An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia
Exhibit 64: 'Black-ish' And White At The MRC
The Media Research Center assigns white writers to pass (almost entirely negative) judgment on a TV show about black culture.
By Terry Krepel
The ABC show "Black-ish" is about a black father who questions whether his success has brought "too much assimilation," so he seeks to "establish a sense of cultural identity for his family that honors their past while embracing the future."
Who has the Media Research Center chosen to pass judgment on "Black-ish" for violations of right-wing orthodoxy? White people, of course, people who -- ideology aside -- are not the show's main target audience.
The earliest mention of "Black-ish" at the MRC is a December 2014 piece by Tianna DiMartino (not black), who complained about the "racist jokes" in a Christmas-themed episode. In April, Scott Whitlock (not black) may have been amused by an episode with a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it Sarah Palin joke." In May, Kyle Drennen (not black) huffed that the show "treated Republican African Americans as an abnormality that could not be tolerated."
This past season, "Black-ish" has gotten its own dedicated MRC reviewer in the person of Dylan Gwinn, who in addition to not being black is actually more of a sports guy and, as ConWebWatch has documented, not the sharpest knife in the right-wing-media-bias drawer. All of which, apparently, makes him the ideal critic of a black-oriented show for the MRC instead of someone who isn't predisposed to hate-watch the thing.
Of course, the reason why Quentin Tarantino can use the n-word 87 times in a movie and get an Oscar while Paula Deen loses her show for saying it once has more to do with the hypocrisy of the media than anything else. Quentin Tarantino is loved by the left, and as such gets a free pass. The same kind of free pass that ABC will get for having a sitcom where a black man thumps a gun on the table. Meanwhile, Paula Deen doesn’t have those kind of
connections to the politically correct crowd, and gets far worse.
Here's the difference Gwinn aggressively ignored: Tarantino is a filmmaker. His use of the word came in a film he made, "Django Unchained," where it was a least somewhat justified given the film's historical context of 19th-century slavery and discrimination. Deen, on the other hand, is a TV cook who may or may not have said the N-word in regard to a group of black waiters she wanted to have tap-dance Shirley Temple style as part of a Southern plantation-themed wedding she wanted to throw for her brother -- an idea (ultimately rejected) that reminded her of southern America “before the Civil War.” Deen's brother was also accused of using the N-word in the kitchen of their restaurant.
In short: Tarantino's use of the N-word occurred in fiction. Deen's use (and overall racism) occurred in real life, involving actual black people. It seems that Gwinn can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
In an Oct. 8 post, Gwinn critiqued references to the Tuskegee Experiment in a episode about a doctor visit. Gwinn was upset that the characters suggested that the blacks who took part in the experiment were deliberately injected with syphilis, complaining that this "is exactly the impression activists want you to have."
He then weirdly soft-pedals the experiments: he avers that it "was clearly not a 'Blue Star' moment in the history of American medicine" and that it was not "cool" that blacks with syphilis were untreated and misled about their actual condition, and he makes sure we know that the experiment's victims "had syphilis prior to the study taking place." As if that somehow makes the government's behavior less atrocious and the victims somewhat deserved what they got.
In an Oct. 15 post, Gwinn grumbled that "Blackish is not the type of show to let a little thing like the pesky network programming schedule get in the way of taking a belated shot at Columbus Day," then ranted about the show calling Columbus Day racist, insisting that the holiday's origin as a way to counter prejudice against Italian-Americans is some kind of counter to that narrative to "the left" portraying the day as a "symbol of racial genocide."
he concludes by ranting: "So, in their pursuit of taking the one holiday Italian-Americans are allowed away because it’s “racist,” the supposedly immigration-friendly and anti-racist left is continuing the traditions of 20th century anti-immigrant groups by singling out a group of people who were trying to defend themselves against racism. Progress? Not so much."
On Oct., 22, though, Gwinn shockingly had something nice to say about the show, admitting that "Blackish actually did a great job dealing with not only racial differences between whites and blacks, and the different kinds of churches they attend, but also just the drama and guilt that surrounds normal people and prevents them from getting to church on Sunday."
The following week, however, Gwinn was back to hate-watching, ranting again about Columbus Day and sneering that a couple dressing up as the Obamas for Halloween was "the scariest couple I have ever seen in my life."
Gwinn returned to tin-ear mode in bashing another February episode in which, as Gwinn put it, " the Johnson family gathers around the television set and takes the audience through the experience of what it’s like to be a black family watching the verdict in a case of police brutality against black people. Or, I should say, what it’s like to be a liberal black family watching the verdict in a case of police brutality against black people." He complained that the show was "throwing out numbers on officer-involved killings without shedding any light whatsoever as to the circumstances that led to those killings" and a character noting that one of four suspects killed by police and likening it to a doctor killing one of four patients drew this huffy response from Gwinn:
Killing 25% of your patients would definitely be a negative. But in order for this analogy to work, you need a huge majority of that 25% of patients to be actively trying to kill their doctor. Or other people around them. Something that most people in hospital waiting rooms seem disinclined to do.
But Gwinn wasn't done ranting, and it turns out that a character's statement that he feared someone would assassinate President set off a rant showing that Gwinn's still bitter after all these years that Obama was elected president in the first place:
Don’t his kids also live in the world where absolutely none of that actually happened? Don’t they also live in the world where millions upon millions of white people (misguided and wrong as they were) elected that same black president? Twice? A world where white Secret Service agents watched over Obama every step of the way, and no one, white or black, shot at him?
Of course, Gwinn complains about the "light-hearted racial humor" too. Even joking that one character lacks athletic prowess because he's part-white was too much for Gwinn, as he ranted in reaction to a March episode:
Okay, the Caucasian Curse? Yes, I know they meant this in a joking and non-malicious way. And yes, I know that jokes at the expense of white people’s athletic grace have become socially acceptable to many people, both black and white.
Gwinn began a commentary on an April episode of the show this way: "Admittedly, I’m torn as to whether what happened on Wednesday night’s edition of Blackish constitutes actual bias or just a really bizarre commentary on the self-perception of African-Americans in society. But, since those two emotions/realities/states-of-mind overlap so frequently, I figured I’d give it a shot." A character's statement that "When one black person fails... It feels like it sets us all back" prompted yet another Gwinn rant:
The reason why upper-income, non-athlete black families get noticed is because there relatively few of them. That should be pretty easy to understand.
Given that one of Gwinn's co-workers at the MRC -- reporter Susan Jones at "news" division CNSNews.com -- is very unhappy that black people trying to better themselves might move into heavily white neighborhoods with the government's help, that's not an entirely unrealistic sentiment for the show's characters to have.
That seems to sum up the MRC's attitude toward "Black-ish." It's almost as if Gwinn and the MRC are deliberately trying to be as culturally clueless as possible.