October 19, 2010By Mala Bhattacharjee Posted: Oct 19, 2010
BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL is in the midst of a big story involving Stephanie and the plight of the homeless community on L.A.'s Skid Row, and I'd like to discuss the pluses and minuses. I was actually thinking of doing it in print, but I have so much going on in my head that I don't think it would all fit on one page. So buckle up (or bail out!) as I get myself in gear!
Conceptually and stylistically, B&B's location scenes have been beautiful. The Angels Flight sequence last Wednesday, intercut with Stephanie, Brooke and Taylor all having flashbacks, was gorgeous. You really got the bittersweet sense that Stephanie was looking forward to ascending to another plane. And I love the following episodes being a callback to Stephanie's time wandering the streets in 1991. I thought it was incredibly haunting and on point when she observed, "This is my town. I live 20 minutes away, yet it seems a thousand miles away. I promised I'd make a difference. Instead, when I see them, I turn away." By the time "Lean on Me" cued up, I was sniffling. And the last shot of Friday's air show, of Ann's scarf floating off on the breeze, was breathtaking. (I was "off duty," on vacation with extended family that day, and still watched. That's how much I love this show!)
I think the idea of Stephanie deciding to fight her cancer so she can do some good is wonderful. It's a great message to put out there: that those with privilege and power should give back to the less-fortunate. "What have I done with my life? What is my burden compared to theirs?" Stephanie mused. Those are questions more people should ask themselves! We live in a very materialistic world, where it's all about lining up for the unveiling of the iPad and filling your Hummer's gas tank. Punk kids from the Jersey Shore become rich and famous simply for being punk kids from the Jersey Shore while teachers get laid off and schools get shut down. So I like that B&B is shedding light on such an important, still relevant, topic. I remember when Phil Collins' Grammy-winning "Another Day in Paradise" came out in 1989. I was 11 and it was my first real exposure to the issue of homelessness. I was floored by the power of the song and the message — as many others were. That our society and our government hasn't really improved the homeless situation in this country since that song's release, and since Stephanie's initial journey, is a sad state of affairs. So, kudos to B&B for reminding us that there is still much to do.
Aaaand now for the more delicate and critical part of my entry. If you don't want to read a lot of pontificating about racial dynamics, you can hit your 'Back' button now.
The aspect of the Stephanie-in-Skid-Row that didn't give me warm fuzzies was her and Brooke in "the bad part of town," a land of primarily homeless people of color. It was a glaring juxtaposition of rich vs. poor, privileged vs. underprivileged...and white vs. black. I can't help but remember when Ann had a South Asian cab driver last year and when, in Marcus' first episode, Eric mistook him for a waiter. These are things that may not stand out to someone who isn't a minority, but to many of us who walk around every day aware of our Otherness, it's significant and also unsettling. Sure, you could argue that a big percentage of the homeless community does consist of non-whites...but B&B doesn't exactly excel at balanced representation, does it? There are rich people of color in L.A., too. And religious minorities. And gay fashion designers. When B&B's not representing those elements, an accurate depiction of Skid Row rings somewhat hollow. So I couldn't help but wince a little as Stephanie became the champion of the homeless populace after her encounter with Dayzee.
Of course, Stephanie being painted as this Great White Savior figure to a downtrodden minority or a persecuted people is hardly uncommon in media. Whether it's Sam Worthington saving the Na'vi in AVATAR, Kevin Costner helping the Sioux in DANCES WITH WOLVES, or Michelle Pfeiffer illuminating DANGEROUS MINDS, it's this very stock narrative about a strong white hero pulling exotic, oppressed folk from their perils. I just don't know that the story is usually as "hit you over the head with the saintly metaphor" as B&B's use of bright white light and visual of Stephanie cradling a wee black baby like the Madonna and Child. (As an aside, isn't baby Tanya just adorable? Who wouldn't want to cuddle her?)
What it comes down to, as per usual, is that I think more TV showrunners need to give diversification and balanced representation serious thought. B&B's version of it often just boils down to having an equal number of blondes and brunettes. Would giving characters like Justin, Marcus and Dayzee story and importing a Latin or Indian family (I know, I know, you're thinking about the Ramirezes and eye-rolling, aren't you?) make the Skid Row scenes less of a racial/social/political minefield? Probably not. But it would make the polarization of rich white people vs. poor black people a bit less stark.
I respect and appreciate what B&B is trying to do; the driving thrust of their storyline is lovely. They just...skidded a little off course.