Arts

Evolving Inclusivity: Why so picky, bitches?

Image By: Photo courtesy of Variety

Much of our friendship is built on long nights of binge-watching, never-ending conversations and the whistling of the tea kettle. In fact, the start of our relationship was in sophomore year of high school with the simple question: Have you ever seen “Sherlock?” 

The answer was ‘yes,’ sparking the evolution of our TV viewing to find more inclusive television and see characters like ourselves on screen. And while “Sherlock” remains a timeless rewatch, it’s a far cry from the programs we’re watching today. 

Throughout the years, our interests have shifted towards intersectional feminist creative work that tend to be underrepresented — both onscreen and offscreen. No, we don’t have a checklist of what makes a TV show great — that’s actually why a lot of programs fail to be inclusive. However, viewers know true representation when they see it. 

While fans have become more vocal about what they want to see onscreen, some networks and streaming services introduce stereotypical supporting characters that remain underdeveloped and tokenized, such as a Latinx woman being a maid or the male gay best friend or the smart Asian or the angry Black woman or lighter-skinned POC — dare I go on? 

But to all those networks and writers that say they are trying we say — no more tokenization or fetishization, how about representation?

So, contrary to popular belief, as viewers, we hold some power. The power to be picky ass bitches, as we would call it. 

We have the ability to reframe the traditional criteria of television. The influence of ratings and viewership enables us to push networks and streaming services towards more honest — and more accurate — representation. 

As we discussed in a previous love letter, our focus has currently shifted toward women and LGBTQIA+ folx to give them the recognition they deserve. We found kindred spirits in “Anne with an E,” chosen families in “Pose,” Latinx life outside of gang culture in “Vida” and female power in “Derry Girls.”

Honorable mentions of the past year have been pure queer love on “Schitt’s Creek,” asexual representation on “Sex Education,” cultural identity and love on “One Day at a Time” and teens of color from multiple marginalized identities in “On My Block.”

Courtesy of Netflix

In order to acknowledge the greatness of these shows, we each watched shows that were great for the time and addicting in their own way. Both of us grew up when USA Network was at its prime: “Covert Affairs,” “Suits” and “Graceland” featured snappy dialogue, intriguing narratives and powerful female characters. 

On the surface, yes, they are doing well. (And yes, we still watch them). However, they excel like a classic Sorkinsim. The characters worked for the time, providing a taste of ‘diversity’ and progressive flair. The problem lies in their representations of toxic masculinity, heteronormative romances and the centralization of whiteness. 

And don’t get us wrong, it’s still happening — #OscarsSoWhite — but knowing the shows we grew up had their blatant problems, it allows us to search for wrongdoing in the narratives of the shows we watch now, and the ones we will create in the future.

While these shows strayed from mainstream viewership, broadcast channels taught us what a gripping serial series could look like — special thanks to “Castle,” “Bones” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Their success is in their attempts to balance a gripping narrative with a new case every week to tackle. While it was fun to watch 22 episodes of the same characters meeting new characters, the shows lose out on the ability to show character development effectively. 

And the areas it often tries to — Castle and Beckett’s flirtatious banter, Bones and Booth proving opposites attract and that one room the doctors/interns/residents continuously have sex in — viewers engage with forced external dramatic situations that create internal turmoil and the cycle repeats itself every five to eight episodes. 

Why should we invest our time with characters we aren’t able to form true connections with, if that is the intention of the TV program? Essentially, why should we care? 

This is where representation suffers because it does not truly exist, and if it does, it’s superficial. Without the ability for viewers to form connections with characters, a queer character that is added after seven seasons feels more like a requirement than a meaningful discussion of their sexuality.

Reminiscing on the past and thinking about our current favorites allows us to develop a feminist framework of shows we’re starting to see — here’s looking at you, “Euphoria” — the ones we have yet to see and the ones we will develop once we’re in the writer’s room.

Viewers have the ability to critique shows on social media, give it a single-star review or just decide not to watch them. We are one of many reasons shows have the ability to stay on air, but not the only factor. Production costs, seasoned actors and profitability are what networks are often considering in the process of greenlighting a pilot or canceling a long-running show. 

Being inclusive is a tiny part of the puzzle, which can lead to the loss of progressive programming or the persistence of lazy successes, like “Blue Bloods” or “NCIS.” The shows are popular, especially among folx who watch local channels for their nightly news coverage, but they aren’t revolutionizing television. 

Networks often settle for tradition over progressive storylines, because there is money in safety. If honest, queer love between people of color is a risk to them, there is less of a chance they are going to take it. Thank you so much FX for your bond with the accredited Ryan Murphy so we can watch Lil Papi and Angel’s romance and Mother Blanca teach us love. 

Yet, we want risk — because, like many folx who are watching TV, we are expecting something better. Why settle for the past when we have the ability to have a hand in creating the future? Much of television is meant to excite us, teach us, uplift us and provide an escape from our realities — why not live in an intersectional fantasy where hope is high, characters are flawed and love is honest?

Because we hold this power to amplify narratives — or knock them down —  audiences are becoming more trusted. We are taking away the nuggets of morality we deem valuable and transferrable, showing fluidity in representation. 

Thus, us Arts folx will develop a series exploring the evolution of representation in television. We are navigating which shows are transformative and presenting accurate depictions of people. The shift towards more inclusive television has begun in this culture of social justice advocacy, where we are able to distinguish which shows are doing the work and which are ‘appearing’ to. 

Look out for the next chapter in our Evolving Inclusivity series coming soon!


Lauren Souza is on the editorial board for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here

Robyn Cawley is the Editor-in-chief of the Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here

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