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2 August 1999

These things happen to other people
They don't happen at all, in fact
-- "She's an Angel", They Might Be Giants

If you're into poetry in general or haiku in particular, you might like Acorn, a contemporary haiku journal edited and published by a good friend of mine. I'm a subscriber...

Idle surfing: The domain is taken, but is appropriately unreachable. is present with a few unusual graphics but mostly 'under construction', i.e. still mostly content-free.

Seen on MetaScene (a new, different-in-a-good-way self-published site), two fascinating counterpoints on the race uniformity in the upcoming fall TV shows:
  • Protesting Too Much, We Hurt Ourselves by Damon Standifer [Washington Post]
    Nearly every type of "black" show seems to draw some sort of flak: If a show portrays wealthy black people, it's criticized for ignoring the plight of poor ones. If a show features poor blacks ... it's criticized for stereotyping black people as poor. The lack of interracial love stories is protested, but so, too, are interracial love stories ... Were I cynical enough, I'd suggest that there was something calculated about it, a way for activists to forever stay in the headlines.

    ...which Seinfeld character could have been cast as an African American without drawing protests from the activist crowd: The spastic, bug-eyed Kramer? The chronically unemployed, lazy George? The sexually promiscuous, self-centered Elaine? Had these characters been black, would Seinfeld have lasted even one season?

    African-American activists seem completely out of touch with the level of fear that exists among TV industry people about being labeled "racist." ... [Colorblind casting] is impossible when activists insist that every black actor must play a role that is a "positive image." This is a burden white actors don't carry.

  • Here's What's Wrong With This Picture by Earl Ofari Hutchinson [Washington Post]
    TV executives, industry supporters and commentators ... accuse me and others of demanding politically correct roles and series for blacks. They claim that we will take the industry to task no matter how blacks are portrayed on the screen.

    This argument ... asks us to believe that black activists have the power to tell TV executives how to write and cast their shows. This argument asks us to believe that activists' demands for more racial diversity are somehow responsible for the cleansing of blacks, Latinos and Asians from lead roles in the 26 shows that will debut on the networks this fall.

    This is wrongheaded and backward. [Protests] ... are the central reason for the gains that African Americans have made in front of and behind the camera.

    African-American TV viewers want and deserve more films and TV productions that offer an accurate and varied picture of black life.

Both make more good points than I feel comfortable quoting ('fair use' and all that -- go read the whole articles).

I tend to side with the actor (Standifer). Given the perception/fear that any black characters portrayed will be over-scrutinized and possibly protested, it's not that surprising that the big players are choosing the "safe" short-term copout of portraying hardly any minorities.

That said, it would make sense, would it not, that if there were an abundance of black/minority characters on TV, each individual one would receive less-intense scrutiny? Imagine a world where you could have a black Seinfeld (starring four characters with no redeeming characteristics) and it would cause no outcry because it was just one part of a grand tapestry of entertainment noise which included at least a varied (if not an accurate) picture of black life. (Do films and TV productions offer an "accurate and varied picture" of any group's life?)

Put another way, what if a network chose to go the other way and cast almost no whites in their season in an attempt to reach the other extreme and silence any protests through saturation? (Let the white people complain about mistreatment for once!) It's not likely (and I'm not convinced Hutchinson and others wouldn't still protest 'negative portrayals'), but how else do we break out of the current situation?

This all looks like a big Catch-22 to me.

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