Normal People

It occurs to me that I know very few “normal” people. By “normal”, I mean what the mainstream media think of as “normal”, and try and promote as such: White, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual male with no physical or mental disabilities and a disposable income. You have to delve pretty deeply into media to find a main character (for fiction) or lead presenter (for non-fiction) who isn’t. There are examples, yes, but they are pretty few and far between. Hustle, for instance, has a black male lead. But he’s a con-man, a criminal, and there are three WASHMwnPoMDaaDI on his team, and in order for their cons to succeed he either has to be “whiter” than the white people they target, or he has to be a black stereotype (DJ, blinged-up rap producer, scary gangster). What about something older, like Othello? The full title is actually, Othello, the Moor of Venice, just to warn you all up-front that the main character is not pasty-white. He’s a mercenary, not a very prestigious occupation, and his second-in-command is white. Othello is a jealous man, and ends up as a murderer who commits suicide.

That’s colour taken care of, what about gender? Austen? Her central characters are usually young females seeking husbands of some description, and the social structure of the time more-or-less required that a young lady of any standing find herself a husband to look after her. Austen’s leading ladies spend so much time worrying about their potential marriage prospects, that the story structures are bent to the point of the male characters being more important than the female protagonists. Farscape, The Simpsons, Harry Potter, Star Wars, the post-hiatus (and some very few of the pre-hiatus) series’ of Dr Who – they all feature competent, sensible, intelligent, capable women, but all in support or secondary roles. In some cases it’s so we can laugh at the incompetent male leads, in some it’s because the male leads can’t do everything, but in all cases the female characters are not the lead, and in all cases the male lead is a white Anglo-Saxon (if you accept that the bulk of those who colonised America and later formed the ruling clique came from Britain, Ireland and Germany – and that in The Simpsons yellow skin is white), and they all have at least one of no physical or mental disabilities and a disposable income.

Anglo-Saxon – the only exceptions I can think of for the lead being an Anglo-Saxon, is in dramas set in Scotland. Heterosexual – the only TV show I can think of with an openly gay lead character is Queer as Folk, written by Russel T Davies who is not straight. Shameless has a couple of gay supporting characters, but the only other gay or bi characters I can think of (apart from when RTD wrote Dr Who) are either comic relief, comic caricatures, or closeted, and they’re certainly not leads. No physical or mental disabilities – I can’t actually think of any lead character who has anything more disabling than myopia, unless it’s played for laughs. Disposable income – pretty much all the cast of any soap opera (*spit*) will not have one, but soap operas have ensemble casts, they don’t have leads. The Trotters from Only Fools & Horses had disposable incomes, enough to keep themselves living in comfort, even in the early series. Vladimr and Estragon, the leads in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, are tramps with no disposable income, but two characters in an absurdist play by an avant-garde/post-modernist playwright are not exactly mainstream.

So, yeah, the mainstream media consider WASHMwnPoMDaaDI to be the default/normal of the human race.

And less than half the people I know are WASHMwnPoMDaaDI. I know at least a dozen people who are (or who I have reason to believe may be) gay or bi, some of whom are female. Easily more than half the people I know are female, and more than half the people I know have a mental or physical disability. A small portion of people I know are not white, and some of those who are are not Anglo-Saxon. Many of the people I know do not have a disposable income.

So why, mainstream media, are so many lead characters not like anyone I know? Isn’t that how you get people to watch/read your stuff? By giving sympathetic portrayals of people who are similar to your audience? So where’s the heavily-promoted TV show about the high-functioning Aspergic actor, with his female epileptic friend, his anarchist-goth sidekick, and his disabled musician mentor? Eh? Eh?



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