09 August 2010

Monday Morning Mash-Up

Since I've only been writing here on Mondays, the blogging silence of the other six days often results in hateration build up.  Fortunately, I take notes.  What follows is a rather desultory dose of scathing haterade for your Monday morning.  Who needs caffeine?

Feel my body! gettin' cooooold.  As a friend said on Facebook, Wyclef can't get The Fugees back together, but he thinks he can fix Haiti?  Well, if it means that 'Clef will stop making records, then I shall feign Haitian citizenship and vote for him, and suggest you do the same.  I think hiring Cher of Clueless fame as a speechwriter would be a fantastic move for Wyclef.  It does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty!

How do you say "Yes We Can" in Haitian Creole?

We're well into season 4 of Mad Men, and folks are still not happy with the treatment of black characters on the show.  I've written about this previously, but since the show delves further into the sixties with each season, perhaps what I--and others--have said bears repeating:  Mad Men is not explicitly concerned with black people.  Still, bloggers write letters on behalf of Carla, the Drapers' maid:
I know you don't know who you are and you've got a million identity issues, your dad was a real s--- and... wait, wait, do you hear that? It's the world's tiniest violin playing just for you. Guess what? My family all lives in Mississippi. You know what's going on there? Oh just the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, murders, and an overall air of fear and violence. In fact in June of this year, three civil rights workers will be murdered during Freedom Summer. So cry me a river mystery man (the Klan will probably use it to dump bodies in but no big deal let me fix you a sandwich). 
And yet another post equally unenthusiastic about the fact that Mad Men is knee-deep into the sixties, but has yet to use "We Shall Overcome" as a jingle for Lucky Strike cigarettes:
But no worries – through small references and slight of hand, the writers will allude hey, we know there were black people then. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes.  And where there is so much potential to develop plots that deal with race, the attitudes of the writers are eerily current.  It’s okay to remember the past, but it is verboten to apply historical events to our current realities.
Remembering the past is easy – it’s learning from our history (not erasing it, not sanitizing it) that’s hard.
I think this desire for anachronistic diversity misses the point on a few levels.  (Gosh, here I go defending white people again.)  First, I think the creators of the show purposely semi-ignore the civil rights movement in an attempt to compel viewers into thinking about the construction of whiteness, and the ways in which it insulates those who can access it from issues like racism.  It's the sixties.  Practically every viewer is well aware of the overarching narrative of this decade, thanks to the work of Eyes on the Prize and The History Channel.  The question isn't "Why don't they give Carla a story line?"  but rather, "Why aren't they giving Carla a story line?"  Because Don Draper is the original George Bush: he doesn't are about black people.  And he doesn't have to.  That is a rather telling story about race and what it means--aware or not--to be invested in whiteness.  Our collective memory of the 1960s tells us that the only place that was segregated was the South.  Mad Men reflects the lily white (seriously, Roger Sterling's hair isn't just awesome, it's symbolic), self-segregated world of Madison Avenue--a street well north of the Mason-Dixon.  Perhaps we should ruminate on whiteness and its commoditification (it's an advertising firm, after all) as the show invites us to instead of grumbling about the very accurate portrayal of blacks as elevator operators.  The world of advertising is (still incredibly) white; Mad Men reflects that.  Besides, it's not like S.C.D.P. is selling Pepsi.

Second, the desire for a black storyline--and therefore access to said characters' interiority--implies that Carla, for example, is actually thinking about racism and the South and the civil rights movement.  We love to wax nostalgic about brave blacks and liberal whites joining together to slay Bull Connor and the Klan.  We often deify them and make them members of Congress.  Yet, there were plenty of blacks who could not march through a Mississippi summer in church clothes because they had to work in the morning.  That's not to say that they weren't concerned with the issues of the day, but I think it's important to remember that not every black adult living in the 1960s ran around boycotting buses.  There are degrees of activism--and inaction.  How accurate would it be, fifty years from now, for television watchers to critique a show about this decade for not showing enough folks concerned about the oil spill (as cars fill-up at BP stations daily), or immigration, or the war, or gay marriage?

Third, I think the desire for a more diverse story line reveals more about viewers than it does about the show.  The frustration with the handling of black characters on the show perhaps divulges the way that we have romanticized the 1960s, that decade when America bravely confronted its demons.  We have weaved a tale that presumes that (all the good) Americans were discussing and fighting racial inequality--in the same way that we all feel sad about Mexicans being deported during our lunch hours--and therefore negatively assess depictions that challenge those assumptions.  In our minds, the 1960s was quite literally a black and white, good and evil era.  So much so that we are alarmed when we are confronted with that gray area of indifference, and cry racist or racially insensitive and/or inadequate when we see it.  Frankly, I'm looking for a good story.  Those looking for a braver, more romantic storyline might need to put I'll Fly Away on the Netflix queue.  Or turn to 80s sitcoms.   "The March" episode of The Cosby Show when Theo and Cockroach have to write an essay about the March on Washington might suffice.  There's also an episode of Family Ties, where Rosalind Cash (yes, the same woman who played Denise's professor at Hillman) and her family move into the Keaton's neighborhood and all the white people bug out.  There's pictures from Freedom Summer, a rendition of "Blowing in the Wind."  Real multiculti stuff.  (By the way, if you're playing 6 Degrees of Separation and you need to connect, say, Jimmy Walker to Keanu Reeves or George Clooney, Rosalind Cash is your key.)

Speaking of black people and illegal immigration, Great [Dred] Scott!  They want to remix the 14th Amendment?  I'm no historian, but my favorite sistorian, Elle and I briefly discussed how the Age of Obama occasionally looks like Reconstruction-lite.  Perhaps this latest political news provides more evidence for my ignorant observations.  To make up for defending white people earlier, I'd like to point out that white people were the original illegal immigrants.  If you don't believe me, ask your local Native American--if you can find one. 

When is it ok for me to say that I think Willow Smith is kind of funny looking?

Not to get all gossipy, but why were Queen Latifah and her [ahem] personal trainer on Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats' honeymoon?  I know Just Wright made about five dollars at the box office, but damn, has the recession caused celebrities to go on group honeymoons?  I'm no conspiracy theorist, but is there something we should know about the father of Alicia's baby?  Perhaps Queen Latifah just wanted to see how she looked on a boat.  Call it a dry run for the Olivia endorsement deal that has to be waiting for QL if and when she decides to come out.  I'm not saying she has to--no one has to.  What I am saying is there's money when she's ready.  

I want to punch Jaden Smith in the face.

While I'm on Queen Latifah, Prop [H]8 got the judicial smack down last week.  Congratulations, California gays.  Can you say Alimony?  To echo what Alex mentioned last week, I wish the entire gay marriage debate had inspired us to question the institution of marriage and compulsory monogamy.  Instead, the decision simply reinvigorates the whole "gay people are just like everybody else" line of reasoning.  Which reminds me, maybe I should go see The Kids are All Right.

Oh well.  It does give us the opportunity to watch scenes from The Golden Girls, also known as the greatest sitcom of all time.  (By the way, the aforementioned Rosalind Cash guest starred on Golden Girls, too.  The subject?  Interracial marriage.):

On second thought, I probably should have just written about Mad Men.  I'll do better next week.  Happy Monday.


z.bediako said...

Call it a dry run for the Olivia endorsement deal that has to be waiting for QL if and when she decides to come out. I'm not saying she has to--no one has to. What I am saying is there's money when she's ready.

I want to punch Jaden Smith in the face.
you punch him & I will take Willow, Jadas handbag (sorry)

Anonymous said...

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