fitz and Simmons are saying? Seriously? Maybe that’s why I like their dialogue so much, as a person who understands science. Because it’s actually a little scientific, instead of the bull people generally invent for this kind of thing.]

[P.P.S. Yes, you are sexist for saying that the show about emotions was written by women, which you seem to imply makes it awful. On the other hand, basically all of your reviews stink to high heaven of misogyny, so no surprises there.]

How I Met Your Mother: the Greatest Love Story on Television

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MAJOR JAW DROPPING END OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT SPOILERS AHEAD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this was it. The last night. Ted finally manages to get through the 9 year story of How He Met Penny and Luke’s Mom.

And after an episode that simultaneously reminded me of Up, the time my friends drug me on Superman at Six Flags, and the obituary of the greatest friendship New York has ever seen, I feel safe in saying that this show will be remembered as one of the best written shows of all time. I would then like to add that it is probably one of the best written stories of all time.

Like real life, there’s no such thing as a happy ending on HIMYM, but rather a hopeful new beginning for every heartbreak and setback. Marshall finally became a judge. Barney found that his true calling in life wasn’t a playboy, or even Robin’s husband, but as a dad.

Robin had her chance to fly, and she took it. She never really settled down like Ted and the mother (Her name is Tracy!) or Marshmellow and Lillypad. I’m simultaneously disappointed that she and Barney didn’t work out, but it’s something that I understand, that feels real in the emotional heart of this show. The lives of all of these characters are ridiculously complex, even through the final episode, and it feels so real and right.

A moment of silence, though, for the mother. I really had a feeling it was coming, but as someone who has experienced the sting of cancer personally, I can only say that this show handled it beautifully. Ted and Tracy had a wonderful life together, and they raised two kids, who I am assuming are awesome, but wonderful things do not last. Mono no Aware.

But How I Met Your Mother, while fully exploring the tragedies of human life- the most ordinary, regular tragedies- has an optimism that life will continue. Because it does. And so it closes 9 seasons of friendship, love, broken hearts, and way too much alcohol consumption by showing how life comes full circle.

Ted finally gets his chance with Robin. And the reappearance of the blue French Horn garnered many a cheer. So it turns out that How I Met Your Mother wasn’t really about how Ted met the mother. It was Ted, asking for permission to move on. Or maybe he was just asking if he could finally have a chance. Thankfully, the kids said yes. This night, and this show were in one word, Legendary.

We don’t have to wait for it anymore.

The Story is Everything, Folks, Especially for Olympic Gold

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In case you haven’t been paying attention to the Sochi Olympics, the U.S. won their first Olympic Gold in Ice Dancing yesterday, thanks to the fantastic Meryl Davis and Charlie White. As there is a pretty good chance that this will be the ONLY medal in an individual skating event for the U.S. in Sochi, and we hold the bronze in team skating primarily because of their achievements, I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate them. Yay Meryl! Yay Charlie!

Moment aside, the Candians, typically known as the friendliest people around, have some people who don’t think Charlie and Meryl should have won. Thankfully, this seems a small minority. But still, people. These two deserved it. They have clearly worked their butts off since Vancouver. Furthermore, I just like watching them better than the Canadians. (I liked them better last Olympics too.)

Meryl and Charlie are more interesting to watch, not simply because of the crazy lifts they do, or the fancy twizzles, but because every piece of theirs is distinct. They become new people, and tell a different story every time. Can you find two dance styles more separated than the quirky and energetic Bollywood and dramatic and passionate Phantom of the Opera (their Vancouver program)? Or the bubbly, sweet My Fair Lady and the mysterious, majestic, and sexy Scheherazade? They have a performance range that their training partners up north lack. Furthermore, they do their homework, working with Derek Hough of Dancing With the Stars on their Foxtrot and Quickstep, and a Persian dancer (whom I would love to meet) on their portrayal of Scheherazade. There is such detail in their dance that reflects the story and background of their pieces.

I’ve never felt that with Virtue and Moir. For back to back Olympics, they’ve done pieces that felt the same, and told similar stories. They rarely play with their style the same way that the Americans do, and when they do, they can’t quite pull it off. (See their Carmen program from one of the last two Worlds, I can’t remember which one.)

I have no knowledge of the technical aspects of Ice Dancing. I have learned that twizzles are important, and that you’re supposed to dance them in sync. Outside of that piece, I can only evaluate the performance aspect of their shows. Meryl and Charlie are, hands down, the better performers. They tell me stories, and I love to sit down and watch and listen.

Here’s to you, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Congratulations, and thank you for your excellence, and your stories.

Expressing my Emotions is not Crazy, Boiling Bunnies is

I caught a few minutes of MTV’s Girl Code this morning. It’s not something I normally watch, but my neighbor had it on.

They were discussing the “cycle of crazy.” A common denominator in many women’s lives, the cycle of crazy starts with a woman reacting to something, be it large or small, with lots of emotion. The guy in her life doesn’t know why she’s upset or thinks whatever she’s upset about is not worth getting bothered over. To defend himself, he terms her reaction “crazy,” which only makes her more upset. She reacts again, and the cycle continues. 

The problem with the cycle of crazy is it happens everywhere. It’s not just between husbands and wives. It’s boss and employee, classmate and classmate, really anywhere that men and women occupy space together or work together. It’s really visible in male-dominated fields. Worst of all, women can put other women in the cycle of crazy, too.

 So, to you who are dealing with someone with very passionate, fervent reactions: Please don’t call your friend/love/coworker crazy. They’re really not. They are human beings, who are allowed to react to life with emotions. It may be difficult for you to handle, especially if you’re not fond of confrontation, but you have to understand that this is normal. And healthy. 

I learned all of this from my Dad, who, no matter how riled up my Mom gets, always tries to make her happy. More than half the time, he has absolutely no clue of what is actually upsetting her. But he will spend a morning or afternoon looking for probable causes and eliminating them. He does the same thing for me every time I visit. He never tells us we’re crazy or overreacting. He accepts that we have real emotions, and that we need to express them. 

So remember, if I’m yelling or saying angry things, I’m upset. Not over-reacting. Not crazy. If I’m boiling your daughter’s bunny, then I’m Glen Close from Fatal Attraction. Then I would be crazy.