Sunday, September 26, 2010

But it's funny!

Last Sunday, after a busy weekend, I sat down to watch my latest Netflix morsel, a movie that I used to love and haven't seen for years -- Love at First Bite, with George Hamilton as Count Dracula. I wondered how it would hold up now that vampires are so in vogue. (Hamilton's Dracula was Edward almost 30 years before Twilight!) And it was funny, really funny, especially the scenes with Richard Benjamin, who totally stole the movie.

But this isn't a movie review blog, so I'll get to the point. As I was laughing, I was also squirming. The depictions of African Americans and Latinos in the movie were so stereotypically demeaning that I wondered how I'd never noticed them before. I won't go into detail here, but you can watch the movie if you want to see for yourself. Like I said, it was funny. And I know, I'm not the movie police. But it just didn't feel so good to laugh at those scenes any more.

Tatum says there are three states of being in terms of our relationship to racism. We're either actively racist, passively racist, or anti-racist. Most people I know are not actively racist. But being passively racist, that's another story. The passive racist doesn't use the N-word, doesn't act in any overtly racist ways, but doesn't say anything against racism, either. Laughing at those scenes in Love at First Bite, filmed in 1979, made me feel passively racist, and I didn't like the feeling very much.


  1. To me it comes down to good manners. Stereotypes are the basis for a lot of jokes which we laugh at without guilt. (Husband and wife’s jokes come to mind, many one-liners based on stereotypes). I don’t know many men who get offended when the punch line is “We drove for hours because he didn’t want to stop and ask for directions…” yet why I am supposed to feel guilty if I laugh about other stereotypes? Of course, if I believe someone is going to get offended then such jokes shouldn’t be said, just out of common courtesy. There is a big difference between derogatory, degrading and demeaning humor verses laughing at stereotypes. To call laughing at the latter “racist”, takes away from defining real racism. I wonder if any vampires were offended by that movie…? :)

  2. So then what is "real racism" by your definition?

    Of course I agree, we don't want to offend anyone. But, if I laugh at the joke when the person of that group isn't present, what does that say about me?

  3. But aren't jokes funny because they are based on truth?

    "real racism" is thinking less of a person because of their race or color and taking actions based soley on that premise. It is racist to deny a job to a black man, it is racist to believe Mexicans are lazy...but is it racist to believe Asians are good students?

  4. The jokes, and stereotypes in general, are based on over-generalizations that are insulting to individuals within the groups. Even "good" stereotypes are hurtful for that reason.

    For example, Italians are good cooks, right? What if I'm Italian and I'm not a good cook, or I don't like to cook? There must be something wrong with me.