« For Clay McLeod Chapman | Main | R.I.P., Harvey...I hope you can. »

July 12, 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


What's really hysterically funny to me is that there's no way to win this argument. Especially with lines like "We live in a world, *LIKE IT OR NOT*, that defines men as more qualified and reliable than women, whites as more qualified and important than people of color...." And if I say that I *don't* live in that world, or that I *don't* discriminate--especially not that way--I'm told that, no, I do, but unconsciously.

What you seem to be saying is that even if TDS (or the Awl) is getting shitty applications from women, they should hire some of those anyway so as to show women that they *can* make it on the show, which in turn will somehow raise their confidence and help them submit better applications, which will make it easier for them to compete with the men who *obviously* have no trouble writing killer applications because success is part of their nature?


Actually, no, I'm not saying any of that, and I don't think that these articles are saying any of that. On the first point, that's wonderful that you're so color/gender-blind, but there is a larger picture to look at and longer effects. That we do live in a world where my contributions are judged on a different basis than yours and have been for most, if not all of my life. And that, while you may not have discriminated against anyone by action, you, as a white man, have enjoyed privileges that I haven't.

It's not about "winning an argument." It's about trying to make it clear what it means and feels like to be a minority or a woman in this country. It's also about how we change that.

Because if the Awl doesn't acknowledge that there may be larger factors in getting those "shitty" applications (and let's note that these are inquiries only, not about qualifications or even actual writing skills) and they may have to work harder to find good female writers and do more than just passively accept applications, then they're going to wind up with a lot of male writers.

Dude, it's right there: "shitty applications from women." Because they're not forceful and/or borderline obnoxious, they're of low quality in your eyes. That's exactly the point of the first part.


I'm not sure what privileges I've enjoyed that you haven't, or weren't able to; you assume an awful lot about me simply on the grounds that I'm white--and isn't that a little racist? And I'm not sure how any of what you've written makes it clear how it feels to be a minority/woman in this country--especially the woman part, especially since (a) you're not a woman, and (b) of the women who do have opinions on this issue, there seem to be plenty who defend TDS (which is how this most recent topic got started, right?).

And 99, I'm not saying they're of low quality in my eyes; I'm going off of what you said: "The women who send in inquiries that seem so timid and insecure are pretty clearly reacting to a lifetime of being told that being an assertive woman means they're pushy or careerist or bitchy." Sorry if "shitty" isn't the word you'd use for that, but man, I'm sure I send in tons of timid and insecure applications for things--because I'm not overly confident--and it's not like anybody's going out of their way to weed me out. (And this is assuming I'm actually even a talent.) And why should they be working harder to find good WOMEN writers anyway? Why not just work on improving their process to find better WRITERS, period. Oh, wait, because that would somehow lead to more men, right? Which is automatically sexist, right?

I realize that some of the above reads angrily. I've decided not to edit it out: I'm just tired of feeling like I'm a bad guy if I don't do something--and I'm not even sure what is being asked for here--to correct the injustice in America.


Hey, if you don't want to do anything to address the inequality in this country, that's up to you. It's your life, live it how you want. I'm sorry if that means sometimes you feel like the bad guy. But please acknowledge what you just said: you don't want to do something to address what you see is unjust. Accept that.

I didn't say what I was writing was about what it feels like to be a woman. I'm saying that the women who are writing are trying to tell us that. And I'm trying to listen. And, you know what? I have to work pretty hard to let go of a lot of male privileges to do it. I fail a lot. But I keep trying.

I really can't help you if you don't see that having a culture dominated by the voices of men, largely catering to an audience of men, in a world that's more than half women is a bad thing. If you can't see that part of the problem is that the standards for good writing are largely agreed on by men, mostly white men and that will exclude a lot of work from other perspectives, I don't know any other way to get you to see that.

There's a larger world than the personal here. I'm sure you've had your struggles and they probably aren't really that different from mine. But some of them are. And some of mine are. And a lot of my struggles come from living in a country that's got a pretty big race problem. I want to address that. In some ways I need to address that. You don't want to join in the fight. I get that. But please don't act like the fight's not happening.


Look, you're producing a festival. That's great. And you're outspoken about being progressive. Fantastic, I mean that, I really do. So you actually HAVE an opportunity to give minority writers AND women writers a place in which they can have their work performed. I can't wait to see what you guys choose to produce.

But please, be aware that the standards for good writing are NOT largely agreed on by men. Plenty of best-selling female authors, even in the field of memoir, which one of the things you quoted attributed to as being flat out narcissism. (Tell that to Didion.) Plenty of funny women on television (just look at NBC's Thursday night line-up), both in front of the camera and behind the camera, or both.

I can't see that AND see that "part of the problem is that the standards for good writing are largely agreed on by men." At best, I can see that the standards of writing for MEN (i.e., shows written for men) are largely agreed on by men, but I don't think even that's wholly true, given that Felicia Day and Olivia Munn have both found ways--not just involving sex, as you seemed to think--to write to a male audience.

I'm also not sure why the attack is always on a group like PH or a show like TDS. Why not gun for Oprah? Or the Lifetime/Oxygen model, something that actively preaches a certain lifestyle to women? What's the split like in those companies? It's OK for BET to run a narrow range of programming, but it's not okay for Comedy Central to do the same?

Look, you say that you're trying to listen to the women who are telling you how hard it is to be a woman. But from what I saw on the comments of the other board--and I've got no idea what gender the actual commentators are--you're only really listening to the people who agree with the opinion you've got, and you're not listening to the successful women, or the ones who don't think they're being discriminated against.... And that's not really listening.


The thing is that, at the end of the line, in most of the entertainment field, there's a straight white guy pulling the levers, or collectives of straight white men. I'm not saying that there are NO successful women or minorities working. Just that there won't be real equality until there are more than one or two token minorities and women at the top.

That's what I mean when the standards are set by white men. Especially given that, historically, women and minorities were completely shut out and without an active voice. There is a burden of history to deal with as well.

I and others focus on places like PH and TDS because they're not on the White Comedy Central network or the White Person's theatre. They claim to be open and available to all and yet wind up skewing pretty strongly to the white and male. And, as I've said before, when they say, "Well, it's all about quality and not about race or gender," the flip side of that is "White men produce more works of quality." Which I have a hard time accepting.

Listening doesn't mean "agreeing with." I went back and forth with girldreams and have gone back and forth with you, trying to respond to your questions and concerns. Sure, I get frustrated and sometimes use salty language, but I AM listening. I just don't agree with you. And I understand that you don't agree with me. I do think that, ultimately, this dialogue can be useful.

The thing I do find frustrating is that I don't feel listened to, honestly. I feel like when I try to talk to the "other side" here, there's no actual give. No accepting of any point of fact, data or information or even shifting of perspective. It feels like the goalposts keep moving. What I find frustrating is that most of this conversation is about attacking my (and others') premises.

I'm still trying to get a solid answer to something: do you see a problem with institutional discrimination in the entertainment industry? If not, how do you explain that the overwhelming majority of people in positions of power and control (creators, executives, producers) and highest visibility are white men, far out of proportion with their numbers in the populace? Or do you really think that they aren't?


99, I'm listening to you--and there are things I've agreed with you about. But as I've tried to point out before, some of your language (and I understand, this has to do with the medium of blogging) is so broad that it drowns out some of the other things you're saying, as in, I can't move past this issue to address the good things because I'm so focused on correcting the errors, misrepresentations, &c.

For instance, in the exchange above, I disagreed with your exaggerated statement that "the standards for good writing are largely agreed on by men," to which you reply simply that "at the end of the line, in most of the entertainment field, there's a straight white guy pulling the levers, or collectives of straight white men." And I'm just not sure that's true. Or, that if that's true, that that leads to discrimination. For instance, I don't know who put together The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list, but that's a very diverse group in terms of gender AND ethnicity. If the editors happen to be a majority of rich, straight white men, is that list an example of discrimination? Reverse discrimination? An attempt to bait-and-switch? Again, I'm hearing what you're saying, but--like you to me--I'm just not believing it, and a large part of that boils down, as it always will, to stats. If you feel like I (or others) are attacking your premises, it's because I can't see what they're grounded in. No wonder they keep "moving."

You bring this up again: "And, as I've said before, when they say, "Well, it's all about quality and not about race or gender," the flip side of that is "White men produce more works of quality." Which, theoretically, is going to be true assuming that (a) all people are equal and (b) the majority of submitters are white men. Isaac made a great point when he rebutted that there's actually an abundance of quality (according to Outrageous Fortune), which means that editors--like, I presume the New Yorker's--can pick out a diverse group.

As for your question to me: no, I do not see a problem with institutional discrimination. As I said above, I don't see an "overwhelming majority of straight white men." Given the diverse stuff I read and watch, I'm honestly given the impression that they aren't, though I'll gladly concede that--from what's in the history books--they certainly were at one time. (Will you concede that the industry isn't as bad as I've read it once was? Will you grant that it's getting better? Are you positive that it can be NATURALLY accelerated any faster without knocking things OUT of proportion again?)

I don't know your background, you don't know mine. But the way you describe things, you would never be able to mount a play. And yet you connected with other people, successful in your field, and I assume at some sort of function provided by an institution?, and you're now going out and founding a festival, which as I've said before, I honestly admire. Let me know if I can help. But that's the sort of stuff I see. I don't see a giant boot, metaphoric or otherwise, kicking you down.


You really don't see that the majority of our industry is dominated by straight white men? The reason my collaborators are going out and starting a festival is because there are so few opportunities for minority playwrights. That's the reason for the festival. Thanks for your admiration, but if you think that a festival is a necessary good, yet there isn't systemic bias...don't you see the contradiction?

Please stop talking about how you don't like my language or you think it's broad as a way of avoiding the actual question. You dance around it and even in your dancing keep skipping over the key point: WHY are the majority of submitters white men? Why should that be the case? Why should that be acceptable? White men do not constitute anything close to a majority in this country. And yet, I've seen maybe two cultural products this year (plays, movies, TV shows) that featured more than one woman or person of color. How did we get there?

I want you to name for me the number of female artistic directors here in the city, of theatres larger than 99 seats. Name me the minority artistic directors of theatres that don't have a mission statement about serving minority audiences. Name me the minority critics. You mention the Thursday night line-up on NBC as being female-dominated. Besides 30 Rock and Parks and Rec, how many other shows on NBC revolve around female characters? Besides Tina Fey, how many other female creators are there on NBC? And then think about how many shows there are and largely the same pattern reproduces itself over and over.

What frustrates me about your push for stats is that, sometimes, it seems like it's an excuse to ignore the facts that are plainly obvious. We don't need to commission a study to prove that there are very few female show creators whose shows make it to the air. In the Comedy Central discussion, two shows in their history have starred women. Two. That is plainly unequal. I'm sorry to be a bit vulgar here, but you can't piss on my head and tell me it's raining. And when I say, "No, it's piss," ask me to do a chemical test to prove it.

This is what I mean about moving the goalposts. I talk about the very apparent, but that's not good enough. There needs to be some sort of proof other than the pudding.

That's great that the New Yorker has selected a diverse group for their 20 under 40. I think we should celebrate efforts at diversity, which is why I think Second Stage's season is so great (female AD, by the way). But we also have to acknowledge that it takes effort. And that doing it once a year isn't enough. Look at the rest of the year's New Yorker's stories and keep an eye out for that diversity.

Sure, it's not as bad as it once was. But that doesn't mean we've hit optimal conditions or actual equality. We got this far through nearly constant struggle. Why stop now?


Hey, I had a much longer post that dealt with NBC and Comedy Central programming, and if you want, I'll e-mail it to you. But here's where you're distorting or ignoring me:

(1) The facts aren't plainly obvious: you just think they are. And don't change my words around: I didn't say that a festival was a "necessary good"; I said that if there was "systemic bias," you wouldn't be able *to* launch a festival. Systemic means that Arena Stage wouldn't have a female AD, and certainly wouldn't have an American Voices New Play initiative.

(2) You say I'm dancing over the key point of "Why the majority of submitters are white men." I'm not. That's just what the data shows, and I'm not sure how looking for a new minority co-anchor/guest-anchor/whatever on the Daily Show fixes that. The sex and race of ADs is irrelevant given this--I'd argue that the most important data is the audience demographic, which (a) contributes to those who will eventually decide to participate in the arts and (b) gives a capitalistic incentive to theaters to look for playwrights who represent their theater's demographic. (So...many...bad...Jewish...plays....ARRRGH.)

(3) I call bullshit on your "I've seen maybe two cultural products this year that featured more than one woman or person of color. How did we get there?" statement. From your posts here, I know that you watched Lost. And Fringe. And Flashforward. You seem to know something about Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock. I certainly wish you'd check out the rest of NBC's comedy block, which includes the very diverse Community. And that's just TV, to say nothing of film or theater. Maybe you didn't see anything else with more than one woman or person of color . . . but then again, maybe you ignored those shows because they didn't actually interest you as much as the shiny other thing that you now claim is a product of systemic racism. Not really struggling against the system if you support it with actions and then bash it with words.


1) Criticizing me isn't actually answering the point. Why do you think the festival is a good idea? And why do you ignore it when I say that I and the other founders of the festival and the other supporters of it conceived and created it as a response to systemic bias? What you seem to keep conflating are systemic bias and outright discrimination. They're two different things. I'm not saying that there is still Jim Crow. What I'm saying (and others are saying) is that black writers don't have the opportunities that white writers do and that this is largely due to a legacy and pattern of systemic bias. Which leads to...

2) You are stopping short, at the data and not asking anything further. The race and sex of ADs and producers is exactly the point because they're the decision-makers, in addition to being role models. A minority guest anchor on the Daily Show would absolutely address that. Why do so many young black men want to be rappers and basketball players? Because that's what they see young black men doing. There are rafts and rafts of studies on this. All of the data that you want is pretty readily available to you.

And you are still not asking why the data is the way it is. I think that's one of the ways this conversation goes nowhere. I'm positing a reason for why the data is the way it is and you're not going there.

3) I did watch Lost, Fringe, FlashForward, 30 Rock, and Community. And yep, part of the reason I watched them is because they're diverse. They're also rarities. And, again, this conversation, slightly differently from TDS thread, isn't just about on-camera talent. It's also about who's making what behind the scenes. Almost all of those shows are created and largely written by white men. I'm not saying that they can't be diverse, but that we're only getting one kind of lens one life. Also, it's worth noting that two of those shows won't be seen next year and Community was pretty much completely shut out of the Emmys.

You know, you're right: I exaggerated the point a bit. At that particular moment, I was thinking primarily of plays and movies. TV does have a tendency to be a bit more diverse in casting. Though only a bit.

I want to come back to this, just to be clear: you need to be more precise in your terms and your thinking. There is a difference between racism, sexism and bias. And you can see Isaac's response in TDS thread and the article linked to here for my response to your implication of hypocrisy. You can enjoy something and even be glad when it meets your hopes and still recognize when it fails.


I think your festival is a good idea for the same reason that I think 13P is a good idea: rather than attack the institutions that wouldn't produce your work, you're finding a way to produce it yourself, a task that will either (a) show the institutions how valuable your work is or (b) remind other artists of how broken the institutional model. I'm not saying that either of these is true, mind you, simply that those are the two positive outcomes of your work.

But you're right, I need to clarify my own language. I do not think that white men who happen to be ADs are any more biased than women who happen to be ADs or other minorities who happen to be ADs. I don't think they're racist. I don't think they're sexist. That doesn't mean that NONE of them are, but I honestly don't think it affects their work. (For instance, remember that guy who got fired from his theater for supporting Prop 8? Personal views were sketchy, but he didn't bring them to work, as far as I know.)

I think you're still exaggerating when you grudgingly admit that TV is only *bit* more diverse in casting, but I'm not going to push that. I just want you to realize that I'm not criticizing your hypocrisy--I'm criticizing the higher standards you have that lead you to describe something with, say, a B track record, as failing. (And please, I know you don't mean to, but don't imply that those two shows won't be back because of bias. FlashForward had writing issues, and Lost ended after six seasons.)

Anyway, your main issue has to do with role models. VISIBLE role models. If a young black man thinks his only two career paths are as rapper or as a basketball player, hiring a behind-the-scenes AD isn't going to change his mind. Unless your implication is that only a behind-the-scenes AD is going to put black actors and black plays in-front-of-the-scenes. And if that's where you think I'm not going, you're right, but for the wrong reason. I'm not going there because it's NOT true. You make that point yourself, when you point out that despite the existence of "diverse rarities" like Community and 30 Rock (or Parks and Recreation, or Modern Family, or Parenthood, or Friday Night Lights), the creators are still mainly white men. Forgive me for not seeing your point on this; please clarify the problem.


Both things are true: hiring a black AD for a non-minority mission theatre DOES increase the visibility of black artists. An AD is a public figure, the kind who gets their pictures and names in the paper. In addition, they have a lot of influence over who gets seen on their stages. Same goes for producers and television show creators. They also have a lot of sway over how minorities and people of color are portrayed. Part of the feminist beef with the hiring of Olivia Munn has to do with her on-screen role as a sexy ditz. Which isn't exactly a progressive role for a woman to be seen as. The point is a black creator or showrunner is more likely to expand the conversation and show more aspects of minority or female life because they know them. They live it. On the balance (and please let's not get into comparing life experiences in specific), white men are less familiar and draw less convincing portraits and rely on more stereotypes. This is certainly changing, but, again, as I said earlier, that doesn't mean we just sit back and wait for cultural evolution to take care of it.

I don't think that my main issue is role models. My main issue is equality, parity and justice. I notice, in all of this, we've left out networks like CBS, which is extremely white, or most of cable (*cough*AMC*cough*). Cherry-picking the good leaves the impression that it's all good. It's not. And we haven't even delved into how minorities and women are portrayed on any of these shows, just their presence. We haven't addressed issues of tokenism or whether, ultimately any portrayal is a positive one.

My actual issue is what I've said: our cultural products are overly dominated by the voices and lens of white male experience. This doesn't happen and it doesn't mean that I think that ALL ADs and producers are racist and/or sexist or part of some conspiracy to keep women and minorities out. It's a product of the very natural human tendency to identify with things like you. But when you marry it to a history of discrimination and a number of structural impediments to diversity, you wind up with structural bias and institutional racism/sexism. In some ways, it's not about the individual actors being racist, but the system is. Unfortunately, to best change the system, you have to change the behavior of the individual actors. The system as a whole is still failing, still failing badly, but in order to fix the system, you have to fix the parts. Which means lobbying individual shows for more diversity, more sensitivity to diversity and more effort made.

On the festival, if you're missing the aspect of the festival being about black writers, specifically, as a response to being passed over or held in limbo, while waiting for our one slot a season, you're missing a lot of it.


Being passed over or held in limbo isn't a condition that's endemic to black playwrights, though you're making it seem like it is. I would bet that it's more to do with the content/style of the plays--marketability at its crudest and ugliest--which is why I bring up 13P, so as to take race out of it and leave it at what I have more of a problem with, which is the play-it-safe conformity of theaters. Again, that's got nothing to do with gender or race (see my earlier note about Lyons), though it's easy to get them confused. For instance, if it's true that a black AD is more likely to produce edgier work than a white one, then perhaps that's WHY theaters don't hire one. I mean, nobody's hiring Mark Russell or Vallejo Gantner to run a major institution (which leads to the question of what a major institution is, or should be); likewise, I'm not hearing a lot of complaints about rampant racism/sexism at PS122.

But this is good: we have similar views of what the problem is. We just have different solutions. You think it needs to come from a minority leader, I think it can come from anyone--what's important is that we represent different viewpoints. After all, Tyler Perry isn't going to necessarily push the envelope; J. J. Abrams isn't automatically going to homogenize television. There is more to this than skin color and sex.

So far as CBS goes, with the exception of Survivor and the Superbowl, I don't think I've ever watched it: that's how I fight their limited scope. If they can get enough viewers to watch their shallow shit, that's their right, isn't it? (Ironically, nobody's lobbying CBS. Why would shows want to be more like TDS, which gets attacked for being progressive from BOTH ends, and less like CBS stuff, which is so conservative that NOBODY attacks it?)

Oh, as a sad end-note: "An AD is a public figure, the kind who gets their pictures and names in the paper." You and I have very different ideas of "public figure" and "role-model," which to kids these days really means "wealthy" and "celebrity."


Right there, you're showing what I'm saying: while being "stuck" isn't a situation that ONLY affects black playwrights, it is a situation that ALL black playwrights have to contend with. Regardless of the content of their work. Not all black playwrights write "edgy" work. Some write very conventional work. But all of them are vying for the same slot. All of them are judged by the color of their skin or their personal history first. Where a young white playwright can write a more conventional play and rise up through the ranks quicker. There are expectations put on a play by a black playwright that a white playwright doesn't have to contend with. And, honestly, sometimes these expectations come from our own community, but they do also come from the white leaders.

Like I said in TDS thread, I think there's more to be gained by lobbying people and institutions who have shown at least a willingness to listen and some sense of affinity for the cause. You're more likely to have an effect. I don't see it as an attack or a reason to harsh on them; I see it as encouragement and exhortation and talking to a friend when they do something f'ed up. Just because they're your friend, that doesn't change that it's f'ed up. It's too easy for some institutions to dismiss complaints, and certainly too easy for them to fall back on "People like us as we are, so we must be doing something right."

I think the effect of putting a minority or female face out in front is greater than a progressive white person, yes. I don't think that it only comes from minority leaders, but...how progressive can a white man be if he's mainly giving opportunities to other white men? No matter how progressive they are, the end result is the same.


I don't think there's really anything else we can discuss on this subject, especially since you've basically just said that no matter what I do, I can't be progressive, since I'm a white man. And since I'm apparently going to hold black plays to a different standard than white plays, automatically, why should I even bother reviewing them?

You ever consider that your sniping might actually turn people away? Or encourage them to just pull a CBS and be so hard-of-hearing that nobody bothers them? I'm not saying don't criticize your friends, but maybe couch it as constructive criticism? Maybe recommend some other up-and-coming funny young minority comedians? Maybe NOT make this so Black and White?

Consider that I'm really trying to listen to you. I'm really trying to engage with you. And the message I'm hearing--whether you mean to say it or not--is that I'm not good enough.


That is categorically not what I'm saying. I'm saying that you, as do I, as does Isaac, as does everybody, bring certain biases to the table. That as a member of society that is rife with structural, historical and often active racism, we carry that baggage. I'm not saying you can't be progressive or you're not good enough. I'm saying that, if you think you're being progressive, but the beneficiaries are all or largely straight white men, how can you actually be progressive? That's the question. J.J. Abrams can be edgy and envelope-pushing all he wants, but if his leads are always white men, what envelope is he pushing?

We can't have this conversation if you're going to get offended and call my criticisms and questions "sniping" and imply that I'm attacking you personally.

I don't see criticizing your friends and offering constructive criticism as being mutually exclusive. And I don't see how ignoring the elephant in the room is constructive, other than putting certain people at ease. Let's remember that this conversation started about representation of women, not just people of color. It's not black and white, it cuts across a lot of lines.

As you point out, I'm starting a festival to get the work out there. I do what I can to promote multicultural casting, like promoting the awesome Donald Glover for Spider-Man...but you see the effect that campaign had. I wholly admit that this issue is hot for me and that I get angry about it, but I do keep engaging, I do keep coming back and I don't intend to shut up about it. Have I said you weren't listening? No. I've just said something you find unpleasant to consider. Is it really so impossible that your point of view might have been shaped by your race? No one ever seems to have any problems saying that mine has, or that I let my racial identification cloud my judgment or shape my arguments. Why doesn't that cut both ways?


I'm confused.

(1) J. J. Abrams's new show, "Undercovers," has two black leads. That's why I brought him up in the first place. I thought you knew that. His leads in "Lost" were not all white, nor men. The same goes for "Fringe." This is why I get frustrated; it seems like to you, it doesn't matter WHAT J. J. Abrams does.

(2) The blog I run, the work I do, I don't get paid for. I do it because I'm interested in making sure the new work being written, work that hasn't yet made it to the "big" stage, gets fair coverage. I'm fairly certain that those who benefit from an unbiased review (though you're telling me that nothing I do is TRULY unbiased) are not largely straight white men.

(3) What is the thing you've said that I find unpleasant to consider? The only thing I've found unpleasant to consider is the thing you've said is categorically NOT what you're saying.

(4) Isn't the elephant in the room CBS? Which is being ignored because--as you said--it's easier to talk to someone who looks like they might listen?

(5) If our points of view have BOTH been shaped by race, why are you so convinced that you're right about the systemic bias? I'm certainly concede that there is bias against certain work; I'm just not as quick to assume that a white male AD must be the problem.


Actually, I do know about Undercovers and I'm excited about it and looking forward to it. Lost was an ensemble show, but, particularly with the ending, it largely revolved around the fates of two white men. In the last seasons, as with a lot of shows, the cast actually got whiter.

I'm not saying that you're not good enough and I'm not saying that you're consciously biased. I'm not even saying that the white male AD is the problem. I can't say this enough: the problem is that white men are overrepresented in positions of power and influence in our country in general and in our cultural industries. Period. That's the problem. I don't have problems with the individuals but with the culture. And, as I said before, I feel like you have to deal with the individuals and the institutions to change that.

I'm not ignoring CBS. You're actually the one who keeps bringing up specific examples as showing how I'm wrong about systemic bias. I'm talking about the big picture and you keep pointing to a part of it and saying, "It's not like that right here. Why are you trying to change what's happening right here?" I'm trying to change the whole thing and this is one of the ways I'm trying to do it.

You want to prove me wrong about systemic bias and institutional racism? I turn it back to you: show me the numbers. Show me the numbers that show that white men aren't overrepresented both in terms of positions of power and in terms of representation on stage and screen. Where is your back-up? You throw out singular examples, but exclude the things you exclude, same as you charge me with doing.

Your advice to me, in that last comment, was You ever consider that your sniping might actually turn people away? Or encourage them to just pull a CBS and be so hard-of-hearing that nobody bothers them? I'm not saying don't criticize your friends, but maybe couch it as constructive criticism? Maybe recommend some other up-and-coming funny young minority comedians? Maybe NOT make this so Black and White? To me, that's ignoring the elephant in the room. Acting as though this isn't so "Black and White." When it is about black and white.

Aaron, please let me be clear: I'm not asking you to change your behavior if you don't want to, or change your opinions or whatever. You do what you do and you do it for your reasons and that's all well and good. I have higher expectations of someone who is in charge of a TV show, particularly someone who, I genuinely believe, is a real progressive and wants to do good work in the world. Write what you feel like writing and I wish you all the success in the world. I'm totally serious. You don't need to take up this banner or join this fight. It's apparently not your fight and you don't want to fight it. I'm not asking you to. If you don't want to read my posts on diversity, don't. But I don't understand why you feel the need to tell me not to fight this fight, or to fight it in some way that makes you feel more comfortable or supported or whatever. You don't work for TDS or Playwrights. You don't make decisions there. Why do you feel like you need to defend the people who do?


Mo Ryan does a little digging, with a quote from a female showrunner in the game:

"I've been confronted by misogyny on a staff before," "Eureka" co-executive producer Amy Berg said in a lively writers roundtable posted at io9.com. "It's just sad that this sort of thing still exists. The really horrible thing about this kind of behavior is that it's not something you can change. You can't talk things out. I tried that. It's just something that's ingrained in people. And if you don't have support from your showrunner (or if the person is your showrunner), all you can do is pack your stuff and move on to bigger and better things."



"You don't work for TDS or Playwrights. You don't make decisions there. Why do you feel like you need to defend the people who do." Well, I guess because I'm a white man. And all *I* ever hear is how bad white men are. Especially ones who get into power. Even if they're progressive, because then they're not progressive ENOUGH.

The reason I kept focusing on the J. J. Abrams example is because you say things like this: "J.J. Abrams can be edgy and envelope-pushing all he wants, but if his leads are always white men, what envelope is he pushing?" Even though you know that his leads aren't always white men.

Also, why *don't* you want me to take up this fight? If you're not writing your essays here with the intent to make a point and to get people on your side, why do it at all? And, hey, I'm not telling you not to fight this fight. I'm telling you where someone on the other side (I guess) is coming from. You want to ignore that, that's fine. But mutual respect across a segregated gulf is not the end-game I expect you had in mind.


And right there, right there at the beginning, you're starting to get it: I'm talking about some other guys in some other situation and you feel like it's about you. And you identify with them in this story. When I make criticisms, it's about *you.* That's exactly what I'm talking about when I'm talking about bias and the blinders that it introduces and why it's a bad thing when most of the folks at the top, an assertion you have not addressed, share the same outlook and the same blinders and blind spots. You see this back-and-forth from the perspective of the white guys I'm criticizing and NOT from mine. I know you're trying to and you're earnest in your trying, but you identify with them. Don't you see that? And don't you see what a stifling effect that can have on a culture?

Lost is about Jack's battle with John Locke. There are other characters, sure, and they are well-drawn and well-played and diverse as hell. But in the end, it's about Jack and Locke. Abrams has done some good work with women on TV (Alias and Felicity), but I don't remember a heavy black presence in those shows. I'm excited about Undercovers, but there's a lot to be done in the offing. It could suck and that might be worse.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the struggle goes on and on. It's a long process with lots of wins and losses. I'm glad for the advancements we've made, but they're not enough. I'm not going to break my arm patting anyone on the back for moving closer to basic human empathy and understanding.

Way back when, in anger, you wrote:
I'm just tired of feeling like I'm a bad guy if I don't do something--and I'm not even sure what is being asked for here--to correct the injustice in America.
I took that and other things you've written in this thread to mean you don't actually want to fight this fight. You don't see large-scale discrimination or bias and you (please correct me if I'm wrong) think that most of these decisions are made on the basis of quality and if we just focus on shifting that for all, it will work out fine. This isn't your fight. Would I be happy to have you involved? Sure. You're totally welcome. But, if after all of this time and back and forth, nothing anyone has said, not just me, but anyone, has moved you closer...I do doubt what it would take. You don't accept any of my premises as real or accurate. I don't know what else to do...except agree with you to win you over to my side. And I don't. I'm happy to go back and forth and round and round, but I don't think I'll "convert" you. There are a lot of people I won't convert.

But there are also a lot of people out there who think and feel the way I do, but think they're the only ones. Or think there aren't enough of us to do anything about it, or make some change. They're my audience. It may be preaching to the choir, it may even be pure self-gratification and working out of my own issues. But I want to reach the like-minded folks and bond together and see what we can do together. I want to reach the people who read some of this and think, "I didn't see that before." Some people will. I don't think you will. That's okay, man. It's a big country, a big cultural map. I don't expect everyone to cross the divide. I just think there should be more bridges. Maybe a ferry or two.

I do feel the need to say that saying: You ever consider that your sniping might actually turn people away? Or encourage them to just pull a CBS and be so hard-of-hearing that nobody bothers them? I'm not saying don't criticize your friends, but maybe couch it as constructive criticism? Maybe recommend some other up-and-coming funny young minority comedians? Maybe NOT make this so Black and White? is telling me how to fight this fight. You're telling me how to reach you. But you may not be the person I'm trying to reach.


Right. You're not interested in reaching me. But you are interested in reaching the progressive people I identify with, and who--if I see myself in them--probably see a little of themselves in me. I wasn't trying to tell you how to fight your fight; I was making a suggestion. And trying to make you aware of your biases and blindness: if you're content to contribute to the divide in this country, that's fine.

"You see this back-and-forth from the perspective of the white guys I'm criticizing and NOT from mine. I know you're trying to and you're earnest in your trying, but you identify with them. Don't you see that? And don't you see what a stifling effect that can have on a culture?" I'm empathizing with Jon Stewart and Tim Sanford, hardly all of White America. I'm recognizing that if I was in their shoes, you'd say the same about me--unless what? How many "slots" would it take for you to feel that I was being fair? Have you considered how stifling THAT might be?

By the by, I did accept one of the premises of your argument: there are plays that are discriminated against in the theater. Again, we differ on the cause of that discrimination. You say it's racial, I say it's stylistic. Take a Madeline George play or a Thomas Bradshaw play, slap my white male name on it, see if that gets it any further at a major institution. You catch someone pulling that shit, I'll be the first one calling for them to be fired.


Don't forget J.J. Abrams and Dan Harmon and Greg Daniels and Michael Schur; you identify with them. We're not talking about all of White America here. We're talking about cultural production. I'm making a critique of that.

Stifling to...what? We both know there are already a number of criteria having nothing to do with pure quality that determine the plays in any given season. I would like them to change some of those criteria. What exactly is being stifled?

Dude. I'm not asking for your help. You're offering it because you know who I'm talking to. Despite me just now saying that's not who I'm talking to at all. You have now substituted your judgment about my message for mine. Do you really not get how presumptuous that is?

As to your last point, what if you took a Nathan Louis Jackson play and put Beau Willimon's name on it or vice versa? What theatres would produce which play and at what level? See, I don't think there's ONLY racial/sexual discrimination at play; there is, of course, stylistic discrimination. But it all works together. And, again to my earlier point, did you notice that you chose a lesbian writer and a black writer as being stylistically out there. That's part of the problem. Black, gay, female is the "Other" because "Straight White Male" is the default. That's the normal. Why is it that plays by black writers are discriminated against more, why there are less of them than white writers? That's what I'm trying to get at.


(1) I left out J. J., Dan, Greg, Michael because you weren't attacking them--the original post was about PH and these most recent ones were about TDS. But sure, if you're critiquing them--especially if it's for not being progressive enough--what's your specific beef with their cultural production? Note: their "production" has nothing to do with their race.

(2) Specifically what criteria do you want changed at PH? You ask in the fourth paragraph for programming that is NOT the default, but hell, are any of PH's six shows by a straight white man? And no, I *don't* know what criteria the theater has beyond quality. Enlighten me.

(3) I offered my "help" to your festival. I offered my opinions--clearly stated as such--to you because we were talking. For someone who keeps saying that they're listening, you keep getting upset by what I say. I haven't substituted my judgment for yours, and I'm not being presumptuous. I'm just saying how your words come across to me, a white man. It's fine for you to not give two shits, and to say that I'm not your audience, but don't then say that it's good that we're having a dialogue. As for who you're talking to, these are your words: "Like I said in TDS thread, I think there's more to be gained by lobbying people and institutions who have shown at least a willingness to listen and some sense of affinity for the cause." If that's NOT people like Jon Stewart/TDS and Tim Sanford/PH, then who exactly are you lobbying?

4) You lost me. I've been talking about stylistic discrimination since the start of this thread, and part of that has to do with being able to easily sell your show. But Beau Willimon and Nathan Louis Jackson are apples and oranges; why are we comparing them, and how does that hurt the point I was making?


Aaron, you continue to avoid answering the key question I'm asking you: if it's all stylistic discrimination, why does it seem to affect black playwrights disproportionately? If we're talking styles, Madeline George and Thomas Bradshaw do very different things, but you said they're hurt not by their gender and race, but by their styles. But Adam Rapp is stylistically different and doesn't seem to hurt in the way that Zakkiyah Alexander does. You refuse to address that.

But I don't really expect you to. When I say I'm not trying to convince you, I actually mean you, Aaron Riccio, critic, blogger and writer. Not *you* all white men everywhere who all think and act alike. I can accept, in my mind, that there are white men who think a variety of things and have a lot of different opinions and yet still there is pervasive discrimination. That's actually how systemic discrimination works. But I'm dealing with you as a proxy for people like Jon Stewart, who I do believe is lobby-able. And I'm not using as a proxy for an organization like PH, which I do think is lobby-able.

But this conversation is with *you*. Not them.

As you've said, you think that there is little or no racial/gender discrimination and it's all stylistic discrimination. If that's your bedrock belief, this line of argument will do nothing for you. You're not a stand-in for an audience that is willing to listen, an audience that sees actual discrimination (because stylistic discrimination is NOT actual discrimination, except as a PC proxy), but doesn't see it in themselves. You simply refuse to see it. You have decided that racial and gender discrimination in the arts doesn't exist and only the quality works rise to the top (which, of course, raises the questions of what role a critic plays or why things get bad reviews, if they are indeed, without other criteria involved, the top quality work. But I'm sure you have an answer for that.). I'm not the person to make you see that it does. The best I can do is try to make you at least admit that's what you think. To have you say that, flat out, rather than go in for all of this sophistry and tap-dancing around it.

And, again, I feel the need to remind you that "listening" doesn't mean agreeing or liking or not being upset by or whatever it is you seem to think it means. I am listening, I have listened, I think I understand your concerns and opinions, and frankly, I don't agree with any of them. And yes, I still think it's good to have this dialogue, because I'd like to think that other people read it and think about it and make up their mind. (Though, at this point, I'm pretty sure everyone in the world has checked out.) It's not all about you, Aaron. It's just not.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad

# of Visitors Since 11/22/05

  • eXTReMe Tracker