The Portrayal of a Character as a Cliche


Picture, if you will, life in a suburb of a major U.S. city where white flight took hold years ago.  Or better yet, the rural culture that, believe it or not, still maintains its roots throughout the vast expanse of the western United States.  Some areas are religious, some have a foundation in their own comfortable ways of life.  Now ask yourself, in these fairly sheltered, homogenous communities, where do these folks learn about the outside world?  From whence do their notions of ethnic groups, homosexuals and hippogriffs derive?  Without first-hand experience, the best guess that I can come up with is…dun duh nuh nuh… Pop Culture!!  And it is my contention (yes, my contention) that because of the adamant persistent drive for equality and acceptance by the advocates of the culture that is pop, the folks doing the portraying have an obligation to do a damn good job of it.

After all, they will create the images of what the gay, black, latino, irish, homeless, Buddhist, mermaid and wizard communities look like to much of the outstanding population.  If we are to take them seriously, and not as cartoony figments of those crazy Hollywood types, I don’t think that taking pride in the created characters is too much to ask.

Now I would turn your attention to a couple recent examples of portrayals of these “edgy” characters:

Here is a very recent article regarding the increasingly effeminate Loras Tyrell on the show Game of Thrones:

There are spoilers so, if that’s important, here’s the short, short breakdown.  Fans are upset because a character who is a homosexual man, who’s proclivities are alluded to more than they are described in the books of the series, is, on television, being turned into a poster boy for a lavish, unapologetic and uncompromising gay lifestyle that has, in the eyes of some, turned this character into a caricature of the gay lifestyle.

I have been a fan of this show for awhile and have seen the prevalence of homosexual relations, that are not literally depicted in the source material, come front and center on the small screen.  I believe that this is an attempt by the creators, writers, producers et al. to normalize these relations on television so that those “backwards” folks outside of egalitarian Hollywood can get used to the idea of seeing two men kiss (as well as discover a more detailed display than Michelangelo’s David can offer).  And by all means this is their right, just as anyone with a remote can change the channel.

But in the portrayal of Loras Tyrell the writers have jumped the proverbial shark.  They took a strong, handsome yet fierce, battle-hardened warrior and turned him into a GAY strong, handsome, kinda battle-hardened but more bedroom-hardened, weekend warrior, when I’m not otherwise intimately indisposed with another man.  A missed opportunity for a would-be hero.

Filmmakers did likewise with the recent film Pitch Perfect 2. In this case however, I have yet to see the “backlash” from the audience.  Here’s hoping…

In this pitch of a film, the most ethnically and socially diverse group of women on the planet have come together to sing acapella.  And every one with a line (some just hang about in the background) has been reduce to the most simple, common denominator:

-they are led by perky, and heterosexual, all accepting yet struggling with their own limitations, petite white girls.  Not in itself good or bad but it is an interesting choice for such a diverse group.

-the overweight and therefore compulsively repulsive yet somehow attractive enough to get a man, Fat Amy.  Oh, and she has a great accent that compliments her revolting demeanor.

-the butch black lesbian who is apparently attracted to all college girls, so much so that she winks like it’s a twitch from Tourette’s and gropes without consent (which, for those not paying attention, is actually sexual assault)

-and finally, the Asian girl carries throwing knives and does ninja-like moves, the Latina speaks in broken English about every possible hardship that faces the people of central America, and where would this group be without the completely open, sexually permissive, don’t even have a name or motive, slut of the group.

The creators of this film saw the opportunity to make some money and went for it while completely overlooking the opportunity that lay before them.  They could have created characters with some depth and personality instead of focusing on poop jokes and constant innuendo.  The racial stereotypes are just lazy, ceasing to be funny after the third iteration of the same joke, approximately eight minutes in.  And the sexual cliches abound giving yet another false, or at least one-sided impression of the alternate lifestyles that society is meant to accept, without seeing any substantial reason why.  If we are to believe that “they are people too” then it might help if we saw actual people, not cartoons.

I found some advice from Cosmo on what not to say to a gay man:

My takeaway is, surprise surprise, that gay men, just like men men, like to be treated as, well, people.  Not just gay people but people people.  All the trimmings of a fully realized life: hopes, dreams, failures, shortcomings, vacations, careers, aspirations and fears.  And just like the lives of heterosexual men are not all about antlers and strip clubs, homosexual lives are not all gay orgies drizzled in glitter and supported by rainbows.

Except, on both counts, some of them are.  And that is absolutely wonderful.

But, the issue then remains: what does the alphabet soup (LGBTQIA – more to come) of sexual minorities want from the rest of society.  Is it respect? Is it acceptance? Is there a genuine desire to become more than the pop culture portrayals?  I believe that unless these portrayals, which are the only source of exposure to divergent lifestyles for many many many folks, develop a consistently deeper identity, in the way of character development and honest but not shallowly minimalistic stereotypes, those who are not exposed in day-to-day life will continue to view this community as a cliche based upon a choice in lifestyle.

For if their supporters cannot be bothered to provide more than a sound bitten summary in the way of their minority characters, why would one believe that any others exist?