OK K.O.! Tackles How to Handle Problematic Media

OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes demonstrates that media can’t be perfect but also how changes can be made.

OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes has been a delightful series in its opening season. Its first twenty or so episodes have been fun, action packed, and heartfelt. However, a recent episode stands out from the rest because it approaches a hot button topic in a way very few scripted shows, animated or otherwise, have been able to.

The idea that media can’t and won’t be perfect.

In an ideal world every book, TV show, movie, or comic would be perfect but as we’ve seen with every controversy around problematic storylines or characters it just isn’t the case.

So what do we do about that? Can we do anything about that? If media can’t be perfect can we at least make it better?

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OK K.O. sets out to answer those questions, with the episode “No More Pow Cards” which sees K.O. flabbergasted that his best friend Dendy’s people, the Kappa (a race of turtle people), aren’t represented in his favorite super hero collectable, Pow Cards. This is all thanks to misleading stories about the Kappa being monsters, all based in stereotypes, being spread throughout the generations.

Right there OK K.O. sets up a way to discuss racism in a kid friendly way and directly tie it into representation in the media. With Dendy’s people being excluded from Pow Cards, Dendy feels like she can never be a hero. It calls to mind the kind of nonsense criticisms some fans leveled towards Donald Glover when he was briefly campaigning to be Spider-Man. To them, he couldn’t be Spider-Man simply because of the color of skin.

K.O., being the sweet and caring friend he is, offers to burn all of his Pow Cards in solidarity with Dendy. It would have been an easy way for the episode to resolve itself. Just totally trash any piece of media that isn’t perfect. Thankfully, the episode is much more complicated than that.

Both K.O. and Dendy don’t want to give up their Pow Cards. They love them. They’re what brought them together. They know they’re bad but they can also be good to, right?

OK K.O. sensitively suggests it’s okay to like problematic media so long as you’re aware of it. K.O. and Dendy don’t just outright excuse Pow Cards for all their problems but they agree they can appreciate what’s good about Pow Cards while still recognizing their faults. 

It’s a mature way to look at media, especially for a show that’s mainly aimed at children.

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Again, the episode could have ended here. It’s a great lesson, right? Nope, OK K.O. isn’t satisfied with just saying “well sometimes things are bad and that’s okay.” It actively has K.O. and Dendy confront the Pow Card CEO, Mr. Cardsley, about the lack of Kappa representation.

While he at first throws up some weak excuses, he’s never seen a Kappa be heroic before so clearly none of them are, Dendy vies for the chance to let Kappas prove themselves in this emotional speech.

“Have you ever considered the reason the world does not view Kappas as heroic is because we don’t have heroes of our to look up to? And for those that are out there doing something you’d call noteworthy you’ll never get to notice… All I request is for us to be given a chance.”

OK K.O. wonderfully points out that if those that have been waiting for representation are given a fair chance they can prove themselves. The moment Mr. Cardsley allows Kappa Pow Cards to be made profits skyrocket!  After all, now that Kappas are represented they’re buying Pow Cards in droves.

This is of course right on the mark with films like Fast and the Furious (which features a heavily diverse cast) or Wonder Woman (lead not only by a woman star but also director) raking in big bucks at the box office. Representation sells. While it’s a shame that it takes gigantic profits for media CEO’s to take notice, at least it’s helping things to change.

At the end of the episode Dendy is overcome with warm fuzzy feelings over finally getting a Pow Card of her own.

“Kappas never needed Pow Cards to be heroes. But knowing that I can get one to makes me feel…”

And then she just beams.

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OK K.O. perfectly lays out a road map for dealing with problematic media. While media might not be perfect (and that’s okay sometimes) it can do better. There are ways to make it better, one of which is of course upping the representation.

That won’t solve all the issues; the OK K.O. episode tellingly doesn’t touch on whether Kappa’s being included on Pow Cards reveres the stereotypes about them.

However, it is a start.

Shamus Kelley will fight to the end for better representation. Follow him on Twitter!