There is incredible power in imagery.

The phrase “A picture is worth 1,000 words” is not only a cliché, but a rather accurate representation of the ways in which we have a culturally understood language centered around visuals, whether that be the clothing we wear or a gif on the internet.

That is why images found in television and other visual media have huge implications for the culture of the society from which they generate, and America is one of — if not the — leaders in producing television, movies, and other similar visual media.

Because visual media are so ubiquitous in our culture, it is important to think about and understand the importance of representation within these media. For members of American society who are not used to seeing themselves on the silver screen, having accurate, thoughtful representation can make a world of difference. In recent years, representation for marginalized groups has improved, and I believe that it will only increase because of the shifting relationships between fans and the people who create their favorite shows.

Ten years ago, a scholar named Henry Jenkins published a book titled “Convergence Culture,” which investigated through case studies the ways in which the internet and fans were affecting traditional television. In that book, Jenkins predicted many phenomena that we see playing out today: consumer/creator contact has increased, leading to fan-driven decisions on popular shows; fans have more direct channels to show sponsors, giving them greater power to affect ad campaigns; and a myriad of options has pared audiences down to smaller, more dedicated fan bases who can be dangerous to disappoint. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook allow fans, content creators, and sponsors to interact directly, allowing fans of popular shows to affect the decisions of writers from behind their keyboards.

One of the purposes of fan-driven campaigns recently has been improved representation. One of the most recent examples of this type of effort was centered around a show titled “The 100,” which airs on the CW. For anyone who watches “The 100,” and is not caught up on the most recent season, beware of spoilers. The show, based on a young adult novel and with a plot vaguely related to “Lord of the Flies” (but in space!), had killed off a prominent lesbian character for shock value.


Unfortunately, the decision to kill off minority characters is no longer a shocking twist. We all recognize the longstanding tropes that seem to be the only place for minority characters in television: the sassy black woman, the smart Asian man, the tortured gay teen, or the cab driver with the thick Indian accent. But these images are not representative of the full range of life experiences of minorities.

Fortunately, as Jenkins’ research predicted, there is now recourse for those who want to see more nuanced and varied characters on their shows.

After the death of the fan favorite, watchers of “The 100” took to internet spaces, leading to a conversation about representation and the responsibilities creators have to their fans. This interaction led to many articles and much attention. Several sponsors pulled their advertisements from airing on the show; other content creators in the business took heed.

All of this was possible, I believe, because of the ways that social media and technology have changed the accessibility of those in charge. By making the people telling stories more accountable, fans have taken some control over the stories that they are being told, whatever that may mean for the future of television.

As more marginalized individuals within fan communities realize their ability to advocate for better visibility, the more content creators will have to pay heed to their voices. As time continues and technology evolves, the conversation between fans and creators will only continue to become more intimate.

Both sides of that conversation need to be aware of the changing dynamic and what that means for the future of storytelling. Stories are powerful tools for activism and change; the more authentic stories can be, the more impact they can have.

Kim Carter is an English student at the University of Maine at Augusta with an expected graduation in December 2016. She is also involved in many other activities on campus including working as a representative in the Student Government, tutoring in the Writing Center, playing the guitar and singing at campus events, speaking at academic presentations, and giving campus tours.

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