Is TV’s new “ironic” racism still racism in a different package?

Published 2013/09/21 by Dr. Dannii Cohen

ComedySymsbolNew article for ThyBlackman
Hey, guys!! Are you watching comedy these days? It’s never been funnier!!
There is this brilliant new thing it’s called “ironic racism”.
What is this? It is very funny, actually and there are several forms of it about:

1. There are characters that are racists, and they do big and lengthy racist rants. Usually the other characters in the scene stare at these people in “shock”, but never respond.

2. Innocent, cute character suddenly says something horribly racist.

3. A white character in a show goes somewhere “exotic” purely to show how bad this or that is, or insult the people there.

4. Have minorities in the show purely as a stereotype and nothing else.

5. The foreign character who cannot speak English properly (and that’s the only joke).

Hey, sounds funny. Are there lots of shows like this? Well, Glee, The New Normal, 2 Broke Girks, Big Bang Theory, Community, Modern Family, Don’t Trust The B**** In Apartment 23, Family Guy, The Sarah Silverman Programme, New Girl and Are You There Chelsea? and various others, including new TV show “Dads” have all included at least one of these elements.

Why? Well, it is claimed to be a “parody” of “people who are racist” and a protest against political correctness.

We are told: “The show isn’t racist, the characters, the characters are. They play on racial stereotypes, but that’s not being racist.”

Dad’s star Seth Green says he believes that people need to lighten up. “Everyone needs to remember, this is a comedy, it’s not about making fun of people but it’s about having fun with the situations these people get into.”

It’s cool, it’s edgy, we’re pushing boundaries!!

But what if it’s getting too much? Nearly all the new sitcoms launched these days use the stock “racist character” as a laugh, they include the “funny foreigner” and the “angry black women”. Then there is the audience: many freely admit they are laughing WITH the racist not AT them, and love to use quotes on their social media pages. Is this whole “anti racist-racism” just a “get out of jail quick card” and are writers just to lazy to find another way of including characters of colour in their series? Reviewing Dads for The Daily Beats yesterday, Kevin Fallon said: “there’s a fine line when it comes to jokes about stereotypes, where owning the stereotype becomes part of the comedy and all of that—but that implies that the defense of “humor” arrives at some point in the debate, something that’s impossible here.”

Proving that it is not just viewers of colour getting fed up with the same kind of stereotypes in new packaging comes from writer Lindy West who told Jezebel: “There’s been a lot of talk these last couple of weeks about “hipster racism” or “ironic racism”—or, as I like to call it, racism. It’s, you know, introducing your black friend as “my black friend”—as a joke!!!—to show everybody how totally not preoccupied you are with your black friend’s blackness. It’s the gentler, more clueless, and more insidious cousin of a hick in a hood; the domain of educated, middle-class white people (like me—to be clear, I am one of those) who believe that not wanting to be racist makes it okay for them to be totally racist. “But I went to college — I can’t be racist!” Turns out, you can. (…)
We arrived at the point (now) where it’s socially unacceptable in mainstream culture for white people to say denigrating things about people of other races. But just because the behavior has been suppressed, that doesn’t mean people’s prejudices have simply disappeared. And white people haaaaaate being told what to do in our own country (fun fact: not actually “ours”)! So racism went underground. Sure, you can’t say racist things anymore, but you can pretend to say them! Which, it turns out, is pretty much the exact same thing.”

A huge problem with these characters and jokes in nearly every comedy(?) show on TV these days, is that this is the only image white kids get of people of colour. And more worrying: this is the image children of colour get of themselves. Let’s not underestimate the power of comedy. I am a big comedy fan, and know that more then drama, comedy is what sticks in your mind for years to come: quotes, jokes, opinions. And these days stereotypes.

It is interesting that when anyone complains about this non stop conveyer belt of “Ironic racist” comedies you’re immediately labelled as “lefty” and a “PC winger”. This is besides the point. If many people complain about the same thing there must be a problem. So why can it not be discussed? People have been able to write good and funny comedy and near the knuckle comedy for many years. Ironic racism existed in the past – remember “All in the Family”? This was intelligently written, Archie Bunker’s position was clear and George Jefferson wasn’t a stereotype but an intelligent man who could give as good as he got.
If you want to see someone do “ironic racism” the right way these days, watch Stephen Colbert.

Writer Michael Patrick King “I would say that you could rephrase that being a comedy writer gives you permission to be an outsider and poke fun at what people think about other people.” But what if the same writers repeat these clichés over and over again to the point that it seems it’s actually what the WRITERS thing of blacks, Jews, Chinese, Indians, Latino’s or whatever race they can come up with? It is not poking fun anymore, because it has become repetitive.

Heather Price-Wright recently said (when discussing New Girl): “You’d think that having two characters of color on a mainstream sitcom would be a positive thing when it comes to portraying the real experiences of most members of our generation, who certainly do not live in the whitewashed world portrayed on Friends and other shows of its time. However, as Raj on The Big Bang Theory has taught us in spades, having a non-white character does not keep a show from being pretty darn racist. And while it’s refreshing to see a more accurate depiction of the diversity of real friend groups, especially in a major metropolis like Los Angeles, New Girl falls prey to all kinds of racist, essentialist tropes.”

While Huffington Post columnist Nico Lang said of Two Broke Girls: “Two Broke Girls, a show the New Yorker referred to as “so racist it is less offensive than baffling.” The show reduces black men to sweet ol’ jive-talkers, Eastern Europeans to crazed sex hounds and Asian Americans to Long Duk Dong and “Yellow Panic” stereotypes. On the latter, Andrew Ti of “Yo, Is That Racist?” notes, “It’s distressingly easy to imagine the writers sitting around and listing off every single ching-chong stereotype, ultimately deciding with some sorrow that a Fu Manchu mustache would be impractical for budget reasons. (…) Most TV shows and films use people of color solely as vehicles for white narratives. General, non-gay-specific racism is nothing new in the media. Non-whites are always relegated to supporting roles where they are acted and commented upon by the white characters (e.g. Bryan and Nana), but rarely get their own agency or the ability to write their own narratives.
TV sitcom writers don’t necessarily have to care about white privilege or how stereotyping perpetuates a system of systemic injustice, as they are more concerned with putting on a show and getting viewers. Murphy and Adler will do whatever is necessary to get laughs, even if that means offending people, because pushing buttons is part of comedy! Haven’t you seen Brickleberry?”

In response to that reasoning, Lindy West writes: “This fetishization of not censoring yourself, of being an ‘equal-opportunity offender,’ is bizarre and bad for comedy. (…)A comic who doesn’t censor himself is just a dude yelling. And being an ‘equal opportunity offender’–as in, ‘It’s okay, because Daniel Tosh makes fun of ALL people: women, men, AIDS victims, dead babies, gay guys, blah blah blah’–falls apart when you remember (as so many of us are forced to all the time) that all people are not in equal positions of power.”

And this is a big issue. Because after accusing those that complain of being too sensitive, or too PC. Then, always, follows the classic line “so why not make your own.” Which these days even our own busy too often. If only it was that easy. No-one, not even a successful person of colour can just make “their own”. A show has to go through many executives, has to have the backing of the company and has to be supported by companies that pay for advertising. It’s not THAT easy. Then there is the problem
with what the network wants to see and that is usually the same kind of “black style” over and over. The flirty stuck in “90’s Martin style “ man with the sassy straight haired girlfriend/wife. Even the inclusive, now cancelled, series “Guys With Kids” went for that (though the wife had more natural hair.) The only black shows on TV are the ones that glorify the same stereotypes that we have tried for years to fight.

So people of colour are not able to reply to these “ironically racist” comedies with their own take on it. From 1997 to 2001, the number of black sitcoms on US television declined from 15 to 6, and that decline has generally continued to about 4, mainly by Tyler Perry. Except for shows by Perry, most of these comedies are cancelled after one or two seasons, with the excuse that “black sitcoms don’t work anymore since Fresh Prince and Martin”. Maybe if they stopped making black writers repeat that same formula something fresh (pardon the pun) could be created. But does it really matter anyway? Most channels have decided to show programmes that appeal mainly to straight white women and white gay men as this is the demographic they most want to attract.

Then there are viewers that say: “Blacks are a minority population in America. Why would a black actor expect that whites would want to watch a show about black issues?”
The sad truth is a lot of black writers/directors want to do films/shows with black people that do not focus on being black perse. But then the powers that be say: Well, what’s the point of having black characters then? And they turn the entire cast white. Just ask Keith Josef Adkins.

So, what should we do? Complain? We’ve done so for years. Create or own? The only way is YouTube and even if you can create it, you have to find an audience.

Still, it is clear that here is an issue that needs work. Do we really want a new generation growing up with the same stereotypes our grandparents saw?
Read original article here

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