Thursday, June 21, 2012

A complete domestication of racism -- just for the fun of it

Regarding TV, books, and movies I am not exactly an avant gardist.  So the offensiveness, contradictions and general social backwardness to be found in daily TV viewing over the last four decades is something I try to take in stride.  As a kid I watched two episodes of "Hogan's Heroes" every day without noticeable retardation of faculties, and about twice as much of "The Flintstones."  Indeed, as my loved ones will attest, I have used the term dinopeptic germ as a punchline on more than one occasion.  And let's not forget all those Nixon-era episodes of "Dragnet" and a personal favorite of mine from the late 1970s, "Barney Miller."
Today there are more programs on more channels and they are, to say the least, a register of the stultifying anti-labor and anti-oppressed-peoples' politics inaugurated in the Carter and Reagan administrations.  Social relations are depicted often in the crudest and most violent strokes of the broad brush.  Profanity and the celebration of backwardness are benchmarks of the low level of political consciousness and independent mobilization by the working class.

For the most part I watch sit-coms.  TV dramas today are hardly that; their depictions of people with jobs are all of cops or crooks.  For me "Columbo" will always be superior to the dire and dreary "Law and Order"  and its loathsome offspring.  Even the programs which attempt to take a marginally critical approach to the current decayed state of US capitalist society ["Family Guy," "South Park," "Archer," "American Dad," and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" to name a few] wallow in their own snarky and unearned sense of cynicism about the world.

The recrudescence of racism has found many centers of intentional amplification on TV.  Most producers claim they are not racists and are not promoting racism, naturally; but the fact that racism in US society is today so shockingly obvious puts the lie to such protestations.  Comedy Central's "Tosh.0" is one of the most consistent and mirthful offenders in this respect, though hardly as decisive in allowing viewers to relish and entertain racist modes of thinking as quality venom like "The Wire."  [For an excellent discussion of "The Wire" I recommend the great Ishmael Reed, whose thoughts on the subject can be found here.]

Last night I watched the opening episode of Season 7 of "Futurama" on Comedy Central.  The episode was entitled "The Bots and the Bees," and had a few droll moments, as can be seen from this clip.  But whatever the quickly passing moments of whimsy might offer, it was nothing compared to the shockingly high level of racism and sexism involved in the depiction of Bev [voiced by actress Wanda Sykes].  Bev is depicted as a haughty and arrogant automated beverage dispenser who is "ghetto" through and through. Such depictions of Black women as feckless egomaniacs  and "baby-making machines" exceeds the fondest dreams of racism's leading mythmakers, men like Ronald Reagan and Tom Wolfe. 

Such promotion of racism is too common today to be chalked-up as a mistake or misunderstanding; or by dismissing it as satire too sophisticated for most viewers.  I have watched 8 to 10 hours of TV daily for 46 years, and can attest that there is no too-sophisticated animal in the medium.

What to do about it? 

Until a few more corners are turned on the road to workers' power in the US and internationally, there isn't much that can be done. I do find it useful, however, to discuss these programs, and their ramifications, with coworkers both Black and white.  It is a useful way to have a political discussion on the job, and promote working class solidarity as opposed to the divide-and-conquer operations of Wall Street and its ideological soothsayers.


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