Sunday, October 24, 2010

The unbearable whiteness of being

I enjoy, and regularly watch the show How I Met Your Mother. And I totally get that the sitcom world isn't a good representation of the real world. Especially New York City: giant apartments (and all of them IN Manhattan, no Brooklyn, let alone Staten Island or Hoboken, no sir), white collar jobs, and relatively polite people (seriously, WTF?). And all of them white.

Super white.

The 5 main actors on How I Met Your Mother are all white. 100%. One of them is Neal Patrick Harris (love him), so 110% white.

The narrator is Bob Saget. 140% white.
HIMYM "Subway Wars" screen cap--white people at a white people's bar

All of this, weirdly, I can understand and forgive. I mean, in its own way, the "white people exclusively knowing white people" thing is honest. So it's not like the producers would even want to put a racial or ethnic minority in the background there. And to be honest, I think there was someone off to the left (the camera pans left in this scene) who might have qualified had I waited 2 more seconds, so assume that there's an actual minority just outside any of my example screenshots, to be fair to them.
OMG, wait a minute, 2 black guys! In a single frame! It's like Where's Waldo!!!

But I just couldn't handle it any more when, in the episode where the 5 cast members are racing to see Woody Allen, we got to see the streets, buses and subways of Manhattan. And OMG are they all white!

Oh, but let me stop and show you this, the actual racial profile of Manhattan (per the pre-9/11 2000 Census, but I did look at CPS estimates that are more recent and this existing pie chart is close enough that I won't make my own, potentially offensive update [I probably would have used yellow for Asian and that might not have been smart])--image from here:
Demographic profile of Manhattan, 2000 US Census
If you don't know that Hispanic is an ethnicity and not a race, OMG turn off the internet and read a book.

Okay, so the context is that real Manhattan is 56% white (actually less so now), but many of those are also Hispanic. Compare the pie chart to this representation of a typical Manhattan subway:
HIMYM "Subway Wars"--typical NYC subway
As many Maury Poviches as there are blacks. Also, all but Maury are female, so perhaps someone is just using a casting couch. A really weak casting couch.
HIMYM "Subway Ways"--the bus to Melrose Place?
HIMYM "Subway Wars"--you can really taste the diversity
Here's what's sad: these extra roles should be an easy way to have a little diversity on super white shows like this. Unless the producers are worried that putting, I don't know, 5 black actors on that bus somehow suggests that all blacks ride the bus, there's no reason they couldn't have given them even token parts. I know token parts are bad, but they're not even doing that much... shit.

I'm not the "PC police" but you can watch 2 hours of sitcoms on CBS on Monday nights, shows set in New York, Chicago, and Malibu, and you will see 3 racial minorities represented as cast regulars: Adhir Kalyan on Rules of Engagement (he's of Indian descent but from South Africa, so maybe they think he's African American), and Reno Wilson and Nyambi Nyambi from Mike & Molly (which I never invested in, sorry Melissa McCarthy, sorry Swoosie).

For fuck's sake, the cleaning lady in the show set in California is white?! Really? I do love Conchata Ferrell, and have ever since she was a regular on L.A. Law, and I'm not trying to second guess all this casting (oh, yeah, maybe I am), but OMG really?

Are they so concerned about not showing a minority as a cleaning woman they don't cast one at all?

Television's most inclusive cast is from a show set at an Ohio high school (the demographics of that county are 71% white, by the way, so they are w-a-y overdoing it on Asians). It's great that those producers cast such a wide net and even depict a physically disabled character. It probably doesn't seem important, but if you're eager to see someone that looks like you on TV, it's actually a big deal.

And to the credit of the producers of How I Met Your Mother, check out this screenshot from near the end of the show--MLK Jr's dream has come true:
40% non-white actors in a single frame!!!!
Okay producers, try to suck a little less at something so stupidly obvious.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a interesting and in-depth analysis on how race iin American comedies is out of balance with reality. Who knew? And you say that you don't 'notice things'.

Which reminds me did you ever get a chance to take a look/listen to the videos I sent you? You know, the life-changing and mind-altering ones that i found on youtube? The ones that ive been trying to get you to watch for the last six months? Just wondering 