Tuesday, September 01, 2015


The internet being enormous and all, I don't remember where it was I saw this, but somewhere I saw something, once, about how Idris Elba is the actor white women who don't much pay attention to black male beauty (or who don't consume much diverse or black-oriented media) give as the example of a good-looking black man. Like, to the extent that it is, if you are a white woman, borderline racist to say that you find Elba attractive, his name in this context having evolved into a trope of sorts, of the exception.

I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, that would seem like all the more reason he'd be a shoo-in as James Bond. If indeed they still make those movies (I've only ever seen one, years ago, on what was probably my only high school outing with straight 'guy friends'), which apparently they do, because this morning Twitter erupted with the news that Anthony Horowitz, probably the same Anthony Horowitz as is behind some of the better, earlier Midsomer Murders episodes, gave a not particularly borderline but rather straightforwardly racist (if coded) reason why Elba, in his view, shouldn't be Bond. The word "street" is used, which is going to seem particularly odd to anyone introduced to Elba via his role in the US version of The Office.

As tends to happen in these cases, intense, multi-hour research (or, rather, clicking the link from the Independent to the original Daily Mail interview) suggests a bit of outrage-stirring on the part of the press. The "street" remark had, it seems, been immediately preceded by Horowitz naming a different black British actor, Adrian Lester, as a possible Bond. While the thing it seems as if Horowitz said (namely, that Bond can't be black because any black actor, even Elba, is "too 'street'") and the thing he actually said (a sort of casting equivalent of 'some of my best friends are black,' and then the "street" remark) are both racist, the former is so much more so that it might be tempting to cry Misplaced Outrage and dismiss the whole thing, except... the outrage is merited. The "street" remark is still racist!

The trouble is outrage fatigue. After years and years and years of offensiveness going unremarked, there's now this flood of remarks. Justified ones, but the sheer repetitiveness of the 'can you believe X said Y?!' headlines has ended up numbing too many readers to what are, at least in my opinion, real and important concerns about representation, subtle bigotry, and so forth. People then end up sympathizing with the gaffe-maker, who will inevitably have said something a notch or two less offensive than first thought. And so the conversation will get diverted from issue at hand. My question, then, is really one of strategy. If you support the politics of the 'can you believe' headlines, but wonder about their efficacy... what's the alternative? Is there one?

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