Thursday, 11 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1042: Is It Really Fair After All?

It seems these days that there isn't a genre character that people aren't calling for a change of gender, race, and sexual orientation, in the name of "fairness." Folks are also fond of saying that anyone who disagrees with that idea is a racist sexist homophobe who is totally and completely unfair.

While some of the opposition to these seemingly weekly brainstorms can be called racist, sexist, and homophobic, those noxious trolls, who are in the minority, are being used as a cudgel to stop any serious critical discussion of the issue.

Chief among the undiscussed is: Just how fair would this be?

Let's look at the facts.

We live in an incredibly diverse society. Actually, we've always lived in an incredibly diverse society, but that level of diversity has increased and popular culture has started to notice.

However, I am a little leery of just taking an already existing character and changing the character's ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation to fit someone's notion of fairness.

I think it's a form of tokenism.

You see, fictional characters are reflections of their creators that the core audience can relate too. They encapsulate their creator's hopes, fears, attitudes, as well as their own ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Even alien characters, like Superman, is really founded as an illustration of the Jewish-American immigrant experience of his creators and how it connected to others on a human level.

I also find it interesting that the people demanding changes to popular characters never ask that their own creations be changed. It's usually a character where the creator is either dead, or has no direct control over anything. It's also usually done in a situation where the "fairer" version of the character can easily be tucked away in an alternate universe,  recast, or completely dropped without explanation the moment it becomes inconvenient or unprofitable for the owners of the character. 

It also creates a sense that somehow original creations that are women, gay, or members of an ethnic minority are somehow not good enough to make it. So they should just accept the occasional token gesture and be happy for it.

That's not really very fair for anyone.

In fact, it strikes me as kind of insulting.

What would be fair, would be opening the door for the creation of new, more diverse characters by a crowd of new, more diverse creators.

The market does need a more diverse range of fictional characters, and a lot of catching up is needed. But it's not impossible. Many will fail, but then again most new characters fail anyway. The ones that truly connect with people on a human level, the level that exists beyond concepts of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, will be the ones that survive.

However, I just can't bring myself to believe that changing a pre-existing character is the way to go. In fact, it strikes me as more of a hindrance than a help.

How can it be a hindrance?

Because the most such changes generate are some brief flurries of media hype, but not much when it comes to increasing the audience. Then the companies look at those numbers, then look at the writer or artist trying to sell them a new character from an underrepresented demographic, and say: "Sorry, the market just doesn't exist for it." And you can't question their decision because they made a token gesture and that's supposed to be good enough.

Well it isn't.

We need to go beyond all this posturing and then maybe me might reach a level where it just doesn't matter, because everyone has characters they can relate to.

Let me know what you think in the comments.


  1. Great stuff here. You'll probably be ostracized by creators now, for voicing sacrilegious thoughts!

  2. Don't worry. Real "diversity" won't happen. What will happen, based on previous experience is that we'll get stories with oblicatory character traits running around for no other reason than satisfying some power block's requirements.

    Magic negro = magic gay guy/girl.
    Super scientist woman = Super scientist gay woman.