Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Deggans: When bigotry is just denied

There's a media-based disorder that has affected everyone from fired Business Insider chief technology officer Pax Dickinson to ousted Big Brother contestant Aaryn Gries to Seth Green, star of Fox TV's highly criticized new comedy, Dads.

And I have given it a name: Bigotry Denial Syndrome.

BDS is what happens when someone in media comes to the mistaken conclusion that, because they are not a full-time, 24/7 bigot or sexist, that they can never do or say anything bigoted or sexist.

In Dickinson's case, that led him to spout off on Twitter denying there were any problems with gender or race equality in the tech world, offering such messages as "it is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies." In a different post, he speculated the female-centered film comedy Bridesmaids got so many Oscar nominations "because female comedians benefit from the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Then there was a post citing the "unpopular truth" that women's voting rights and individual freedom are "incompatible." And the joke that a sequel to Passion of the Christ would feature the Messiah getting sexually assaulted "by a pack of n-----s." Dickinson was forced to resign by Business Insider, an up-and-coming business news website, soon after the tweets made news.

His explanation? Some of the tweets were old, so the humor context was lost. "I still think (the Passion of the Christ joke) was funny, so I don't apologize that much," Dickinson told New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer blog, insisting he wasn't racist or misogynist. "It was a funny joke, sorry."

On Fox TV's Dads, critics — including me — gave the show a hard time for jokes about maids aimed at both Latinas on the show and a storyline where two owners of a videogame company persuade an Asian employee to wear a revealing schoolgirl's outfit to impress Chinese investors.

Producers for the show, veterans of The Simpsons and the hit film Ted, insisted they didn't want to be known as "the racial insult comedy show." And co-star Seth Green, who plays one of the two company owners — both white males, of course — pushed back against charges of sexism and racism.

"I think we've become a real careful culture and soon as people starting suing each other over hurt feelings, people started getting more afraid to speak their mind or even point at something," he told TV critics during a press conference in July. "I've gotten into the weirdest conversations with people about what they think is racist, and it always speaks to their own personal, cultural sensitivity."

These jokes and images aren't about hurt feelings. They're about echoing stereotypes that are seductive, damaging and persistent. And those stereotypes can affect everything from how a prospective employer views a job application to how a police officer handles a traffic stop or a teacher disciplines a student.

Every so often, someone tries to repackage humor rooted in stereotypes as bold comedy. And every so often they have to be reminded, it's just stereotyping.

In the crop of 26 new shows debuting this fall, just one features a person of color as the star (NBC's Ironside with Blair Underwood) and five more feature people of color as co-leads, sharing top billing with a white actor. That's an underwhelming level of diversity in a country where about 33 percent of the population is non-white and Hispanic, and the industry has few good answers for why it is so.

On Big Brother, Gries looked shocked after she was voted off CBS's reality show, as host Julie Chen recited a litany of racist things she said during the competition to black and Asian competitors.

"I do not mean to come off as racist and I apologize to anyone I've offended," said Gries, who first tried to say she was taken out of context in an incident where she told an Asian competitor to "shut up and go make some rice." Later, her mother spoke publicly, saying Gries couldn't be racist because she attended her prom with a black man.

The problem wasn't just with Gries. Several other white contestants also made racist statements, but CBS didn't air their comments on the show (fans can also watch the contest's action on the Internet). Reality TV expert Andy Dehnart said such skittishness from CBS allows other contestants to remain popular with viewers — presented by the network as popular, all-American players — despite expressing such distasteful ideas.

Because open racism is so ugly, it is easy to believe that the only shape prejudice can take, in life or in media, is in its ugliest form.

But BDS shows that you don't have to be a card-carrying member of a white supremacist group to echo awful prejudices and stereotypes.

You just have to be in enough denial to believe you're above it.

Deggans: When bigotry is just denied 09/19/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 9:23am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays make Hechavarria trade official

    Blogs

    Here is the release from the team ...

     

  2. Jones: Will Tampa Bay hit a Hall of Fame dry spell now?

    Lightning Strikes

    Marty St. Louis may lack the Hall of Fame stats, but two scoring titles, an MVP award and clutch goals should count for a lot. (Dirk Shadd, Times)
  3. SeaWorld shares drop Monday to 2017 low after disclosure of federal subpoena

    Tourism

    The Orlando parent company of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks saw its stock drop 3.5 percent Monday to $15.10, its lowest price of this year.

    Killer whales perform at Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld in Orlando in 2011, before public pressure was placed on the theme park company to curtail its orca shows.SeaWorld has since announced an end to the traditional killer whale entertainment  at its theme parks. [AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack]
  4. Update: Scientology cancels planned mock FBI raid on downtown building

    Special Topics

    CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology planned to film a mock FBI raid on a downtown building Monday afternoon, but the actors and cameras never showed up to the location disclosed to the city.

    According to Clearwater Police, the Church of Scientology plans to hold a mock FBI raid at 3 p.m. Monday at this vacant building at 305 N Fort Harrison Ave. Police announced the raid in advance to alert the public. They said they did not know the reason for the event. [Google Earch image]
  5. Support for gay marriage surges, even among groups once wary

    Human Interest

    NEW YORK — In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey.

    People gather in Washington's Lafayette Park to see the White House lit up in rainbow colors on June 26, 2015, the day the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage legal. In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey released on Monday, June 26, 2017. [Associated Press]