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24 January 2011 @ 12:40 pm
Prejudice in Media, Pt 1: Lost  
Lately, when watching TV shows or movies, I can't help but analyze them for racism and sexism. I feel like sharing my observations, though I probably do sometimes see issues where there really aren't any.


Note: Contains very minor character spoilers.

Okay, first, here's a list of the characters at the start of the show: The Doctor (White), The Con Man (White), The Fat Person (Hispanic), The Pregnant Person (White), The Ditz (White), The Federal Agent (White), The Convict (White), The Businessman (White), The Survivalist (White), The Subservient Spouse (Korean), The Controlling Spouse (Korean), The Torturer (Arabic), The Magical Kid (African American), The Person Waiting For his/her Spouse (African American), The Easily Angered Person (African American).

Sexism: "Lost" is insanely sexist. For instance, how many of the above characters are female? If you've never seen the show, I'm sure you'll only fail to guess one of them. Of the fifteen characters mentioned above, five are female, and the four obvious ones are completely useless for quite a long time. The Pregnant Lady is, well, pregnant. That's really it until she has the kid, and then she's The Mother. Really, that's all there is to her. The Subservient Spouse is, well, married. Her husband is very controlling. Apart from that, and some racial stereotyping, she has a husband, and that's kinda it. The woman waiting for her husband before she'll do anything is, well, waiting for her husband for an entire season. We're occasionally reminded that she's still sitting there and still waiting for her husband, but that's really all there is to her character until she becomes a blatant racial stereotype. The Ditz is useless the entire time she's in the series. Oh, and she slept around a lot.

The character that people have pointed me at and said, "Look, this series isn't sexist! It has a strong female character who isn't a negative stereotype!" would be the Convict. You know, the one who killed a man, is being chased by a man who its vaguely implied has fallen in love with her, whose primary plot is deciding which guy she loves, and who gets repeatedly caught (by men) in that Damsel In Distress part of the upper arm that renders women helpless who have been previously shown to be badass in combat. The number of times she's used as a hostage for people to gain leverage over male characters is quite absurd.

Several more female characters are introduced, some of them not negative stereotypes, but the general trends continue. In general, the female characters in the series exist for one or more of the following purposes: (a) to give birth (preferably on screen), (b) to be married, (c) to be useless, (d) to be protected by men, (e) to die. Sure, most of the characters in the series die, but the women die to spurn men into action or to trigger emotional growth in male characters, whereas the men die and that's that.

Also, the number of gratuitous birth scenes in this series made me want to punch a writer in the face. Seriously. There's more to women than babies, babies, and more babies. Yes, I know some of those were important to the series, but many of them really, really weren't.

And, lastly, The Doctor is effectively the main character, and he himself is written as a misogynist. His plot includes that he treats women poorly, and he treats The Convict rather badly the entire series, constantly lying to her to keep her out of dangerous situations. Sure, that's a valid character trait and not a trait of the show itself, but he's the main character, does it repeatedly, and never gets called out for it. It's passed off as chivalrous and totally acceptable.

Racism: "Lost" is quite racist, though not nearly as bad as the sexism. The above illustrates this point rather nicely. There are non-white people, but they are mostly portrayals of negative stereotypes. The African American guy snaps at the slightest stress and comes across as "the scary angry guy." Sure, the majority of the characters in the show are horrible people, but this is a negative stereotype being played up. The same is true of the Arab torturer - sure, there's more to him than that, and he's a rather interesting character, but neither of those things change the fact that the only Arab in the show (not counting, of course, those in his backstory, who are murderers and suicide bombers) is a torturer.

The Korean woman was raised in luxury with servants to do everything for her... and yet she is highly skilled at gardening and making herbal medicines out of random foliage. Why? Because don't all Asians know how to do that kind of stuff? The African American woman waiting for her husband later becomes a classic "Magical Negro" stereotype, appearing at just the right time to give just the right piece of advice to the white characters so they can solve their problems.

The Fat Guy and The Magical Kid are the only two who aren't obvious negative stereotypes to me.

Later, the series gets a bit worse and a bit better. More non-white characters are introduced, which include a Nicaraguan drug smuggler (totally not a negative stereotype, right?), an Hispanic woman who is completely unprofessional and defined by violent overreaction to everything, a Chinese (?) scientist who wasn't really a negative stereotype, and a Chinese (?) man who also wasn't a negative stereotype as far as I remember.

So, overall, the show's non-white characters are about half racist stereotypes and half non-racist portrayals, which is still a pretty bad score if you think about it.

Homophobia:Even though there was only one character who was explicitly non-heterosexual, "Lost" was not homophobic. The series did one thing that made me very happy - from what I recall, the way you find out that he's gay is that he's shown in bed snuggled up another guy when he gets a phone call, waking him up. (I could be wrong on that - it's been a while.) I recall it being treated just like a heterosexual person in bed getting a phone call. No mention is made of his non-heterosexuality, nor did he strike me as acting Hollywood Gay. It's not a plot point in any way, it's just there. TV needs more of that.
Rainrain_herself on January 24th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
Technically, Hurley is Hispanic. Lost is totally sexist, though, I'm with you on that. Less so on the racism, but it is there too.
Nyrennyren on January 24th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, right. I repeatedly failed at seeing him as Hispanic for some reason. I'll fix that.
Ericdarkoni42 on January 25th, 2011 02:15 am (UTC)
Oddly enough, the convict was supposed to be the lead of the show. The doctor was originally supposed to die in the pilot. It was changed because they ended up liking the actor and wanted him in the show more.
Nyrennyren on January 25th, 2011 03:13 am (UTC)
I find that funny and implausible, though probably true. The Convict really didn't have much of a character beyond "I won't tell anyone anything" and "omg who should I run away form so he'll chase me." Not exactly the leader type. At all. I don't think she ever even passed the Bechdel test all series, though Andrew kept trying to prove to me that she did :P
Ericdarkoni42 on January 25th, 2011 03:37 am (UTC)
Most J.J. Abrams shows have had female leads, such as Alias, Fringe & Felicity.

Lost is kind of different from his others shows, however.
Nyrennyren on January 25th, 2011 05:45 am (UTC)
Oh, sure, but Lost was a show about a community. I can't see the "lead" not being the leader of that community, and I really can't see a character like The Convict being a leader. She was waaay too much of a loner. When I said it was implausible, I meant that, not that it was implausible that he would have a female lead.

As a note, I just started watching Fringe a few days ago. I plan to analyze it later, but so far, it plays like it was written by someone steeped in male/white privilege trying REALLY REALLY HARD not to be sexist or racist. I'll get into it later, but if JJ Abrams does the scripting as well as the plot writing, I'll give him credit for getting significantly better (or at least, clearly trying).
Andrew Zorowitzzrealm on January 25th, 2011 04:30 am (UTC)
I don't really think I was seriously trying to prove that or any other reasonable point to you.

My biggest point was that EVERYONE in this series is a stereotype and a fairly negative one...
Nyrennyren on January 25th, 2011 05:56 am (UTC)
But here's the problem. The white people aren't stereotypical white people, they're stereotypical people. The stereotypical men aren't negative male stereotypes, they're negative stereotypes.

For instance, Jack's a pretty stereotypical doctor, narcissistic complex and all. Sawyer's steeped in Southern stereotypes. John exhibits stereotypes of someone clinging to faith and all that entails. Anna-Lucia is a stereotypical Hispanic. Claire is a stereotypical pregnant woman, and later a stereotypical mother focused on her child. Rousseau(? - forgetting names here) is a stereotypical mother focused on her child. The Ditz (still forgetting names) is a stereotypical airheaded woman.

See the difference? It's like 1st ed DnD. You have your warriors, wizards, clerics, elves, and dwarves. What sort of class is "Elf?" Well, they're Elves, duh!
Andrew Zorowitzzrealm on January 25th, 2011 12:34 pm (UTC)
I guess - I think narcissistic doctor is a male stereotype, as is charming southern conman.
Nyrennyren on January 25th, 2011 02:43 pm (UTC)
Even then, those are stereotypes with implied competence, instead of implied helplessness. No one's going to expect a stereotyped Pregnant Woman to save people's lives.

I suppose the slutty Ditz does con her brother out of a whole lot of money, but that whole situation was pretty sexist, if I recall correctly (wasn't it like, she can't run the company because she's a stupid woman, or something?)
Andrew Zorowitzzrealm on January 25th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
I guess - but they're definitely both negative male stereotypes.