NEW YORK — At the National Columnists' Convention, where we all get together every Thursday evening at a spot downtown and decide what we're going to write about this week, the unanimous consensus was that Trent Lott would get the nod.
So everyone went off to write his or her own considered and measured tracts on l'affaire Lott. Some wrote that Lott was merely a scapegoat for the Republican party to avoid a deeper engagement with their infamous "Southern strategy," where they cater to certain white voters by backpedaling on civil rights-related issues. Some, by contrast, said that Lott was a dinosaur who failed to reflect the new, W-headed, multiethnic, pluralist Republican party. But this column is probably the only one to take Lott and the Republicans to task for not watching the WB. Particularly, "Birds of Prey."
Now, to be fair, Trent Lott is (or at least was) a busy man, and a whole lot of people didn't watch "Birds of Prey." Legions, in fact, given that the WB is canceling the show as we speak. I come neither to bury the show nor to praise it, but merely to note one phenomenon in the show: the romance between Ashley Scott's Huntress character and the police officer she assists, played by Shemar Moore.
Scott is white; Moore is black. This fact goes utterly unmentioned by the show.
Admittedly, the show uses Huntress' superpowers (she's a "metahuman," to use their language) as a somewhat belabored allegory for the need to transcend racial stereotyping, but the point is that a white woman and an African-American male are romancing on television without the racial issue itself being the main issue behind the relationship.
This isn't to say that interracial relationships are new to the small or the big screen, but it seems that as recently as two or three years ago, the relationships were used as ways to belabor what should be obvious to everyone but, apparently, Trent Lott: that discriminating against people based on the color of their skin is still discrimination in matters of the heart as well as the workplace.
Think about the first season of the West Wing, with its president's-daughter-dates-the-black-personal-assistant subplot, or the movies "O" or "Save the Last Dance." In all those cases, you could feel the strain of the writers and directors bending backward to show off their good intentions. That strain seems largely to have disappeared, particularly in, well, what we'll call the work of film and television makers less concerned with matters of high art.
It's not just "Birds of Prey," but the recent Rob Schneider movie "The Hot Chick," and recent episodes of "The Drew Carey Show," "NYPD Blue," "Firefly," and "Everwood." All have had either recurring characters or regulars with interracial romances or relationships - none of which were played for explicit political or social statements. Which is, of course, a massive political and social statement in itself. None of these shows have drawn any significant ire from viewers, or, at least, ire related to this aspect of the production. (Clearly, network execs are somewhat ired at "Firefly." It's going on hiatus this week.) And that should speak volumes to Lott and to the Republicans.
The country is voting with its eyes, and it likes, by and large, what it sees.
Jeremy Dauber teaches Yiddish Literature at Columbia University. He is also a playwright, theatre director, screenwriter and cultural critic.