Why Are Identitarians Such Cheap Dates?
how many diverse casting choices does it take to make up for mass incarceration, would you say
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! A piece of pop culture has been announced, one with a diverse cast of characters and themes of female empowerment. Some conservative idiots lose their minds because they’re conservative idiots. Liberals respond by taking to the ramparts to defend the honor of the piece of pop culture against MAGA or whatever. Meanwhile, the actual artistic value of the pop culture in question is completely lost. Aesthetic concerns are buried beneath the demand to be political first. If you aren’t actively singing the praises of worthless shlock that’s vaguely associated with progressive politics, you’re one of them. My god, that She-Hulk show is fucking dreadful, and its feminist politics are warmed-over Sheryl Sandberg tripe, but people are like “actually the CGI is supposed to look like dogshit, it’s artistic” because they think defending Disney’s latest blast of entertainment Soylent Green is the same as storming the Bastille. Conservatives freak about diversity, liberals defend art without any reference to artist, rinse and repeat. I could be talking about 2016’s Ghostbusters, or I could be talking about the upcoming Little Mermaid remake. Nothing ever changes, and it is all so, so tiresome.
You people get that showrunners and filmmakers know all about this now, right? You get why they’re including the part where She-Hulk looks directly into the camera and recites a slogan stolen from a sign from the first Women’s March written by a junior from Vassar, right? It makes the stuff they make exempt from criticism. These are no longer shows or movies but rather volleys in the culture war, which makes ignoring their immense flaws not just permissible but a duty for all right-thinking people. We’re already living in the hell of TV shows essentially written by Twitter; nothing is more depressing to me than pointing out all the moments that showrunners stick in their work that’s designed entirely to elicit squeals from social media. (Remember Peggy Olson walking down the hallway? Meaningless! She’s back at Sterling Cooper a few episodes later! Ah, but the gif, man, the gif!) When characters deliver awkward, stilted political speeches to camera because they know it will guarantee positive reviews and manufactured virality, it makes me feel like hope is lost. And at present, in terms of this cultural moment, hope is lost - there’s no way I can fight this tide.
The bigger thing for me, beyond the death of art and criticism I mean, is just how easy it is to inspire identitarians, just what they’re willing to consider a major political success. They are the cheapest dates imaginable.
… is it? Is it really? The article is profoundly unconvincing on this score. Yes, Disney did some racist portrayals in the past. That’s bad. I don’t see how you’re evening up the score by putting more Black people in your films, really; history doesn’t work that way. Also, why does an almost all-Black film like (the deeply underrated) The Princess and the Frog not right that wrong? What’s the conversion rate, here? Six Black Disney princesses for every one Song of the South? Or maybe, sometimes, pop culture is just a fun diversion, and we shouldn’t constantly go around hanging immense political consequences on it.
This relentless drive to celebrate diversity compels people to say things that just aren’t true. When Black Panther came out, people said it was the first Black superhero movie (nope) or the first Black Marvel movie (wrong again), in an effort to give it laurels it never needed, given that it’s just a really good movie. (Imagine that, a movie getting praised for being good!) Wonder Woman (2017) and Captain Marvel (2019) both, somehow, got tons of press as pioneering movies for women superheroes, despite the fact that Supergirl came out in 1984. A part of me feels that we have to be running out of “First X to Y!” More and more of these boxes are getting checked, and so you’d think the number of “First This Type of Person to Star in an Overlong Shitty CGI Spectacle with a Dissatisfying Ending!” headlines would have a shelf life. But the takes industry finds a way. How many more “First South Asian Polyamorous Rural Taoist Family in a Hulu Series!” headlines are we going to get? Apparently many many more!
None of this means that diverse casting and stories about different kinds of people are bad; they’re good. They’re cool. I’m in favor. But these choices in casting and storytelling are not racial justice. Closing the Black-white wealth gap is racial justice. Ending mass incarceration is racial justice. Cleaning communities of color of lead and other contaminants is racial justice. Ending discriminatory hiring and housing practices is racial justice. Making Calvin a pansexual Filipino in a Calvin & Hobbes movie isn’t justice. And for the record, industry awards shows are where diversity is least useful: what matters most is diversity at the beginning of creative careers, not at the end. We need to ensure that the pipelines which push out young talent are open and nurture many different kinds of creators. Sadly, to do that we’d have to confront the absolutely absurd level of nepotism in Hollywood, and people really don’t want to do that.
Of course, lurking around in the background of this issue lies another of contemporary progressivism’s petty pathologies: the utter inability to acknowledge progress. Because the simple fact of the matter is that movies and TV shows and all manner of other creative industries are now vastly more diverse than they were a decade ago. Great progress has been made. Great and durable progress, it seems to me. And we can’t have that! Few rules in American left-of-center circles are more lustily enforced than the prohibition against acknowledging that things have gotten better. And so all of the vast increase in diversity and representation in the past decade are ignored, the concept of proportionality is not discussed, how we recognize success is avoided, and all of these endlessly-gifed moments and countless breathless headlines are constantly aggregated and yet never allowed to inform our opinion of reality.
Now eat your slop.