Monday, November 06, 2006

And it begins...
Today's post is on a more serious topic (and after my original digression here, I will move to make a point on Lost). As often happens in the more vocal fan communities, when a character dies off, you usually get the naysayers who accuse the writers of some sort of prejudice. The most notorious one I can remember is when Tara was killed off Buffy. For two years, the writers of the show had built up the relationship of Willow and Tara to be one of the most beautiful on television. Willow came out as a lesbian to her friends and Tara was sweet, smart, and funny. It was a risk taking the most popular character on the show, and making her a lesbian, especially after Willow's romance with Oz was such an amazing story arc. At first, Joss Whedon came under fire from some of the lesser contingent of Buffy fans, saying they didn't want the show to be "gayed up" like that, but once they thankfully went away and people began seeing the romance for what it was, it became a very popular aspect of the series.

And then Tara died. And then Willow went all black-eyed and veiny. And that's when the REAL horror show began. People began posting all over saying Joss Whedon was homophobic and he killed off the lesbian because she was a lesbian. They pointed to academic articles that dissected film and television depictions of lesbians and how gay people are always the first to die as some subliminal morality tale. My book on Buffy was published, and in the episode guide where I discussed Tara's death, I talked about my sadness over it, how she was one of my favourite characters, but I didn't censure the actual storyline. I was working at home one afternoon when I got an email out of the blue calling me names and telling me in no uncertain terms that that person would absolutely NOT EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES EVER lower themselves to buy my book, because I had condoned the homophobic actions of Joss Whedon (their words). I thought, Who the hell is this person... and then suddenly got a second email from someone else. And a third. And that's when I realized I'd been letterbombed by the Tara Kittens. These people were a contingent of Buffy "fans" who were so outraged with the episode they vowed never to watch the show again, and went out of their way to stop everyone else from watching it, too. Someone had posted on their forum that my book condoned the actions of the episode and upheld Whedon's homophobia, and rather than do the sensible thing and go and check it out for themselves, they took this person's word for it and started emailing blasting me after this person had given out my email address. I tried talking to some of them, and asked them to calmly explain what their problem was with me and the episode, and open up a dialogue, but they were right and I was wrong and that was that. One person did talk to me, which was nice, but absolutely refused to back down, and wouldn't actually listen to what I had to say.

As I said to them at the time, Joss has killed a gypsy, did anyone accuse him of being gypsophobic? He's killed art gallery workers, vampires, vampires, vampires, principals (twice), men, women, and children... the man kills with abandon. But he goes and kills Tara, and suddenly he's homophobic. The person wrote back to me, "HE KILLED THE LESBIAN." I said, "No, he killed Tara. She was a lesbian, but that's not all she was. I'm sorry that's all you see her for." My problem with the Kittens was that they saw Tara as nothing more than a token lesbian, and seemed to have missed the point that hey, Joss Whedon MADE her the lovable, wonderful person she was on the show, and how could he be homophobic when he made the lesbian relationship the most beautiful and honest one on the series?

But now Eko has died on Lost, and fans are starting to be vocal about that, too. Shouts of racism are being bleated across North America as people are saying the writers of Lost have gotten rid of The Black Guy. But while my initial reaction was, "Oh cripes, here we go AGAIN," there's a difference here. Unlike Tara's death on Buffy, Eko's death has actually been part of a pattern. Walt was kidnapped and thereby removed from the show. Michael spent half of the last season off looking for Walt, and was essentially gone, before being sent off for good at the end of the season, with Walt. Ana Lucia was Hispanic, and she was taken out at the end of the last season. Are the writers systematically killing off the minorities?

I'd say no. Somehow people are forgetting the deaths of Shannon (as blonde and blue-eyed as they could get), Boone, and Libby. Or the fact that the island was so multi-racial to begin with. Hurley is also Hispanic. Jin and Sun are Asian. And so far, Sayid's still with us. Rose hasn't been killed (ok, she hasn't been seen this season, either, but presumably she's still with us... I'm sure the people screaming "RACISM" would argue it's only because she has a white hubby that she's OK... seriously, give it a few days before THAT argument is used). Paolo's been introduced (and unfortunately he HAS been seen this season, and I hope he's not with us for long). We've seen dark-skinned characters with The Others. Lost probably has the most multi-racial cast on television, and now people are lobbing comments of racism against it?

An Associated Press story quotes some fans :

“I no longer want to watch this show! They have killed and sent a father and his
son sailing away into the ocean. All these characters were black. This show do
not want blacks on the island. I’m sure I can find many others who think the

"I liked the show..but..the hispanic character (Ana Lucia) gone... all the black characters gone? Hurley is next."

Yes, Eko was an amazing character. I loved him, and throughout the summer said endlessly, "Nah, they won't kill him off, because he's just too important to the show." And when we saw him a couple of weeks ago and he was alive, I felt vindicated. And now he's gone.

Did his death make sense? No. I don't know why the writers thought it was time to get rid of him. Did Shannon's death make sense? No. After it happened, Naveen Andrews (Sayid) went public with his own frustrations on that storyline, and criticized the writers for using her death as a cheap gimmick to boost ratings. So again, it's tough to lob racism bombs at the writers when they've done the same thing before. With Shannon, Boone was gone and perhaps they thought there was nothing more to do with her, since her entire storyline was wrapped up in his. With Eko, maybe they thought the same thing. He's passed on his wisdom to others, and it's time for him to go. I don't accept it yet, because his character had so much more potential than Shannon's, but maybe SOMEONE will finish that church, and someone will have learned from Eko's mistakes. The writers needed to get across to us the point that if you reject God in your final moments, Satan (or Smokey) will take his revenge on you. It will sense a weakness, and your soul will be stripped from your body. Who better to demonstrate that point than Eko? Maybe it was a meaningful death, and it will take until the end of the series before we look back on it and say, "And that's where the show took a turn, and really began showing us the way." But please, can we just wait until we see where the show is going before we start accusing the writers of racism? Doesn't it register with anyone anymore just how serious an accusation that is?

Then again, the sort of fans that the Associated Press story quoted weren't exactly all "thinkers." When you put the racism comments in the context of the comments below, you suddenly realize, hmm... maybe they DIDN'T poll the average Lost viewer (who'd I'd like to think has a rather high IQ, reads a lot and is well versed in popular culture, and would know that John Locke was actually a real person at one time):

"I absolutely HATE this episode. How dare they kill off Mr Eko, he was hot,
hot, hot. Stop killing off the best looking and strongest characters and have at
the less important roles. And here again we still have no answers to the
island's perplexing questions."

"I think you should bring Eko back he is a sexy mysterious Black Man. I
have liked the show from the beginning and I love it. Eko's character is flawed
which makes him interesting. You need a good looking Black man on the show w/an
edge. Please bring him back!"

"I liked Eko, but am not too upset about him leaving. Hey as long as Sawyer
stays, it's all good!"


The Chapati Kid said...

I don't think there's a selective killing off for no reason -- there IS a reason that hopefully will feature in the big picture. But Shannon dies after hooking up with Saiyid. Libby dies after hooking up with Hurley. Boone, I can't explain, other than he was a wishy-washy character, and his time had come. Ana Lucia too. I think it's coincidental that the dead/gone cast happen to be multiracial, and as you explained in your article, reflective of the diversity of the cast of the show. But still, Eko was one of the most fascinating characters on the show. Just because we weren't invested in him from Episode 1 does not make him dispensable. Michael -- they may have written him out for his own personal career reasons, which is often the case, I imagine. I don't think this is the last we see of Eko, though. I just have this feeling. Yet, it concerns me that their portrayal of him was rather stereotypical of the barbaric "other." When we first see him, he's nappy-haired and wielding a large club and terrifying the crap out of Jin and Sawyer and Michael with his big, wild eyes. To be fair, though, Rousseau was also kind of scary, but nowhere close to the "monstrous" image they created of Eko in that first episode. Then, as we get to know him, he is portrayed as some sort of "gentle giant" with a wild, temperamental streak in moments of passion. Again, according to all the ethnographic studies I've done, this is an incredibly steretypical portrayal of the African male. Michael, on the other hand, had an balanced portrayal, and was far more human than Eko, who just became one large symbol, rather than an actual person. I'm not saying that the writers were being racist, but I definitely think there was an ingrained tendency to stereotype when it came to Eko's character here. Perhaps he had to be "sacrificed" to drive home the point that on one (side of the) island, there's a battle with faith, and on the other, a battle with science. But, why haven't one of the secondary white characters been killed? (Perhaps because there are no secondary white characters?) What about Charlie or Claire? They're pretty secondary to the plot right now.

I don't know, I'd like to believe Eko will be resurrected, or that he's not REALLY dead. I wonder what their choice was in killing him. And did anyone see AAA's INCREDIBLE performance in "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" (which is actually a really good movie.)

Here for an article in the SF Gate about the killing off of Losties:

leor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
leor said...

i still think they killed off ana lucia (and possibly libby, for that matter) because of those actors' legal problems. i remember reading countless articles about them - especially michelle rodriguez - having a poor attitude and a big ego on set.

i wonder how many other deaths/exits have less to do with the actual story arc, and more to do with the relationships of certain actors with others, or with the producers...

all said, i kinda like seeing some characters die. not because i don't like them, but it makes the show feel more real, in that anyone is fair game, not just fringe characters.