Sunday, May 20, 2012

Raise Your Hands, You're a Sinner

Evan Shapiro:

The question is not "Is Lena Dunham racist?"; it's "Is Lena Dunham any more racist than the rest of us?"

Recently, there's been a firestorm over the lack of diversity on Lena Dunham's HBO zeitgeist-apalooza, Girls. I will not rehash what has previously been hashed -- but if you missed it: Jenna Wortham wrote this critique of the blandness of the characters and casting of Girls; then the Twittersphere went apeshit; then Molly Lambert informed us that it's not Dunham who's racist, it's all of TV.

So, now you're up to date -- except for one thing: It's not TV that's racist, it's us. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: TV (especially right now) is far more of a reflection of who we are as a society, than who we ought to be.


What was Leah Dunham’s experience? I think the reality is that her experience probably was mostly white, at least from what I’ve seen in the real Brooklyn. People tend to cluster with their own group. And that’s what gets on my nerves about all the enthusiasm about diversity: it’s a massive demographic token for something which people tend not live out in their own lives even when they have the opportunity.

They're both talking about the fact that people tend to choose to live in racially homogenous areas. Khan's essay is interesting and considered, though, while Shapiro's is an excellent example of the pseudo-contrite confessional genre that irritates me so much.

How does it help anything to use such a powerful term as "racist" in reference to a 25 year-old woman's admission that she only feels convincing as a writer in creating characters who reflect her own Jewish/WASP experiences? How is it meaningful to apply the term to those of us who live in semi-rural small towns, who would have to literally seek out friends and acquaintances by virtue of ethnicity, as if they were merely tokens in a diversity scavenger hunt, in order to satisfy such standards? (What next, are we going to start unfavorably judging people by the racial content of their favorite music? Oh.) And, as Khan mentions, how many people like these, if you were to glance at their Facebook pages, would turn out to have an ethnically balanced group of friends?

Of course, the aim isn't really to clarify anything about race in American society; it's just a way to signal to other progressives that here, we have a cultured, thoughtful guy who isn't afraid to get at the root of the problem and implicate himself alongside everyone else in his criticism. It may be toothless criticism, and it may appear in the sidebar of the Huffington Post right above the video of a puppy playing with a lawn sprinkler, but it makes the right people feel self-satisfied for a while, and that's what really matters.