11 December 2006

Hero worship, or not

I've been reading a one-degree-of-separation blog recently, Frankly Frivolous, which is about all the TV you're watching--the stuff you admit to and the stuff you don't. And, as someone with certain, and admittedly sometimes arbitrary, standards for dialogue/writing/directing that often mean shows get the axe in ep 3 ("Dude. Where are we?" killed Lost for us, sadly), it's nice to be able to keep up with things via someone else's intelligent commentary.

And so I must respond to the Heroes discussion in FF's recent blog post. Don't get me wrong. Heroes is one of our guilty pleasure, fluff TV watches. We find it intriguing--sort of 4400 without the buddy-cop element and without the full 'verse worked out completely. I tend to like the show, although we both could do without Nikki's story-line entirely, thank you very much. If one treats it like a soap and fast-forwards through the bits you're not keen on, it works well.

But I have a problem with it, which is the same problem that Alias (also guilty pleasure, also fab, also yummy on many levels) had: Or-ee-en-tal-ism. That's right. "Eenja" the place where wisdom is had. Place of monsoons, umbrellas, kids playing football (except they'd be playing cricket if it were going all-out stereotype), white columns and huge mansions, small dark dusty academic offices (that look oddly like the same place as the NY apartment inhabited by the same character), sultry women in saris, protective mothers, everyone is a scientist, everyone wears fab Banana Republic-style flowy clothing (from before BR sold out and became Extra-Special-Gap)...At least in Heroes they play to the "better stereotypes" if there is such a thing. In Alias "Eenja" was one big confusing bazaar with veiled women and people scraping in the dirt in their oh-so-colourful sparkly garb. And so it's just annoying. Right down to the accent that Sendhil Ramamurthy takes on. It grates a little. Mr. Miyagi for the 00s.

I think the portrayal of Japan has similar elements, but Hiro is a much better character than Mohinder, and he doesn't have to do the cheeseball spiritual abstract voiceover stuff--Japan is a place of ritualised office calasthenics, manga, and cubicles with Star-Trek obsessed inhabitants hip to American culture, Japanese style. so there's orientalism there too, just a different flavour and with a different edge. Others more familiar with Japan and its popular image can help me in analysing that.

Heroes' Orientalism is the boring kind. The overt, in-your-face, why-oh-why kind. Because of this, it doesn't make me stop watching the show. It's just too overt to be truly offensive. Perhaps it's a signal that South Asia has finally made it onto the radar screen of mainstream America: it's not just China and Japan anymore. Welcome to the club.


sageblue said...

Yeah, I mean, I'm with ya sister, but I would say that they're being fairly even-handed with geographical stereotypes: India is the land where people believe there are heroes because they're crazy and into blue gods and crap, but Texas is home to stupid raping quarterbacks and even more stupid cheerleaders, NYC is home to drug-taking artists and corrupt politicians (who are conveniently ethnic(-ized)), and Vegas is home to psychopathic strippers and a scary because he can get out of jail black man. The most normal, nicest character? The one from LA (and I could go on about how the guy from the place where the people who make the show are is the one who knows what everyone is thinking...).

I mean, I doubt it will win any awards or change television, and perhaps that's where the harmlessness comes in. I too had the same why-oh-why response and Mohinder is just plain annoying, but I would also say that this is a show about types, and so I'm giving them some leeway here. I don't know that they are that smart, but they threw in a Bradbury reference in the last ep, so we'll give them a shot.

BTW, I'm in a running argument with a student about the death in the last ep and who caused it, but I don't want to spoil anything beyond that, so I guess I will keep that debate to myself.

Lingual Mania(h) said...

Yes, I agree that Orientalism raises its continually unflagging (sadly) head in Heroes, but, like you, I find myself forgiving them because it's blatant to the point of (perhaps knowingly?) schlocky. And I'm with Sir Sageblue in that it appears that everyone is a (stereo)type on the show, but then I want to believe that this is part of the point. Are not superheroes (or men and women those on the verge of hero-dom) in many ways always already types? And the show has done some (albeit not enough) work in dismantling our preconceptions about some characters, though, admitedly, those characters have been exclusively "white" (vaguely ethnic politicians and their brothers notwithstanding). I'm pretty sure these thoughts are giving the show way too much credit; I also don't know if they are that smart, but we can dream!
(My particular beef, as an Americanist and a race theory girl, has been that the two baddest bad guys are the black men, one even exclusively refered to as "the Haitian" in case we didn't get it. Again, sigh.)

But hey, glad you're reading! I just found out my sister's friend in Paris is also following along. In Paul's words, (global) audience is yummy!

dan said...

I'm a few eps behind, but I'm enjoying the show. (Matt downloads it and sends it to me, but there's layers of lag there). I mean, the fun parts sometimes wrestle with the cheesy plot devices before we even get into the stereotyping, so it isn't pure pleasure to watch for those reasons.

I'm just happy to see a fellow crooked-mouther on television. But why -- oh, why? -- does he have to be the most boring of the characters? I think it misrepresents us. Mixed emotions.

Anyway, I wanted to engage with all the controversy that immediately followed this post about the un-gaying of the gay character, but I'm a bit behind, I suppose, because I don't know what people are referring to about that, unless it's Claire's video camera-toting bf who got the erection in the locker room (yeah, not so subtle foreshadowing in that case). All I know is that I like the comments on the AfterElton post where people do NOT ACCEPT the apology of the ungaying. Some even claim to have been led on falsely, comparing it to a woman who marries a gay guy. Weird.