Guest writer Aparajita Ray Chaudhuri discusses the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in children’s TV shows.
Over the last few decades, the consumption of entertainment and media has become quite an overarching and shared experience, often bridging the gap between cultures and generations. To some extent, when Marina, from Marina and the Diamonds, sang “T.V taught me how to feel, now real life has no appeal,” she was speaking about a generation of children, teenagers, and young adults growing up in this media-saturated world. She was speaking words of resonating truth – that somewhere between the mindless consumption and active engagement of entertainment, there are things we absorb, learn, and then apply to our respective worlds.
This conscious and subconscious process exists within all of us, so why can’t it be said for children? At an age when they almost literally absorb all and any information like sentient sponges, why would their interactions with television, the internet, YouTube and Netflix be any different? Of course, the thought process is slightly more sophisticated than “Child see, child do,” but barely so.
So, if a child doesn’t fit into social expectations, is unable to connect with the narratives they see and interact with on the big screen, and finds themselves invisible in a space where it feels as though their peers are validated, then there is a disconnect. Imagine that this disconnect keeps happening, over and over, and that child moves from watching children’s television to popular shows for teenagers to crime-thrillers to cheesy romances, and yet there’s still a dissonance that seems to chase them and their forming identities.
Then one day, this person who is no longer a child comes face to face, for whatever reason, with two-dimensional animated characters that look like them, talk like them, and surprisingly, even act and love like them. When “Adventure Time” confirmed the romantic relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, showing tender moments of hand-holding and even a kiss, for a lot of people within the queer community this was a moment of quiet victory and a collective sigh of relief.
The reason why it is essential for children’s television to represent the queer community – aside from the more obvious reasons – is that there is a creation of a new normal. Other children’s television shows and cartoons that show this include “The Dragon Prince,” “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” “The Owl House,” and “Voltron: Legendary Defender.” The Dragon Prince gave Rayla, one of the protagonists, queer parents. Similarly, She-Ra has several queer relationships and couples between several characters, ranging from comfortably domestic and long-term partners to slightly more volatile and sensitive dynamics. Shows like “Gravity Falls” and even “DuckTales” have similar yet subtle moments of representation.
Of course, this current rise in light-hearted, subtle, but nonetheless important queer representation is an extremely recent phenomenon; this can be said about the representation of most, if not all, marginalised groups within international and western spheres. Not to mention, this rise in representation is not necessarily a global phenomenon, which means that the influence of these cartoons can only go so far. However, LGBT+ History Month is not only a celebration of the Pride of the bright and bold, but also the Pride of baby steps, and the Pride of quiet victories, subtle nods, and tender movements.
Representation in children’s cartoons allows for the current generation of children to grow up not only seeing themselves, but seeing difference and diversity as something that can co-exist. It raises awareness and allows for exposure in a friendly and, most importantly, accessible way. Granted, the journey of self-discovery and personal identity is not limited to any age, but there are no drawbacks to starting Pride young. So instead of the dissonance of being unable to see yourself in the media you consume, you get a discourse on representation and identity instead.