Monday, July 30, 2012

Dear ABC

Homophobia and racism to follow.

Dear ABC,

I enjoy lighthearted physical challenge shows.  When a friend and I were looking for amusement, we came across "Wipeout" and gave it a shot.

I've only seen one episode and a part of another, but I came away with no desire to watch any of it ever again.  What I saw raised a lot of questions and put me on edge.

A twenty-year-old contestant on a "blind date" episode introduced himself by saying, "I became a man when I was thirteen when I had my bar mitzvah."  Your hosts almost immediately began to call him a man-child and continued to make "man-child" comments throughout the show.

A contestant on another episode introduced himself as a karate instructor.  Your hosts suggested that he had a "rainbow belt" from the "Bob Fosse dojo."

I understand that you have a lot of contestants and a casual audience, so you want to create narratives around the contestants to make them easily memorable so that watchers will follow along more readily.  A woman says that she's descended from samurai and a man says that he wants to be a ninja, so you create a narrative about them being a samurai-ninja couple.  However, since the friend I was watching with missed that couple's introduction, when you spent the entire episode referring to the Asian couple with stereotypically Asian terms, she thought that you were being racist.  You were feeding right into a racist narrative.

Do you really need to refer to Zachary Botterman as "Man-child" throughout the episode as if that's his name?  Do you think that we'll pay better attention or care more that way?  To be entirely frank, your commentary came across as anti-Semitic because it played right into anti-Semitic narratives.  It was also gender-policing and body-policing.

The main hosts in the booth are two white men with nearly identical body types named John Something-son.  Vanessa Lachey is in the "on the field" role, interacting directly with the contestants.  On one hand, it's great that of your three hosts, one is a woman of color.  On the other hand, the entire show is based around two white men standing to one side spouting running commentary on women and people of color and other contestants at their expense.  It's like an unending series of micro-aggressions.  As I watched, I kept wanting to give you the benefit of the doubt.  After all, if she says that she's descended from samurai and he says that he wants to be a ninja, how accountable should I hold you for playing into a racist narrative?  They brought it up themselves, right?  If the woman portrayed as sex-hungry and desperate for a hot guy just happens to be the thickest of the women there, that's just a coincidence, right?  You're not making her say those things.

But you're the one editing.  You're the one deciding what to air.  You put together the commentary.  You decide which narrative to push.  You know which stereotypes you're perpetuating.  So I end up watching a show with two white guys observing the action and telling me all about the Asian samurai-ninja couple, the man-hungry woman who just so happens to be not very skinny, the Jewish man-child, and so on.  When I tried another episode and got to the gay "joke" mentioned above, I had to stop watching.

In the future, try to come up with narratives that don't reinforce racist stereotypes or other nasty themes.  Or don't come up with narratives at all.  Let your contestants simply be contestants with their own names.  Use team colors or team names to identify them.  Maybe find more interesting, witty hosts, as well.  There are very funny people in this world who would love the job.

With love,
Frank Lee

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