TV Shows and movies don’t get racism for the most part. They really, really don’t. The most common misstep is the lack of realism in portraying adolescent racism. By now, most recognize that racism in the adult world is institutional and less overt, but with young people writers just love to simplify the hell out of it. Racist people in fiction are generally loud and obnoxious punks who make thinly veiled threats at every person of colour they see. The modern racist does not behave like this at all. Perhaps several years ago that was the case, but in the new millennium that does not even come close. Thankfully we have the Neo-Noir mystery show Veronica Mars that came out in the mid 2000’s to set the record straight. Racist teenagers aren’t loud and angry rednecks, they aren’t only people of low intelligence, and they aren’t super aggressive about their prejudice either. Racism to the teens of the world of Veronica Mars (a world that exists in the fictional town of Neptune) is used as a weapon, a tool of exclusion. For the show’s first two seasons, racial and class tensions are treated with significance, and more importantly, as closely related concepts. As Veronica herself succinctly puts it, “your parents are either millionaires, or your parents work for millionaires” within the class based society she lives in.
Veronica Mars understands that racism is not reinforced by some irrational and unfounded fear of difference, but instead as another symptom of self-interest. The rich want to get richer, and they all want to live simplistic lives; and from a desire that simple, racism is perpetuated. Simply labeling people of colour as either criminals or cheap labour is a very convenient way to look at things when you’re rich and white, and that gets passed along to young people in the form of expectations. Expectations that people of different races behave a certain way, are more prone to certain actions, and are only of value when they are working under you. The scary part of all of this is that the desire for simplicity and convenience is something most people can relate to. The thing Veronica Mars gets most right about racism comes from this specifically. Most of fiction treats racism as a monstrous quality, Veronica Mars understands that racism is a human quality. The racial interactions in this show felt very natural as well. Take this exchange here for example between Weevil (a Hispanic individual) and Logan (a rich white individual):
WEEVIL: So, what’s Catherine Zeta-Jones like?
SEAN: She likes to read to starving children and bake home-made scones, this according to “The Insider.”
CONNOR: I only met her in passing.
LOGAN: It’s not like your people, they don’t all know each other.
CONNOR: Dude, what’s up with that?
CONNOR: That’s like the tenth racist thing you’ve said.
LOGAN: Oh my god! Does the soapbox come with the SAG card?
This is how racism is transmitted between teenagers. Logan isn’t going to come out and call Weevil a “dirty Mexican” or some form of overt racial slur, but he is going to be making constant jabs like this. The goal of the teenage racist is not to make large sweeping declarations of his “white supremacy”, but it’s to make a number of safe little comments that let those of colour know that they aren’t welcome in their “world”. Their power is reinforced by those divisions, and they intrinsically know this, so they do everything they can to create them. Notice how Logan already has a comeback prepared for the guy that called him out? The defense that he is just having harmless fun and that his detractors are just being preachy is exactly what he’s counting on. He wants to create an environment where racist behaviour seems acceptable, so he’ll continue make small jabs like that until that is the case.
And through all of that, Logan is a human being. He’s one of the main characters of the show, he has his own personal demons to deal with, and his racist behaviour towards Weevil is motivated by more than most would assume. He isn’t some racist redneck caricature that writers create to show “this is how a racist looks like, laugh at him!”. While well-intentioned, those lazy stereotypes downplay how prevalent they really are in today’s society. Like the end of the season 2 episode “One Angry Veronica” demonstrates, racism in society is deeply ingrained in its institutions, and not something that can be reduced to one angry hick.
Another aspect of racism that this show examines is the resentment it causes, and it manages to do so in a way that never becomes insulting. The fall out of racism comes in the form of thugs looking for a reason to cause damage, people with legitimate grievances at the system, and people who display misplaced aggression. One of the most prevalent themes in Veronica Mars is that the world is unfair, and there is never going to be a magical solution that fixes it. While racial tensions and divisions in society are treated as a major plot point in the show, there is never a resolution to it because there can’t be one. You can’t “resolve” human nature, the best you can do is fight it. Similar to Angel‘s neverending battle against evil, Veronica Mars battles an infinite onslaught of corruption, a corruption that often comes in the form of racism. This was a show that managed to seriously examine the ugliest part of society by recognizing the humanity in it. For that, and many other mystery-buff related reasons, this is a series I’m never going to forget.
Quote of the Day:
“Neptune, California, a town without a middle class.”
– Veronica, Veronica Mars