On her blog, Foz Meadows looks at the anti-diversity argument that giving women/gays/minorities a leading character they can identify with is just tokenism or political correctness or unbelievable or just objectionable for some other reason. As she points out, when people argue this is somehow wrong
they forget the point of stories. We have, quite literally, an entire genre of films, books, comics, games and TV shows dedicated to showing us how normal, mediocre straight white guys – literal everymen, as proudly proclaimed in their blurbs and trailers and other forms of promotional bumpf – can rise up and save the world and the day and get the girl, even when they’ve had absolutely nothing going for them and no pertinent skills before that point. It might happen through luck or hard work, through outside help or unknown possession of a secret destiny, or sometimes a combination of all four, but it does happen, over and over and over again, with the cosmic regularity of sunset, and do you know what? Regardless of whether we love or hate or meh those individual stories, everyone who watches or reads or plays them understands, at base, that a certain degree of implausibility is the fucking point. The idea isn’t to create a hyper-real explanation as to why John Doe is suddenly the only man standing between Earth and alien annihilation, although it’s always nice when the worldbuilding rises to the occasion: the fundamental point of the everyman as hero is to make us, the everyday audience, feel as if we could be heroes, too.
And that the goal isn’t to erase the WASP straight male from leading roles nor to put out lots of crap justified by having female/black/gay/bisexual leads, but to have them in good roles — though that said, Meadows argues, it’s perfectly natural to get excited about a role even if it’s flawed because there’s still so little out there.
Her piece is good, and I recommend it, but as I was reading, I started thinking about children’s films and TV. Stranger Things and all its antecedents such as Goonies, ET, Explorers. And before them, some of Disney’s assorted (and frequently lame) kids vs. crooks films. Or the countless variations from my childhood such as Enid Blyton’s numerous stories of kid groups (The Adventurous Four, the Five Find-Outers, the Secret Seven) who exposed crooks and busted evil schemes. Or Robin, the Newsboy Legion and other young super-heroes.
All unrealistic, because children going up against organized crime wind up dead. All written to cater to a specific demographic. Yet while people may laugh at the unrealisticness, nobody’s thrown into the frothing fits the way the all-female Ghostbusters do. We accept kids enjoy reading about themselves (even if they read older stuff too). Lots of adults enjoy stuff targeted to kids (I doubt ten year olds are buying the hardback Newsboy Legion collections). But if the demographic targeted and focused on is “women” or “blacks” that’s something objectionable.
Is it because the kid groups tend to be mostly or entirely male and white, so the anti-diversity people can identify with the protagonists in a way that they can’t if it’s a woman or a trans character? Or that “kid stuff” has been around so long we take it for granted, while diversity feels like a searing new attack on WASP male privilege (even though the issues have been discussed since the 1970s, at least)? I suppose you could argue that “kid stuff” isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but that doesn’t stop a lot of adults watching Stranger Things or ET.
This isn’t a perfect analogy, but I think it’s a good start on one.