Why original characters in Comic Book TV shows are always the best

When watching the pilot of Gotham (which I quite liked) it became clear that in a sea of future superheroes and supervillains, it was the original character Fish Moony, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, who was destined to be the standout performance for the show.

Yet this phenomenon isn’t only seen in Gotham. Characters like Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead, Felicity Smoak in Arrow and Chloe Sullivan in Smallville all are basically original characters for their respective shows that have all become fan favorites. Why is it that when comic book are translated to tv shows, it is always the entirely new character that fits the most into that world? (Note: I do not know if this theory pertains to Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D., because I don’t watch that.)

It seems to me that it is because they have the most freedom to become who the story organically wants them to become. There is no way that young Bruce Wayne will grow up to be a police officer, for example. But Fish Moony could rise to greater power or could end up being the most tragic character in the show. We don’t know, and that is the great beauty of it.

While other characters, like the future Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot is never going to be shot dead by Jim Gordon, but Fish Moony could. Original characters (especially in prequel series like Gotham) are invaluable.

People are drawn to them because they give the show actual stakes but also because they are the only one’s that the audience has to actually figure out. Sure Alfred is a bit militaristic in this version, but it isn’t like he is just gonna say “Peace out, Bruce. You’re mopping too much, and I just can’t deal.” We know that Alfred’s place in this story is to help form young Bruce’s future.

But with Fish Moony, her purpose is limitless. What makes these original characters interesting is that they could heroes, villains, victims, mentors or even love-interests. Gotham  is so tied down by the history that it is leading up to, that it is going to be interesting to see how they handle someone with no prior history at all.

Ageism in the Media

One of the most blatant and highly forgotten diversity issues in the media is its depictions of the elderly as helpless and useless to society. This has prevailed movies, TV, and advertising making senior citizens be seen as incapable to thrive in modern society.

In movies, this isn’t something that is only shown in movies like Bad Grandpa. Here is a clip from the oscar-nominated movie Nebraska, where Bruce Dern plays a old man who thinks that he won a million dollars.

In TV, the elderly are usually only shown in supporting parts, like Jerry in Parks and Rec. Jerry is the comic relief in the show, always messing things up. While the show is great and has a decently diverse cast, the depiction of Jerry is a disappointing use of elderly stereotypes.

When they let the elderly take the center stage, you usually get something like Betty White’s Off Their Rocker, which uses old people as a joke to prank younger people.

But, like any time you are generalising, some depictions of the elderly are shown as more than the stereotype. Movies have explored complex senior characters like Judi Dench in Philomina and the recent James Bond films and almost every character played by Morgan Freeman.

One of the most beautiful depictions of old age in recent film is the Pixar film, Up, which begins with this.

Another great portrayal is that of Magneto and Professor X in the X-Men franchise. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart play the central relationship of the entire series. They are the leaders of their opposing groups and are shown as the two most powerful men in the world. (Side note: Professor X is also a great depiction of a disabled person.) Here is the trailer to the first movie, where besides focusing on Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine or Halle Berry’s Storm, they focus on these two ‘old dudes.’

On TV, one of the best depictions of the elderly is on NBC’s Parenthood. In that show, the patriarch and matriarch of the family, Zeek and Camille, are shown as two people who are not done living their life, and have just as many stories as their grown children.

But don’t let these clips fool you. There is still a huge problem with the way the elderly are shown in the media, where they are almost never shown in advertising as an actual person, but just as a joke. And if you are still unconvinced, watch what we are showing to the children.

I have never met a senior citizen who was gullible enough to rub chocolate all over their body, but that might just be me.

We Can Do Better – Representation of LGBT in Media

The LGBT community has been aggressively lobbied for representation in the media and there has been progress in the past few years. Some of the biggest hits on television have gay characters that are intricule to the show including Modern Family, Scandal, and Glee. Yet the problem is far from fixed. While some shows and networks are embracing the LGBT community others are ignoring them or are only portraying them stereotypically.

While it is good to be represented, what is usually shown is a small percentage of what the actual LGBT community is like. Like any other group, LGBT people have diverse characteristics. Kurt and Santana from Glee, Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family, and Damian from Mean Girls do a bad job of reinforcing these stereotypes. Some select shows and movies have done this, making gay characters that are far more interesting than just being a stereotype. Take Cyrus from ABC’s Scandal. He is the Chief of Staff for the President of the United States, and will do anything to get his job done. In this clip, he decides to have a baby with his husband, so that his journalist husband does not uncover a story that would harm the white house.

It is not that these two characters are gay that defines them, and therefore they are much more interesting characters to watch that feel like real people. There have been other great and interesting LGBT characters including Omar in The Wire, Ennis and Jack in Brokeback Mountain, and Max from Happy Endings.    

When we get into major motion pictures, the representation is worse. According to GLAAD, the nation’s leading LGBT media advocacy organization, only 14 out of the 101 films released by the major studios in 2012 even had a gay, lesbian, or bisexual character. There was also no films that had transgender characters.


The study also introduced the “Vito Russo Test,” which was named after GLAAD co-founder and film historian Vito Russo. Similar to the Bechdel Test (which measures the use of women in film) the Vito Russo Test has three rules to analyze how LGBT character are represented in film.

Vito Russo Test

1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.

2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters)

3. The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.

Using this test, only 6 of the 14 passed, meaning that usually when gay characters are even included in studio films they are not well developed or integral to the film.

Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do to create a diverse media landscape full of interesting and unique characters. The good news is that we have seen some representations now that we can use as proof that audiences are ready to embrace these non-stereotypical LGBT characters who are as human and flawed as you and me.



Is There Gender Bias in the Media

I believe that there are still huge strides that need to occur to reverse the obvious gender bias in the media. A yearly report, called The Status of Women in the U.S. Media shows us that with many staggering statistics about the media todayThe study goes over news, television, radio, sports journalism, film, video-games, social media, and more.

Screenshot 2014-02-20 22.56.38

The report shows that gender representation by percentage in newspaper newsrooms has actually gone down, from being 36.9% women in 1999 to 36.3% in 2013, as shown by the graph shown.

In addition to that, men had three times as many page 1 quotes in The New York Times as woman did. This shows the direct link that media creator’s biases do really affect the media they create.

When we look at television, the results are just as troubling. As you can see below, even major Sunday talk show guest are 75% men. That’s crazy! No surpise then that the tally of TV station general managers was 17.8% in 2013 (and that is 1.5 percent down from 2012.)Screenshot 2014-02-20 23.13.49

In the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report it was shown that only 14.6% of the total staff in the field of sports journalism were women, and only 9.6% of the sports editors were women.

In movies, you might think that they are getting better, due to the rise of female-driven movies like The Hunger Games and The Heat. Sorry, but you would be wrong. Out of the top 100 movies this year only two had female directors. They were the remake of Carrie and the Disney animated movie Frozen. That means that the 98 other movies were directed by only dudes, and did I mention that Frozen was directed by two people and the other director was male. There might be a small problem in this. 

There were other good movies in 2013 directed by women like Enough Said, The To-Do List, In a World, and Blackfish, but they were all indie movies. Studios are not giving these talented directors large budget commercial films after they prove that they are good at what they do.

Screenshot 2014-02-20 23.28.08

In other movie news, only 28.4 of characters in the top 100 movies of 2012 were women. In everyday life about 50% of people are women, but why not in movies? And when females are on screen, there is also a strong chance that they are sexualized or exposed. Yay, Hollywood (sarcasm.)

We can’t even find solace in Television, the former home of Tina Fey and Lucille Ball. The saddest thing about the next graph is nothing is to remember it never get past 25%.

Screenshot 2014-02-20 23.46.11

In animation, it is the same way and they aren’t even hiring real actors. Animated children’s programing is literally drawing in inequality.

Not even actors are safe, and the public is fully aware of what they do. They are literally saying that top female actors are not worth as much as the top male actors.

Screenshot 2014-02-20 23.52.35

Overall, the media has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality both in front of and behind the scenes, and the scariest statistics are that it is even getting worse. I hope that you would read the full report, as it is actually pretty interesting and is a lot more in depth than my post. It is at http://www.womensmediacenter.com/pages/2014-statistics.

The ‘Other’ in TV Comedies

Diversity in the media is and will be a topic that keeps on coming up because the media reflects our society. How ‘the other’ is presented reflects how we as a society view social norms. To make this point clear, lets look at the history of tv sitcoms. First, lets look at the idealistic Brady Bunch or The Andy Griffith Show. In these shows ‘the other’ (anyone that isn’t fit in the majority) is either marginalized or downright ignored.

The Andy Griffith Show
The Brady Bunch












ln these shows, we are only shown white, well-off, healthy, educated, and straight happy people whose biggest problems include finding the courtroom is full of dogs (Seriously thats the plot of Season 3, Episode 30 of The Andy Griffith Show.) ‘The other’ wasn’t just unrepresented, it was completely ignored.

When African-Americans were shown, such as the show Amos n’ Andy, it was stereotypical and racist against them. Amos n’ Andy, one of the first shows with an African-American cast, was based on a popular radio program in which all the stars were voiced by white dudes.

Then, eventually, ‘the other’ gets represented as actual people. For example, shows like The Jeffersons and eventually The Cosby Show, showed African-Americans whose main characteristic isn’t that they are black. And while the so-called black comedy only lives on basic cable, shows like New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine show multiple people of color, where they don’t ignore race, but it’s just one out of hundreds of characteristics of it’s characters.

You can see this path of presentation in almost every different ‘other’ group. Just look at the LGBT community.  First, they were ignored on television. Then when they did show up, the biggest thing about them was that they were gay. Shows like Friends (that had a wedding between Susan and Carol, where the brides don’t kiss) and Will and Grace, while trying to be progressive, were just stepping stones to get to non-stereotypical representations.

Now you can watch shows like Orange is the New Black, Shameless, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (again) or the recently canceled Happy Endings, to see great layered gay characters on TV comedies.

Is ‘the other’ presented perfectly on tv? No, but there are a lot of signs that show that we are getting there. There is no longer an excuse that shows that aren’t filled with just white dudes can succeed.

But this doesn’t just apply to tv comedies. In other media, 2013 was the first year that a female-driven movie (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) was the biggest box-office hit, and Scandal (a tv drama featuring a African-American female lead and a gay Chief of Staff to the President of the United States) was one of the highest rated tv show of the year.