The Racism of Arrested Development (And what Mitchell Hurwitz should do next)

Allow me to make a blanket statement: Arrested Development is a racist show.

Its depiction of non-white races is continually offensive, placing African Americans, Hispanics, and Americans of Asian descent on the margins (never in the center) of the plot, while also constantly resorting to jokes that play off the worst stereotypes associated with each of these people groups' ethnic identities.  And please note how there is a lot more racial humor (along with non-white actors) present in the (relatively) recently released season 4 than in the first 3 original seasons.

Now let me say this: This is all part of the joke and I hope you find it funny.

You see, Arrested Development centers around an affluent white family who thinks the universe revolves entirely around them--first around their family unit and them around themselves as individuals. Except not in that order, for while the show might seem to be about a family it is really about a set of ontological narcissists who happen to be in a family together but who have made the preservation of self the highest ideal and thus are completely isolated from each other (even when they happen to be in the same room with each other). The overarching running joke of the show though is exposing just how bad they all in fact are at self-preservation; that is, they are continual failures at attaining and keeping any amount of success.

And thus, if the show is racist toward any one people group it is racist towards white people.  Seen as a parable for world history, it could be said that Arrested Development exposes white people (that is, people of European descent, some of which could be labeled WASP's) as a failed race who somehow manages to stay somewhat successful (just as the Bluth family somehow manages to always have money and luxurious homes to live in) even while it drags the rest of the world into one disaster after another.  Again, taken as a parable, in the show white people are the blundering idiots of world history.

So, even though the show breaks no new ground, because here we have another show that completely centers around another white family, the show is always subtly hinting to its viewers "Maybe there shouldn't be a show about these people.  Maybe they're not worthy of our attention.  Maybe you should watch a story about someone else."  Feel free to extrapolate that out to white culture in general.  I do not know if this subtext was show creator/runner/writer/director Mitchell Hurwitz's original intention but it is surely one of his ever-present (if unacknowledged) themes.

With all this in mind, let me make one more blanket statement in the hopes of pointing to what I think Mitchell Hurwitz should do next with his career (after he makes another season or a movie of AD of course):
Arrested Development is the harbinger of the death of white culture as we know it.  As a television show it is giving the eulogy of "whiteness" being the central and dominant cultural narrative--in the West and throughout the world.  And it has done so not by lambasting whites with all their present and past sins, but instead by making us laugh at those sins, which in turn takes power away from whites by making them the object of ridicule.  Just as Mel Brooks did for Hitler and Anti-Semitism in The Producers, so has Mitchell Hurwitz done for white people in Arrested Development (this is my contention at least).  I am not saying this has happened yet in fullness (and I am also not equating whites with Hitler! [even though I am!!]), but the process is well under way.

But surely this is not the whole story? (and here is where I might ruffle a few ostrich feathers)  Surely white people are not the only blundering idiots of the world?  Would it not be more accurate to say that we are all blundering idiots, every nation and ethnicity. That we have all failed each other, both within and without our own cultures?

So here is what I would like to see:
I want Mitchell Hurwitz's next show to be a conglomeration of writers from diverse background (himself included) that does not center around any one race and that exposes the sins and hypocrisies and absurdities of all peoples using Hurwitz's signature farcical style of comedy. This would be funny to me and to me this is the next logical step after now making white-centered shows all but redundant through AD's little comedic exercise.  Please note: this would not have any politically correct motivations or stem from any desire to enact Affirmative Action in the television industry.  No, it is the idea itself that necessitates a diverse writing staff and thus diverse actors and themes and jokes. Because my original statement made at the top remains true: AD really does portray all its non-white races in primarily surface deep stereotypes, while it in contrast cuts deep to the problems of white culture.  My contention is that Hurwitz, along with a team of daring writers and directors and actors can take comedy even farther. It would be a story that points out the absurdities of all cultures wherein whites are just one people group among many.

And here is the question I will leave us with, a question that would guide the kind of television show I am suggesting: Can we all find a way to laugh with and at each other?  Can we cut through the atrocities of our shared histories using humor in the hopes that it can bring a kind of reconciliation? Or can a show like this exist simply because it is funny and entertaining?  

For more to read on this and related issues regarding Arrested Development go here.


Jake T said...

Imho, Commmunity's first couple seasons does this really well--lots of jokes about race, where most of the time, racism is the butt of the joke.

PostConsumer Reports said...

Thanks Jake, I've seen just about every episode of Community but never thought much about how it comments on race...but now that I think about it it's there all the time, between Pierce, Troy, and Shirley. If I ever get to re-watching the show it'll be fun to look at it from that perspective.