In an Age of Endless Media, Representation is More Important than Ever

Recently, in its twitter series #anitwitwatches, the blog Jon Spencer Reviews began discussing the anime “Wandering Son” along with many of its followers. The weekly discussions are planned to continue until about half-way through May when it will conclude with a discussion of the final two episodes.

This surprised me for a couple of reasons. One, the show is still pretty obscure even by anime standards. It was released in 2011 to a fairly minimal response and was pretty much forgotten about by most of the community. However, it also has the distinction of being one of the very few anime that takes a serious look at transgender issues.

It is important to highlight both these series and the discussion happening around them because, while some progress has been made on securing the rights of trans individuals, there is still a lot of social stigma around trans identity, so much so that the trans suicide rate is still significantly higher than the average population.

However, it is not just social stigma that affects transgender individuals’ ability to live well. The U.S. Transgender Survey which was conducted in 2015 also showed that many face a disproportionate amount of economic hardship. Poverty among transgender people is 29 percent, compared with 12 percent of the average population. Similarly, while the unemployment rate in 2015 was around 5 percent, the trans population had an unemployment rate of 15 percent.

It is tempting to think that members of the LGBT+ community are the only ones who face these issues, but as movies such as “A Silent Voice” highlight that is just not the case. “A Silent Voice” does a fantastic job of exploring what members of the Deaf community often have to go through.

For starters, many are isolated from human interaction due to the lack of fluency in sign language. In the best of cases, the only people who can understand them are usually family members who are aware of their problem. This can make it even harder for deaf children to make friends, and may even result in them getting bullied.

Adult life as a deaf individual does not get much easier. Many who are deaf or those with significant hearing loss receive less schooling than their peers. It can also be hard for deaf people to find jobs do to the inherent bias towards people who can hear, and even when they do, many are faced with scrutiny from co-workers, bosses, and customers.

Transgender and deaf people represent roughly 1 and 5 percent of the population, respectively, and yet very little media representation exists for these communities. Now more than ever people begin their journey of understanding the world through popular entertainment, such as movies, TV, video games, and even anime. The media people consume as kids and into adulthood can have a profound effect on their beliefs.

If people are not given good representations of these communities in their media diet, it is likely that they will develop at best an ignorance of the issues they face and at worst a visceral hatred of these groups based on increasingly far-right ideologies. Now more than ever, the presence of minority groups in media matters.

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