Shows About White People = RACISM!
“What were you thinking!? What was going on in your mind!? Artistic integrity!? Where did you come up with that!? You’re not artistic and you have no integrity!”
— Jerry Seinfeld, “The Pitch” (1992)
My 13-year-old daughter loves watching old Seinfeld episodes. Her favorite character is Kramer. Is this … problematic? Well, a couple of years ago, I realized that while the show is now seen as a delightful comedy classic, it’s totally inappropriate for children. There’s a lot of stuff about sex (remember “sponge-worthy”?) and the basic theme of the show is the selfishness and immaturity of the characters. Jerry is an overgrown child who loves Superman and breakfast cereal, blithely going from one short-term girlfriend to another. George is a pathetic loser, a sad combination of irresponsibility, insecurity and failed efforts at overcompensation. Elaine is a shallow slut, as amoral as George and as childish as Jerry. When you think about it, the wacky neighbor Kramer is possibly the most wise and decent character on Seinfeld, but that’s not saying much. They’re all bad people.
Teaching my daughter a critical perspective about this popular 1990s sitcom — famously, “a show about nothing” — didn’t detract from her enjoyment of it and, all criticism aside, I am actually a huge fan of Seinfeld. Despite everything, the show is funny for the sake of being funny, which is what comedy should be. Unlike so many sitcoms, Seinfeld is not didactic. The problematic characters never solve any “issues” or learn any lessons, and the show slyly pokes fun at political correctness. The classic fourth-season episode “The Outing,” where a joke by Elaine results in a rumor that George and Jerry are a gay couple, hinges on the famous punch line: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” This disavowal of homophobia is ironic. If there really is nothing wrong with being gay, why deny it so adamantly? Most viewers don’t think that deep about it and just laugh at the joke, of course, but a shrewd observer sees how Seinfeld was gently satirizing the PC requirement that everyone must proclaim solidarity with the gay-rights agenda. Last year, Jerry Seinfeld talked about how out of control political correctness has become:
“I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC.’ I’ll give you an example: My daughter’s 14. My wife says to her, ‘Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.’ You know what my daughter says? She says, ‘That’s sexist.’ They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist’; ‘That’s sexist’; ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Nowadays, the accusation of “racism” often takes the form of complaints about a lack of “diversity.” Liberals love to smuggle hidden premises into arguments. The unstated premise of the “diversity” mentality is that if any institution fails to include proportional representation of every ethnic group, or if women are not represented at or near the 50% threshold, this reflects some sort of discrimination or prejudice. Like all bad ideas, “diversity” originated in academia, where administrators at elite universities twist themselves into knots trying to meet affirmative-action quotas which, of course, they deceitfully pretend are not actually quotas.
Is There Enough Social Justice at the Movies?
The “diversity” rationale has steadily crept into the entertainment business. It’s doubtful that today’s NBC executives would green-light Seinfeld, where the four main characters are white heterosexuals. (One imagines a network official asking: “Why can’t one of them be a Latina lesbian?”) If you think I’m exaggerating how far this quota-mongering “diversity” mentality has gone, consider the suggestion that film director Tim Burton is a racist.
Rachel Simon, a writer for the feminist website Bustle, points out that Samuel L. Jackson is the only non-white cast member in Burton’s new movie, and that the director has previously never cast a non-white actor in a leading role:
“Nowadays, people are talking about it more,” he says regarding film diversity. But “things either call for things, or they don’t. I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct. Like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black. I used to get more offended by that than just… I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.” . . .
When I ask Jackson about the film’s lack of diversity, he says that while he “noticed it,” it didn’t deter him from taking on his part.
“I had to go back in my head and go, how many black characters have been in Tim Burton movies?” Jackson says. “And I may have been the first, I don’t know, or the most prominent in that particular way, but it happens the way it happens. I don’t think it’s any fault of his or his method of storytelling, it’s just how it’s played out. Tim’s a really great guy.”
As the late Andrew Breitbart would say, “And . . .?” What’s your point? Why should anyone really care how many black, Hispanic or Asian actors are cast in a Tim Burton movie? Since when did “diversity” in entertainment require that the casting of every film and TV show conform to a quota regime? To take another page from Breitbart’s playbook, let’s “turn the camera around” and ask the media how well they live up to the rules by which they judge others: How much “diversity” is there at Bustle.com? Isn’t this “feminist” website owned by a wealthy white man (millionaire Bryan Goldberg)? Its editor in chief is white (Kate Ward) and, in case you didn’t notice, Bustle’s associate entertainment editor Rachel Simon is also white. The website’s senior entertainment editor Kelsea Stahler is likewise white, and the managing editor of Bustle, Lindsay Mannering is white, too. Pardon me if I jump to the conclusion that a Bustle staff meeting is as white as a David Duke rally.
And you know what? That’s perfectly OK.
Far be it from me to suggest that Kate Ward fire half of her white employees and replace them with staffers of Ethiopian or Ecuadoran ancestry. Never in a million years would I want to see Korean or Cambodian women file a federal class-action lawsuit against Bryan Goldberg, claiming that he has unjustly discriminated against Asian writers seeking jobs in the feminist blog racket. However, if Bustle is going to drag Tim Burton for the lack of “diversity” in his movies, why can’t we drag Bustle for being as white as a snowstorm?
Years ago, a friend of mine remarked, “Liberals believe in diversity through homogenization.” That is to say, liberals seem to think that every institution must be equally “diverse.” To achieve this ideal, however, would logically lead to the eradication of ethnic communities — no Chinatown, no Little Italy, no Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, no hillbilly enclaves in Appalachia. By mandating “diversity” everywhere, liberals seek to impose upon society a uniform sameness that would eliminate, among other things, the kind of career specialization that leads white girls to seek jobs as entertainment writers, whereas Asian boys are more likely to pursue engineering jobs, and the nation’s basketball courts are crowded with black kids hoping someday to play in the NBA. This doesn’t mean black kids can’t be engineers or entertainment writers, nor that the NBA discriminates against Asians. What it means is that equality under the law does not produce “diversity” in the formulaic way that Rachel Simon seems to demand from Tim Burton, nor is there any reason we should expect “diversity” everywhere, because this is ultimately an impossible expectation, and perhaps even dangerous.
The Quota Monster: Nightmare From Academia
From the moment we start down the road that leads us to think “diversity” should dictate the casts of movies and TV shows, we have already departed from common sense, entering a fantasy realm of political ideology that views everything through the warped lenses of “social justice.” It was a simple matter, three or four decades ago, for administrators at the nation’s universities to put their thumb on the scale, so to speak, in order to increase the representation of black and Hispanic students on campus. And one hesitates to suggest that white students suffered much real harm from this. A white kid who got rejected by Harvard, but was admitted to Colgate or Duke and subsequently went on to a successful career, wouldn’t get much sympathy if he tried to play the victim card, no matter how much higher his SAT score was than the lowest-scoring minority student admitted to Harvard. Back in the 1970s, when Allan Bakke claimed he was the victim of “reverse discrimination” at UC-Davis, however, this raised the issue of racial quotas in the admissions process of state universities — a much more weighty matter than admissions at a handful of elite private schools. Since taxpayer funding and government policy are directly implicated in the operation of state universities, quotas in such a context are bound to be controversial.
Fast-forward from the Bakke case to the 1990s, and we find that the original argument for affirmative action — i.e., compensating for the discrimination black students had suffered prior to enactment of federal civil rights laws — had begun to fade from the picture. Three decades after passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, it was difficult to claim that any high-school senior had ever been a victim of “discrimination” in a Jim Crow sense. Did the child of middle-class black parents, an 18-year-old born more than a decade after federal law abolished Jim Crow, deserve special treatment in the admissions process at Harvard or Yale? And what about top-tier state schools like the University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California at Berkeley? Also, why should Hispanic students be given preferential treatment, considering that they had never suffered discrimination as systemic or severe as Jim Crow? These questions led liberals to produce the magical abracadabra — “DIVERSITY!”
Well, we need not rehearse here all the arguments on this topic that emerged from the Culture Wars of the 1990s. The point we cannot miss, however, is that “diversity” originated in academic arguments over quotas in the admissions process at elite schools. (Nobody argues about “diversity” at a second-tier state university like my alma mater, nor does anyone monitor the ethnic composition of the enrollment at your local comunity college.) In order to defend and justify their policies, elite universities devoted considerable effort to proclaiming the glories of “diversity,” so that this idea became embedded in the curriculum, and no one on the 21st-century campus would dare ever cast a skeptical eye on the virtues of formulaic “diversity.”
Easy as it might be to laugh at the bizarre politically correct antics ib universitt campuses — “Hahaha! Look at those silly feminists tearing down posters for a Christina Hoff Sommers lecture!” — what happens in academia tends to leak out into what we like to call The Real World. If professors are indoctrinating college kids with “intersectional” ideas of privilege and oppression, we may expect that students will attempt to pursue these ideas after graduation, and this is how you end up with a white girl like Rachel Simon (Emerson College, Class of 2015) working for a white editor and a white publisher, implying that Tim Burton is a racist because his movies aren’t “diverse” enough.
Do we no longer have any real problems in the world? Have we eradicated famine, disease and violence from human existence, so that now we can all sit around pointing fingers at each other and shouting “RAAAAACIST”?
It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the Good Old Days, when we had wholesome prime-time TV shows about four white people betting money on who could go the longest without masturbating.
“They’re all bad people,” I tell my daughter. “Very, very bad.”