American film and TV is often accused of racism. Leftists will complain that Blacks are underrepresented, only play minor roles, and are usually shown in a negative light. White nationalists will talk about “Magic Negroes” and the absurd absence of Black criminals and villains, when Blacks clearly play a much larger role in the criminal fraternity.
This is not unlike the case of the ancient Caledonians who were described as a fair-haired people by the Romans and as a dark-haired people by the subsequent Anglo-Saxons. In other words, it’s the case of the blind men and the elephant yet again.
The crux of the problem is simple. It stems from the central fact of “racial asymmetry” that exists in American society. By racial asymmetry I mean the complete imbalance between Blacks and Whites in society. It goes well beyond the simple fact that Whites are around 60-65% of the population and Blacks around 12-13%. Added to this numerical disparity is the disparity in achievement and dysfunction.
In real life, there are simply a lot less Blacks in higher or meritorious positions, and thus less scope for genuine and interesting Black characters in the culture. For the same reasons, there are also awkward effective stereotypes of Blacks – as opposed to mainstream-promoted ones. This distinction is important because effective stereotypes reflect attitudes that influence behavior, such as where one chooses to live.
The Leftist, in his desperate attempt to signal moral superiority, merely sees all this as yet more evidence of “racism,” “social injustice,” the “legacy of slavery,” and victimhood. The White Nationalist or race realist, by contrast, thinks that cultural depictions should conform to actual stereotypes and that anything else is reverse or anti-White racism. Spending his life avoiding Black areas and being wary of Black criminals, he is offended when he switches on a crime drama and sees that all the gangsters or rapists just happen to be White. He is also enraged when young White girls are lulled into a false sense of security by positive depictions of Blacks and then subsequently raped or murdered by them.
What both fail to recognize, however, is the actual structure of “racism” in American visual culture.
“Racism,” of course, is a problematic word for those of us on the right to use, but, just like a human, as it ages it diminishes in stature, loses its teeth, and develops a bald patch that we can patronizingly pat from time to time.
“Racism,” or the idea that certain racial groups have general characteristics that allow us to predict – sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly – the behavior and proclivities of individuals from that group, is a general human tendency, and can only ever be eradicated by destroying all races and preventing the development of new ones.
But back to the “racism” of American visual culture: Most of us on the Right are of the opinion that Hollywood and American television is engaged in a massive propaganda operation to foist some fantasy vision of racial harmony on the general public in contradiction to what people’s experience actual tells them. A good case could be made for this, but that case would actually be wrong.
Mainstream popular culture would get nowhere if it went directly against the tastes and racial inclinations of the White masses. These still exist and if the evidence is observed – patterns of social association and residence – they are clearly not the product of a fantasy culture of racial blindness.
No, mainstream popular culture actually channels the “racism” of the masses but in a way that is deceptive. It essentially does what the White majority itself does – self segregate and deny unpleasant racial realities.
Of course, there are movies and TV shows where Black characters awkwardly coexist with White characters, and there may even be examples where vivid and believable interracial character situations arise, but if so these are a rarity and exception.
Just as Whites in general continue to deny the unpleasant facts of racial asymmetry, so does American popular culture. Black criminality and familial dysfunction is played down to such an extent that it is often absurd or hilarious – one thinks of Harvey Keitel’s White pimp in “Taxi Driver.”
But, another significant reason for downplaying Black criminality is the fact that in any movie or drama, the villain or villains are also key parts of the emotional nexus of the film, and it is at this emotional level that US culture is subtly yet strongly segregated.
In any movie or TV drama, you tend to have “wet” characters and “dry” characters. The wet characters carry the emotional load of the movie, the love, the hate, the pain, the fear, and the joy. As such, they also deeply impact on each other and change each other over the course of the plot.
In opposition to the “wet” characters, you also have dry characters. They tend to exist in the background or have non-emotional interaction with the wet characters. They are fixed types that undergo little change over the course of the plot. Often they are functionaries whose motivation to act derives directly from their job with little psychological input of their own. Sometimes they are merely an expression of a quality, moral force, or force of nature.
Now, with this dichotomy in mind, look once again at movies and TV shows, with which you are familiar, and notice the races of the “wet” and “dry” characters. What you will see, in effect, is a racial apartheid system operating unnoticed in plain sight.
You will see the White lead with his or her White romantic interest. The villain, the focus of negative emotions in the story, will almost certainly be another “wet” White character. There might be a corny ethnic sidekick, who plays a “dry” support role and exchanges a few quips with the lead, but who doesn’t change during the story. Occasionally he may be given his own minor “wet” but separate subplot.
You might also notice that police chiefs, Presidents, and judges – all “dry” characters acting in accordance with their jobs – are Black. This is a win-win for movie producers because they can boost the Black head count, show them in a positive light, and exclude them from the “wet” storyline, where they would seriously impact the popularity of the cultural product. In effect, Blacks have been invited into the house, but asked to stand in the hall.
The same concept of the cultural apartheid and “dry” characters also explains the odd phenomenon of the “Magical Negro,” which Spike Lee famously described as a “saintly, nonthreatening” person whose purpose in life is to solve a problem for or otherwise further the happiness of a white person.”
Often the “Magical Negro” is less a human being than a force of nature masquerading as a Black person. The most famous example is John Coffey in Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile (1999), a role for which the actor, Michael Clarke Duncan, was nominated for an Oscar.
Coffey is not only a “Magical Negro” but also another mainstay of the movies, the character who plays against type. He is introduced as a convicted rapist and murderer who turns out to be a “gentle giant” with miraculous healing powers, and ultimately innocent.
This character concoction also skillfully sets one of the operative stereotypes that Whites have of Blacks – as scary thugs – against the mainstream stereotype of Blacks as innocent victims, which offers some White cinemagoers the chance to morally grandstand without effecting their carefully selected (and safe) route home.
In The Green Mile many might see Duncan’s role as the emotional center, but he is a vacuous centre, a mere cipher, an externalized Other. He is simply the stage on which varying White perceptions tangle and untangle and a focus for the emotional drama and interaction of the “wet” characters. Essentially his role is a “dry” one, and in subsequent movies, Hollywood found little use for whatever emotional range Duncan had, casting him in bit parts in comic book or fantasy movies, like the king of the Nubians in “The Scorpion King,” or animal voiceovers.
As long as Whites continue to exist as a distinct and significant ethnic entity in America, popular culture will continue to find ways to pander to their twin desires to self-segregate and deny the unpleasantness of race. The wet/dry model has served late-20th-century America well, as this was a society based on contradictory impulses of inclusion and separation, but this model has its limitations, with both centripetal and centrifugal forces pulling against it.
Nobody is fully satisfied by a culture that seeks to constantly mix, match, and mediate racially disparate and asymmetrical cultural needs. As Spike Lee’s coinage of the “Magical Negro” shows, Blacks find it more difficult to accept inauthentic Black characters than White do; while Whites may tire of being forced to accommodate an ever increasing ethnic burden in their hegemonic culture. Eventually both Blacks and Whites may wish to make the cultural apartheid of “wet” and “dry” roles into a more explicit and authentic cultural division.