The Rep and Mis-Rep of LGBT in Cartoons
With a small glance from the outside in, it appears that America is a progressive nation when it comes to love. However, with a deeper analysis of the past few decades, it shows that we still have some work to be done, especially since gay marriage wasn’t legalized until 2015 in the United States. If our future is in the hands of our children, we need to analyze the media they absorb, especially cartoons. In this article, we will analyze bad and good representations of the LGBT community in recent cartoons and steps we can take to continue positive representation.
The LGBT or LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community has often been portrayed in media, but usually undermined. In some famous children’s cartoons, villains are often given characteristics or attributes that often fall outside of the heteronormative. Heteronormativity describes the assumption and promotion that heterosexuality is the only “normal” and “natural” orientation, privileging those who fit the norm and posting anyone outside of this as abnormal and wrong. Disney is notorious for promoting heteronormativity. Examples of their male villains that are considered not-so heteronormative are Scar from The Lion King, Jafar from Aladdin, and Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas. These male villains are depicted with “feminine” or “queer” qualities such as being flamboyant, emotional, walking with a stride, and having a sensual vocabulary. Female villains aren’t sanctioned from this either, often having “masculine” attributes or being less feminine. Ursula from The Little Mermaid is inspired from Divine, a drag queen who is husky, has a raspy voice and exaggerated makeup. Queen Grimhilde from Snow White and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty aren’t necessarily masculine, but unlike their protagonist counterparts, their hair is tucked away, taking away from their femininity.
However, Disney is just one of the many media companies who do this. Non-Disney examples of this bad representation are Lord Farquaad from Shrek, Frieza from Dragon Ball Z and Orochimaru from Naruto. Endive, the female antagonist on Chowder, constantly gets ragged on for her large and hideous appearance.
All hope is not lost. Despite Disney being one of the biggest and most influential media moguls spewing bad ideologies, there are some popular cartoons that shine a positive light on the LGBT community. One example is Steven Universe, airing in 2013 on Cartoon Network. It incorporates a lot of queer female characters and even get a dance scene edited out in a UK version. Rebecca Sugar, the creator of the show states to Movie Pilot, “You can’t wait until kids have grown up to let them know that queer people exist. There’s this idea that that is something that should only be discussed with adults that is completely wrong. If you wait to tell queer youth that it matters how they feel or that they are even a person, then it’s going to be too late!” One of the biggest aspects about this cartoon is that their sexuality is never questioned, and the plot never focuses around being lesbian. Clarence is another cartoon, with the protagonist’s parents being both female, and Princess Bubblegum and Marceline from Adventure Time have a controversial relationship.
Looking at bad and good representations of homosexuality in cartoons, we can infer some advice that will allow us to continue advancing in a positive direction for LGBT representation. We can start by depicting it without constantly speaking out about it or acknowledging it, allowing it to be normalized. Sexual preference is only one aspect in the complexity of a human’s life, not the entire narrative. We also need to continue to include more LGBT members as protagonists or important characters in plots, because their sexuality doesn’t make them less capable of doing anything that a straight person does. Finally, we also need to realize that love is universal, and hatred is taught. Millions of children are ecstatic about Ruby and Sapphire’s marriage in Steven Universe and according to Rebecca Sugar, not one of the children she met at San Diego Comic-Con questioned the character’s sexuality.
With time, the older cartoons and ideologies will fade out and the newer generations who are absorbing shows like Steven Universe, Clarence and more will set the standard of society. As long as Americans are aware of the good and bad ways LGBT and other minority groups in media can be represented, we can all work to continue depicting them positively and phase out heteronormativity. Although we aren’t there yet, we are getting there at an exponential rate and will eventually reach a fully progressive and accepting nation who doesn’t judge anyone for their sexual differences.