How TV’s “The Flash” is Subverting Stereotypes (Also: Star Wars!)

If you’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there’s a good chance that at some point, you’ve thought, “Huh, I wonder what the guy who plays Luke Skywalker has been up to.”

Right now, Star Wars‘ Mark Hamill is taking a villainous turn as The Trickster, a super-criminal on CW’s The Flashwhich just so happens to be the greatest television show you’re not watching.

Yes, The Flash. As in the remake of that early ’90s show about the comic book superhero who runs really fast. It’s fantastic, and I know you don’t believe me. But creators/executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg’s reimagined Flash has made a point of taking usual stereotypes, TV tropes and cliches, and shutting them down in exciting and empowering ways.

Yes, really. So, without further ado, here are 5 reasons you should really be watching The Flash.

5. Beautiful, Smart African American Love Interest

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When Berlati and Kreisberg created the show, they very intentionally chose to cast the (traditionally white) lead characters of Iris and Joe West with African American actors.

Iris West — a fearless news reporter — is the Flash/Barry Allen’s love interest. And honestly, how often are interracial couples really shown in our TV shows and movies?

Iris is woman of color who doesn’t fall into the stereotypical characterizations. She’s not a cliche. (In a world where strong, complex, multi-facet characters like Olivia Pope are still a rarity on TV — especially in leading roles — Iris is a great step in the right direction.)

4. Wise, Brave African American Cop/Father Figure

In a time when ‘white cop shoots unarmed black teenager’ news stories are a dime a dozen, The Flash‘s version of Joe West — an African American police officer and Barry’s father figure — just might be the most powerful representation on the entire show. Joe raised Barry after his mom was murdered and his dad sent to prison. And by all accounts, he’s did a pretty epic job at fatherhood.

Joe’s kindness, wisdom and care as a father are unparalleled. And in a time when police officers are often characterized as less-than-likable in the media, Joe is a brave, wise and principled cop … who just so happens to also be African American.

3. Latino Geeky Tech Genius + Intelligent, Successful Women

I was a bit partial to The Flash‘s resident tech geek/engineer Cisco Ramon before I even saw the show, based solely on the fact that actor Carlos Valdes played some of the music in the 2009 YouTube hit “A Very Potter Musical.” (But that’s a bit beside the point.)

In a world where a 20-something Latino character is most likely to be playing a criminal, drug dealer, or dropout, Cisco is probably the smartest character on the entire show. (And this show has more than a couple doctors and scientists, so that’s saying a lot.) Cisco is a genius: with computers, technology, engineering … pretty much everything.

The Flash goes out of its way, not only to avoid making its characters racial stereotypes, but to actively combat those stereotypes–in the types of actors it casts, and the characters it creates. And its women: Dr. Caitlin Snow, journalist Iris West, and police officer Patti Spivot, are intelligent, fearless, highly motivated, and successful in their fields.

2. A Shockingly Un-objectified Superhero

Objectification bothers me: Hot women in bikinis. Shirtless men and their perfectly chiseled abs. But Hollywood objectifies people–that’s how Hollywood makes money.

If you’re a superhero, you will be tall, beautiful, and perfectly built. You’ll have flawless abs, and we will all be given plenty of chances to look at your flawless abs. That’s how it works.

I hate when Hollywood objectifies women. It feeds the assumption that women’s primary value is in their appearance, and outside of that, they really don’t have much else to offer.

91L+G7CVU9L._SL1500_But men are also objectified. And that’s not helpful, either. One of the things I love about The Flash — a nontraditional move that I haven’t heard many people talking about — is that the show, for the most part, refuses to objectify its lead character.

The Flash is a spin-off of Arrow, a show that (while I love it) is pretty heavy on the objectification front. Stephen Amell is shirtless. All the time. Early promotion for the series, instead of saying starring Stephen Amell, they may have well said, starring Stephen Amell’s abs.

I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve seen Grant Gustin’s abs. Maybe 3. And honestly, I really appreciate that about The Flash.

Of course, Grant Gustin is still plenty attractive. And he’s 6’2″. And when we do see his abs… it’s clear he works out. But he’s cute in more of a sweet, good-natured way, he’s not a intense, oiled-up, muscled-out bro.

The Flash is super because he’s a fearless hero who cares deeply about people, and fights for what’s right. Not because he mysteriously ends up shirtless every five minutes and has the body of a Greek god. And for the lead character in a superhero show, that’s kind of a big deal.

1. The Flash is Oddly, Well … Moral

Barry Allen is a genuinely good guy. Like, to the point that his fellow crimefighter the Arrow sort of thinks he’s a goody two shoes.

The superhero genre often loves subjective morality. The Flash‘s parent show, Arrow, revels in it. The Arrow is a vigilante, and more often than not, he has to do bad things if he wants to accomplish something good. The lines of right and wrong are blurry, but the Arrow still fights for justice and ultimate good.

Barry, on the other hand, isn’t willing to make those compromises. Raised by a police officer, he has a strong sense of right and wrong. So does the rest of their family, and many who work at the police station.

And when The Flash‘s characters are forced to lie for the greater good, it has a devastating results on their personal relationships. Much must be done to regain trust and mend those relationships. While Gotham, Arrow and others relish the seeming necessity of subjective morality, The Flash focuses on the painful ripple effect of its unintended consequences. Forgiveness, compassion, and integrity: these themes run deep in The Flash universe.

And in our 21st century world, that’s different.

And yes, The Flash is a chance to see that guy from Star Wars in a role where he actually has lines…

If you need something to hold you over until the next Star Wars movie in 2017, there’s of course Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, who is in the middle of a villainous arc as The Trickster, a role he originated in the original TV series.

And beloved film and TV actor Victor Garber plays Dr. Martin Stein–a character who will soon be moving to Arrow and The Flash‘s latest spinoff, Legends of Tomorrow.

So come for the celebrity guest stars. Or for the neat comic book gadgets. Or the mythology. Or whatever makes you change your TV channel to The CW on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

But stay because of what The Flash is NOT. It’s not a bunch of white people living in a white world. It’s not a superhero meat market–where abs and tight bodysuits steal the show.

It’s a series about a diverse, unique group of people. Where the good guys (most of whom are either scientists or police officers) are known for their brains, character, and integrity. Not for their brawn and their hot bodies.

It’s different. It’s (by traditional Hollywood standards) risky. And it’s something worth supporting.

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3 thoughts on “How TV’s “The Flash” is Subverting Stereotypes (Also: Star Wars!)

  1. I was surprised at how much I liked this show. Usually I do not like these types of TV Shows; but I think it only took me a few days to marathon watch the entire season 1 and first half of season 2. I am looking forward to the second half of season 2. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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