Equal Opportunity Offender

22 Oct

I just came across Andrew Ti’s “The Week in Racism” column for sports and pop culture website Grantland and belatedly read his post “Yo, Is This Racist? 2 Broke Girls and the New Long Duk Dong We Never Asked For” about the TV show 2 Broke Girls and its depictions of a “uh, colorful cast of characters from all walks of life, and critically, a handful of people whose most salient character trait is that they’re not white” (http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/41440/yo-is-this-racist-2-broke-girls-and-the-new-long-duk-dong-we-never-asked-for). Now, I’ve never seen the show, but I found Ti’s thoughts compelling.

According to Ti, the show’s producer Michael Patrick King:

defended depictions of the [non-white] characters on the show, trotting out the “equal-opportunity offender” argument almost immediately before falling back on an Equal Opportunity Offender Hail Mary: “I’m gay! I’m putting in gay stereotypes every week! I don’t find it offensive, any of this. I find it comic to take everybody down, which is what we are doing.”

While Ti has his own beef with EO Offenders, I’ll say just this: is this really what we mean by equality? I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron,” in which social equality is achieved! … By diminishing, hampering or outright eliminating every individual’s talents, potential and uniqueness. Way to go! Right?

I hear something Vonnegut-esque in the EOO Hail Mary: it’s OK to perpetuate stereotypes about groups, as long as we do it to all groups. That makes everything equal, right? All the jokes neutralize each other. MPK’s justification further suggests that he can be the arbiter of identity humor since he’s not offended at the gay stereotypes he writes into his scripts. Hmm.

I’m not suggesting we ban all humor that ever identifies a group as part of the joke.

I’m suggesting that we need a better rationale for unimaginative, stereotype-dependent humor. Essentially, MPK is defending writing jokes for the normal people. You know, the white, heterosexual, culturally Christian, middle class, physically able and educated-enough folks for whom these stereotypes are familiar, personally not insulting and, therefore, easy to consume, even if they’re not particularly funny or original.

Hey, MPK, why don’t we set the equality bar higher, scaffolding folks to their mutual best, instead of settling for mediocre? Instead of Equal Opportunity Offender, why don’t sitcom writers strive for Equal Opportunity Funny?

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