Ashleigh Brink // Columnist
Well, it’s nearing the end of the semester and the Courier is still letting me write these — go team? Thank you to the three-or-so CapU students who are actually reading this. Anyway, watching Grey’s Anatomy for the first time the other day, I noticed something. There are a few extremely distinct types of queer representation visible in popular media today. First off, there’s the bad stuff. The caricatures, the stereotypes and the punchlines. Next, there are the realists. They depict things as they currently are in the world. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Finally, there are those who present queer individuals and stories in an almost hopelessly optimistic light. They depict things as they should be. Ideally, setting precedent in the minds of their consumers for how people should be treated — how gayness in and of itself should be addressed. Between the latter two, both have different strengths and weaknesses. And ultimately, both are extremely important.
This should probably go without saying, but the bad representation is really fucking bad. It is extremely damaging to the LGBTQ+ community, and negatively influences the heterosexual community’s interpretation of us at large. A prime example of this are the comedians who consistently make awful jokes that punch down. That is, jokes made at the expense of less privileged groups. That, in combination with using LGBTQ+ individuals as punchlines, contributes to the normalization of homophobic sentiment. That is extremely problematic. Moving the needle forward is hard enough without some clowns who think they’re funny dragging it right back. Especially when it’s the “edgy” comedians who largely appeal to those already leaning right of centre.
Getting back to the positive, nicer side of things, there are two angles with which to view media’s queer representation: implicit and explicit. Implicit representation, referring to the media’s own view of the LGBTQ+ characters and their stories. Do they present the character’s gayness without fanfare? Without judgement? Do they ultimately just tell a story where a character happens to be queer? This implicit level of representation is always necessary. Regardless of the story’s approach to explicit representation it must present it in an easy, non-judgemental way. Don’t get me wrong, the character’s queerness and identity can, of course, play a massive role in shaping their story and their experiences, but the representation should never be framed exclusively around it.
Explicit representation is where things get interesting, and creators can take some creative liberties with the direction of their story. The first approach they can take is that of the realist. Telling hard, real stories, warts and all. Showcasing the discrimination, and ultimately many of the hard realities that LGBTQ+ people deal with, in many cases, on a day-to-day basis. A perfect example of this is the relatively recent HBO show, Euphoria. I won’t elaborate too much, as I have already spent an entire article rambling about it, but it is the best recent example of this type of representation I can think of. It tells a quite rough, yet very powerful and real story. Of course, it has all the hallmarks of exceptional implicit representation as well.
On the other hand, there is also idealistic representation. The stories that are almost hopelessly optimistic. Shows where queer identities and gay love stories aren’t given a second thought. They just are. And even if there is a homophobic incident introduced, it is promptly and effectively shut down, (as it should be). It shows the audience how things should be in the real world. A prime example of this is Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It provides a window into a better society, where even the Jake Peralta’s of the world know what’s up.
Ultimately, these two types of representation are both powerful and influential in their own right. One tells the stories of the less fortunate. Stories of those who have struggled against the weight of our heteronormative world, which deserve to be told after the LGBTQ+ community has been silenced for so long. The other paints a picture of the world as it should be. What we, collectively, should aspire to. So that maybe one day, queer kids will grow up in a world where it is okay to be themselves. I hope that day is not too far off.