Sometime as I was reading the Song of Ice and Fire books a few years ago, just when Game of Thrones was getting popular and more and more fans were starting to fight over who they thought would be the best person to end up on the Iron Throne, I started wondering, “Wait a minute. We live in a supposedly democratic, meritocratic society these days that (at least nominally) no longer believes in hereditary rule. Why are we so invested in seeing an autocratic, hereditary tyrant installed on a throne, to lord it over our favorite fictional continent? Shouldn’t we be rooting for the Seven Kingdoms to become a democracy instead?” (I’m on Team Dany, by the way!)
And have you ever thought about how weird it is that, in Sailor Moon, we’re supposed to be happy that Usagi and Mamoru end up as Neo-Queen Serenity and King Endymion, absolute rulers of the entire freaking Earth for over a thousand years? The narrative presents this as a positive thing because they’re such just and peaceful rulers, and those who question Neo-Queen Serenity’s rule are presented as the villains.
This should be absolutely terrifying. Just sayin’.
As I began thinking about this further, I realized that a lot of our modern media is still in the habit of over-valuing noble blood. It makes sense that old fairy tales feature lots of royalty, secret royalty, and marrying into royalty, because back then, that was the best possible situation people could imagine for themselves. But why does this obsession still exist today when kings and queens with real power (for the most part) are not prominent anymore? You also may be wondering, what’s the harm of featuring noble-born characters? I would argue that they reinforce the false idea of privileged birth translating to inherent “special-ness,” as well as ignore the stories of those born into less privilege.
Let’s examine this in several examples below the jump!
Another trip back home, and another trip back to my old manga collection. When it comes to situations like this, I know I’ll get some analysis out of it, but I’m never quite sure what it will be. This time I was especially surprised, and I guess I can blame our very own Stinekey for that. A while ago, she wrote a very well thought out post on perceived poverty in geek media using Harry Potter as a jumping off point. The post has been in my head ever since, looming in the back of my mind as I go about my media consumption, but only now have I reached the point where I think I can bring up another point of discussion.
Sometimes life makes you pick a bad lot.
Poverty and lower socioeconomic situations in general just aren’t really portrayed in media unless it’s used as a prop—most commonly used in cop shows to show just how bad off someone was, or to show the struggle of one person while not at all going over the repercussions and struggles that they’ve faced (just that they’re less well-off than the other characters). Especially in terms of shonen manga, when your characters are going through the motions of gaining greater and greater amounts of power and, in some cases, doing thousands upon millions of dollars in property damage in efforts to save the Earth, bringing up the real-life repercussions of money can be a bit of an unwanted reality check. However, reading through the volumes of one of my all-time favorite series, Yu Yu Hakusho, I discovered that the series does a lot more to bring up the struggle of those in relative poverty than I would have expected it would have; though its approach is much more ‘in your face’ than Rowling’s was—which is refreshingly reflective of the series’s protagonist.
Pop culture has a weird relationship with poverty. You’d think that geek culture would be pretty good at portraying poverty; we’re seeing more and more strides towards inclusivity and greater representation of all people from all backgrounds. Yet socio-economic issues are heavily charged with politics, and our political beliefs shape the way we perceive reality. They shape the kinds of pop culture media we create, and as David Wong’s recent Cracked article explains, popular culture doesn’t seem to believe that actual, real-world poverty really exists, just a sort of nebulous feeling of being poor while occupying the middle class, and actual financial consequences of a character’s actions aren’t ever really addressed. Most of the time, shows don’t even acknowledge any of the consequences of property damage, let alone address the financial ones. We’re happy when the superhero defeats the monster, but who’s going to pick up the tab now that the city looks like it’s been bombed?
This real lack of proper representation of what it means to live in poverty in our media is at least partially responsible for many political biases against the poor, especially among young people. To put it generally, the influence of pop culture makes younger people more likely to embrace the idea that the poor just need to work harder in order to be not poor, because being not poor is the ultimate goal.
Now, there are a lot of tangled, complex issues when it comes to poverty and its portrayal in geek culture. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot recently, all because of a specific example I came across and previously wrote about. So to show you what I’m talking about, I’m going to show you how that example both supports and fights negative perceptions of poverty in geek culture. Who am I talking about? The Weasley family from the Harry Potter series.
Growing up, my favorite Thanksgiving movie wasAddams Family Values, the 1993 sequel to the movie The Addams Family. You might think that’s because there are only a few Thanksgiving movies and the rare Thanksgiving episodes in various TV shows, but you would be wrong. Addams Family Values is my favorite Thanksgiving movie because the movie is very clear in its message that Thanksgiving is a bullshit imperialist holiday.
Now, Addams Family Values is not strictly speaking a Thanksgiving movie, though it does incorporate and critique Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. Like the first Addams Family movie, the events of the movie take place over several months. I’m actually not even sure if the Thanksgiving play that is shown in the movie is performed on Thanksgiving—I’m pretty sure it’s not—but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the movie overall first.