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…
When I started writing for GeekPlanetOnline four-plus years ago, gay issues were at the forefront of a lot of things both geek and non-geek oriented.
Doctor Who was at the epicentre of major ructions about its so-called gay agenda. Torchwood was riding high on a much improved second series, and the truly excellent Children of Earth was mere weeks away. Its gay credentials hopefully need no explanation.
Stargate: Universe, Glee and Modern Family were about to debut, introducing regular gay characters to American TV with varying levels of success.
Boba Fett’s best friend was in a happy, contented, same-sex marriage. In the DC Universe, Batwoman was coming out. Over in Marvel, Shatterstar and Rictor shared their first on-panel kiss.
Controversy and debate abounded. There was an element of moral outrage not seen since Mary Whitehouse watched The Deadly Assassin.
There was certainly plenty for me to stick my tuppence-worth in.
Over the course of the next months and years, the rate of LGBT issues cropping up in genre seemed to decrease. Maybe it was just that the number of “firsts” was lessening. Maybe showrunners and producers grew tired of forcing the issue. Maybe it was because Russell the T stepped down from the helm of Doctor Who and new, straighter, controversies arose when the Doctor’s latest companions did the sexy naked bunk bed dance in the Time Vortex.
Despite a 21st century re-whatever-it-was, Star Trek still refused to have an openly gay character onscreen. New ensemble shows forgot to tick all their demographic boxes. And Syfy kept axing shows left, right and centre with a complete disregard for their token gays.
The ire of the public, however, continued unabated when a few things did crop up. Torchwood’s fourth season Miracle Day confused many people with its depiction of Jack’s sex life in counterpoint to Rex’s dalliances and Game of Thrones didn’t just throw out the rulebook on small screen sex, it urinated on it and made it shag a leather-clad twelve year old.
In comics, it was revealed that Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern is now gay. I have minor issues myself with the fact it’s a full blown retcon and not a natural progression of the story but even beyond that, the idea that Ryan Reynolds had played a gay character threw a lot of people’s noses out of joint… not that he had, but why let facts get in the way of a moral crusade?
Same sex flirting in games like Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 3 and even, shock, horror, Star Wars: The Old Republic prompted many boys, sitting in their parents’ basement with severe right wrist repetitive strain injuries, to fill gamers’ forums with their blog posts about how the games were now ruined for them.
Maybe try going to a bar. Just saying…
And then 2013 hit. I watched in mild surprise as LGBT issues and characters started appearing again… with no discernible public backlash.
A minor outcry over the introduction of a gay BDSM club into Megacity One was quickly quashed as someone pointed out that 2000AD had already had gay characters since the introduction of Devlin Waugh as far back as 1992.
My own personal favourite was utterly joyful, albeit non-genre. The sadly departed Happy Endings surprised many in this, it’s last season, with Max’s full-on public snog in a recent episode lampooning Romeo and Juliet. It had me and the hubby actually cheering and literally jumping up from our seats.
A couple of the best examples have come from my current favourite genre offering, Continuum, an everyday tale of one woman’s crusade against time travelling terrorists/freedom fighters (delete according to this week’s subplot) and her quest to find out the truth of her own presence out of time.
Actually, it’s much better than my flippant synopsis implies, with genuinely surprising twists and an extremely complex back-story that was barely hinted at in season one and which also, unusually for serialised television these days, didn’t require a PhD in whiteboard algorithms to follow.
There’s no gay main character, certainly nothing indicative of tokenism, but it has demonstrated, by far, the best way of showing how references to a gay “normality” can be just that – normal.
One episode revolved around a wedding, and the whole thing was discussed as such, and it was well into the episode before you realised it was between two men.
And, in a later episode, Agent Cameron referred to a female murder victim’s wife as matter-of-factly as you would any other relative.
Let’s face it, there are certain gay non-issues that ended up being plastered all over our consciousness, just because the media liked to stir things up.
Remember Doctor Who’s Midnight back in 2008? Exactly the same throwaway line caused certain forums to go into meltdown. But what made these couple of things in Continuum, in some ways more memorable, was the fact that they were just there, with no preamble, no warning and no reviews frothing at the mouth.
It’s been a pleasant surprise to notice these incidents cropping up more and more over the last year or so. Under The Dome sneaked a whole lesbian couple into the adaptation’s narrative without trumpeting the fact.
Are we maybe finally at the point where these things genuinely don’t matter? Or is it perhaps that real life current events, such as the unexpectedly global campaign for marriage equality and the bizarre situation in Russia, have eclipsed the basic human right to be yourself? That there are bigger things to worry about than who we spend our evenings with?
Or is it that science fiction – once again – is just, ever so subtly, ahead of the game?