TV Characters' Rising Death Toll Reveals Troubling Pattern
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We turn now to the rising death toll of fictional TV characters. A few months ago, the CW network's apocalyptic thriller "The 100" killed off Commander Lexa, one of a slew of character deaths that have marked this television season. In the age of "Game Of Thrones," no one is safe. But the outcry over the death of Lexa, one of TV's few prominent gay characters, made Caroline Framke, a vulture - a culture critic, rather, at Vox, wonder if there was any rhyme or reason to the TV body count. So she counted each and every one. And what Framke found troubled her.
CAROLINE FRAMKE: About 10 percent of the deaths that I counted were gay, bisexual or otherwise queer women, which, when you think about it proportionally, is kind of nuts because not many television shows, unless it's "Orange Is The New Black" or something, have more than one or two maybe gay, bisexual or otherwise women. And the fact that most of them - a lot of them end up dead is troubling.
MARTIN: Why do you think that is? I mean, what - if you were to unpack this - I mean, what are some of the reasons that show runners decide to kill off characters, as it pertains particularly to this minority group?
FRAMKE: As it pertains to LGBTQ women, this trope has kind of been around longer than a lot of people will realize. On television, it's gone back a few decades. And this spring became sort of the linchpin of a lot of this conversation because of "The 100." But other characters died, too. "Empire" killed off two queer women when "Empire," a soap, doesn't even kill off that many people. And it still managed to do that.
MARTIN: And I imagine there aren't many - I mean, just the fact that it had two queer women on the show was exceptional. They probably didn't have more than that.
FRAMKE: Right. And then you have to think about it in a bit of a larger context than even just television. If you go back to lesbian pulp novels, in the '50s, '60s especially, they always ended horribly because the editors would only publish them if gay women in the stories ended up dead or renouncing their lesbianism or basically punished in some way for being happy like this. And that was a mandate. There were morality clauses. This doesn't come from nowhere.
MARTIN: Is there one of those character deaths that you can point to that was particularly disturbing - or maybe effective, even, with the narrative, most memorable?
FRAMKE: I keep turning to "The 100" because it was such a perfect storm to create the outrage that then happened. This character was a commander. She was literally in charge of hundreds of people. And she and the main character had danced around each other for a while. And the show was encouraging its fans, which was mostly young women, to get invested in this relationship.
And then her death happened in a very familiar way. They finally got together. They had this moment of happiness. And then she walked outside and got hit by a stray bullet - completely nonsensical - and was immediately punished for it.
MARTIN: Because there's been such an outcry on social media about this particular topic, that queer women in particular are being killed off on TV shows, do you think showrunners are more aware of this? And do you think they're going to take more sensitivities when they're crafting their plot lines?
FRAMKE: I do think if one thing came out of this it's awareness. Twitter really has changed the game because you can talk so directly to the people making your shows. So there's an awareness. There's a little bit of a fear (laughter) now that they know how much fans can respond.
MARTIN: Caroline Framke is culture critic for Vox. Thanks so much for talking with us, Caroline.
FRAMKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.