Hi everyone! I had another marketing blog ready for y’all, but then one of my authors from Ylva sent me the following blog. And, it’s kinda awesome. So, of course I had to share it with you sooner rather than later.
“This could be you.” Why we owe more to the YA audience than just entertainment.
On the heels of the death of Lexa, the lesbian world is still reeling. Not because she was the greatest lesbian character ever (debatable), but because we are tired of seeing our lesbian heroines die. Public backlash to this argument will be, “It’s a TV show; they can do whatever they want.” The truth of the matter is that The 100’s only responsibility to its fans is to entertain, however, as an author, I had to stop and ask myself, “Does a show that features young adults and that markets to young adults have a higher responsibility to this audience?” As writers, publishers, producers, and purveyors of young adult (YA) narratives, do we owe it to our youth to give them something more than just entertainment?
It’s easy to sweep it all aside and say, “Hey, it’s only fiction.” The problem with this argument is that for some of us, these characters are very real. They represent our sexuality, our fears, and our strengths. Ylva Publishing recently posted a blog with the tagline Let Lesbians Live, which features a lot of the tragic endings for characters most of us know well. As a teenager, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my favourite show. When the show made Willow gay, I was ecstatic. I quickly fell in love with Willow and Tara. When they kissed, I got butterflies. So, the problem when Buffy killed Tara was that the show didn’t just deny all lesbians of the one of the best couples ever to grace the screen, but they also killed a lot of young girls’ first public views of what it could really mean to be a lesbian. As teenagers, we get invested in these storylines. Buffy was on one of the most popular shows of its time, and despite all the good it did, it ended up giving young girls the message that “this could be you” which turned in to “you could be dead.”
Historically, LGBT characters do not get happy endings. The issue here isn’t that because they are gay they should live, but when there are so few gay characters, why does the entertainment industry insist on killing them off? What’s worse is that we are expected to have these endings, and when we do, the stories become critically acclaimed. Think Broke Back Mountain. Think Monster. Think Gia. Now think Carol. Imagine Me and You. Tipping the Velvet. Where are the awards for the happy endings? The message we are sending is this: a gay life is more valuable once it is over.
This cannot be the message we send to our youth.
One of the larger problems may be that when we create YA stories, young adults are not the only intended audience, so we assume more life-experience or a thicker skin in the viewer than might actually be there. As storytellers, I think we have a responsibility to the YA audience to give them characters they can believe in, and show them a life that could be theirs. There’s a reason for the It Gets Better project. Kids need to know that there is more out there for them; that they can fall in love and be happy. The message the entertainment industry is sending when we kill Maya on Pretty Little Liars, and Lexa on The 100, and Tara from Buffy, is that it gets worse. That is the last thing we as messengers should be passing on to young adults.
We need to produce strong characters, heroes who overcome their challenges, deserve to be happy, and live (and not just until a stray bullet finds them)! When writing, we need to stop imagining 5-star reviews and Academy Awards; we need to picture that scared fourteen-year-old girl who is struggling with who she is, who is afraid to tell her parents about her sexuality, who is terrified of what will happen to her in the halls at school if people knew her secret, who is frightened of the feelings she has for another girl in her school; it is to her that we owe a responsibility. We may not know her, and we will probably never meet her, but we need to ask ourselves, what message do we want to give her? Do we want her to keep being afraid? Do we want her to think she can’t possibly live the life she wants because it will end in her untimely death or that of her partner? Or do we want to put an arm around her shoulder and say, “Hey, it’s okay to be who you are. There’s nothing wrong with what you are feeling, and there’s no need to be scared, because out there, there are millions of people just like you, and one day, you’re going to find someone who loves you just for you, so you don’t need to change, because who you are is who you were meant to be.”
Yes, historically, we have been the victims of the entertainment world; our deaths have been the catalysts for plot advancement and revenge; and we have raised the ratings on sweeps week, but we owe more to our youth. If we want the message to today’s LGBT youth to change, then we need to be the ones to make that change. As YA entertainers, we have a responsibility to give LGBT youth characters they can look up to and aspire to be. They need to know it’s okay to be gay, it’s okay to come out, and it’s okay to love, and for that to happen, we need to start raising our LGBT characters up, and stop putting them six feet under.
Michelle is a voracious bibliophile and devoted wordsmith who believes that nothing is more powerful than the written word. She is also a proud Canadian and fanatical lover of the NFL. She delights in rich coffee, good wine, smooth bourbon, and fine fare. When not writing, Michelle spends her time enjoying the company of her family and friends, and reading everything she can get her hands on.