Representation or Tokenism?

In a recent email to subscribers, I asked whether Baby Barbarian should be done in color or black and white. 

Among the answers I received was a clever response from an old friend to the double entendre in the question. 

“BIPOC, representation matters,” she replied.

I agree!

But... the same time, I've arrived at the conclusion that, as with so many other things, Why and How we Represent is more important than the process itself.

Because Representation without purpose is Tokenism

The Road to Hell is Paved w/ Good Intentions

How much our entertainment should reflect the actual makeup of our country is not a theoretical question. 

Entertainment sells fantasy to one degree or another--from the obvious fantasy of the Lord of the Rings to the fake-reality of so-called ‘reality shows'-- and the lack of representation therein traditionally does make one wonder just how much of our national fantasy is about making the Other invisible: whether they be disabled people, other races, gender identities, etc. 

But there is another type of fantasy being pedaled in the Entertainment industry, one embraced, sometimes wholeheartedly, sometimes begrudgingly. 

In this fantasy, formerly invisible people of certain identities are plopped willy-nilly into settings so the creator/show-runner can check off yet another category on the woke-list. 

At worst, when representation is done insincerely, it has the opposite effect. Observe the recent frustration from actor John Boyega (Finn in the most recent Star Wars trilogy) who told GQ

“[But] what I would say to Disney is do not bring out a black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.”

It's not good because it's insincere. It's lame. It's half-assed. It's going through the motions. 

It's people not doing the hard work of looking at their own cultural biases when millions of dollars are on the deck of a boat they don't want to rock. 

We all have stories that come first from a place.

Einstein argued that light changes depending on whether you're looking at it. This led to the theory of relativity and the acceptance of subjective realities. 

In the case of human beings, our environment changes depending on how we look. We are all armored by biases formed by our environment.

Brom and his family are no different. The isolated mountain community of silly faux Vikings they have belonged to for generations is just one small part of their world, but it is also their world.

Their customs might seem silly: the extravagant helmets the men wear indoors to show off, their pickled, uncooked food, but that is the point. Foreign customs often seem silly if not bizarre.

It is only when we leave our homes and truly embrace the world, that our Third Eye opens, and the world as we have known it is destroyed.

This was the metaphor my mother-in-law told me when I first moved to Hawaii and began to learn different stories from different people, most of whom were much less privileged than me, if not actively oppressed by a system that had always seemed to work for me. 

This will also be Brom's journey, and his mother, Brunhild, and father, Bjorn when they leave their ancestral thwaite to help a new friend reunite with her family half a world away.

Baby Barbarian is about their of the world outside their provincial town. A world of variety and vibrancy and danger and adventure. A world that is not at all in-line with their cultural norms, and might even see them as backwards. 

But they will brave this uncertainty, because at the end of the day, the best way to show the people we care about that we value their experience is to leave the safety of our comfort zones.

See you next time...

Thanks for reading and thanks for all the support!

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