Learning to Pay Attention to the Stereotypes

Or: “Why I’m sticking with my plan to not watch Stargate Universe”.

Over the last year or so I’ve started to really pay attention to what I’ve been reading and watching. By the time Season 5 of my once favorite show Stargate Atlantis got going I had already started noticing the problems the show had with both race and gender. Of course many of those problems were problems the science fiction genre has on a whole. Women tend to be dressed in skin tight revealing clothing; Aliens tend to be played by people of color; The heroes (who are predominately white) always know better than the people of other planets (who are predominately people of color); and so on and so forth.

I think it’s important to notice what the stereotypes are and realize how they impact others. If show after show after show portrays people of color, women or people with disabilities a certain way I do believe viewers are influenced more than they’d like to admit. Yes we can say that those who allow themselves to be influenced by entertainment are wrong for doing so but that does not excuse the creators of the shows from any wrong doing. I think those in the industry should be held responsible for the stereotypes they may perpetuate – whether they know they are doing it or not. And when they’re called on it they should admit to it and fix it. Not shrug it off and act as though because only a few people were upset it doesn’t matter. It matters.

It also doesn’t matter if there are people within the minority groups who are not offended by the stereotypes. What matters is that people were offend. Many people including those of color watch the movie “District 9” and had no problems with it. Others were offended because of the portrayal of the Nigerians in the movie. To them the way the Nigerians were portrayed was hurtful and damaging to the image of their country. Nnedi Okorafor is from Nigeria and she and her family were deeply offended by the movie. Read her blog post about the movie for more information.

I’m not saying that the people in the industry are intentionally being racist or sexist or ableist, nor do I automatically think they are always bad people for perpetuating the stereotypes (yes sometimes they really are racist/sexist/ablist but not every single one of them). I just think they tend to be oblivious to the issues because they don’t have to worry about them. Most of them are white able-bodied males – what do they need to worry about? They don’t realize that people of color, people with disabilities, and women all face these issues every day of their lives. We are tired of seeing these stereotypes in just about everything we watch. We want to see more people like us and more people like us treated with the respect and dignity we deserve.

I’ve already stated that I won’t be watching Stargate Universe and I’m sticking to it. I don’t trust the production team of Stargate to get anything right any more. I’m willing to admit I could be wrong. Perhaps they will do a better job – but I’ve lost faith in them. I don’t think they understand what it is that they’ve done. I don’t think they realize the stereotypes they have perpetuated again and again and again. It doesn’t really matter of the slides and the casting call weren’t written by them. They thought up the episode in question, they knew what it was going to be about. They had the chance to insure that things were handled responsibly when it comes to how the character was going to be portrayed. And they failed yet again. Not only that but we’ve learned that the technology that they will be using (body swapping tech where the minds of people switch bodies) will be used several times, and several times people will have the chance to see their spouses while in another person’s body. It’s true we don’t know for sure if anyone actually has sex while in another persons body nor do we know what the reaction will be if someone does but I’ve chosen not to take that risk. It’s not the kind of show I want to watch.

While I’m not trying to tell people what they should or shouldn’t watch I do wish that people would pay more attention to what they are watching and reading. That if they see something that is potentially troubling they take note of it and realize that there is a possibility that some people have been offended by it. That if they hear that people were offend by something, they stop and think about it before shrugging it off as not important. If someone was offended we should listen and try to understand why. If someone was offended we shouldn’t shut them out just because we don’t agree with what they were offend by. It doesn’t matter what it was, someone was hurt and we owe them the respect they deserve.

Also before getting involved with a conversation with people who were offended by something, please consider reading “Derailing for Dummies” which discusses the various ways NOT to have such a conversation.

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