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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, March 20, 2015


Though in Part 3 I was basically in agreement with the 3-19-15 broadcast of Jon Stewart's DAILY SHOW, my opinion of the same-day airing of Larry Wilmore's show (found here) is like-- well, daily and nightly.

On this show, Larry Wilmore chose to examine the protests of nerds against supposed racial diversity. Both he and his panel-- made up, in part, of comics-pros Sana Amanat and Phil Jimenez-- chose to view the syndrome under one narrative: "Nerds Hate Change."

I wouldn't deny that this may be one reason for protests against diversity, and of course, the ultraliberal fallback, institutionalized racism, may also be a factor. But some of the things mentioned on the show fall more in line with "playing the game by established rules."

That sounds like a paean to conservatism, but it's not. It's the nature of all games that they function by somewhat arbitrary rules, which only have a nodding resemblance to reality. The game LIFE is not about life; it's about creating situations that approximate real-life scenarios.

One of the minor firestorms of the previous year was fannish opposition to the idea of a "black stormtrooper" when Disney previewed a clip showing what appeared to be such a character. Wilmore said:

“Nerds don’t have a problem with women; they have a problem with change. I’ll give you an example: Nerds are upset at black stormtroopers in the new Star Wars movie. Do they have a problem with stormtroopers being black? No. They have a problem with you changing their definition of a stormtrooper. I’ll be a little clearer: If the first time you introduce oatmeal to a nerd it has maple syrup in it, it better have maple syrup every fucking time, or it’s not oatmeal.”

This was at best an oversimplification. The basis of the fans' objection was not purely that every stormtrooper had to be white because other past stormtroopers had been coded as white. The objection was grounded in a misapprehension, to the effect that all stormtroopers were clones of one persona, who at least appeared to be white-- and that therefore it should have been impossible for any viable clones to suddenly look like black people.

Happily, there have been some good reasoned responses online as to why it's entirely feasible to have black stormtroopers in STAR WARS, as explained in part by a quote from this site:

It's only in the prequels that all the Stormtroopers (called Clonetroopers) are clones. It was established in the Expanded Universe that the Emperor started replacing clones with regular people through recruiting and conscription. This is pretty obvious when you watch the original trilogy. Stormtroopers are all different sizes, shapes and have different voices. So, no, the Stormtroopers in Star Wars Episode VII aren't clones. 

Wilmore, had he possessed any genuine interest in the topic, might have at least have referenced the notion, however false, that black stormtroopers created a continuity issue.  He chose, sadly, to focus only on the narrative of "resistance to change." If one views STAR WARS as a game which its audience agrees to play on its own terms, then Wilmore is the equivalent of the fellow who tells all the players that the game is stupid and he refuses to play it.

Of course, this would be unobjectionable, if the declaration was made as a matter of personal taste, rather than in terms of political advantage. In Wilmore's world, "black stormtrooper" is good in the same way that "black Spider-Man" is, because both promote visions of purported diversity. This causes him to overlook that there may be scenarios in which "black fill-in-the-blank character" may not be always be the ideal concept.

Take for example the 1999 WILD WILD WEST film, in which Will Smith essayed the part of Old West secret agent James West, a part originated by Robert Conrad in the 1965-69 teleseries. I objected to this film not simply because a black actor played a part associated with a white one, but because Smith was playing a part that created extreme "continuity issues" due to the social mores of that time and place.

Do my reservations mean that it was impossible for such a role to be attempted? Not necessarily. With a little intelligent tinkering, the scriptwriters might have come up with an alternate-world scenario in which it would have been more probable for a black secret agent to exist. Maybe the world of this WILD WILD WEST could have been one in which Lincoln was never assassinated; where he was somehow able to succeed in a partial reform of Southern social priorities. But given that the WILD WILD WEST we got showed no interest in political subtleties-- being, after all, nothing more than a Big Dumb Summer Movie-- I would have to say that the concept was at best difficult to pull off credibly, though not intrinsically impossible.

The ideological mind, though, only sees that not enough black actors have had starring roles, be it as superheroes, superspies or anything else, and so any work that promotes "more starring black actors"is perforce "good." And this ideology is just as simplistic as the message Wilmore promotes in his comedic admonitions against nerds.

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