A Media Representation Review of 2014

This past year brought us some really great new media containing diverse representation, particularly sexuality, and I’ve spent a good part of that year writing blog posts about some of it. In fact, some were so good that I couldn’t find a way to justify writing a post, because I want to talk about the good and the bad, and I didn’t have enough cons to discuss. So I figured I’d make a list full of short recommendations for the things I watched or read in 2014, new, old, and ongoing.

Just some good old fashion sex. I mean dancing. Right, Carmilla?

Just some good old fashion sex. I mean dancing. Right, Carmilla?

NEW:

A Hero At the End of the World: Written by Erin Claiborne, this is the first book published by Big Bang Press, which essentially transitions fanfiction writers into real published authors. Naturally, the book suffers a bit on the world-building front but has excellent characterization and relationships, one of which is gay and both of which are interracial. The initial plot is, “What if Harry Potter chickened out and Ron – or more likely, Hermione stepped in to kill Voldemort?” But it only takes a few pages to become so much more, a good story that’s bit rough but always charming. Also, I love Archie.

Carmilla: TALK TO ME ABOUT CARMILLA. God. Okay. So there’s this lesbian vampire novel from the 1800s, and some beautiful Canadians made a modernized webseries about it which is heavily Buffy-influenced and includes fandom references, a nonbinary character, and ass-kicking queer ladies who kiss each other right on the face. AND IT WAS JUST ANNOUNCED THAT THE SECOND SEASON IS DEFINITELY HAPPENING. I made this list literally because I needed to tell the world about this series, okay. Improvements that could be made: nonwhite characters who don’t die/are important, less ableist language. PLEASE.

Faking It: Yes, did you know that I watch Faking It? I never talk about it. Basically: girls pretend to be lesbians to get popular, one girl realizes she might really be a lesbian, everything is offensive about 50% of the time, but also really, really, really good about 10% of the time, and that 10% keeps me coming back. Observe my recaps.

G.B.F.: Okay, I’ve thought a bunch of times about writing a blog post about this Netflix-available movie because it’s by the guy who created Faking It, but the short version is this: it’s super campy and enjoyable, and it’s also incredibly problematic. It’s about a guy whose best friend decides to come out because Gay Best Friends are, like, way popular, but then the main character gets outed instead and… becomes super popular. And then there’s some junk about how everyone puts on masks and should be true to themselves. It’s basically a slightly less absurd version of Faking It, and I have similar complaints – racism, transphobia, unrealistic world-building that doesn’t benefit viewers who want to relate to the story, prioritization of gimmick over genuine emotional content, etc. That said, I have watched it twice because it’s really fun, and it’s nice to see the kid who plays Shane on Faking It in a different role.

How to Get Away with Murder: YO. What a show. First of all, half the main characters are black. Second of all, the titular murdered character is the main sleazy white dude. Third, there is some man-on-man action that is startlingly graphic for ABC. God bless. Also, the show is just super fucking interesting, and does a lot of deconstructing of stereotypes, usually consciously on the parts of the characters. Improvements: less biphobia, more queer ladies, more Rebecca being my girlfriend.

Sarah and Tony. Aka Tatiana and Tatiana.

Sarah and Tony. Aka Tatiana and Tatiana.

ONGOING:

Bob’s Burgers: Basically if Family Guy was offensive 10% of the time instead of 100% of the time, it might be able to get on this show’s level. It’s feel-good and intelligent. It’s about a family who really, openly loves each other. Gene is self-expressive and potentially some kind of fluid in terms of gender and sexuality, but it’s hard to figure out the balance of genuine and mocking on the writers’ part. Tina is the simultaneously awkward and confident teen girl character we deserve and the one we need right now. Did you know she’s a smart, strong, sensual woman?

Brooklyn Nine Nine: An intelligent and goofy office comedy, the show consistently acknowledges its gender, race, and sexuality diversity through both emotionally resonant commentary and lighthearted, fleeting humor. For example, the captain always talks – in both serious and humorous contexts – about how being a black gay cop in the 70s affected him. I am constantly pleasantly surprised.

The Fosters: Oh, ABC Family. This show certainly gets too didactic, and every lesson always gets wrapped up with a neat little bow, but that doesn’t take away the value of its effort to normalize a non-nuclear family. There are two moms, one of whom is a cop with an alcoholic ex-husband and biological son, and the other is a biracial school principal; they have adopted Latino twins, a boy and a girl, and also take in Callie, an assault survivor, and her little brother Jude, who is questioning his sexuality. I am not a fan of the on-and-off, likely endgame romance between Callie and the family’s oldest son, and the show is incredibly stressful, but I’m so grateful that this family is on my television.

Orphan Black: AKA that show in which Tatiana Maslany plays like 700 characters so well that you forget that all of the clones are just her. Like HTGAWM, Orphan Black is a really good show that just happens to have queer representation as well as a trans character, which I’ve talked about a bit before, as I do have some issues with its representation. It’s a super white show as well. Don’t watch it for its inclusivity – watch it because it’s interesting and enjoy the representation as it comes.

Parks and Recreation: Sharing one of its creators with Brooklyn Nine Nine, this show is also an office comedy with racial diversity and a solid gender balance, with both comedic and genuine discussion of identity markers in the work world. None of the main characters are queer (even though I’m convinced Ben is bisexual, but that’s a story for another day), and yet the show does touch on sexuality a good amount, and generally succeeds in being funny without being offensive. Once you get past the short first season, which is just a clone of The Office, it’s a light-hearted, intelligent story about a found family accomplishing their dreams and suffering hilarious mishaps along the way.

Pretty Little Liars: I don’t even know how to concisely describe this show, but if you don’t already know a lot about it you probably think it’s stupid, and you’re right but you’re also wrong. I enjoy every minute of this show. Okay, that’s a lie, because I’m not here for the pedophilia. But mostly other than that, it’s campy and it’s funny and it’s gay and it’s full of female friendships. I’ve blogged before about the show in detail, but the short version is that I think PLL is probably the gay-lady-est show on TV right now that isn’t specifically about gay ladies.

Shameless: This show is kind of the low class version of Arrested Development but also a lot more tragic. There’s a blog post in the works about this one, don’t worry. While the show gets into the nitty-gritty experiences of a poor family and their friends in Chicago, there’s also a lot to be desired. The characters are mostly white, for a start, and the show tends to prioritize shitty white straight male characters. It has a really wonderfully done relationship between two gay boys in an unsupportive environment – Mickey Milkovich is a spectacular­­ character who I can talk about for days – but it treats its queer female characters like shit, and is transphobic and insensitive about sexual assault, just to name a few problems. You really need to sift through the bad for the good on this one.

It's only right to think about the girl you love and hold her tight, Rachel.

It’s only right to think about the girl you love and hold her tight, Rachel.

NEW TO ME:

Heroes: Okay, so yes, this show is basically mostly terrible, but one of the ways in which it is NOT terrible happened during the fourth season, when it started to get back on its feet before being canceled anyway. Claire – who I adore – is college roommates with little Grace from The Nanny, and I joked pretty immediately about her wanting to kiss Claire but then it HAPPENED, and Claire is hesitant about the whole thing and super confused but ultimately comes to accept that she’s interested too. This also all happens while they’re rushing a sorority so it’s extra relevant to my interests. But then the show ended, which was for the good of the universe anyway. I’m not saying watch all of fucking Heroes for this subplot, but I can’t go without including it because I LOVED IT. The subplot. Not Heroes. Only parts of Heroes.

Imagine Me & You: A lesbian staple I’m a bit too young to have known about on my own, this film has a typical romantic comedy set-up, except girl meets girl and her husband on their wedding day. The story explores a sexuality crisis in an understated and genuine way, creating an experience that is realistically stressful, but never tragic in the way most queer-centered films are. I’ve heard it called the ultimate feel-good lesbian film and from my experience, I can’t disagree.

MEN SCHMEAR.

MEN SCHMEAR.

CLASSICS:

A Separate Peace: This John Knowles novel is one of those books a lot of people read in high school without realizing just how gay it is because teachers don’t usually discuss that, even though IT’S REALLY GAY. It’s also just a really good, interesting read, about the transition from American boyhood to manhood during wartime. It’s one of those books like Lord of the Flies and Holes that I frequently wish weren’t sausagefests. Like, somebody write me the lady version of this book, please.

The Birdcage: I’ve seen this movie four million times, but not since Robin Williams passed away. It’s one of my favorite movies ever, with Robin Williams running a drag club and Nathan Lane and his partner and the star of the show dealing with their son’s engagement to the daughter of a conservative politician. And Hank Azaria is their maid. And it’s on Netflix now. Like, what more do you want?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Duh. They could’ve handled Willow’s transition from straight to gay a lot better – like, for example, having her be bisexual – but the show was super progressive for its time, and also I personally could’ve handled Willow’s transition from straight to gay a lot better too because Oz vs Tara was the most conflicted I’ve ever been in my LIFE. But anyway, the show does plenty of other offensive shit because Joss Whedon, but it’s still a super good show and heavily influential so everyone ever should probably watch it.

Greek: Yeah, this show is not remotely a classic, but I’m rewatching it and I need to mention it, because it’s one of ABC Family’s earlier and more problematic attempts at sexuality. It’s about Greek life on a college campus, and one of the secondary characters is a black gay guy who faces discrimination, teaches people lessons, and doesn’t quite do enough stuff outside of being gay and being various other characters’ best friend. There’s also that time when my favorite character declares herself a lesbian for a week and then realizes she’s wrong, to my extreme disappointment. Like, a) make it take longer than a week, and b) maybe it’d be fine if there were any regular queer female characters. But, again: queer Greek life! Potentially even the first mainstream work of media to so bluntly and positively deal with queer Greek life? God bless.

Whip It: This movie is not actually a queer movie, but queer and straight ladies alike love it because it’s about ladies who love each other and play roller derby and kick ass and also Ellen Page is the main character. What more do I even need to tell you?

Wait, Tim Curry is a bad guy in this movie? I didn't know who he was when I was, like, 11?

Wait, Tim Curry is a bad guy in this movie? I didn’t know who he was when I was, like, 11 I guess.

PROSPECTIVE:

Broad City: This comedy series about a couple of women struggling through their mid-twenties was already on my to-watch list, but I just found out that Ilana Glazer is queer and it officially shot to number one. It’s only ten 20-minute episodes and the next season starts next month so go watch it now!

Charlie’s Angels: I adored these movies as a kid and never really knew why, because I thought I was enjoying them despite their quality or lack thereof. Now I properly understand that campiness is both a blessing and a curse and that I LOVE IT, and now I properly understand how great badass ladies are. I wanna rewatch the movies to see how feminist, or not, they actually are to me now.

Gossip Girl: I used to think this show was so far out of my field of interests, but now I openly love Pretty Little Liars and I know that I need to get over myself. I also hear there are queer characters. I know who Gossip Girl is, but I actually don’t know that much else about the show. Rergardless, I’m excited.

Orange is the New Black: I mean, duh. I’ll get to it one day.

So tell me: Do you disagree with my thoughts on any of these media works? Would you like me to elaborate about something? Are you thinking about checking any of them out now? Is there something you think I should look into, or even blog about, in 2015?

This is the part where I say something about how I wish things get even better in media in 2015, right? Probably. But I’m just kind of assuming that it will, considering how much better things have gotten even in just the last couple of years. What I can say is this: I’m excited that the quantity of queer characters especially keeps on rising, but I hope at some point there’s a shift to really focus on quality.

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2 thoughts on “A Media Representation Review of 2014

  1. Pingback: A Media Representation Review of 2015 | mediainclusivity

  2. Pingback: A Media Representation Review of 2016 | media inclusivity

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