Topic: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch
Note - there are going to be spoilers from a lot of things in here, I bet. It's going to start with spoilers from Arrow, Sleepy Hollow, and maybe The 100 (although the spoilers from that won't come from me - I don't watch it) - stop now if you don't want to see spoilers for those. Maybe some Force Awakens considering the revival of the Rey conversation. But I want to talk about characters dying so there could potentially be spoilers for anything where people die. Be warned.
So there were a few deaths this week on TV this week. Abbie Mills died on Sleepy Hollow. Laurel died on Arrow. Someone important died on the 100 (there's the spoiler, again I don't watch it so I can't comment but it's included in the discussion). And in addition to these all being relatively big deaths on genre shows, they all were followed up with a phenomenon that's sorta bizarre to me - the exit of the show by many of its fans.
Television seems to be trying to make moves towards being a more diverse place. Especially genre shows. Whether race-swapping certain characters like the Wests on the Flash or simply creating a new character like John Diggle on Arrow, shows are trying to be inclusive of everyone. And it isn't just race - LGBT characters are showing up more often (Curtis and Sara on Arrow/Legends of Tomorrow, at least one character on The 100, a couple characters on Walking Dead). And it's all written where it's no big deal. Because it isn't. Here's Curtis and here's Curtis' husband is treated just like "here's Curtis and here's Curtis' wife." It's cool.
But as we add more of these characters, I'm seeing a trend that's a bit bizarre to me. When any of these characters either die or are talked about potentially dying, there are people who post that they wouldn't watch the show anymore. There are people who are going to quit watching Sleepy Hollow because Abbie died (not because it might get cancelled or because it isn't as fun as it used to be). There are people who are going to quit watching Arrow because Laurel died. There are people that are going to quit watching The 100 because someone died. When the grave plotline on Arrow was first announced, I thought Diggle might die - I was told by a black friend that he would quit watching if Diggle died.
Clearly, people want to be represented on TV. And while it's taken way too long and is going much too slowly, I find it a bit odd that some people are getting so upset when certain characters are killed off.
And I'm just trying to get some clarification as to why it's so important to some people. Now I completely understand the need for heroes of all races and genders. Little girls were empowered by Elsa on Frozen and Rey in Force Awakens. Black Panther, Miles Morales, Luke Cage, the new Asian Hulk, and many other superheroes are inspiring children of color. And while race-swapping heroes like Johnny Storm, Wally West, Nick Fury and others has been controversial, I think it's good in the long run. Unless race is essential to some character (as was the argued case in the casting of a white Iron Fist recently), it doesn't really matter if they're black or white.
But as we have more female protagonists and protagonists of color, some of those characters are going to die. And while it's clearly empowering to have characters like that, why is it equally disheartening when one of the characters is simply treated like a character and killed off?
Because I feel like we're about to get to a weird area where the only characters that are allowed to die are going to be the white male ones. Shows are going to need diversity, but all those characters are going to be off-limits to any consequences. Especially in today's social media - driven society where showrunners and fans can interact with each other.
And isn't that a bad thing? And I mean that in both ways - people watching a show just because it's diverse and people leaving the show because it stopped being diverse? And in a lot of ways, it doesn't really matter if the show stops being diverse. I asked my black friend if he'd still stop watching if John Diggle was replaced by Andy Diggle in the main cast - he said he'd still stop. I asked if he was replaced by both Andy *and* Curtis (making the show more diverse). He said he'd still stop. Sleepy Hollow is one of the more diverse genre shows (with five main characters being people of color, three of them being women), and it still affected them.
Full disclosure - I'm a white male, and I've never had to worry about not being represented on TV. I never lacked for any white male role models in entertainment. And keeping in mind any privilege I have, I would just like to know if you guys have any insight on this. Because to me, a great character on a great show is awesome, no matter who they are. Male, female, young, old (believe it or not, ireactions), gay, straight, black, white, brown, green, whatever. And if a great character dies, that sucks. But I've never quit watching a show because a great character died. I mean, hell, we all kept watching Sliders as one-by-one, they got rid of 3/4 of our favorite characters.
So what's going on? Is this phenomenon justified? Do you see it being a problem in the future if showrunners start protecting certain characters?