Against Representation

Here’s what I mean when I say I’m against representation:

  1. Against saying “representation” and meaning “media that has explicitly and canonically stated the identity category of a character.”
  2. Against identity as the sole and only definition of representation.
  3. Against this binary measurement of representation because it speaks to nothing of how or in what ways it represents, and our lives are in the details.
  4. Against applying a model of consumer activism designed to target the entertainment industry as a whole to individuals.
  5. Because this reading of representation is absent of context, nuance, or intent.
  6. Because representation is not an off or on switch but a full and active process: things are not “representative,” they actively represent. If the work is Representation, you should be able to answer, then: how are you representing them? Are you representing their hopes, fears, insecurities and flaws? Their individual life circumstances, the way their life has shaped them? Are you representing them as a stereotype or do you speak from experience? Are you representing them in all their flaws? Are you representing how difficult and messy it all is? What choices have you made about what is important to represent? Have you represented a limited and imperfect but honest and unique slice of a life? In these cases you might arguably be lauded for acts of representation.
  7. Because the statement of an identity category is something a corporate marketing department can do in a press release and representing the lived experience of a marginalized person is a lifetime of work even those representing themselves cannot do fully and perfectly because of the very diversity of lived experiences we struggle to represent.
  8. Because when representation is nothing but a checklist, the nuance, specificity and quality of marginalized creators’ work will amount only to receipts to be called in, while uninvested allies will only be rewarded for taking as little risks as possible.
  9. The marginalized who take risks in representing themselves must be taken seriously even when we do not agree, because the opinion of one of our own we disagree with is worth infinitely more than the bland assent of someone with no skin in the game.
  10. That critics and journalists and fans have overvalued a version of representation that is easy to quantify but does not do us justice, and we should reassess dramatically how we cover, how we criticize, how we organize, and what we model to young people just beginning to learn how to look at their world analytically.