Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Fictional Minority

Published: August 12, 2007

The buzz about the new ABC show “Cavemen” is not good. The negative vibes take two forms. Some who have seen the pilot episode find it slapdash, poorly written and unfunny. Others worry that the show will reinforce racial stereotypes by encouraging viewers to identify the maligned Cro-Magnons with African-Americans.

If those who voice the first kind of criticism turn out be right, there will be nothing more to say; after the first week, no one will be watching. The moral objection is a trickier matter, too tricky it seems for the show’s producers, who are backpedaling as fast as they can.

Asked about the charge that plotlines like the perils of interspecies dating seem racially insensitive, one of the producers, Josh Gordon, disclaimed any intention to have the cavemen “stand in for” any racial group. The show, he insisted, is about “the fish-out-of-water experience.” (As a fish out of water myself, I’m tired of people who think that they can deflect criticism by hiding behind a fish metaphor.)

Another producer, Mike Schiff, added that he and his colleagues just want people to “care about these three guys under a lot of makeup.”

Maybe the producers should read the description of their show on the network’s Web site: “They have been around since the dawn of time ... making them one of the world’s oldest minorities. ... Joel, Nick and Andy have to overcome prejudice from most of the Homo sapien world.”

Of course it’s a show about minorities and racism, despite the writer Joe Lawson’s demurrer that it’s really about people struggling to acclimate, “something everybody deals with ...whether you’re a minority or not.”

Why all this pussyfooting? The truth is that there is nothing risky or edgy about a show taking on (or pretending to take on) racial discrimination. Nothing could be safer, for reasons explained briskly by Walter Benn Michaels in ”The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality,” just issued in paperback.

Michaels’s big point is that Americans, especially Americans on the left, love discrimination. Not that they love to practice discrimination; they love to deplore the fact of discrimination. And they love to propose strategies for lessening it: affirmative action, the celebration of diversity, the promotion of a culture of respect.

The reason we love those strategies, Michaels says, is that they involve cosmetic changes that allow us to feel good about ourselves while also allowing us to turn our eyes away from the economic inequalities that remain untouched as we busily respect everyone in sight.

Respect is an easy coin to proffer; it doesn’t cost much.

Michaels argues that if we think “racism is the problem we need to solve,” all we have to do to solve it is “give up our prejudices.” But if we think our problem is that too many people are poor, hungry, homeless and uneducated, solving that problem “might require us to give up our money.”

Far easier to add three minority representatives to the board of directors, or 10 minority faculty members to the roster of an Ivy League college, and then congratulate ourselves for having fought the good fight by slightly altering some statistics. Confession, absolution and good works in one pain-free package. What a bargain!

So bring on the cavemen. If Michaels is right, and the differences we ritually complain about are the differences we love (because beating our breasts about them is a cheap form of virtue), any controversy that the show might provoke will fit right into the society’s unwillingness to contemplate real social change.

Already, before the first episode is broadcast (if it ever is), we’re getting a taste of what is to come. After ABC canceled his show, the comedian George Lopez began talking as if he had been the victim of discrimination. “So a Chicano can’t be on TV, but a caveman can?” he said.

Is Lopez upset because one minority is being preferred to another? Does he believe there are cavemen? Or is he upset because a fictional minority is being preferred to a real one? Would he feel better if it were not cavemen, but Gypsies?

As long as the show, even in prospect, generates questions like these, and as long as such questions define the parameters of social concern, no C.E.O. making $130 million a year need worry about a thing.

Stanley Fish, a contributing columnist to TimesSelect, is a guest columnist.
Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman are off today.

4 comments:

Lázaro Lima said...

Spineless gang those “Americans on the left” that Walter Benn Michaels seems to know so well! To assuage guilt, liberal or otherwise, by bemoaning racism while knowingly leaving the structures of inequality intact is almost as bad as seeing the correlation between race and class and pretending it doesn’t exist.

Jerry said...

cheap wedding gowns,
discount bridal gowns,
China wedding dresses,
discount designer wedding dresses,
China wedding online store,
plus size wedding dresses,
cheap informal wedding dresses,
junior bridesmaid dresses,
cheap bridesmaid dresses,
maternity bridesmaid dresses,
discount flower girl gowns,
cheap prom dresses,
party dresses,
evening dresses,
mother of the bride dresses,
special occasion dresses,
cheap quinceanera dresses,
hot red wedding dresses

Anonymous said...

Replica Handbags
Fake Handbags
Knockoff Handbags

Replica Louis Vuitton Handbags
Replica Gucci Handbags
Replica Chanel Handbags
Prada Handbags
Replica Fendi Handbags
Replica Dolce Gabbana Handbags
Replica Chloe Handbags
Replica Jimmy Choo Handbags
Replica Thomas Wylde Handbags
Replica MiuMiu Handbags

Replica Balenciaga Handbags
Replica Coach Handbags
Replica Lancel Handbags
Replica Hermes Handbags
Replica Marc Jacobs Handbags
Replica Anya Hindmarch Handbags
Replica YSL Handbags
Replica Mulberry Handbags
Replica Givenchy Handbags
Replica Valentino Handbags
Replica Versace Handbags
Replica Cartier Handbags
Replica Marni Handbags
Replica Bottega Veneta Handbags
Replica Loewe Handbags
Replica Kooba Handbags

Replica Bally Handbags
Replica Burberry Handbags
Replica Christian Dior Handbags
Replica Juicy Couture Handbags
Replica Ferragamo Handbags
Replica Celine Handbags

Adi said...

Oes Tsetnoc Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa Kenali dan Kunjungi Objek Wisata di Pandeglang Oes Tsetnoc Online Marketing Electronics Gadgets etips solution Travel Guide