Ashton Kutcher has a new (and almost immediately pulled) video series up for PopChips that’s supposed to be a comedic riff on dating services. It’s a weird little project in which he riffs on profoundly obvious targets — hippies, rednecks, size queens, Karl Lagerfeld — without having much new to say. But it tips over into a decidedly bizarre place with Kutcher’s impersonation of a Bollywood film producer:
It’s not a funny impersonation, and it doesn’t have anything to say about globalized Indians the way Bride & Prejudice’s riff on Jane Austen’s Mr. Collins did, in a role written, directed and played by Kenyan-born artists of Indian origin:
We’re at a really interesting inflection point where characters with South Asian heritage have made their way into tons of television shows, whether Kalinda on The Good Wife, Abed on Community, or Dev on Smash, and have done so in a way that hasn’t all cast them as representatives of the same trope. It’s a pretty remarkable example of pop culture getting to second-level diversity with a minority group quickly and all at once, without first giving us a huge wave of say, South Asian grade-grubbers or convenience store managers that would have been the equivalent of sassy gay friends.
At the same time, not going through a period where stereotypes about any minority groups are specifically debunked does leave room for folks like Kutcher who are new to those unfortunate tropes to think they’re hilarious and to trot them out. Unless people are pushed to try harder and instructed to be funnier, it’s depressing how quickly folks will default back to the laziest — and comedically broadest — possible option. Give me the jewler’s-fine tools any day. The specific made universal is always a more impressive feat than the resort to the common assumption.