On Television, Cinema and Race

I was not suggesting that the American civil rights movement originated the idea of race; that would be a rather silly thing to say. You claimed that "approving of things like stereotypes and 'Affirmative Action' only propagates the very problem it's supposed to be dealing with". I then employed the example of the American civil rights movement to make a reductio counter-argument: Although the movement heightened ('propagated') awareness of racial division (and essentially demanded a social if not legislative form of affirmative action), it seems difficult to argue that it made the problem of race in America worse.

This discussion seems to be suffering from conflicting definitions of terms. When I say 'race', I mean to imply not just genetics, but also cultural background and generally the experience of being of that culture. By this definition, as I mentioned when this discussion kicked off, characters can be of different 'races' on one level by simply having different skin colors and on a deeper level by coming from a different cultural experience. For simplicity's sake I will attempt to stop using the word this way inside this thread.

As a developer, if your aim is to make a character somehow 'not racially specific' (which I have argued in the case of deep characters is not really tenable), at some point you should pick a skin color other than white to help move games towards the aforementioned first level. We have discussed the overwhelming proportion of white to non-white physical features in media. We have touched on how games tend to use glib racial stereotypes when portraying characters of non-white culture (and even just characters of non-white skin). We haven't really touched on how all the metanarratives and character archetypes common in our media are drawn from the Western/Anglo/White tradition and experience. But when you combine all of these things, you arrive at the conclusion that making a 'not racially specific' character and then choosing to portray him as a white-skinned male is not really non-racial anymore. It is, instead, reinforcing a cultural hegemony that is already massively powerful in Hollywood and in the games industry. Both the color and cultural aspects of whiteness are so overrepresented that choosing either or both of them for a character is not 'neutral'.

Thus, the important question: What exactly is the right way to end the taboo, if not a direct effort towards shifting the status quo (ie: Making your damn character either have non-white skin or non-white culture)?

4xis.black:

I agree with many of your arguments. It seems that it's a problem of definitions and language, as you surmise. The right way to end the taboo is to call for and ask for characters who have varying cosmetic details (not just skin tone), as well as varying culture references. I don't agree that it is useful to conflate the two.

One's cultural background is only incidentally related to one's genetic composition - it's purely a matter of the people around you pushing the culture around you based on their perception of who you are. Skin tone only affects that secondarily - your experience of the world is because other people are treating you a specific manner, because they think that race is a real thing.

The problem is the very thinking that race is genetic. It's somewhat genetic, but largely, it's not. It's genetic in the sense that the phenotypical expression of skin tone and facial features are ultimately linked to genes. A group of people who are black-skinned share a genetic commonality apart from a group of people with white skin.

Of course, a group of people with attached earlobes also share a genetic commonality with each other and apart from people who have unattached earlobes, but we don't have widespread lobism worldwide.

Just as attached earlobes do not reflect a deep commonality within the genome apart from the trait itself, dark skin tone also doesn't carry genetic significance outside the pale apart from directly related details. A black man is less likely to suffer from sun burns, but that's because his skin is black, not because he's of a different inherent genetic pool. His tone directly affects that part of his body.

Race is cultural. You have been trained to think it is real, so you do. It is embedded in many parts of your society and culture, just as sexism is (frustratingly) so embedded in English that revising "manhole" to "personhole" is often ridiculed as being stupid. The concept of race being real is so pervasive that no one thinks how ME could be propagating race concept, or how D&D and Tolkien fantasy works would be offensively racist if they were made transparent as to the nature of their world view.

A telling part of how pervasive it is is that you are equating race and culture, without seeing that culture is entirely separate. One's skin tone does not have to be different for a person to belong to a different subculture in a larger culture. Our own gamer and geek culture is different from mainstream culture at large, but it's not often that being a "gamer" necessarily or even strongly hints that one has specific facial features or skin tone. Why should being a person from "black" culture strongly hint that one have a certain skin tone?

While I broadly agree that the choice of default Shepard being "white" is a suggestion of the widespread hegemony of that sort of thinking and group within your culture, the fact that it is so poorly encouraged and emphasized in the game is a move in the right direction. Ideally, there shouldn't even be a default Shepard, but the default's level of emphasis in the game matches well with the current percentage representation of that particular detail. It would not do to make Shepard into a blind, mute, lame, female American Indian who's also half-German and half-African, because that sort of outlier combination being made default itself makes a statement.

TLDR: I agree broadly, but I still think you don't go far enough to expose race as the arbitrary, hateful, and factually wrong concept that it is.

At best, I think some indeterminate mix of facial features and skin tone on a woman probably would have been the best default for Shepard - that's my Shepard, certainly.

FWIW, my own skin tone is noticeably variable. I range from being as fair-skinned as a northern Han person, to being as dark as a brown hardwood depending on season - Denzel-ish, I'm estimating.

LarryC: Every time you address this, you make me roll my eyes even harder. At this rate, they're going to roll right out of my skull soon.

Do you really think we don't understand that this is a cultural issue? Yes, we know. Do you really not think that part of the issue, just maybe, is that 90% of people from "black" culture actually have African ancestry? That subcultures don't bond because of shared physical features just like everything else? That people with a common socioeconomic background connected to a given subculture might have shared problems that they wish to address together, and that our (that is: American) society as a whole should perhaps try to address the common misperception that these things are all connected?

You seem to intentionally misunderstand these things and throw out meaningless tripe suggesting that this is all trivial and it shouldn't be an issue. But guess what, in reality it *is* an issue, and has been for generations. And addressing it by ignoring it has been tried, and does nothing.

Please stop posting this "you crazy Americans, all you have to do is stop being insane" sh*t whenever we're having to have a discussion about these issues. Because honestly, WE f*ckING KNOW THAT. That's why we want to fix things, because things are broken and we've got to get our sh*t together.

Repeatedly telling us things that are obvious and not at all helpful solves nothing. It just makes us pissed off at you and makes you sound like more of an arrogant prick who believes he has the solutions to problems he's only aware of from a distance.

LarryC wrote:

Race is cultural. You have been trained to think it is real, so you do.

Culture is real. It's just not biological.

In short, approving of things like stereotypes and "Affirmative Action" only propagates the very problem it's supposed to be dealing with.

History suggests otherwise.

To cure a bacterial infection, you need antibiotics, not painkillers.

On the other hand, when the antibiotics kill all your good gut flora, you need good bacteria to crowd out the bad bacteria. I say try the yogurt before the stool transplant.

I agree with LarryC. The fundamental idea that races even exist is wrong. Full stop. Any 'solution' that reinforces the idea that races exist is moving backwards, not forward.

Programs that help people because they are black don't just fail to 'fix' racism, they increase it. It's putting racism on a pedestal and worshiping at its feet. If the idea is that skin color doesn't matter, then the ONE THING we MUST NOT DO is come up with programs and systems where skin color matters for qualification.

If we want skin color to not matter, we HAVE TO MAKE SKIN COLOR NOT MATTER.

There is NO other solution that will actually fix the problem, over the long term.

If you want government to 'fix' the problems with racism, then come up with programs that help poor people, not skin colors. Anyone who's poor qualifies. Because of endemic racism, the majority of those who qualify will be minorities... you'll automatically be helping the victims of racism, without creating another generation of them.

If we keep doing what we're doing, which is sorting out people by skin color and then handing out goodies based on that determination, then we will never, never, not EVER become non-racist. It simply is not going to happen. When racial identity is key to receiving benefits from society, then you can never be rid of it. When it's encoded into the legal system, how can you ever expect citizens to not be racist?

If we had programs that helped Irish or Italians, people who suffered terrible discrimination in the past, you can be very sure you'd know exactly how Irish or Italian you were, and you'd certainly think carefully about marrying out of your subtype, because then your kids wouldn't qualify for the benefits you got. The "help the Irish!" programs would reinforce that being Irish mattered, and would permanently create a subclass of Irish people.

If you want to get rid of an idea, then you absolutely cannot reinforce that idea with goodies.

Malor wrote:

If you want government to 'fix' the problems with racism, then come up with programs that help poor people, not skin colors. Anyone who's poor qualifies. Because of endemic racism, the majority of those who qualify will be minorities... you'll automatically be helping the victims of racism, without creating another generation of them.

Please explain how (making up numbers) giving 90% of money to needy black people and 10% to needy white people creates an effect different from giving 100% of money to needy people, 90% of whom are black and 10% of whom are white?

As far as I can tell, there is no difference here in practical terms. The only difference is that in the first case, it's possible for racist assholes to say "You're giving money to black people, some of whom don't need it, in preference over whites! Reverse racism!", and in the second case it's possible for racist assholes to say "You're secretly giving money to black people, some of whom don't need it, in preference over whites! Reverse racism!"

The problem is not in the policies. The problem is in the attitudes. Is there a danger that "the goodies" reinforce the attitudes? Yes. But you [em]absolutely must[/em] guarantee that the vital support that people need is provided by new policies before tearing down old policies. Absolutely, begin pilot colorblind programs to help the poor, and see if they work as well or better than current programs. Then it's possible to decide whether the added overhead of being colorblind (and there will be some) is worth the changes you're looking at making. And then you can point to the evidence (assuming there is any) that these new programs do a better job of breaking down cultural barriers and use that as an argument for instituting the programs more widely.

In short: Policy should be made for practical reasons with practical evidence, not ideological ones with supposition.

Hypatian:

Pardon the paraphrasing, but, ignoring the ad hominem, this appears to be the crux of your objection:

You seem to intentionally misunderstand these things and throw out meaningless tripe suggesting that this is all trivial and it shouldn't be an issue.

I can't help you with your eye-rolling, that's your problem, but I can try to help with the misunderstanding.

At no point have I said that race is trivial. In fact, I'm fairly sure that I think it's an extremely serious cultural problem. I'm saying that the idea that race exists (beyond a superficial phenotypical expression) is non-factual - and the fact that this POV is not more widespread is the crux of the problem. Indeed, if you read my previous post closer, you will read that I said that this race idea is incredibly, unbelievably endemic and pervasive in American, even Western culture and thinking. Something that widespread is absolutely not trivial. In fact, you could easily go the other way entirely and insinuate that I'm engaging in silly conspiracy theory exaggeration - except I'm not.

I agree that emergent racist problems need to be addressed first. If "white" people were herding "black" people into trains and gassing them, then yes, we need to selectively pick out the black folks and protect them from being wiped off the face of the earth. Sure, in that situation, the danger is extreme and existential - it must be met with a measure that is equally extreme.

However, we are talking about the representation of race in games and audiovisual media. That's the topic. On the topic of "How should we portray race in games?" my answer is "We shouldn't." The idea of race should not be propagated in mediums that will teach our children what it is to be racist.

Hypatian:

Please explain how (making up numbers) giving 90% of money to needy black people and 10% to needy white people creates an effect different from giving 100% of money to needy people, 90% of whom are black and 10% of whom are white?

I was going to edit this into my last post, but I think it's important enough to merit the emphasis of another post.

You can't see the difference between these two policies. I think Malor here is the exception rather than the rule. Sadly, I think you are more representative of Americans at large.

The money-spread effect on the ground of the two policies may be similar, but they differ in one very important detail:

One of those policies promotes the idea that skin color is important. The other one does not. It is important that this distinction be pointed out, and moreover, is important to point out that even you, who I am sure makes extreme efforts to look within and not think in racist ways, cannot distinguish the difference offhand. You mean well, but you cannot escape your cultural milieu.

It is not a case of you being stupid, or insane, or anything negative you think I'm insinuating. This is purely a result of you living in the culture that you do, where the concept of race is implicit in so many, many, many things.

I think we have consensus on the crucial point that our media could stand to include characters whose looks and backgrounds better represent the whole of humanity, though the looks and backgrounds should not strongly correlate and should in the general case be incidental to the plot.

The affirmative action stuff I will not touch with a ten foot pole.

No, one of those policies recognizes that statistically, people from an African-American background are more likely to be in need than people from other backgrounds, and therefore it focuses effort where it is needed most, by providing access and support to entire communities. The other assumes that all people are equally likely to be in need, then when it turns out that people from an African-American background are more likely to be in need, it must address the needs of each individual separately instead of having community-wide programs.

I might be wrong about that--but the correct way to determine that is to actually try out pilot programs and measure their effect. If you are going to make dramatic changes to programs that demonstrably help people who are in need, you need to first establish that the replacement program will do almost as well as the program it is replacing. You can't just knock one program down and [em]then[/em] try to build a new program, or you're actively depriving people in need of help.

P.S. I didn't at any point say you were insane. I said that AMERICA is insane. I am saying that telling us that repeatedly is a complete f*cking waste of time, because we know. That insanity is the problem, not the symptom. We cannot solve the problem by pretending it does not exist. In fact we can (and we have) make it far worse by trying to assume it into non-being.

Hear, hear. I should've stuck with the actual point of the thread instead of replying to the usual suspects. Apologies.

4xis.black:

You already have. By stating that we should have noticeably "black" (or whatever) main protagonists as a movement within the gaming community is sort of an affirmative action idea.

Hypatian:

I'm going to dissect what you wrote, to edit out the goobledegook and expose the cultural underpinnings, as I see them. It's not to misrepresent, so please point out if that's going on.

No, one of those policies recognizes that statistically, people from an African-American background are more likely to be in need than people from other backgrounds...

Assumption: black people exist (race is a genetic reality)
Statement: black people are poorer
Statement: We are not black. THEY are. (statement as viewed by "nonblack" people)

...and therefore it focuses effort where it is needed most, by providing access and support to entire communities.

Statement: We should help THEM. (We are white, they are black)
Insinuation: Black people are different. (race exists)
Insinuation: Black people are less capable than other people. (race exists)

Note: I am not saying that you or the statement itself insinuates that black people are different or that they're inferior, but it could easily be spun that way by racists, seen that way by racists, and propagated in that manner by implication, even in just normal conversation. It's insidious that the statement is nominally about helping people who are "black" but what it really accomplishes is to single them out and segregate them in the popular mindset as a "THEM" and not as "US."

P.S. I didn't at any point say you were insane. I said that AMERICA is insane. I am saying that telling us that repeatedly is a complete f*cking waste of time, because we know. That insanity is the problem, not the symptom. We cannot solve the problem by pretending it does not exist. In fact we can (and we have) make it far worse by trying to assume it into non-being.

I think there's a language barrier going on. I'm going to posit a similar situation to illustrate how I think things are going.

I say: "We should not depict race in media."
Person A hears: "I would like for all characters in media to be white."

"Race" is being conflated with "people of a race" because of the difference in paradigm. Person A assumes that race concept is real, so thinks that I am saying that "white" people should be the only skin tone depicted, where in reality, I am attacking the very firmament of the paradigm in which he lives.

Similarly:

I say: "Race should not be depicted in games." "Race concept should not be propagated by word, action, or deed."
You hear: "We should ignore that racial issues are happening."

LarryC: Please make your point in a different more appropriate thread or make a new one, and I will reply to you. Not going to pollute this thread further.

Done.

I don't know if this goes here but daaaamn

Here's an interesting tidbit:

So apparently, there's a Americanized remake of Akira coming along now, an ongoing boulder of awful that can't be stopped. Now, I don't totally agree with the people saying that the remake is being whitewashed in its Americanization, I think that there's plenty universal themes in the story that allow it to be made in America or Turkey or Nigeria and have the vast majority of the story's themes and beats stay the same.

What I do take umbrage with is the laziness, since apparently they're literally making the characters white, but leaving their names Japanese.

I'm not sure why they would do this other than just unbelievable laziness, but really? You're going to have Garrett Hedlund play Shotaro Kaneda? You can't even take the 10-seconds it would take to change the name? Scott Kane. There. Same initials, and doesn't look insanely stupid.

Of all the things you could do, why that? You could easily do like "The Ring" or "The Grudge" and tell the story for a new audience without taking this "Lazy-Ass Idiot" way out.

I'm going to assume the best though, that they'll change the names eventually, and this thing will keep rolling (rumor has it that they're casting Ken Watanabe as the token minority). But jeezus.

Well it wouldn't be Akira without the gripping dialogue.

"Tetsuuuuoooooo!!!!"
"Kaneeeedaaaaaaa!!!"

Repeat for two hours.

...'Neo-Manhattan'? But, I mean, it was the 'Manhattan Project' that helped produce the bombs that were dropped on Japan and there created the huge cultural cataclysm and myth of the atomic bomb that would eventually come to inform the context of Akira! Outside that context the movie makes very little sense, and would mostly just boil down to a random string of action sequences-oh. Oh, I see. Neo-Manhattan.

Let me guess: Al Qaeda destroys New York City, Akira is actually a very poorly-veiled symbol for the middle eastern Other, and the Super Aryan Brothers Kaneda and Tetsuo must reunite to crush him and by proxy redeem their nation through a bloody, violent act of revenge. Tetsuo has a super cool robot arm.

The biggest insult, here as with most of the choices in M Knight's Last Airbender, is that it's not like these are particularly gifted actors or big names. I wouldn't agree, but at least the case could be made. Prince of Persia sucked, but Gyllenhal is a bankable name, even if I'm pretty sure I spelled it wrong. But, Jesus, Tronboy only managed to occupy space on the screen, and I only know he's Tronboy because I've got a brain for useless actor trivia--he's far from a household name.

And while I think, sure, you can do a version of Akira anywhere, it's going to lose something without that distinctly Japanese trauma of being nuked. Our Armageddons are very porny in comparison.

You guys need to nuke Manhattan to provide the proper context for an American Akira. I suggest evacuating the city first.

SpacePPoliceman wrote:

And while I think, sure, you can do a version of Akira anywhere, it's going to lose something without that distinctly Japanese trauma of being nuked.

It's been a while since i've seen the film, someone be kind and remind me, how much of a role does Japan's nuclear history play (I mean, clearly, the end sequence clobbers you over the head with it, but I mean thematically).

The story is set in Neo-Tokyo, which 31 years previously was regular Tokyo before much of it was vaporized in an explosion; the national military, which caused this explosion but was hardly deterred by the experience, is still attempting to understand the powers that caused it so they may exploit them. Neo-Tokyo is then vaporized, for a second time, at the end of the film. The military is a powerful and nigh-autonomous faction strongly at odds with the civilian government, which is weak, ineffectual, and avoids making decisions for fear that said decisions will render them actually responsible for things.

One of the underlying themes here is that humanity's lust for power dooms it to destroy itself over and over again. There is also the idea that this destruction is dually a creative event, in that it provides an opportunity for renewal (this is strongly hinted at by the constant references to Neo-Tokyo being a cesspool as well as the fact that at the end Tetsuo seems to ascend to godhood and create a new universe).

I think that Japan's nuclear weapons history is about as relevant to post WW2 Japan as 9/11 is to post 9/11 America. It's not in-your-face, but it underlies a lot of the thought processes and cultural movements.

Prederick wrote:
SpacePPoliceman wrote:

And while I think, sure, you can do a version of Akira anywhere, it's going to lose something without that distinctly Japanese trauma of being nuked.

It's been a while since i've seen the film, someone be kind and remind me, how much of a role does Japan's nuclear history play (I mean, clearly, the end sequence clobbers you over the head with it, but I mean thematically).

To me, I see it in the overall sense throughout the film of a society that had to regrow itself after being destroyed, but parts did so malformed, and as a result, there's a very real fear that everything could utterly collapse. And it feels like a real fear, and a real grappling with how a society survives, whereas, like I said, our own grapplings with big disasters since the end of the Cold War feel very porn-like, in the manner of Bay and Emmerich--we watch our cities get destroyed because it's awesome!

Aren't anime characters supposed to be somewhat non racial? Like they don't have a specific race? Wouldn't it have been fascinating if they had just cast whoever was the best actor for the part without regard for how they looked compared to the rest of the cast?

I don't care much for Doctor Who, but I agree that the next incarnation should be best played by Mos Def.

Or Taye Diggs. Or Michael Jai White.

Or better yet, by Will Smith.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

I don't care much for Doctor Who, but I agree that the next incarnation should be best played by Mos Def.

Or Taye Diggs. Or Michael Jai White.

Or better yet, by Will Smith. :evil:

Ving Raimes. I mean, would you mess with the Doctor if he was Marcellus Wallace?

Paleocon wrote:
Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

I don't care much for Doctor Who, but I agree that the next incarnation should be best played by Mos Def.

Or Taye Diggs. Or Michael Jai White.

Or better yet, by Will Smith. :evil:

Ving Raimes. I mean, would you mess with the Doctor if he was Marcellus Wallace?

Does he look like Doctor Bitch?

He doesn't, but Samuel L. Jackson probably does.

I can just picture Dr. Who throwing some thug out a window because the thug gave his love interest a foot massage!