The 100 and the Privileged Dystopia

the-100 logoSince I’m taking an extended break from my True Blood reviews for reasons I’m not going to get into right now, I’ve decided to review the new CW show The 100 instead. I’m only four episodes in, and thus far, The 100 is frustratingly predictable, even if it does have a very interesting premise and a lot of potential. The 100 takes place in a future dystopia—which is awesome since I love dystopian societies—but that dystopia so far seems to have similar problems in its portrayal to something like The Hunger Games or Divergent. That is, it comes from a very privileged viewpoint of how dystopias actually work in terms of racism, heteronormativism, and rape culture.

Trigger warning for rape and potential spoilers for The 100, The Hunger Games, and Divergent after the cut.

For the many of you who haven’t watched The 100, in the future, a nuclear apocalypse has rendered the Earth uninhabitable, and now, one century later, our only human survivors are the people living on board a space station called the Ark. The Ark was the collaborative effort of twelve different countries that now operate as one society. Despite this, racism of any kind thus far seems entirely non-existent. I have a significantly hard time believing that these twelve remaining countries fully integrated into each other and that no racism is left over after only a single century on the Ark, when racism has been consistently ingrained into our societal worldview for thousands of years.

Anyway, due to the harsh nature of their new environment—lack of room, clothing, food, etc.—any crime, no matter how minor, can get a person floated (shoved out the airlock). However, perpetrators under the age of eighteen cannot be floated until they come of age. As such, minors who offend are kept locked up until they turn eighteen, which is when their case will be reviewed—though they’ll probably just end up floated.

After living on the Ark for a century, the life support system is failing, and the Ark only has three months of oxygen left. More unfortunately, the people do not plan to return to Earth for yet another century, since they believe that the planet is still potentially radioactive. To buy themselves another month of time to fix this problem, they send the one hundred minors currently in jail down to Earth. They say this is to give them a second chance, but it’s mostly because the Ark needs to know if the Earth is habitable yet in case the life support problem cannot be fixed, and these children are expendable due to their crimes.

Welcome back to the land of radiation, kids.

Welcome back to the land of radiation, kids.

Naturally, one hundred juvenile delinquents alone without food and shelter—some arrested for minor crimes, some murderers—can create numerous problems, and they have to learn how to function as a society to face their hardships. Do they establish rules, or do they live in anarchy? What do they do when someone murders someone else? On Earth, do they need to “float” people who break those rules, no matter how minor? Coming from a society where anything results in execution, they obviously have a very skewed view of justice, which the episode “Murphy’s Law” deals with explicitly.

It is, without a doubt, a very neat idea for a show, and it has room to talk about a lot of issues. Furthermore, like Divergent and The Hunger Games, it features a female protagonist, this time named Clarke.

Whose physical appearance is not bothered by a lack of hairbrushes, toothpaste, showers, etc.

And her physical appearance is not affected by a lack of hairbrushes, toothpaste, showers, etc. At all.

Clarke being female is a point toward the show’s favor and I’m looking forward to seeing where the narrative takes her. What we know about her thus far is that she cares about other people, disagrees adamantly with the death penalty—even when the perpetrator in question murdered her friend—likes to draw, and though she still has a lot to learn, she displays some strong leadership skills. She’s a character I can get behind.

My issue, however, is that she’s white. Every popular dystopia the media, especially thanks to Hollywood, has given us so far has featured a white protagonist. Both The Hunger Games and Divergent books feature numerous people of color—Katniss is olive-skinned, and Four is part Hispanic—yet the visual form of these stories whitewashed both these characters. Additionally, the people of color who were kept for the movies still ended up having lighter skin tones than their book counterparts. Another concern I have is that Clarke is also heterosexual. Although at only four episodes in it may be hard to tell what twists the show has planned for us, previous experience has taught me to not get my hopes up that The 100 will delve into minority issues all that much. It seems to be following in the steps of The Hunger Games and Divergent.

Divergent-movie-poster Tris FourWhen you look at both those stories, they are privileged white versions of dystopias. While it’s possible that these worlds may not judge a person’s value based on said person’s skin color or sexuality like we do currently, they are still future versions of our world. It is possible that their societal values have changed over the years to overcome racism and heterosexism—but unless we are told how that change happened and what values society now esteems, the narratives can come across as erasing minority issues. As such, we don’t really see racism discussed, and non-heteronormative people are suspiciously nonexistent from the narrative. Because the characters themselves are straight and visual media presents those characters as also being white, I’m left to conclude that these societies value heteronormativity and light skin. And even if the people don’t, their narratives are told from a perspective which certainly values these things.

When we look at something like the Divergent movie—I have not and do not plan to read the books—we are given a society that demands conformity. They have a very specialized class system, do not value any kind of individuality or self-identity, and they either shun or murder those who do not fit into their narrow worldview. Within the movie, the only characters we see are all heterosexual, and without even a hint of non-heteronormative people within their society, I actually ended up wondering if LGBTQ+ people were also people that society shunned and killed, or if they were absent because the narrative forgot they exist. If they were forgotten—and since we have been given nothing to indicate a shift in societal standards when it comes to these issues thus far—where then does that leave people who are not heteronormative?

The Hunger Games KatnissThis might be a little less true of The Hunger Games, since the Capitol is a rather sexually open place, but the Capitol is also evil, and as such, that’s how the audience may perceive its cultural acceptance. Additionally, though the books thankfully start a discussion on the serious issue of rape through the character Finnick, it only discusses male rape. While that’s not a bad thing, since male rape should be talked about and shown more, women are more likely to be targeted in the real world.

I will concede that the Divergent movie also briefly showed an attempted rape scene, which a lot of people thought was pretty well handled. I don’t think it was all that well handled; afterward, the assault was completely brushed aside and never brought up again. I should mention that the assault in question took place in a “fear landscape”. It was a hallucination meant to entice fear within Tris, so the Dauntless could see how well she handled said fear. I was under the impression that these fearscapes forced people to deal with their actual fears. If Tris was truly scared that Four would attempt to rape her, that should show through in her real-life interactions with Four. Yet before that scene, there is nothing to indicate that she feels this way. Additionally, Four witnessed Tris’s hallucination, and despite seeing that she was afraid of being raped, whether by him or someone else, he also had nothing to say to her about it when the fearscape was done. Because it ends up having so little bearing on the characters, I was significantly unimpressed with its inclusion in the narrative.

I hardly expect The 100 to attempt to talk about something like rape—though it would be a welcome inclusion—since it’s on the CW and seems geared toward all audiences. But it should utilize microaggressions, and considering that it has numerous people of color, it should also talk about racism, especially if it’s not going to delve into these other issues. Unfortunately, the character Wells, our main black character and possibly the most interesting and dynamic character in the show thus far, was murdered at the end of the third episode.

the-100 charactersIn some ways, I feel this murder happened so the show could avoid a love triangle between Wells, Clarke, and another boy named Finn, but this week’s upcoming episode “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” seems to be gearing up for a love triangle between Clarke, Finn, and a new character, Raven, anyway. Additionally, Wells’s death only hurts the show, and in more ways than one. Wells’s father is the Chancellor of the Ark, meaning he was the one who sent all the kids down to a radioactive Earth. As such, Wells experiences a lot of hostilities from the other kids, who are mostly white. With Wells’s character, The 100 would have had a lot of opportunities to further extend that hatred to his skin color and talk about race issues. Or rather, as Luce pointed out to me, Wells could be an example of a societal shift in this regard, since his father is the Chancellor, and the other kids refer to him and Clarke as being part of the privileged. But why are they considered “privileged”? The show could have used Wells’s character to show a societal shift and teach us more about the society the characters come from—what they value, what they don’t value—but we don’t get any kind of commentary on this matter. Instead, the show simply kills him—even though he was one of only two black characters with a speaking role at that time, and between the two of them, he had the bigger role.

I still have a lot of hope for The 100 in the upcoming episodes, but so far it doesn’t seem interested in talking about minority issues, when dystopian societies should be filled with minority issues because it’s unrealistic to believe that only white people survive apocalyptic events. The Ark is made up of twelve different countries that survived the apocalypse. That means that a lot of ethnicities were probably wiped off the face of the planet, depending on which countries survived—though as of currently, those countries seem to be mostly Caucasian with the occasional PoC representation. And as I have a hard time believing that racism is dead, I also have a hard time believing that everyone, given their cramped, harsh environment, is spontaneously more accepting of queer lifestyles or that misogyny and misandry are completely dead. And now that I think about it, I haven’t seen any disabled characters either.

As I said, though, the show is only four episodes in, and normally the first season of any show ends up being rather episodic and problematic. I hope that The 100 will eventually come to talk about these issues, but I hesitate to give it the benefit of the doubt.

And I know this doesn't have anything to do with my point, but did anyone else notice that there is a rope in that vine?

And I know this doesn’t have anything to do with my point, but did anyone else notice that there is a rope in that vine?

12 thoughts on “The 100 and the Privileged Dystopia

  1. Very interesting analysis of the 100. I started to watch the show as well and agree on many points you brought up. I almost stopped watching after Wells’s death because my favorite character (yes, I know, we were early in the show) besides Abigail. I’m curious to see how Abigail will develop, because I find her more layered than Clarke. Clarke tends to annoy me (ironically Bellamy is starting to grow on me in the last couple of episodes). I was baffled by her reaction to Charlotte’s revelation and how she was up in arms to save her. I mean, I understand that someone can be against death penalty, but it still was weird to me, given what had happened. And I was very peeved when the “new” love triangle appeared by the end of the fourth episode. The uber heteronormative aspect with the few hook ups that already happened, is also horribly predictable. The show has indeed a lot of potential but I’m unsure whether it will truly embrace it.

    • I can see how Clarke can be annoying, but I actually liked how she responded to Charlotte. She held true to her convictions that it would have been wrong to kill her, but that was a far cry from liking Charlotte or forgiving her. Even when Clarke thought Murphy killed Wells, she disagreed with hanging him. Bellamy is also really starting to grow on me a lot as well. Originally, I didn’t like him or his sister that much, but the more I learn about both of them, the more I really like them, and the show certainly has a lot to work with when it comes to those two characters. But Wells was my favorite character as well, and I couldn’t believe that the show killed him off so early.

  2. I’ve never watched The 100, but I can speak a bit to the race issue in Hunger Games and Divergent. Don’t get me wrong; in both, it’s *not* handled in the best possible way. But neither do I think it’s ignored entirely.

    In the Hunger Games, we find out that the southernmost district, District 11, is populated mostly by darker-skinned people and is Panem’s agricultural hub. As Katniss was riding the train through District 11’s fields, she watched bent-backed agricultural workers and overseers on their towers, and I got a definite “plantation” vibe from the whole thing that made me uneasier than anything that had ever happened to the people in District 12 (so far). I think this image (for me, one of the most striking images in all of Catching Fire) was a very intentional choice on Collins’s part, to show that racism was *not* dead in this dystopian future… but she didn’t go on to develop it very well after that. The movie definitely played this down as well.

    In the Divergent trilogy, we get semi-plausible reasons why racism has been replaced with factionism within Chicago, and discrimination based on “genetic damage” (in book 3) outside of the city. For the former, we find out in book 3 that the people of Chicago have had their memories erased and replaced before, so it’s possible racism was wiped from their memories. And in the larger world outside, we find out there was a whole war between the genetically damaged and genetically normal people, leading to great destruction. The genetically damaged were blamed for this war, so it makes sense that hostilities were turned toward them rather than toward people of other races. Buuuuut….in both cases, I’m not sure I buy it. People will always be shallow and judge each other and break into groups based on external appearances. I don’t think simply conveniently “forgetting” about it, or even a huge war, would be enough to change that.

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  9. *spoiler alert*

    clark isn’t straight, and the show is in fact the only one with a main character who identifies as bisexual, it tackles issues NO other show has faced. Now i know you haven’t seen much and didn’t know, but the 100 is known for being progressive and showing the ‘minorities problems’ as you said. Basically all you have said has been proven wrong by the fact that she is bisexual… next time refrain from writing a review before you finish a show.

    • Thanks for that spoiler, but I actually already knew that, because I follow the show, and have seen all the episodes. This post was written before the first season even finished airing, before Clarke’s bisexuality was revealed, and I talk about that reveal here in another post: The 100, Warlords, and the CW’s First Bisexual Lead

      I also talk about a lot of other things in this post besides LGBTQ+ issues, and those are still issues that The 100 and other dystopian stories continue to have. Clarke’s reveal doesn’t erase the other issues The 100 suffers from, regardless of how great the show is, or how much it has improved. I have grown to really love The 100, but I will always remain critical of its failings and call the show out on things when they happen.

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