White Men Are the Worst. The Worst, Jerry!*

Ugh. White people, amirite?
July 29, 2014

I've let my subscription to White Man Memo lapse, so I have had a hard time keeping track of what I'm supposed to be outraged at on any given day. Fortunately, the AV Club's Sonia Saraiya is here to let me know what's what:

It's worth noting that her review angering a certain racial group improves its quality in her mind, a rather fascinating development. To be honest, I don't see what they could be upset by. It contains really intriguing sentences such as this:

The Leftovers thinks that the Guilty Remnant matters, which is interesting.

"This television show thinks that a cohort of people on which it has focused roughly 30 percent of its screen time, which is interesting." Insightful! Unfortunately, Saraiya feels alienated from the Guilty Remnant, one of the many cults to have come into existence in the world of The Leftovers. Not because they dress all in white, chain smoke, have taken a vow of silence, do weird things like steal photos from peoples' homes, and act like assholes to everyone around them. No. Because, well,

The Guilty Remnant is full of white people.

Even worse?

The town is full of white people.

LAME. Saraiya goes on to denounce The Leftovers' portrayal of the minority characters in its ensemble cast:

Of this vast ensemble of characters, three are not white: the Asian girlfriend of a cult leader described as having a fetish for Asian girls, that same cult leader, who has Magical Negro written all over him, and the mayor of the town, who is so improbably cast and drawn that she is the embodiment of this trope. I appreciate that all three characters have depth. But Christine and Wayne are really just foils for Tommy, and the mayor serves to characterize Kevin.

Wow. So upset. Much anger. Very sad. (And, I think, a total misunderstanding of the "Magical Negro" concept, at least as it relates to the cult leader, but whatevs.) In the end, Saraiya has a very simple, very understandable complaint: what about meeeee?

There are a lot of types of religious life out there. A lot of types of people. And a bunch of those people even watch HBO. (Hi, network executives, I exist.) It’s ridiculous that the show isn’t trying to reach me—isn’t trying to reach across the counter and tell the story of Faisal (which is the credited, never-spoken name of the Indian clerk). There’s a bunch of us who understand the world differently. And as the leftovers of Mapleton said in the bar in the first episode: "We’re still here."

She does admit to finding two sympathetic characters in this barren wasteland of whiteness: a pair of Indian guys who run a dry cleaning operation, one of whom is bullied by the town's (white, natch) police chief. Saraiya is very upset that the program focuses on the life of the main character of the show rather than the two dudes who are on the screen for, maybe, 120 seconds total. This sentence, in particular, struck me as odd:

This is a man in power bullying a man that isn’t, and yet somehow, "Gladys" expects me to care about the life and family of Chief Kevin Garvey, professional asshole.

I'm struggling to make sense of what she's saying here. I can't imagine she thinks the show is portraying Garvey sympathetically; he comes off as a real creep in those scenes. Is she arguing that she doesn't care about characters who are flawed? If that's the case, well, this whole Golden Age of TV thing must be kind of a bust for her. She must have despised Breaking Bad and Sopranos and Deadwood and True Detective and pretty much every other great show of the last decade-plus.

Though, now that I think about it, there were a lot of white people in those shows too. Ugh.

Anyway, I'm going to keep watching The Leftovers. Not because it's filled with white people (they're the worst). More because it's taking an interesting concept and doing relatively interesting things with it. And, as a piece of storytelling, one gets the sense that the show is building to something. The unexplained moments, be they little—the wordless nod Gladys gives the head of the Guilty Remnant at the beginning of this week's episode shortly before Gladys' brutal murder—or large—the rev's winning streak at the casino; the chief's car shutting down when he curses the baby Jesus—are mounting. I can't help but be intrigued.**

*Note: The headline of this post is a reference to Seinfeld, a show that featured many white people, a number of whom happened to be men. As such, it might not be immediately accessible to all cultures. I apologize for my callousness. #PrivilegeCheck

**Cue the denunciation of the heretic Damon Lindelof by Father Ross Douthat.