Joss Whedon & race : color blindness ?
samedi 26 août 2006, par Webmaster
Following is a long post on my thoughts on Joss Whedon et al and race in the various Whedonverses. It’s an adaptation of a wanna-be post in response to a closed listserve, so I’m not crediting individuals for the most part with their observations, but just trying to respond to them. Feel free to own up in responses / comments to a point &/or I can put your name in at that point, but since the list is closed I’m privileging privacy over intellectual credit.
The post is essay-length, but still raw and clumsy like a list post or mail post. I think it’s better to put it out in the discussion rather than holding it out until it’s more definitive.
I’ll start by saying that my sense is that Joss in general suffers from white person color-blindness. My guess is he thinks that it’s okay, even progressive, to be “color-blind”. As is well-documented elsewhere (1, 2, 3, 4, just to pull out a few), white-privileged color-blindness in a racist and racialized world is regressive, not progressive. In order to not be complicit with historical and present racism, color-blindness doesn’t cut it.
There are lots of aspects to analyzing the “color blindness” fallacy, but there is one in particular which is significant to creators like Joss Whedon. Color blindness allows one to recognize talent, virtue, skill, beauty, in the ways that seem comfortable & familiar. It’s like just doing business over golf with the buddies - who just happen to be mostly/all guys. You didn’t mean to discriminate against women ; it’s just that it’s fun and comfortable to do business with your friends, and your friends all look like you. To get beyond that, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and unfortunately I think Joss doesn’t.
For example, all the writers from the Whedonverse that I know of - saw on DVD commentaries etc. - are white. Joss recognizes talent in white people, because it is very similar to his ; it’s the old-boys-network thing, you can better see the people who you are most comfortable with, most identify with - and if as a white person one doesn’t make a conscious effort to avoid it, those most-comfortable-with people will be white people. This isn’t conscious racism, but it’s the individual component of institutionalized racism.
This has been a thread throughout the Whedon creations - Buffy, Angel, Firefly, plus spin-offs. So I can get why one could just react with growing anger and then at a certain point just say “enough !”.
But I think overall Whedon has been getting better, and more conscious of race and class(*), and more sophisticated, and I’m glad of it. Unfortunately, while I’m pretty much 100% convinced of the problems, I’m only, say, 50% convinced of the progression. Probably because it’s slow and uneven ; not even two steps forward and one backward ; more like a half forward from a not great place, and a quarter backward. So progress is not always obvious. And I am certainly not immune to the Whedon white-fan rationalizations, because he does so many, many things right, and I am such a fan, and I speak from a position of white privilege on these issues - so perhaps I am not a trustworthy accountant. But wtf, I’m going to set out my analyses anyway, because I want these discussions to continue.
(*) This is mostly about race and ethnicity but it’s also a little about language and class and gender, because I think they’re all related. FWIW : I love Joss not least because he is very good (not perfect) on gender, but I think his greatness on gender is undermined by his inattention to consistent treatment of the major intersections of race and class. And he’s so damned good at dialog and characters and world-building that he could be perfect if he would just get his shit together. It’s very frustrating.
All that said, I think there are both ways in which Joss is better than he has been credited with being, and ways which I find even more problematic than have been discussed. I guess I’ll tackle them series by series and try to illustrate my take on Whedon. And, actually, the creators & crew of the Whedonverse ; because it’s hard to tell always whether Whedon was the mind-in-charge of a particular casting or writing decision. But I’ll still call it Whedon for the most part, because he is ultimately responsible, and because if nothing else, he chose the creators, for their creative skills & worldview.
In season 3 Trick wryly observed that Sunnydale is almost wholly white. One commentator fingered exactly what that was : Basically, a post hoc by that episode’s writer or Joss (who often tweaked scripts), belatedly observing that Sunnydale is too white, and adding an explanation. It’s good because it acknowledges the issue and tries to reconcile it with reality. But I conclude that it is nothing more than a post hoc justification of the whitewashed world that was created by “color blindness”. Sunnydale was indeed a parody of a rich suburb but rich suburbs in California now have a lot of Asian people and some African-American and Latino people. This kind of post hoc rationalization shows up a lot among us Joss fans : trying to find a way to make the world make sense. The problem is that you can only make it make sense by taking into account the casting and writing choices of the shows’ creators. The casting and writing choices were largely white.
However, and it pains me to say this, Joss-and-crew did include a fair number of people of color as victims or villains. It pains me, because they stand out in my mind as the people who died the worst or most inappropriate deaths. I’ve thought about but never done a head/death-count so this is subjective, but I remember very clearly that Black male vampires were disproportionately flamed. This is beyond color-blindness and into willful racial insensitivity. Remember the Black preacher from the first Season 2 episode ? Flaming is the gorier way to kill vampires, staking being the relatively cleaner & less gory method. Flaming involves digital melting often ending in a horrific view of the face, with bulging eyes and heat-seared flesh. There aren’t that many flaming deaths. Too many of them involve Black men (okay, vampires), and the deaths stood out to me as hideous. Insensitivity at the least ; likely subconscious racism on the parts of, probably, myriad crew members. I wouldn’t peg this one on Joss-as-creator, actually, but on the individual writers. Joss still takes responsibility as producer for choosing writers who didn’t see these issues (I guess) and for not setting out the issues in a supervisorial fashion and because he is responsible, ultimately, for the shows.
There are so few Asian people in Buffy that the couple of random Asian victims really stand out for me. The young boy, a former classmate, that Harmony is bored with eating (beginning of Season 4). The young woman who is one of the first on the blood-factory-line in the Master’s horrible alternate world (Season 3). A diverse pool of victims is to be as desired as a diverse pool of villains, heroes, and sidekicks, but when the only or most diversity is to be found in the victims and villains one must see that something is going on.
Season 7 is more diverse in terms of slayers but still disproportionately white & American & English-speaking. I like to resist the post-hoc justifications that try to rationalize the world, but one could imagine that this is because, well, they’re in the US and it’s easier to locate the potential slayers in the US. But no, it’s actually because Whedon et al didn’t make an effort to make the slayer-pool representative of the world. Props for Willow’s new girlfriend Kennedy, who I think might have been the first ethnically Latina/o character on Buffy. But Kennedy had no demonstrated ethnic identity - which again I think reflects Whedon’s color blindness.
(I’m not doing an exhaustive inventory of the Whedonverse people of color and people not of color. Just pulling out the examples that struck me, during my multiple watchings, and readings on the matter. If you, Gentle Reader, have counter-examples, please give them.)
I think Joss did a better job on Angel in terms of race, although Gunn made me wince at first. His character was a revisitation of Trick - playing on an ethnic stereotype to generate a character. One could argue that Joss always plays with stereotypes to generate characters : Cordelia, Buffy, etc. But they were always transformed in really deep ways. Joss tried to do this with Gunn, and I actually really liked the knowing transformation of Gunn into a lawyer : the PTBs or evil Senior Partners (whichever) said that Gunn had the most unused potential, which I took (perhaps reading too much into it) as an acknowledgement in more ways than one. So Gunn was initially a ham-handed intrusion of an attempt to be diverse, but evolved into something that at least recognized that something was going on.
The conniving Asian lawyer - I worried, briefly, about an Asian character being so sneaky, but I ended up thinking that it was a benign effect of “color-blind” casting. All the Wolfram & Hart lawyers were sneaky, and hell, I want diversity among protagonists as well as antagonists. (I had to laugh about the working-class kid, whatsisname, being recruited from Hastings Law School initially to work in the mailroom. You know, the evil white guy lawyer who is the first W&H lawyers we see, in the first Angel episode.)
Buffy & Angel (1997-2004)
Interracial relationships on both Angel & Buffy. I would have liked them much better if Whedon et al hadn’t been so hamhanded with race in other ways. In that context, the relationships between Principal Wood & Buffy then Faith, and between Gunn & whatsername seemed like Whedon attempting to prove how race-blind he is.
In fact, the interracial relationships felt the same as Willow’s lesbianism : forced to make a point. (I know I’m probably going to piss someone off here.) The fact that the point is a good one and one I support (increased representation of same-sex and interracial relationships) and done pretty well (acknowledging but not dwelling, and therefore naturalizing ; fit into the storyline very well ; etc.) (pretty well, but not perfectly, but that’s a point for another time) doesn’t mean that it doesn’t stand out as a little forced. And the *reason* it stands out as forced is because these relationships are in fact used to score points, they’re token representations, and they stand out among other representations.
I say these interracial & same-sex relationships seemed forced to me, despite the fact that Joss has said of the Gunn/Fred relationship that he put them together because they had such great chemistry together. I don’t know about that. I don’t trust laying character decisions off on things that can’t be quantified or described objectively. I think chemistry can be a stand-in for just about anything. Maybe there is a real thing such as chemistry, but I’m not persuaded of the chemistry here. To the extent that I think chemistry means something real (dilating pupils, quicker breathing, other subconscious cues of actual phsyical attraction that a viewing audience can pick up) then, to me, I felt Faith & Wood had reasonable chemistry but I’m not convinced about Fred & Gunn, or Buffy & Wood for that matter.
(If I compare the other major interracial relationship, Zoe & Wash, it feels a lot less forced. Maybe because it’s accepted going in to the series. Wood wasn’t incredibly well fleshed out so that may have hampered the Buffy flirtation. Or maybe it was just that you KNEW a real SoCal girl like Buffy would have had *some* thoughts about Wood’s race. Possibly, it’s something in me, reacting to white woman/black man versus black woman/white man. But I don’t think so. I think Zoe/Wash was treated differently than B/W and F/G. F/W seems different too. It would be fruitful to look at this more in detail.)
The funny thing is that I read these relationships as Joss’s attempt to enact color-blindness and non-hetero-normativity ; to naturalize interracial and same-sex relationships. But because he doesn’t fully get how his own “color blindness” in terms of casting, picking writers, etc., affects his stories, these relationships don’t work to naturalize the relationships ; they make them stand out more as “progressive” relationships in the non-progressive world he creates.
There’s nothing wrong with creating a fictional world that is progressive or not, racist or sexist or not. But whatever you do, it needs to make sense. If it takes place in today’s world then interracial and same-sex relationships make real impacts on real people’s lives because of racism and homophobia. If it takes place in another or future world where racism and homophobia don’t exist - well, then, I’d like to know how we got there from here, and it better damn well be internally consistent. As one writer I know on a list has said several times, if the world of the future is white, she wants to know what was the plague that wiped out everyone else, and what other effects it had on society.
If the world is not internally consistent, if it depicts a whitewashed world, if it ends racism and sexism and homophobia without ever nodding to the fact that they used to exist or shaped the current world, if it does any of these things then it’s a problem, and not a problem that can be solved with suspension of disbelief. In the racialized and politicized world in which these works are created and consumed, the problematically unrealistic depictions of race, racism, sexism, etc., in a fictional world cannot help but be read as idealization of, normalization of, or advocacy for that flawed world. So the “show it, don’t discuss it” strategy of showing a socially penalized relationship but not showing the social penalties (the homophobic or racist responses) is just not effective. Or rather, it is probably effective in some small ways, but it is counterproductive in other ways, that neutralize its effectiveness as a progressive maneuver.
BuffyVerse / Fray (2003)
Because we’re talking a lot about Joss Whedon, I think it’s worth looking at Fray. To me, Fray is a negative illustration of the problem of color-blindness in live-action casting - meaning, the problem of color-blind attitudes in live action casting goes away in a drawn novel. So Fray is the progressive color-blind attitude in caricature. Fray is a woman of color, but she’s not raced, because race doesn’t exist in the color blind world.
Fray is created out of Joss’s imagination, where he can live a color-blind life, and not confront actual people of color in casting choices. He doesn’t have to try to translate across a lens of race (because trying to be color-blind is not the same as actually being color-blind) to see human performances. Rather, he can create the human performance in his own head. The perfect opportunity to create a raceless person of color. Looking at Fray this way leads one nicely into Firefly/Serenity, which, as a far-future world gave him some of that same cover - here’s a person of color with no racial identity or problems ; it must be because in this far-future SF world, how do you know what race will look like ?
Again - the same problem. Where did race prejudice go and why ? Color blindness is a pleasant progressive fantasy but that blindness to reality is a product of privilege, and is ultimately counterproductive in terms of neutralizing racism.
Firefly / Serenity (2002, 2005)
A lot of the criticism of race and ethnicity in the Firefly ‘verse has come in part because Joss broke it more open than most media sf futures have done. (I would suggest “Dark Angel” as a rare exception.) But it illustrates the problem that I think comes with color-blindness : it creates inconsistency in the world-building, which is a flaw in any creation.
Language & History
In the Firefly ‘verse, everyone speaks Mandarin (sometimes ; badly), but nobody looks ethnically Chinese - and because it is way more tempting to do the post hoc rationalizations about the universe in a science fiction context. (”Well maybe everyone has intermarried so there isn’t race any more.” Or “Maybe it’s the upper-class people who are Chinese.”) The fact is that the regular cast doesn’t have ethnically Chinese people, and very few of the speaking extras (maybe none, I would have to think back) are ethnically Chinese, and even in the super-diverse planetary marketplace/crowd scenes, they don’t follow any conceivable ethnic distribution pattern that one would expect given the current South Asian/Asian population distribution (what, 50% of the world ?). (Hell, if nothing else, the US half of a 50/50 US-Sino future should probably be about 75% Latino, Black & Asian.)
Joss said that the Chinese influence came in large part from his wife, who lived or taught in China or something. It’s clear to me that he wanted to make the future ethnically diverse in a way that would be surprising. Surprising to whom, is a possible issue : Clearly he’s not addressing the Chinese audience ; he’s addressing the US or English-speaking sf audience, and possibly a white audience. But it shows that he’s thinking about ethnicity & nationality & language. I expect and believe from what I’ve seen that his vision would be more successfully bilingual than what he was able to actually do on US TV, and this is an area where I cut him some slack in terms of getting a program on TV. Maybe I’m too forgiving, but I don’t think he could have gotten any substantial amount of Mandarin, with or without subtitles, on the show. I would have liked to have seen it, though, his characters talking with the presumably 30-70% of the world that speaks Mandarin, not English, as first language. My own post hoc / rational world rationalization for the main characters is that the story follows primary-English speakers (b/c the audience is primarily English-language) and that the universe still has ethnic/linguistic divisions. But that doesn’t explain how there are no primarily Mandarin-speaking worlds that we’ve seen ; that can only be explained, I think, by decisions outside of the framework of the story - casting, writing, practicality, and/or racism.
The cast is more successfully multi-racial than any other cast Joss has had. A third of the cast - Book, Zoe, and Inara - are visibly not white. Also, Joss said that he had originally wanted to cast the Tams as Asian (or maybe it was just Simon he wanted to cast as Asian, I don’t quite recall. I’ll have to watch them again to know !). But that the actor for Simon was just right for the part. Summer Glau, who plays River, was with Joss on Angel, so I’m not sure I’m remembering the casting discussion correctly. I kind of like having white people with Asian names ; it’s just that, again, without Asian people it kind of stands out, and makes the world internally inconsistent.
Casting decisions are not race-free exercises in recognizing talent. It’s hard to pick apart any one casting decision, and maybe impossible. All you can do is look at the overall composition and say that there’s a trend and something is wrong with the trend, and the wrongness is probably present to some degree in most or all of the individual casting decisions. I would just say that it’s easy to recognize talent in your comfort zone, and if whiteness is part of your comfort zone, then it’s easy to recognize talent in its various forms in faces that read white. And, if you’re going to push your conception of a character beyond its preconceived notions, then I imagine it’s easier to push it in one direction at a time. So as casting, someone comes in and plays a character in some way you’re not anticipating. Your responses : “Hey, maybe this character should be really femmey, not really butch” might be easier if you’re not also stepping outside your race comfort zone. By comparison, “Hey, maybe this character can be Latino *and* fey, instead of a kick-ass butch white guy” might be a more difficult leap to make.
The casting is one thing ; the characterization is another. Joss’s Firefly characters may be multiracial, but it’s just skin color, because of Joss’ color blindness & believe that you should normalize, not discuss. None of them have issues with their skin color. One wonders : has racism gone away ? But that seems so unlikely in a world rife with classism and sexism. In fact, if one insists on the unnatural reading of the ‘verse as a verse in which racism, unlike classism and sexism, has gone away, then that poses a real problem for the one thing that we can mostly agree on : Joss’s feminism. Because if racism has gone away, but not sexism, then that suggests that gender bias is somehow more deeply-rooted or inherent. But it strains credulity to read the ‘Verse that way. The ‘Verse is much more suggestive of Whedon & crew’s take on politics : generally progressive, comfortable with feminism, interested in but a little clueless about class, and deeply uncomfortable with dealing with race and racism. So the racelessness of the people of color is the white boy version of racial utopia : color-blindness, where we can all just appreciate each other for the color/texture of our skin and hair. The color-blindness of not wanting to deal with it. Hey, maybe that’s a good vision for everyone (it’s not my utopia but I don’t think I’d be looking to change or leave such a place), but you have to make some nods to consistency if you’re implementing it - make it consistent with your view of sexism and classism and exploitation, make it consistent with the history of the ‘Verse, make it consistent with the cast, etc.
The characters apparently all have non-racial identities, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not racially figured. Zoe, as a kick-ass warrior woman, I adore. But I am not blind to the fact that a lot of white boys like to have a Black Warrior Woman in their work to demonstrate how cool they are with the race thing. The weird thing to me is that it’s so deeply problematic and emblematic of white boy issues, at the exact same time that it is hugely empowering and exciting. Typical of these difficult issues, maybe. Having a Black Warrior be a woman is less threatening to white people. Making the warrior woman Black further exoticizes her and taps into stereotypes of Blackness as wild, primitive, fierce, and stereotypes of Black women as butch. These are general issues with stereotyped exotic characters, and not necessarily appropriate to each instance of those characters, of course ; Zoe is her own character, because Joss is actually really good with characterization in terms of personality (just not so much with figuring out characterization in terms of social aspects of race/class). The deadly-but-beautiful Asian martial artist/assassin seems to me to have very much the same issues.
Book is a preacher, the magical negro. He has considerable more complexity than that, but it’s too unexplored. I would say that about all the characters though - perhaps not surprising in an ensemble cast of 9 with only 13 episodes and one movie. We *only* know the background of the Tams, and the war background of Zoe & Mal. We know nothing about any other background of any of the other characters.
Inara, one could complain about the fact that a mixed ancestry (possibly South Asian) actress has a geisha/Asian-sex-arts-based character. I cut Whedon et al little slack here because the universe feels consistent to me in its depiction of companions - they are multiethnic and multitraditional as one would expect. Maybe it makes more sense because, as sketchy as it is, it is more fleshed out than most aspects of the ‘Verse’s society.
Deep breath. Here is the thing that bothers me the most ; especially in context with earlier discussions about flaming Black male vampires. The saddest thing for me about Serenity was the bounty hunter. A great actor, a great concept, but - The Serenity bounty hunter is virtually the same character as the bounty hunter in the last episode of Serenity. And given the fact that they are both solo bounty hunters, with special skills, secret, uniquely menacing, likeable in their own crazy ways, etc. - with all those similarities the fact that they are both Black men cannot be a coincidence. I would like to believe it is, because I would like to believe my progressive narrative of Joss Whedon’s consciousness on race and racism. But I can only conclude that Joss et al felt that the Blackness was an intrinsic part of the menace in those characters. And it’s got to be Joss, because these are critical stories and critical characters.
That kills me, because why ? Why, if you have the skills to create such fascinating and deep characters, and you have the access to the really talented actors to play them, why why why did you exercise that talent and access in a way that I can only read as racially coded to play on the menacing Black man thing ? Unlike most of the color-blindness, this is willful stupidity, or a knowing attempt to cash in on the stereotype. I find that deeply problematic. It was problematic at the end of Firefly, but you think, well, TV show, multiple villains, diversity in the cast of villains, etc. But to duplicate that character for the movie says to me that there is something much more fundamental and much more serious going on with Joss and race.
Humans Are the Other
I really like what Joss has done in his ‘verse of keeping all the people, people. He has said that there are enough monsters and aliens within humanity that there is no need to make them up. To me, this is about race. (edit for clarity : To me, when universes move the monsters & the Otherness & the problematic traits of humanity, outside of humanity and onto alien species, this is about race. Avoiding that problem - of literally racializing character difference - is one of the things I like about Joss.) As others have pointed out, Star Trek & Bab 5 have largely made “other species” a stand-in for races. I find that entire move to be really troubling. People argue back and forth over whether the Ferengi are racist depictions of Jewish people, for instance. This is actually not that bothersome to me, largely because I think the question it presupposes (”Is the ‘other’ species a faithful non-racist depiction of a race/group of people ?”) just doesn’t work, and my problem is with the creation of these species to begin with.
I’m very troubled by the move, itself, of creating an “alien” species/race that is intended to represent some set of human traits, whether represented by an ethnic or religious or racial subgroup or not. The entire notion of having a “violent” species (Klingons) or a “philosophical” species or a “gentle” species (or a blonde toga-wearing species) is, to me, an offensive working-out of the view that there are “types” within humans, including a normative middle type. The presumed normative middle type is the one that all the writers and viewers and cast members are supposed to be part of, or supposed to be trying to be part of. All the struggles over “what is humanity” that Data, the bucket-of-liquid guy from DS9, 7 of 9, the half-humans undergo, are really “what is normal humanity” ; how do I learn to “feel” like a normal human. There is something useful in this exploration, I’m sure, but to me it feels like a very conservative narrative of people having an essential identity and having to learn to overcome it to fit in.
And other species are all uniform with no internalized “racism” based on headshape or whatever - this also annoys me. It’s refusing to see diversity within the “other”. “Don’t all [big category like “Asian”] people think/look/dress alike ?” “They” wouldn’t have diversity within their group ; diversity is just what is other/not-me on the categories I think are important - arggh. (Oh yeah except for the Very Special Episodes where a culture’s treatment of gender or slavery provides a great teaching moment.) Well, I could go on with my problems with bumpy-headed aliens as depictions of “other” but this is enough to give an idea of why I have a distaste for the bumpy-headed aliens.
I think the externalizing-human-attributes-onto-other-species happens in part because liberal / progressive white writers want to create a color-blind future without doing the hard work of tackling race or racism on the show or in the universe’s history. Externalizing evil in this way makes it easier for SF writers to then unify humans, because humans, despite their racial & gender & sexual & class differences, are all HUMAN, in comparison with the Klingons or whatever. But as Le Guin showed in The Lathe of Heaven, that’s such a cheap way to get humanity unified that it makes one wonder whether it’s even worth it.
By comparison, Joss Whedon’s Firefly ‘verse gave me a lot of hope, because he doesn’t externalize human qualities and traits and diversity in the Firefly ‘verse. They are there to be struggled with, potential problems. I think he *could* take on race in the Firefly ‘verse and I wish he would ! It wouldn’t feel unnatural and weird ; it would feel right. Even his Buffy & Angel verse didn’t externalize evil & human qualities in the way that Star Trek does - as soon as he created races of demons and vampires he started peopling them up. (Although there’s a lot of analysis that could be done with the demons/vampires and the ways they’re present the same problematics as bumpy-headed aliens.)
I guess I remain hopeful for Joss Whedon, then, for these two primary reasons : (1) I do see a progressive narrative in how he’s cluing into race/ethnicity/linguistic diversity. Am I rationalizing or making it up ? (2) The worlds he’s created, while they don’t handle all issues well, seem open to handling issues well. It wouldn’t be internally inconsistent to have them growing and handling issues beyond what they do already ; they are not inherently racist, not structurally defective (like bumpy-headed aliens). Again, I wonder if I’m rationalizing.
Some of what I’ve written here is stuff I’ve been thinking about for as long as I’ve been into Whedon (winter of 2002/03) !!!! But some of it is fairly new, synthesized and in response to all the very good discussions and points on the list discussions and in the recent related/relevant blogosphere discussions. I’m fairly confident about my sense of Whedon et al as intentionally and problematically color-blind, and the various examples I give. But I’m somewhat less confident of my sense of the overall progressive arc and how it all relates to bumpy-headed aliens, and the relation between various oppressions/hierarchies (class, race, sex, sexually confirming behavior, appearance). So I may well be rationalizing because, goddammit, I really love what Whedon et al does. I just want him to do it better.
PS - Back in the Real World
Of course there have been excellent media groups monitoring the whitewashing of TV for years. I commend to anyone interested in these issues some of these groups (some may be out of date ; it’s been a few years since I worked on this issue) - GLAAD (gay & lesbian alliance against defamation), Screen Actors Guild (SAG) collections of statistics on ethnic & minority actors, NAACP’s media diversity work, Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC), Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), National Hispanic Media Council (NHMC), National Assn of Minority Media Executives (NAMME), Children’s Media Project work on diversity & representations of women & minorities in children’s programming, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), UNITY (Journalists of Color), ADC (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee), Media Access Project, and FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting). whew ! In the legal scholarship world Len Baynes looks at FCC minority/race issues ; he’s not alone but is my favorite.
This is not just a matter of available pools of actors, economics of tv, etc., but very much a structured regulatory choice on the part of conservative rich white men (Republicans). Back in the day the FCC had diversity policies that made TV stations look at who they hired and what they broadcast ; and we got shows like Sanford & Sons, The Jeffersons, etc. Yeah, okay, oblivious to race other than as a Black/White thing, but still. The attack on affirmative action that we’ve all heard about in the context of schools has been playing out just as importantly in attacks on affirmative action policies in federal regulatory agencies like the FCC (US Federal Communications Commission). So we don’t have any real affirmative action policies requiring the airwaves to represent the public interest or look like the public or include the voices of a representative portion of the public. Everything is “color blind”. The ownership rules that were changed to permit greater consolidation also negatively impacted diversity, both of subject-matter and ownership. The loss of the fairness doctrine impacted diversity of subject-matter and content.
And the reason we have all those decisions is that all those court-packing judicial nominations that Reagan, Bush I and Bush II have done have been aimed not just at the Supreme Court but at the D.C. Circuit which handles most of the litigation aimed at FCC, EPA, and other federal agencies.
retiring now to silence
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