Lazy Pop Culture Writing, Take Two

Nesbitt 9

Nesbitt 9
Maybe the New York Times IS trolling Black Twitter.

From NYT’s TV critic Alessandra Stanley, taking a look at the Shondaverse’s newest drama, How to Get Away with Murder:

[Rhimes’s] heroines are not at all like the bossy, sassy, salt-of-the-earth working-class women who have been scolding and uh-uh-ing on screen ever since Esther Rolle played Florida, the maid on Maude.

They certainly are not as benign and reassuring as Clair Huxtable, the serene, elegant wife, mother and dedicated lawyer on The Cosby Show. In 2008, commentators as different as the comedian Bill Cosby and the Republican strategist Karl Rove agreed that it was the shining, if fictional, example of the Huxtables that prepared America for a black president and first lady. (This was after a Fox News anchor applied the description “terrorist fist jab” to the couple’s friendly fist bump.)

Even now, six years into the Obama presidency, race remains a sensitive, incendiary issue not only in Ferguson, Mo., but also just about everywhere except ShondaLand, as her production company is called.

The rest of the piece reads like you’d expect. It is nothing but a 2,000-word backhanded compliment, dripping with condescension and missing a metric fuckton of cultural context. In other words, it’s your typical New York Times piece.

I haven’t been a fan of Rhimes lately, but to reduce her to an “Angry Black Woman” who has made angry black women characters more palatable is not only patently false but offensive. While Shonda hasn’t met a plot hole she didn’t like, she’s managed to create wonderfully complex, compelling characters, characters folks will be talking about in the years to come. I expect that Viola Davis’s Annalise Keating will be just as formidable and vulnerable as the other female characters in the Shondaverse. Had Ms. Stanley done her homework, she would’ve known that there have been strong, multilayered black female characters in the last several decades of television, from Diahann Carroll’s Dominique Devereaux and C.C.H. Pounder’s Claudette Whyms to the cast of Living Single. She would’ve also known that there was nothing benign about Clair Huxtable, and that Abbie Mills is an equal partner to Ichabod Crane, not a “sidekick.”

But again, this is what passes for acceptable cultural commentary when your newsroom looks like the cast of Dawson’s Creek, when the myopia and whiteness of those appointed to analyze and distill cultural touchstones becomes so painfully apparent. It’s okay to admit when you’re out of your depth; it’s also perfectly fine to scrap your story when you realize your hypothesis is weaker than snot-filled Kleenex, as is the case here. Had Ms. Stanley a capable editor, or a colleague with a clue, lazy thinkpieces like these wouldn’t see the light of day, and we would all be better for it.

[Shonda and her crew responded to Stanley’s piece. Stanley’s response to their response is also included.]

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