“He’s Shiro the hero and he always will be.”
August 15, 2018 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Voltron: Legendary Defender Had a Gay Character All Along [Vulture] [SPOILERS] “For those who grew up on the classic ’80s cartoon Voltron, Netflix’s remake, Voltron: Legendary Defender, will seem quite different. Yes, five mechanical lions still combine to form a giant robot that kicks ass in space, but the show has been modernized in ways large and small.”
“Not only is the storytelling more serialized, with the five paladins of Voltron fighting to stop the domination of the evil Galra Empire, but in the seventh-season premiere, Legendary Defender reveals that the group’s leader, Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane, is gay.”
• Voltron's Complicated, Imperfect LGBQT Representation Is Tearing the Fandom Apart [io9] [SPOILERS]
“For many, the announcement was a significant moment of validation for a sizable portion of Voltron’s fandom that’s been advocating for queer representation on the show. Rather than delving into a plot about two of Voltron’s Paladins falling in love with one another the way some hoped, the series introduces Adam, Shiro’s long-term partner who lives back on Earth. In the days leading up to the season premiere, there was an understandable excitement within the fandom, given that Netflix and Dreamworks were rather tight-lipped about the upcoming character arcs. Finally, people had the chance to dive back into the show, and as everyone eventually finished the season, there were questions and confusion.”
• Voltron showrunner apologizes to fans following outrage over gay character’s storyline [Syfy Wire] [SPOILERS]
“Showrunner Joaquim Dos Santos took a lot of heat over the issue, which many saw as a needless continuation of the "bury your gays" trope. Santos recently took to his Twitter with a lengthy open letter, in which he apologizes to the fanbase and tries to get his intended message across. After confirming the many DM's that he has gotten in response to this story choice, he writes at first about inclusiveness, and how they "created this version of Voltron with the intent of being as inclusive as possible within the boundaries given." He admits that there are still boundaries for this type of, what he calls an “action adventure/product driven/traditionally boys toys." He writes that those boundaries have widened wince they started the show but that there is "100%" room to grow. He then gets into the controversy of season 7, saying that "if anyone for any reason took away from this season that our intention was to queer bait the VLD fandom I’d like to personally apologize. I can only speak to our intent and I can truly say we did not intend to bait anyone. I know that is not any consolation but it is the truth."”
• Voltron and the Fight to Make Shiro Queer [Den of Geek] [SPOILERS]
“Executive producer Lauren Montgomery goes on to add that the important thing for them was to, “allow the fans to see what they want to see. We didn’t wanna put anyone in a corner where other people feel like they are not represented.” That representation didn’t come to the series easily. While the Shiro/Adam scene took place at the start of Voltron season 7 it had originally been planned for season two. Speaking at San Diego Comic-Con, Dos Santos and Montgomery revealed that the flashback was originally supposed to take place in that season's premiere episode. They later explained to Den of Geek that the season two premiere was supposed to be just Keith and Shiro on the deserted planet interspersed with flashbacks to the Garrison. In fact the first few episode of season two would have included flashbacks for more of the team, according to Montgomery.”
• Voltron Showrunners Address LGBT+ Rep In Season Seven [The Mary Sue] [SPOILERS]
“Shiro matters to fans. His story matters. To ignore this in favor of giving him tragedy is a step backward as well as a step forward. Yes, animation is often not friendly towards gay characters, so to have a heroic protagonist be gay is important. But to give him a tragic arc and barely make his sexuality explicit is also not helpful to anyone. We need to make it clear to LGBT+ youth that not only do they exist, but that they can be happy too; too much emphasis on tragedy will only negatively affect already at-risk kids. It’s time to shake up the narrative and allow LGBT+ characters to exist without being tragedies or spoilers. We cannot just accept mediocre representation and hope for the best to come; we have to make our voices heard and state loudly and proudly that we as a community deserve better. Shiro and his LGBT+ fans deserved better, and hopefully Shiro will get a happy ending with someone else, despite his grief for Adam. If Shiro is the only paladin to end up alone or to end tragically, that would send a deeply painful message to his fans and to the youth. Let LGBT+ characters be happy, and you’ve got some truly revolutionary representation.”
posted by Fizz (55 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
meanwhile fandom youths are planning to make a kickstarter so they can buy the rights to the show and make their otp canon
posted by poffin boffin at 3:51 PM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


In other queer cartoon news, Rebecca Sugar's interview in EW about queerness in Steven Universe:
We need to let children know that they belong in this world. You can’t wait to tell them that until after they grow up or the damage will be done. You have to tell them while they’re still children that they deserve love and that they deserve support and that people will be excited to hear their story. When you don’t show any children stories about LGBTQIA characters and then they grow up, they’re not going to tell their own stories because they’re gonna think that they’re inappropriate, and they’re going to have a very good reason to think that because they’ve been told that through their entire childhood. Realizing that changed everything for me.

The other thing is that people would tell me often, “How are you getting these adult themes into your show?” And that would really strike me because love stories are not adult scenes. The idea that it is adult because it’s queer, the gravity of that started to set in for me and the fear I had growing up myself came into focus for me. The things that I felt I couldn’t talk about — even into my late 20s — came into focus for me. By including LGBTQIA content and characters in G-rated entertainment for kids, you tell kids when they’re young that they belong in this world. You can’t not tell them that. There can’t be only a certain group of kids that gets told someone will love you by all the entertainment that they see. It’s just so unfair. By the time I reached 2016, I felt the weight of it so powerfully I would’ve risked everything just to get to say this to you now in this moment.
posted by yasaman at 4:01 PM on August 15, 2018 [23 favorites]


Wow, timing. :-)
posted by Artw at 4:05 PM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


I feel like a lot of this would have been avoided if showrunners just committed to developing characters as LGBTQ from the start, rather than doing a big reveal after multiple seasons of highly toxic shipping drama. But I'm perpetually unimpressed that "reveal that the dude on this show I like has been gay all along" qualifies as even slacktivism these days.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 4:38 PM on August 15, 2018 [7 favorites]


Like... okay, I'm not going to really defend cishet girls here or anything, but especially for the queer part of any given fandom, you know, I'm not in Voltron but I'm used to this whole "we have to make our own love stories out of the characters we're given" thing? It seems like it'd be super weird to have spend years establishing for myself the stories I wanted to get out of a show, and then to suddenly have them be all "SURPRISE REPRESENTATION". I'm used to the queerness being a sort of DIY thing, and I love it when it's provided, but if you show up and announce that you've made me dinner two hours after I filled up on burritos, I mean, yay? But... less yay than if you'd done it before I went scrounging up something for myself.
posted by Sequence at 4:45 PM on August 15, 2018 [14 favorites]


I feel like a lot of this would have been avoided if showrunners just committed to developing characters as LGBTQ from the start,

Respectfully, yes, but that's not how getting greenlit for "kids" animation works right now.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:46 PM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


This has been a shitshow and I can't help but look askance at any medium that tries to downplay it (Den of Geek, io9).

The announcement that Shiro was gay and had a partner in Earth was accompanied with an enormous PR campaign, hyping it up as the greatest thing. Voltron ended up classified as a LGBT show in Netflix. The banner image was of the "new" couple. Everyone was patting their own backs because of their wokeness.

Then the season is released and whoops, the partner is killed two episodes in because "this is war". What a tragic coincidence that he was one of the two gay characters in the show. How unfortunate that there was no other way to raise the stakes.

I mean, it'd be shitty even without the PR campaign but considering how it all went down it feels disgusting. They _knew_ what was going to happen but doubled down on how woke they were. Ugh.
posted by Memo at 5:02 PM on August 15, 2018 [26 favorites]


It's also worth noting, I think it got a bit lost in the huge amount of discussion, which is fair, that they revealed a unnamed, degenerative illness for Shiro that was only really mentioned in the context of Shiro and Adam's breakup/as the impetus for it. He chooses his space job over spending his last healthy years with his boyfriend. Never mentioned before, never mentioned afterwards, confirmed by the showrunners to have been magically cured by alien experimentation torture. (Voltron is a lot.)

So, even more levels of Not Great.
posted by colorblock sock at 5:20 PM on August 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


Damn, SPOILERS.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:48 PM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Spoilers in more sense than one.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:53 PM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


We're doing think pieces about Voltron? The show about ancient mystical magic robot lions? Really?

I watched the original show, and I'm watching this remake with my kid (who also watches Stephen Universe, a show he discovered on his own). Voltron is a lot, but it is so much more and so much better than what other kids shows are doing that it's not even funny.

Let's say we operate at the level of the think pieces: most of the characters on the show are operating from the structure of the surprise reveal. This actually makes a lot of sense because these aren't completely new characters. This is the Pidge you knew. Only it's really not. This is the Keith you knew. Only it's really not. Actually, Haggar, Zarkon, Lotor etc. all were operating under the same structure (remember these guys? No you don't).

The aftermath of Pidge and Keith's respective reveals were longer than Shiro's, yes - but really not by much. They reveals around their identity and additional backstory really don't inform how they deal with whatever adventure they're on that much (except when they do, particularly with Keith - arguably his whole backstory is just an excuse to pursue different angles or completely different directions of the show's traditional conflicts). FWIW - Hunk being from a culture that knows about lau lau was what got my kid excited, and what made him feel seen and like he could have been part of what he's watching on screen.

On preview: what Hermione Granger said. BTW - my house is also going through a Harry Potter stage. I can only imagine the think pieces if Harry Potter were to come out today.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:11 PM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hey, cishet people? Maybe take the takes about how queer people need to stop being so upset and having such awful "think piece" opinions about their representation in media that unceasingly parrots harmful tropes about the kinds of futures we're allowed to have, and just keep them to yourselves. Somewhere else.

This isn't about how you're tired of hearing it. This is about how we're tired of seeing it.
posted by kafziel at 6:26 PM on August 15, 2018 [25 favorites]


I can only imagine the think pieces if Harry Potter were to come out today.

This may come as a shock, but queer people even when Harry Potter was first coming out did in fact talk about stuff like the lack of LGBT people even among the enormous and multicultural cast of the books, and lots of people had what I can politely call very mixed reactions to the post-canonical reveal about Dumbledore. If you didn't hear about any of this as it happened, probably you weren't spending much time listening much to LGBT people.
posted by Sequence at 7:07 PM on August 15, 2018 [34 favorites]


The show is great and civilization didn't collapse. The fanboys don't deserve this show. It belongs to my 13 year old daughter, who is more directly "woke" in ways that I don't care to discuss openly. She loves space cats, aliens, and one-liners. Toxic fanboys don't get to own cool shit like that anymore, and their complaints are beyond tiresome. At this point I would rather blast them back to the last century with a firehose than continue to drag them into this one.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:32 PM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


if you show up and announce that you've made me dinner two hours after I filled up on burritos, I mean, yay? But... less yay than if you'd done it before I went scrounging up something for myself.

Oof, yeah. This whole Shiro thing is weird because they'd apparently considered him gay since the beginning of writing the show and originally had planned to reveal it earlier in season two... because they were going to kill him off right after. And then there's not even anything explicitly romantic about his one scene with his boyfriend after all, and all the while some crew members have been playing along with shipping him with the boy he started teaching as a little kid. So I've been trying to ignore this part of the season because I really enjoyed the rest of it but it's ... hard to watch them pat themselves on the back for this.
posted by gaybobbie at 7:37 PM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


disappointed it's not the girl. We need more queer female characters.

but my favourite was always the whiny kid, anyways,
posted by jb at 7:40 PM on August 15, 2018


There is also a lot of weirdness going on with the way the white male show runners talk about Shiro (gay, asian) as a “GI Joe guy” and a lot of language emphasizing what a manly man he is despite being gay that just trips a lot of wires for me and for others in the fandom. Proudly burying their gays is a level of badness people were legitimately surprised to see in 2018. Most of the queer fans I know aren’t pushing to get their OTP validated, they’re afraid that the show is being written from a very cloistered straight mentallty that’s stuck at about the time “Philadelphia” came out— the mystery terminal illness that’s magically cured doesn’t help here— and that the remaining gay character is going to be thrown into that 80’s/90’s storyline, where LGBT people exist so that their suffering can help enlighten the real, straight, normal protagonists. If you've been watchig Steven Universe, the difference between queer narratives being created by queer people (or straight/cis folks who know queer people in real life) and bragging that their sole surviving gay character is “clearly the more G.I. Joe-type character, the hyper-masculine soldier guy, he’s still very much that guy. We just love that. We think that’s the coolest thing in the world.” It’s a lot.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 7:41 PM on August 15, 2018 [11 favorites]


(realised the irony of my comment, given the Stephen University thread just before. still want more queer femmes :)
posted by jb at 7:42 PM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


I’m on tumblr for HP, Yuri on Ice, and a little Voltron, and to me the bitching seemed very “We hate what you’ve done, and we are your fans, therefore you’re bad at your job”. I’m glad to see the complaints explained here in a more coherent way. I’m still finishing out the last couple eps, so haven’t formed a final opinion. Also, I hadn’t seen the PR blitz over Shiro being gay. I read an article about it, but didn’t realize that they had intentionally marketed his queerness. To me, that’s the worst part. It’s one thing to handle a character arc badly. It’s another to try to get brownie points for doing it when it’s that bad. I really got excited for a queer character in mainstream anime. This was a huge letdown.
posted by greermahoney at 8:09 PM on August 15, 2018


Voltron doing this is just another data point in a problem that some of us have been discussing for almost 30 years now. And that includes things we love deeply as well as things we really hate.

The double-standard where LGBTQ storylines are safe for secondary comics and print, but not safe enough to invest the big production dollars demanded of TV and cinema (or safe only if explored through cliches, ambiguous subtext, or late revelations) is a part of what some of us are tired of dealing with when we buy mass media products.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:31 PM on August 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


I’m like 3 seasons behind in watching and even I noticed how blatant the ads/marketing for this storyarc were in hyping up Shiro’s gay coding and the Shiro/Adam relationship. It’s not even like winkwink shiptease, there’s a straight-up rainbow.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:33 PM on August 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yuri on Ice is a great example where like--yeah, maybe with the realities of whatever market you're in, you can't do queer representation in the most fully-realized way that you would have liked to. So if you're trying, you do the best you can with what you have, and people respond to that accordingly, even when it has to be wrapped in a certain layer of plausible deniability? Being positive subtext, as long as it isn't buried too far down, is a lot better than being negative text. Which, I'm not totally against romantic tragedy, but you only get points for that if it's actually romantic. Just plain gay tragedy no longer gets points. I've already had that. I don't need more.
posted by Sequence at 8:44 PM on August 15, 2018 [7 favorites]


I love that that shit was definitely in the can when they announced the gay characters. imagine the shit-eating grin you would have to be sporting to announce a gay character to a cheering audience while already knowing they die after two scenes”
posted by nicebookrack at 8:45 PM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


update there are now two (2) separate groups of literal children who are promising their birthday money to literally try to buy the rights from netflix to remake the show in order to make their (presumably different but christ who fucking knows) OTPs canon
posted by poffin boffin at 9:14 PM on August 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


help
posted by poffin boffin at 9:15 PM on August 15, 2018


The reason this thread exists, and the reason this controversy exists, is precisely described in one of the provided links:

(Joaquim Dos Santos) admits that there are still boundaries for this type of, what he calls an “action adventure/product driven/traditionally boys toys." He writes that those boundaries have widened wince they started the show but that there is "100%" room to grow.

The ven diagram of your expectations (non-mediocre/non-token/non-problematic/non-cliche/non-tv-trope representation) and this particular form of media (which is basically long form robot toy commercial) simply do not intersect to the degree we would all like to see, right now. If they did, there wouldn't be any story here at all. It sucks that that's the case, and we can quibble about the degree to which Dos Santos' claim is or is not true (and I'm sure there's lots of corners of the internet that are doing precisely that), but let's go out on a limb, write it down in pencil - this is probably more true than false, right now.

From there, it's really not fair to compare something like VLA (which is trying, valiantly IMHO, to update what's really a pretty dated and goofy piece of IP into something more modern) to something like Stephen Universe, which was specifically created as an LGBTQ show that was accessible to young children.

This show exists in a world where people are actively raging against the fact that non-traditional characters are showing up in kid oriented media at all. Its showrunners took risks they didn't have to take (in fact, consider the previous attempt - Voltron Force, which took comparatively no risks in this regard). After all this - what are the odds they try and take those risks again? Even if the showrunners want to - what are the odds Netflix or any other mass market content creator lets them?

To parts of MeFi, this show might be regressive, hackneyed trash. To large swaths of its audience, it might actually represent a fairly bald faced progressive ask. Near as I can tell, Stephen Universe doesn't seem to have generated a huge audience outside of LGBTQ families or their allies. It's great that show exists, but it's basically preaching to the choir. VLA is attempting to address a broader constituency - would you rather they not bothered? Serious question - what non-Japanese anime, robots at war, space opera kid show is doing better than VLA in these respects?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:31 AM on August 16, 2018


NoRelationToLea: VLA is attempting to address a broader constituency - would you rather they not bothered?

No? But I don't see why just because there's no top-of-mind similar show (and what a narrow category you draw!) doesn't mean people can't be disappointed and critical. No one here or anywhere I can see is calling it "regressive, hackneyed trash" -- that's all on you.

The world smacks down people who want to make it better all the time. Let's not deploy whataboutism and "oh no now they'll never show LGBT characters again" scare tactics in order to shut down those who want better, more representative media.
posted by watermelon at 2:25 AM on August 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


No one here or anywhere I can see is calling it "regressive, hackneyed trash" -- that's all on you.

Maybe you should read some of the links? Here I'll help - go to the Mary Sue piece, then do Ctrl-F "regressive".

The world smacks down people who want to make it better all the time. Let's not deploy whataboutism and "oh no now they'll never show LGBT characters again" scare tactics in order to shut down those who want better, more representative media.

Speaking of scare tactics - apparently, the people that want to make the world better can't think of a more effective path to better, more representative media than literally sending death threats to the cast and crew.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:53 AM on August 16, 2018


NoRelationToLea, you're right.

There aren't that many shows out there meant for a broader audience that tries to deal with queer characters. It's nice to have some sort of representation, I guess.

On the other hand.

I haven't seen this one, but the bury your gays trope? It's pretty common. You have a queer character. You don't really mention they're queer. Then you do, in a burst of character development. Then you kill them off.

I remember the first time I really noticed it, in the comic book series Exiles, with their version of Sunfire, who I loved. She was Asian. She was self-assured, she was powerful, she was proud, and eventually she eas out, and she was everything I was not.

And then after she fell in love with Spider-Woman, an alternate universe Mary Jane, she died. Heroically, but she died. After not even being able to say goodbye.

That did a number on me. It's not hard to imagine how it does a number on a lot of queer folk who barely see any representation of themselves, and the ones that do end up portraying a life that never has a happy ending, one that is brief and leads to death. It's not hard to imagine how it just reinforces that impression among worried parents who worry about how their queer kids are just gonna die horribly in some way or another.

I'm glad they have a gay character in this new Voltron. And I know shows should talk about death, and loss, and it's never exclusive to queer characters that they lose and suffer. But it's almost never that we see those queer characters have a happy ending, either. They never get to settle down and half the white picket fence, 2.4 children, go on Alaskan cruises after they retire, and then die together holding hands when they're 90 of just being old. Someone always has to die. And it seems like grieving the main queer character's significant other is always a good, quick way to do it.
posted by anem0ne at 4:24 AM on August 16, 2018 [8 favorites]


The context in which the word "regressive" appears is this:
In the past, LGBT+ representation often had to end in death or tragedy to slip past censors; a lot of lesbian pulp literature ends with this to show a return to “normalcy.” However, we’re past the point in time where this needs to happen, and to have tragic LGBT+ characters is not progressive but rather stagnant and even regressive. Truly revolutionary representation is not just a character not being defined by their sexuality but thriving, happy, and not bearing the brunt of all sacrifices.

Shiro matters to fans. His story matters. To ignore this in favor of giving him tragedy is a step backward as well as a step forward. Yes, animation is often not friendly towards gay characters, so to have a heroic protagonist be gay is important. But to give him a tragic arc and barely make his sexuality explicit is also not helpful to anyone. We need to make it clear to LGBT+ youth that not only do they exist, but that they can be happy too; too much emphasis on tragedy will only negatively affect already at-risk kids.(emphasis added)
Doing LGBTQ criticism of media is how we get better and more inclusive LGBTQ media. Maybe not this season, or next season, or even this decade, but some showrunners and writers do pay attention to make their products just a little bit better. Andras paid attention to criticism of "kill your gays" and vowed not to kill Haught on Wynnona Earp. Writers for Brooklyn Nine-Nine worked with Beatriz, who is an out bisexual woman, as part of developing their coming-out episode.

Good works of art can handle it. We have 40 years of Star Wars criticism, 50 for Star Trek, 60 for Doctor Who, up to 80 for comic book publishing, a century for Sherlock Holmes, 400 for the works of William Shakespeare, and 4,000 in the Bible. Having a good body of criticism about a work isn't going to kill it, it's entirely optional for you to engage with criticism, and it's not the equivalent of kicking the creator's puppy, or your puppy since you can easily just skip to the next article.

Some of us also criticize the current acceptability of harassment from segments of aggrieved fandom as well. So there's not really much room to argue that criticism of a work is equivalent to death threats. We can work the slippery slope in the other way as well. Is the only role for fandom blogging merely posts that faithfully describe the surface features of a work? (Context: EA games threatened to withhold advertising revenue to publishers who did not provide positive review of their products.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 4:39 AM on August 16, 2018 [10 favorites]


I'm glad they have a gay character in this new Voltron. And I know shows should talk about death, and loss, and it's never exclusive to queer characters that they lose and suffer. But it's almost never that we see those queer characters have a happy ending, either.

I'm reminded of this.

• Understanding Legend of Korra's Queer Ending [Out]
““It was originally written in the script over a year ago that Korra and Asami held hands as they walked into the spirit portal,” Konietzko wrote on his own blog. “I think the entire last two-minute sequence with Korra and Asami turned out beautiful, and again, it is a resolution of which I am very proud. I love how their relationship arc took its time, through kindness and caring.”

Writing about Nickelodeon’s support for the ending, he added: “We approached the network and while they were supportive there was a limit to how far we could go with it, as just about every article I read accurately deduced,” explaining why there wasn’t the kiss that many fans had hoped for.

“Was it a slam-dunk victory for queer representation?” Konietzko asked. “I think it falls short of that, but hopefully it is a somewhat significant inching forward.””
I love that Korasami is a thing, but I'm also envisioning some executive someplace arguing and haggling over what might be acceptable and what might be perceived as "too gay". “Well, they can hold hands and look at each other, but no kissing.”

I guess with this kind of representation, it's always two steps forward and three steps back. Inches indeed.

*sighs*
posted by Fizz at 4:39 AM on August 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


FWIW - Hunk being from a culture that knows about lau lau was what got my kid excited, and what made him feel seen and like he could have been part of what he's watching on screen.


Like, this bit. It's always nice to see a queer character! It makes queer kids feel seen and like they can be a part of what's happening.

But then over the course of many, many, many years, when they start to notice that virtually every time they see themselves on screen, their lovers almost always get fridged? How they almost always end up suffering beautifully, but alone? How they never get to really express their love, how it's always hidden, done in subtext, like it's shameful or not interesting?

I guess it's nice to know that we can exist, in fragments, in pieces, but never as a whole person. Better than not existing, maybe.

But sometimes it just gets really tiring to be begging for scraps.
posted by anem0ne at 5:08 AM on August 16, 2018 [11 favorites]


Near as I can tell, Stephen Universe doesn't seem to have generated a huge audience outside of LGBTQ families or their allies. It's great that show exists, but it's basically preaching to the choir.

What a weird thing to say about one of Cartoon Network's most popular shows.
posted by Memo at 5:37 AM on August 16, 2018 [10 favorites]


oh my god i will never be free of voltron discourse
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 5:47 AM on August 16, 2018


This show exists in a world where people are actively raging against the fact that non-traditional characters are showing up in kid oriented media at all.

Fuck this euphemism. If a parent wants to rage that their kid is seeing black people or LGBTQ people in a cartoon, they can own that shit for what it is. If a showrunner doesn't have the integrity to stand up for inclusiveness, make them say out loud the groups they think aren't good enough for a presumed straight white audience. Do not give them the out of pointing to some fucked up notion of tradition.
posted by tocts at 5:50 AM on August 16, 2018 [16 favorites]


And personally, I'm conditionally down for tragic LGBTQ storylines. GLOW this year managed to handle internalized homophobia and 1980s HIV stigma pretty well IMO. But that's kind of a special case where of a show that manages to address uncomfortable issues in an 80s context through great performances and lean dialogue choices.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:57 AM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


What a weird thing to say about one of Cartoon Network's most popular shows.

Yeah, particularly when the interview with Rebecca Sugar in the other post suggests that she was able to set Cartoon Network an ultimatum of quitting her own show if they didn't get behind her on the LGBT stuff. Cartoon Network are infamously dismissive of their show creators and yet they folded.

On Voltron specifically the showrunners should have done better but I liked what Colin Spacetwinks noted on twitter: "like, yes, it should be better known that even getting the smallest, most pathetic crumb of queer representation is actually fantastically difficult behind the scenes, but if you don't/can't actually talk about the behind the scenes, then what're audiences supposed to do?"

@GenderNullPointerException: thank you for that succinct description, it's a useful one to think with. Acceptance that criticism can exist as its own art form outside the 'uncritical descriptive coverage vs. death threats to creators' axis seems to be increasingly rare in fandom.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 6:06 AM on August 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think the thing that makes this feel more like the 100 than, say, Legend of Korra is the marketing of it. Korra didn't try to market on the queer representation while the show was going on. The SDCC announcement was huge - I'm only vaguely Voltron-adjacent and heard about it (including others being like 'I don't know who this shiro is but I'm glad that he's gay'). It still wouldn't have been great if they had a queer relationship and then killed off the lover, but there's something especially egregious about claiming to cater to people who want gay representation, showing the bare minimum, and then killing the person.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:30 AM on August 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


NoRelationToLea : Maybe you should read some of the links? Here I'll help - go to the Mary Sue piece, then do Ctrl-F "regressive".

Please knock off the condescension. I did as you suggested and couldn't see where it was called regressive, hackneyed trash. The part GenderNullPointerException quoted is even-handed criticism and consists of no name-calling of the show.
posted by watermelon at 7:54 AM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


it's entirely optional for you to engage with criticism, and it's not the equivalent of kicking the creator's puppy, or your puppy since you can easily just skip to the next article.

Let's run with your formulation - it's also entirely optional for people outside the intended audience to skip to the next show. Especially if they feel that show is doing them wrong. See how inclusive that formulation feels? Also...

Some of us also criticize the current acceptability of harassment from segments of aggrieved fandom as well.

Yeah, you're not really moving the needle here. If criticism results in better representation, then perhaps you should also investigate how to get to a better fandom. A fandom, btw, that needs no help from me (or you pantomiming me) in terms of making their own equivalence between criticism and death threats. People going after kids shows use to be the exclusive domain of the religious right. Is the current dynamic really the change you'd like to see?

But sometimes it just gets really tiring to be begging for scraps.

Totally hear you. Most of the world's population are right there with you in terms of choosing between being represented poorly or not at all. The left has a deserved reputation for eating their own. Dos Santos & Montgomery were also involved in Legend of Korra. Again, their current show really doesn't have to try and be inclusive at all, even in subtext. Points (and death threats) for trying, I guess.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:35 PM on August 16, 2018


[We're getting into the Whatbout Weeds here. Maybe try to keep this loosely on topic?]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:41 PM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Totally hear you. Most of the world's population are right there with you in terms of choosing between being represented poorly or not at all. The left has a deserved reputation for eating their own. Dos Santos & Montgomery were also involved in Legend of Korra. Again, their current show really doesn't have to try and be inclusive at all, even in subtext.

I kinda feel like you don't, because otherwise you wouldn't keep trying to tell queer folk to pipe down?
posted by anem0ne at 1:05 PM on August 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


I'm only partway through the current season and haven't hit the contentious part yet, but a few general comments about VLD and representation which hopefully won't make me feel too silly once I'm caught up.

It really needs to be underlined that Shiro isn't just a queer character; he's a queer Asian character with multiple disabilities (an amputee with PTSD and apparently a chronic degenerative illness) who's a major character on an action-adventure show for kids. This is huge! Even with the flaws of this storyline, I'm both happy for and ever so slightly jealous of the queer disabled Asian kids who get to grow up with this. It would have meant a lot to me to have a character like Shiro when I was a kid.

Broadly speaking I think the showrunners do a pretty good job of having underrepresented characters just around and doing things. However, they've faltered on certain storylines because they haven't thought through the implications of those stories for marginalized characters. So you have Princess Allura (Kimberly Brooks), a fantastic, complex, well-rounded character who just happens to be a black (alien) woman, and is probably going to be to this generation of kids what Leia was to mine...and then you have the Allura vs Keith storyline from s2, which almost went somewhere nuanced but spent more time on how Allura's "survived genocide instigated by uncle figure" trauma hurt Keith (a light-skinned dude) than how it hurt Allura.

Shiro exists in the shadow of the original Shiro's death way back in the 80s, and the VLD team's done interesting things with that in the show itself -- his repeated deaths/resurrections; his ill-fated clones* and alternate selves; his evil foils who also seemingly die and return, etc etc...it's dark, but the kind of dark that usually only white guy characters get, you know? Fun, fic-writable dark, not canon fodder dark.

But every time the marketing team ramps up with the "Will Shiro survive the next season?? Is he still worthy of being a paladin?? Watch and find out :D :D" stuff, I see a strong uptick in anxious social media posts from marginalized teens who want this character who is like them, but not like other characters they've seen or read about before, to just live, and be a worthy hero, and not be sidelined as damaged goods. And maybe some of this is unavoidable as long as inclusiveness is still an aspirational benchmark rather than matter of fact for every show, making the fate of every marginalized character weigh more heavily. But more thoughtful marketing would probably go a long way!

*Although, don't get me started on how Shiro's clone was lazily and disturbingly un-personed the moment his being a real human being with thoughts and feelings became inconvenient to the plot.
posted by bettafish at 2:57 PM on August 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


It's interesting that you're perceiving the message as "pipe down." Here's the thing:

1) Is the LGBQT audience the intended audience of this show? No.
2) Is LGBQT representation (or really, any representation) core to what this thing needs to do to succeed as a show? No.
3) Do the makers of this show want to honor LGBQT representation? The showrunners seem to. Netflix...not so much.
4) Has any show in this genre successfully navigated these waters before? No.
5) Has any show regardless of genre successfully navigated these waters before? Very few.

Yet we're expecting Voltron to execute near perfectly with regard to issues that are, respectfully, pretty firmly outside the category of core to what the show is trying to do and the audience to which it's trying to speak. And we're following that up by making (or minimizing, or glossing over, or failing to rein-in) death threats - to the people who are clearly out in front for you here - in response. And it's not like death threats are the only things being lobbed at Dos Santos and Montgomery. That's not just the wrong response, they're the wrong target. I'm saying all that's pretty fucked up. Maybe you read that as "pipe down."

...which leads us to GenderNullPointerException's pretty interesting question from earlier: "Is the only role for fandom blogging merely posts that faithfully describe the surface features of a work?"

Maybe the answer to that is something like yes. Know who else wants to have greater control of their media? The folks who want to remake The Last Jedi. The people who took issue with Rick & Morty moving to a gender balanced writing room. Comic fans who take issue with Marvel's diversity and representation initiatives. Those folks are pretty damn sure of their convictions, too. They've also got petitions, crowdfunding campaigns, etc. up and running. Toxic fandoms seem to share a lot of tactics, if not philosophical positions.

FWIW, it seems that the even Stephen Universe fandom has it's own...issues. If even a show that's held up as getting it mostly right develops a problematic fandom, maybe the problem doesn't lie with the shows or showrunners at all. Maybe all these respective fandoms should let their storytellers tell their stories, instead. FWIW - I could see how that also could be interpreted by all these fandoms as "pipe down."
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:14 PM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


1) Is the LGBQT audience the intended audience of this show? No.

I mean, I sort of get saying that it's a kids show, but being children doesn't preclude children from being GLBTQ. Those kids are part of their audience, and your insistence that queer people (including queer kids) just shouldn't watch because it isn't for them is kind of weird.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:52 PM on August 16, 2018 [12 favorites]


It really doesn't seem like you've heard me at all.

You're conflating all of our criticism and equating it to those sending death threats.

You're dismissing all of our concerns and issues with "they tried" before going right back to "fandom is sending death threats" and pretty much implying that we're on the same side.

You're pretty much then equating all of that with "you're just like the white supremacists who are hating on The Last Jedi".

You're really insistent on this whataboutism and bothsidesism.

It really seems like you're not engaging with anything I've been saying in good faith.
posted by anem0ne at 8:36 PM on August 16, 2018 [13 favorites]


The reason why it's coming across as "pipe down" is because this "be reasonable" sort of shit that you're spewing is frequently deployed whenever there's an issue at all.

It was used against people complaining about the misgendered casting of ScarJo in Rub and Tug. Points 1-5 pretty much were used there.

It was used against people complaining about the casting of all those cis dudes as trans women in all those movies. Points 1-5 pretty much were used there.

It's used against people complaining about racial representation in movies and TV shows. Swap out "LGBTQ" for "[ethnicity]" and you could use points 1-5 once a-fucking-gain.

It's never used to actually continue a conversation, it's used to shut conversation down because once the misrepresentation is done, nobody fucking wants to engage in that conversation again. People in the majority decide that they've done something nice and start to go suck each others' dicks, only to pretty much repeat this shit again and again and again.

You know what does seem to get people to listen? Being a fucking squeaky wheel.

So when you say "maybe you shouldn't criticize them" and then equate our critiques with the loonballs who are sending death threats, you're pretty much disregarding everything that's being said with some "we hear you" pablum so you don't actually have to engage. You're saying "they tried, that should be enough for you" as if that sop is going to be enough and that we should be grateful and shut up.

So, no.

If you still can't see the difference between that disappointment in how queer characters have been handled poorly yet again, how there are never happy endings for queer characters, how there's frustration in these tropes being reified over and over again in every single representation we get and those sending death threats?

Then you're not fucking hearing a goddamn thing.
posted by anem0ne at 8:45 PM on August 16, 2018 [14 favorites]


@NoRelationToLea

Since the mods appear not to want to do anything about this, I’ll speak up.

We, the queer, are allowed to have opinions on the queer representation of a queer character in a show, even if you don’t consider it a “queer show.” Especially in a post specifically about the queerness of the character. I have no idea what your axe to grind is, but I’d appreciate you not grinding it here anymore. Your opinion that we’re a being unreasonable has been heard loud and clear. Consider your mission accomplished and move on. You disagree with the premise of the post. We get it. Other people in this thread have tried to make an interesting discussion, but it’s turned into battling your specific issues over and over. For future reference, this is how a thread is ruined.
posted by greermahoney at 8:57 PM on August 16, 2018 [12 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Please take a step back, folks, it really doesn't have to be one person vs. everyone else in here.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 4:49 AM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's funny, because elsewhere I have a reputation as a crank on the notion that fandom "slacktivism" pushing to bring characters out of the closet after multiple seasons of development is a waste of queer energy, whether we're talking about Voltron, Sherlock, Teen Wolf, or Supernatural. (I'm not including tinhatters in there because they're egregiously anti-gay and wrong in most cases.) In fact, I'm moderately skeptical of the fandom opinion that if there's a cute guy on the show, he's gotta be slashed with someone else (or rather, how that's often done). I'd much rather put my energies into funding LGBTQ-friendly independent and small press works.

But if a mass-media product chooses to go with "kill your gays," I--along with the editorial boards of multiple fan-related sites--are entitled to have the opinion that "kill your gays" is a cliche. That's how mass media works, and Metafilter has an entire sub-site dedicated to fan opinions about mass media. Choosing to die on the hill that an opinion about "kill your gays" is categorically worse than an opinion on "Thanos was an environmentalist" probably says something.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:41 AM on August 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


Also, when I express the opinion that "kill your gays is overused, and needs to be used with care" my audience isn't the producers of Voltron, it's people like Sarah Gailey, or the next JY Yang or Gaiman, or McGuire who are developing new work now.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:04 AM on August 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


2) Is LGBQT representation (or really, any representation) core to what this thing needs to do to succeed as a show? No.

The only way this makes any sense is if you assume that building a plausible world that's recognizably human isn't a core function of the show. GLBTQ people exist in reality. We're visible in reality. Any reasonably large and complex science fictional world that does not include us is either a badly-built world or implying that there's been some kind of genocide or suppression of us so that we are not visible.

"But this isn't part of the core purpose of the story" has been trotted out since there's been an organized science fiction fandom. Whhhhhyyyyy does the scientist have to be a woman? It's distracting, and the story is really about science, not gender! Why does Rue have to be black? This is a universal story about oppression, not a story about race! Why does NK Jemisin have to inform us that Tonkee is a trans woman? It's totally unnecessary! (That last is from a conversation I actually had with a living human being in the flesh.)

But what people mean, actually, is that including Not Like Them characters forces them to be aware of the worldbuilding and forces them to think about the story in more depth and with more complexity - forces them to focus on the parts of the story that aren't pure entertainment or pure intellectual pleasure for them.

I mean, it's okay to want something to just be fun, but it can't be "just fun" that is built on pretending that, eg, Black people don't exist, or gay people don't actually have significant interiority and are just props for straight people.

If you are making a large, diverse science fictional world in which a large cast of characters interacts in different ways over a long period, that world needs to have a plausible explanation for its peoples and cultures - why are there no Black people on the space colony? Why is everyone straight? Why are there no women except a handful of hot young ones who don't have women friends? The plausible explanations for white-dominated, straight-only, male-dominated worlds don't reflect very well on those worlds, so people prefer to pretend that it's just neutral, not part of the core mission, whatever.

Science fiction narratives are accountable for their worldbuilding - the moreso with large, long-lasting, developed worlds.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 AM on August 17, 2018 [11 favorites]


1) Is the LGBQT audience the intended audience of this show? No.

I'm just gonna state outright that the idea that if a work of fiction isn't at its core about being LGBTQ and/or non-white it therefore cannot be criticized for doing a bad job representing LGBTQ and/or non-white people is super fucking offensive. Stories about humans that erase the existence and experience of large swathes of those who are human serve to dehumanize those who need representation the most.
posted by tocts at 9:41 AM on August 17, 2018 [14 favorites]


So, while this was really more written with respect to Crazy Rich Asians, I find the concept of "narrative plenitude" and "narrative scarcity" applies really well to queer stories, as well.

While queer stories are currently having a marked flowering, starting to appear in more and more noticeable amounts, there's still quite a bit of scarcity--which is why, thanks to that scarcity, particularly in the mainstream, having every queer character have a tragic end or live their life in quiet, miserable solitude can be so damaging. It emphasizes the fact that queer people don't get happy endings--and even more noxiously, it suggests to a lot of people, whose knowledge of queer people may be mostly driven by these representations, that being queer is a life of tragedy and despair.

And ironically, toxically, it subliminally suggests to queer people, particularly young queer people, that their lives will never be as happy as straight people's.

Sorrow is not what defines a queer life. There's so much joy, too, not that you'd ever really see it in mainstream media. And that's why, as GenderNullPointerException says, it's so important to push back against these tropes for the next time.

Because otherwise nothing would change.
posted by anem0ne at 10:31 AM on August 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


Like... okay, I'm not going to really defend cishet girls here or anything

I don't know how many times I have to bang this drum: the people in shipping fandom are more queer than not. The teenage girls are less straight than you think.

And in this case in particular there's a whole body of criticism coming from queer adult women, that's being dismissed by conflating it with the shallow stereotype of teenage girls who want their yaoi.

Stoooopppppppp
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 9:22 AM on August 20, 2018


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