9.21.2006

Race, Shallow or Deep

ESPN columnist Bill Simmons recently posted a thoughtful article on
the first week success of the Rock's new movie, "Gridiron Gang," which
is a formulaic account of inner city sports success, in contrast to
the critical acclaim (but low ratings) of HBO's "The Wire," which is a
gritty, no-holds-barred look at drugs in inner city Baltimore. His
main point was along the lines of something I had written in a
previous post about another, somewhat formulaic Hollywood production
(in this case, Disney's "Remember the Titans"): you can go to
http://leehuang.blogspot.com/2003/07/what-i-remember-about-titans-i-watched.html
to read it.

So this is what we can say about America: we like our encounters with
race and with the inner city to be sanitized, tidy, and hopeful. In
reality, to truly delve into these issues is stark, dirty, and
despondent. "The Wire" is too real for America; "Gridiron Gang" is
the fairy tale we prefer.

The sad thing is that this kind of thinking has atrophied even the
more enlightened of voices. For example, I've seen far too many
knee-jerk reactions to "Survivor's" division of tribes by race, that
it's race-baiting and despicable and abhorrent.

Never mind that there is nothing -- nothing! -- "real" about "reality"
TV. Those of us who are interested in race in America should be glad
we'll have such ripe fodder for discussion and dissection. Besides,
for ignorant people who have already formed an opinion about race and
about people of certain races and who have those opinions affirmed by
the show, it's too much to expect TV to enlighten and correct.

Thankfully, there will no doubt be people who think more deeply about
race in America that are going to be able to mine from this show some
interesting things to discuss. Like who CBS chose to represent the four tribes (they must have gotten thousands of applications, so they could have gone any number of directions in terms of who they wanted in each tribe) Or the fact that there is a lot of diversity and disagreement among the ethnic tribes. Or that the white tribe, as in real life, hasn't had to bear the burden of "representing," so they've been free to do the whole "flirt with one another" thing.

Hopefully, even those of us who aren't as sensitized to the nuances of race in America can pick up these insights along the way. Let's just hope the show, and the discussions that ensue from it, can help lift us from the shallowness we've settled for when it comes to race in America.
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