Monday, October 6, 2014

Will No One Stand Up for the White Dudes?

One of the few childhood memories that I have managed to hang onto is this: an intense feeling of resentment that the date and time of my mom's wedding meant I wasn't able to watch Ren and Stimpy. Because why hold onto things like the last day I spent with my grandfather before he died--who needs that stuff, amirite? It's strange, though, because I don't really remember watching much of the show at any other point; for pretty much everything Nickelodeon ever put out, to be honest. It's probably that there wasn't much of an opportunity; in my corner of Canada in the early 1990s, the 500-channel universe was still a couple of years away from my house, and our satellite dish was one of those big backyard monsters that looked like what you'd use to beam greetings or dirty limericks to distant stars, and most of the channels ended up getting scrambled after a while anyway.

So I don't have any kind of nostalgia for Nickelodeon. But I know that's not the same for everyone in my age bracket. Recently, because James Nicoll wants to make us all suffer, I came across an interview with Matthew Klickstein, some guy I'd never heard of; at first I thought he was a former Nickelodeon star, but no, he's just the author of an "oral history" of Nickelodeon's golden age, because everything sounds more highbrow if you call it an oral history.

Some of it is pretty innocuous. But not all of it. Take this bit right here.

"[Nickelodeon series Sanjay and Craig] is awkward because there’s actually no reason for that character to be Indian — except for the fact that [Nickelodeon President] Cyma Zarghami and the women who run Nickelodeon now are very obsessed with diversity."

Or this!

"Some of these other shows — My Brother and Me, Diego, and Legend of Korra — it’s great that they’re bringing diversity into it now. Fantastic. But you know those shows are not nearly as good as Ren and Stimpy, which was made by all white people!"

Or how about this?

"That's true, that's fine, but why can't [a hypothetical Indian kid in the audience] relate to a white guy too? I was talking with the guy who wrote for DC, and he made a really good point: Why does someone who’s making something about a black person need to be black? Why does someone making a show about an Indian person need to be Indian? Why does someone making a show about women need to be a woman? If you’re making something about an alien, you don’t need to be an alien to do it. That’s ultimately what it comes down to: They will connect with the character no matter what."

First off, and I can't believe this guy is dense enough to require me saying this, but here goes: you do not need to be an alien in order to make something about aliens because, to the degree that we have thus far been able to measure, THERE ARE NO ALIENS. There are no Zeta Reticulans who have had their culture appropriated into Halloween costumes, no green people from Antares who have been the butt of joke after racist joke. Aliens are blank slates of a sort that DO NOT EXIST in reality. Aliens do not have to come with baggage, and in that, they can be liberating. When you're dealing with actual peoples that actually exist, it behooves you to not fuck things up, buddy.

Maybe the reason you don't understand why an Indian kid shouldn't have to relate to a white guy is connected to the fact that, as a white guy yourself, somewhere between A BUTTLOAD and DAMN NEAR ALL of the characters presented on TV have historically been, you guessed it, white guys! You ask why a character has to be Indian--did you ever stop to ask yourself why this other character over here has to be white? Or a guy?

The other day, on the last day of Can-Con in Ottawa, I watched the premier episode of Kagagi. It's a new superhero cartoon series airing on APTN, that stars a First Nations teenager, is built around Native mythology, and was broadcast in 20% Algonquin. You know what? It was rad. You know what's more rad, though? That First Nations kids, kids who have to deal with a historical legacy of being shat on and marginalized and dodging genocide that goes back centuries, have someone to identify with who is like them. Who knows what they're going through. Who understands.

Which is more than I can expect from this chump.

But he does provide another data point to shore up my hypothesis that anyone who throws the phrase "political correctness" about as a criticism is most likely an asshole.

(Yes, I know that I am, in fact, a white dude as well. I am often--nah, make that eternally--mortified by the actions of many of those to whom I am phenotypically similar.)