Jordan Woods Robinson and Ross Marquand in AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
We weren’t even going to review this episode because we’re so far behind on all our TV reviewing and still stuck in the middle of Oscars red carpet bitchery. But we needed to get away from our computers after almost 24 straight hours of Oscars blogging, so we sat down to watch this and then wound up totally surprised by our reaction to it. When it became clear the direction they were going with this new character, we couldn’t help but lean forward a little and pay closer attention. And when the hour was up, we found we had something we needed to say.
It’s this: representation matters.
You are reading the words of a Gen X white man with all that entails, not the least of which is the enormous privilege that station is granted in our society. We aren’t the best people to talk about media representation because the majority of media and storytelling is told from the point of view of white men, mostly white men above a certain age. In other words, in many ways, we (Tom & Lorenzo) are the most privileged class in the world.
And while many may disagree with us on the details, for the most part, this isn’t a bad time for gay representation in the media. There are a decent number of gay and lesbian characters in all sorts of TV shows and movies. Even better, our entertainment machines are slowly learning that there’s more than one kind of gay person out there. We won’t claim it’s never problematic, but sometimes we look at the totally crap representations of women, black people, trans people, Muslims and Asians (among many, many others) and realize that, for gay people at least, a lot of our battles on this front have been won, even if society itself is only halfway there to accepting us completely. In fact, it was the reviews of this episode by other white men; other straight white men, who said that the introduction of Aaron and his boyfriend Eric was no big deal that prompted us to take time out from yelling at Oscar nominees to say something. Gentleman, with all due respect, it’s a big fucking deal.
Where were the same-sex attractions in Star Wars? Or The Avengers? Or Tolkien? Or on the starship Enterprise? Where are the big, famous gay adventure heroes? Go ahead. Name five. Three, even. Name one gay adventure character that’s got the kind of cultural cache as a James Kirk or James Bond. Indiana Jones or Han Solo. Aragorn, Frodo, Batman. Ellen Ripley. Jack Shephard and Kate Austen. Even a Rick Grimes or Michonne or Daryl Dixon. There isn’t one. Sure, you can find gay characters in certain types of genre stories (not least of which in the Game of Thrones universe), but traditionally, when stories take flight into fancy and adventure, gay people get erased completely. When a character in a post-apocalyptic story demands to be taken to his captured lover or shot on the spot; when you see that kind of heroism and deep commitment to another person in a fantasy or sci-fi or adventure story, it has always been a man and a woman. Always. In thousands of instances. Even now, at our ages, when it feels like the major battles have been won in terms of acceptance, we felt our hearts stir a little bit when scenes of post-apocalyptic bloodshed suddenly turned on a dime to scenes of affection and love between two gay men. You’re so used to seeing Maggie and Glenn declare their love for each other that you never stopped to wonder if any other kinds of love survived in this world. So few people do.
So yes, this matters and yes, you need to be aware how clueless and privileged you sound when you claim it doesn’t. Whether Aaron and Eric turn out to be villains or crazies or cannibals later on doesn’t even matter. It doesn’t even matter if they’re both dead next week. For now, it’s enough that two men like this exist openly in this universe – and that the show did a very good job of introducing them. The very fact of their existence gave the sensation of accidentally bumping an old wound. It doesn’t cause you pain, but you’re surprised the wound still exists at all.
[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]