Sunday, August 01, 2010

Bending Race

So tonight I'm supposed to be in a good mood. I've had a great, relaxed weekend, watched some quality cinema, and also had an excellent first date. So this blog post should really shiny & happy, with lots of little gold stars twinkling at the edges.

Instead, this one is going to be a rant.

And the reason for the rant is pretty straightforward. For a change, it's not about something that's happened within my personal sphere of influence, but rather something that I saw in the public realm and that really, REALLY pissed me off.

So we're all on Facebook, right? (If you disagree with this statement, you're either in denial or just an imbecile for not remembering when you joined the site). And we all have friends whose photo uploads show up in our news feeds. And sometimes you find one that catches your attention, so you click on it.

And then, when the pic opens up full-size (or optimum size, if you must be technologically anal), you realise that it shows you something that makes your blood boil.

This picture below is what I saw, and when I saw it in full size, that's exactly what it did.

Now don't get me wrong. I usually love Glee. I think it's done wonderfully well in taking characters that are typically stereotyped in popular US TV shows and has brought them mainstream. So the characters in the show, despite being complete freaks by normal US social standards, are depicted as just "one of us" - young, ambitious, sometimes confused, teenagers who are misfits in their social surroundings for any of several reasons, and who really have the same dreams, aspirations and hopes that any human being of that age has.

So why the rage, you might well ask? Well - all I will do is point you to the third square in the first row. That's right - that's supposed to be Tina Cohen-Chang, the girl who has a goth fetish, a thing for Artie, and a voice to die for. Yet despite ALL the nuances of her character, she is reduced to being "the Asian one" for the poster. Not because there isn't more to her character - not by any stretch of the imagination - but because, when you're looking to identify her, it's somehow ok to call her "the Asian one" and get away with it. Note how the chubby black girl (see what I did there?) who plays Mercedes gets away with being the loud one, and even the whacky Mrs Schuester is granted the glory of THREE whole lines of text and gets to be "the one most likely to fake a pregnancy". So I guess we can't call "the fat black girl" that anymore, and we can't call the gays the gays, but those Asians - who f*cking cares? They're all yellow anyway.

Somehow though, all that the designers of this damn poster did when they pulled Tina's strap line together was that the only thing that seemed noteworthy about her was that she came from an ethnic group that currently makes up ~50% of the world population. WOW - WHAT AN INCREDIBLY UNIQUE IDENTIFIER FOR THE CHARACTER.

So this rant is probably slightly reactionary, but what amazes me, time and time again, is just how backward the US can sometimes be in its approach to race and issue. Other places in the world are getting better at this - though not by much - but somehow public culture in the US seems to stubbornly want to stick to retrograde definitions and identifications of race, culture and identity.

And for those of you who think that this is a one-off phenomenon, all you need to do is look at the current controversy around the latest "Avatar - the Last Airbender" movie, with its incredibly problematic lactification of clearly non-Caucasian characters, its controversial casting calls, and ultimate degradation of quality that has created a massive online backlash.

And you know what pisses me off most about this? It's that a show that has done so well with other issues that have been traditionally taboo in US television had to be the one that still fucked up like this.

Bah, humbug.