Saturday, April 19, 2008

king kong

I've been watching old episodes of this tv show, Veronica Mars, which is about a high school student (Kristen Bell) who helps her father (Enrico Colatoni) out at his detective agency, solving local mysteries while trying to solve the murder of her best friend and searching for her runaway mother. Okay, so it's decent and fairly addictive, as it would pretty much have to be to be in order for me to watch more than one episode in a sitting. I get kind of annoyed at the high school aspect of things sometimes, things like our hard-bitten heroine pining over her last homecoming dance or how she can't eat lunch with her old crowd of snobby rich assholes anymore. Partially it's because, however realistic those emotions are when you're in high school, they're kind of boring and repetitive when you're not. The other part is, as Tabitha pointed out, I didn't give a shit particularly about homecoming anyway even when I was in high school. It is kind of fascinating (for me, anyway) to really think about high school; I have a hard time remembering what it was like to really live under somebody else's ideas of what I could and couldn't do, to not be living my own life. But anyway...
What's really getting to me is the racial issues that underlie the plot but are not necessarily discussed. All the rich assholes are white (and the notably rich characters are almost all assholes at least part of the time, with occasional redeeming or sympathetic moments), all the poor kids are black or latino; in fact pretty much all of the black characters (including teachers and such) are poor. While this may or may not be somewhat realistic, it's never pointed out, never discussed. Veronica has two people within the show that she continually counts on as friends: Weevil, a latino motorcycle gang leader, and Wallace, a black guy (a new kid at school) that works in the local convenience store. At the beginning of the series, I actually thought Veronica and the poor black kid were going to hook up; instead they abruptly become platonic best friends, she dates yet another white asshole and he dates one of the only black female characters on the show, who's main part of the action is that she gets swindled by some local kids running a transparent internet scam. She disappears after the all important homecoming dance, which is particularly irritating to me. It's like she's a bit part just so Wallace can be with somebody for an episode instead of being a kind of nonsexualized sidekick for the whole season.
All of this is whatever. I feel kind of like I'm being racist for just pointing out that who everybody ends up with seems completely predictable in tvland. But there have been a few moments that have really given me significant pause. The first involves Wallace: he does something proactive, I can't even remember what, and Veronica calls him King Kong. (This buzzed me particularly hard because of my friend Raquel's recent post about the shape issue of Vogue, which featured a cover picture of a slim white woman and a muscular, pissed-looking black athlete.) The second is a power struggle between a rich white asshole character, Weevil, and a not-rich black teacher. Although the white asshole character initiates almost all of the shit that passes between the three, the teacher aims pretty much all of his derogatory comments (and many are extremely low blows, including classist remarks and completely unnecessary shit-talking) at Weevil. Weevil points this out: "You talk to me in class and I respond, and we both fail our tests. You talk back to the teacher and I laugh, and we both get detention." The anger between Weevil and the teacher is pretty damn palpable; it was probably the most realistic thing I've seen on the show so far.
I don't know what any of this means. Am I reading too much into it? Am I not? I just wish they'd talk about it, even a tiny bit.


Lauren said...

you're definitely not reading too much into it. and i don't think you're racist for pointing out predictable racial patterns on the show. i haven't seen the show but from what you're writing it sounds like you've made some good observations. i would think any time a blond white female character calls a black male character "king kong," it should give us pause. even if she meant it as a compliment, it still conjures up all those racist stereotypes of a black man's sexuality.

have you ever been to Racialicious? I wonder if they've ever written about this show on that blog.

also, btw i tagged you for a six-word memoir at my political blog. :)

erica said...

i tagged you for a 6 word memoir on my blog. the rules say i have to tell you here.