A Pale and Stale Shadow of the Real Thing: Pop Culture's Tired Obsession with White People
I’m a member of the most privileged and overvalued demographic in our modern times. If it’s also true that what we have now is almost always better than what came before, the argument could be made that it’s the most overrated demographic in the history of ever. I am a white (DING) male (DING DING) living in the U.S. (DING DING DING) and am between the ages of 25 and 35. (BELL BREAKS) It isn’t an exaggeration to say that nearly everything that can be bought or sold, consumed, viewed or played is designed to separate me from my money.
When the whole world expends no small amount of energy explaining why they want what your genetic lottery jackpot has bestowed upon you, why your version of being alive is better than, you know, that of a woman in a small town someplace in the vast otherness of the Globe, or maybe even Mexico, it’s pretty easy to begin to drink your own Kool-Aid. It comes as no surprise then, that most of what is narcissistically marketed toward us are simply punched up and oft repeated stories of our own caucasian male lives and experiences. The vast majority of the entertainment being produced today is startlingly white washed and drained of any culture with skin tones darker than a long day at the beach. Good stories need good clean white morals and, if you want to sell tickets in the Bible Belt, actors of the same.
This should come as a surprise to nobody. Better men than I have spent more time than I care to explaining and discussing the why’s and how’s of this pointlessly privileged group. My part in this, as a member of that group to which I neither applied nor was accepted but simply am, comes in saying that I’m really so very tired of it all. It’s not interesting to me. There are other stories out there, stories of people and significant cultural moments and places that I have no frame of reference for. Dramas to be told that hold more than an empty reexamination of how intriguing office politics, suburban romances or solving crimes can be. Don’t get me wrong, some of those things can be very compelling when done well. I gleefully watched white folks solve white deaths on “Hannibal” this year, and will do so again when new episodes become available. I have to admit however, that part of my enjoyment of the show stemmed from the realization that it had reanimated the dead corpse of the overly pale skinned crime procedural formula, a genre which had become so safe and antiseptic that the “NCIS“‘s, “CSI”s and “Law and Order”s became incestial copies of one another.
Honestly, is nobody else bored stiff with pop culture’s current offerings? If I, the entitled white American male to whom all things must be sold, am sick of the things that they’re selling me, I have to assume the rest of the population that is forced to chose from the same options simply because they have access to the same amenities that I do are likely sick of it as well. How much worse must it be from the other side of the glass? I’ll never know. I can imagine it’s terribly confusing and frustrating to grow up in a community populated by what white america considers a minority and reconciling your experiences with the entirely detached cultural portrait painted for you in your entertainment options. To make matters worse, when stories do focus on the other than Anglo Saxon portions of society it tends to be of the “man aren’t things shitty for them” or “look how much good we can do by helping them out” variety.
I guess this makes my desire for diversity a selfish one. I want a greater variety of entertainment for me the key demographic, and as such it should happen. In entertainment however, there is also education. A good story entertains you but a great one can teach you something new about the world or yourself while it does so. I learned more about social inequality and the structure of class division in Baltimore by watching “The Wire” than I ever did by listening to someone standing behind a lectern. Slumdog Millionaire made me feel guilty about my petty concerns for money and material things. It’s pretty tough to whine about not getting the 60 inch plasma instead of the clearly inferior 50 incher when you consider other corners of the earth where getting enough food, and hopefully not being beaten to death by the opposing religious order or political faction are more common concerns. Oldboy was a joy, not just because of its new twist on the revenge flick, but also because of the completely foreign culture that the story was wrapped in.
I want to learn more with my entertainment. Not just about myself, and what trials the young professionals in a major US city can face, but about the world as a whole and the people who inhabit it. About the walks of life that I have no experience with, and the people whose stories don’t necessarily interconnect with mine.
Haiti was formed when an entire island of slaves revolted against their French owners and occupiers and seized sovereignty for themselves. It seems like that could be a fertile ground for some stories I’ve never heard before. The former farm hand who rose up to inspire a revolution. AMC could make an awesome show based on the characters fomenting dissatisfaction among the downtrodden and inciting them to violent victory.
In 1991 an entire nation state ceased to exist and broke into several smaller countries. The former USSR fell apart slowly in part due to rot and disintegration from within. The gradual and slowly forming cracks that led to its eventual demise must have first shown up while the USA and the USSR were both engaged in the most extended bout of sabre rattling the modern world has seen. To look strong out front while your entire system collapses behind you would make for a comedy treasure trove as yet unmined by western audiences. Think of it. You’d laugh and it wouldn’t be because a fat dude was married to a woman he doesn’t deserve, or because someone in their twenties hilariously failed at something inane like waiting tables or paying their rent on time. FXX could run the show into the ground after ten seasons and finally resorting to now trite jokes about how Boris almost blew up the world because he was late to work again due to his crappy Yugo not wanting to start in the winter.
There are innumerable cultures to pick from and an incalculable variety of stories to tell and we seem to think that not only do a small percentage of the population’s opinions matter, but that the rest of the world is best served by selling stories from that one segment back to them in different packaging. It’s not always flavorless, but it’s even less frequently unique. I’d like our pop culture to use some spices other than salt, some places other than here and some people different from myself to tell me their tales for once.