The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bad morning mood, and last night's "South Park"

Last night, I watched “South Park” for the first time in about a year. I’d damned near forgotten it exists, and last night I remembered why, and unfortunately, it ties together with my feelings around racism and the right. Remember my comment: racism is a disease that lurks on the right, as an excessive egalitarianism and moral relativism lurks on the left. My opinion, o.k?
Hillary Clinton comes to South Park for a rally. Her assistant is black. As they began to make jokes about Hillary’s vagina, I realized that they’d had a point in making her assistant black: I intuited he was going to have some kind of humiliating sex with her. I’ve seen them do this before. By the end of the show, he had thrust his head up there, and exploded. Hmmm. You know, that by itself doesn’t make them racist. One might suggest that they were deliberately playing against social stereotypes. But over the years, I’ve developed a test for attitudes: look at the background characters. The people just walking down the street, out of the animator’s direct window of conscious attention. And on South Park, whether the episode takes place in Colorado, New York, or California, blacks are grossly underrepresented. In essence, the usual time a black character shows up is in a negative or stereotypical context: sports, crime, or making a joke about Affirmative Action.
Those on the right can justifiably scream that it is unfair to associate this with their side of the political aisle. They might say that racism is equally distributed across political lines, or even that there is more of it on the Left. Fine. That has not been my experience. As I’ve said, certainly not all Conservatives are bigots, but most bigots I’ve met HAVE been Conservative. If I hear a talk show host complaining about “forced racial quotas” on Sesame Street (and I have), guess what his politics turn out to be? Or singling out black politicians, rap artists, black “welfare queens” etc…in other words, if 80% of the time a racial reference is negative, I’ve learned over decades of observation what the rest of their political orientation is likely to be, and almost never been wrong.
The boys of South Park doubtless think themselves above this crap. I believe they’ve been described as a kind of neo-Liberarian or something. But around the edges of that, I really smell something. When the only time they have a black character is to make a point about their blackness, and they exclude black people from the unconscious background of their world, sorry…I take that as a sign.
On the other hand, apparently Disney is finally doing an animated movie with a black princess. After (as they said on The Daily Show last night) an Asian princess, a native American princess, and countless animal “princesses.” Good for them. But please note the difference between this and the entire 20th century output of the studio. Arguably BILLIONS of character animation images, and not a single one, in a single frame, of a black person. Yes (as I’ve had people point out) there was Uncle Remus. Live action, not animation. Yes, there were crows in “Dumbo” (voiced by white men. I’ve seen film of the recording session, and it wasn’t pretty). Yes, there were purple Muses in “Hercules” apparently voiced by black women. None of these fit the bill, and if you look at it, this crap falls into the “South Park” category.
Conservatives often complain about Liberals pushing a social agenda, forcing minorities into quota situations, etc. In my experience, Liberals are certainly likely to include blacks in a dramatic or comedic work with a bit of compulsion—but rarely above their actual statistical presence in America, if you average out the works. And when I had a chance to speak to animators who worked at Disney in “the old days,” yes indeed I heard stories of racism. It was not benign neglect to have no black people in the two theatrical films to actually take place in AFRICA for God’s sake: “Tarzan” and “The Lion King.” It is, in my mind, a revelation of a mind set in which the unconscious simply doesn’t grant equal humanity to the “other” and doesn’t think about it. This is natural. Point it out to them, and they’ll shove a black person in next time. See? We’re not racist…
Human beings are tribal. But not all human beings are equally likely to define “tribe” along racial terms. That’s what we’re seeing here: the unconscious assumption. The revelation of what someone feels comfortable about. The hatred of Hillary Clinton implied that they would humiliate her sexually—by insulting her body, and having it touched by something disgusting. Animalistic. A dog would have worked. But I guess they have too much affection for dogs, and used the next worst thing.

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