Spoilers lay ahead, you have been warned.
Hello, internet, I just sat through 12 episodes of the new Netflix original, Sense8. I’m going to tell you, right now, as a CIS gendered, straightish, white, male, that show is chock full of images of queer sexuality, transgender struggles, and the plights of the non-whites. While it is far from a masterpiece, the show from creator J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5) and The Watchowskis (of Matrix fame), was exactly what I needed to see.
Let’s talk about media:
I’ve been a media consuming garbage disposal for decades, though I have a love/hate relationship with what the United States feeds me in terms of “entertainment.” I love being entertained, without having to lift a finger to do so (living the American dream); I hate the fact that he US television industrial complex has to snip, censor, and obfuscate messages that could be eye opening or entertaining, in hopes of avoiding conflict with the conservative elites that have managed to get their bloated, white, Christian tentacles thoroughly embedded in the cogs of what could be an amazing machine.
Needless to say, having the ability to ingest foreign and original programming, by way of streaming companies like Netflix, Hulu, and its ilk, has revolutionized the way television can be presented. Companies like HBO and other cable networks that produce original programming have always been able to create compelling, thought provoking, entertainment, that may expose their viewers to something that they may not be prepared for, or may not expect… That’s fantastic, and those companies can make some great TV, but let’s face it, it’s fucking expensive.
Like all things that cost money, it ends up creating a social disparity, where the wealthy elite are able to ingest unlimited arts and culture (and become outraged by it), and the working class and poor cannot, being stuck with the same outrageous swill that would easily keep anyone stupid forever. The struggling majority of America will never see the Mad Men, OZ, the L Word, or Deadwood… Not, at least, until it comes out on home media, or they have enough technical acumen to torrent the shows. As stupid as television can be, it can also inspire, and change lives, and speak to individual people on a level that can only be described as transcendent… The same way a piece of poetry, a book, a film, a painting, or a comic book can. Keeping your most brilliant work away from the people who need to see it the most is a fucking travesty.
Keeping your most brilliant work away from the people who need to see it the most is a fucking travesty.
Netflix, and streaming in general, changed the game, and it shows… Their business is cheap, accessible, TV. While the poorest of the poor are still cut off from the entertainment that much of country can enjoy, streaming services relative value blasted the entertainment industry open to a massive swathe of consumers who has never had access to such media. Netflix doesn’t shy away from entertainment that has been produced or marketed to people of color, the LGBTQI community, and other non CIS-gendered, non-white consumers, and the alogrithms they use to tailor peoples choices to their viewing habits doesn’t flat out block media, it means that more and more of the straight white majority will have media that they normally wouldn’t look at pop up on their selection lists.
Netflix, and the world, learned that by creating an accessible entertainment platform, they could quickly get rich as fuck. It definitely allowed them to flex their muscles, with a slough of original programming, which (unfortunately) is mostly marketed toward consumers who like white people in various states of behaving badly. That being said, they had some real stunners (Daredevil, Orange is the New Black), some delightfully fluffy cheese (Marco Polo), and a screenwriting gem in the form of a hilarious animated comedy (BoJack Horseman). At this point, they have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in terms of original programming.
Sense8, and What it Represents:
Sense8 is the newest entry into the Netflix programming lineup, and it certainly has a bit of weight attached to it. The Watchowski’s name may have diminished in credibility, a little, since The Matrix came out, not being able to recapture the same amount of critical acclaim, and even giving us some real stinkers (Speed Racer, Jupiter Ascending); their name, though, still carries weight. J. Michael Straczynski was part of Babylon 5, an incredible television show, that reminds me distinctly of my youth.
The show follows eight young people, as they go about the complexities and mundanities of their lives, slowly revealing that they share a collective consciousness, that they were otherwise unaware of. These eight souls are scattered far and wide: Chicago, San Francisco, Seoul, London/Iceland, Nairobi, India, Mexico City, and Germany. Because they occupy each other’s minds, they are able to draw from each other’s training, and skillsets, languages, and even spirituality. They are all different, as well, from a hacker and activist, to a martial artist, to an actor, to a cop, to a DJ, to a bus driver, to a scientist, to a small time criminal. The fact that they can occupy each other’s bodies, and live each other’s memories, or take control of each other’s bodies, allows them to solve the problems thrown at them, but places them on the radar of a fairly evil big-brother type organization.
Critics aren’t being particularly kind to the show, and in certain areas, they aren’t wrong. The massive cast is a little unwieldy, at times, and it’s hard to follow, especially in the beginning, all the things that are happening or supposed to be happening. It’s sometimes hard to relate to certain members of the cast, because splitting 12 one hour episodes between 8 equally important protagonists is difficult, for the viewer, and for the creators. The dialogue, at times, is overwrought, and seems a little awkward… But underneath all that, the show has a massive heart, and made me feel feels that I didn’t know I was really able to feel from watching TV.
I’m less interested in the overall plot of the show, than what it represents. The action sequences, and the overarching storyline (secret government bad guys, and using each other’s consciousness to get out of each others respective pickles) is interesting, but nothing we haven’t seen before… What is different is the exposure of characters to sexuality you would never see a character archetype exposed too. At one point, in the middle of the series, all the characters share a period of sexuality, due to their shared consciousness. The trans character, Nomi (who is played by an actual transperson, thankfully!) is sleeping with her long term partner Amenita; Lito, our swarthy, gay latino is making hard love to his long term partner Hernando… Worlds away, in Chicago, prototypical white cop, Will Gorski is trying to get his weights lifted, while experiencing Lito and Hernando’s love making session, as if Lito’s own dark stubble was rubbing against his baby-soft white face, simultaneously feeling the his tongue against Amanita’s, all the while imagining the touch of the person he is falling for, Riley, in London. In Germany, safe cracker and token sullen dude, Wolfgang feels them all in his large tub, in the public bath that he frequents, as he watches the woman he has fallen in love with, Kala, in Mumbai, enter the bath definitely a departure from her deeply spiritual, conservative, Indian upbringing, which she secretly feels smothered by.
This scene does not feel exploitative, though. For myself, it felt deeply important. They made sex, and love, in all its varied forms, normal, and safe, and warm, in the middle of a piece of media that, whatever it’s goal may be, is as mainstream as it comes. It caught me unawares, and I hope I’m not the only one. Considering who I am, a white thirty something from Minnesota, you would think that I would be rooting for Will Gorski, in all his whitebreaded hero complexed glory. Hell no, I’m team Lito/Hernando. That is the importance of subversion, to destroy the status quo, to bend opinions, and change realities.
Considering who I am, a white thirty something from Minnesota, you would think that I would be rooting for Will Gorski, in all his whitebreaded hero complexed glory. Hell no, I’m team Lito/Hernando. That is the importance of subversion, to destroy the status quo, to bend opinions, and change realities.
I’ve always supported the LGBTQI community, I’ve always been an ally, and a trans advocate… But, I’m also a hardcore introvert, that doesn’t leave his house (it’s full of comics, books, the internet, and video games. No point in leaving). My circle of close friends is small, and while I have many people in my world that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, and all stripes in between, I don’t necessarily witness their lives, or understand them, like I would if it was going on in my living room. I don’t watch a great deal of gay media, not because I don’t want to, but because I’m a typical fucking geek, who doesn’t like anything that doesn’t have a sci-fi or fantasy bent. Shrouded in a neat little sci-fi bundle, Sense8 dropped me into Lito and Hernando’s world, two men who love each other fiercely, for all the right reasons, despite their flaws and humanity, trying to build a life in a culture that is more than a little hostile toward them. It’s completely gorgeous.
Despite it’s bumbling nature, at times, and some really eye rolling script writing, I really adore Sense8… not necessarily because it’s any more or less original than any other piece of psychic sci-fi, but because of it’s total lack of fear in exposing a mass majority to relationships they may have never seen otherwise. It’s subversive, and I hope it comes back, and subverts some more. Most importantly, I hope that the creators of accessible TV take a cue from the show, and insert the stories, and pictures of worlds that will open the eyes, and minds, and hearts of the vast majority of its viewers. There is no gay agenda, that’s a myth created by the same sea monsters that keep American network television horrible; there’s only the gay reality, and that needs to be witnessed by all.