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thegodcam
Member since Oct 22nd 2004
41209 posts
Sun Jan-11-15 06:43 PM

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"Mindy Kaling™ buys into racial & class aspirations of romantic comedy"
Sun Jan-11-15 06:44 PM by thegodcam

  

          

http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/1/mindy-project-racetv.html?utm_content=opinion&utm_campaign=ajam&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=SocialFlow

Mindy Kaling is not your pioneer
The star of '˜The Mindy Project'™ buys into the racial and class aspirations of the romantic comedy
January 11, 2015 2:00AM ET
by E. Alex Jung @e_alexjung

In October comedian and actress Mindy Kaling sat for an interview for NPR’s “Morning Edition” with Rachel Martin, who asked her how it felt to be “a woman who’s been the first at something,” a “pioneer.” When “The Mindy Project” premiered on Fox in the fall of 2012, Kaling became the first Asian-American woman on broadcast television to star in and run her own show. “Is it still a lonely club?” Martin asked. “I know why people want me to speak about it,” Kaling responded, “But I sort of refuse to be an outsider, even though I know that I very much look like one to a lot of people. And I refuse to view myself in such terms.”

In that sense, she’s right: She’s not a pioneer. For one, what excited many people was that Kaling was, in her own words, “an Indian-American woman who is not pencil thin.” But to call her a trailblazer of representation simply because she is an Indian-American woman conflates her identity with her work. It buys into the very tokenism that plagues conversations about diversity by suggesting that representation is simply a matter of starring on TV.

But what of the work itself? Kaling has chosen to express herself through the lens of romantic comedies from the 1990s. You know, Meg Ryan movies. It’s a genre we’ve come to associate with upwardly mobile white Americans whose aspirations are to find love; its women tend to find belonging by marrying the right man. At first, “The Mindy Project” appeared as though it would be a clever reworking of the genre, but after three and a half seasons, it’s clear that Kaling isn’t interested in subversion. She has reproduced the same story of romance that has already been told countless times — and just made herself the star.

It is no accident that Dr. Mindy Lahiri, the character Kaling plays on the show, dates white, upper-middle-class men — Wall Street bankers, NYU Latin professors, lawyers and Web designers. This recurrence is not a question of fate running into you but the perpetuation of the great lie of romance, which suggests that love and marriage are not somehow informed by class, race and gender conventions. Lahiri’s project of finding Mr. Right, in other words, holds the ultimate promise of assimilation.

Not one of the others

The bulk of criticism of “The Mindy Project” has rightly focused on the optics of diversity. In the show’s run so far, Lahiri has dated 19 white men — an exclusive cohort she herself has joked is a string of “tall white men to short white men.” On Jezebel, Dodai Stewart gently chastised Kaling for her excessive attention to white men, hoping that after the first season, Lahiri could “mix it up and try dating Mexican, Korean, black, Navajo or Moroccan men.” (She didn’t.)

But the problem here is not that Lahiri exclusively dates white men. It’s that there is never any confrontation of race within these relationships. It’s aggressively naive to suggest that none of her tall white boyfriends has ever said that he has a proclivity for Indian women, clumsily attempted to prove his familiarity with Indian culture or dismissed her for her race. Neither does Lahiri show any anxiety, glee or resentment about being the sole Indian woman in a mostly white male environment. There is not even the barest acknowledgment that her desire might be shaped by the expectations of a white male establishment. “The Mindy Project” perpetuates a white power structure by masking how racial fantasies operate on an interpersonal level. Race is ornamental, like a Kate Spade purse.

Additionally, Lahiri’s choices are sadly unremarkable. She has dated men played by Seth Rogen, Seth Meyers and Anders Holm, among others. During a Buzzfeed roundtable, Ayesha Siddiqi called this Kaling’s “nebbish white guy fetish” and said, “What bothers me is these guys don’t have to be/never are anything special. They’re just white and available.” In fact, if Kaling chose to have her character date a hot pinup such as “Captain America” actor Chris Evans — for whom Lahiri says she pines — the show could exaggerate the cartoonish elements of romantic comedy as a way of acknowledging its conceit — as Lena Dunham (arguably) does in a surrealist episode of “Girls” in which her character dates an impossibly suave Patrick Wilson. Instead, Kaling’s vision of romance normalizes her choice of relationships, as though only by doing so can she believe her participation in them.

Kaling, it seems, thinks any serious considerations of race would detract from rather than enrich the rom-com framework.
When race does enter the frame, it is always an imposition. In the latest episode, “Stanford,” Lahiri meets another Indian doctor at a fellowship program, where the only point of commonality she is able to muster is that she knows “how to do a kind of offensive Indian accent.” In the same episode, she ignores another doctor's assumptions that she's Latina. It isn’t dissimilar to Kaling’s experience at a New Yorker after-party where a drunk man mistook her for Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. She predictably laughed it off, saying, “That’s the best thing that’s happened all night.” In “The Mindy Project” too, almost any exchange Lahiri has about race appears meant to prove that she is not one of the others but a full-blooded American. As she says to the Indian doctor, she’s “from Boston, baby.”

This is what makes her declarations on the show that she aspires to be blonde even more unsettling. Lahiri’s desire to exclusively date white men is a choice that Kaling makes. But in cloaking that choice as incidental rather than intentional, she perpetuates a greater untruth: that race, especially in the context of interracial dating, would vanish if only people of color stopped talking about it.

A character is born

The most fully realized character on “The Mindy Project” is Danny Castellano, Lahiri’s colleague-turned-boyfriend, played by Chris Messina. A grouchy Italian-American doctor who grew up in a rough part of Staten Island (you know, "Port Dogkill"), he wears reading glasses on a lanyard, makes a good pasta sauce, hates the new pope and loves his ma. He has daddy issues because his father left his family when he was young, and the show has devoted a considerable amount of time to dealing with the father’s specter. We eventually meet Castellano’s dad, his half-sister, his louse of a brother and his overbearing mom (the wonderful Rhea Perlman). Castellano is a great character in part because we know where he comes from. It’s telling that we know more about his family and roots than we do about Lahiri’s.

Her parents, meanwhile, have no presence on the show; they are indistinct shapes that appear in the background of her memory. Her brother Rishi, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar, has appeared on a couple of episodes. But just as quickly as the show establishes that she has a family, Rishi disappears. This is why even though the show is about her, it feels curiously ahistorical. Lahiri appears to be a woman without any family or community; she is a character simply born of the imagined community of lovelorn career women whose identities are defined purely by what they buy.

The implicit question behind “What does it feel like to be the first?” is “What does it feel like to be the only one?” Lahiri is the only doctor of color in the office and the only woman with any significant storyline. And yet we have very little sense of what that feels like; Kaling, it seems, thinks any serious considerations of race would detract from rather than enrich the rom-com framework she has set up for Lahiri. In the interview with Martin, Kaling said, “I think that it’s insidious to be spending more of your time reflecting … in smart ways about your otherness rather than doing the hard work of your job.”

Racism is not just some paranoid fever dream. Kaling, however, would rather have us believe that the best thing to do as a woman of color is to lean into the bounty of American romance with trips to the Empire State Building, VIP-room canoodling and horse-drawn carriages. But that forecloses the breadth of possibilities, both funny and painful, of what it means to be American — and maybe more saliently, what it means to fall in love.

*******************************************************
i will not let finite disappointment undermine infinite hope
- Cory Booker

Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end the Germans always win
- Gary Lineker

  

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Mindy Kaling™ buys into racial & class aspirations of romantic comedy [View all] , thegodcam, Sun Jan-11-15 06:43 PM
 
Subject Author Message Date ID
im surprised anybody watched the show long enough to write this
Jan 11th 2015
1
i didn't read the article, but i watch the show
Jan 11th 2015
4
U crazy that show is fucking hilarious
Jan 11th 2015
8
      Oh boy
Jan 13th 2015
93
Margaret Cho was the first Asian American woman
Jan 11th 2015
2
and i used to watch it
Jan 11th 2015
5
yep
Jan 12th 2015
38
she looked like an idiot last night at the Golden Globes tho...
Jan 12th 2015
41
^^^^ I actually watched it too
Jan 12th 2015
81
I think the direction he wants for the show would be more problematic...
Jan 11th 2015
3
i'd be cool with that. but i watched the last episode
Jan 11th 2015
6
i think she said
Jan 11th 2015
9
      yep
Jan 12th 2015
40
You seem to be equating "regular" with whiteness...
Jan 11th 2015
7
No. Regular does not have to equal white...
Jan 11th 2015
10
      But aren't there obvious considerations of the race of her BFs?
Jan 11th 2015
13
      I don't watch the show either (does anyone? lol) so I can't comment on i...
Jan 11th 2015
15
           kinda feel like you're stuck on whiteness being "regular"
Jan 11th 2015
21
                Yeah, and its extremely naive, myopic.
Jun 17th 2015
102
      ur still equating regular with whiteness and it seems u don't even
Jan 12th 2015
26
           He really is. Sadly he's not alone
Jan 13th 2015
91
                Yes this is an issue in real life....
Jan 13th 2015
94
Is acknowledging the race " playing up the fact"?
Jan 12th 2015
27
We need to stop using the term "non white"
Jun 17th 2015
105
good read. seems like balanced criticism.
Jan 11th 2015
11
she, and her show are trash.
Jan 11th 2015
12
Oh Jesus Fucking Christ © Some Cat
Jan 11th 2015
14
nah
Jan 11th 2015
16
That's not the show she wants to write, and so what?
Jan 11th 2015
17
      1) why you so hype tho?
Jan 11th 2015
18
           The point is that it doesn't matter who "calls her out"
Jan 11th 2015
19
           I don't really understand your beef though
Jan 11th 2015
20
                The beef is that it's personal finger-wagging bullshit disguised
Jan 11th 2015
22
                And people criticized Tyler Perry for his color politics and sexism.
Jan 12th 2015
30
                     Right? What's the issue here?
Jun 17th 2015
101
                     Yes, that's totally the fucking argument that I'm making.
Jun 17th 2015
108
                     we have to ignore ZooTown on these issues.
Jun 17th 2015
109
                but there is almost no merit in what he's saying
Jan 12th 2015
25
                     That's not what he said.
Jan 12th 2015
29
                          i dont know how ppl can be so oblivious to that....nm
Jan 12th 2015
34
                          ^^^^
Jan 12th 2015
88
           Basically
Jan 12th 2015
87
^
Jan 12th 2015
24
YES! I stopped watching when it felt like Who's the Boss
Jan 11th 2015
ah...
Jan 12th 2015
44
YES! I stopped watching when it felt like Who's the Boss
Jan 11th 2015
23
Right...but everyone came to that conclusion a long time ago.
Jan 12th 2015
28
Is it fair tho? Maybe she just wants to make a silly television show
Jan 12th 2015
31
I'm not disputing that, but I also don't think it absolves her of critic...
Jan 12th 2015
32
yeah she really loves rom coms
Jan 12th 2015
33
But I'm talking about Mindy Kaling the comedic writer. Not just this sho...
Jan 12th 2015
36
but if youre talking about her as a writer
Jan 12th 2015
47
methinks the reason all her guys are white is cuz she likes white guys
Jan 12th 2015
39
      Exactly.
Jan 12th 2015
43
why is making a silly rom com tv show mutually exclusive
Jan 12th 2015
50
      This is where I am. I was hugely excited for the show because.
Jan 12th 2015
54
Does she really have race and identity issues?
Jan 12th 2015
35
      Heh, good point. N/M
Jan 12th 2015
37
Asian woman that ONLY dates white guys? No surprises here.
Jan 12th 2015
42
ah yes, the nebbish white guy, I've talked about this before
Jan 12th 2015
45
I was flipping through a Men's Health and I realized something about the...
Jan 12th 2015
46
      The only TJ's ad i've ever seen is the Fearless Flyer....
Jan 12th 2015
73
As a white male writer...
Jan 12th 2015
48
this kind of explains a lot tbh
Jan 12th 2015
49
You must have missed my edit.
Jan 12th 2015
51
      agreed.
Jan 12th 2015
52
Right, but consider the other side of that pressure....
Jan 12th 2015
53
      I get that. At least, as much as I *can* get it.
Jan 12th 2015
55
           I feel ya. It's kind of a can't win situation because folks made they un...
Jan 12th 2015
58
                thats where i'm at
Jan 12th 2015
63
                RE:
Jan 12th 2015
78
                     RE:
Jan 12th 2015
84
                I feel you on Django and Serial...but Marco Polo is some bullshit.
Jan 12th 2015
66
                     Naw, the easiest way to explain a closed culture is with an outsider.
Jan 12th 2015
70
                     Who isn't familiar with Kungfu movies? I didn't need a newbie in Boardwa...
Jan 12th 2015
74
                     Wait. Marco Polo is the least important character in the show though...
Jan 12th 2015
75
                          Dude was the medieval version of a hipster blogger.
Jan 12th 2015
79
                          Oh...makes me want to watch now
Jan 12th 2015
85
                               Lardlad isn't wrong in that he's basically a prisoner observer...
Jan 12th 2015
90
meanwhile the show doesn't feature a single pretty white chick.
Jan 12th 2015
56
Isn't her best friend with the daughter a skinny white chick?
Jan 12th 2015
57
See, this is the thing, Lahiri is a fuckup.
Jan 12th 2015
59
right.
Jan 12th 2015
62
      I would hazard to say dating nebbish white guys is part of the joke...
Jan 12th 2015
65
           maybe but i dunno.
Jan 12th 2015
67
           Emphasis on the word "hazard"...
Jan 12th 2015
69
           Well I'd never underestimate how clever she is.
Jan 12th 2015
68
                There were a few jokes like that...
Jan 12th 2015
71
she doesn't have friends anymore
Jan 12th 2015
60
she's not regularly featured.
Jan 12th 2015
61
ah...
Jan 12th 2015
64
Hmm, I can dig it.
Jun 17th 2015
103
By the way, the Indian girl on the OKP main page is kind of hot.
Jan 12th 2015
72
don't watch the show but more power to her
Jan 12th 2015
76
remember when Mindi was hot for Idris on the office?
Jan 12th 2015
77
All the women were. She dated Daryl for a second too but it was only to
Jan 12th 2015
80
RE: Mindy Kaling™ buys into racial & class aspirations of romantic ...
Jan 12th 2015
82
Mindy's character is written as a shallow person
Jan 12th 2015
89
"Yo Stallone, what are you doing for Italians?"
Jan 12th 2015
83
The writer probably only saw one or two episodes
Jan 12th 2015
86
Mindy Lahiri>>>Mindy Kaling
Jan 13th 2015
92
I always felt like Tina Fey treated black women horribly.
Jan 13th 2015
95
So I watched the latest episode since so many people mentioned it
Jan 13th 2015
96
Yup & you're spot on about Tina & 30 Rock too.
Jan 13th 2015
97
i learned a new word today
Jan 13th 2015
98
Welp, Cancelled. And I ain't mad at that.
Jun 17th 2015
99
It had a nice run.
Jun 17th 2015
100
didnt hulu pick it up though?
Jun 17th 2015
104
It was picked up by Hulu for 26 more episodes.
Jun 17th 2015
106
      Yeah I ain't checking for Hulu. I probably have seen my last episode.
Jun 17th 2015
107
           it might be the first and only program i watch on hulu
Jun 26th 2015
110
                Mindy Kaling turned out to not be as subversive as I was hoping
Jun 26th 2015
111
                i don't know that i ever hung my hopes on that
Jun 26th 2015
112
                I tried very hard to read subversiveness into what she was doing.
Jun 26th 2015
114
                     RE: I tried very hard to read subversiveness into what she was doing.
Jun 26th 2015
116
                          I was pretty uncomfortable about this.
Jun 26th 2015
117
                               RE: I was pretty uncomfortable about this.
Jun 26th 2015
118
                You can't shake up the status quo when you are the status quo.
Jun 26th 2015
115
                you missin out
Jun 26th 2015
113

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