Tag Archives: television

Deen’s empire goes down like Dixie, and Black Twitter does race and comedy right

Paula Deen apology Pt. 2: In which I am offended by the poor stagecraft and messaging of what has to be the worst PR counsel known to humankind.

Paula Deen apology, Pt. 2: In which a nation is offended by poor stagecraft and messaging from what has to be the worst PR counsel known to humankind.

So, for those of you not paying attention to the implosion of Southern cooking doyenne Paula Deen’s empire, here’s a timeline of the week an angry public drove Old Dixie down. (Don’t you love a good Confederacy carol?):

  • In 2012, Lisa Jackson, a white woman, files suit against Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers and their various enterprises. The former employee of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, part of the Deen family of businesses and operated by Hiers, alleges routine assault and gender and racial discrimination within the workplace. According to Talking Points Memo:

The complaint alleged “racially discriminatory attitudes pervade” Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House where Jackson claimed African-American employees were required to use separate bathrooms and entrances from white staffers. Jackson also said African-Americans were held to “different, more stringent, standards” than whites at the restaurant and that Hiers regularly made offensive racial remarks.

Jackson also says that Hiers exposed employees to pornography and that women were routinely denigrated. Deen herself, when giving Jackson a promotion, is alleged to have been loathe to “give a woman a man’s job.”

  • In May 2013, as part of proceedings, Paula Deen was deposed. The National Enquirer broke the story that the recently filed videotaped deposition included damning content. The deposition was made public last week. Revelations included:
    • When asked if she had ever used the word “nigger,” Deen replied, “Yes, of course.” She admitted to using the word in reaction to an armed robbery by a black man in the 1980s and probably more recently when recounting conversations between black people or when telling jokes.
    • Deen thinks that racial slurs in the workplace are okay if part of one’s “sense of humor.” She proclaimed that “Most — most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target — I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know. They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know — I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”
    • She also opined on the elegance of a traditional “before the Civil War” Southern wedding with only middle-aged black men and women as servers. Deen hoped to stage a similar wedding for her brother, but didn’t because, she said, the media wouldn’t understand.
  • In response to public backlash, Deen scheduled and then canceled an interview with Matt Lauer on “The Today Show.” Instead, she issues two, po-faced, half-assed apologies that demonstrate little understanding of what she did wrong. (The appearance has been rescheduled for Wednesday.)

 

  • The Food Network sticks a fork in Deen’s show, allowing her contract to expire at the end of the month. I am no network honcho, but I do know it is imprudent to have someone who has been publicly revealed as a racist and sexist, and who abets similar behaviors in the workplace, as a very high-profile face of your brand.
  • Paula Deen apologists descend on Facebook with cyber-torches, believing the celebrity chef is being demonized for “saying a bad word,” “being honest” and something, something, hip hop, something, something, Obama. They also line up to eat in her Georgia restaurants.
  • Meanwhile, African American employees of Deen’s businesses are coming forward with more allegations of mistreatment, so maybe this isn’t all about “bad words,” but, y’know, fucking workplace discrimination–what happens when people who think there are good uses of “the N word,” that women can’t be in positions of authority, and that the South was best in its antebellum days, have money and power.

And while all this was going on, Black Twitter (and friends) made my heart sing by marshaling its collective wit and sense of justice into putting Paula Deen on blast, most notably with #PaulasBestDishes, launched by the incomparable @BrokeyMcPoverty. (Joseph shared his favorites with y’all last week.)

 

And...

 

Najeemah, girl, you ain’t never lied!

Interestingly, at least one media outlet, Variety, called the hashtag “a showcase for racist jokes,” as if folks were fighting racism with, well, more racism. Now, I’ve written a lot about racism and sexism in comedy and about how criticism of comedy is often met with cries of “free speech,” “no topic is off limits,” “political correctness,” blah de blah. But…

The idea that the movement toward fewer “isms” in our speech and deeds is anathema; that “political correctness” is a blow against free speech; that the power structure has flipped; that the strictures of “political correctness” are everywhere, and that real bias barely exists anymore; has wormed its way into our social fabric, including entertainment. In comedy, that means that dusty racist, sexist, or homophobic tropes that are as old as time are positioned as refreshing and edgy.

#PaulasBestDishes wasn’t just typical cheerleading for the status quo masquerading as comedy. The hashtag unleashed comedy that was truly edgy in that it spoke truth to power. The target of the running gag was not the marginalized but the marginalizer. The message wasn’t “Black people sure are funny,” but that racism and racists are awful. It was laughing at a serious subject done right. And it was funny as hell.

To borrow a phrase from another celebrated chef, “Bam!”

Recap–Scandal 4.21: “Any Questions?”

Gladiators. Via ABC.com

Phantom sex tapes are the spectre of choice hanging over ABC dramas this finale season. Well, to be fair, I only watch three ABC hourlongs, but two out of those three are threatening their heroines with sex tapes as we head into their finales next week. The only difference is that one doing it with less disco background music and more Connie Britton.

Choose your poison, I guess? It’s time for Scandal.

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The Scandal Roundtable 2.11: A Criminal, A Whore, An Idiot, And A Liar

Hosted by Joe Lamour and Kendra James

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Well, what a difference a day (or a few hours) makes. I really want to jump right into this weeks discussion with my fabulous Scandal roundtablers, but here’s the short of it: as we saw last week, Edison in one day implied that Olivia was, as the title of the episode indicated, a criminal, a whore, an idiot, and a liar, and then backpedaled so far into “I love you!” within an hour that he should really contact The Guinness Book of World Records.

Kendra James, Jordan St. John, T.F Charlton, Johnathan Fields, Zach Stafford and Loree Lamour join me to dissect what in the world is going on.

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Privilege And The White Dude Super-Detective

By Tami Winfrey Harris

I’m a sucker for a good mystery. It doesn’t matter whether the detective sports a deer stalker cap, a rumpled raincoat, a string of tasteful pearls, or my name (sistah detective Tamara Hayle. Check her out!); whether the action takes place in London, L.A., the English countryside, Maine, or Newark—give me a suspicious death, a handful of clues and red herrings, and an intrepid sleuth, and I’m in.

My long love affair with the mystery genre (love you, Quinn Martin!) has taught me many life lessons: for instance, no one—no matter how benign the questions—wants to give up information to the po-po; professors, waitresses, street toughs—all resolutely anti-snitching. I have learned to avoid both the University of Oxford (Inspector Lewis) and fictional Hudson University (Law & Order), as they are hot beds of murder and mayhem. I have also learned that my invisibility as an aging woman will make detective work a perfect career in my dotage. (Can’t wait for the little old lady detective parties, where Jessica Fletcher and Miss Marple explain how being unassuming lets one uncover all the dirt.) And I have learned that race and gender matter, even in the fictional detective world, thanks to a currently quite popular mystery genre type: The White Dude Super-Detective.

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The Walking Dead Midseason Finale 3.8: “Made To Suffer” (And How)

Hosted by Fashion and Entertainment Editor Joseph Lamour

I would like to take the opportunity to express my dismay that more and more shows are doing this midseason finale thing. It really is just the worst thing for my emotions, especially for fanboys and fangirls like me who find the week-long lull between episodes torture enough. However, one good side-effect to the dreaded midseason finale is having two cliffhangers intensify a show’s season, and this hour of Walking Dead in particular was all the more riveting for it.

This week, we see what happens when Rick, Michonne, and the rest of the Lil’ Asskickers infiltrate Woodbury. Considering the title of the episode is “Made to Suffer”, one can imagine the rescue mission proves…unpleasant. Particularly if you’re a supporting character of color. Watch out, everyone but Merle in Woodbury patrol…but, part of what makes The Walking Dead so great–in spite of the pitfalls–is the tense drama elevates the story. And, in spite of how much (constructive!) criticism I and the rest of the tablers impart, the fact that is that we here at the roundtable all are huge fans of TWD. That fact gets lost in the critique sometimes, so it never hurts to put some love out there. Plus, how can an awesome show get any more awesome if no one points out how?

Before the roundtable hibernates for the winter, Kenneth Hwynn, Carly Mitchell, and newcomer Nikki Urban (welcome, Nikki!) join me, as we witness Glenn do things to a corpse that we will never unsee. Or unhear.

* Spoilers make us all so sad.

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Why Is The ‘Normal Television Family’ Always White?

By Guest Contributor SL Huang

Oh, I know the answer, of course.  A white nuclear family is what networks think everyone can relate to.  And even if people can’t relate, they see and recognize that “ideal” and know what sort of cultural message the writers are trying to send.  It gets across the message of Normal, Everyday, Good Old Down-Home FAMILY to people.

But you know what?  It’s started pissing me off.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love that more television shows are including diversity.  I dig it.  I’d much rather they include people of color somewhere, anywhere, than not at all.

But I’m starting to see the “ethnic sidekick” problem on family shows: that the ethnic or mixed families are being shown in contrast to a “normal” and “ordinary” family, and are therefore implicitly not normal or ordinary themselves.

Let’s take Modern Family. Now, I love Modern Family—I think it’s a smart, sharply-written show and that it does a lot of good with the diversity of characters it does show.  But part of the premise is clearly that the two families that are more “modern” versions of what family can be are being contrasted against the white nuclear family of a happily married mother and father and their three children living in suburbia.  The two families being contrasted? The mixed-generational couple of Jay and Colombian immigrant Gloria with Gloria’s son Manny—who becomes a stepson to Jay—and the gay couple with their daughter adopted from Vietnam.  All of the diversity in the show is bundled into the families that are billed as having “complications.”  What if, instead, Claire’s husband had been cast as an African-American man, and her kids were all half black?[1]  Or, even more scandalously, what if Jay’s first wife had been an Asian woman, and Claire and Mitchell were both happa?  You might argue that it wouldn’t be the same show, and, well, of course not.  But it’s a show that bills diversity as part of its message, and all I’m saying is, what if the diversity weren’t billed as being so “different,” but instead mixed in with what we’re meant to see as “normal”?

The new show The Neighbors is an even better example of this happening.[2]  The aliens who have taken human form have seemingly done so without regard to race (although, of course, the person billed as “their leader” chose to be a white man . . . who would have suspected?), and the lead alien family has a mother who appears black and an oldest son who appears Asian (the father and younger son appear white).  It’s cute, and I’m glad they do have that diversity,[3] despite the always-troubling aspects of aliens being the only people of color on a show (both Stargates, I’m looking at you).  But, of course, the family who moves into the alien development, the “normal” human family we’re meant to contrast the aliens against, is all white.  Because white is normal.  And human.  It’s the weird alien family who cry tears of green goo out their ears who have people of color among them; diversity is acceptable there.  Why not have had the human family be mixed-race, or Hispanic, or Asian?  Oh, I know why, of course;  I said it at the beginning—writers and producers think viewers can’t relate to people of color.  But, well, maybe I’m sick of being forced to relate to white people.

I’ll throw one more example into the mix, since I’ve been so sick I have been watching EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF TELEVISION lately.  I have to admit to being a fan of the ABC Family show Switched At Birth, despite teen drama not usually being my cup of tea, and as far as I can tell (not being Deaf myself), it’s pretty awesome at giving people great insight into Deaf culture and experiences.  And I’m all in favor of any show that treats a minority culture with respect and gives it attention, because media has a huge impact on how we all interact with each other culturally (plus all the Deaf actors who have jobs because of that show; mad props for that casting—Sean Berdy in particular should win an Emmy).  But this show does the exact same thing I’ve mentioned above: it contrasts the Kennishes, the white, upper class nuclear family, with the Vasquez women—the family that has a very poor single mother raising a Deaf daughter, the “different” family, and, oh yeah, the one with a mother who just happens to be Latina.  I do give Switched At Birth props for addressing race—Bay struggles with the fact that she’s suddenly Hispanic when she always thought she was white—but we still have the stable, nuclear family being the white one and the “different” family having the diversity.  What if Regina Vasquez had been Caucasian and Kathryn Kennish had been Latina, with everything else remaining the same?  What if the children of the rich nuclear family with with ex-professional athlete father had been the children of color instead of the other way around?

I have to admit, “family” shows (by which I mean shows about families) are not what I usually watch, so maybe this trend is not as universal as I think it is.  But for a sample size of three, we’ve got three shows that contrast “different” families with “normal” families, and in all three cases, the “normal” family is the white one and the “different” families are the ones that have the racial diversity in addition to their other “differentness.”  Just once it might be kind of cool to see the “normal” family have a little melanin.  Wouldn’t it?

Now, we could argue about the merits of a show making out one family to be more “normal” than another in the first place.[4]  For example, there’s nothing textual suggesting that Claire and Phil’s relationship in Modern Family should be seen as any more stable than Jay and Gloria’s or Cam and Mitchell’s, nor their family any more “normal” or “ideal.”  But I think it’s naive to think that the writers weren’t trying to set up the Dunphys as the white-picket-fence, 2.5-kids-and-a-dog type of “normalcy” so that they could contrast the other two families against them.  And I’m equally certain that for all three of the shows I talked about, the casting in terms of race was very deliberate, as it serves to heighten the contrasts between the families.

And does such casting serve to provide that heightened contrast effectively for most viewers?  Reluctantly, I have to admit that it probably does.  But it doesn’t mean that I can’t feel irked, nor feel like it isn’t a problem that we’re still constantly billing minority races as the families that are “different.”

[This post has been brought to you by either Lyme disease or typhus, whichever one I have, as I am STILL SICK and therefore watching far too much television.]

  1. This is not to say that I would want anyone other than Ty Burrell playing Phil; the man is brilliant.  Just making a point.
  2. Did not think I would like this show.  I watched it because a friend of mine works on it, and so far it’s like a train wreck: I’m not sure what’s so fascinating about it (other than Toks Olagundoye), but I CANNOT LOOK AWAY.
  3. Unlike, say, Third Rock From the Sun.
  4. Unless, of course, we are talking about a show like The Neighbors, in which the “different” family is an alien one.

The Walking Dead 3.4: “Killer Within”

Hosted By Fashion and Entertainment Editor Joe Lamour

The best and the worst thing about the zombie genre is that anyone can become a casualty at a moments notice. This doesn’t particularly matter to me (usually) because I feel zombie movie characters are secondary to the carnage packed into an hour and a half flick.

With a show like The Walking Dead, however, character building is as important as the carnage. We grow to love (or hate) characters over seasons full of episodes. This makes for great drama, and a more real feeling of sadness when a death occurs. At least, that’s what should happen…

Carly Neely, Kiki Smith, Kenneth Hwynn, Jeannie Chan, Jenn Kim and I mull over this week’s plusses and its many, many minuses.

* Help to keep the comment area a no spoiler zone.

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Louis C.K. Bucks Casting Trends With Susan Kelechi Watson


Sometimes, I really, really love Louis C.K. He is far from perfect, but he tends to keep things interesting. His bit on “Being White” is one of the top search results when you search his name, and he’s throwing some wrenches into pricing and comedy shows.

Interestingly, as we are dealing with the oh-so-tedious, faux-feminist ideas that criticizing shows like Bunheads and Girls for their lack of diversity is selling out women, Louis C.K. (after tweeting his support of Lena Dunham), decides to exercise his right to cast whoever the hell he wants in his created universe – which resulted in Susan Kelechi Watson being the mother of his children. Huffington Post recaps what was on Jimmy Kimmel:

On “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (Weeknights, 12 a.m. ET on ABC), he was asked about his decision to cast African-American actress Susan Kelechi Watson as his ex-wife and mother of his daughters in Season 3.

C.K. conceded that his TV daughters are “extremely white,” but said that race didn’t really factor into his decision to cast Watson in the role of their mom.

“If the character works for the show, I don’t care about the racial,” the show’s creator, writer, director and star said.

And yet…

Plus, there was another reason he went with a black actress.

To C.K., it’s all about line delivery. “When a black woman tells you to get a job, it’s just more … ” he explained with a laugh.

While my eye did a little twitch at that last bit (can we ever have anything?), Louis C.K.’s decision is a little bit of relief after a long season of whitewashing justifications.