On the “Fringe” of racism

I love Fringe- it’s so brilliantly entertaining. The idea of a parallel universe, of different experiments that seek to control and understand the theorized dormant abilities present in each person, the explorations of time travel and timelines are fascinating. And Fringe is a well done show that speaks my kind of dramatic nerd language and provides guilt free distraction when I need it.

So here we approach the end of the series altogether with the ever increasing suspense filled finale. With the finale yet to air, I watched the second to last episode with giddy excitement (because that’s how I do) and…

for anyone who hasn’t caught up with the series, hasn’t watched the series, or is contemplating watching the series without knowing what’s going to happen.

…I wanted to see Donald and watch their plan to defeat the Observers finally take form and omg are they ever going to take down Windmark?

But last Friday’s episode (second to last EVAR) totally threw me for a loop saying “the observers” are the product of a discovery in the not too distant future that allowed scientists to basically create a more efficient human. If the white time traveling unemotional Observers are “better” or revolutionised people, what does it say that this “better human” is uniformly white? Why did they engineer a new/better human race of white people?

Up to that point I guess I assumed Observers were alien or whatever making their gross looking high def pasty skin color of modeled white irrelevant. But it’s apparently not irrelevant- it’s very relevant now. Then the whiteness becomes very visible in a way it wasn’t previously. And while it seems like you could write it off as an oversight, its another glaring example of a bigger oversight of society on the subtle and not so subtle racism still present in at least american culture and in Hollywood. There are only so many ways this makes sense:

  • “oversight” (unintentional racism)
  • intentional racism
  • statement on racism

An oversight would be the writer, director, or producer not thinking about the role of “people of color” in their cinema because they are white. They see their reflection in all white faces- it’s normal to them- and therefore it doesn’t occur to them anything is imbalanced or strange with a large white cast- futuristic or not: “white privilege.”

But here’s the problem with that: if you are in a position of power you are also in a position of awareness regarding race especially when considering a Hollywood director, writer, and or producer. Therefore there is an intentional omission whether for malicious or seemingly benign reasons. Even should the director, producer or screen writer attempt to replicate someone else’s vision this still implies a high level of privilege to be able to manufacture such a high budget exercise in exclusion.

So then is it intentional racism? Does this writer of Fringe think that white people are better than people of color and so designed the program and story to suit this ideal? Would you even be able to get your program aired if you were or are intentionally racist?

I don’t believe the Fringe decision makers are racist- some of the main characters are African American and other ethnicities have been integrated into the general storyline at many points during the show. I know I can be accused of over thinking this whole thing and that may be so but it still stands that the Observer storyline is a new breed of futuristic white folk who come back in time to dominate pre-observer earth.

Now, you can argue a few different things here that the observers are white because light skinned people theoretically absorb vitamin D or other sun-based things better and easier than dark skinned people or that time traveling makes you lose pigmentation or your “tan” or whatever but that’s seemingly an internalized racism all its own. Assuming that the default or optimal condition for humanity should be white is assuming that the pinnacle of human existence is whiteness (which simply isn’t true).

You can refer to the fact that observers “eliminated anomalies” in their effort to create a perfect race of humans- meaning that any observers crafted in tubes that weren’t the “norm” were aborted. But that reaffirms the racist inclination toward white people. Obviously the observers aren’t the benign protagonists of the story but it’s interesting to note that this is the origin of them- a eugenics based program to engineer what some French scientist and presumably world leaders deem “a better race of humans.” This all started before the antagonists decided to antagonize which means their inception, creation, and dominance was rooted and steeped in what? How can you ignore what the observers ultimately turned in to?

And that’s the point: why should we just accept the status quo despite the nonsensical nature and stifling assumptions being put forth by such an act of omission? Why should the viewing audience be forced to operate under assumptions of an imaginary norm whether that’s gender, sexuality, or race/ethnicity? While we like to imagine humans in the future as little different than us humans now, is it so strange to imagine that humanity in the future might be more or just as diverse as it is now?

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