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I'll admit that I might be ignorant, being a lily-white life-long Utahn (who didn't realize she grew up in a multi-racial home until her dad pointed out it out in an essay when she applied for a trip to go to China in high school), but this essay about racism in the Buffyverse has me eyerolling.

Aside from the obvious issue that she gets a lot of facts outright wrong, she's coming at the whole thing from a completely wrong perspective. She's viewing it as a whole (except for the parts she chooses to ignore-she's willing to incorrectly use parts of the canonical comics to make her points, but ignores the parts that don't match up with her conclusions) and making judgments based on that rather than looking at the problems she sees as primarily a function of the format.

A TV show(s) is not based in a vacuum with point A to point Z mapped out in a nice outline from the very start. It's a messy process with countless people involved and most of it being made up along the way rather than there being a purposeful, consistent whole (as witnessed by the number of contradictions in the show). Saying the show is racist because Kendra is easily hypnotized by Drusilla (so was Giles) and dies is ridiculous, especially when the author brought up the fact that the actress was initially given the role of Cordelia and ended up having to turn it down. Saying the show is racist because the role of Jasmine was given to Gina Torres is ridiculous since the whole reason that happened was because Firefly had just been canceled and Joss was eager to give Gina another role (as happened with a number of actors who worked for him, including Nathan Fillion). Saying the show is racist because it's portrayed as a bad thing when Faith sleeps with Riley when she has possession of Buffy's body is so beyond ridiculous I'm having trouble believing someone even seriously came up with that argument.

Does the whole Hollywood machine have racism inherent in it? I don't know. I've heard it does, but I'm not well enough informed to really say that. I have, however, watched all of the Buffy commentaries, many of the Angel ones, and all the rest of the special features and interviews I've been able to get my hands on. I'm pretty familiar with how the show worked behind the scenes for someone that never came near the set. It's quite obvious that a lot of the issues brought up have nothing to do with race or were just an issue of, "We have to explain x. Here's a cool idea of how to do that!" Spike's coat, for example, has nothing to do with racism, despite some implications by both the author and the people commenting on her post. The look was conceived of for what was supposed to be a throw-away character years before Nikki Wood was ever thought up.

To say the show was inherently racist is making a very nasty accusation against dozens of people who would have been involved in what was eventually shown on the screen, from the many, many different writers to casting directors to Joss Whedon himself. I think it's stupid to assume such a mass conspiracy, especially as we are able to see the show(s) from a perspective that was not apparent to those involved in the production at the time. While we see the whole and can pick out patterns (intended or not), most of production was frantically working on separate and distinct chunks of story with only big story arcs remembered from week to week as opposed to the details as to what race vampire A or villain B were.

I am quite sure than any /real/ racism is due to that inherent in how Hollywood works as opposed to being a problem with the show. The astounding lack of Hispanics shows that more than anything, I think, given their heavy presence here in western and southwestern states. Bad stuff happens to everyone on the shows regardless of any traits that might be used as an excuse to discriminate against people in real life.

I really think focusing on ridiculous, nitty-picky things like this makes the remaining race problem worse. We need to focus on shutting up and shutting out those on all sides of the issue who continue to inflame and incite problems from Fred Phelps to Reverend Wright. Again, I might be naive, but everything I've experienced suggests that most people 40 or so and younger don't give a crap about race beyond thinking it's something that's stupid to discriminate about. Who cares how much melanin someone has in their skin, or the shape of their nose, or how much hair they have, or whatever. We're all just people and more and more of us think this way all the time. Attributing all problems to racism simply draws attention from areas where there might truly be problems that could be solved and desensitizes everyone to serious discussions about race.

October 2012

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