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Living Loz
I do not have rage, only sorrow, but it's the sorrow that comes after rage... 
9th-May-2010 10:04 am
Life on Mars (Sam Outsider)
A2A 3.06. I did not like this episode, for various reasons, but the most important being the one I write about here.



As soon as Viv wasn't being listened to, I knew this was going to be an episode I would not be able to enjoy on any level.

And it comes down to this --- Viv has no agency and no voice.

He is part of an extraordinarily small minority already and now he is powerless.

He tries to talk to Gene and he gets shot down, by everyone. He tries to help his cousin and gets captured and beaten. He tries to explain his actions, and immediately he's dead to Ray. Forget the fact Chris did something arguably ten times worse in S2. And then, what does Viv get? ACTUAL DEATH.

I have to live surrounded by this every day. And it's different, of course it's different. Different contexts, different circumstances. But enough is the same that this was too confronting and upsetting and I cannot handle it, I'm sorry. Because I am thinking about these things, a lot. I am thinking about my students having to live in a world where they will always be seen as substandard --- either by the white racist dicks who live around here, or their own family if they're 'too piranpa'. I am thinking about how rare it will be that my kids will truly have a strong agency and voice and will be able to have everything they work for and deserve. Because they do not have the same opportunities as other kids, the systems continue to drag them down, and there is nothing I can do to rectify that. I am thinking about an unjust world where there are tropes in fiction that are inherently problematic (because they reflect this unjust world) and the people who think to say 'this is not cool' are overthinking it, or taking it the wrong way.

People getting silenced and holding no power, having to deal with double standards and rules, with unfair attitudes and expectations from all sides. If you're black you must be this, do this, have this, and if you don't fit into that box you should fit? There's no place for you.

I'm not going to say writers should never kill a black character simply because of the connotations it might evoke. That black characters can never be forced into making mistakes. That you shouldn't tackle these themes. And, you know, it is likely it's my own damage on show here. I know this was meant to be upsetting, and confronting, and is being presented as Not Good.

But why is it that it's the only character of colour who gets no reprieve? Shaz, Chris, Ray, they get to escape from their fuck ups alive and well. Viv gets to die.

I AM SICK OF THIS SHIT. I AM SO SICK OF IT.

Comments 
9th-May-2010 03:19 am (UTC)
Loz, thank you for articulating this so well. This episode left me feeling deeply depressed. The 'sorrow' expressed by Gene and the other characters at Viv's death was particularly nauseating, since it was such an appalling contrast to the way they dismissed Viv when he was still alive. Basically, it was a cheap angst-wank. Viv deserved better. As you say: he was denied AGENCY, the right to be listened to and to be taken seriously by his peers, to be treated as a peer by his peers. None of the other characters have been treated so disrespectfully. It wouldn't have been so bad if there had been recognition of this in the storyline, but the denial of agency was the writers', not [just] the characters', and I don't think we were meant to see it as such.

As you say, it's not that writers should never kill off a black character, or give him/her flaws. But when visible minorities are always given secondary or 'supporting' (read: marginal) roles in dramatic television, and are always among the first to be redshirted, it's impossible not to see a pattern.

This past week, hubby and I watched episode 6x14 of Lost (he's a lot fonder of it than I am, but I indulge him). I was furious when - SPOILER ALERT - three characters were killed within a single act, and surprise surprise, they were all people of colour. Of the several episode reviews I read, only one reviewer even bothered to point this out. Yes, Lost has killed off characters of all races and ethnic groups, but somehow the blacks and Hispanics and Asians seem to die just a bit more often, and somehow (although they're 'important') they're truly not much missed once they're gone, and somehow it's always the white principals who are left standing to determine the fate of the world. And it really pisses me off, because apparently we're even not supposed to notice this in these 'post-racial' times.

I can only imagine how it must feel to be a person of colour and know that if I see a character on the TV screen that speaks to my life experience and heritage, chances are that s/he will either remain marginal, be written out, be killed off, or all of the above.
9th-May-2010 10:07 am (UTC)
I try to remind myself that this is an especially touchy subject for me, so I am not objective. Perhaps I am seeing things that aren't there. But seeing that you thought this as well makes me feel slightly better about how very sad and angry this makes me.

It comes down to all kinds of things. Things like, as you say, there being no in-text recognition that Gene is a fucking hypocrite who didn't have the decency to listen to Viv when he was trying to talk. And yeah, this is a common trope in fiction, the grand miscommunication, I get that. It's likely dramatic irony. (I don't like it all the time, but I get it.) And maybe it was 'colour-blind casting' --- that James Payne (or Matt and Ash, depending on who pitched the idea) never gave the fact Viv's played by a black actor any thought at all, and wrote merely for maximum tragedy --- not brave enough to kill off a MAIN main character, but brave enough to kill off a secondary main character.

But DAMMIT, be aware that characters of colour are often fucked over this way on television. Be aware that there are upsetting undertones there.

Because, before? It was a woman who was killed because she did wrong, and that was bad enough. But now, it was the ONLY character of colour among the cast. DO NOT BE EVERY ISM YOU REPRESENT, SHOW. YOU'RE MEANT TO BE IRONIC.
9th-May-2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
See, I don't think that a writer can claim their work to be free of a destructive stereotype when their text just happens to slavishly conform to it. Joss Whedon famously argued that he was being honouring the integrity of the story when he killed off Tara and turned Willow into a berserker in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, thus cementing their storyline into the great tradition of the Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliche.

If you want to be daring, edgy, great in your writing, then for God's sake SUBVERT my expectations. Don't live down to them. I shouldn't know in advance (as Lauren says, further down in the thread) which character will be the one to die, and why. Don't take the morally lazy way out. STOP TREATING MINORITY CHARACTERS LIKE REDSHIRTS.
9th-May-2010 07:26 am (UTC)
Crud. Starting S03xE03 now. Disheartened. Might be able to choke something like this down in S2 I but maybe not this late. LOM black characters handled poorly as well, as I recall.
9th-May-2010 10:08 am (UTC)
I was always wary of criticising Life on Mars on that front, because I could see where it was trying to subvert tropes and be ironic, but yes, it did have moments of intense fail. None of them hit me as badly as this has, though.
23rd-May-2010 06:27 am (UTC)
It wasn't just random dogooderly cluelessness like LOM. They set him up and *murdered* him. So the other^W white^W real people could feel bad. And they used him like that all along. There to provide a little color and roll his eyes in bafflement at those crazy folks.

I could see why it would infuriate you. It's sickening. And very hard to accept from people you like. Poison cookies.
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9th-May-2010 10:26 am (UTC)
I had to say this. It disgusted me and I had to write about it, or I'd explode.

I'm don't want to go overboard with my anger. I certainly don't want to appropriate other people's pain. But this hit a very raw nerve with me.

I have had several instances where people have said things around me and I've had to bite my tongue from verbally assaulting them, and then felt resentful that I self-censor whereas they feel free to discredit and disparage others based on issues they will NEVER, EVER GET.

I recognise that I am inherently racist when I don't believe in everyone getting an 'equal' amount of [x], and instead think that society should sure as shit put in place programs that redress the inequity present in so many of our systems. But I'm comfortable with that so long as it means I am working towards helping to give people strength and a voice, confidence in their self-worth so that I am no longer needed, as opposed to fucking them over time and time again.

I commend you for mentioning that those attitudes made you uncomfortable, because when I did that with a former co-worker he mocked me mercilessly, and as I said, I do not always bring up the things I want to.

Edited at 2010-05-09 10:28 am (UTC)
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9th-May-2010 10:53 am (UTC)
Take, for instance, Avatar. It creeped me out on multiple levels, not to mention the racist over and undertones. My Sri Lankan friend and her Anangu husband loved it and connected with the Na'vi because that culture reminded them of their own. Neither L nor R saw it as exoticising or othering, they enjoyed the film for what it was; a visual extravaganza, with explosions. And who the hell was I to say 'but you should be angry'?!

I guess, with your character, have her cultural background be important, but don't have it be her defining trait. And yes, do think about it, but don't let it stop you.

9th-May-2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you for saying this, because it pissed me off so very much. If nothing else, it's lazy writing to kill off a largely undeveloped, underwritten, secondary regular character just for the sake of a Very Special Episode - as you said, wanting to show that you're brave enough to kill characters without really having the nuts to off a main. But then, on top of that, for your underwritten, largely undeveloped character to be the only non-white member of the regular cast? HOW can that not seem like a problem, it just doesn't make sense to me, and you summed that up perfectly here: he is given no voice, he receives worse treatment than all of the other characters and it is just. ugh.

The worst thing is, I heard all these rumours that "a regular charcter" would die in 3.06 and I just KNEW it would be Viv; I hoped it was my inner cynic throwing its weight around but no, they confirmed all my worst suspicions and it made me want to throw stuff.
10th-May-2010 07:12 am (UTC)
Thank you, Loz.

I wanted to say that I thought it was a weak way to create tragedy, but I know part of that is my personal preference in fiction. I am not a fan of this device. It isn't that I don't think writers should kill off characters, just that I think there should be better reasons for it than to temporarily cause another character angst. (And maybe there is, in this instance, but it doesn't read that way yet.)

It's doubly annoying because, for a while there, Viv was the only character I genuinely liked and wanted to see more of.
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10th-May-2010 07:18 am (UTC)
Yes. It's the way Viv was killed that really, really angers me. He was backed into a corner and ignored.

It would have angered me with any other character, but it's triple anger-making because it follows an over-used and frankly deeply disturbing trope. As you say, in text he doesn't get the same chances the white characters get, and realising that, were he real, in real life Viv would have been dealing with massive amounts of suck just make it all the worse.
10th-May-2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
I...just...Yes. All of this. You were far more articulate than I was able to be after watching. This episode made me so fucking angry, and you've hit all the nails on their heads, as usual. (And again, I am forcibly reminded why I adore you to pieces, even through something as dire as this.)

See, I started to wonder if I was being overly sensitive, even just a little. I have to ask myself that a lot. I confront stuff like this in daily life as well, and it's always tricky. It's a unique experience for me because I'm biracial, and because that usually fucks people who don't know me up, because they don't know what mental ticky box to put me in. Add into that my rather colourful family, and it's...interesting to see what comes out of peoples' mouths, let's say. All those experiences, plus those of other friends from different cultural backgrounds, plus my having lived in both a really rural area (with a hideously racist, abusive asshole of a grandfather) AND a really urban and racially diverse area and...yeah, well. All of that together creates my perspective, which still questions itself with regard to the experiences of anyone who doesn't have that perspective. Because, as you say, I never want to misappropriate someone else's pain. I've had so many instances where I've felt that I wanted to be angry on someone else's behalf...but really, who the hell am I to speak?

I'm still not able to express myself as well as I'd like about this episode. I may well never be. I am really, really fucked off about it though.

Thank you for writing this. ♥
10th-May-2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
I am a little "rargh!" about the notion that you can be overly sensitive about this issue. I'm inclined to think more people should be more sensitive about it. But I know what you mean, of course, because I feel it's possible I'm being overly sensitive.

♥ I'm so sorry you've had to deal with such shit. I can't begin to imagine what it must feel like.
10th-May-2010 08:07 am (UTC) - Thank you Loz
Anonymous
Thank you, for putting into words the things that I deal with everyday. I'm not Black, but I'm Asian. And with that comes a small and narrow road that people push me onto, until I am so high and above them that I can't even relate to anyone not-Asian around me. Which is quite sad, because some of my friends are very open-minded people but they don't understand, and take my rants to be overthinking things.

In any case, I found the latest Ashes to Ashes episode to be very distasteful. Glen was always a supporting character, but we all had a soft spot for him. However, they decided to kill him because the main characters couldn't die and they wanted to bring emotional impact to the show. Bullshit. Glen had our love, but he was denied the right to be understood? He was 'expendable', and equally so they made his death disturbing. I have never been so scared of Keats before.

What saddesns me most of all is that there was multiple episodes of Life on Mars that dealt with racism. Sam's girlfriend's dad being Ugandan Asian (The fact that she's of Asian decent always makes me happy), and how in love with her Sam is. Also, how he freaking hero-worshiped Glen Fletcher was a great episode. This all makes me love Sam Tyler, because he loves people for who they are, not what they are. (Just inputting this here because they really should have brought John Simm back. Sorry)

In any case, where did the writers put their brains?
10th-May-2010 10:18 pm (UTC) - Re: Thank you Loz
♥ I think there's a bit of name confusion going on here, since it's Viv's death that we're angry about. Glen, luckily, got to live (although he was shipped far, far away), which is what I'll cling onto.

I am sorry you have to deal with these issues yourself. I find it hard enough seeing people's attitudes towards my friends and students. I can't accurately imagine how I'd feel if it were me.
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