Pilot Diversity and Minority Decay

silent diversity from Flickr via Wylio © 2012 DryHundredFear, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

As we review more and more media and see more and more shows, one thing we have learned to do is not get excited by apparent diversity in early episodes - and certainly not the pilot. We will pay attention, and make notes, but we will withhold praise and enthusiasm even when we seem to have a cast with numerous minority characters

Actually, that’s a lie - we start a stopwatch. We want to see how many episodes pass before all that promising diversity starts to die off. Yes, it’s cynical, but we’ve seen it before.


You get a pilot with a large, racially diverse cast. They’re all there for the cast photos, they’re there in the opening scene, we get introduced to several in the pilot and in the initial episodes. It looks good, a show that realises we need shows with decent POC characters.

Then one dies. Or two. And/or episodes go by where you realise the POC have been banished to the plot box. Or they have roles that require them to be elsewhere or the other characters have to avoid them. Sometimes they’re there - but always in the background, always on the fringes and you realise that they’ve maybe had 1 line of dialogue in 3 episodes (Hello T-Dog).

As the series continues several of the POC will be completely lost - dead (usually dead), vanished or heaved on the bus. Others will now be silent servants, hanging around the edges, facilitating the plot line of the White people. Few, if any of them will have actual storylines of their own. We realise then we have a case of Pilot Diversity and Minority Decay.

By the time the season finale comes round, or we’re 2 or 3 seasons in, the show will be notably Whiter. Often, the POC left in the cast will not be the same as the ones who started - while many of the White cast have been there since the beginning.

Diverse pilots offer false hope, but they rarely follow through on it. The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, Under the Dome, The 100 and The Last Ship all began with surprisingly diverse casts but as the episodes went by we saw the POC die off or fall into the background (we’ve written posts on The Walking Dead and Fallings Skies) while the White cast become more prominent, survived and kept moving.

Relatedly, we have a trope of shows presenting their minority characters as much more prominently than they are. They may appear on the promotional material, they may even receive high billing in the cast. The marketing for the show will give the impression that the POC cast members are full characters, just a little behind the major characters of the show - or even just not behind at all. Penny Dreadful presented Sembene as a full character in a number of the posters for the show and I kept waiting for him to develop a storyline… which never happened. He was a butler and occasional knife carrier, no more. On Warehouse 13 Leena seemed to be presented as a main character for the cast (it’s actually harder to find a full cast picture that includes Jinks than Leena) but, ultimately, beyond a very few rare moments she was little more than cook and housekeeper for the rest of the cast and rarely took much screen time. Secret Circle tried to present Melissa as a full and equal character with the rest of the circle, but she was clearly an add-on, circling the lives of the actual main characters.


This isn’t a matter of a main POC character not getting as much attention, agency or storylines as the rest of the cast (for example, Bonnie on The Vampire Diaries) so much as it is trying to present and extremely minor or bit parts as full characters. They’re not a poorly handled main character, because there’s not even been the most inept of attempts to make them one - but their presence is emphasised and it’s hard not to think that this is done deliberately to try and convey a sense of diversity that the show doesn’t have.

 

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Mental Illness and the Non-Neuro-Typical in Urban Fantasy

Mental illnesses and non-neurotypical people are both very much misunderstood in society. Feared, reviled, pitied and shamed, there’s a lot of ignorance, a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of fear and a whole lot of damaging tropes that are assumed and encouraged. Collectively these present real barriers for the non-neurotypical to seek help and support they may need or want (or even be aware they exist) and create massive difficulties in interacting with neuro-typical people whose assumptions and worries can render it almost impossible.
 
Needless to say, media depiction has a huge effect on this - with repeated depictions adding to all of these problems as we see the same tropes crop up over and over
Almost ironically, the most common mental illness and non-neurotypical tropes we see in Urban Fantasy doesn’t even involve the mentally ill at all; instead it epitomises neuro-typical people’s fear of becoming mentally ill or, as it is repeatedly called over and over “going crazy.”
Indeed, it’s very rare for an Urban Fantasy series not to take a neuro-typical person, introduce them to the supernatural world and have them not think “oh my god, I’m losing my mind!” with additional levels of angst and fear. It is indicative of just how much we have demonised being mentally ill that, when the character is convinced that what they’re experiencing is real, they commonly feel profoundly relieved.

Because a world where there are immortal supernatural beings with immense power that literally feed on people to survive is much more reassuring than the idea you may have a mental illness in need of treatment? Hey a supernatural monster is currently hunting me, but thank gods I’m not crazy!
Looking at it logically, this is an appallingly ridiculous reaction - but in series where the supernatural hasn’t already been established and it has to be discovered then this doubt and relief is almost ubiquitous. It’s considered as much a staple as the dead parent.
This trope of mental illness being a terrible worse-than-death fate that may afflict neuro-typical people is really well ingrained in our culture and frequently arises in fiction.
In Witches of East End rather than have Maura live with the mental illness Wendy magically inflicted on her (and, perhaps, be treated for it), they choose to magically send her into a happy deluded coma instead. That’s an extreme example - but there’s innumerable examples of neuro-typical people suffering the terrible fate of being wrongly locked in an asylum (especially in programmes set in the past). The whole of American Horror Story: Asylum rests on the trope. Teen Wolf had Stiles wrongly confined in Eichen House, Penny Dreadful has Eva confined in an asylum. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland has Alice escaping from Bethlem - in fact, Bethlem could have its own subsection of its own!. Her Own Devices has Claire rescue someone from Bethlem, one of the main terrors of Xandra in the Immortal Empire Series is being shut in Bethlem. The whole concept of Bedlam is set on the horrors of an asylum now afflicting modern neuro-typical people - and it’s even named after the infamous asylum.
All of these feature a neuro-typical person being wrongfully detained in an asylum. And it’s not being locked up in an asylum that’s the problem - it’s that they’ve been locked up while being neuro-typical. It’s the wrongful accusation. This even applies when the conditions in the asylum are horrific and brutal - the horror isn’t horrific for its own sake, it’s horrific because these people are “innocent” of being mentally ill. In fact, mentally ill inmates of these institutions are often used as background wallpaper or to even add to the horror the neuro-typical protagonist must endure. The mentally ill are often freakish horrors that add to the protagonist’s misery and torment until they can escape the unjust abuse.


And that “unjust” abuse is important - because we’re expected to care much less about the torment of the mentally ill inmates; the “justly” abused. This failure to examine how mentally ill people are treated doesn’t just extend to asylums - The Tomorrow People had an excellent opportunity to show the difficulty of treating a mental illness on limited resources or a teenager attending school with an isolating mental illness, but, again, it’s lost because the character isn’t actually non-neuro-typical, none of the Tomorrow People are. We end up seeing them paying for pills they don’t actually need (knowingly so when it comes to Marla) which removes the whole conflict.
On the rare occasions when we do have actual mentally ill people they often serve less as characters than as narrative tools.
For example, in The Walking Dead, Rick reunites with Morgan who appears to have had a breakdown as a result of his son’s death. The whole purpose of Morgan in this episode isn’t to be a character, but to be a warning to Rick about what he could become. Elsewhere in the genre there’s a lot of psychics/magic users who will see the blasted, catatonic shells of their predecessors to warn them of the terrible fate that will befall them if they fail/misuse/overuse their powers (as seen in Rivers of London series where overuse of magic can cause brain damage).
Another use of mental illness or non-neurotypical people as a narrative tool is to use them as a convenient way to add twists or a barrier to the plot. The person’s mental illness becomes a way to stretch the plot out because the other characters have to navigate around it somehow.

A common version of this is the seer or otherwise knowledgeable person who cannot express themselves or cannot be understood because of their mental illness. Like Meredith on Teen Wolf, her banshee powers mean she has the answers they need - but her mental illness ensures getting the answers takes time and effort on the part of the other characters. She’s a resource that needs to be translated rather than a character in her own right and her mental illness is only there so Lydia and Stiles have to spend some effort finding the key (and be the ones credited with it) rather than Meredith just handing it over. Another example is Anton from Utopia, he quite literally has all the answers, but is incapable of communicating clearly except in brief (and narratively convenient) flashes of lucidity. He is, again, a resource to be plumbed by Becky and Ian, the information they glean from him is to their credit and he is incapable of simply conveying what he knows. Under the Dome has the oft-mentioned Pauline communicating through drawings. Even Orphan Black indulged in this trope for a few episodes with Ethan appearing to suffer from dementia and be quite confused (though this later seemed to be an act). Even Alphas which made some effort to present a number of non-neuro-typical and disabled characters had Gary often be an information resource who had, at times, to be carefully managed.
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Race on The Last Ship: Tokens, Set Decoration and Cheerleaders
Over quite a few posts on Fangs for the Fantasy we have spoken out about a number of tropes and the treatment of marginalised characters in our preferred genres. It has, I think, helped us become more aware of the tropes that dig marginalised people and certainly revealed how much the genre is saturated with them.

But I did worry that maybe, just maybe, it could make us jaded and cynical - especially when the pilot of The Last Ship aired and I was already predicting so many fails. Clearly I need to work on being more hopeful


And now the last episode has aired and I have the rather dubious comfort of knowing that I may be jaded and cynical but I do have accurate instincts

This show embodied a great deal of the racial tropes we’ve come to know and loathe, even though it had a surprisingly diverse pilot. As predicted, that surprising number of POC characters  in the pilot was just setting us up for Minority Decay. This was not actually done by making the POC disappear or killing them off - in fact, rather ridiculously most of the crew of the Nathan James actually live now matter how perilous their situation is (but I have to point out, of the crew who have died - Frankie, Cosetti, Maya, 2 of them are POC). No, this decay is caused by the POC slinking into the background and becoming extras - little more than set decoration.

I mean that almost literally - when we have conferences where more than 3 characters gather to discuss whatever issue the episode has thrown up, around the table will be one or two POC - some we know, some we vaguely recognise. They’re there, they don’t talk (or if they do they have a single line) while the white people (usually Tom, Mike and Danny, occasionally Rachel() speak and decide what to do. They’re set decoration with little actual role to play in the episode and little input to add.

None of the POC have a major role to play on this show. We have several characters who are just names - like Burk and Cruz, who I only know are actually supposed to be characters rather than nameless extras because their uniforms have names on them. We have Dr. Rios, the ships doctor, who does virtually nothing: CDC investigator Rachel actually provides more meaningful medical care for the crew than he does - he’s on the periphery at best. Bernie (known through most of the show as “Bacon”) plays chess with Quincy (and, because he listened to Quincy’s manipulations, ended up as a pawn in a plan against Tom). Alisha is supposed to be a woman of some rank, but all she ever seems to do is repeat what the captain says to other people or take what they say and tell the captain. Jeter - Master Chief - is definitely supposed to be a man of some importance on the ship but he does nothing but wave pom-poms for Tom. Even Bertise is little more than a repository for the special blood she has in her veins, she’s a tool and a resource. The only POC who actually had a storyline they were deeply involved in was Chung, the Engineer, who had one episode in which to shine before his boss was back in action.

Contrast that with the major characters in this show: Tom, Rachel, Mike, Danny, Tex even Quincy and (at a great stretch) Kara. They’re all white, all straight and nearly all male. They all have personal stories and plot arcs that extend over the series (and relationship drama the show could have done without) and/or are deeply involved in many episodes in a meaningful way - not just as background observers or random people who follow orders and look tense while Tom is a Big Damn Hero. They’re involved in the plot, they’re part of the plot, they’re important to the plot, they have personal stories and issues that are revisited several times. They’re characters, they’re not background decoration. They’re important, they’re integral to the show - they’re not tokens with no real impact on the show and no real role to play other than to show some non-white faces to the cameras.

The white characters are not only dominating the show, but embodying the pervasive trope of white male leadership and hyper-masculinity in dystopians. Tom is the commander of the ship, he is the leader and he is virtually worshipped by his crew. In the case of the Master-Chief, I don’t think it is “virtually”, I think he outright worship’s Tom. Nearly every word out of his mouth is to praise Tom’s awesomeness, in the pilot he was there lavishing praise on the man for holding in a fuse and it continued from there. At one point he describes Tom as being on an actual holy mission. Praising Tom is quite literally the sole point for his existence. I don’t know much about the American military, but it seems “Master Chief” means “cheerleader” or possibly “cultist”.

Tex tells Tom how utterly essential he is while they both await rescue. And Alisha clues into her mother’s nefarious actions because she has the temerity to question whether Tom would follow civilian authority (Alisha seems shocked at the very idea that Tom would follow anyone else’s orders). Praise - outright adulation for Tom is a regular part of this show.

But it’s not enough for Tom to be the commander of the ship and lead from the Bridge as would be sensible. No, Tom needs to lead nearly every mission personally, despite the risk (in fact, the Nathan James used a lot of fuel and time and went to considerable risk when facing the Russians because Tom insisted he lead the mission himself). Whether it’s rescuing Bertrise from a yacht, delaying escape from the Russians, personally going into the jungle to get monkies for Rachel or leading raids for supplies Tom is nearly always at the front of the action. The Big Damn Hero leader can’t stand at the back and dispatch minions (though Danny is there as a secondary Big Damn Hero when necessary) he has to personally go out there and be the hero every time. It’s also notable that sometimes he will deign to share his heroic accolades with Danny (who further cements his position as Big Damn Male Hero with his protectiveness of Kara despite her being a soldier as much as he is), or occasionally Mike - but never with a POC. This was especially glaring when fighting El Toro when Master Chief was left behind (and the only one voicing objections to the heroic rescue) so the Big Damn White Heroes could go save the day.

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East-Asian Tropes in Urban Fantasy: Yakuza and Kitsune for everyone!
East-Asian people are some of the least commonly represented people in the shows we watched and the books we read. We’ve said repeatedly how damaging erasure is, and how important it is for marginalised people to be present in the media in general and in the genre, because of that it can be very very tempting to become extremely enthusiastic when we find a character that breaks the trend of erasure. Sadly, it can never be that simple, because like any marginalised portrayal, east-Asian characters come dogged with some nigh-mandatory tropes that can quickly send that enthusiasm crashing down.

With east-Asian people, the first trope we have to mention is martial arts. I do not know what Asian countries are like in these writer’s imagination - I can only picture a country where fare dodgers on the subway battle guards in dramatic taekwondo duels, a country where arguing neighbours engage in dramatic katana duels and where irate grandmothers deal with sassy grandkids with perfectly executed kung fu. Sometimes there are oddly bizarre explanations for why these characters can pull out the karate (on Teen Wolf Kira knows how to use a katana because magic. Basically) but often there’s not even that (Satome on the same show) - it’s assumed the character has learned it simply because. It doesn’t need explaining, any more than a western European character would have to explain why they can read.

Sometimes an Asian character will be dropped into a show simply to bring martial arts - Dark Angel had Max fighting through a ship of Korean navy personnel - must of which seemed to know martial arts. Magnificent Devices had a crewman called Yau - who knew martial arts (which was rather the extent of his character). Da Vinci’s Demons had Quon Shan who was there to impress with his martial arts moves (and be inscrutable, another essential Asian trope. All those martial arts battles in the writer’s imaginary east-asia? They’re call caused by communication break down because no-one can communicate with each other - they can only sit opposite each other and be mysterious, occasionally making the odd, cryptic comment),

Part of the problem of these random east-Asian martial artists inserted with little or no justification is that it establishes a trope that even pulls down characters who may have a conceivable reason to know martial arts: like Lily Yu in the World of the Lupi Series (though, really, should “urban fantasy protagonist” and “police woman” really be sufficient to justify a martial arts background?) and Mulan in Once Upon a Time (but even then - yes the original story of Mulan is martial - but the Asian character is the “princess” with martial arts while the non-Asian “princesses” definitely don’t - even Snow White has become less martial) or Catherine on Beauty and the Beast and Russel on The Tomorrow People (there it’s less justified and just part of EVERYONE randomly knowing martial arts for REASONS). The trope shines even when it fits - this is the damage a trope or stereotype causes, it’s so ubiquitous that even when it’s legitimately present it is pulled in as part of the stereotyped whole.

One common display of these martial arts is in the hands of the Yakuza. Yes, these Japanese organised crime syndicates have a presence just about everywhere. Teen Wolf and True Blood have both had them randomly drop in. The Sookie Stackhouse Series had Chow, a random Yakuza member as a bartender and Grimm had a Yakuza agent who may have been tied to the verrat… somehow.



I do question how effective these people can be as a criminal organisation though - one would have thought they’d be easy to detect with them carrying katanas around. All the time. In the 20th and 21st centuries. They’re not exactly easily concealed weapons. And yes, of course they know the martial arts to know how to use the swords. Even at times when a gun may have been more effective (like, say, fighting a vampire who can move faster than you can see), they still love their swords.

Of course, martial arts and Yakuza are not the only Asian tropes to commonly come up - when you need an academic, many casting directors instantly reach for the east-Asian. Supernatural had Kevin, brilliant academic and prophet passing on information in service to the Winchester brothers. Continuum threw in Betty as a computer expert (though behind Alec). As a not-entire coincidence, both of these characters ended up dead - being the sidekick who ends up dead is a trope that clings to POC characters.

And when it comes to a mysterious and inscrutable scientist/CEO with ominous motives the directors have an Asian man cast faster than you can say “sinister mandarin.” Helix and Extant both use this trope - and even use the same actor, Hiroyuki Sanada (and it’s not exactly his first time in the role).

There is also a rather large number of formidable, often older women who Should Not Be Messed with - from Mrs. Tran in Supernatural, to Ancient Mai in the Dresden Files TV Series (a very literal Dragon lady), Lily Yu’s grandmother in The World of the Lupi, and both Noshiko and Satome from Teen Wolf we’re definitely seeing a pattern where if you see a middle aged or older east Asian woman then we can almost guarantee some awesome put downs (and quite likely slap downs) are going to follow. This serves as an excellent example of how a trope doesn’t have to be overtly negative for it still to be a trope and a stereotype (and it’s hard not to be a little impressed by these characters) and, because of that, inherently othering and dehumanising.
LGBT Tokens: Marketing Ploys, Hints and Broken Promises
Recently The Advocate ran a blatant marketing piece where the cast of Teen Wolf sounded off on what a wonderfully LGBT inclusive show Teen Wolf was and how important and special it was. This isn’t the first time The Advocate has waved Teen Wolf’s very dubious inclusion flag.


Frankly, every single thing they said is so enragingly wrong as to be almost comical and I could go through each quote and tear apart how wrong each one is but Farid Ul Haq at the Geekiary already has done pretty awesomely (and in a previous post when Tyler Posey apparently thought Teen Wolf focused on a gay storyline at some point. I can only assume powerful hallucinogens were involved, or the show was cut EXTENSIVELY before reaching TV).


This is rapidly becoming a trend. The show creators of Teen Wolf definitely have a habit (and, yes The Advocate is an eager collaborator) of pushing their very slim inclusion as a marketing tool. In the past the cast and writers have been happy to play to slashers on multiple occasions. Before season 4 they pushed that they were introducing a new gay character - Mason. Check the quote, I’ll repeat it here for wry comedy:


but rumors of Mason being heavily involved in the supernatural elements of the show have started to surface”


Hey, remember his heavy involvement? Do you? No? No, you don’t because it never happened. Mason was a token lurking at the back of the cast who rarely appeared for most of the season and received zero characterisation. They also failed to mention they were dropping Danny (despite hints - yes more hints - of his heavier involvement at the end of season 3) without any explanation because they


“didn’t think there was anything left for Danny in BH [Beacon Hills]”


Of course there wasn’t! He had zero character! He had zero storylines! He had zero involvement in the plot! There was nothing there for him because there was never any attempt to give him anything. Which, also, is the reason why I have not the slightest word of praise for Teen Wolf’s “orientation-blind Utopia” because it’s, frankly, nonsense. Homophobia hasn’t been removed from Beacon Hills out of some vision of an ideal world when prejudice is dead (apart from anything else the plot rejects it - why would Scott dancing with Danny as a joke to put off Coach even have worked if there wasn’t a culture of gay kids being kicked out of proms?) - it’s a consequence of not wanting the LGBT characters to have storylines! After all, if there were homophobia in Beacon Hills then Danny or Mason or the blink-and-you-miss-her Caitlin would actually have to have a storyline around it. That isn’t praiseworthy - it’s just an excuse for tokenism and laziness.


Teen Wolf is not even close to an isolated example - too often we see hints and nudges passed off as actual inclusion, punch lines as characters and tiny tokens as main characters. Show creators, producers, actors, writers et al play to it for their marketing when addressing LGBT people or people they think are LGBT allies (or slash fans) - The Advocate is a repeated tool in this respect - previously having non-existent bisexuality being pushed in the Divergent film and scraping the barrel for an LGBT analogy in a Grimm episode. But it’s not alone - The Backlot actually wrote a separate post about their feelings on Goyer using them to  sell Da Vinci’s Demons as a pro-LGBT show.



The Expendables 3 has desperately tried to claw up a same-sex relationship based on a throwaway “get a room” joke. Paranorman has spun a punch line at the very end of the film and suddenly hailed from all corners as a virtual pride parade of inclusion. How To Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t even go that far; making a very dubious ambiguous statement but the inclusion bell was rung! Frozen had some people in a sauna seen for half a millisecond and you’d have thought Elsa had frozen the Castro for all the inclusion excitement we got. Teen Wolf is also not the only show that has constantly played to slash fans - the actors and creators of Supernatural have slashbaiting down to a fine art.


And now we move into the latest round of “ZOMG INCLUSION!” celebration, The Walking Dead, a show that, to date, has had the very brief inclusion of two very minor LGBT characters (one of them’s dead) is now hinting that Daryl may be gay. Yes, one of the main characters may be gay - with Norman Reedus even saying he plays Daryl “prison gay” (I… what… seriously?). And whoa boy are they milking this with plenty of little hints - no confirmation of course (was that what Teen Wolf did with Stiles? Why yes, yes it was). But I’ll lay odds now that there’s no way Daryl is going to come out in season 5.
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POC as Other: The Foreigner, The Savage, The Non-Human

We’ve said repeatedly on Fangs for the Fantasy is that not all inclusion is good inclusion - something that is often forgotten since so many shows and books completely erase minorities or, at best, present hollow tokens that are blatantly there to tick boxes. It’s tempting to celebrate even limited inclusion - but we should be wary of given uncritical praise to problematic tropes raising their ugly heads over and over and over again

One of the most pervasive of which, for POC, is the Other. Not Like Us. The Alien. The different - repeatedly we will see something that separated POC from the “local” people (or, in extreme cases “normal” people). This isn’t the same as presenting POC with cultural markers - in fact we’ve spoken before about the removal of identity with POC characters - but as expressly Othering POC as external to the setting
 
A common example of this is by making all POC foreign. When POC are included they are often not local to the setting - they come from elsewhere, some foreign land, they’re immigrants or visitors or passing through or, in some cases, outright alien or non-human. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, obviously there is no problem with having POC from foreign countries to the setting nor even in having non-human POC - the problem comes when these are the only or the overwhelmingly predominant representations especially when the setting of the book/show is much more diverse.
Take The Dresden Files. Harry lives in Chicago - a city that is 55% non-White, yet the vast majority of the very few POC who appear in the city are not native Chicagoans. We have members of the High Council (emphasising how global and diverse the High Council is, which isn’t a bad thing), visiting wizards (Ramirez), foreign knights of the cross from Japan (Shiro) and Russia (Sanya); but very few actual Chicagoans are POC. This allows the (very limited) presentation of a few POC in the book while still implying that Chicago is an all White city. We also have Uriel, a Black angel - non-human POC who is by definition alien, which leads me nicely to Dominion.
Dominion is set in Vega, a post-dystopian Las Vegas. In the here and now, Las Vegas is only 48% non-Hispanic White - fast forward to Vega and we do have a fair number of POC in the city; but when you looked at actual people from Vega it is all white. All of the POC were either foreigners - natives of Helena (Arika) with it’s often emphasised different culture (nearly every time Arika or her fellow Hellenites appeared it was to emphasise her sexual nature or their foreignness and alienness to Vega) - or, tellingly, not human at all. Noma, Michael and Furiad, perhaps even Gabriel, are all POC and all angels. Again we have a setting that has presented several POC to the cameras (albeit not always for very long or in much depth), but they’re all Other, they’re all foreign or alien or inhuman. They’re all “not from round here.” We have an attempted display of diversity while still implying that the “home” location is all White.
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Written-By-Numbers Drinking Game: CW Shows

'Cheap booze 1' photo (c) 2008, Melissa Wiese - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When you consume as much media as we do, the sense of de ja vu is inevitable, there are many ways to cope with this. You can curse randomly, you can break your electronics - or you can make up fun drinking games.

While it may damage our drinks cabinets and certainly our livers, this has always been a favourite.

And this week, we’re going to look at the supernatural related shows on the CW. The CW is a network that has produced a surprising large number of speculative fictions shows which are immensely popular but, barring a few notable exceptions, we see some considerable patterns.

And, frankly, a big bottle of booze is the only way I survived The Tomorrow People

Age:

+1 drink if the protagonist is a teenager
+1 drink if most of the cast are teenagers
+1 drink if everyone turns to said teenager for guidance
+1 drink even if the followers are more experienced
+1 drink even if the world is COMPLETELY NEW to the protag
+1 drink if they actually become the leader
+1 drink if the actor is over 25
empty the glass if they’re pushing 30 (or more! +1 glass for every 5 years over)
empty the glass if there’s no way they could possibly pass for less than 20
+1 drink if they don’t act even slightly like teengers!
+1 drink parents/guardians are never around
empty the damn glass if they HAVE no guardians and live alone
empty the damn glass if they live alone AND have no discernable source of income
+1 drink if they drink hard liquor
empty the damn glass if they do this regularly, in public and no adult comments on it (1 glass each)
+1 drink if they never attend school
+1 drink if they do attend school, but don’t actually attend lessons
empty the damn glass if they still graduate
empty the damn bottle if they still get into college
SPECIAL BONUS ROUND! In the unlikely event of the protagonist actually being an adult:
+1 drink if they don’t work, yet still have income
+1 drink if they have a job but never actually do it

Friendship (or at least likes them)
+1 drink if everyone loves the protagonist
+1 drink if there is no discernable reason why
+1 drink for every friend who is incredibly loyal beyond all reasonable degree
empty the damn glass if said friend will risk job/future/life for protagonist
+1 drink if friends do sacrifice themselves for the protag (+1 drink per sacrifice)
empty the damn glass if said friend became a friend with no explanation
empty the damn glass if said friend gets nothing from the friendship
empty the damn glass if said friend is a minority
empty the damn bottle if said friend has useful woo-woo

The protagonist is super duper special
+1 drink if they have powers no-one else has
+1 drink they have a special super quality no-one or almost no-one has
+1 drink if this quality makes them a desirable acquisition
+1 drink if they are super-duper powerful
empty the damn glass if, despite this, they want “to be normal”

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The Hugo Awards, Vox Day and Apologetics for Bigotry

This year the Hugo nominations had many wonderful and talented authors on the slate, including a few who have included marginalised people in their work or are marginalised themselves.

And it also included a novelette by Vox Day.

For those who don’t know, Vox Day is a bigot. It’s not really worth parsing down what kind of bigot he is, because the answer is “yes”. If someone is not straight, cis, white and male, Vox Day will spew his venom on them. He thinks gay people are a “birth defect.” He thinks Black people are inherently less intelligent (and called N. K. Jemisin not fully civilised for “historical reasons”) and, of course, that he thinks there’s no such thing as marital rape. This isn’t an exhaustive list, not even close, but there’s a limit to how nauseous we’re willing to get to write this post and googling Vox Day is going to give us heartburn. Honestly, there are no words to accurately sum up what a terrible human being this man is.

A lot of people have spoken about this and, to a degree, we felt there was no need to add to the discussion - but then the reaction itself, the commentary we’ve seen, including in several social-justice spaces have added to our already churning stomachs. So let’s tackle this.

First of all, why is Vox Day getting this nomination a problem? Ultimately, not everyone can be nominated for a Hugo. It takes a level of support - I know there have been a lot of allegations of vote rigging, internet campaigns et al on behalf of Vox Day and others - but none of these would have worked if there weren’t a sufficient number of people who decided to champion Vox Day. In fact, gaming the system would require active champions of Vox Day and his hateful campaigns because the merely indifferent would not help him get a nomination.

Him being nominated at all sends the message that there is a not-insignificant number of people in the SFF “community” who support the hatred he espouses - and many more who are indifferent or do not consider it important.

That is a toxic message - and a message we have seen reinforced by some of the commentary - even supposedly supportive commentary - on the issue. The amount of dismissal or insulting priorities we’ve seen really add to the message that there are a whole lot of those indifferent people.


Predictably, as we’ve seen with previous bigots on parade, there has been a vocal demand to focus on the quality of the work an author produces. We’ve heard the same for Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert - in fact, just about any vile person out there. We’re supposed to ignore the author, consider the author’s actions irrelevant and take their work in a vacuum.

Jim C Hines, who is usually much better on these issues, has written a post on the subject that included a section on “separating the authors from their work” and these lines:

“Some authors are assholes. That doesn’t mean they don’t have fans who genuinely like their stuff.”

and he has tweeted:

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The Originals: Klaus and his Vagina Collection

On The Originals we have a number of female characters - both plotting against the Original family, and the eternally troubled Klaus in particular - and working for them. And, of course, sharing Klaus’s bed. These women need to be careful, though, because there’s fine print - get too close to Klaus and you may become his chattel. And since he’s one of the most powerful creatures on the planet, how free are these women to reject him and his claim?

We have been complaining about the portrayal of Rebekah Mikaelson since early on in her appearances on The Vampire Diaries (TVD). Over time, we have seen her backstory on both TVD and The Originals. There has been one long running theme to Rebekah’s past - she is not free. Rebekah is not free to fall in love and she most certainly is not free to have sex. You might think that a 1000 year old female vampire might just be able to make competent decisions about what do with her vagina but according to Klaus Mikaelson, you would be wrong. Klaus spends an epic amount of time either killing Rebekah’s suitors, or scaring them away. This, of course, is done under the guise of love because what good is a patriarch for if he doesn’t keep the family vagina pure? No man can possibly be good enough for Klaus’s little sister and while he projects this as a sign of his high esteem for Rebekah, it is really just the same ordinary patriarchal desire to control female bodies that has been going on since the beginning time.

That his infatuation with his sister’s genitals is downright incestous is ignored. No, that would be creepy, so instead it is wrapped in sexist justifications that reduce Rebekah’s personhood. Klaus is just intense when he loves people and because he believes that he is protecting her it’s deemed okay and it is further troubling because, as Klaus is the protagonist of The Originals, the audience is expected to see his POV. Yes, Rebekah continually rebels and she talks about wanting to be in a loving relationship and even raise a child some day. What Rebekah doesn’t do is simply express a desire to get laid. Casual sex is something the males of both the TVD and The Originals can and do engage in sex without much direct consequence. When Rebekah seeks a partner it is almost always about wanting a relationship. At times it reads as justifying her sexual desire as chaste enough in the hope that Klaus will break down long enough for her to get her groove on.

What is further galling about this whole situation is that Rebekah has come to accept Klaus’s policing of her sex life. When she finally confronts Klaus about his policing, it’s not because he has no right to control her sex life - but because his standards are too harsh and limiting. She doesn’t think he should have no say in policing her - he just needs to be more relaxed about it, less exacting. She doesn’t question his right to make those decisions for her - she questions whether he’s making good decisions.

The second blonde in Klaus’s life is Camille. Klaus was introduced to Camille by Marcel and from almost the moment he meets her, Klaus manipulates her. Klaus uses compulsion to force Camille to date Marcel, messes with her memory, forces her to provide counselling and, when things begin to look like they just might get rough in the quarter, tries to force Camille to leave New Orleans (it’s for own good, love honest.) Somewhere in the middle of all of that manipulation, Klaus decides that he must police the vagina of another grown woman. And what does Camille do about? Why she panders to it and justifies it of course.

Prior to Rebekah leaving the show, Camille was a fairly independent character who fought back against Klaus’s manipulations every chance she got. The moment Klaus got down to one blonde, there was an instant transfer of vaginal rights to everyone’s favourite vampire patriarch. This manifests after Camille decides to sleep with Marcel in a drunken binge. She is absolutely clear that she doesn’t regret her decision to sex; however, instantly becomes concerned with how Klaus is going to feel about this. Why would a woman who has been so abused by a violent man have concern with how her abuser feels about her decisions regarding her own body? I’ll tell you why - the writers have deemed Klaus’s penchant for collecting vaginas to be non problematic. Klaus’s vagina collection has become such a thing that Genieve wounds him by informing him of Camille’s night of passion with Marcel. When confronted, Camille doesn’t tell Klaus that her sex life is none of his business but stands silently like someone admitting guilt and feeling shame.

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Gender and the Problem with Marie Treanor’s Blood Hunters Series

The Blood Hunters Series is a paranormal romance series written by Marie Treanor. The world is on the verge of learning that vampires who have slaughtered humans for centuries are not simply a figment of the imagination, or sparkling wonders seducing inept teenage girls, but real beings. Treanor relates her tales by shifting through the romance of five different couples. Each book is focused on a new coupling, though Treanor does take care to connect the separate stories by including characters readers have become familiar with. This creates a form of cohesion that allows the stories to be linked, while building her world.

The concept itself is really quite fascinating. Hunters have been policing the vampire population for centuries and with the awakening of the ancient vampire Salomon, the hunter relationship turns from adversarial to allies who try to work through their mutual mistrust. Each book involves a romance between hunters who carry the ancient gene (a sign of descending from original vampires) and hybrids - what we have come to understand as the modern vampire. Hunters have special appeal because their blood is considered especially potent, not only because they are descendants but because it is infused with strength from all of the vampire kills.

Despite the new twist on vampire mythology and great world building, when it comes to gender, the Blood Hunters series is fraught with problems and is extremely trope laden. Many of the female protagonists have missing parents or problems with parental type figures in their lives. Mihaela survived after her parents and sisters were murdered by vampires. Janine is rejected by her parents after she turns to prostitution to feed her drug habit. Finally, we have Cyn whose father is dead and her mother is battling alzheimer’s. With the exception of the hunter community, these women are isolated. In fairness, most male members of the hunters organization all have some sort of tragic past. The problem arises in that their interactions with vampires, the male hunters remain in a dominant position, relative to their female love interests.

In Blood of Angels, Treanor subverts the normal vampire narrative by pairing a female vampire with a human male. Vampires are stronger than humans; however, instead of following through with this, Treanor had Istvan restrain Angyalka so that he could dominate her. She marvels at this and talks about her need to be dominated. When we move onto Blood Descent and the relationship between Konrad and Maggie, we are once again presented with a female vampire and human male love interest. In terms of vampires, Maggie is relatively young, as she was created during WWII. Rather than allow Maggie to be physically stronger than Konrad, it’s Konrad who has the power because his position as the leader of the Romanian Hunters means the power he has absorbed from all of his kills makes him stronger than the undead Maggie. Konrad constantly manhandles Maggie and is physically aggressive with her. Not only is Konrad physically abusive, he constantly threatens to kill Maggie and justifies this as him protecting humans from her predatory vampire nature. At one point, Konrad even chains Maggie to a radiator because he cannot trust her, leaving Maggie completely vulnerable. Maggie passively accepts this treatment, sure in the idea that Konrad can be saved. Maggie even risks her life repeatedly to save him.

Abuse as love, is common in paranormal romance but that certainly does not make it acceptable. The interactions between Konrad and Maggie are particularly problematic. The very idea that the love of a woman can save a man, if she is just submissive enough and patient enough serves to place the onus on the victim, rather than the oppressor for ending intimate partner violence. It makes the victim responsible for her own abuse. This is sexism at its finest and it illustrates how patriarchy manages to justify all manner of abuse against women. In the end, Konrad’s weak apology is enough for Maggie to declare her undying (no pun intended) love, erasing all the harm that was done. Her pain and her abuse serves the purpose of healing Konrad of his demons. Even more problematic, it humanises her. Maggie can only be values because she has been tortured abused, accepted it without complaint and healed Konrad in the process.

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