Why Visibility Matters

imvisible peggy

The above is a gif from the Agent Carter episode “Sin To Err” where while under arrest, Peggy basically lays into her SSR coworkers and tells them to fuck off and die.

Ok maybe not but she should’ve because that’s the show I’ve made up in my head.

In the episode, she highlights the bigger problem in the real world where women weren’t useful once the world was done with them, the other (LGTB, disabled people of color) were undesirable and accepting that fate was all you can do. On a larger scale, Peggy’s entire dismantling of her peers and supervisor reflects the current trend in comics, movies and television where the invisible are no longer content with being unseen and have taken matters into their own hands with incredible results. Last week, following the splintering of the Spiderverse, comic book readers were treated to various launches of an army of Spider people, Spider-Gwen (the resurrected Gwen Stacey) Silk (the first Asian-American Spiderwoman Cindy Moon) and the continuation of biracial fan favorite Miles Morales. They contend with Peter’s existing foes, their own personal problems and the ramifications of Peter’s actions leading up to their own journeys as part of the Spiderclan. These characters reflect the readers who’ve been buying comics for years; we aren’t all white boys who live in our parent’s basement playing World of Warcraft with limited communication skills.

Some of us are Puerto Rican women who live at home, work, play video games, have active social lives and run hilarious tumblr accounts.

Some of us are African American girls who’ve grown up drawing our favorite anime characters in the margins of our math homework.

These characters are the people who read their stories and it couldn’t be more amazing time to be a nerd who reads funny books.

Another practical outfit

 

A practical outfit

fuck yeah you are Miles

We need these images in popular culture so that we know we count, we matter, we exist in the world. A reader from last night’s post pointed out that comics were created by xenophobic men in a time where racial tensions were high and that it’s important that these things change. (hi by the way!) It totally is.

Consider, IF the creators of the classics were so xenophobic, racist and misogynistic as we believe them to be, then we wouldn’t have Jean Grey or Janet Van Dyne as founding members of one of the longest lasting super teams in comics (X-Men and The Avengers respectively). Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler) wouldn’t represent the other the way he does. Storm wouldn’t have been a super powered god. Wonder Woman was actually designed as a feminist icon, by a man, years before the movement was widely adapted. Comic books allowed progressive minded individuals an outlet to create an idealized world, a world of diversity (admittedly limited, Black Panther was steeped in racial tropes while Wonder Woman suffered years in weird bondage and fetish tropes) and where anyone could be a hero. It was seen as an idealized childhood medium, something that entertained kids for 10 cents but opened their eyes to the possibility of something more.

That need to see yourself reflected in your programming and entertainment is universal. It can change your world view, the way you see yourself and put you on a new path.

Because she saw Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek

 

Last night, Once Upon a Time launched season 4B and the dialogue between the widely shipped duo of Regina Mills (Evil Queen) and Emma Swan (The Savior) sounded like it was taken out of the pages of a femslash fan fiction entry. Swan Queen, as the shippers have dubbed them, sent the fan base into a frenzy with heart eyes and what seemed to be less than plutonic touches. Why does it matter that in 2015, two women are more than friends? Because there are lesbians and bisexual women in the world who need to know that they matter, that their feelings are valid and that television won’t shy away from these feelings.

first of all how dare you

 

second of all how dare you also

please tag your hair and outfit porn

(gifs taken from The Queen And Her Sheriff)

While the above relationship isn’t canon (as in, active relationship) their dynamic reads verbatim from every classic rom com trope ever conceived, making Swan Queen shippers point out that had Emma been Emmett she and Regina would’ve been married by now. Sorta like how Caskett (Richard Castle and Kate Beckett) are ultra super canon and solving murders of the week like the couple on Hart To Hart. They are right to demand some kind of gay or lesbian representation about finding your happy ending because the visibility of women who express themselves romantically is limited to sweeps, slow ratings or fan fiction; mainstream television will showcase a lead as a gay or lesbian character and saddle them with a tired coming out story, homophobic family or wind up dead. On cable, the diversity is higher and LGBTQ characters aren’t as marginalized but let’s face it, cable doesn’t give a fuck. Notable same sex canon as hell pairings include Root and Shaw (Person of Interest) Clarke and Lexa (The 100) Brittany and Santana (Glee) Callie and Arizona (Grey’s Anatomy) and while they’re on network TV, there was a massive push by Clexa, Root X Shaw and Brittana shippers to make the pairing happen. The writers built the arcs in to see what would happen, essentially queer baiting an audience who otherwise may not have watched the show up until they saw someone who was like them on screen. Queer baiting is a mean trick but it also shows that someone in the writers room is trying to make change happen. They want to make a part of their audience seen on screen, seen as normally as they see everyone else.

Calzona fans…well…you guys…I mean…*ugly cries* They’re gonna work out.

Starz original series Black Sails had the pairing of Max and Eleanor (now Max and Anne Bonney) universally feared pirate Captain Flynt was revealed as gay (I’d argue bisexual but, whatever) in the same way they happily discuss murder and rum. IT IS A NON ISSUE. Network makes the argument that if someone is an other they have to have a long rough journey to acceptance. Black Sails argues that being a pirate is tough, who you sleep with is irrelevant. Unless they can be used as leverage in which case they don’t give a shit if it’s a man or a woman. Spartacus featured same sex couples as regularly as they featured the bloody arena fight of the week.

Why does this matter when we have cable? It matters because having cable or satellite isn’t the answer to solving the visibility crisis, creators who are eager to tell the story are and outlets willing to tell them. It’s still a television show that is widely embraced by the nation, it still has the power to reach to millions of people in a way that people who may want answers or have questions. It may rot your brain but it also asks you to look deeper, to understand and to learn more.

I have cable.

The Swan Queen pairing sticks out because the fandoms that support Emma with Captain Hook (Captain Swan) and Regina with Robin Hood (Outlaw Queen) have verbally attacked SQ shippers for their want of a same-sex paring. They have taken to social media and bombarded the cast with their homophobic rhetoric while harassing fans online with some of the most childish tirades about why ‘their ship is stupid’. Super eloquent. They’ve seen what change can do and it’s terrifying to them, proof that the invisible is being seen and heard. It sticks out because it’s the story of two women, who from the beginning seem completely at odds with one another, much in the way two mismatched leads are thrown together then suddenly work like magic (PUNS!) when needed.

The closest SQ and LGBTQ fans got to a possible lesbian pairing was  Mulan’s blossoming feelings for Princess Aurora (Sleeping Warrior) which was quickly swept under the rug (also aired during sweeps HA!) when Aurora revealed she was pregnant and in response Mulan ran off to the forest never to be heard from again. Which is why visibility matters; an LGBTQ individual struggling to identify themselves in the world will find something within the lines of the dialogue, in the scenes, in the story and find comfort that their feelings aren’t wrong. They need to see themselves the way other people see themselves regularly.

Aurora, asking the tough questions

 

Mulan giving life.

(gifs from Pirate and Savior)

The Walking Dead has been taking more and more cues from their source material with season with the introduction of gay couple Eric and Aaron in last week’s episode. Naturally, Twitter erupted with collective vomiting noises at the sight of the two men kissing after being reunited.

from issue 72 of The Walking Dead

Nevermind that the book has been out for ten plus years, that the cast is as racially diverse as it’s been for the most part (I miss you Ty…not so much you Bob but that’s a whole other post) The crew thus far consists of a lesbian in Tara Chambler (who’s girlfriend for 2.2 seconds was shot in the head by a 10 year old sociopath, natch) former lawyer turn samurai Michonne, the survivor GAWD Glenn Rhee and Army Reservist Rosita; a rag tag group of pan ethnic survivors killing walkers without questioning loyalties and somehow managing to stay together.  The THOUGHT that two men could still be together riding shitshow zombie wave with comfort makes you sick I just…I can’t. In last night’s episode, the ‘mayor’ of the survivor colony Alexandria is a woman named Deanna Monroe; in the book it’s a black man named Douglas Monroe. A quick gender swap (fascinating) but still worth noting because the fact that leadership experience is valued over gender is important. The last time the crew met with male leaders of similar sounding utopias one was a cannibal and the other was a maniac hellbent on revenge.

LET ME REPEAT: A SHOW THAT HAD A BABY IN PERIL, NEARLY RAPED A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD BOY, HAS ZOMBIE KILL OF THE WEEK AND ROUTINELY COVERS IT’S CHARACTERS IN BLOOD DREW THE IRE OF IDIOTS EVERYWHERE WHEN TWO DUDES KISSED.

This is why diversity matters, why seeing version of other people’s lives matter, why seeing someone you’ve never seen before is important; if you never leave your house, never leave your town or your state, your next best thing is living vicariously through the entertainment. Consider how many states have passed same sex marriage. Some of the change was caused by seeing positive and inclusive characters in a show; they weren’t demons or deviants, they were just people trying to live their lives.

What was once invisible, taboo, dangerous is now being demanded, asked for, created and supplied by consumers and creatives alike. When you have the opportunity to see yourself reflected in the screen in front of you, in the pages before you, in the images around you, you find a form of confidence, comfort, joy and worth that other people take for granted. Many people take their own lives because they are invisible, they are told they do not matter, they aren’t desired in the world.Comic books, movies, tv shows, books can dramatically change that for a person just because they saw themselves in the lines and pages, bold face font as opposed to the margins.

Consider the breakaway success of Fresh Off The Boat. The story of Eddie Huang, the food kingpin, growing up in Orlando during the most critically incredible time in hip hop. A Chinese-Taiwanese American, Huang’s story (loosely based on the memoir of the same name) follows Eddie and his family through the strange suburban streets of Orlando with an essential hip hop soundtrack. It’s the first series since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl to feature an Asian American family in the narrative. I know a lot of Asian American kids who’s stories I’d never seen on screen; we’d grown up together so I know their lives but it’s fascinating to think that as a minority in a minority, your own image doesn’t resonate at all. Asian kids were always the mathletes, goofy swagger- less immigrant, the punching bag but the kids I know, they’re pretty fucking amazing. Jane The Virgin breaks the Hispanic stereotype and lead actress Gina Rodriguez won a Golden Globe for it. We are coming full circle, we are coming to a point where the former, the ignored, the disenfranchised are finding themselves in positions of power and are wisely growing from it. TV and media are powerful forces for change, for conversation and for visibility.

Everybody deserves to have some form of their story told in some medium. They need to know they are important to what makes the human experience and if they don’t see themselves, they should be more than encouraged to create the images that they want to see, that they should see and should be seen.

You are visible, you matter, you count.

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