In Defense of Sense8

by  Christian A. Brown  |  August 9, 2015  |     No Comments

So my favorite new show of the year got renewed yesterday. #squeal. For whatever reason, Netflix has taken over as the defacto producer of high-quality, diverse content these days. Once their studios have produced a slightly larger portfolio of shows—which is inevitable—I’ll be cutting my ties to cable for good. I don’t even watch anything on cable, though my partner likes the background noise of all those brainless Housewives and TLC shows. Anyway, Sense8 was renewed, and that’s great news. At least you’d think so, though as is the nature of our society, for every person that’s happy about something, another wants to shit on that person’s happiness.

We have this unbearable tendency as a species to negatively reinforce our chosen social constructs by shunning whatever does not fall within our circle. “I don’t like this, therefore it’s bad.” As a writer and public figure, I’ve gotten used to encountering this extremism. Because the unfortunate responsibility of art—or public speaking—is that you have to expose yourself, your truth, and your heart to the world. A thick skin is a necessity. Furthermore, if someone doesn’t like you, what you write (or paint, or sing, or put on the television), the anonymity of the internet makes it twice as easy to decry. With that in mind, I’ve seen a lot of ‘opinions’ on Sense8.

“There’s too much sex,” is one of the more common criticisms. Okay, I can understand that criticism, even though objectively it’s not true. In terms of sexual content, you see some breasts, a man’s buttocks, I think a man’s flaccid junk once—which is an extraordinary circumstance on North American focused TV—and a handful of varied sexual situations. One scene is quite steamy, but I wouldn’t place it anywhere near the realm of porn. Still, none of that smutty stuff really occurs until a few episodes in, and by then, ideally, you’ve formed a bond with the characters and they’ve formed a bond with one another. They’re no longer strangers, and there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with consenting adults who have emotional ties having sex. I think that’s the larger attitude that needs to be tackled: that sex is wrong, and content involving it should be shamed, hidden or minimized. The puritanical reactions of our society toward sex have always baffled me, particularly when contrasted with the horrific displays of real world violence in which we regularly indulge. The testimonies of blood-covered disaster or shooting survivors. The barely fuzzed-out decapitations aired on live TV with the disclaimer “not suitable for younger viewers” (no shit, Sherlock). The macabre fascination we seem to have with court-room drama, homicides and killers. I’m not saying that an interest in mankind’s darker side is aberrant, in fact, I think it’s healthy—to an extent. However, it’s no less healthy than an interest in sexuality (age appropriate, obviously—though content like Sense8 has parental warnings, so that’s up to the parents, to, well, parent).

And yes, some people just like to keep their sex lives private, and shouldn’t be cast as “puritans” for that choice. Reasonable folks are allowed to leave the doors to their bedrooms and erotic-psyches closed. I get that; I’m rather reserved in that respect, myself. Nonetheless, I think we need to revisit what inclusiveness and diversity mean, and how they interact with one another. For starters: you’re not always going to like everything that you should support. “Wait a minute. Why would I support a cause/ group if I don’t like it?” you ask. “Makes no sense. I get nothing from that investment, other than discomfort from engaging with the unfamiliar.” That logic is only kind of right, as in: you and your carefully constructed social reality aren’t superficially affected by the actions of minorities and diversity-groups that do not enter into your microcosm. Subcutaneously, under the skin of life, is another matter. Here’s where we get into the grander concepts of philanthropy and humanity, of butterfly-effects and our place in the larger organism of society. Here’s where we look beyond our little fenced-in-property-of-self and into the wide world that’s filled with millions of opinions, body-types, gender assignments, sexual orientations, skin-colors, and religions. Even if all of that diversity boggles or frightens us, we must look upon it anyway. Sense8 is an important show, because it’s painting a picture of our global society and reminds us of our individual responsibility to contribute to the greater whole.

“Well, those representations aren’t perfect”. No, they’re not, and they’ll never be, since those representations do not come from your life, experience and purview. I doubt that every line of the script has been run through an academic, sociological and anthropological approval board, either. As someone who cares more about diverse-representation in our media and less about perfectly refining that representation, I think it’s important—for now—to focus on the fact that this content exists in the first place. Sense8 didn’t and wouldn’t have existed a decade ago. Not like this. Not backed by a huge media conglomerate. Once we have enough of such content, then we can focus on fine-tuning the messaging.

Now, there are concessions that I’ll make toward the imbroglio that is political correctness and on how to label and promote “diversity”. For example, after my The Mary Sue piece, a close friend of mine who is deeply involved in the LGBTQ community corrected me on my use of “transgendered”. A term that even though grammatically correct, is no longer the appropriate phrase. “Transgender” is used instead, and has been largely instituted and fostered by persons reclaiming their gender. (Great article, here.) Nomenclature such as that, which is important to how a person identifies themself, should be respected. As for the hair-splitting inanities that seem to cause more divisiveness than inclusiveness in activist communities, I’m going to be honest, I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Really, this infighting is exactly what those in charge of negative social constructs would prefer their opponents waste their energies upon. I tend to focus on the big-picture stuff: kindness, compassion, reforming legalities, a desire to accept and understand my fellow humans—even though I will never, truly, grasp each individual’s experience.

I may not understand you. I may not want to be your friend. I may neither envy nor pity you. What’s important is that I’ll look at you, wholly, and hear your story. In the very least, I’ll appreciate your gift, your spark of life, and the contribution that your difference brings to this world. That’s how I define acceptance and respect (respectance, sadly, has already been claimed by a social-media grief network). I don’t want a world full of “mes”. I don’t think that any of us do. I don’t think we realize how bland the world would be if it wasn’t filled with so many contrary voices. And rather than capitulate to our instincts—our herd-minded weakness—and reactively trying to shut those voices down whenever they sound in our lives, take a second and listen. Or watch, in the case of Sense8. Congratulations on Season Two!

All my love,

—C

 

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