|L to R top: Ben, Abed and Jeff |
L to R bottom: Britta, Shirley, Annie,
Troy and Pierce
Former Spanish instructor, Señor Ben Chang (the hilarious Ken Jeong), was dressed as figure-skater Peggy Fleming (who is white), but was assumed to be either Kristi Yamaguchi or Michelle Kwan by the white characters. Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown) was dressed as Glenda the Good Witch, but everyone thought she was supposed to be Miss Piggy. When the two of them were trapped in the bathroom to escape a horde of zombiefied classmates, they each immediately recognized their costumes for what they really were and thus saw each other through new eyes.
I wonder how many non-POC actually got that scene. I mean really got it.
When I first saw Chang's costume, I wondered why he was dressed-up as a figure-skater, but before he was even done asking Britta and Jeff who they thought he was supposed to be (in an earlier scene), I knew exactly what the writers were so cleverly pointing out: privilege has a funny way of making some white folks feel like they have the "right" to make race, ethnicity or gender-based assumptions about POC because their world view is supposed to be the only world view. Through Britta and Jeff's own biases (biases they are blissfully unaware of, btw), neither of them could even imagine that Shirley or Chang could be dressed up as white people. It would just never occur to them. (And Chang called them on it too.)
I really enjoy Community because the writing is clever, it's totally irreverent, unapologetically politically incorrect (in a good way), and through humor, holds a gigantic mirror up in front of our biases and prejudices and forces us to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Unlike some shows I can name (*cough* Heroes/FlashForward *cough*), the writers and showrunners give the POC in this very multi-cultural cast equal face time and important and interesting storylines. For once, the POC characters aren't just window dressing and weren't thrown aside once the novelty wore off. And although the show still more or less revolves around the white leads (of course), the writers humble both Jeff Winger and Britta Perry (and Chevy Chase's Pierce Hawthorne) in a way that is rarely seen on TV. Or in other words, they constantly get slapped in the face with their own ignorance-is-bliss privilege and end up looking like idiots in the process.
Every single character has a very obvious personality flaw...no one is spared. (Think narcissism, perfectionism, recovering drug addict, extreme escapism through movies/TV, wannabe feminist, religious goody-goody...but not really, etc.) And I also love the fact that by the end of each episode, everyone learns something important about themselves, but the writers don't drop an anvil on our heads with it. We go on the journey with the characters, and I often have an "aha!" moment right along with them. Good stuff.
Here's video of the best of Chang from season one. The very first scene is the reason that I fell in love with Ken Jeong. He's absolutely frakkin' brilliant.