The author of a book on Nickelodeon is justifiably getting his ass handed to him after waxing nostalgic for a time when white men ruled pop culture and there was no reason for diversity. Who needs chicks or people of color — let alone chicks of color! — anyway?
In a chat with Flavorwire's Pilot Viruet probably meant to discuss his book SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, author Mathew Klickstein instead turned into a diatribe of sexist and racially insensitive word vomit.
Here are a few key points he makes during the interview, and then we’ll discuss.
White talent equals quality.
Do you think classic Nickelodeon shows would work today? They’re timeless, like Pete & Pete, but there’s the argument about how inclusive the series are and how they’re focused on white, well-off families. Shows like My Brother And Me, Taina, and My Cousin Skeeter are never going to get the same nostalgic treatment.
I think it’s about quality.
The reason Pete & Pete does so well is it’s the best show from that era. It’s the best show from that network! Hands down: the way it looked, the music, the fact that they got all these really interesting cameos… so the fact that it happens to take place in the suburbs of New Jersey, you know, it’s a whitewashed area! There’s nothing to be said about that. So too with Clarissa.
Creating characters of color is forced and unnecessary.
I think it's worse when they shove it in there. Sanjay and Craig is a really good example, which funnily enough is written in part by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi from Pete & Pete. That show is awkward because there's actually no reason for that character to be Indian — except for the fact that [Nickelodeon President] Cyma Zarghami and the women who run Nickelodeon now are very obsessed with diversity. Which is fine — do what you're gotta do, and Dora [the Explorer] was certainly something of a success, but there's no reason for [Sanjay] to be Indian at all. No one working on that show is Indian. They're all white.
To just shove it in there because, “Uh-oh, we need diversity,” is silly and a little disgusting. It needs to be the best people working on the best shows. They happen to be white, that’s a shame. They happen to be all guys, that’s a shame. No one says this about sports — they do sometimes, the owners — but sorry, that most basketball, football players happen to be black. That’s just the way that it is.
Life is really tough for men, OK?
You might not like this or care, but it’s very hard to be a man in the publishing world. No one talks about that. My agent: woman. My editor: woman. My publicist: woman. The most successful genre is young adult novels — 85% of which are written by women. That discussion doesn’t really come up when it’s the other way around.
Shows by and about white people are just better; deal with it.
What we really need to bring to the fore is: how good is the show? How good is the end product? I don’t really care who worked on it. I don’t really care what sector of society it shows. What I care about is: Is it good or is it bad? Pete & Pete is an amazing show; who cares that it was made by white people and is about white people? That’s not important. ... Some of these other shows — My Brother and Me, Diego, and Legend of Korra — it’s great that they’re bringing diversity into it now. ... But you know those shows are not nearly as good as Ren and Stimpy, which was made by all white people!
If a company does include diversity in a place where it’s not needed — which, according to Klickstein, is everywhere except sports and publishing? — they are participating in blackface and being predatory.
I think that it does the culture a disservice. If I were Indian or Jewish, for example, and watched something where the characters are Jewish or supposed to be, and if it’s not specific to that, then I start to wonder, “Why are they doing this?” It becomes blackface.
Klickstein added that television executives will push “diversity over quality” and that comedic stand-up is hard for dudes because all any audience wants to hear these days are period jokes.
The kicker: Klickstein's interviewer, Pilot Viruet, is herself a woman of color. He literally said all these things to a non-white woman's face.
Obviously Klickstein is a horrible person who deserves to be locked in a room like Kathy Bates’ Madame Delphine LaLaurie character from American Horror Story and taught the struggles of people different from himself. But since we can’t do that, the next paragraphs will have to suffice.
This guy is so full of irrational disdain for shows that aren’t by and about white people that he barely agrees with his own arguments while he’s making them. First, Klickstein says Nickelodeon shows don’t needs diversity because it is pointless tokenism. Then he says if we must have diverse characters, then why can’t white men write them all? Why does a TV show full of black people, for example, need a room full of black writers to create authentic experiences? He poses this question after saying that inauthentic characters of color are offensive when written by the white men ... who he thinks should write everything.
Klickstein, you can’t complain about empty characters of color written by white men, like your own Sanjay and Craig example, and then bemoan their one-dimensionality. You also can't moan about that while declaring that white writers should write everything, including characters like Sanjay, because you don’t need Indian writers to write Indian characters!
Still, there's space for imagination in the writer's room. Sex and the City was created by a gay man, Darren Star, and I love it (not SATC 2 though and I'm nervous about 3). But he surrounded himself with ladies, both as friends and the show's staff, thus lending the show's experiences a degree of realness. The same idea applies to kids shows, because that is how authenticity works.
The argument that execs are willing to sacrifice “good shows” for others simply to employ people of color is ludicrous. In fact, before the success of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and, soon, How to Get Away with Murder, many execs were creating horrible shows like Two and A Half Men and Sean Saves the World over other more diverse options.
For Matthew Klickstein and men who think like him, I've got some harsh words: it is no longer your heyday and as a woman of color, I'm not sorry. Viewers like all this diversity flying around and that more people of color are hopefully being hired to write and play these characters (unless it's a movie about the Bible or a famous drug dealer, in which case all the brown people will be played by Christian Bale, Sigourney Weaver and Catherine Zeta-Jones ... but I digress). It's always better not to fight inevitable and ongoing change in an industry you presume to be a part of. Just go with it. Change, in this case, is good.
Now, tell me: where is this period joke comedy club? I want to go.
Image via Amazon.