Fandom Makes You Want More

Fandom is a section of media that creates social interactions outside of the show itself. Fandom can be cosplay, books, merchandise, viewing parties, or anything else that relates to the show, but is outside of the show and in real life. This obviously only generates more excitement about the show, and brings a connection to the viewer’s real life. Due to this, show makers like Netflix love this. A show like Stranger Things, gives off the 80’s teen/tween fan boys and girls who love sci-fi and would love this show. Aside from that, it also attracts adult audiences as well. It could be considered that it attracts a cult following, because the genre is very specific- sci-fi, comedy, drama, and coming of age all in one. However, as the show grew even to be more popular, its reach expanded outside of just its cult followers and it became very mainstream. Fandom reached to the point where viewers would reference certain lines from the show (including myself). Referencing “the upside down” was frequent. However, Fandom can go overboard and become dangerous as well. As mentioned in the Vulture Article by Dee Lockett, “Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans,” Vulture (November 9, 2017), she references a quote  from Finn Wolfhard when she says, “On Wednesday night, 14-year-old star Finn Wolfhard tweeted a plea to fans not to “harass” him and his co-stars, writing that while he doesn’t want to “ex-communicate” people who love the show, “anyone who calls themselves a ‘fan’ and actively goes after someone for literally acting and doing their job is ridiculous.” Obsessions are real, and can be creepy as well especially when the cast are kids and the obsessors are 55 years old. This can be unavoidable though, because if they actors are great and the show is great, what is stopping fans from loving everything about it? It may also be argued that the fans are in love with the characters themselves and not the actors who play the characters.

As for Black Mirror, fandom is much different, especially because each epiosde is very different from each other with different characters in each show. However, fandom can still exist by ways of t-shirts and fan viewing meet up groups. Fandom can be so intense and a passion by a viewer that it may be a reason why they date someone else who shares their obsession. With a show like this though, following a story plot as it progresses across episodes does not happen, so I would expect fandom to be far less intense than Stranger Things. Nevertheless, the show is still very addicting, and on a person note, sometimes I wish certain episodes would continue and have their own series around that particular storyline with the same characters and cast in it.

Fandom can have a big affect on a viewer’s life outside of the show. Addiction to the show can be so harsh that it could cause a lack in their lives in other departments such as work or school. However, it can also provide a great escape, and they can make friends along the way who are just as obsessed as they are. It is up to the show makers to make a good show though, for fandom to exist and for viewers to want more.

Fandom. Friend or Foe?

Reality can be hard, really hard.  Being the kid who’s a little too different, trying to survive middle school, figuring out your identity in high school, becoming an adult, the pressure of full-on adulting.  So it’s no surprise that many embrace different levels of fandom throughout their lives.  But why do some comics, film franchises, and television series draw such a cult following?  Relatability.  The reality is that none of us are going to be a Jedi Master, get superhuman strength or indestructibility, get spidey powers from a bite, or “boldly go where no man has gone before!”  However, when we see a character that we can relate to, for whatever reason, overcome, be the hero, be treated fairly, etc. we are drawn to that character and their story.  These stories can become a safe escape from the hard realities of life.  And when we find refuge or positive identity in stories it’s easy to understand why people would want to surround themselves with merchandise that is representative of that connection.  Let’s look at a few of the more recent programs that have developed cult followings.

On July 15, 2016, Netflix introduced us to Stranger Things.  Presumably aimed at modern adults in their late 30’s through mid 50’s, Stranger Things follows four geeky middle school boys beginning in 1983 as one disappears, a strange silent girl appears, and the search for answers begins.  For those of us who grew up in the 80’s Stranger Things not only took us back to our childhoods and simpler times but also gave us a childhood mystery to solve, an adventure to live out.  Incorporating characters representative of different ages and social statuses the writers ensure a wide audience appeal without compromising the integrity of the storyline.  What really brings it all together is their integration of these characters into the main plot.  By staying focused, while still showing multiple assets viewers are invited to identify with Stranger Things in the way that is most comfortable for them.

Then we have the different Marvel series that Netflix has brought to the small screen.  DaredevilJessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Punisher are all part the Defenders group of characters with all of the stories centering around NYC.  With multiple plot lines and a variety of stylistic perspectives each series can be viewed alone or as a part of the whole.  Unlike Stranger Things which holds true to the 1980’s stereotypes of gender, and largely of race, the different Marvel series break away, in part from previous MCU stereotypes.  This departure has led to criticism of some of the shows, in particular, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage neither of which has a white male in the hero role and send the clear message that one isn’t needed for the lead characters to perform at their heroic best.  For many, these are selling points allowing women and people of color to have heroes that are a better representation of themselves and thus increasing the MCU fandom base.

But what does this fandom do?  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Or can it be both?  The answers to these questions are as numerous as the fans themselves.  You might have heard it said that you can never have too much of a good thing, but I would disagree.  For fans of Black Mirror show writer Charlie Brooker shows us the dangers of fandom in season 4 opener “USS Callister”.  While it’s extremely unlikely that anyone is going to use our DNA to recreate and place us into a version of their favorite show or film franchise it does bring up the question of where the line lays between reality and fiction.  In her article “Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans” Dee Lockett highlights the disturbing lengths to which some fans will go to engage with the actors who play their favorite characters.  For some, their fandom becomes so all-consuming that it’s no longer entertainment or a temporary escape from reality but rather a way of existing.  While this can become dangerous for the celebrities that they only see as the characters they’re obsessed with, I would suggest that this toxic fandom is even more dangerous for the fans themselves.  This type of singular focus can lead people to detach from existing social circles, family, and eventually reality.  However, these are extreme classes and not what I would consider typical fandom.  For most, their fandom won’t reach beyond seeing their favorite franchise movies on opening night, watching the premiere of a new season with friends, collecting some memorabilia, and possibly attending Comi-Con.  In short, fandom is generally a hobby like any other.  In many cases, fandom is a topic around which friendships and social circles form.  Just like most things in life fandom is great…in moderation.

Fandom

Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and Iron Fist might attract fans through their fantasy and interesting characters.  In Stranger Things, I think a lot of people became fans because of the empathy they feel towards the young characters and begin to relate to one or more of them.  In Black Mirror, the show has a different story every episode but presents deep and philosophical ideas about the world, which could be addicting and enjoyable if one is partial to this kind of entertainment.  Iron Fist features a superhero who struggled to get his share of his parents business back and is now an extremely wealthy person with powers.  I think that in shows like Iron Fist and Stranger Things, fans like to live vicariously through the characters as an escape from their own personal realities. Who wouldn’t want to be someone who has a lot of money and can fight off gangs of ninja-like people and have powers?

Hardcore fans of Iron Fist might show their enthusiasm for the show by taking up kung fu classes, or fans of Stranger Things might decorate their house like it was from the ’80s. In general, I don’t have a positive view of fandom as I think it could start to control a person’s life.  Personally, I haven’t ever gone beyond the text with any show or became a hardcore fan, so I haven’t had the same sense of community that other fans have.  Another aspect of fandom that I think is very negative is the sense of entitlement fans develope, like when they expect actors to give attention to fans or engage in romantic relationships offset, as discussed in Dee Locket’s article, Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans.  

I think that Black Mirror’s, USS Callister, did a good job of presenting toxic fandom, where a fan feels that he or she has some kind of control over what happens outside of the script.  The USS Callister episode features a man who goes by the name of Daly, obsessed with his favorite show Star Fleet, so much so that he has created a game to play where he is the captain of the ship and the hero when they achieve anything.  At first, it seemed quite innocent, but as the episode goes on, the audience discovers that he has essentially stolen DNA of his coworkers to create slaves inside the game.  Daly exerts so much control and is very evil in his actions towards his “crew” that one of the characters refers to him as an “asshole god.” I think this analogy can be compared to how hardcore fans feed into their obsessions, as they would like to be the controller of the worlds and stories they enjoy.

I do enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I can’t say I would commit significant time, energy, or money into it.  I really enjoyed the Marvel movies, but I didn’t like watching Iron Fist as much, but because it was so strung out and didn’t have as much action as I would have liked to see, as compared to the Marvel movies, such as The Avengers.

 

Cult Shows and Fandom

Spaceships, transportation, space suits, strange aliens, rebellious children, and murder, what all do they have in common? They all are characteristics of cult favorites of film and Netflix Original shows such as Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and The End of the F***ing World. All three shows provide viewers with Sci-Fi, comedy, or horror while bringing a new light and perspective to the always-same characteristics of the genres until now.

When you look at cult fandom of these or any cult shows, audience member become extremely attached which can be a positive outcome or a negative outcome. Cult classics lie near and dear to fans hearts and they fall in love with a film or show and go to worlds end to keep the program alive. Toys, posters, lunch boxes, and props are a way for cult members to “take home” a piece of the show and start collections of remembrance. The different shows perform certain character quotes, characters wear certain clothing and even location of shows can effect how hardcore fans interact with the show. By purchasing fandom items, people can showcase their interest, fascination and loyalty to the show. Also by wearing or displaying these items and products in public, other fans can recognize this fandom’s to interact with one another. Thanks to social media outlets such as blogs or chat groups, Facebook pages, Instagram and comic-on, it is easier than ever to hardcore fans to connect with one another, along with staying connected with show updates and press releases. I personally have films and shows that I have purchased, which only fans will understand. For example I have t-shirts from the film clueless, scale model cars from Knight Rider, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, to hairspray from Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I believe fandom is a great way to express who you are by showcasing what you enjoy to watch. I agree with media scholars who argue that fandom is a positive progressive, however there needs to be some kind of line a fan needs to not cross. I understand hardcore fans of cult productions feel an “ownership” of characters, plot or setting, but people need to keep in mind, at the end of the day its all Hollywood. In an article called Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans, written by Dee Lockett, claims “ On Wednesday night, 14-year-old star Finn Wolfhard tweeted a pleas to fans not to “harass” him and his co-stars, writing that while he doesn’t want to “ex-communicate” people who love the show, “anyone who calls themselves a ‘fan’ and actively goes after someone for literally acting and doing their job is ridiculous.”

When it comes to the show Black Mirror episode “USS Callister,” the show communicates a forward thinking progression of diversity in characters and changing the game in fandom. Unlike regular Sci-Fi shows, Black Mirror places a white female in the captions chair. Most fans are not happy about the modern changes taken place. Members of the show feels as if the show is taken too far off course when looking at older Sci-Fi shows which paved the way for this current series. In an article called ‘Black Mirror’: How the New Season’s Breakout Episode Guts Toxic Fandom, written by Jenna Scherer, tells “Their complaint, broadly, is founded on the deeply limiting idea that all narratives should center on straight, white men, who have been the unquestioned default protagonists up until very recently. This is an idea that’s particularly ironic in the world of sci-fi, which is all about imagining potential futures in which anything is possible.” Toxic fandom followers will be disappointed in the new look of this show, because the show doesn’t follow the “rules” of sticking to past standards and brings in a fresh new look.

Dee Lockett, “Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans,” Vulture (November 9, 2017): http://www.vulture.com/2017/11/why-a-stranger-things-star-spoke-out-against-fans.html

Jenna Scherer, “Black Mirror: How the New Season’s Breakout Episode Guts Toxic Fandom,” Rolling Stone (January 3, 2018): https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/how- instant-black-mirror-classic-uss-callister-guts-toxic-fandom-w514853

 

Why Going “Beyond the Text” Should be Encouraged… to an Extent

Shows like Stranger Things and End of the F***ing World may attract cult fandom followings because of their uniqueness and allure. For example Stranger Things takes what looks like normal, everyday people at first glance and toss those characters into a bizarre situation. In the case of End of the F***ing World, based on my viewing of the first few episodes, it romanticizes running away and murder, something the average person normally would never consider, but in the realm of a television show, the viewer can fantasize it just as much as the characters do. The idea of being able to take a break from your day to day life, or imagine your dull in comparison life could be turned upside down in a similar way to the characters’ lives, could be what draws viewers in to this cult fandom. Also, the shows much be well written, have interesting characters, and a compelling plot in order for this fandom to grow, otherwise it never lose steam and quickly die off.

When it comes to my personal take on fandom, I believe media, be that television shows, movies, books, comics, even YouTubers, etc. can be a form of escape for many viewers. The lives of the characters and the worlds depicted in these forms of media are often seen as better than reality, and through this media consumption, viewers can escape from their lives even if only temporarily. This is what fuels fandom culture as a whole, specifically going “beyond the text” and the use of things like fanfiction, cosplay, fan made photo edits and fandom merchandise such as t-shirts, look alike props, posters, and many more. I strongly think this can be healthy and should be encouraged, to an extent. Liking something and wearing it on a shirt, or having a replica prop from a form of media you enjoy, shows your devotion to the media as well as what the media means to you. My personal opinion is that media should carry emotional weight, and have, to some degree, the capacity for the viewers to relate on a more intimate level. For example, a character may struggle with similar issues such as mental health as a viewer which prompts them to care more for that character and their world than the average passive, “mindless” viewer might, or it can be as simple as someone believing they belong to a certain Harry Potter house due to their character traits. This can lead to smaller involvement within a fandom when it comes to owning clothing or merchandise. When it comes to more involved forms of fandom such as fanfiction, it can be a good creative outlet for the viewer to think of themselves as a writer for the media which they consume, and add onto the media in a way which the real writers did not consider. I am of the belief that good production and storylines should leave holes. Not plot holes, of course, but holes where not every single second from beginning to end is told in detail to the viewer, and this goes for script writing, book writing, directing of films and television. This leaves gaps where the media consumer is not certain of every moment within a characters’ life prior to or after the events of the main media, which leaves more interpretation and room for viewers to draw their own conclusions. These holes are a good example of where fanfiction or other fan produced content could fit in.

There are some very blatant “red… lines” which should not be crossed when it comes to fandom, particularly what is touched on within the articles for this week. Being unable to separate the actor from their character is one of those things. The fact that Stranger Things actors Finn Wolfard and Millie Bobby Brown have to deal with fans “shipping” them as people, despite their ages and their characters ages, is simply not alright. Stalking actors due to one’s “devotion” to their content is also not alright, in fact, it borders on creepy and possessive. It definitely is unhealthy. This separation between what is real and what is not is crucial especially within a society where actors are put up on this almost perfect pedestal.

In regards to the toxicity of fandom in relation to toxic masculinity, Black Mirror’s USS Callister is a prime example. The main character, Daly, embodies what many would view as a hard-core fan of Star Trek parallel Space Fleet, and this fandom turns horribly toxic very quickly to the point of it entirely taking over Daly’s life as he abuses others into helping him fully immerse himself in the world. Once more, having action figures and collecting the media and hanging posters is all well and good, but there is a point, and Daly crossed it long ago. It is a satirical example of how so many popular forms of media both historically and in modern day are dominated by white male leads—Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, largely Marvel and DC’s biggest films prior to a few years ago, etc. Anything depicting characters other than this white male lead means, in their eyes, and in the words of Rolling Stones’ writer Jenna Scherer, that something is “being taken from them.” In the case of Black Mirror, however, this white male lead turns into the very antagonist that so many fandom members love to hate because of how they obstruct the protagonist from achieving their goal. Overall, fandom can be very beneficial—it can be an even greater escape from reality, a creative outlet, and a way of expressing one’s self when they can relate to a particular media. Or fandom can be toxic and unhealthy, for both those involved in the fandom and those responsible for the creation of the media the fandom is based off of.

Are fandoms the new breeding ground for toxic masculinity?

Listen, I hate things that are popular. Game of Thrones? Yep, I hate just because a lot of people like it. Hating popular things makes me cool and interesting to talk to at parties, I’m just sure of it. I love to be the “edgy” one in my friend group and cut my friends off when they start talking to me about how cool the new Marvel movie is going to be. Sorry, Branden, it’s actually not going be cool at all. Wake up. Being insufferable to the people you care most about it is pretty much the coolest thing you can do nowadays.

 

But in all seriousness, fandom has always been kind of an odd thing for me, especially as a Star Wars fan in recovery as I tend to call it. I just can’t do the constant debating about whether the next iteration of Star Wars is good or not. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m done reading think pieces on why Luke Skywalker drank blue milk from a sea monster. So when I see how Marvel capitalized on “nerd culture,” and nearly adapted every bankable superhero imaginable and then some (because who asked for a Cloak and Dagger show?), I’m skeptical, to say the least. And then there’s toxic fandom, which seems to have become more rampant in the digital age. I remember seeing the outrage surrounding the video of Stranger Things star, Finn Wolfhard not stopping to sign autographs for a group of adults that were staked outside his hotel. The woman in the video exclaims multiple times, “I haven’t met you before, Finn” and “this is so rude,” as Finn passes by. The idea that an actor owes anyone anything has always been a bit preposterous and this immediately stuck out to me as an incident of toxic fandom. Then there come all the cases of people online “shipping” Millie Bobby Brown and Wolfhard, even going as far to Photoshop their faces on the bodies of the Joker and Harley Quinn from the God awful, Suicide Squad movie. Besides having terrible taste, it’s just creepy. What unsettles me most is that in late-stage capitalism, fandom seems to grant individuals the right to claim ownership of anything and this means human beings as well. When everything is for sale, it seems fans miss the connection between the characters on screen and the real people that play them, believing that they too owe them something in return for their undying service to the franchise. It’s also why it’s hard for me to get behind Marvel today when it all just reads as nothing more than deeply entrenched marketing. It seems like there’s just nothing quite as profitable appealing to and establishing new fan bases for IPs. The whole thing just reeks of inauthenticity, as the neoliberal marketing tool is to make people think they are ones in the captain’s chair, so to speak.

 

So that brings us to The “USS Callister” episode of Black Mirror, which quite masterfully depicts the crossroads between fandom and toxic masculinity. Jesse Plemon’s Captain Daly exhibits the unsettling truth behind men and their perceived ownership of intellectual property, which seems to always suggest a far unhealthier obsession towards controlling the women involved within and outside of their fandom. When we meet Daly he seems like the type of jovial starship captain many viewers are probably familiar with but as the episode progresses he basically turns into the Travis Bickle of Star Trek, when we see how alone and unconnected he is from the real world. What makes Daly the monster he truly comes from how he commodifies the women around him in his digital world to act the way he wants and says the things he wants to hear. It’s also in these moments that the connection between brand ownership and the male ownership of woman’s sexuality becomes more and more apparent. In 2018, if I’ve seen real conscious efforts from individuals confronting toxic masculinity in all the spaces it shows up in but as the digital age advances and brands become ever so encapsulating, I fear that men will be allowed to further isolate themselves from society and create new spaces for toxic masculinity to thrive. If you’ve ever visited 4Chan, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Daly here serves as a cautionary tale for what happens when men seclude themselves from the real world and instead take refuge in their fantasy worlds. Fandom itself isn’t the lone gateway to this type of misogyny but in a world built on these power structures, it would be ridiculous to think they won’t show up in these cultural spaces as well.

Crime in Television

After watching multiple television series and shows that are surrounded around action, drama and some scary things, it was clear to me why many are addicted to these shows. A cult following group is typically fans that are very interested and committed to watching the shows and very invested in it. The high dedication and time commitment seems like it comes from the cliffhangers that most of these shows use. I know in Black Mirror episode “USS Callister”, is very different than the other episodes previously aired in this series. While Mary, a young girl makes herself the hero of the story essentially. She wins the respect and affection of the men and masters the combat by the experience she gained. I think that this specific show is very much a cult following shows because of the storyline it presents. With each show being something completely different, it allows the audience to be left guessing what will happen next. These types of shows appeal to the pathos of the audience, making them invested in it and often times feeling like they know the characters on a personal level. With that being said, fans often times go “beyond the text” to connect with the show on a more deep level. Personally, I know that I follow a lot of the actors from this show on Instagram. This allows me and many others to feel that connection with the actor ad character because you are able to get a look on the inside of their lives. In return, when watching the show it allows you to feel like you know that person and you feel a personal connection with them often times.

 

Circling back to the “USS Callister” of the Black Mirror, it is communicating the issue of “toxic fandom” through the theme of Star Trek. Through the clones that have to live in the world of mirrors and ending on redemptive noteworthy. Because of the dark depths of the message it relates back to the toxic fandom. Because of the villain instead of the hero storyline makes the climax of the show shuffle around. Toxic fandom related to toxic masculinity in this show because of the way the male-female interactions are a competition instead of cooperation. Especially in this show and the Punisher, it seems as if the expectation and often times the reality is that men are stronger and more superior than women. In the Black Mirror, it seems as if it is hard for the men to understand how the girls work in this episode. This is a big sign of toxic masculinity related to toxic fandom.

 

Personally, I am not a huge television watcher and this class has been hard for me only because I do not like to sit still for a while or inside for an extended amount of time. The Marvel Cinematic University television series about the superhero-based appearance is an interesting series to watch. However, the series produced by them, The Punisher was very interesting to me. As the plot was very interesting, trying to figure out murder and crime with a lot of mixed in drama it made for a good show. After watching the first four episodes for our filled with heroism, perseverance, and drama it was something that I could see myself watching. Although I can not sit still for long, I am able to watch this because of the quick pace, and the interesting plot makes for a great show.

Race and Netflix

There are a few shows on Netflix that feature people of non-white ethnicities.  In Luke Cage, Dear White People, and On My Block, racial identity and multiculturalism are definite themes presented in the shows.  In these shows, racial identity is paramount. In Dear White People, the main character, Sam, is shown discussing the struggles black people face on her predominantly white college campus.  Being mixed raced, she touches on how asking the question, “What are you?” is not only annoying, but also perpetuates putting people into categories of race instead of viewing individuals as human beings.  Another interesting in part in the first episode of Dear White People, is when Sam’s black friends find out that she is hooking up with a white man.  This upsets them, as they feel that Sam is being hypocritical and not living up to her “black power” ideals by doing this.  While watching the episode, I wasn’t sure how Sam’s white boyfriend was going to tie into the plot as a positive or negative character.  I thought the point of his character was to show that interracial relationships are normal or that Sam doesn’t hate white people.  However, it seems that his character is to challenge Sam’s thinking about how to include white people in her group.  Since I only watched the first episode of Dear White People, I don’t know how Sam’s boyfriend will contribute to the themes, but I think that Netflix could have done a better job of focusing on the racism that Sam and her peers experience, instead of throwing in a white person to undermine that focus.

In the three shows mentioned, I think that racial stereotypes were perpetuated and challenged.  I think Netflix did a good job of acknowledging the stereotypes, but also used the characters to challenge them, or at least give some context for empathy.  For example, in On My Block, one of the hispanic characters, Cesar, is shown being affiliated with a gang, but his character shows that he is less than happy about it and seems to be in the gang to protect his love interest, Monse, from another gang member.  Cesar tells Monse about how deep gang culture is ingrained in his family and that he feels stuck in it.

In Luke Cage, the Luke’s character is shown as a good-guy, super hero amidst a lot of bad guys who are black and portrayed as thugs.  I think that in Luke Cage, the thug stereotype is perpetuated and perhaps they could have used other ethnicities as bad guys, but I think that it was a safe move on Netflix’s part to not show white people as the bad guys.  This would likely have ended in even more pushback from white Netflix viewers than the show already has received. In Lang’s article, “Luke Cage and the Racial Empathy Gap: ‘Why Do They Talk about Being Black All the Time?,’” he talks about the racial empathy gap and how responses from white people to shows like Luke Cage essentially proves the point that there is still a huge amount of racism among white people. I think that shows like Luke Cage will not change the mindset of bigoted viewers, but will only provide exposure to people who are less stuck in a racist worldview.  Hopefully these shows will positively portray ethnic communities and influence a better attitude and more empathy towards these groups.

I thought the most compelling character in these three shows was Sam from Dear White People.  She had a big personality and made her struggles blatantly obvious to the audience. I was not able to relate to her struggles, being a white female.  I felt I could relate to her boyfriend though.  I have found myself in situations where people of other ethnicities have made me feel like I don’t belong or like I don’t have any place to want to care about their struggles.

 

The Voice of Multiculturalism: Is it Better to Preach or Immerse in a Non-White America?

The most compelling example of multiculturalism in the three episodes that I watched was the examples in On My Block. While the show did at times uphold some of the stereotypical representations of ethnic minorities (there are heavily tattooed Latino gang members throughout) these representations are there to draw attention to the very real problem of gang violence that exists within extremely poor neighborhoods that tend to have high minority populations. I got a very Boyz n the Hood vibe from this film, and found myself becoming extremely nervous about the group of academic misfits and hoping they wouldn’t meet the same fate as Ricky Baker from that film. The show takes an unflinching look at gang culture and watching Cesar try and at the end of the episode fail to escape his gangland roots was heart-wrenching. The show does suffer from a number of regressive stereotypes that may bring down its strong message to an extent; Olivia, played with passion by Ronni Hawk, ends up coming across mostly as the sassy latina stereotype that has been built up in the past by actresses like Jennifer Lopez and Rosie Perez. Jason Genao’s Ruby Martinez is attempting to fulfill the stereotype of the suave, sexual latino hearthrob like Ricky Martin or Antonio Banderas, although the show does an excellent job of subverting this stereotype by making him bunk with his grandmother (herself an extremely Catholic hispanic old lady stereotype, something we’ve seen before in this class in One Day at a Time), being forced to try on a gaudy pink dress, and generally making him an awkward dweeb.

The most divisive show by far is the Netflix Original Dear White People. I myself have mixed feelings on the show; as a white person I often felt like I was being attacked and preached at by the show. This was a double-edged sword; while the pointed and blunt nature of the commentary on race relations (and the powerfully uncomfortable scene of the blackface party) was a great tool for provoking thought and a change in perspective, the condescending tone the show often took (providing the same generalizing stereotypes of white people that black people have so long been subjected to) would occasionally make me feel defensive and therefore less receptive to the ideas they were putting forth. I find it very unlikely that the show would change the minds or worldviews of bigoted members. I try my very hardest to put myself in other people’s shoes and understand what they are going through, and even I was struggling to accept some of Sam’s more biting commentary; a bigot who has no desire to understand others will merely see it as an attack on their belief and dismiss it out-of-hand.

Justin Simien, the creator of the show, says in his interview on the KCRW podcast of The Business that it can be challenging for minorities to tell their stories because they face opposition from largely anonymous groups like the alt-right. He mentions that in a later episode Sam engages with an online troll and it causes her to lose her snarky commentary because she’s so disheartened. She so badly wants to beat him, but by engaging with him he’s already winning. Simien points out something similar happening in his own life where his show was being attacked by an alt-right member on the internet. He messaged the member, saying he was misrepresenting Simien’s show and the member said he knew that, but it was to appeal to his base. How are minority members supposed to effectively combat such a ridiculous movement? There is no person to talk to, Simien points out that most of them are either Russian bots or only identified by random images or stock photos of people, and they don’t even care about the content, just that it’s about a minority group.

Luke Cage on the other hand is far more subtle in its challenge of white people. The show is set in a predominantly black neighborhood in New York and according to a Salon.com article titled “‘Luke Cage’ and the racial empathy gap: ‘Why do they talk about being black all the time?’” only features two white characters who “recur often enough to appear in six or more episodes of the freshman season.” The lack of white people in the show sparked a lot of controversy on Twitter with many white users calling Luke Cage racist because of its lack of white representation, even though it was an accurate representation of the racial diversity in the area it took place in (Harlem is an overwhelmingly black neighborhood and it should shock no-one that black people are featured so heavily throughout). It is a powerful message to white people, who feel while watching Luke Cage the way many African-Americans feel while watching anything from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter. Luke Cage and its “commitment to blackness” face an uphill battle according to the Salon.com article; it points out that “while it’s easy to single out [Tim] Burton, whose movies are whiter than a three-day-old corpse, he’s one of many directors who almost never casts people of color. Woody Allen hasn’t featured a black man in a consequential part since Chiwetel Ejiofor in “Melinda and Melinda,” which was released in 2004. He’s directed 12 films since then. Filmmakers ranging from the Coen brothers to Wes Anderson have been called out for the lack of black faces in their expansive ensembles.” It also says that lines spoken by people of color in a major motion picture, the total time they speak usually adds up to less than a minute. It’s a serious problem in the industry and one that needs to be addressed. Time will tell if the cocky, in-your-face style of Dear White People or the more quiet but natural tone of Luke Cage will be more effective at changing both people’s minds and the conventions of the industry.

Netflix – Tackling Racial Issues

Netflix has is the one of the biggest influencers of TV in the modern day and they have begun trailblazing into different styles, different genres, and different ways we view Television. In the series Luke Cage, Dear White People, and On The Block, there are countless multicultural styles that give each show its own racial identity to appeal to their audiences. Each show hits its own different demographic of racial issues. Dear White People is showing the racism in modern day universities, Luke Cage is showing the poverty and racism in Harlem, and On The Block seems to be located in Southern California where gang violence is prevalent.

 

When watching Dear White People, we are immediately indulged into the truth behind racism in Ivy League universities in the United States. Even larger than that, the racism we see in the university is something that is seen all across the nation. Netflix had some “big rocks” to create a show on this but it was a powerful topic, and good choice. Currently our nation is divided quite drastically by a number of outliers, and Dear White People was brave enough to take the issues head on. In the show, we are given a glimpse of what its like to lead an African American student run organization. Within these organizations, we seem predominantly African American students who have a hatred towards the generic White population when they try to downplay the current state of racism in the United States. As far as the characters in the show, they do a good job portraying them but as a white middle class student, I cannot relate to them specifically because I have not felt the racism they have. I can see through Gabes eyes as he wants to help the situation, but even though he is trying, there is not much he can do to help.

 

In Luke Cage, the show is placed in Harlem, which is a historically African American community. When looking at the selected actors in the show, they chose everyone in the set by hand. Being in Harlem, the majority of the characters in the show were minorities. The landlord for his apartment and the owner of the restaurant were Chinese. The surrounding cast seems to be a mixture of Mexican and African American. This is different from most shows we see present day. We do not see this kind of casting for shows, especially in the genre of superheroes. Most superhero stories, the superhero is a white male or female who is ridding a city of crime. This is different for so many reasons. Luke Cage is a very strong character who is extremely likable to the audience. He is very witty and hard working and he doesn’t like people disrespecting others as we saw in the fight scene in the Chinese restaurant. He is a poor man who is escaping his past by working as a janitor and kitchen staff jobs to stay under the radar. If you look at any other superhero movie in the past quarter century, this is far from anything you would have seen. This is what Netflix does best though, taking something you would like to see that is outside of the comfort level of most studios, and make a powerful show from the idea.

 

Lastly, On The Block, which is set in what seems to be southern California. It demonstrates the lives of a group of high school kids and the troubles they face in the gang infested neighborhoods. Netflix takes the lives of children which tends to be full of life and happiness, and incorporates the troubles that infest these lower class, minority, neighborhoods. There is a group of 4 kids, each of them from their own minority background, trying to figure their way through high school. One of the four has a long line of gang members in his family and was just pressured into joining the gang. Alongside the racial issues, they have to battle the difficult task of being a teen just trying to journey through life.

 

In general, I enjoyed watching the three shows. Luke Cage was a magnificent change to the normal super hero movies we watch every year. He is a strong character who I found to be very relatable. He worked hard to make a living and he wants everyone to be respected. In On The Block, I found it nostalgic to see these high school freshman trying to make their way through the beginning of high school and stressing about these smalls issues like looking good on picture day and worrying about rumors in school. Lastly, in Dear White People, even though I couldn’t relate to the show as much as some of the others, it did remind me of the racial issues I see on a university modern day.

Jake