The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, December 17, 2004

Looking Deeper: "Earthsea"

The replies to my recent posts regarding Blade and Earthsea, all tended to go something like this:

The funny thing about Ms. LeGuin's comments is she basically proves the SF book publishers are mildly racist, but that Hollywood (to use the generic term) is seriously racist.

And by racist, I mean people of color are just not included in the plans. Sort of out of sight, out of mind.
Vince |
Email | 12.17.04 - 12:55 am | #"
No, no, no.  I'm afriad that you're missing my point almost entirely.  The problem is NOT Hollywood.  Hollywood is a symptom.  "Hollywood" doesn't exist.  It is a reification, a label covering hundreds of studios and production companies run and influenced by thousands of people.  All it is is a money machine, and it is programmed by the public.  It produces what statistical analysis of ticket-buying and viewing patterns says to produce.  Even more, it produces what people instinctively feel the public wants to see, and in this case, there is ZERO evidence that they are wrong.  In other words, the problem is not "Hollywood", nor is the problem "White America."  Both of these things are comforting over-simplifications.  The problem is in a few basic biosociological survival traits in  human nature:
1) the fear of the "other"
2) Male territoriality
3) Exogamy--the urge to mate outside your own group
4) male sexual insecurity.
5) the urge to increase your own tribe, while decreasing the tribe of "others."
I think you can add a couple of secondary things as well, including  Repressed guilt and memory of the wrongs of slavery--probably the greatest unhealed wound in the American character.
Whenever I talk about this, people instantly leap to the "Hollywood is racist" concept, probably at least partially because they can wrap their minds around this--it is less frightening to think that a few hundred white guys in Hollywood are keeping a choke hold on things, and that things would be great if we just put some black folks in there.  Nope, it wouldn't.  If they made movies with very different imagery, those movies would bomb,and they'd lose their jobs, and we'd be right back where we are.  HOLLYWOOD HAS NO SOUL, NO POLITICS, NO PHILOSOPHY.  It cannot, because it is not a thing, a being.  It is just a place where a lot of people live and work.  Now, the PEOPLE in the So.Cal area are some of the most liberal in the country, living in one of the most integrated parts of the entire world.  Believe me, folks--the cultural buying patterns here in So Cal would definitely support a more integrated film and television product.  It is the rest of America that will not. And if the numbers were reversed, if Black men and women outnumbered whites greatly, and the cultural and religous iconography were reversed, whites would have exactly the same problem non-whites have (or at least that is what I tried to argue in "Lion's Blood" and "Zulu Heart.")
Saying "It's Hollywood" locates the "evil" outside ourselves, allows us to avoid the responsibility of looking into our own hearts and seeing that the same petty fears and prejudices that we think are "trivial" in our daily actions are, when multiplied by tens or hundreds of millions of people, massive finaancial and social trends that exclude whole segments of population from full humanity.  Black people who complain about Eminem "stealing" black music don't grasp that it is an extension of that exact same mind-set that makes whites turn away from black actors.  Fear of extermination.  Fear of our own mortality and insignificance.  Trying to find, in belonging to a "group," the comfort we fail to find in communion with our own souls.
Stop blaming Hollywood. Or America.  Or White people.  Or Brown people.  Or People.  It is not a "blaming" situation.  What we must do is to RECOGNIZE that all such dualistic thinking leads to pain.  It is insane to think dualistically and then criticise others for doing exactly the same thing.  The way out of the box is for every one of us who can rise above this to do so, to lead by example, to take the brunt of the load, to shoulder our own pain and emotional burdens.  To love without ceasing, to be strong enough to look unflinchingly into the face of the Beast within all of us, and not hate ourselves for being animals.
You know what?  That "beast", as racist, sexist, and culturally elitist as it is, kept our ancestors alive.  You are alive because yoru ancestors made crude, broad, over-simplified distinctions between "them" and "not-them."  We have entered a new world, in which we have an opportunity to evolve to being new people.  But you can't get there if your fear of your own frailties keeps you in denial.
The problem is not "out there."  The problem is us.  Happily, the solution is "us" as well.  This blog is, I hope, just one of thousands of voices crying out for sanity and clarity.  I pray that you will seek the others out as well. That you will add your own voice.  That you will heal your heart, and strive to make every action and word in alignment with your deepest values.  Your true self. 
Hollywood is us.  America is us.  The world is us.  It is not, and cannot, be better than we are.

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