Tuesday, March 04, 2008

More Stealth Conservatism in Hollywood?

When a phenomenon occurs within a realm generally inhospitable to genuinely conservative thought that actually bolsters the intellectual conservative case, it's always worth pointing out and encouraging -- even when the ostensible conservatism of said event may not have been intentional. Hollywood is, in particular, a place where "inhospitable to conservatism" is a substantial understatement, and I have addressed the issue of "stealth conservatism" with relation to it before. And here I do so again.

Last night, against my will, I watched Something New, a very formulaic chick-flick (and not the romantic-comedy or John Cusack type for which I have an embarrassing soft spot) with the twist being a relationship between a black woman and a white man. The film was clearly aimed at a black audience, as the white male lead was the only white character in the film with more than, say, 5 speaking lines. While doing my absolute best to surf the web on the laptop while my wife watched it, I still managed to capture the gist of the film and a few key moments.

So how did the film, in my own opinion, exercise "stealth conservatism"? Well, first, one must understand and accept that genuine "race-blindness", that is, judging people on, oh, say, the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, is a feature of the modern right (or at least parts thereof), rather than the left -- who still maintain the racist shackles of quotas, affirmative action, talks of reparations, et cetera, ad nauseam. I don't want to get bogged down justifying this point, and to thwart some objections, I will concede that there are, indeed, racist elements of the right as well as left. But by and large, the people agitating for a complete and total blindness to a person's race when considering their worth in the various stations of life find themselves, in these days, on the right side of the aisle.

In light of this, the movie did indeed, repeatedly, make me think that it might have been written by a stuffy white conservative to "prove a point" (note: as far as IMDB can be trusted, it was not). To start: the main character, Kenya, is the typical Black Woman with a Career. If I recall correctly, she was either a high-powered banker or attorney; either way, she was working on a big acquisition deal which, if successfully completed, would earn her a partnership at her firm -- a firm, I shall note now for later reference, in which she was the only Black Woman. All of her circle of friends, indeed, are Black Women with Careers -- the doctor, the lawyer, etc. So in no inconsequential ways, she and her peers have "made it".

Let me take a minor tangent here: one thing very different about this film compared to every other Hollywood film dealing with interracial couples is the great apparent lengths the writer went to making the couple's differences only about race. Kenya and all her peers are not only successful, "integrated" business types, but they all come from well-to-do families. Unlike most films where the minority of a given couple comes from the "wrong side of the tracks", and it's up to the white person to learn to accept that, because he/she/it can never forget where the minority "came from", this film completely levels the playing field by making the main character the daughter of a successful black doctor. Thus, the differences between the main character and her white boyfriend are, indeed, only skin deep, and not socioeconomic.

Back on track: her one complaint is a lack of a love life, and a complaint about her last boyfriend, an ostensibly handsome Black Muslim whom she could not tolerate due to his Black Muslim Misogyny (in fact, to my ears, it appeared there was a disparaging remark involving a "Farrakhan rally" -- bonus points!). So there's our first inkling of stealth conservatism -- Farrakhan = Bad (seriously, why won't the Left denounce him as loudly as the Right?).

No love life? Maybe that's because she needs to try... Something New! (dingdingdingg! We have a title!). Enter Whitey McWhiterson, first a blind date that a friend sets her up with, and then, when she rejects him solely on the basis of his skin (I know I'm not reading too much into that, because a great deal is made over this superficial rejection), her landscape architect. Interestingly, I would classify Whitey (no, he's not called that in the film) as nothing more than a Mary Sue -- handsome, super nice, strong, assertive, understanding, successful... and so on. He's presented in no ways as stereotypically anything apart from the positive traits I've listed -- he even acknowledges that he's dated women of all colors, because he "just loves women" (don't get me wrong -- he's also looking for monogamy!). So the onus of racial prejudice rests solely on the Black Woman. She even admits early on that she's "not racist", she just "prefers black men".

This is a good time to state my disclaimer: as a white male, perhaps there were subtleties in this film that I was simply unable to grasp because I cannot possibly understand the life of a black person, or a woman, much less a Black Woman.

Of course, it only takes a couple of sweaty, shirtless afternoons of work on the part of Whitey to persuade Kenya that race is only skin deep, but rippling biceps go all the way down. Or something. Anywho, she struggles with her "preference", very quickly realizing that, indeed, it IS racist to judge people based solely on the color of their skin. I find this interesting because it is the first time I have witnessed the exposure and rejection of "reverse racism" -- that is to say, black-on-white racism (Note: I loathe the term "reverse racism" because that concedes the post-modernist multiculti argument that "only white people can be racists") in a mainstream Hollywood film.

But there's more! Upon being introduced to her black friends (particularly her male friends), Whitey faces frank and remarkable opposition from these friends on a solely racial basis -- and this opposition is portrayed (again, in my view) in a negative light! He is mercilessly ridiculed, shunned, ignored, taunted, and rejected. Nonetheless, our indefatigable Mary Sue McWhiterson is unperturbed, remaining steadfast in his love for Kenya.

Still, though, the plot must proceed apace. Kenya's succeed-and-get-promoted client is an ugly, fusty old man who can't cope with a Black Woman managing his account, constantly agonizing over everything, second-guessing her, and requesting that senior partners review her work, despite being beyond reproach. In frustration, she tells Whitey about the "black tax" -- that, to succeed in the company of white folk, black people have to work twice as hard so that they're not suspected of getting unfair treatment. If that isn't the most illustrative knock-out-punch description of affirmative action, I don't know what is!

All these rantings about the depredations of The Man against Kenya do take their toll, of course. While shopping together for a romantic dinner, Whitey finally asks out of frustration if they can have "just one night" free of rants about Being A Black Woman. Naturally, that's a bridge too far for Kenya, who insists that she will "never stop being black" (I paraphrase here -- my memory is fuzzy). This of course results in the "break up" phase of the film (like I said, very formulaic).

At any rate, all the friends insist she was better off without him, and "that's what she gets" for dating outside "the race", etc. In fact, only toward the end, when her father realizes that she really did love Whitey, do they begin to accept that maybe love should happen on its own (the father is the only totally-sympathetic character in the film apart from Whitey, as he just wants what is best for his little girl, and if dating a white guy is what does that, then so be it -- it seems, for him, race doesn't enter into it).

Finally, at the very end, was the Big Clincher for me that this movie was refreshingly and genuinely anti-racist. Kenya makes her big pitch to the jerk client, and announces that she really doesn't think that the merger they've proposed is a good idea, going against the grain of her bosses. Of course, the jerk client asks to speak to her bosses alone, so she storms off in a completely understandable rage. At the brink of despair in her office, her boss comes in and tells her that she was right to oppose them, and that that's just the sort of thing they're looking for... in a partner! When she protests, the boss just responds: yeah, that client was an a**hole. But sometimes you get a**holes, and you have to deal with them.

"Just an a**hole" -- it's not endemic racism, it's not a "system of oppression", it's just... an a**hole. And in a big, and admittedly completely unexpected (on my part) twist, she's made a parter, and the bosses never tied it to her race or sex!!! (e.g., yeah, the board of directors wants us to have a Black Woman as a partner, and you're just the one we need!). Nope, she succeeds solely on her own merits, regardless of the color of her skin!

So there you have it: a long-winded review of a movie I barely watched, wherein all the racism is black-on-white and presented as a bad thing, and merit rules the day over racial preferences, and it got made in Hollywood! If you read this far, thank you. There are refreshments in the lobby.



Anonymous Marty said...

Another great movie review. I'll have to pass this one along to my daughter, too...

3:29 PM  

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