Shopkeeper: Take this object, but beware it carries a terrible curse!
Homer: Ooh, that’s bad.
Shopkeeper: But it comes with a free frogurt!
Homer: That’s good.
Shopkeeper: The frogurt is also cursed.
Homer: That’s bad.
Shopkeeper: But you get your choice of toppings.
Homer: That’s good!
Shopkeeper: The toppings contain potassium benzoate.
“I am the greatest author in English literature. I penned 38 plays and 154 sonnets, including Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. Every day, people use my words, phrases, and quotes. But now a shitty movie by the director of 2012 has come out claiming that someone of my low birth was too stupid to accomplish all this. I am the 99%.”—
“According to this logic the best way to stop bullying in schools is to expel all of the the lgbtq (or those who just “appear” that way), the disabled, the non-white, the just general geeks and weirdos because removing the victims is better than dealing with the abusers. Punish those who are different so that the mainstream doesn’t harass them.”—
I think they talked about this on Cracked too, but one of my favorite things is “last week, fucked around and got a triple double”.
Who the hell keeps track of their rebounds or assists (or anything besides points) when they’re just fucking around?
Cube was running around going “THAT’S ELEVEN BLOCKED SHOTS, BITCHES!” and all his friends were probably all, “Dude, chill out. We’re just fucking around.”
My students all chinese except for two colombians.
The male colombian seems to have come to class amped to meet himself a chinese woman. He expressed audible disappointment when he found out one of the other students was married (and apparently has two kids; man asians age well - until it all hits them at around 50).
Today we had a new student. And during the break there he was chatting her up.
Teaching adults is fun.
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So here I am, actually about to write a pop culture post for the first time in a while.
I have been tasked with choosing three – three – characters from pop culture that I happen to like who are unintentionally problematic, either in terms of race, gender, sexuality, or some other such category. My fantastic friend, Lady T, is writing the same post on her site, and I will post the link as soon as she is done. (Edit: She’s done! Go check it out, and read the rest of her site while you’re at it. She’s awesome.)
We came to this decision because we were talking about “The Little Mermaid,” and Sebastian. And we agreed that, for whatever reason – perhaps because we first saw the movie as children, perhaps the songs, perhaps because he’s just charming in one way or another – we still love him, despite him being a “happy island person” stereotype. He’s basically like one of those Jamaica commercials despite the fact that the movie doesn’t take place in any particular location, which sets off all of our anti-racist alarms, yet, HOW CAN YOU HATE SEBASTIAN?
You just can’t.
And so, the rules for this post are that these three characters cannot be intentionally problematic – no Michael Scotts, Eric Cartmans, Archie Bunkers, etc. - and they can’t just be examples pulled from the ether: I have to actually have serious affection for them for one reason or another.
Thus, I present to you three characters that manage to Danny Ocean their way past all my anti-racist, feminist, anti-homophobia alarms and make their way out of the casino with all the money.
3. Jim Crow (and the other Crows), from “Dumbo” (1941)
I promise this list won’t be entirely Disney, but I had to get these guys out of the way.
What’s to say? Disney was well aware of the implications of these noble idiots who have nothing better to do all day than sit around and laugh. So well aware that they indeed named the main crow “Jim,” and didn’t tell the audience his name at all. Which is to say his name is an in-joke between the writers, who were basically laughing at the ongoing injustice in the country at the time. Awesome.
Their language is basically proto-jive, and their clothes are tattered and torn. They smoke and drink. They’re very clearly part of the American underclass. And, yeah, that’s a white guy doing “Jim Crow’s” voice.
Well, this may seem like a retread of the Sebastian info from the intro: the goddamn music is great. The white guys pretending to be black (birds) have some really great voices that harmonize well, and "When I See An Elephant Fly" is beautiful and a lot of fun, like most of the songs in that movie.
I should also mention that they help Dumbo succeed at the end, which means they at least manage to have SOME agency. So, there’s that, too.
And hey. My mom’s a smart lady. If she let me watch this movie over and over and over again, maybe she thought I’d take the good from it and leave the bad behind.
Yeesh, though, do they really have to say, “I be done seen ‘bout everything?” Blergh.
2. Babu Bhatt (Brian George), from “Seinfeld” (Various episodes)
Let’s be clear. Brian George - the actor playing Babu - could have one of a million accents (he’s a mix of Iraqi, Israeli, and Indian), but it’s unlikely his real voice is anything like Babu’s. Babu opens a bland restaurant across the street from Jerry’s apartment. Jerry takes pity on this struggling immigrant and decides to give him some advice, and he makes the place more authentically Pakistani.
Still, no one shows up, and Babu gets mad at Jerry, wagging his finger and calling him a “very, very bad man.” And so on.
He speaks in an exaggerated accent, he’s (at first) very naive and wide-eyed, and he follows the every suggestion of the kind white man who decides to share his time with him.
A few seasons later, he even gets deported, because, you know, someone named Babu couldn’t possibly be a citizen. Heh.
(Speaking of that name, it’s funny that a scene in “The Departed” shows jerky mobsters assuming a South Asian guy’s name is “Babu.” I wonder where Larry and Jerry came up with such a stereotypical name themselves.)
So, yeah, there are problems here. Particularly on one of the most popular shows of all time, when they get something wrong, lots of people are going to see it.
Aside from the fact that the writers were too damn skilled not to make a funny episode out of it anyway, the plot is what saves the character. First, as mentioned above, he doesn’t take Jerry’s shit for more than a few scenes. Jerry doesn’t learn anything (of course), but Babu does.
Second, even though he’s an immigrant cloaked in semi-traditional garb (well, really just a weird white cloth thing but definitely not typical American attire), he has enough cash to have opened his own business, which he seems to run alone (..somehow) on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which hasn’t been cheap in many a decade. Although he’s a bit too gullible for life, he clearly has his shit together and really isn’t the butt of the jokes.
And third, he’s sort of one of my favorite kind of recurring characters in sitcoms, the one I like to call the “crazy mirror.”
You see this most strikingly with Frank Grimes on “The Simpsons,” but it happens a lot once you have an established ensemble with quirks you come to love that are actually somewhat mentally imbalanced if you tried to place them in the real world. You saw this with Todd on “Community,” they’re trying (and not really succeeding) to do this with Robert California on “The Office” right now, it’s pretty much what the entire “Seinfeld” finale is (and Babu returns for that), and in Babu’s first episode, we get a hint that maybe listening to these people (even the seemingly normal Jerry) doesn’t really lead to good places.
So, I like his role and what his purpose is on the show, even if he’s clearly a character that can make you cringe on occasion.
1. Precious from “I am not typing that entire title” (2009)
The same things that can be said about the character can be said about the movie.
First, it’s basically grief porn. Bad things happen, and then worse things happen, and we find out that even worse things have already happened. And then her mom throws a TV at her. And so on. (And - Spoiler - although it ends with marginal happiness, she’s dead before the literary sequel takes place. :|)
And her teacher is pretty (read: light-skinned), and you leave the theater thinking that this is just too much bad shit to happen to one character to be believable.
"Does she have to be black, and obese, and extremely impoverished, and pregnant by her father, and illiterate?" you ask yourself.
It’s as if they didn’t trust us to see that her situation was pretty bad by giving us only a few of those traits.
One could argue that it makes the real-life struggles of people who are say, two of those things, pale in comparison, and the audience could then look at someone trying to better themselves and dismiss them for not having it nearly as bad as Precious did. Yes, that’s somewhat ridiculous, but so are people.
There’s Sidibe’s performance, of course. The movie is not subtle in the least, but the way she lets us see this young woman grow from almost completely beaten down to feeling like she might have a chance is quite grand (and it’s beating a dead horse, but of course Bullock had no reason to win that award).
There’s the fact that Sidibe has shown herself to have been playing completely against her own real personality (hell, she talks like a Valley Girl), and although you can’t see this from the movie itself, it does color my opinion as I write this post.
There’s the fact that, even if it’s plainly ridiculous how rough her life is (and it is, because come on), the fact that there are really rough lives in the city all around us that don’t get a slot on the news makes it much easier for me to swallow the sledgehammer storytelling of this movie when it’s constructed in a palatable way.
So there you have it.
How do you make a problematic character enjoyable (to me)?
Give them amazing music, give them some agency, use them in an interesting way, or make use of context to make their issues easier to accept.
Or you could try not doing so in the first place.
But whatever you do, please, no more of this shit. Pretty please?
“Here’s my Tumblr idea, for Americans resentful of the free rides they imagine others are getting as they work themselves to the bone: “We are the 94 percent of people who claim never to have received government benefits who have actually directly benefited from government social programs.”—