Now that school is over I’ve had a lot more time to mindlessly watch whatever is on television. About two weeks ago I stumbled upon a program starring Flavor Flav titled “Under One Roof.” Here is the show’s plot, via wikipedia:
Calvester and Winston Hill act like they are from opposite sides of the track when they actually just grew up on opposite sides of the room. Years later*, Winston is a successful and wealthy real estate developer with a perfect and privileged family, but his life gets interrupted when his street smart**, older brother Calvester finally gets out of prison and moves into the mansion.
It’s not long before Calvester begins parading his old prison cronies through the house driving the Hill family crazy – butting heads with Winston’s trophy wife Ashley (Carrie Genzel); 17-year-old daughter, Heather (Marie Michel); and housekeeper Su Ho (Emily Kuroda). Calvester even teaches Winston’s 16-year-old son, Winston Jr. (Jesse Reid) to be a gangster rapper.
Within, oh, three seconds of watching this show, you think to yourself, “Hey! They frickin’ ripped this off from Fresh Prince of Bel Air!”
Musical intro that explains the backstory? Check. Upper class Black father? Check. Nerdy/preppy son and ditzy/pretty daughter? Check and check.
British butler? No check! They’ve replaced Jeffrey with an Asian maid named “Su Ho.” In one scene, while being served dinner, the father asks: “this isn’t dog, is it?” (Laugh track). Clearly upset by his prejudice, Su Ho launches into a heart-felt diatribe of broken enrish… “Me sil is a pelson with feerings, me sil is a human bering” (Laugh track). (The actress, Emily Kuroda, has won an award from the East West Player’s theater association, an organization that strives to “further cultural understanding between the East and West by employing the dual Oriental and American heritages of the East-West Players.” Suffice it to say that I don’t believe she won the award for her portrayal of “Su Ho.” No further comment necessary).
The wife character (who was played by two different actresses in v.1.0), in a contemporary update to the 21st century, is White. And uptight! As you may imagine, hilarity ensues.
I don’t have a problem with cheap racial humor per se. For instance, I really like South Park, even though their style of humor has become over-stylized — relying on didactic hyperbolic morality tales to shame over-enthusiastic characters with heavy-handed ironic treatment.
The best racial humor finds non-obtrusive or otherwise offensive ways to make cunning cultural observations (see: Stuff White People Like). Humor that relys on trite and hackneyed stereotypes is dangerously close to being, you know, racist.
Well, I mean, maybe it’s all racist, and the wrinkles of delivery make the dangers more pervasive. But I’m of the opinion that humor can be a means of celebrating diversity. And this show just isn’t funny to me.
*Nice transition, Shakespeare
**How can one be “street smart” if they’ve served time in prison? Doesn’t that imply that you’re not smart enough to stay on the street? I never understood this term… it does seem like a great back-handed compliment though.