"Everything Sucks" — A Review and an Understatement
Enough. Literally, I’ve had enough!
There’s a show on Netflix called Everything Sucks, that came highly recommended to me. I must admit, it seemed right up my alley: a Netflix original (love those), set in the ‘90s (like any good Millennial, I suffer from crippling and chronic nostalgia), teen drama… Or was it a comedy? Honestly couldn’t tell ya, didn’t get that far.
Within the first five minutes, the show’s presumed lead, an adorable little black boy, develops a crush in his A/V class, on the little white girl operating the camera for the morning news. And just like that, my interest in the show vanished.
You know why? Because I HAVE HAD ENOUGH.
Let’s talk about representation, ladies and gentlemen. Representation is defined as the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature. In other words, representation is the way we are reflected back to ourselves, in this case, by the media. As we are all increasingly becoming aware, the media has a POWERFUL impact on the way we view ourselves, our cultures, our societies, and our lives.
Take the experiment conducted by Beverly Daniel Tatum at the beginning of her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? She asks a group of kindergartners to raise their hands if they know what Native Americans are like. All the hands in the class go up. She then asks them if anyone can give an example of what Native Americans are like. As you can imagine, racist caricatures ensue, not on the fault of these little children, but we’ll get there. They start dancing around in circles, chanting, flailing, you know the bit. After they finish, she asks if any of them actually knows a Native American person, and guess how many hands go up. That’s right, zero. “But where did they learn what Native Americans are like?”, you ask. Don’t worry, she asked the same thing. And their answer? “Peter Pan.”
The media has power to teach us about different people groups without us ever having to come into actual contact with said people groups. In fact, because of the way racism was set up, most people *are* taught about other people groups without ever coming into contact with them. Unfair/racist housing practices have made it so that entire neighborhoods are largely monocultural, thus removing the opportunity to learn about someone else from someone else. In cases like these the only information that is received about different cultures comes from the media.
So representation is important in us learning about other people groups right? For this reason, it's important to have representation that isn’t skewed, or two-dimensional, or straight up racist. But it turns out, that’s not the only effect. Representation (or the lack thereof) doesn’t solely teach us about other people, it also teaches us about ourselves.
Researchers have noted that when you don’t see yourself represented in the media of your society, you start to think that you don’t exist, that your voice doesn’t matter. (Just ask this HuffPost article that I swear I didn’t mean to plug but is actually a very helpful article.) Therapist, speaker, and researcher Hillary McBride shared on The Liturgists podcast about how in her sessions she’ll often ask her clients if they know what they look like. Initially, they’ll answer of course, but she pushes further; she notes that they may have an idea of what they look like, but they’ve never actually seen themselves, they’ve only been witness to reflections. We can’t see our own faces, all we can see are the reflections of it that contribute to a composite idea of an image based on these mirrors. This is how representation functions as well. It reflects ourselves back to us and informs us of who we are in the world. So when we see our reflection — someone who looks like us on screen or in print — be two-dimensional, unintelligent, undesirable, the sidekick, get killed first in movies…. That factors into our composite images of ourselves. And when we don’t see us represented or reflected at all? Then again, we think we don’t matter, our stories don’t count, we’re unheard, unseen, and undervalued. This disconnection, as McBride points out, functions as shame in the body and has a similar effect on the nervous system as being under physical threat.
In popular movies — movies that have shaped and informed American culture — how many of the objects of affection, the protagonist’s prize, the Women of Desire are white? (And I know we could get into a whole other conversation about the lack of agency these women have in most movies and the fact that they have been reduced to a tool by which to measure the protagonists success or defeat but I will leave that conversation for another time #sexism.) Okay but getting back to the point, how many of the women we see pined after in movies are white? And while that’s great for little white girls who get to see themselves be desired, attractive, and feminine, what does that say to little brown girls? Black girls? Asian girls? Who don’t see themselves in that space. What does that communicate to them? Perhaps that they weren’t worth pursuing? Perhaps that they could not be the love interest because of their skin? Perhaps that they were unwanted, or even worse, altogether invisible?
And all this is before even considering the fact that the little protagonist in this show is a black boy. Ask literally any black woman dating right now about her love life and I can guarantee within five minutes we’ll be talking about the trend Kanye West so aptly described in “Gold Digger” (and then ironically followed in real life): “When he get on, he gon’ leave your ass for a white girl.” That is to say, for my slang-challenged compatriots, there is a trend, a history, of black men choosing white women as a symbol of status. There is a pervasive idea that you haven’t made it until you’ve got a white girl on your arm — that’s how you know you’re worth something. I won’t put it all on black men because I’ve seen the reverse in action too (black women thinking dating a white man is a step up), but again I think because white skin has been synonymous with femininity — the lighter you are the more womanhood you possess — there has been a particular sting attached to black men choosing white women.
So in this day and age, the year of our Lord two-thousand-eighteen, to see a Netflix original reinforce that stereotype, reinforce the already poor amount of representation for little black girls as being the objects of affection, and being in the midst of unlearning all of the similar messaging I received growing up for myself, I was like, “You know what, I have had ENOUGH.”
I’m sure the show has redeeming qualities, I’m sure it’s funny, and there’s better representation afoot somewhere in the series, but IIIIII could not in good faith continue with it. I’ve seen that storyline played out a million times, I’ve seen the damage it does, and I’m over it. *Click*