Imagine if, for the entirety of its existence, the American entertainment industry was dominated by black people. Since film, radio, and television’s inception, the dominant, overwhelming representation of American culture was people with a black face. Sure, every once in a while a white face would show up, but usually it would be in the guise of a maid, an exaggerated, subservient comic relief character, but rarely as the lead in an action or drama, or as the “traditional” American family in a sitcom, or as the “all-American” musician cranking out the pop tunes so safe everyone in the family can listen to them.
Of course, that’s exactly the story of American popular culture, but with white faces instead of black and brown ones.
The idea that blacks can stand on an equal footing in pop culture is a relatively new one, and based on the reaction I see so much from – generally speaking – white, conservative, males it is the end of the world.
New York City is roughly 44% white, which means that one of the most diverse cities in the world is about 56% Everyone Else, but yet in iconic programs like Seinfeld and Friends (both programs I enjoyed), New York City was almost exclusively white. This is just not accurate.
So some have pointed out that Jerry Seinfeld’s recent complaints about supposed politically correct censorship of comedians on college campuses rang a bit hollow because Seinfeld’s own show didn’t reflect any sort of diversity (also, Seinfeld’s about as “safe” a comedian as it gets and I doubt anyone would complain about his show having any raw edges).
In response, I heard that this was an attempt to command what sort of comedy Seinfeld is allowed to do, and that he shouldn’t be penalized by the “PC Police.”
All America’s marginalized groups are asking for is some sort of representation in the popular culture that helps to set so many of the norms of our society. Of all the television shows produced in American history, its notable that there are so few that depicted the lives of upper-middle class blacks. More specifically, there isn’t much more beyond The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
What many – white, male, conservatives – just don’t seem to get is that they don’t notice how much of this world was set up to reinforce them and their beliefs. To them, of course the vast majority of successful, good-looking “normal” people on television are white. It’s so accepted that it isn’t even notable. Congratulations, you won.
By comparison, it is still of note when a black or brown person or family is chosen as the lead on a television show, or as the star of a Hollywood blockbuster. It isn’t the norm, and despite the success of actors like Will Smith or Denzel Washington or the Fast & Furious franchise, it is an aberration from the norm.
The phrase describing all this is the one which nowadays drives conservatives up a wall: privilege.
You get the benefit of the doubt. The world has been yours up until now, and the basic act of making a New York City that looks even remotely as diverse as the real one in no way represents a loss of power for you. It represents an America that looks more like actual America, one in which the rest of us – and as a male I must point out this means women too – have historically been cast off to the side.
Is this so wrong?
How is it, when given a slight nudge in favor of how the world actually looks, you are driven to rage over this? Doesn’t this show you, even a little bit, just how skewed things are, that as the creators and minds behind our mass popular culture an entire industry was built up without remotely considering the inclusion of millions of fellow citizens?
Having some black or Latino families into the TV neighborhood won’t cause ratings to collapse. Opening a movie with a black female action hero won’t cause the cineplex to implode. If anything, recent data has shown that diverse television networks and movies have increased ratings and box office receipts at a time when they have shown steady decline.
For white males, popular culture has always looked and sounded like them, and its always been inaccurate and not reflective of the world we live in. It won’t ruin your lives to accept a world of popular culture when everyone else is no longer on the outside looking in. It’s better.