You might have noticed that the majority of current media consists of boring or outdated plots or that there is a severe lack of representation for marginalized groups, despite the many changes to society in the last few years. We still see movies with the nagging wife/useless husband dynamic or sitcom jokes about how girls don’t visit comic book stores.
If you have noticed this, you’re not the only one. With sales dropping and more consumers losing interest, why is the media industry still stuck several decades in the past and only putting out the same old boring stuff that we are all sick of? Is there a way to convince them to put out the things we really want to see?
There are two main reasons why these types of stories keep being made, and both of them have to do with money. The first is that an original story is risky as there is no guarantee that it will be a success. Producing something which relies on a safe, easy formula can at least hope to break even.
The second is the over reliance on foreign markets, especially China. Domestic sales alone aren’t enough to carry big budget Hollywood movies any longer, so producers need to make sure their products appeal to the foreign market. This is why Michael Bay’s Transformers movies continue to be made despite being a laughing stock in their native US. But since these countries are generally much more conservative than the West, and often use film censorship, it means that anything LGBT related and sometimes even non-white characters have to be left out. For instance, the Chinese poster for Star Wars: The Force Awakens drastically shrank down black actor John Boyega.
Many suspect that these are merely excuses as the people in charge of the media industry still tend to be white male baby boomers who either aren’t aware of or don’t care about the lack of diversity in the media or what younger audiences are interested in. Something that has been spreading on social media lately is the number of lesbian characters on US television who are being killed off for the sake of drama. The argument is that writers don’t know what to do with lesbian characters other than having them suffer through violent deaths, when audiences really just want to see lesbian characters being treated the same as heterosexual characters and forming lasting relationships.
Traditional methods of affecting the media were letter writing campaigns, which had mixed results, or boycotting, which also did little to affect ratings or sales. Strong DVD sales have brought back some cancelled television shows and as simple as it sounds, the act of being a fan can have more of an impact than you would think.
It used to be that our entertainment options were restricted only to what was currently on the air or what was available at our local stores. Today with online streaming services and e-books, we can consume practically whatever we want, whenever we want. It may seem obvious to say so but simply consuming the things you like and want to see more of goes a long way to encourage creators to produce more of it.
The rise of social media also makes it easier than ever to have our voices heard. We can contact big companies directly on their social media pages. Online reviews can make or break sales. The “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag on Twitter brought attention to the lack of diversity in Oscar nominated movies, and Hollywood in general. Large companies hate controversies that could damage their reputation so it makes sense that they would try to avoid causing any more.
We have already seen trends such as these start to have an impact. The Force Awakens broke all sorts of box office records and practically made back its budget before it was even released internationally. This was significant as the movie not only featured a female protagonist (still a rarity in Hollywood blockbusters) but two non-white actors in major supporting roles.
The overwhelming response to the movie and its characters has led to the script for the second movie being re-written to focus more on these fan-favourite characters. Many hope that this means that the Star Wars movies might actually get a canon gay couple, although it is still just speculation at the moment. Although some countries automatically ban or censor any movies featuring gay characters, strong sales from the rest of the globe could still be enough to carry it through and fund future instalments of the franchise. In any case, it does show that the producers are listening to fan response and are willing to focus on their favourite characters, regardless of race or gender.
Even some creators have found ways to get their own back at network censorship. There was some controversy when Disney censored an episode of Gravity Falls which featured a lesbian couple on screen for two seconds, changing them to a heterosexual couple. The show’s creator, Alex Hirsch, hit back in the show’s final episode by having a pair of male police officers confess their love to each other and become a canon couple. The episode even showed a cannon firing behind them to add to the joke.
But such cases are still rare and controversies keep happening. While not every comment will be listened to, simply sharing and spreading your ideas of what you want to see in fiction and what you find offensive can build up and make a big impact. People might not have even been aware of something until you bring it up, just as general audiences weren’t aware of the amount of lesbian characters being killed off until it was brought up on social media. Even producing fanart and fanfic can contribute. Keep on being a fan and shout loud about controversy and over time you will see more of what you really want to see, not what focus groups think you should be seeing.