Or, at least, I do.
I’ve got prosopagnosia, aka face blindness.1 I’ve recently started watching “Arrow,” which is a TV show about a bunch of muscular, thirtyish, conventionally handsome, mostly white men plus a few really thin, twentyish, conventionally pretty mostly white women. And usually I deduce who I’m looking at based on context, but it’s common for a scene to begin and I’m looking at some young fit short-haired white guy in some context that doesn’t tell me who I’m looking at, and I genuinely have no idea what character I’m watching. There was an episode in which another hooded archer, a bad guy, unmasked himself at the end, and there was a dramatic musical sting to let the audience know that GASP! this was a big shocking reveal, and I had no idea who I was looking at.
This happens to me a lot when watching TV or plays or movies or reading comics. When I started watching “Friends,” it took me most of a season before I could tell Joey and Chandler apart, or which one was Monica and which one was Rachel.2 And as diverse as it was in many ways, I had a very hard time telling Lito, Wolfgang and Will apart when I was watching “Sense8.”
The more visually diverse characters are – in terms of skin color, age, body shape, facial characteristics, etc – the easier it is for prosopagnosiacs (not sure that’s a real word) to enjoy any form of visual storytelling. And current estimates are that between 1 and 2 percent of the population has prosopagnosia, which is millions of people.
I’m not trying to make a big moral point with this post. I’m just saying that, for 1 or 2% of people, it’s probably easier to know which character is which when the characters are visually diverse. If all else is equal, that might be a reason for cartoonists and other creators to err on the side of being more diverse instead of less.3
- At least, I believe I have prosopagnosia. I’ve never been officially diagnosed. [↩]
- For some reason, Ross and Phoebe didn’t look like the others to me – I think perhaps because both of them diverge, to at least some degree, from the usual cookie-cutter faces casting directors seem to prefer. [↩]
- I’m not saying I’ve been perfect in this regard. I’ve made a mental note to try and do better. [↩]