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Names and Faces

By Alyssa Rosenberg

"Names and Faces"

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I’ve been meaning to say how much I like this post by PostBourgie’s slb about how folks of color are popping up more on television of late, in part because it made me think about what my ideal vision of representative television would be.  For example, one of the reasons I like Men of a Certain age is because Andre Braugher isn’t the other two main characters’ Black Friend.  He’s just their friend.  It’s one of the things that sounds appealing about Undercovers, which slb highlights: it’s going to be a spy drama where the spies happen to be black, but it’s not a Black Spy Comedy.  I think that’s a fine line to walk.  I like that, among the families represented on Modern Family is not just a gay couple, but a multi-ethnic one.  At the same time, I think it’s really problematic that Gloria’s Colombianness frequently is played as a joke, rather than as something that enriches her husband’s life (her hotness apparently does well enough for that), although the Christmas episode, where the family adopted some Colombia tranditions, was a step in the right direction.

It’s not that I want television to be colorblind.  In fact, I think a lot of shows would be better if they weaved elements of characters’ cultures, be they African, African-American, Asian, Caribbean, Jewish, Zoroastiran, whatever into their shows.  Our practices, our assumptions, our slang, help define who we are, even if they aren’t the only framework that we’re defined by.  Throwing a Simchat Torah reference into a Glee episode, and not explaining it, was a great example.  Characters shouldn’t have to be ambassadors or translators for whatever race or cultural tradition they represent on screen.  In the real world, we all have to explain ourselves and our traditions sometimes, and we do that, and move on, and I don’t see why this can’t happen more often on television.  Our national conversation is a lot richer and more diverse than television frequently gives us credit for, and our television would be improved if it spoke in the same vernacular, and gave the same diversity of people the right to speak it.

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