If you’re white, straight and male you’ve probably never stopped to think about diversity in genre entertainment; but if you don’t fit into that very specific box it can be a very important subject indeed. Peter MacKenzie examines representation and depiction of alternative cultures in geek entertainment, highlighting when it goes right and explaining why it’s a problem when it goes wrong…
While I’ve been celebrating the fact that I think we’re pretty much at the stage of indifference as to the sexuality of characters in our favourite TV shows, a thought – a minor niggle if you will – has been scratching at the back of my mind for some time now.
May I moan for a minute about an extremely common trope?
You know the scene – our heroes need to gain access to their nemesis’ top-secret lab/fileroom/ bunker and there’s only one thing standing in their way. From a technical standpoint, they have the necessary keys/smartcard/enemy thumb… if only they could get past the burly guard to use them…
Which is where the leggy blonde comes in.
In the worst examples (usually in something by McG), her combat fatigues are already considerably tighter and more revealing than those of her male buddies and she shows no fear as she walks boldly up to the guard and begins to flirt, just long enough for her to comically karate chop the back of his neck, allowing the team to access the property.
The whole concept is atrociously sexist, from the notion that tall, leggy blondes are only good for flirting with burly security guards to the equally absurd notion that big, burly security guards are so unprofessional that all it takes is a leggy blonde to distract them.
The trope was used throughout Chuck as Sarah pretty much came on to every security guard west of Vladivostok, and was raised to a whole new level in a recent episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, when an Asgardian succubus escaped the attack of the Ice Giants and landed on Earth. Her words and touch alone were enough to cause a newlywed groom to abandon his wife, and she went on to try and conquer Earth (or at least Las Vegas) by simply bending the will of man after man, including most of our favourite male agents.
My niggle is this… what if the big burly security guard didn’t exactly go for the stereotypical leggy blonde? What if, shock, horror, he was actually gay…?
It wouldn’t take much to subvert this trope – or even lampshade it (where an idea is actually highlighted for its silliness) – but the writers seem to fall for it every time. Avoiding it could make most instances of “dealing with the guards” funnier or more dramatic, or even just pad a scene out if it’s needed.
Let me showreel some examples.
How much funnier would a hypothetical episode of Chuck have been if, just once, Sarah had failed to make an impact on a guard, only for him to start flirting with Casey?
The same would be true of Revolution (Miles Matheson), Arrow (John Diggle) or any other show with a hypermasculine character that you wouldn’t expect to see flirting with someone of the same gender. Imagine the comedic discomfort, instantly nullified as they take it all in their stride. Or, dare I say it, use it as a springboard for tackling some issues surrounding homophobia?
And how much more could have been made of the aforementioned S.H.I.E.L.D episode (Yes Men) if Lorelai had been unable to conquer the will of someone who turned out to be gay? It was slightly unfortunate that all of S.H.I.E.L.D’s main characters have already had their sexualities pinned down, because I think it would have been a nice touch if, within the narrative, we thought Fitz or Coulson had fallen prey to her wiles, only for them to heroically save the day by not being turned after all.
Or, conversely, somehow she’d managed to learn that she could have had her dominion over one of the female characters. Agent Hand is apparently gay in the Earth-616 of the Marvel multiverse – what a missed opportunity to have a gay character in the cinematic universe as well…
As always I’m not saying that gay characters need to be shoehorned in to every show just to make up the demographic check-list. I’m dead against it. However I do believe that, as I hope I’ve clumsily demonstrated, it’s possible that such a character – in a show where there are none – could actually enrich the tale, and offer the writers a bit more scope, even if it is just in a few throwaway gags.