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Portraying Bigotry
Sparky
sparkindarkness
One of the thorniest issues when it comes to analysing media from a social justice perspective is the concept of portraying prejudice and bigotry. After all, bigotry exists, bigoted people exist, at some point we’ll expect some bigoted characters showing up.

And that’s not a bad thing - in fact, erasing prejudice and pretending it doesn’t exist is far from ideal. To not show prejudice in times and places where prejudiced would be common or rife can be a denial that that prejudice exists, especially if you are showing everyone in that area and era as gloriously accepting of all minorities. In many ways it’s a form of erasure to do this or a rewriting of the world - both present historic. The problem is portraying prejudice in a way that doesn’t perpetuate it - and too often writers use this argument of “realistic portrayal” as an excuse to produce some severely bigoted work.

So how to portray bigotry without producing a book or show that should come with its own
trigger warning or will make the minority in question want to eat your liver?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is that prejudiced portrayal really necessary? Sometimes the presence of bigotry is not only unnecessary, but it’s down right confusing, especially in speculative fiction. In an alternate world with an entirely different religion, culture even different species, is there a reason why women are dealing with misogyny? So much else had changed, why not this? Or, in the distant future, between the stars with more curiously-humanoid-aliens than you could shake a phaser at, do we still need racism? This can reach the point of almost parody - I’ve seen avatars of Greek gods - ancient Greek gods - losing their shit over men kissing. The Greeks!

It’s bemusing that, in these worlds where everything can be so different from our own, prejudice is considered inviolate. When all else in history can be changed, when the truly fantastic can be introduced, when we have magic, vampires, aliens and plot holes you can drive a bus through, it seems ridiculous to decide that bigotry is just something that must remain. And I think every social justice media critic in the world is tired of someone explaining the absolute necessity of “historical accuracy” in a series that has freaking dragons.


But even aside from fantasy worlds where you’ve decided to, bewilderingly, include real world bigotry; there is plenty of bigotry shown in works that are closer to our world and we have to ask “why is this necessary?” Does this prejudice actually add anything to the story or development or anything at all? One of the things that annoyed us so much about season 1 of American Horror Story is the amount of bigotry that was presented was completely gratuitous - it did nothing for the story to have the realtor use gay slurs to describe the previous occupants of the house, or even half of the many other problematic incidents on the show. Throwing in bigotry for the sheer hell of it, to an extent where it seems almost out of place sometimes, doesn’t help anyone.

Ok, you’ve looked at the bigotry and it is an absolute essential part of setting the world, the characters and the story. It would be wrong to exclude it - so how to include it without supporting it? Simple - by making it unsupportable

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See, making the villain a bigot is such LAZY writing. I remember when Brian Michael Bendis had Doctor Doom use sexist language and it felt SO out of place! He's Doctor Doom, he doesn't buy into bigotry, and in one series, he fucking calls out Count Dracula on his cries of racism for when Dracula is trying to say that humans hating vampires is racist.

That was a really righteous moment.

And yeah, the Parasol Protectorate does a great job of looking at the institutionalized sexism and upholding of white beauty (Alexia's mom is constantly afraid of Alexia getting a tan), and really portrayed it well in the Victorian era. It failed with how they portrayed the gay characters...

Writing my own superhero series, which is based in our present time, I feel that there's a fine line to walk, because while I don't want to erase bigotry from the world, I don't want to deny its existance either and go over the top. Heck, in Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel, they openly discussed how racism impacts a man of colour, Adam Brasher, in a frank, open, and honest way, and kept it front and center alongside the main storyline. And there was a lot to it, I had to read it multiple times in order to get it all, and not once was the N-Word used, that's how good the writing was.

It also just seems to suggest that the writers have no idea how to portray minorities without that bigotry, like they can't exist without it and they'd have no discerning character traits. Lazy lazy writing.

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