SDCC has come and gone, and I’m still catching up on missed sleep. While the Collective crew has posted articles on cosplay, fantasy, and comics, amongst other things, today I’m going to write about my first SDCC experience through the lens of a fan who is passionate about equal representation.
Although the big studios and franchises are the real marketable draw for a convention as large and prominent as Comic Con International, the smaller panels beckon to me because I’m as interested in discussing current trends and tropes in popular culture as seeing the new Batman v. Supermantrailer. Through the smaller panels, I feel that a more accurate portrait is painted of what is happening in the entertainment industry.
To emphasize the “industry” part of the term, events like Comic Con make it abundantly clear that our entertainment is a business, and that we are targeted, marketed, and consumed by industry giants. We are the consumer (affectionately referred to as the “audience” or “viewer”) and traditionally, we have remained separate and distant from the creators of our entertainment. Enter the internet and the changing landscape of the industry, where social media platforms like Twitter allow us to be heard by the Creators.
Now, as much as I love being the target of myriad marketing schemes, I attended a panel on mobilizing fandoms for charities that reminded me that sometimes the people on the other side of the industry can do great things.
The panel had representatives from a variety of charities that represented fandoms such as Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and of course Supernatural’s Misha Collins’ Random Acts charity. Throughout the hour discussion, it became clear that for the fandoms represented, the charitable work gives fans the opportunity to interact with the actors and creators of the fandoms that we love, and allows us to feel as though we are recognized as more than consumers. These charities’ celebrity connections may be the initial incentive for fans to get involved, because, hey, we all want to be recognized by people we look up to. However, organizations such as Random Acts make sure to listen to what the fans are saying and what we want.
From this perspective, it seems that fans (and thereby fandom) are gaining respect and recognition in the eyes of the Industry. If we can work together to do good deeds, then we’re worth having our voices heard, right? Right?
The advent of the internet may have built a bridge over the yawning cavernous gap between the fandom and the Creators, but it’s more like that terrifying rope bridge that’s missing a plank or two than a twenty-first century overpass. I also attended a panel on the importance of queer representation in the media, and it became very apparent that while we’ve made baby steps toward equal representation of race, gender, and sexuality in popular culture, they are baby steps.
Of course, change must begin somewhere, and the token representation of queer people so prevalent in today’s media is that beginning. However, we must not misinterpret this baby step for equality, especially when you consider the audiences involved for a majority of these television series, comic series, and films.
There are shows like Glee, that embrace the diversity of their audience and have a cast that is representative of the people that watch it. But far more common are the shows that depict all-white, all-male, all-heterosexual main characters *cough* Supernatural *cough*.
Though there are white heterosexual males who enjoy the same shows and media as other demographics, it cannot be claimed that the sole audience is white heterosexual males. Unless, of course, you’re the publisher of the NRA newsletter.
Representation is defined as “The act of representing or the state of being represented.” If I, as a part of the audience of Supernatural, am not feeling that my ethnicity/gender/sexuality is being presented in an adequate proportion to the number of people like me, then the show is not well-represented. We cling to these token representations, these baby steps, because that is the closest we get to seeing someone like us on screen.
Enter the character of Charlie Bradbury, a fan favourite character on Supernatural who represented the geeky queer community. She was our token character, our baby step into being represented on a decade-old show that has been centered on male characters since the beginning. I do not begrudge SPN its male-centric premise; I have said before that watching the brothers on-screen feels like being around my own brothers. While the main leads may always be male, why kill off the diversifying secondary and recurring characters (the Ellens, Jos, Rufuses, and Kevins of the SPN world)? When the SPN showrunners killed off Charlie in season ten, it felt like the final nail in a coffin made of heteronormativity and gender inequality.
This time, however, the fans have actively spoken out against the dissolution of our token representation, even during the SPN panel at SDCC 2015, during which a fan bluntly asked Jeremy Carver why killing women (namely: Charlie) furthers the Winchesters storyline.
Colour me surprised, but it turns out that white, male, heterosexual showrunners don’t have normative Pavlovian responses to questions about equal representation. Check out Carver’s trainwreck of an answer below. (My favourite part is when the rest of the panel pretty much refuses to dig Carver out of the grave he’s fallen into).
Supernatural is but one show in a sea of media that is non-representative of their audiences, but if this Comic Con showed me anything, it was that fandoms and audiences won’t quietly allow themselves to be misrepresented any more. The charities we work together to promote prove that fandom can be as powerful as it is diverse, and perhaps it’s time that the Creators spent a little more time getting to know their audience.
Oops, this became a SPN rant. #notsorry