I don't see the media depicting us as "evil" unless you count stupid ass fox news. But bitter, angry, depressed? Yes, i do see that. Gregory House from House and Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs represent this trope, but they are at least consistent and manage to save lives.
In X-Men (the animated series), Wolverine was depicted as an "angry atheist" who thought God had abandoned mutant-kind and then Night Crawler talked him into an overnight conversion so Wolverine could be at peace. Gambit, however, did not cave in and remained skeptic.In the craptastic movie Signs, Mel Gibson is an angry atheist just because his wife dies and at the end, some convoluted nonsense convinces him that "everything happens for a reason" and suddenly he's a Christian again.
In both X-Men and Signs, atheism is presented as a phase that people go through after a personal tragedy and this is patronizing to me. They act as if theism is a default state of mind and only a person in pain could go through this. I'm an atheist because the evidence for God is insufficient and that is how I would like to see atheists depicted in media.
These examples only make me a little angry, however. If something is incredibly bigoted and biased, it usually doesn't make it into mainstream media (USUALLY). If something sounds too fucked up and offensive, it will likely just be on youtube, chick tracts, fox "news," or a crappy blog and no one will see it except for idiot rednecks who are too busy watching nascar to be a threat to my way of life.
There are many examples of atheist stereotypes on tvtropes which you can read here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodAtheist
Thank you for mentioning Star Trek. It really angers my inner geek that Babylon 5 was brought up first on this thread.
Star Trek is about the most atheistic show you could get. It is set in a future where the human race abandoned the concept of religion entirely and our entire civilization is depicted as more peaceful, fair, and just than we see in the modern world.
Yeah, when I had long hair, my parent said to cut it - because they wanted me to fit their social norm, I responded, 'do you tell black people to bleach their skin white a la Michale Jackson,' or something like that.
It is a no no to dis so many people (with perceived 'minority' qualities) for so many reasons, yet it seems like atheism remains the one target people of all colors and creeds can attack... us atheists are to them a unifying scapegoat/lightning-rod, one of the few things the unites all the disparate sects of insanity.
That said, we all have preferences, and to philosophically deny in abstract, these preferences is delusional, but so is trying to 'eliminate' those who don't fit your ideal i.e like Hitler. For example, in any of the scenarios I run through my head I almost always prefer the company of the beautiful blond woman over the ugly black gangbanger... does this make me a bad person? I'm sorry but I think not... you can't really chose what attracts you.
I am of the opinion that we all naturally discriminate, but institutionalizing even harsher discrimination seems to not be the answer, and the blanket statement 'we are all equal, we are all the same' is plain false no matter how it appeals to our longing for unnatural 'fairness'
Social engineering: we all do it, just some are conscious of it and better at it. TV shows are the second strongest form of media, behind interactive design (computer games). Media culture influences culture, and culture influences media... but there are still many more media consumers than there are quality media producers and distributors. So consider what it takes to make a popular TV show or multiplayer computer game - the single greatest power concentrator is money, so those who have more money can more easily shape your beliefs.
Sadly, yes there is a notable link between atheism and nihilism furthered by Hollywood culture that doesn't help how atheism is popularly viewed.
I always liked Capt. Malcom ("Mal") Reynolds of the good ship Serenity...even though he was kind of an atheist stereotype, i.e. the "mad at God" type (which aren't really atheists, just disillusioned theists, but I digress)...
He had some great one-liners, though....I want to get a brown t-shirt with this quote:
"God's a long wait for a train don't never come...."
I admit, though, I did like Book, despite his being a "man of the cloth"...
Zoe: "Preacher, doesn't the good book have some pretty specific prohibitions on killing?"
Book: "It does; The lord was less specific on the subject of knee caps, however..."
I can't stand House partly for the reason you stated (negative portrayal of an intelligent, free thinking non-theist) as well as the crazy, unrealistic medical stories. I'm a doctor and have little patience for medical TV. Scrubs is the best in that category because it acknowledges it's surreal intent.
I find many non-theists are terrified of "coming out" and discussing their true beliefs about religion. I have well-educated friends who are actually afraid of losing their jobs if they admit they aren't Christian so much as not believing in any deity whatsoever. It is a prejudice that is deeper even than xenophobia and sectarianism. I hope we can continue working hard to face this, in part by coming out with our beliefs as honestly as we can, and facing the fear of judgement and social rejection.