• Gina Denny

Episode 2.10 - Progressivism

Updated: Jun 17

This episode is funny and has cute moments, but from fifteen years in the future, a lot of it feels like it’s striking the wrong tone.

In the cold open, Barney announces his brother is coming to town and the gang tells Robin that Barney’s brother is gay. Robin responds with, “Oh wow, I never would have pictured you with a gay brother, that’s awesome.”

Which is . . . oof. What does someone with a gay brother look like? Act like? How is it “awesome” that Barney is related to someone who is gay? Is there a prize for simply existing alongside other humans? It’s a weird tone, one that maybe didn’t feel so out of place in 2006, but here in 2021 feels all kinds of wrong. The writers were trying to be progressive, I’m sure, but in our fast-moving world, this line fell behind pretty quickly. Is it awesome that James is comfortably out and supported by his family and friends? Yes. But that’s quite different than what Robin says.

Later, James and Barney play a “game” they call “Hero and Pig” in which James pretends to be a “pig” and hit on a woman very aggressively and Barney pretends to be the “hero” by defending her and thus earning enough of her trust to be successful (we don’t actually see the outcome, but it’s implied that it works). But his version of “hero” is condescending and still has the goal of anonymous sex after an evening filled with lies.

The episode pokes fun at the anti-gay-marriage fight, making it an anti-marriage fight and claiming “whatever gay men do, six months later everyone is doing”.

The whole gang goes to a gay bar, where Ted and Marshall both learn that being objectified sucks, but at the end of that scene, Robin and Lily both say they miss being hit on.

The entire episode is a roller coaster of ups and downs when it comes to progressive politics. They keep trying, and they keep missing the mark by a little bit.

This is going to happen in your writing, too. Books written in the mid-2010s, particularly YA books, have a very distinctive tone to them. With the ubiquity of the #YesAllWomen, #WNDB, and #MeToo conversations, authors and readers were making changes. Now, five or so years later, a lot of those books stand out. Some of the diversity in those books feels forced, especially when writers weren’t using #OwnVoices for that diversity. Lots of books had explicit conversations about consent that felt a little unnatural, but were deeply important in teen literature.

All this is to say: keep progressing. Many writers fear or struggle with including progressive content in their writing. We make excuses:

“It will feel forced”

“I won’t be genuine”

“I’m supposed to write what I know”

“Racism just isn’t an issue in my fantasy world”

“We read to escape, not to deal with our problems”

“Teens don’t need this heavy stuff in their lives”

And on and on. We can make a zillion excuses for why we aren’t writing progressive stories, why we shun diversity, or why we refuse to acknowledge ongoing human rights issues. But those excuses are far more problematic than not addressing the issue at all.

The writers of this episode may have missed the mark a few times. This show isn’t exactly known for being particularly “woke” and they never pretended to be. This one episode doesn’t fix a lot of the problematic aspects of a network sitcom in the 2000s, but they’re trying.

You deserve credit for trying, and when you mess it up, you get up and you try again. The only way we get inclusive fiction is by listening to the marginalized and underrepresented and then using our privileged voices to make changes.

Writing Prompt: Adapted from 826Digital (826digital.com), a partner of WNDB (diversebooks.org). Spend 5 minutes writing about what LGBTQ labels mean in your story’s world. Identify your core cast of characters and spend some time delving into what these labels mean to your characters and how their identities manifest in the story, especially if they aren’t involved in a romance.

Listen to the episode here

Spoilers: This episode introduces a character and then flashes way forward into the future to show this brand-new character getting married. At the wedding, we see that Ted and Robin are likely broken up (since they have their single stamina back), but are dancing together as a couple anyway. Barney holds a baby (with Ted and Robin in the background of the shot). This baby changed his whole view on marriage.

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