Pop Culture Fix: Gen Z Queers Want To See More Gay Besties Navigating Mental Illness in Action-Packed Dystopias Onscreen

Report Shows LGBTQIA+ Teens Want More Dystopias, Queers, Action Scenes and Stories About Mental/Health Illness in TV & Film

The 2023 Teens & Screens report was released yesterday and is causing a bit of buzz for its conclusions about what Gen Z would like to see on television, such as “more platonic relationships” and more content that addresses social issues and “hopeful, uplifting content with people beating the odds.” Most interesting has been the reaction to what they don’t want to see — 47.5% of those surveyed said sex isn’t needed for the plot of most shows. However, it bears immediate mentioning that this survey was conducted with a pool of 1,500 humans from the ages of 10 to 24. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess (or hope, maybe?) that ten-year-olds aren’t clamoring for more sex scenes. Also, 10-13 year olds are Gen Alpha, not Gen Z. But I agree with all of these children and young adults that we need more platonic relationships on television, and that stories about friendship are just as compelling as romantic stories, and yet are so often de-prioritized.

A somewhat troubling fact lurks on page 12 of the survey, however, in which participants were asked to rank 21 provided options for “what they want to watch.” LGBTQIA+ survey respondents’ top five was:

  1. Nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ Identities
  2. Mental health/illness
  3. People with lives like my own
  4. Dystopian and/or apocalyptic
  5. Action and/or fight scenes (may include guns and violence.)

The entire group of adolescents surveyed (of whom 63.7% identified as straight) ranked “Nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ Identities” at #19. The only reason it’s not #21 is because there were two ties. (“Systemic Injustice” tied with “Sports” at #14, and “Dystopian and/or Apocalyptic” and “Mental Health/Illness” are tied at #9.)

The Top 5 for the all adolescents 10-24:

  1. Hopeful, uplifting content with people beating the odds
  2. People with lives like my own
  3. Action and/or fight scenes (may include guns and violence.)
  4. Superheroes
  5. Friendships and social groups (popular, unpopular, etc.)

The survey’s top-line takeaway is that Gen Z is “tired of stereotypical, heteronormative storytelling that valorizes romantic and/or sexual relationships – especially ones that are toxic – and are looking for more representations of friendship, which is a core aspect of adolescence and social well-being.”  While it’s definitely concerning to see toxic relationships on television framed as aspirational, I think doing away with them altogether would hurt a lot of great storytelling.

In general, respondents felt that “romance in media is overused” and 39% want to see more aromantic and/or asexual characters on screen. I agree wholeheartedly! You can currently count the number of asexual/aromantic regular characters currently on television on one hand, and we simply need way more of them.


Other pop culture stories:

+ Last year, former Full House star Candace Cameron Bure hopped from working at the Hallmark Channel to becoming the Chief Content Officer for the Great American Family Channel, where she announced she intended to keep a gay-free slate of Christmas movies. In a new interview with Variety, GAF CEO Bill Abbott was asked repeatedly about this stance, eventually acknowledging that Bure’s comments should not be read as “speaking on behalf of Great American Media.” However, he didn’t indicate a desire to create more queer-inclusive programming, saying instead that they are “just looking to celebrate great stories” and “don’t have an agenda either way.”

+ Mattel has a new line of Barbie Signature dolls based on Ted Lasso, and is launching the collection with figures for Ted Lasso, Rebecca, and our bisexual queen Keeley.

+ Great news, homophobia has been fixed: The NHL is walking back its ban on Pride Tape.

+ The strange queer powers of ‘The Craft’: “How a coven of magical teen misfits sparked my ’90s coming out story”

+ Rapper Tea Fannie speaks up for trans kids with smooth rhymes: “My path is through my voice.”

+ Our Lady J on “Transparent,” “Pose,” and Returning To Live Performance

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Riese

Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3198 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Some of the way this survey is presented seems a bit misleading – not on the part of Autostraddle, but on the part of the people putting the survey together. Sorry this is going to be a long comment.

    First, a lot of these questions involve the respondent being asked if they agree with a statement rather than whether they prefer option A or option B. This is a garbage way to poll people, because it consistently produces bias towards agreement – especially if only the positives of the statement are being accentuated. It’s called “agreement bias” or “acquiescence bias” and anyone trying to do survey research should know better. People seem to approach surveys almost like conversations, which makes them less likely to overtly disagree to something they’re not opposed to even if the statement doesn’t match their own preferences at all.

    The question about platonic relationships was not actually phrased in opposition to romantic ones. They were asked whether they agree with the statement “I want to see more content that focuses on friendships/platonic relationships”, where slightly over half the respondents agreed, a third were neutral, and the other 15ish percent disagreed. “Strongly agree” and “slightly agree” were combined into “agree”, and how strongly people felt about this was not reported (“strongly disagree” and “slightly disagree” were also combined into “disagree”). But agreement bias applies here – it’s impossible to tell whether the agreers specifically wanted to see more of this content or if they’re not against it and think that people who do specifically want this content should get to see it, or to tell how many prefer platonic stories to romantic ones versus how many want a decent amount of both. The question also does not make it clear whether this refers to media with a focus on platonic relationships or media with a focus on both platonic and romantic relationships, or about what sorts of narratives would be depicted.

    Lower on the page, there are some results from another survey, one about people’s changing perception of being single. The survey these were from also used agree/disagree questions, and not particularly good ones, either – the first quoted statistic refers to whether people have noticed other people choosing to be single, and nothing about singlehood being “its own happy ending” was actually asked of the respondents (it’s a heading on the survey document referring to some questions about whether people are sick of the media telling them being in a relationship is the only way to be happy, whether the stigma of being single is decreasing, and the same question about whether people have noticed other people choosing to be single.) The other quoted statistic is about whether people would prefer to clean the toilet than go on another online date, which seems to be used as a measure of repulsion. I can’t tell if that question was limited to respondents who were single at the time of the survey. Anyway, participants were given a list of bad things and asked to select the ones they’d rather do than go on an online date. They do not seem to have been taking this particularly literally given that a lot of people said they would prefer to be injured in ways that would disrupt their ability to walk or eat for weeks rather than spend a couple hours in a restaurant with a boring stranger? Maybe other people love being injured, I don’t know. Anyway, I don’t think it’s a great question because even if you do take it literally, the toilet thing is not that bad of a chore and it needs to get done anyway.

    Moving down a page, 44.3% of respondents said that romance is overused in media, the rest disagreeing or neutral. Here’s our friend agreement bias again. It’s not clear if this question only went to the 13+ respondents – the survey previously says that only the 13+ respondents were asked about “relationships”, but one of the people quoted about this is 10 years old. It’s not clear at all if the respondents want there to be less romance, more variety in types of stories, fewer stories where the romance is kind of shoehorned in, or some mix of the above. The poll and the quotes suggest that the shoehorning is an issue, as well as when stories have stupid gender roles, suggest that guys and girls can’t just be friends, or depict situations where everyone has to fall in love to be happy. This seems like it’s more about badly done romance or romance that doesn’t fit with the rest of the story than about romance in general. (I don’t think we needed a 10-year-old to weigh in on enemies to lovers but okay!) We then see a celebrity I don’t recognize get quoted about how movies are sexist.

    Also in this section, the respondents seem to want more aro and/or ace characters, which… was probably also an agree/disagree question, but it’s nice that at least they’re not opposed to it! The sex scene question specifies “adolescents”, so that one at least probably does NOT include 10-12 year old respondents, but the majority do not agree with this question, and the survey does still include younger teens and most likely a lot of kids from conservative families (not mentioned, but they don’t seem to be filtering those kids out), so that kind of explains it.

    Next up, we have some really weird definitions of what “aspirational” content is. I would not have thought that was about rich and famous people, but any sort of content that talks about something a person might aspire to be (including a lot of stories about how to be a good person or make smart life decisions). I’m not into either version of that but I do hope that the respondents had this explained to them! According to the tiny text at the bottom of the page, what they were actually asked is: “Question asked was, “Some TV shows and movies are not true to real life, while others address real life issues. Which kind of TV shows and movies do you most like to watch?” Participants selected one of the following options (shown here abbreviated): real life issues, mirrors personal life, aspirational stories, fantasy worlds, no preference, or an option to write-in another themselves.” I don’t understand the inclusion of fantasy on this list, since genre fiction is also capable of addressing real life issues that might mirror someone’s personal life, or feature rich people, and also fantasy is not the only type of genre fiction, but okay! Not that many people are going to seem like they enjoy genre fiction if the existence of a robot or dragon is pitted against stories being relatable. Queer, POC, and older audiences seem to prefer (or just prefer more than the general population? it’s unclear?) stories about real life issues to stories that mirror their personal lives, which makes me wonder if those respondents actually have a preference for stories about issues over stories that mirror their personal lives or if they feel like stories about issues are more likely to mirror their personal lives, as we can see below that queer respondents are seeking out stories that feature queerness and characters with lives like their own. We do not get into that though and I suspect the makers of this survey have never thought that young people seeing their personal lives as “the issues” could ever possibly be troubling.

    (I’m going to continue in a reply to this because it’s getting even longer than I thought.)

    • Next, there’s some discussion of whether teens prefer original properties or franchises/adaptations/remakes. I wonder which category includes things like movies based on books or anime based on manga, because those are generally treated more similarly to original content than to remakes/etc? I don’t have a ton to say about this. I guess I’m curious how it compares to different generations because most people claim to prefer original content, and good IP-based content seems to be treated as a little bit of an exception – the respondents’ fourth most preferred out of the listed topics is superheroes, which are usually part of a franchise these days. Are the superhero fans the people who like franchises (entirely possible, with what I’m guessing the numbers to be) or are people’s preferences in theory different from their preferences in practice? I’m also not sure about how this was turned into statistics, and it doesn’t seem to me like it made a ton of sense. Apparently the respondents were asked how interested they were in various types of content, and the percentages come from how many people picked “very interested” or “extremely interested” for each type? I feel like this might be specifically selecting for respondents who are very very hyped for a piece of media to be original or part of a franchise and that feels kind of weird when it would be easier to just ask if people had strongly positive/slightly positive/neutral/slightly negative/strongly negative feelings about different types of content.

      Also there is no way that quote is a casual response coming from an 11-year-old. Maybe that’s an 11-year-old sitting down to write a book report with a guide on ways you can describe a piece of media, but that’s not an 11-year-old who’s just talking about a show he likes. That’s not anyone who’s just talking about a thing they like.

      Alright, so after that is the part that had people concerned, and I honestly don’t think it’s all that bad (in terms of Gen Z’s attitude toward LGBTQ+ people, not in terms of the research quality here which remains very subpar.) There’s barely any explanation of how this works, apart from “on a list of 21 choices of what they prefer to see in TV shows and/or movies” and “adolescents’ top choices” (this survey’s days of being really confusing about whether they mean the entire respondent base or just the 13+ respondents are coming to a middle, but here it’s everybody including young kids), which leads me to guess that they were asked to pick their favorite topic or their favorite three topics or something, not to rank all the topics or to pick every topic that they’d be at all interested in.

      It’s worrying if almost none of the cishet respondents want to read/watch/play/whatever stories about topics they like with LGBTQ+ lead characters, but it’s not really worrying if almost none of the cishet respondents pick “Nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ Identities” as one of their favorite topics. It’s really vague whether “Nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ Identities” refers to a work including LGBTQ+ characters or a work centered around LGBTQ+ issues like figuring out one’s identity or coming out of the closet. It probably looks like it’s going to be about systemic injustice or social issues, both of which are also near the bottom of the list as topics. Not even all LGBTQ+ people want to read about those issues. I’m guessing it was a popular answer for the LGBTQ+ respondents because more of them took it to mean that the work would contain queerness at all (given that they also demonstrated a preference for the topic “People with lives like my own”), but it’s not even like all of the LGBTQ+ respondents were likely to have chosen this. If every respondent could choose three topics, then if all topics were equally liked, each topic would be chosen by about 14.2% of respondents. If every respondent could choose five topics and all topics were equally liked, then each topic would be chosen by about 23.8% of respondents. It’s not possible for every respondent who wasn’t straight (there’s not any data on how many people aren’t cis, or how much overlap there is with the people who aren’t straight), or even every respondent who wasn’t straight, “other”, or “prefer not to say”, to have chosen “Nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ Identities” as a preferred topic if they could only select five or fewer topics and if “Nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ Identities” came last. I would really like to see the actual numbers on this!

      Personally, if I wanted to study interest in or bias against stories about certain demographics, I feel like it would’ve been more useful to ask participants how interested they would be in reading books about different types of people in a different series of questions separate from preferred topics. Maybe something like “How would knowing that a story has a [category of person] protagonist affect your interest?” with answers that are all very carefully neutral and relate back to how it would affect their interest in a world where stories are about a variety of things – “I don’t think I’d try it even if other things about the story seemed interesting to me”/ “It would make me less interested, but not enough to outweigh whether the rest of the story seemed interesting to me” / “It wouldn’t affect my interest in either direction” / “It would make me more interested, but not enough to outweigh whether the rest of the story seemed interesting to me”/ “I think I’d try it even if other things about the story didn’t seem interesting to me”. That sort of thing, probably a professional would have a better idea about the wording. It’s useful to know whether people are interested in reading about the experience of being a minority specifically (including whether they’re looking to see themselves represented or to read about the minority experiences of others), but I feel like interest in reading about Being A Minority shouldn’t be used as a measure of whether or not someone is accepting of minorities themselves.

      However, there are some other things about this question that bother me. I don’t think this is a useful spread of topics, and I feel like for a study that discusses older people projecting their beliefs and opinions onto younger people, it is kind of doing a lot of that itself? For example, hopeful media is a topic, but dark media and tragic media are not. “Hopeful” itself is also very ambiguous – is something only hopeful if it has a positive tone throughout the story, or do works that show the characters going through a lot of suffering and then coming out okay at the end count? I like the idea of asking respondents whether they prefer stories about characters who have similar lives to them or characters who have very different lives, but when it’s a topic it’s pretty unclear what’s actually being referenced because the respondents’ lives are going to be very different and “people with lives unlike my own” could refer to people who’ve had very different life experiences but could go to your school, people from vastly different times and places, or robots and dragons. (Where is “historical”??? It’s just not there.)

      “Action” as a topic is useful. “Superheroes” and “dystopia/apocalyptic” are useful, although it’s weird that they’re the only genre fiction tropes on the list when there isn’t even a basic “magic” or “futuristic technology”. We could also use “mystery” or “crime” or “suspense”. “Friendships and social groups” and “family life” are useful as topics.

      I really really question the inclusion of “content that doesn’t include sex or romance”, especially on a survey where some of the respondents are going to be children – this isn’t a question about what topics you DON’T want in your media, although that would be a fair question too. I don’t have an issue with the inclusion of “mental health/illness”, although if the list isn’t going to include things like “horror”, this topic is going to mean both “people dealing with depression or grief” and “really fucked up serial killers”. (Acknowledging that people like transgressive subject matter is actually pretty important when it comes to understanding interests that aren’t transgressive too! There are age-appropriate forms of this! Talking about it does not mean you’re encouraging 10-year-olds to go and watch The Murder And Incest Show!)

      “Lifestyles of the working class and/or low socioeconomic class” is pretty blatantly there just to be opposition to “Lifestyles of the super rich or famous”. Last year’s survey used something like “lifestyles of regular people” for this, which I liked better. (Note: I’m poor, I just don’t think the survey was intentionally trying to discuss voyeurism towards poor people as a counterpart to voyeurism towards rich people.) I feel like there’s some weird overlap with the “people with lives like my own”/ “people with lives unlike my own” topics, which I still think would’ve worked better as a separate question. I do not think “racial minorities” should’ve been a topic. “Minority experiences” might have worked for stories that are specifically about what it’s like to be some or other kind of minority, or “Race and ethnicity” for material that is supposed to be about… race and ethnicity, but racial minorities (and gender/sexual minorities) as people can be part of almost any topic and it would be more useful to measure what people feel about seeing them separately from whether they would prefer to see a superhero fight or see a black person. There are other ways to ask about this!

      I am extremely uncomfortable with the grouping of sex and romance here, especially when the respondents include children, who generally know they’re going to be extremely shamed if they express interest in sexual topics. It feels like this is a way to dissuade respondents from picking this option so the makers of the survey can say that Gen Z isn’t very interested in it. Maybe this was unintentional, but I don’t think the people who made this had a lot of respect for people who are interested in these things. I don’t like this.

      I feel like a few things could’ve been combined or clarified between “systemic injustice”, “current events”, and the various topics about minority identity. “Sports” is fine I guess, but does remind me that it’s sort of weird there’s no divide between fiction and nonfiction – fictional stories about athletes and actual athletic events don’t always have a ton of overlap in audience. “Climate change” is a little weird in how specific it is, and I think having a more general “environmentalism” topic would better frame it as something a person might be interested in. I hate “partying and/or drugs and drinking”. It’s transparently formatted to look very shallow, and to give a vibe that doesn’t at all match the contexts in which people find these topics narratively interesting – generally when they’re the background to some other plot, or when the story involves troubled characters making choices that are exciting but also a bad idea, and often attempting to correct course. I feel like the survey maker was really trying to get to say that Gen Z isn’t interested in drugs and partying, either. “Immigration” feels really specific, but I’m not sure what a better topic would’ve been. “Immigration and life in other countries”, maybe? I really do not know.

      (Going to continue this again later, because I want to talk a bit about priming as well as finish the whole thing up. Same survey time, same survey place.)

      • thank you! i am really enjoying this analysis, eagerly awaiting your next installment.

        i only had an hour or so to pull this post together but so much of what you are talking about here are things that did feel off to me reading the survey, so i hope you keep going, and thank you for taking the time to, i love the internet

      • So, priming! On a basic level, priming is when being exposed to Thing X before doing Thing Y makes you more likely to do Thing Y differently. For example, if orange light makes some people hungrier, putting an orange light in a fast food restaurant will probably result in some people ordering more food than they otherwise would’ve once they get to the counter. For a more serious example, doing things that remind people of stereotypes that certain groups (gender, ethnic background, etc) are worse at a task is often going to make those people, on average, actually be worse at the task. This is called “stereotype threat.” It’s not that people feel like they’re under some kind of pressure to conform to the stereotype, exactly, but being reminded that people think badly of them is likely to make them more anxious about whether they can beat the stereotype, which will affect their performance. This pattern still holds even when the people involved don’t actually believe the negative stereotypes about their own group, and it can be triggered by something as basic as writing your race on a form.

        “Social-desirability bias” is also an issue with surveys. Survey respondents are likely to feel pressure to answer questions in a, well, socially desirable way, even if it gets in the way of being honest. For example, people are less likely to say they smoke and more likely to say they recycle, especially if they’re embarrassed about their actions or their behavior doesn’t match what they think people ought to do. Anonymity seems to help, as does wording things in as neutral a way as possible and giving people sympathetic “outs” to explain behavior they might feel pressure to lie about, like letting people say they would recycle if their neighborhood had recycling pickup or that they’re trying to quit smoking/ only do it rarely.

        I cannot tell if this survey is anonymous. Names aren’t being reported to the public, but I’m not sure how confidential things were behind the scenes. They’re not saying. The respondents were from all over the US, and took the survey “online”. It was definitely written rather than spoken at least some of the time, given that a respondent’s typographical errors are mentioned. I get the feeling that the respondents were not taking the test online at a location where they were supervised by researchers, but were taking the test in their homes, although I don’t know for sure. I don’t even know if the researchers did anything to make sure that the respondents’ parents or other people in the home wouldn’t be watching them during the survey, or even if they did but it was just telling the parents/etc to leave the respondent alone without any way to monitor if they were actually doing so. Whether or not you personally were afraid of being judged by your parents, you probably knew a few people who were, or at least who became notably more of “good kids” when their parents were around. If the respondents may have been being watched, or the respondents were worried they could potentially have been being watched even if that wasn’t possible, especially if the people watching them have the authority to punish them, these responses are completely meaningless. It’s not about whether parents in general are trustworthy, but about how people behave while being potentially observed by authority figures.

        But okay, let’s assume that all the respondents had guaranteed privacy and were aware that they had guaranteed privacy. Respondents under 14 had a different set of questions, and respondents under 13 didn’t get some or all of the questions about sex and/or romance. This means that before taking the survey, the respondents had to give their age in some way. It’s possible that 10-to-12-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 14-to-24-year-olds all received different surveys from the start, but it’s also possible that they had to input their ages on their own before the survey began. Other demographic information connected to respondents involves race and gender (the report refers to individual respondents as “[Race] [Gender], [Age]”, i.e. “Indigenous Female, 13”), which may have been collected separately from the survey or at the end, but we just don’t know. Standard practice is to ask about this sort of thing later to avoid priming, but I don’t have a lot of trust in this survey to not have fucked this up.

        I am not sure in what order the questions were asked, but most of them seem to have a very “socially responsible” sort of energy or seem to have been steering the respondents into giving “wholesome”/“respectable” answers, including many that came up earlier in the report. Answers to subsequent questions may have been affected by the atmosphere those questions cultivated. Several questions refer to race and gender as well, which may have had an effect re: stereotype threat if any of those questions came up earlier (or were randomized and some people got them earlier.) Also, did the respondents, like… know what this study was about? Because every single person taking this study is a member of a negatively stereotyped demographic. They’re all Gen Z, and in addition to the generational stereotypes, society has always had negative stereotypes about young people.

        Here is the thing: even if individuals were anonymous, their specific demographics, and the greater demographic of Gen Z, were not. This study exists to report data about Gen Z’s general preferences. Data on race, gender, and orientation will obviously be tracked if they’re asking about it, and some people might guess those things will come up even if nobody asks at the start of the survey. If you want to beat the stereotype, aren’t you going to try to be your most palatable self? If you’re thinking about whether you’re going to make your gender look silly if you like romance or you’re going to make your ethnic minority look materialistic if you like seeing rich people get into stupid fights on TV or you’re going to make queer people look degenerate if you like stories where people do too many drugs and feel sad about it, why wouldn’t you try to vote for looking respectable? Is it possible that a lot of people did this? I think it is.

        I don’t know how you’d avoid this. My gut says talk to the subjects about how prioritizing honesty over wholesomeness is “the right thing to do” in order to shift some of the be-a-good-kid impulse, tell them that most people are not entirely pro-social or entirely hedonistic, that kind of thing, but all I know is what I think would work on me. And that I’m not actually sure there’s anything we CAN take away from this study until we know if they avoided reminding people of categorical differences for as long as possible and made sure the parents were out of the room.

        Next, people are asked to name the most “authentic” media. This was a write-in. I’m not sure if people were asked to list media that had other positive qualities, so I get the feeling people mostly wrote in things they liked. “Authenticity” seemed to mean a lot of different things here – this page contains a youtuber I’ve maybe heard of once or twice who apparently seems pretty down-to-earth, a show that at least one person thinks is a pretty accurate depiction of a neighborhood like hers, and a documentary about a K-pop artist that the fan in question sees as especially emotionally candid. That weird Stranger Things blurb that really doesn’t sound like it was from an 11-year-old might have been a response to this question actually because it’s specifically talking about authenticity, even though it was on a much earlier page about whether people like remakes? If you look at the fine print, these seem to have been the most popular youtuber, show, and movie given, but I’m not sure where Stranger Things fits in or if it is still all that popular. This is not very informative.

        Next is a poll about why people like media. I’m not sure I see anything I hate about this, but I don’t know if I totally understand the difference between escapism and entertainment? After that is a question about binge watching. I’m curious whether people prefer binge watching because they actually want to watch all that TV at once or because they like having more freedom in when to watch the show and would like to watch more frequently than once a week (no judgment on people who watch big chunks of TV, I just have ADHD and don’t understand how a human can pay attention to things for that long.) But there’s not anything wrong with this question, really.

        (Looking at the next part and their really weird definition of “the American dream” is kind of exhausting so I’m going to take another break.)

        • Forgot about the quote earlier on in the report from the kid who liked Barbie, that’s another one that seemed to be a write-in response to the authenticity question. I also want to bring up the demographics of the survey, which had data both this year and last year. There’s sort of a weird theme of everyone seeming more homophobic and racist this year than last year, which is somewhat concerning, but it turns out to not actually mean anything because there are way more straight people (63.7%) and somewhat more white people (52.2%) than in last year’s group (52.1% straight, 47.3% white). It also seems like they went more out of their way to have a really even spread of ages than they did last year, and they’re also including younger and older people (this year is 10-24, last year was 13-18.) It really doesn’t make sense to compare this year’s and last year’s data in any meaningful way.

          Looking at last year’s report, I can’t tell if teenagers were also involved in creating the survey? If so and if that’s still happening this year, I feel a little better about some things, because at least that way they’re laypeople and it wouldn’t mean that UCLA (the source of the group running the survey) is this incompetent at training people who want to do this sort of research professionally. Laypeople who don’t know what the fuck they are doing are not necessarily stupid or dishonest, they’re just badly trained and supervised. I am still going to think the people training and supervising them are not doing their jobs, though.

          So, I am not all that knowledgable about race and casting but I also don’t want to just skip it, so I’m going to do my best but please take all of this with a grain of salt. If someone else who knows more about this wants to chime in, that would be perfectly fine with me.

          With that said: I don’t really like how they handled this! There’s no information in this year’s report on how this question was asked, but according to last year’s report, it was: “Question asked was, “Imagine you are a casting agent and you have to cast a new show. Who would you cast in the following roles…”” and you could choose a particular combination of man or woman and White, Black, Latine, or Asian. I feel like some people are going to answer what they personally want to see and others are going to answer what they think is the right thing to do, and I don’t think either of these is necessarily bad but I also don’t know what information they were trying to get with this question. I would personally be more interested in how open people are to media starring different genders and races, whether or not those are their favorite genders and races to see onscreen, because I feel like that’s more likely to determine what media they’re going to be out there supporting – in the real world it’s possible for all of these kinds of people to sometimes play the hero without anyone getting shorted, and most reasonable people agree that this is not what’s happening currently but it’s what we should be aiming for. Right now, the best strategy for getting there is to support art about and by very underrepresented people, and that’s worth doing even outside of the context of aiming for equality, but I don’t think it’s necessary to pit categories against each other like this especially when some of the respondents are very young.

          It also seems kind of weird to not look at race and gender separately at all? Did last year’s pattern of boys preferring male heroes and girls not having much of a preference continue? How popular are various races of hero in general when you ignore the gender divide? Did black heroes split the vote between genders more than they did last year? (Last year 25.2% of respondents voted for white heroes and 36.7% of respondents voted for black heroes, but while about 35.7% of the votes for black heroes were for women, only about 22.6% of the votes for white heroes were for women. Black men won over white men, but not by as much as the statistics for black heroes overall and white heroes overall would make it seem.) It’s entirely possible that black heroes in general still did better than white heroes in general this year, especially because the 18-to-24-year-old respondents voted to cast black women. I feel like this really brings out how this question and the way it’s reported on are very very useless, because it’s entirely possible that some demographics showing less bias on one axis can create a situation where the group in general appears to have more bias on the other axis. Also, I feel like it creates a situation in which people might vote against their exact preference in order to try to get their general preference to get a decent amount of votes, but I don’t know if a significant number of respondents actually did that.

          Also, last year white women were the least popular type of hero, which makes me wonder if there was a trend against white girls voting for “themselves”. I’d like to see the numbers on who they were voting for, because there isn’t really a possibility I wouldn’t believe?

          I am now back to being a hater because I do not think this survey understands much about the role of villains in fiction and I think that treating villain casting as completely separate from hero casting also shows a lack of understanding about this! Like, what kind of villain are we talking about? Last year the report used the phrase “bully/villain” one time. Was that part of the question? Did they do that again this year? Are we talking about specifically an unlikable villain? Are we talking about villains in general? A lot of people enjoy villains, and many villains have depth as characters and sympathetic qualities. Villains don’t always even stay villains. The POC villain issue is about several things: trends in villain demographics vs trends in hero demographics, POC villains being opposed by white heroes, POC villains with really (potentially offensively) strong racial coding being opposed by POC heroes with less strong racial coding, POC villains being written as racial stereotypes or having really (potentially offensively) strong racial coding to their motives, and POC villains generally not being designed to be as fun/cool/attractive/exciting/sympathetic as white villains. Villains being racial minorities is not actually a problem on its own – if you have an interesting, complex hero and an interesting, complex villain who are both Latina, for example, you have two cool characters for people to like and two substantial roles for the people playing them. If you look at casting choices as separate decisions rather than as connected decisions, though, there’s sort of only one way to know that you’re not perpetuating any ethnic stereotyping, and then only white people get to twirl around with a cape and look menacing. I hate this question because it’s not really looking for people to talk about villains as they actually function as a part of a story!

          I don’t have a ton to say about the American dream section, except that people use that term in a lot of different ways. I’ve seen it used to mean that anyone can become rich or upper middle class if they put in the work, and I’ve seen it used to mean that anyone can become basically stable if they make okay choices and don’t have extremely shitty luck. I don’t think it’s true either way, but I think the context around really young people believing the different versions is different. But okay, we’re going with the rich people definition. I also think the choices for media that represents this trope are kind of weird: a musical about a historical politician who actually did become successful after a hard early life but then made a lot of bad choices and got shot in a duel, a TV show about a fictional chess champion who… I think she gets rich but the show seems to mostly be about whether she’ll succeed as a chess player and quit drugs, and another TV show where I can’t really tell what any of this is about but I think they’re looking for a treasure and being very heterosexual. I’m not sure any of these are great examples? Competitive game stories and rise and fall stories are not quite the same as rags to riches stories, even if a person gets rich. But maybe I’m nitpicking.

          The statistics about this are presented in a very confusing way, and I don’t like that they call attention to a child’s typo. Given the context, it is really weird to do that right after talking about negative racial stereotypes.

          The question discussed in the report as “the most authentic media [space]” was actually “Which media space does the best job of making content that feels authentic to you?”, which I feel is not the same. The respondents voted for social media, which I feel like does a really good job at illustrating that a space that consistently produces really authentic content is not necessarily going to be authentic all the way through. I don’t really understand Tiktok but I think it has cat videos and is what the current mental illness self diagnosis moral panic is happening about, so… yeah, it’s the internet.

          The next question is just about whether the respondents have done some very wholesome things that people can do on social media, along with all the other not mentioned things that people can do on social media. I feel like the survey here is advocating for this to be treated as something that has value, which I like! A lot of attention goes to the negative aspects of social media, which are real, but it all seems to come back to the same “…so the problem is the kids having freedom!” shit that I recognize from back when I was a teenager. Thank you for remembering that teens can do things with the internet apart from trying to murder each other, survey! But it’s also okay for them to use the internet to talk about anime and look up some cats and mental illnesses. Nobody needs to be pro-social all the time.

          In conclusion, this survey is bad. I don’t think you can learn much about Gen Z’s actual media preferences, but you sure can learn about the media preferences these specific people want Gen Z to have.

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