Wednesday, May 31, 2017

PeeWee Herman's Christmas Special

This Christmas I watched PeeWee Herman's Christmas Special with my sons and my mother. I was amazed at how ethnically diverse the casting was. Obviously PeeWee had a number of major recurring characters played by black actors (Cowboy Curtis, Reba the mail lady, the King of Cartoons), and there was the Mexican-American pool boy. But on top of this, his Christmas special had a wide range of guest appearances by actors and musicians, many of whom were black, some Spanish-speaking, and a few gay singers (I'm thinking of kd lang, who belts out carols in an extended session). And none of it felt forced—they simply booked the best singers within the eclectic, kitschy taste of the show, and if you're looking for good singers in the US, invariably many will be black. This is how multicultural representations are supposed to be, not so much a token inclusion of diverse voices, but rather a simple effort to not actively exclude people of color. I was amazed that this was done without much fanfare or controversy by this quirky kids' show in the late 80s, at the height of the conservative culture wars. Come to think of it, I'm amazed that PeeWee's extravagant, not-so-subtly-veiled gay camp style and aesthetic that imbued just about every aspect of the show was able to fly under the radar of the fervent conservative culture warriors who were seeing gay indoctrination and erosion of family values under every stone they turned. Or maybe it didn't fly under the radar—maybe PeeWee's fall from grace in an exagerrated Puritan witch hunt after being arrested at a porn theater was in fact a reaction that was long in the making.

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