1. In March of 2011 Thusha Kamaleswaran, a five-year old girl in South London, was shot by three young hoodlums in the course of a bungled assassination attempt of another young hoodlum. The story is tragic and depressing–she was paralyzed and the three hoodlums responsible could have been imprisoned at the time if the UK justice system did not resemble a composted basketball net–but what caught my eye is the reaction of the crowd which gathered around the convenience store that Thusha’s family owned and operated in the Stockwell area:
Supporters gathered outside the shop to jeer the emergency services. As paramedics fought to save her, one even asked a policeman why they were bothering as the victim was ‘just a Paki’.
Its not shocking that a group of people could watch such a scene and offer the antisocial personality disordered-response of, ‘who cares,’ but its quite another situation for the callous reaction to be so specific.
2. Meanwhile, back in America, the latest racism controversy involves professionally tousled dimwit, Ashton Kutcher, and his questionable decision to deploy Seinfeld-era Indian mannerisms in his portrayal of a Bollywood producer in search of a date through a fictional agency (this was a commercial intended to sell chips.) It wasn’t as bad as the cringing, spineless, uber-beta perma-victim that is the character of Raj Koothrapalli on the execrable bundle of laugh-tracked nerd-references known as “The Big Bang Theory” but the extended video for Ashton’s character was made ‘private’ on Youtube after it became ‘viral.’ What interested me here was the Vulture piece on the lack of controversy over the portrayal of the Indian character. It listed several media outlets which chose to either not comment on or disregard the brown-faced lack of humor. The writer, Margaret Lyons, summarized the basis of her complaint:
Jokes can still be racist! It’s 2012, folks. Does this ad use imagery that is primarily seen elsewhere as a means to degrade and marginalize people? It sure does.
This begs the question: if Ashton Kutcher decided to put on a black face in a future commercial, would not the disparity in reactions from said media outlets tell you something about the utility and validity of the ideological orientation which gives rise to frowning at brown-face and raging at black-face? I don’t particularly care about racist portrayals of brown people in popular media nor do I give credence to the hallowed-in-academia argument that diversity in popular media yields a more harmonious and thriving society. The Koothrapalli character irks me, to be honest, because its an unnecessarily two-dimensional portrayal of character flaws which could be far more frightening and interesting if adequately explored. Kutcher’s commercials will be forgotten in a few months. The Big Bang Theory, renewed for the fifth year, currently draws 16.5 million viewers during it’s Thursday night slot.