Ladies and gentlemen, there are rules. Yes, rules for everything, from the column-writing racket to the TV racket and all points in between.
Bend the rules, break the rules and trouble ensues. Also shock and despair. But, I will argue here, there are rules that need to be broken.
Some months ago, Saturday Night Live did a sketch that illustrated and mocked one of the rules of advertising products and services on network TV. SNL cast member Kenan Thompson played a character named “Corey,” who is “the one black guy in every commercial.” Corey declared, “This year I was in 14 commercials and I was also the one black guy in a college brochure!”
This comedy bit turned out to be unerringly, painfully accurate. Adweek magazine discovered that a black actor, Jamison Reeves, had actually done 14 commercials in one year, and in an interview Reeves joked that in the ads, “I’m the one acceptable black friend.”
Obviously, this “one black friend” rule is dumb and needs to be demolished. However, in the U.S. network-TV racket, it doesn’t apply only to commercials.
On tonight’s episode of New Girl (Fox, CITY-TV, 9 p.m.), you’ll find that Damon Wayans Jr. is back as the character Coach. He was in the pilot as Coach but took another job and was replaced by Lamorne Morris, playing a character named Winston. Now, it turns out, Wayans will continue as Coach on New Girl for the rest of this season. This has caused some consternation among people who study and monitor the rules of network TV. It means that the white characters on New Girl will have not one, but two, black friends on the show. This is a seismic shift but, obviously, a rule that had to be broken.
And then there’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox, CITY-TV, 8:30 p.m.), a good, goofy comedy about a police precinct in Brooklyn, N.Y. During a press session for the show at the TV critics’ press tour, I was taken aback to hear another critic say, as part of a question to the producers, “You know, it’s a pretty groundbreaking show in that there are actually two Latina characters in it.”
It turns out that it is actually astonishing to have two female characters of obvious Hispanic background on a series airing on network TV. Another rule broken. Actress Stephanie Beatriz reacted to the question with, “I know. Isn’t it great?” She also pointed out that both she and Melissa Fumero, the other Hispanic actress on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, are not “doing accents” or “doing spicy.” Thus, on the show, they’re not drawling in a Hispanic accent or obliged to behave as smouldering Latin sexbombs. Another bunch of rules broken, right there. And a good thing too.
This brings us to me, and the rules of this column. First, in this matter, I curse young Mr. Trudeau. He’s gone and ruined it for yours truly and this particular corner of the column-writing racket. Last week young Mr. Trudeau hosted a $250-per-ticket shindig called “Justin. Unplugged.” The invitation declared, “Ladies, you’re invited to (really) get to know the future Prime Minister.” This wording took care of the off-chance that fans of Justin Bieber, the Beliebers, would be asking their moms for $250 to see their idol, “unplugged.” But the use of the word “ladies” stuck in the craw of many women in the politics and punditry rackets. Umbrage was taken. Scorn was heaped. And the term “patronizing” was thrown around.
This puts me in pickle. Lo these many years, this column has had sport, in an old-fashioned, mildly ironic way, with the term “lady.” The terms “lady viewers” and “lady reviewers” have been bandied. On the rare occasions when I’ve written about the annual Victoria’s Secret TV special, I’ve referred to the company as “purveyors of ladies’ intimate apparel and upholstery items.”
This baffled some American readers. Among them, some thought it was one of those Canadians-are-polite things. Others took umbrage, but I paid no attention because they are not constant readers in touch with the fun we have here.
Now, young Mr. Trudeau has caused me to mess with the rules. From now on, this column is obliged to break its own rule and be an irony-free zone. No more “lady” used here. From now on, it’s “badass women.” And that, badass women and gentlemen, is just the way it has to be. Rules are there to be broken, and all that.
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