Representation of LGBT people in games, movies, cartoons, and other media have made progress as acceptance within the wider culture has become more main stream. The representation isn’t always perfect but we have started moving away from harmful stereotypes and cliches. One area that seems slower to change are cartoon series aimed at kids.
Adult aimed cartoons have long had LGBT characters at least in bit parts for years now and there is some cross over with the audiences. Simpsons, which I watched when I was kid, had an episode back in 1997 dealing with Homer meeting a gay man and freaking out about it.
Other kid aimed media is starting to become more inclusive. The stop motion film ParaNorman has a reveal at the end of the movie that one of the characters was gay all along and the early trailers for Laika’s new film Box Trolls blatantly included same sex families. The Disney Channel this year included lesbian moms on an episode of their live action show Good Luck Charlie.
But cartoon television series, at least Western ones, are still hesitant to take the step. I would say it is a combination of the popular idea that there is something more childish about cartoons, GLBT people are somehow inherently more “adult” then cisgender heterosexual people, and studios just not wanting to be the first to deal with the controversy to follow.
Of course the idea that GLBT characters are to “adult” for kids cartoons is kind of laughable when you consider some of the mature themes cartoons handle. Avatar: The Last Airbender tackles the issue of war and genocide but we are supposed to believe a girl liking another girl on the show would be to much?
Show Vs Tell
Of course there are a lot of GLBT people in shows! Just look at what the creators say or source material or anywhere but in the show!
Unfortunately that is where we are at currently. As far as I am aware, any character that is canonly GLBT, well gay and lesbian really but that is another post for another day, is only because the creators stated it outside the show or it was part of other media.
I am glad the characters are confirmed to be LGBT but mentioning it and not actually reflecting that in the show doesn’t really help representation. Especially when we find out after the show is over or we will never see that character again anyways. I am looking at you J.K. Rowling.
But isn’t it good that their sexuality isn’t a big thing? Don’t want to just make an offensive stereotype where being gay is all they are!
I hear this a lot really. That if the character’s sexuality is erased to the point it could be cut and nothing would change, that is positive representation. But Mr Strawman, we don’t expect the same thing of heterosexual characters. Characters get to have heterosexual crushes and even dating in media without it being the center of their character. There is a middle ground between the two extremes and creators seem to be able to find it for heterosexual characters.
It is important to show the character’s sexuality as a part of their character like you would other character traits. Not just tell us about them. Just telling us a character is funny is terrible writing. You have to give them funny things to say and do. I am not saying have the character go around kissing people all the time, sexuality is much more then just that.
Baiting the Hook
Not having the characters be out doesn’t mean the characters aren’t given hints that they might be GLBT. This ranges from mannerisms coded to be read by the viewer as being GLBT related such as a guy being camp, to lots of subtext about a relationship between two characters.
Harley and Ivy and are heavily implied to be in a relationship in Batman: The Animated Series when they team up. This was later confirmed by Paul Dini and further expanded in the comics.
Adventure Time in the episode Something Missing, had a scene where Marceline sings to Princess Bubblegum a song that many read as having subtext of a girl singing to her ex-girlfriend. Whether or not that was the intention of the creators, future episodes interactions seemed to further tease this subtext with things like the reveal Bubblegum sleeps in the shirt Marceline gave her long time ago and that she smells it when she wakes up. Something coming off much more like something you would do with a shirt a lover gave you then something a friend gave to you.
Depending how willing you are to accept it this subtext that can border on text can range from being seen as the creators doing the best they can within the constrains of the network to queerbaiting to get GLBT fans (and those that are fans of GLBT relationships) to watch without wanting to actually committing to a queer character.
Why Do You Have to Make Everything So Political?
Of course there is the pushback to the idea of including LGBT characters to cartoons. From those who believe it morally wrong to those that just like things as they are and don’t want people messing with it for the sake of “Political Correctness”. Unfortunately LGBT lives are inherently political due to our lives must often be fought for in order to live them, as people seek to deny us rights.
Of course when you are fully represented in media, you are less likely to see an issue as being an issue.
Why do LGBT people need to push into cartoons? That doesn’t help anyone focus on REAL discrimination!
Well Mr. Strawman there is a pretty simple reason why LGBT people want to see themselves in all media. We exist. Adding an LGBT character might seem contrived but I find it much more contrived that no one apparently is queer in this world that is being created. There is no natural reasons why character’s can’t be diverse, the creators have to choose, consciously or subconsciously, everything about this world they are creating.
You may see people wanting representation and think it only applies to people like me, adult fans, but the series are primarily for kids. Whether they are out yet or still don’t understand it, there are GLBT children also watching these show and seeing representations that matter to them are important. It validates their identities and boosts self-confidence. It combats homophobia and transphobia they may absorb in their daily lives.
Beyond LGBT kids, representations of LGBT people in cartoons helps break down stereotypes kids learn young and helps humanize an oppressed group. Teaching tolerance not through hamfisted PSAs or lessons of the week but through creating relatable, likeable characters you start to care about.
Who and When?
I guess it is kind of bad I asked a question but don’t really have an answer. I think it will happen soon and slowly after that it will become a much more common thing, but I am not sure who will make that plunge first. When they do though it will be important to show support for the move because, while I think majority of people will be on board with it or at least indifferent, those that oppose it will be the loudest and most heard.