So, last week VH1 aired a special exploring television's portrayals of minorities. Only, it was done in the fashion of their pop culture commentary shows like "I Love the (insert decade)" or "The Best Week Ever" or "TV's Secret Rules". Basically, the usual array of second and third tier celebrities commenting irreverently with visual aids to show what they are talking about. Only, it was also done very seriously. Improbably enough, it worked.
In addition to the usual celebs, VH1 tossed in some more academic/intellectual voices. Specifically, though, people who would take well to the loose style of the VH1 pop culture programming. They explored a host of stereotypes and tracked their development. They also discussed pretty much every racial minority. Certainly, a lot of it focused on blacks, but there was a good deal of time spent on latino portrayals as well Asians and even native Americans. A lot of it was framed with gimmicks, but never in a way which cheapened the discussion. So when they played "What Race Am I?" it came off as challenging our expectations rather than some lame attempt to funny.
We saw discussions of white actors playing asians, a mention of how Star Trek shows have had a wildly disproportionate number of the few Asian regulars on TV shows, the effect of "white hero" style characters and how that evolved, and they even went into some of the crude racial stereotyping that used to be common in kids entertainment. Very interesting to see what we used to show our kids. They primarily focused on a Dick Tracy cartoon from the early 60's which featured two vicious ethnic stereotypes in the supporting cast in the form of Joe Jitsu and Go Go Gomez. Although both were good guys, the portrayals were so insanely abusive that it was really shocking. "Go Go Gomez" was largely a rip off of Speedy Gonzalez, as he was a lazy but incredibly fast Mexican. It was much worse, though then the questionable taste of Speedy. Jitsu looked like something out of a World War II era political propaganda cartoon. Also discussed was the stereotypes seen in professional wrestling and how that has developed over the years, a fertile subject indeed.
All together, I felt the special really worked. It was not an academic paper or anything, but it was still serious while being accessible. Since VH1's decent into pop culture hell is pretty much unstopable at this point, its good to know they'll do a better job with the topic than the unwatchable E! network.