The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, April 04, 2008

Is Randi out of her #@$*ing mind?

Randi Rhodes has been suspended from Air America for calling Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro "Fucking Whores" at an affiliates meeting. I am
so sorry to hear that she said that, and frankly agree with Air America's action. They can't maintain a position of impartiality or fairness
when their most popular host says things like that. It is unprofessional, and coarsens the public discourse. Considering some of the venom between the
Obama and Clinton camps, this was just pouring gasoline on the fire. I do think that the Clinton campaign has been more negative, but I don't think that level of negativity
has been out of line with politics as usual. As I've said, I don't blame Hillary for playing the old boy's game better than most of the old boys. If I
think Obama's is closer to my own approach to life, that's just a personal preference. Nothing excuses Rhodes' public remarks, and I'm not sure what the right response
Another movie I won't see is "Run Fatboy Run" where Simon Pegg and Hank Azaria compete for Thandie Newton's hand. Sorry. If Will Smith can't even kiss Thandie in "Pursuit
of Happyness" I'll be damned if I'll subject myself to watching a couple of white guys slobbering over her. Too bad--I actually like Simon Pegg.
There are indeed movies where blacks or Asians play roles originally created for whites. They are certain types of roles--I've never seen what I'd consider color-blind
casting in films. Stage, yes. But films are too big, have to consider audiences too broad. And there was never, and will never be a time when white roles have become
scarce because blacks or Asians have grabbed them. In that very real sense of "can this family/community send its children to college?" there is simply a
difference. I've heard entirely too many white people complain about Affirmative Action disenfranchising whites, when the absolute worst case scenario by the most virulent
racist would be...what? 1% of white workers disempowered? Compare this to the fact that there have been periods where 99% of black or Asian actors were excluded
from the media, and the potential damage of having white actors play non-white roles is vastly greater than having non-white actors playing white roles.

On the other hand, I don't really expect whites to, on average, grasp the difference. It does not profit them to grasp it. If the shoe were on the other foot, I am
quite sure blacks would be equally disingenuous. I hope I wouldn't be one of them.
I doubtless miss the mark on some issues regarding sexism, size prejudice, homophobia, and so forth. Sometimes because I'm genuinely blind, and in other times because
anyone who is sensitized or radicalized to those issues tends to see them as more central and omnipresent than those unsensitized. The "sexism is worse than racism" meme
is still being debated out in the blogosphere and elsewhere, and is a piece of this. About 99% of those I've heard arguing this one is either a white female or married to
one. Doesn't make them wrong. Or right. Just suggests that it is very easy to believe the world revolves around you and your problems, and that it is hard for anyone
to really shed their conceptual skin and walk in another's shoes. Now, there's one way I think this position is defensible: even if women experience HALF as much pain and
unfairness as blacks, since there are about five times more women than black people in America, I suppose someone could make the case that this represents more misery, and
that therefore women are more disadvantaged. Taken further (as people always do when they're trying to win self-serving arguments), one could multiply this out across
the entire world's population, and make an even stronger case.

Viewed this way, you COULD make that case. But I would consider that particular debate tactic to deliver tainted spoils to the "winner."
I'm looking forward to seeing "The Ruins" today...sounds like a terrific horror movie, and I can't wait. What movie are you looking forward to this year?


Mark Jones said...

"[Air America] can't maintain a position of impartiality or fairness when their most popular host says things like that."

It's my impression (which could be wrong because I've never actually listened to AA) that AA isn't and was never intended to be impartial. That it was explicitly launched to be a liberal counterweight to conservative talk radio. If so, then your statement doesn't make sense to me--though I agree that Rhodes' words, as reported (again, I haven't heard it) are unacceptable.

Movies I'm looking forward to seeing? Iron Man, for sure. Robert Downy Jr. as the booze-soaked, billionaire playboy? Yeah, baby! Plus the effects look good and there's an actual supervillain to fight.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Steve, I grasp the difference perfectly well, but that's not what I asked. When, if ever, is it going to be OK for a white actor to play the guy who was Asian in real life, or black in real life? Is the answer really as long as whites are the majority, period, no?

If you really think there's simply zero chance of us reaching a genuinely color blind society at some point, I'd be sorry to hear that.

Anonymous said...

As far as the Randi Rhodes thing goes...I think these radio guys are encouraged to work at the "edges" of good taste. Clearly Rhodes slipped off. Just goes to prove that stupid comments are not the exclusive domain of right wing radio guys (like Imus), there's plenty of stupidity to go around.


Anonymous said...

I really disagree with you on affirmative action. My personal belief is not just a color blind society, but an ethnicity blind society. The current affirmative action approach which based upon ethnicity has two flaws. It inflames a percentage of whites increasing ethnic tension rather than reducing it and it some times aids people who don't need the aid simply because they belong to the right ethnic group. Affirmative Action does give some people a leg up that they need. Both of my sons had Affirmative Action roommates who would not have met the usual admissions criteria for their university. Both were actually quite bright and did fine with a little remedial help. But these people could have been helped equally well by an affirmative action program based upon socioeconomic criteria which would have the two advantages of helping poor whites and not causing anger in whites who were either hurt by affirmative action or among poor whites who feel discriminated against for not getting the same aid. It is the latter type of affirmative action I would support.

Marty S

Steven Barnes said...

I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with me about re: affirmative action. All I said is that the stats don't actually disadvantage whites as much as some feel. I didn't say I was in favor of it.
I think that whites would be able to play roles written for blacks or Asians if blacks or Asians were playing roles written for whites equally as often, with survival and sexuality weighted equally. In other words, if it is REALLY color-blind. Which it has never, ever been.
I didn't mean Air America is impartial regarding Liberal and Conservative. I mean relatively impartial between Democratic candidates.
No, Dan, I don't think we can be a color-blind society. But I think we can reach the point where the disadvantages are minor enough to be irritations rather than impediments. (In other words, FUNCTIONALLY color blind.) Good lord willing and the river don't rise, we're on our way to that now. Other than that, the only thing we could do is have everyone look the which case we'd divide up over religion and politics.

Anonymous said...

"They are certain types of roles--I've never seen what I'd consider color-blind casting in films. Stage, yes. But films are too big, have to consider audiences too broad."

And have broader selections of actors and actresses to cast. I wonder how much color-blind casting on stage is a matter of membership in school theatre clubs. OTOH, I also remember a recent case in Harvard (which has more than one theater club) about casting and race:

"...For the presidents of BlackCAST, Johnson and Richards’ request was an insult.

"'Don’t you dare say to me, 'You guys need to be more actively involved in coming out to our shows' and all of this stuff when you only seek us out when you need a black character. It’s nonsensical,' Coles says..."

"The 'sexism is worse than racism' meme is still being debated out in the blogosphere and elsewhere, and is a piece of this."

I got the impression that it's not so simple and we can't accurately say one's just worse than the other because there's bigotry that targets race-sex combinations too.

For example, I'm not a black woman but even from out here it seems that black women and girls get hit by not just the anti-black stereotypes and the anti-female stereotypes but also extra anti-female-blacks stereotypes. Meanwhile black men and boys get hit by the anti-male-blacks stereotypes that spare non-black men and boys and black women and girls, and don't forget the sex-specific stereotypes against Asians, and so on.

Steven Barnes said...

As you know, while I don't believe we can really answer the question of whether race or gender prejudice is worse, the closest we can come is asking black women. I've done it, and they are perfectly capable of explaining why they feel X problem was due to race, while Y problem was due to gender. I don't think it's that hard to form a picture...just that it's impossible to say "this is truth."
I think the situation with plays is that all you need to do a play is a 99-seat Equity waver theater, and a few thousand dollars. The "decision chain" can be two or three people. Easy to find two people who are
1) unbigoted
2) Don't care about massive box office receipts.
3) Naive enough to think "color blind casting" won't influence box office performance.

But movies cost tens of millions. There is no way to make one without
1) a long decision chain or
2) Dealing with a hard-nosed SOB who knows what works or doesn't work in his bones (or at least believes he does)

In short, you can get color-blind casting in little plays because you just don't need much of an audience. Need an audience? Don't break the unwritten rules.