Representation matters. It matters to me and, I'm gradually proving in my doctoral research, it matters an enormous amount for a complex collection of reasons to a lot of other people too.
In itself 'representation matters' will seem fairly uncontroversial to my mostly leftie readers. But some left leaning, centre left, centre types, will agree it matters, pay lip service to that idea, support it in principle, not put any road blocks in the way to things changing, but the moment you point out that diversity of representation is missing? They get pissed off. The moment you ask why people are missing in the representations they make? They get angry, they ask why it makes any difference.
I complained aloud, to nobody in particular, the other day that every single chef shown in the Morrisons' Christmas claymation/animated advert
was white and male. "Does it matter?!" exclaimed my Mum as she passed through the living room, more than a little exasperated.
Does it matter who is shown on tv? Let's, for a minute, say it doesn't. Let's start by stating it doesn't
matter who is represented in television adverts.
If it doesn't matter, why did the animator create 11 little white male chefs? Wouldn't it have been as easy, given the characters differ slightly from one another, to have made some of them female? Surely the computer filled in their skin colour? It would have been just as easy, would it not, to colour some of them in a darker shade of peach? Perhaps even break out the brown colour palette? If it doesn't matter whether they are white or black, male or female or genderqueer, then why are they all white and male? Someone made that decision, someone designed that, someone animated that, someone signed off on that. Lot's of someone's. All of them.
But perhaps the animator could only find the peach felt tip that day. Perhaps the character designer can't draw long hair, or boobs. Perhaps they don't know how to illustrate any gender markers for women, or for anyone other than men.Tesco's Christmas advert this year
compressed decades of Christmases observed by one family into a minute and a half. Parents, children, grandchildren. Tesco's don't feature their products in their advert like Morrisons do, instead they seem to say 'if you share the same emotions around Christmas as these people, maybe you should share a supermarket. Come to Tesco and buy a lifetime's Christmases!' But the Christmas you have to share, the identification of 'just like us' to make? All [apparently] white, all [rigorously shown to be] heterosexual. But of course, we're arguing the representation doesn't matter right? So what we're buying from Tesco is not just Christmas cheer and food and drink and trees, but we're buying being white, and we're buying making our parents happy by having children ourselves (or our children are making us happy by having children). And we're buying being straight. Come to Tesco this year! Get a better sexuality! Get a better turkey! Get a better ethnicity!
Someone hired those actors. Every person was dressed and directed. That advert was scripted and edited. There were choices
made about what to represent.
But perhaps it's a coincidence! Perhaps only white actors turned up for an audition that day. Perhaps the people who wrote the script have never met a gay or lesbian person, or a genderqueer or nonbinary or just plain androgynous person, so they couldn't even imagine that couples may not be made up of rigidly gendered men and women! Perhaps they 'wrote what they knew' and not a single person involved in the casting, costuming, producing, filming, directing, editing, or release of that advert was anything other than straight and white and cis with only white straight cis friends.Aldi managed to find one black person
to put in their Christmas ad. And a parrot. They don't say much about family, or sexuality. John Lewis also went for animals
(although in previous years they've been lovers of the white hetero
, rigidly normatively gendered
family at Christmas) Asda had snowmen
. No, I'm not going to suggest they should have been snow people. Debenhams' had what might have been a lesbian ball
, but it was the girl and the guy gazing into each other's eyes and skating off together that we 'wished for'. M&S had a bad trip
but they have at least been consistent for some years now in using Black and minority ethnic models in every advertising campaign, even if they do, inevitably, play the small roles in this ad.
If who is represented on television adverts doesn't matter, why is it, so often it's white, hetero, cis gendered people being represented? It's either an enormous coincidence that this keeps happening or perhaps...
Perhaps, then, representation does matter! [the unsurprising conclusion - aha! here it is]. And perhaps it matters to the people who get to pick which representations we see, who pick which ideals we are supposed to buy into. Perhaps we should be surprised that in 2013, in the United Kingdom most of the major brands are still dreaming of white, straight, cis Christmases.
Unfortunately, my Mum didn't hang around long enough for me to give her this answer to her exasperated question.