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  • Behold - the power to get offended

       November 20, 2007

    I don't just watch Heroes, I kind of devour it. After each episode, I hop over to Television Without Pity to read the forum, listen to the commentary and read the online comic on the official site, visit Beaming Beeman to get the director's point of view and go to Entertainment Weekly to read the recap. This week's recap (and, as an aside, at about 8:53 last night I was seriously upset at the thought that HRG might really be dead) ended with the following:

    All in all, a pretty solid episode, because it stuck to the core characters and pretended that the Oilies and New Orleans' Magical Negro don't exist. And even if we didn't get any real storytelling resolution, we got some emotional closure.

    Can you guess what happened next? Comment after comment blasted EW and the writer for his "offensive" comments. People see the word "negro" and they're all up in righteous arms. They're so busy being offended that they have no idea that the author is actually criticizing the show for its portrayal of blacks. A simple trip to Wikipedia would enlighten them to the fact that the "Magical Negro" was a term popularized by Spike Lee to describe a character who:

    is typically "in some way outwardly or inwardly disabled, either by discrimination, disability or social constraint," often a janitor or prisoner. He has no past; he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist. He is the black stereotype, "prone to criminality and laziness." To counterbalance this, he has some sort of magical power, "rather vaguely defined but not the sort of thing one typically encounters." He is patient and wise, often dispensing various words of wisdom, and is "closer to the earth."

    The magical negro serves as a plot device to help the protagonist get out of trouble, typically through helping the white character recognize his own faults and overcome them. In this way, the magical negro is similar to the Deus ex machina; a simple way for the protagonist to overcome an obstacle almost entirely through outside help. Although he has magical powers, his "magic is ostensibly directed toward helping and enlightening a white male character." It is this feature of the magical negro that some people find most troubling. Although the character seems to be showing African-Americans in a positive light, he is still ultimately subordinate to whites. He is also regarded as an exception, allowing white America to "like individual black people but not black culture."

    Although Monica, the character described in the original quote, hardly fits that description, the Haitian Sensation certainly does. But instead of asking when we're going to see the delectable Jimmy Jean Louis, who plays the Haitian, get his own storyline, or even a first name, the rabid pack descended on the author of the piece in a frenzy to see who could be the first to call him out for his "racism". It's rather ironic. The "Magical Negro" character is offensive because it views the black character only through the eyes of the white characters. As David Ehrenstein said in his LA Times piece about Barack Obama:

    He's there to assuage white "guilt" (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.

    I think the people who are so offended by the term feel that way exactly because of their "white guilt". They want to prove how accepting they are and they're frankly excited for the opportunity to call other people racists. After all, no one will think you're the culprit if you're quick enough to point your finger at someone else, right?

    It's frustrating and depressing when what could be a real (and interesting) conversation about race and fictional archetypes turns into yet another exercise in stupidity.

    Posted by at November 20, 2007 01:17 PM

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    #  November 20th, 2007 2:17 PM      BVBigBro
    Far and away the best episode of the season; for precisely the reasons the author mentioned. I like the magical negro (more as his character has been developed), but the Weeping Madonna and the rest of the oilies (and the Irish) can stay away forever.  
    #  November 22nd, 2007 12:21 AM      TheUnabrewer
    Was that an intentional reference to Blazing Saddles? "Alright. We'll give some land to the n****rs and the Ch**ks, but we don't want the Irish!"  
    #  November 22nd, 2007 7:38 AM      BVBigBro



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