Dan Harmon And I Talk Tropes And Diversity

After I posted some thoughts yesterday about Dan Harmon’s reflections on last week’s episode of Community, he was kind enough to get in touch to address some of my concerns. “I didn’t want to be sitcom number 5 to have a token gay that was either ‘progressively’ bland or ‘refreshingly’ flamboyant,” he tweeted at me, adding, “And I’m politically nauseated by the concept of TV as Wizard of Oz, giving one group a heart, another a brain, etc.”

I agree, of course — whatever subset of gay men who live to make over heterosexual women is more than adequately represented in mass media. Tropes are always the thin edge of the wedge when you’re trying to open the door to better representations of minority groups in all of their diversity, and if we get stuck on the tough black copy, the gay hairdresser, the Muslim cabdriver, we’re failing, both at representing our country and in telling stories. Consistent with that belief, I suggested that “there’s space between those two options, isn’t there?” And Harmon responded, “Yes, there is plenty in between. Everything is in between. That’s what Community is usually implying, hence the apology.”

I said, in a series of tweets that followed (helpfully curated here by Eleanor at PopChange), something I perhaps should have made clearer, that Community shouldn’t bear sole responsibility for making our conversations about all kinds of bias:

I love Community for its commitment on race, in particular, to have an ongoing conversation between actual stakeholders in a way that’s beautifully uncliche. I want more shows to proceed from that basis, that we live in an increasingly diverse world and have to resolve and work out our biases directly with the people influenced by them. And I don’t think you should have to do all the work. Hopefully other people will expand on the model you’ve set.

It’s tempting to look to folks like Harmon who are open to good-faith conversations about their work, and whose work can be usefully progressive, and demand that they be perfect about everything. But getting a few people to purity isn’t really the goal here, or at least not the only goal. We’ll fail if we’ve got a few islands of smart television that’s thought about race, gender, and sexual orientation in an ocean of regressive entertainment. It’s easy to talk to Dan Harmon about how he sees diversity. It’s harder, and even more important, to find a way to talk to folks who are aggressively closed to conversation, or aren’t aware that one’s going on at all.