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    Voltron’s Foibles: How The Self-Interest Of Writers Impedes Progress And Connection With The Audience

    In December 2018, Voltron: Legendary Defender concluded its series with its final season. More accurately, Voltron managed to perform a failure in endings so spectacular, one can really only wonder how a group of writers could manage to perform so many faux pas one after the other. Currently, season 8 of Voltron boasts an impressive (but not enviable) 5% on rotten tomatoes’ audience scoring as a result of disgruntled fans who were unimpressed with nearly every topic explored within the show. From debateable topics such as Lotor’s potential for a redemption arc to clearly problematic handlings of LGBT characters to text outside the show in the form of post-reveal interviews, the staff seemingly could not keep themselves from making wrong moves at nearly every turn and topic.

    Lotor’s arc revolved around his revenge on his father for the abuse he suffered, as well as a temporary hope that he had truly been a rose that had been grown from the dirt of his lineage. Lotor seemed to be earnest in his efforts to help the coalition, and some were hoping for a Zuko-inspired turnaround for his story of rising from and overcoming abuse. However, in Lotor’s case, rather than coming out triumphant, it was revealed that Lotor was performing less-than ethical activities on the surviving Alteans in the name of progress, and was ultimately killed off in a less than ceremonial way. Many argue that because of his upbringing and the abuse he suffered, he should have been written differently to provide a message of hope to Voltron’s young target audience, to let them know that there is hope for them yet, should they be suffering similar circumstances (minus the sci-fi elements). However, problems continue to arise with the showrunners’ appearance on AfterbuzzTV where they addressed the controversy, stating “ultimately, it’s a story, guys. Not everyone gets to have a happy ending.” Their response lacked any emotional understanding of the audience and their arguments, leaving many victims of abuse who may have connected with the character feeling unheard, betrayed, and talked down to. This is only the beginning of a series of comments that reveal the showrunners lack of empathy towards their fans and the selfish intents that drove their writing of the show. Ultimately, they showed that they gave no concern for the possible emotional damage of their work, nor to people who connected with the character or were upset about the portrayal of victims of abuse, and displayed that they only valued their own ideas of what constitutes an interesting story.

    To understand the pitfalls of their reaction, one can turn to Hideako Anno’s commentary of Neon Genesis Evanglion, a historical and well-revered piece of fiction that is celebrated by an astoundingly dedicated audience. To describe intent for the upcoming Evangelion movies, Anno states:

    “”Eva" is a story that repeats.
    It is a story where the main character witnesses many horrors with his own eyes, but still tries to stand up again.
    It is a story of will; a story of moving forward, if only just a little.
    It is a story of fear, where someone who must face indefinite solitude fears reaching out to others, but still wants to try.”
    (2007, from the official website for Evangelion movies)

    In Anno’s quote, we see sincerity in a creator who has a personal story to tell, who also wants to use that story to inspire and drive emotion. We see a creator who understands the impact their work can have, and the responsibility he holds as a writer who holds the attention of a massive audience. Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos imitated no such understanding. While there is an infinite variety of stories to tell on an infinite number of topics, “its just a story” does not protect Montgomery and Dos Santos’ poor writing choices, and their weak defense only showed their lack of empathy.

    Then, there is the universally despised decision to have Allura sacrifice herself in a scene many called “completely avoidable” and “lacking in emotional impact.” Not only is there a clear lack of skill in the writers’ hands when they fail to make a characters’ death sufficiently emotional, but again, their response to fans was thick-headed and lacking in empathy. To understand why the decision caused such upset in the fanbase outside of “I liked this character,” one needs to remember that VLD’s iteration of the story is the first in its lineage with a black princess Allura, and the only iteration where her character dies. This decision shows an attempt at diversity, but with an emotional detachment that failed to help the writers understand what their decisions would mean for the fans.

    The discussions of why her death was wrong have been beaten to death, and to find arguments, one would really have to do the most simple of google searches, so instead I will continue on to discuss a massive problem: the creators’ attempts at discrediting fans’ complaints. Lauren and Joaquim, again on an Afterbuzz interview, tried to play off the writing as actually being “feminist” because “the man is always the one who gets to be the hero” and Allura sacrificing herself, instead of Keith, was actually progressive. Not only is this incredibly hard to listen to as a viewer with at least an average intelligence, it also allows the writers to act like the situation was completely unavoidable, rather than acknowledging that the story does not exist within a vacuum, and that they could ultimately have written the story in literally hundreds of different ways that would have allowed Allura to still be a hero, but remain alive to give all the viewers at home hope that they too, could be important figures and heroes of their own stories without a tragic sacrifice. Their attempts at inflating their own importance and putting their own work on a pedestal show the utter lack of comprehension of the problem presented to them. As an audience of the interview, one can’t help but feel utter disbelief at the density of these creators who care more about excusing their actions than understanding what they did wrong, or where the fans’ genuine hurt and feelings lie.

    Lastly, and most glaringly, is the showrunner’s deft attitude in regards to gay representation. Although the showrunners claimed to fight for their representation, after all that has been presented in canon, one can’t help but lose all faith that they would have been able to write meaningful lgbt stories, even if they had unlimited freedoms. First, there is the presentation of Shiros ex-boyfriend Adam, who infamously got killed off unceremoniously. Although the writers claim it was different in their heads compared to what actually got produced, their treatment of Shiro’s character and the way they talk about him in interviews are, frankly, upsetting. Although Shiro had always been intended to be gay, and by Lauren’s own admission, never portrayed as flirting with women for a reason, the showrunners regularly talked poorly of him during panels and interviews, calling him “boring” and referring to him as a sort of roadblock from allowing the paladins to be the best version of a team. They regularly spoke poorly of him, knowing that he was gay in their minds, until this fact was able to be made explicit. After the reveal of Shiro’s past with Adam, the showrunners abandoned their criticisms of Shiro, as he now served them a better purpose: he showed just how “progressive” the writers were. Although he was always gay in their minds, that fact was not important to them unless they could show it explicitly and reap the benefits. Furthermore, the writers did not intend to incorporate any future scene that explores shiro’s sexuality. Although a story does absolutely NOT have to revolve around the character’s gayness, the problem is evident when you realize that Shiro’s story ended with “his ex-boyfriend broke up with him because he wanted to chase his dreams.” The showrunners claim that initial drafts intended to have Shiro reunite with Adam prior to edits forced on them by higher-ups, but again, one can only lack any faith that such a reunion would hold any significance whatsoever. Even with constraints forced on them by higher-ups, the showrunners did nothing to depict Shiro even so much as having a conversation with another man that fans could possibly see as a possible match for Shiro.

    In actuality, the only man that Shiro could have had a meaningful relationship with was his best friend, Keith. However, by the end of the show, their relationship becomes non-existent, and they are separated from having any interactions, unless they come in the form of Shiro barking orders. Truly, there was no real intent to depict Shiros sexuality as anything important, and it is evident that the showrunners saw it more as something that would benefit them as a progressive move. Of course, all will say “their intentions were good and their hearts were in the right place,” but the thing with homophobia, even in allies, is that it can be very insidious and difficult to notice. The concept of “smiling homophobia” describes exactly why the writers fell flat: a good intention does not excuse insensitive actions. As straight people, the writers of this show assumed they knew all they needed about gay representation, although their visions were totally skewed; many of the writers basked in the glory of the praise. Before the fact of Adam’s death became public knowledge, they had no concern for how Adam’s death would come across, because they didn’t realize what it meant. Likewise, they killed Ezor – another gay character – because they didn’t realize what it means in the context of modern media. Instead, they edited Ezor back into scenes that s8 was previously devoid of. The writers attempted to play off the fact that they killed off two of their gay characters by not acknowledging the second one, and then lying to the fans about it. Whats more, they wrote Shiro with the intention of sidelining him from the beginning, given that he could not be killed off due to higher-ups orders. It’s insulting to think that they were fine making the character they cared least about gay, but refused to do so for any of the main paladins. In putting Shiro in the Atlas, he is only further separated from the story and depicted as not being as important as our actual main characters.

    Edit: with the information/"rumour" that the original intent was to have a final scene in the show with Shiro and Curtis, even before the Adam backlash, the point still stands. There is still no story there, and there is no importance given to any LGBT depiction. One scene at the end of the show depicting two men interacting in a vague "maybe hes asking him out" way still does not show that the showrunners have any sort of care for gay stories. Such an ending would still show that they wanted to throw a bone of a gay scene and still reap the massive benefits, while still giving the audience nothing to attach to emotionally. One of the main praises that has been given to the wedding ending was from the heterosexual audience, in which they praise that it wasn't "too in their face." The original ending the showrunners had in mind with the Curtis scene still falls into that, and does nothing for the LGBT audience while giving the straight one enough ammunition to hurtle at gay fans to tell us to "be thankful for what we get" while still not challenging them to step outside of their comfort zones. This goes the same for the staff: they did not attempt at all to step outside of their comfort zones as heterosexual writers, and instead of providing us with something meaningful, wanted to provide something that they would be comfortable with themselves. The original decision to have this nothing character interact with Shiro, or ask him out on a date or what have you, is still a clueless attempt at providing any semblance of queer rep so that they are known as being "woke" and progressive, rather than providing the audience anything meaningful, important, or impressive. There was still no attempt at making any gay relationship front-and-centre and unavoidable like they have for all of their heterosexual ones. This information does not change any accusations against the staff or showrunners. Thank you for understanding.

    The final nail in the coffin was their attempt at a saving grace: the infamous gay wedding. After the backlash they received from Adam’s death, the showrunners tried to regain PR by marrying Shiro off to a background character; a character so meaningless that fans would not know his name were it not for subtitles, and was also referred to as [man] in the same captions. They thought this decision would be well-received, and claimed that they did not expect such a strong backlash to it. Clearly, they do not understand what gay representation was ever really about, and assumed that we would be thankful for any scraps they could muster. This idea is disingenuous, insidious, and completely patronizing of the LGBT community. After the fact, they avoided social media to allow the backlash to die down. When it didn’t, they were forced to address concerns in the Afterbuzz interviews mentioned above, and continued to do a very poor job of doing so. The problem continues when they claim that they would have developed the relationship more had they had the time, but that still does not acknowledge the fact that the pairing would have been an afterthought: it was never their intention to pair Shiro up with anybody, and would have given no heed to his story as a gay man outside of justifying their gay rep. They fail to understand that our stories can be driving forces, much like their story of Lance and Allura: a heterosexual relationship that spanned 8 seasons. The story would be different had they discussed the possibility of Keith as a potential mate, but rather than doing so, they seem to be adamant that maintaining that relationship as platonic was more important.

    Furthermore, there is the incredibly troubling fact that the showrunners, very heinously, tried to redeem points anywhere they could, and attempted to use Keith as a point of discussion, saying that “no one really knows where he stands,” and that rather than confirming anything to make people happy, they would rather leave it up to fans. Don’t get me wrong, the correct action was NOT to label Keith as part of the LGBT community; the correct action would have been not to bring Keith up as a point in their discussions of LGBT representation at all. At a recent (post-mortem) panel, Acxa’s VA, Erica Luttrell, revealed that she was told that her character would eventually be set up with Keith. To reiterate, the writer’s initial plans were to set Keith up in a heterosexual relationship, but ignored this fact so that they could try to claim some brownie points from the decision not to set Keith up with anyone at all. The decision not to pair Keith up with Acxa was decided due to fear of fan reaction, but remnants of their intents are still evident in the 7th an 8th seasons in nearly all of Acxa’s remaining scenes with keith. Clearly, their portrayals of gay rep had only been for the sake of fulfilling a “woke” quota, and was never intended to be a driving factor like any of their countless heterosexual counterparts. Moreover, Joquim, on his Afterbuzz appearance, attempted to talk about VeronicaxAxca, a fan-made pairing for these characters. He stated that he loved the pairing and that it is "the most legit ship." Obviously, he attempted to gain brownie points for a pairing he had no hand in actually depicting, but one that fans simply took and ran with. Clearly, he is trying to win the favour of the fandom and imply a "see, were not homophobic, we love this awesome ship" sentiment, which is not only incredibly dishonest, but nefarious in the fact that he wants to use a gay relationship to win favour. For this and all the above mentioned reasons, the staff and writers of the show allowed their selfish intents, graced with “hearts in the right place” lead to the downfall of their once-gargantuan show.