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The OA Continues the Serious Misrepresentation of Nose Bleeds in Pop Culture

By Genevieve Burgess | Miscellaneous | December 19, 2016 |

By Genevieve Burgess | Miscellaneous | December 19, 2016 |

Television gives us unrealistic images of a lot of things. What normal people look like, what kind of apartment one can afford in an entry level job, how clean New York is, an average human’s ability to tolerate a gunshot to the shoulder, etc. There’s been a lot of great discussions happening recently about representations of people of color, LBGTQ+ identifying characters, and body diversity. While some people may brush it off as just entertainment, the fact is that the media representations we see do impact our understanding of the world and people around us in ways that are difficult to fully understand without a lot of thought and discussion. Here’s one that probably doesn’t require any serious thought or analysis at all: TV always gets nosebleeds wrong.

Nosebleeds are a pretty common trope in visual mediums to portray “something’s wrong.” Either someone’s dangerously ill, like Scully here in several seasons of The X-Files wherein any delicate trickle of blood was accompanied by ominous minor chords:


Sometimes they’re used to indicate the presence of psychic powers, or at least the strain the person with those powers is experiencing while using them, as in Stranger Things when Eleven’s psychic displays made her leak the perfect cinematic drop of blood very slowly from her face:


And with the new Netflix series The OA we have an adorable moppet experiencing stressful/prophetic dreams and a smudge of what could be strawberry jam under her perfect button nose:


All are cleaned up with a single dab of a tissue or handkerchief while everyone looks very serious. These nosebleeds are very considerate in stopping almost immediately before a drop of blood can make it over one’s lip and cause costume continuity issues. The “reason” for the nosebleeds is always something ominous, deadly, or supernatural. (Or apparently in Anime sexual arousal but that seems to be limited to exclusively young men.) As someone who regularly gets nosebleeds, especially in winter, I’m about to get very real: this is all bullshit.

I don’t get nosebleeds because I’m dying of an invisible and terribly romantic illness, because I have psychic powers, or because I’m a cokehead. I get them because I have extremely delicate mucosal membranes that are prone to rupturing in dry air. Winter hurts my face. I have NEVER experienced a TV nosebleed. No delicate and leisurely trickle that pauses just above my upper lip to give everyone time to see it and fluster about for a tissue, just dripping straight out of my nostril onto whatever’s underneath it at the time like a steady stream of water. Or there’s not enough there to actually escape my nose, I feel it as a weird tickle, and I just end up later blowing out a bunch of clots when I sneeze. Sometimes this makes my nose start bleeding again. This is all very sexy, and makes me seem vulnerable yet resilient, I know.

When I was 12 years old I woke up with a puddle of blood next to my face and my mom found me standing over the sink with blood running out of my hands. Nothing was wrong with me and I had no telekinetic or telepathic powers emerging. This morning I soaked through an entire Puffs Plus tissue before I’d even gotten out of bed. There’s still nothing wrong with me, except I really need someone to get me that humidifier that’s on my Christmas list. Also still waiting on psychic powers. This is far from the most important issue of television representation but I felt strongly that my truth needed to be heard: nosebleeds are gross and boring. Thank you.