Why Representation In Media Matters

I know, I haven’t posted regularly lately. One, sometimes life literally restrains you with a physical virus, and two, I am not perfect people!!! Also something really good is about to happen to Comic City Sirens and I’ve been focusing on that for the past few days.

Onto the real content.

When I was a little girl, I was in love, absolutely in love, with Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I sang Part of Your World like it was a hymn, I dressed up like her for Halloween too many times to count, and when I met her at Walt Disney World I gripped her hand so hard the actress – I mean, “Ariel” – probably needed a fifteen minute x-ray break afterwards.

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Ya see that look on her face?

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Fake smile hiding real pain (Shout out to the girl who played Ariel though, I am so sorry I broke a finger or two).

I used to get so mad at one little aspect though. Ariel had beautiful dark red hair, and I had dirty blonde hair. Why couldn’t I be a red head? Wigs weren’t permanent and my Mom wouldn’t let me dye my hair. At first it bothered me that Ariel wasn’t a blonde, so I could truly feel like I had the potential to be a mermaid (dream big kids). But now, at the age of 20, I’m able to look around and think, “Well gee, it didn’t really matter because there are A LOT of blonde characters.”

Dee Dee from Dexter, Bubbles from the Powerpuff Girls, Mandy from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Angelica form Rugrats, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel in Tangled, and so on and so forth.

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I did have representation, I just wasn’t really aware such a thing existed and such a thing had a name.

There’s a lot of arguments (sometimes) that representation isn’t that big of a deal, and usually that’s coming from the people who have no idea what it’s like to not be represented in media. Think about it; imagine watching every movie your peers did, every show, read every comic, and you never, not once, see a character who could resemble you in even the tiniest bit. But there are so many that resemble your peers.

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 8.57.10 AM.png(Photo:The Zeros Before The One)

Ever hear of the Smurfette Principle? In it’s simplest definition, created by Chez Lindsey (check her out on YouTube!) the Smurfette Principle talks about the “Token Female”in a group of characters. The one woman who “equals’ it out. A couple comic book related examples;

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Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 9.01.17 AM.png(Photo: Kiss My Wonder Woman)

It can be frustrating for young girls to watch certain types of shows, especially the ones we can consider gender neutral, and find only one main female protagonist, while the other female side characters are just kind of there. And female targeted shows can be incredibly on-the-nose feminine, while male shows are on-the-nose masculine. But as frustrating as the Smurfette Principal becomes from women, what about people of color?

The Token black character, or the Token black friend. South Park literally crafted a character from this concept to physically joke about it. The character is literally named Token. TOKEN. South Park gets its.

If you were to take the time and look back at TV shows you knew and loved as a child, I guarantee the majority of them will have a token black character. But in comics, it seems there is a scarcity of heroes or characters who are diverse.

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Dc Comic’s New 52 Batgirl was one of the first comic’s I found myself staring at, stunned. Not just because of the lovely artwork (done by Babs Tarr) but because the cast was beautifully diverse! A few of the re-occuring characters (I wish I had my version of Batgirl of Burnside on me so I could show you) wear hijabs, and there are several background characters who come from a variety of backgrounds. Barbara Gordon’s old roommate is trans, and marries her girlfriend! There’s a whole comic dedicated to the marriage and it’s absolutely beautiful! And, to top it off, her best friend and new roommate Frankie is a black girl with a disability, but a hell of a lot of brains.

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Even though I don’t get stares or people looking through me because of what I wear, or the color of my skin, I still felt this over-whelming succession while reading Batgirl of Burnside. I immediately thought of the young girls who happen to be black, or who happen to wear hijabs or any religious or cultural clothes of significance, or the girls with disabilities reading this book and thinking, “They’re just like me. I can be just like them!”

To see oneself represented in something so common can become so empowering. Like the growing number of homosexual characters, genuine and non-stereotypical homosexual characters, that are beginning to emerge, breaking the barrier of consistent heterosexual representation.

A character needs to start out as just that; a character. Focus on the personality, their traits, what they do, and who they are. And then worry about what they look like. Don’t write a “black character” or a “gay character”, write a character who just happens to be black or gay.

This is an issue I would like to get into with a little more detail for each diverse representation there can be, but it will take a couple posts in order to do that. What is important is that people start to understand what representation can do for a person, what it can make them feel, and how it can make them feel. And more often than not, it makes them feel as though there is a place for them in the world.

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