Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hello, telly

There are people who don't watch TV. Some of them go out of their way not to, to decry the trash that is this accessible god, this American idolatry. Sure there's lots of trash but I find this behaviour a bit strange. As if they would be afraid that they might like something on the boob tube. And then I'd make them say "boob tube."

Anyways, I like TV. And you may know about my latest tv show crush, Grey's Anatomy. Part of what is so great about the show is the seemingly unconscious presentation of a racially diverse cast of actors. Okay, maybe unconscious isn't the right word; it makes it sound as if the creators and producers were bludgeoned on the head for a time, knocking them out, and then the next thing they knew when they woke up, there are all these black and asian peoples (no latino? I haven't watched all the eps) running around in scrubs to canadian pop-rock. What I mean is that the episodes aren't special hallmark issues about race nor are all the minority characters marked as such from the start. They're subtle pokes, take it or leave it.

It's how Sandra Oh's character didn't get the "Yang" affixed to the Cristina until Oh got the part and this past week's "Steve Murphy" character was an Indian dude. It's how Joe the bartender introduces his gay, Asian boyfriend at Thanksgiving dinner and Cristina's like, "whatever. where's the booze." Cristina's called on to translate some Chinese lady, and she deadpans, "No. I grew up in Beverly Hills. The only Chinese I know is from a Mr Chow's menu. Besides, I'm Korean."

The blog, racial pro-file, has has some good entries on this subject, most recently about the inclusion of Asian males. He brings up a really great point that I'd never considered about one of my favorite characters, Dr. Bailey, excellently played by Chandra Wilson:
When Rimes isn't writing, the show is worse on all levels, including racially. But the Bailey character is the prototype minority activist warrior--she not only outperforms the white folks and men around her, she destroys them. Her character is so powerful, that even when white folks write, they are forced to consider a minority perspective in order to make her at all believable. That's a major accomplishment on Rimes' part.

Imagine that! Creating such a great character that other writers have to take alter their way of seeing things! She's retained in her creation some amount of control.
And that's the thing. I think I've more clearly figured out what bothers me about stuff like that book by the Kim sisters, urging others to keep it real and go for the money. It's about power. Yes it's hard to argue that those who earn lots of money, especially doing good works (or even bad) through doctoring or lawyering or other things, have a lot of power. But those minorities who carve out a place in the media have a lot of power for change as well.
I once wrote something about this issue whilst in school, tempering my stance saying something like well, maybe it's not the answer to say, lay down your scalpels, your briefcases all, and pick up those guitars, those scripts! And I got called out on that, with a comment that reminded me, well no, nothing's going to change, perception will not be majorly influenced, unless there is more visual representation.
We're not just social animals now, we're media animals. And who's going to listen and look if you're not even there? At least we have a general situation here that doesn't require resorting to setting cars on fire, merely to remind others to look, listen, and learn, we are here. Some of you, who are so inclined, can just work really hard, maybe even appear on the telly, and change things that way too. Don't spurn the boob tube.

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