Of all the paradigms The Simpson have accurately and brilliantly reflected, of all those images today converted into gifs that explain our complex feelings and entrenched flaws in half a second, the most interesting and lasting is perhaps the one they created in 1997 with Poochie the dog. In the chapter The Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie Show, originally broadcast on February 9, 1997, Poochie was the brainchild of the creator of scratch and itch (the hyperviolent cartoon series that the characters within the fiction watch) to update his series and rejuvenate his audience. Poochie was a rapper dog who reminded the public that they should recycle their garbage. Wearing sunglasses, a lopsided cap, and jeans, Poochie wanted to be radically modern, only to be hated by viewers and killed by the show’s producers after one episode.
Poochie thus became a symbol of what can happen when an audiovisual product seeks the shortest path to redeem itself from its own irrelevance and fight against the dictatorship of time and trends. The new Poochie, if we look at the commotion on social networks and in the big media that are dedicating stands to him, would be called Che Díaz.
Che Díaz is one of the characters in And Just Like That, the new installment of sex in new york (after six seasons and two movies) whose premiere was the most watched in the history of HBO Max and which came to an end yesterday. Of Latin origin, pansexual, non-binary and star of monologues (within fiction he records a special for Netflix), Diaz’s character is supposed to be one of the levers to redeem a franchise accused of being too white, rich, heteronormative and cisgender, at least from the perspective of time (although at the end of the nineties four women talking about fellatio or menstruation was enormously modern). Che is not the only contribution of diversity: in the series there are African-American, Asian and Hindu characters and it is also revealed that Rock, Charlotte’s daughter, begins to doubt his sexual identity. However, it has been Che who sweeps social networks with memes that describe his presence and media as irritating Los Angeles Times, vulture, rolling stone or DailyBeast They have dedicated pieces to trying to analyze why so many people hate characterization.
In DailyBeast, Kevin Fallon wrote: “It is impossible to explain how insufferable it is. Calling him unbearable is not hyperbole. Saying it’s creepy is not a strong enough expression to describe how your body reacts when it appears on screen, as a physical defense mechanism. […] No one would want to single out the only new LGBT character as the worst in a series, but Che leaves us no choice.” “It’s easy to despise Che because the character has been written as a jumble of traits that should serve various plot purposes,” Jackson McHenry explained in vulture. “Che gives away some of the most embarrassing moments of the series.”
First of all, the character doesn’t seem to satisfy either of the two audiences he fluctuates between. Young people seem to see an update of that Poochie who tries to touch all the buttons of the culture woke up (which is the past tense of “waking up” in English, but the Oxford Dictionary also includes the adjective as “alert to injustice and discrimination in society”). The other audience, the public that enjoyed the series in its day and that, due to age, is more conservative in certain aspects, find the character unpleasant and condescending. Part of the LGBTQI community, for which Che Díaz should mean a representative wink, has manifested itself on networks to complain that it does not work, precisely, as a great representation. “Because of Che Diaz they are going to take away our gay rights,” joked playwright Matthew K. Begbie bitterly on his Twitter account. Another tweet went further: “Che Diaz is our 9/11”. Others accuse the writing team that “not a single person queer functional was consulted when they created the character”. All of the above despite the fact that in the writing team of And Just Like That, composed mostly of women of different races, there are lesbians and gays. And, as he declared to The Hollywood Reporter Last December, Ramirez herself (who declared herself non-binary in August 2020), had the advice of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, to build her character.
“We must ask creators for honesty. If you want to include a non-binary character in your series, let a non-binary scriptwriter write it”, says Enrique Aparicio, cultural journalist, half of the podcast I can talk? and that is considered non-binary gender. “He will be able to do a much more accurate portrayal of the non-binary experience than a table with the best cis writers on the planet. And if you just want to throw in a non-binary character because it’s cool, you’re using our identities to add social capital to your work without real insight into our experience.” “I like the idea that a non-binary character appears in the series, it is necessary to gradually introduce these realities into fiction,” says Estíbaliz. esty cheese, youtuber, writer, actress and who also considers herself gender non-binary. “Che Diaz makes it clear from minute one that he is. But then he doesn’t know how to talk about anything else. It becomes a social justice parody that repeats terms woke up like a broken artificial intelligence. With Che Diaz they want to check all the boxes: POC [personas racializadas], gender non-binary, polyamory, activism… and it’s exhausting. He is a character who seems to have no life or existence beyond his tired twitter speech. Non-binary people have a life just as complicated as that of others. Our gender is a footnote, not our epicenter.”
Regarding the dilemma of whether an LGTBIQ character has to be likeable to give positive visibility, Aparicio argues that “it would be great if there could be non-binary villainous characters without it being a debate, but I think not enough time has passed. We come from centuries of coding queer negative (how many Disney villains are mannered or painted like drag queens?) and it’s too early for a penned villain not to be judged by his pen rather than by his behavior.”
Visibility without clichés
“From the platforms you get the message of being at the top of diversity, but beyond that they have never told me ‘your cast is too white’, ‘too straight’ or ‘too rich’, explains Sara Antuña, screenwriter and producer executive who has recently participated in series such as The neighbor (Netflix), Garcia (HBO) and no footprints (Amazon Prime). “In some cases they have asked that the correct representation be well taken care of, without falling into clichés, but as a creator that concern already has to be yours beforehand.” Antuña points out that what raises the viewer’s eyebrow is that “you try to put everything in. For example, there are areas of Spain where the migrant population is almost exclusively sub-Saharan and there are hardly any Latinos or Asians. If you put them in, far from winning, you are building a strange mosaic, which the spectators of the place do not recognize because it is not real. If your gang is all heterosexual, white and Spanish gentlemen, you are leaving out a very large part of the world. But if your gang has a black, a Latino, a disabled, a lesbian, a trans man and someone non-binary, it’s not anyone’s gang either, it’s an advertisement.
Few have come out in defense of Che Díaz. For example, the magazine rolling stone, who dedicated a column to him and celebrated his presence to represent not a group, but the entire reverse side of what was always sex in new york: the tribulations of four white, privileged and heterosexual women. Sara Ramirez defended her character during a meeting with journalists to promote the series: “Che does not seek to win anyone’s approval, represent the LGTBQ+ community or a spectrum of Latinos or Spanish-speakers. Che is only here to be herself.” It is that ending, that e, that makes the reception of the series take on another dimension in Spain: its habitual use of inclusive language (which in our language does not have the relative ease of pronouns they/them in English and its absence of gender when adjectives) screeches to a certain part of the audience while being applauded by the other. The comments that could be read in a publication on Facebook of the magazine frames about, precisely, the character of Che Díaz, they show how inclusive language continues to be mocked by part of society: “I sit down to see her, I listen to the ‘ah, you’re not sun‘ And it is absurd, ridiculous Y stupid”, wrote a viewer.
The laughing matter
There’s another awkward thing about Che: his character is something of a comedy legend, who has his own special on Netflix and attends fundraisers on the Upper East Side where even the most privileged classes pay homage to him. . In some dialogues Che is presented as a “prophet of comedy” and it is said that, more than monologues, he performs “comic concerts”. But when Che begins his routines on stage, only the rest of the characters laugh. Even rolling stone, in the article in which he intends to defend the character, calls the show he represents in episode 3 “amazingly tedious”.
Asked if there is an added risk in trying to make instructive and conscientious humor, Xavi Puig, creator and director of the satirical newspaper The Today World, explains that “if the public is mainstream and the humor alludes to things that are not yet settled in the common imaginary, you will lose part of the audience and you will gain the loyalty of another. But I am in favor of taking that risk, because the mainstream little by little it becomes infected with the new and thus evolves. Fiction has to work by itself, without this meaning making it a slave to the language and the theme that the majority speaks”.
Paloma Rando, screenwriter and television columnist for EL PAÍS, believes that “Che is a sobering character, without conflict and without weaknesses. His monologues do not seek in the first place to make people laugh, but to make them reflect. She is a preacher with more or less funny jokes, not a humorist with intentions, and nobody likes to be lectured”. Rando points out other fictions in which the conscientious humor of today faced with the corrosive humor of yesterday has been reflected in a much better way, such as Hacks, also on HBO. “That they give you a speech always irritates, but it is that all the series and movies carry a message, another thing is that it is more or less subtle”, adds Antuña. “And no one seemed to mind when the speech was another.”
Che Díaz came to an end yesterday (there are, apparently, talks about a second season) with the appearance on HBO Max of the last episode of And just like that and it will leave a strange legacy: for some it has been irritating, for others it has brought millions of viewers over the age of fifty closer to non-normative sexual, social and relational realities. Michael Patrick King, creator of the character, has just closed the debate in an interview with Variety throwing balls out: according to him, Che’s suspicion is simply due to his love affair with Miranda, which leads her to divorce her husband Steve. “It’s all projection,” concludes King. “It has nothing to do with Che.” In the last episode of the season, broadcast yesterday and recorded before all this controversy saw the light, the character of Che seems to redeem himself and show himself more perceptive than we thought. Just after getting on stage, he warns the audience: “Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you another monologue”.
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