Whether you're reading, watching TV, webbing it up, or tooling around outside, the human world is painted over with messages meant to persuade us of one thing or another, and a lot of this content is aimed specifically at one group of people, without any consideration for others. While Tim James' "English Only" political ad comes to mind, not everything must be so openly hostile to retain a stinging vitriol.

For instance, the target audience of that commercial could easily be offended by the same commercial just by adding Spanish subtitles.

But what about a similar effect accomplished by exclusion, rather than with a distinct purpose? It can hurt and offend just as much. The entire cast of my favorite show, Criminal Minds, is straight, upper middle class, and while there is a token black character, no other ethnicity or culture besides whites and dominant US culture are represented. They have one character who's overweight, and who has a latin last name, but she too is white, cis, and clearly well off. There appears to be no reason for everyone in this particular department of the FBI to be homogeneous, outside of the idea that the producers had only one type of viewer in mind.

I think that by making these characters complicated, they've avoided earning the disinterest of the non-white, non-straight, non-middle class viewer -- but since I'm all of those things, I can't really tell.

I see this "accidental bigotry" as more of a symptom than a cause, but to understand it, I had to find a way to experience it myself. I watched a few hours of BET the other day, and found the same phenomena: characters mostly had a homogenized race (Black) and economic class in the spread of prime-time shows I watched. I learned two things from this: I don't like being excluded, and when I am, I'm not that interested in whatever message a show has. It was really hard not to go do something else, and I can only reason that this is because my type of person wasn't included.

On the flip side, if a show tries to portray the entire rainbow of cultures, orientations, and races, it can come across as pandering, particularly if it is done in improper context, such as having an accepted (for lack of a better term) and openly gay teacher in a 1950s setting, or, in a story set in the same decade, having a black manager in a mixed-color work-place with no explanations as to why the social milieu has changed.

Then there is content that tries to be more inclusive, but in doing so resorts to stereotypes. Gay characters are often presented in a single, one dimensional light that is decidedly not representative of all gays. This probably only offends the straights who are not scathingly homophobic, but when gay character after gay character in movies, films, and books is presented in the flamboyant, colorful, and happy Flame On! stereotype, is it (and shouldn't it be) offensive to gays?

And then--who decides what a stereotype is? The meek white businessman who goes insane and kills his family may be a stereotype, but that sort of person exists. When does this character stop being flat and two dimensional, and start seeming human?

If I take a stereotype and flip the race or gender or orientation -- or all three -- is it still a stereotype? If I portray a white, transgender lesbian character, but start from modifying the horrible stereotype of a black teenage male who skips school and does drugs, has the character magically transformed into someone interesting, just by virtue of changing two intrinsic traits? Or is it still a flat character drawn from a bigoted pool of community content?

Where is the line for you? It surely comes long before the acidic tone of a commercial that acts as though you and your people are garbage, but does it extend into (possibly) accidental exclusion? Do stereotypes or modified stereotypes make you angry? When does content stop being offensive? When does it start?