From the first episode, this otherwise stellar season keeps letting us down when it comes to its own blindness to privilege. Tara’s empowerment is always knuckled under by Pam in the end; Newlin’s sexuality continues to be a pretty ugly punchline to a five-year joke. But you have to know how lucky you are when you can look at any unequal situation and claim to see a level playing field, as long as you’re the one on top: Tara “just happens” to be black, Newlin and Russell “just happen” to be hooking up. That’s how it looks on the other side of privilege.
And that proceeds to give you the right to make jokes about it as though you were an honorary minority, just because you’ve labeled yourself a “gay ally” — whatever the fuck that means — or post-racially color-blind, or whatever it is. Except it doesn’t. The whole thing falls apart because the whole thing was set up as a tactic by you to get out of examining your own fucked-up attitudes.
At the end of the day you’re still Otherizing Tara at best, and taking her on a “reverse-racist” trip at worst, which is painfully destructive. At the end of the day, no matter how much you think you like gay people, you’re still putting them in a gross fetishistic box when your favorite things about the show are Russell and Lafayette’s “campiness,” or Newlin taking Talbot’s place as Russell’s catamite Birdcagebottom.
Even if the majority of the viewing audience happens to enjoy these things, and that’s why the writers keep pushing these buttons over and over in a neverending HBO circle-jerk, well… It’s called “the majority” for a reason, isn’t it? People don’t “just happen” to be objects: You make them that way when you treat them like this. Not sure we’ll ever be at a place where these things are okay to fuck around with, but tell you what.We’ll let you know.
(Some background: I watch True Blood, like True Blood, think Bill is the third-worst boyfriend on TV behind Fritz on The Closer and Dr. McDouchebag on Grey’s Anatomy, and generally this season is equal parts batshit and amazing and sometimes both at once. But you all know how I feel about Jacob, anyway, like I read his recaps of shows you couldn’t pay me to watch.)
This sort of thing, though, comes up a lot, in our discussions of political gaffes and pop-culture horrors: Why can’t *I* say the things Chris Rock says about black people? Why aren’t rape jokes hilarious? Why don’t I get to tell you how to feel about how the current debate over whether women are people is going (right now, not well, FYI)? Why can’t I treat you like a pet if I think you’re super-cute? Why can’t your struggle give my life meaning? Why is anything out of bounds for anyone to say at any time?
And it basically boils down to this, that other people are not FOR YOU, and their experiences are not your TV. It is one thing to learn from knowing about someone else, and another to make that person your zoo exhibit, after which you can loudly proclaim that you’ve been Forever Changed. The difference is in whether you love the other person, and the experience of growth and change belongs to both of you, or whether you are the leading lady and the Different Friend is your supporting character who is only lit by your reflection.
I think we don’t like being excluded from things, privileged people in general, and I think as much as it is about wanting to SEEM open-minded (as even racists these days get crabby when you call them that), it’s also about not wanting to admit there’s a system from which you benefit or by which you are punished. If you admit that you don’t control everything, then you’re admitting that you don’t control everything, and take it from a middle-class control freak, fucking NOTHING freaks us out more. I would rather be locked in a car with a spider.
There are so many ways to fuck this up, and I’m not saying I never have. I said plenty of cringeworthy things to people in my 20s when I was being busted out of my segregated shell. I still say stupid shit without considering who’s listening. Luckily I get smacked down by smarter people than me when I do it. It took me a long time to understand that it was about ownership, and no matter how many experiences I can claim, I can’t have anybody’s experiences but mine.