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JulyDiaz

Episode 179 — Racist Caricatures In Sci-Fi

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Composer, pianist, and music producer Jay Israelson joins Andrew Ti on this fine Monday to discuss racist caricatures in science fiction movies & television. Be sure to call us at (323) 389-RACE to ask if anything is racist.

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Andrew is right that in sci-fi the humans are always represented by white people, specifically white men. I love sci-fi, but this has always been a sore point with me. There are some authors out there who trying to broaden the scope of what a sci-fi "human" is by adding people of color, etc, but for the most part it is a genre dominated by white male characters.

 

Also, this is going to be a long week. This guest reminds me of the other musician Andrew had on, the one who sounded like he took 20 sleeping pills and then decided to do the podcast.

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There's famous stuff like Dune that shows the white feudal lords on top having their entire culture basically overthrown by the desert future Muslims.

 

More like Space Persians (see: "Padishah") overthrown by Space Bedouins.

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Wow, fewer sci-fi fans have showed up to complain than metalheads from a few weeks back.

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Andrew is right that in sci-fi the humans are always represented by white people, specifically white men. I love sci-fi, but this has always been a sore point with me. There are some authors out there who trying to broaden the scope of what a sci-fi "human" is by adding people of color, etc, but for the most part it is a genre dominated by white male characters.

 

Really? Most of the far-future space opera I've read seems to hand out names in such a way as to suggest a diverse cast, often not even matching physical descriptions. Asian names for dark skinned characters, Irish names for characters with asian features, made up names that don't match any particular culture. Near-future stuff more often has alliances/planets/stations/etc of one culture, but certainly not "always white".

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Episodes like this are depressing because they make me realize that Andrew doesn't know very much--about history or culture or almost anything. Does he know that Star Trek was one of the only shows Martin Luther King allowed his children to watch because the Uhuru character was portrayed as an equal to the white characters?

 

Science Fiction has always been a place where racial politics could be extrapolated, satirized or seen through metaphor. And what about Samuel Delany or Octavia Butler or "Brother From Another Planet" or the current Will Smith movie?

 

The Star Wars movies are pretty racist, but it's ironic that this episode came out the same day George Lucas married a black woman.

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Episodes like this are depressing because they make me realize that Andrew doesn't know very much--about history or culture or almost anything.

 

You did hear the episodes about his crappy free-range school, right?

 

...didn't the Time Traveller bro help the petite, beautiful eloi kill the ape-like morlocks?

 

I remember him abandoning them, and then he ended up in the crab-future.

 

Also, this is going to be a long week. This guest reminds me of the other musician Andrew had on, the one who sounded like he took 20 sleeping pills and then decided to do the podcast.

 

I like when he can bounce off the more passive guests and really shine, but it still doesn't beat KING FUCK OF SHIT MOUNTAIN

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I remember him abandoning them, and then he ended up in the crab-future.

 

Can you explain to me what you're referencing? Because, racist or not, I can't continue to live my life without witnessing the crab-future.

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http://www.bartleby.com/1000/11.html

 

he loses his time machine to the morlocks, asks the eloi for help, they've lost any sense of human spirit or interest in doing anything not hedonistic, he goes underground to face the morlocks, they set up his time machine as an ambush, because they don't know he can use to escape, so he jumps in, goes like 30 million years in the future, and intelligent life his died out and there's just like, horrible crabs and poison plants that far in the future

 

Or maybe he just ended up in Australia who knows.

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Really? Most of the far-future space opera I've read seems to hand out names in such a way as to suggest a diverse cast, often not even matching physical descriptions. Asian names for dark skinned characters, Irish names for characters with asian features, made up names that don't match any particular culture. Near-future stuff more often has alliances/planets/stations/etc of one culture, but certainly not "always white".

 

 

I guess we've read different stuff then. The things I've read are usually from a white male's perspective. I haven't read too many where the protagonist is not white.

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Even the protag of Starship Troopers is Filipino.

 

Yeah, it always cracked me up that Johnny Rico from Buenos Aires was played by a white guy named Casper.*

 

 

 

*Before anyone jumps on me, I am aware many people in Argentina have lighter-skin and that there's a huge European influence there.

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Also, racism does have a presence in Sci-Fi just like it has a presence in every other genre. I think when it pops up in Sci-Fi it tends to be more disappointing because Sci-Fi as a genre is supposed to be forward-thinking and progressive. So when Star Trek normally tries so hard to be non-racist and then manages to be racist anyway (like this episode - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Honor_(Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation) - ugh, this episode), it ends up being way more disappointing than when some random Syfy movie does it.

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that episode really reinforced my hating on anything dealing with tasha yar, somehow always worse than kate episodes of lost

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Seriously fuck that episode.

 

Also it's pretty uncomfortable how all the ferengis were played by Jews and Armenians.

 

I think the Ferengi thing is probably more an Unfortunate Implication than an intentional stereotype of Jews. Especially since 99% of the Ferengi episodes (and the fleshing out of their culture) were written by Ira Steven Behr. They were intended as parodies of American Capitalism gone unchecked, but the fact that the most famous Ferengi were played by Jewish actors didn't help. Though it's interesting to note that the very name Ferengi is derived from an Arabic slur for white people/Westerners (feringhee).

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Listen yall, it's totally obvious that most scifi has white people as the human good guys and aliens tend to be broadly drawn & essentialized, with those traits often taken from fucked up racial/ethnic/national/cultural/etc stereotypes. For every great piece that departs from that or subverts it, there are a fuckton of others that embrace it like nbd, often without even realizing how racist it is. The same shit happens with fantasy and monster-horror. Racism is the standard. This is especially the case in the Big Money Entertainment parts of scifi that non-scifi-heads are more aware of--movies, television, and gaming. If yall are such big scifi fans you should be even angrier about this than we are and try harder to change that standard.

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Relevant quote from a recent interview with Jane Espenson:

 

"...if we can't write diversity into sci-fi, then what's the point? You don't create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones."

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