Racism works best when it’s not identified as racism.
On random occasions, I get the impulse to watch some television show that I remember liking, but haven’t seen in years. First of all: please never do this. Learn from my mistakes! On nearly every occasion, revisiting some old piece of television media is a terrible idea, particularly if we’re dealing with a comedy. Unfortunately for sitcoms (but fortunately for society), the overall “sense of humor” of the nation evolves with time, and, well, I’m not certain how much homophobia we can still tolerate from an episode of The Chevy Chase Show. And, while that relegates a surprisingly high number of 80s movies to the trash, it’s for the best, as there’s always going to be a new, modern Revenge of the Nerds anyway. So please look forward to Ready Player One: Part 2: The Legend of Wade’s Gold, coming spring of 2021!
But, despite the fact that I know this always ends in tears, I recently decided to rewatch the 2004-2007 Comedy Central animated series Drawn Together. For anyone that has never had the pleasure, Drawn Together was a parody of reality shows of the era (then dominating the airwaves… or at least had dominated the airwaves at some point), but with the twist that it was entirely animated, and populated with parodies of “real” cartoon characters. For example, Captain Hero was a Superman analogue, and Princess Clara could have been any Disney princess. And the “reality” twist is that all of these whacky cartoons are very “out of character” when they’re off the clock, so that previously mentioned princess is actually bigoted as hell. Or maybe that’s completely natural? I don’t really know any royalty that can speak to birds, so I’m not certain if that is a common trait. Regardless, I liked the show when it was airing after South Park during my college years, as I was a dedicated intellectual who incidentally liked watching cartoons fart. And there’s a pig named Spanky! That’s gonna lead to so many farts!
But, as you’ve no doubt guessed from the tone of this article, my rewatch of Drawn Together was infested with an uneasy feeling of… there’s probably a German word for this… the inescapable realization that a piece of media was intended for one tiny subset of the population, and you only ever enjoyed it because you were that exact target audience. In this case, Drawn Together was aimed squarely at white, heterosexual, Christian-but-not-preachy-Christian, average-build men. Everybody else? Good news! You’re the butt of every other joke. And, past about the third episode, you’re literally the only “plot” the show has left. Sure, Drawn Together does the South Park thing of claiming they support both sides, but, even after an episode where Xander (Legend of Zelda’s Link analogue) finally comes out as gay, and is celebrated for it, the next half hour is still going to make a running gag out of the pig “accidentally” making out with the yellow thing. And then that joke will be repeated for the rest of the series. Forever.
But it all comes to a head around midway through the second season, when Drawn Together, in an overly labored-meta gag, gets an F-rated review from Entertainment Weekly. So, in an act of defiance, the Drawn Together cast storms the offices of Entertainment Weekly, incidentally kills most of the staff, and then discovers that the reviewer is a “Jewish Conservative Pro Life Born Again Overweight Asian Indian Homophobic Lesbian Broad Who Cuts Herself”. She is told she’s “not the target audience”, and Spanky Ham makes an impassioned speech about how she has no right to review the show, as it’s “not for her”.
That’s about when I threw up in my mouth.
Today’s game is another beloved title from my younger years, Clayfighter 63⅓. I was enamored of Clayfighter 63⅓ back in the day, because it was one of approximately five “funny” videogames that had been released in the span of about twenty years. Excuse me, I should be more precise about that fact: it was one of the few humorous games that had been released on a console since the dawn of the NES. I was never a PC gamer, but, with the wisdom of the future (and DOS emulation), I am now aware that all the videogame humor in the universe had huddled together for warmth on the personal computer. Regardless, as a young nerd that had already dedicated myself to memorizing Monty Python routines, the idea of a parody fighting game was right up my alley, and it didn’t hurt that this was a unique bit of software for the content-hungry N64. Nintendo Power told me this would be cool! And, honestly, advertising and expectations aside, I did enjoy Clayfighter 63⅓. It was a decent (if generally shallow) fighting game, and it was certainly funny. There’s Santa Claus! But he’s fat! And Boogerman! And Earthworm Jim! And a rabbit that talks like Arnold Schwarzenegger! And fighters were constantly quipping! And the announcer was continually mocking your combo chains (“Little girly combo”)! As a fan of fighting games and humor, this hole was made for me.
Or at least the “me” I once was.
It’s easy for a white guy to be a bigot. Once, I looked at the roster of Clayfighter 63⅓, and saw a whacky cast of characters. Now I see that there is one brown skinned character, and he just happens to be a voodoo priest with a terrible dental plan. There is one Asian character, and he’s got buckteeth and a propensity for confusing Chinese takeout for kung fu. And you’d have to wait for Sculptor’s Cut, the title’s second (and final) edition, to get a single woman in the cast. But that version also wound up including a trio of “native” cannibal children, so… uh… probably not a net gain there. And Sculptor’s Cut also granted everyone win quotes, so, if you weren’t already getting the point here, Kung Pow can ask you “Would you rike soy sauce with that?”
And it bothers me that this didn’t always bother me.
But I keep coming back to that “you’re not the target audience” crack from Drawn Together. When I was a teenager playing Clayfighter 63⅓, I didn’t think of myself as some “target audience”. I was playing a videogame that, like every other game I ever played, was nothing more than a videogame. I could play Clayfighter as easily as Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time, and I never considered that certain videogames might not be intended for certain people. I didn’t consider that the majority of my digital heroes were white males (even when they were robots), I just thought that was “normal”. If you’re going to save the (white) princess, you’re going to be a white guy, right? Nothing about that seemed wrong or even unusual, so the corollaries seemed perfectly natural, too. Asian characters were sumo wrestlers or kung fu masters, because that’s the way it should be. If you’re African, you’re a sidekick or the second player (or both), not a hero. If you’re a woman, you’re certainly a minority in the cast, because it’s not normal for women to fight or save the world. Hell, in most versions of Street Fighter 2, there are exactly as many women in the cast as there are electric, green-skinned monsters. But I’m moderately certain Brazilian beasts don’t comprise over half the population in actual reality!
And when racism is normal, then it doesn’t even look like racism. It looks like… Clayfighter 63⅓.
Clayfighter 63⅓ isn’t a klan meeting. It isn’t constantly hurling racial slurs like your average youtube personality. Clayfighter 63⅓ does not overtly support Donald Trump. But what Clayfighter 63⅓ does is normalize its not-at-all unique brand of racism. It feeds on the subtle prejudice of an entire “target audience”, and promotes the myth that every “other” out there is some kind of homogenous mass of defects. Oh, what’s that, Asian Dude? You’re upset that you’ve been characterized as a bad driver for having squinty eyes? Ha ha, sorry, it was just a goof, don’t worry about it, you’re not the target audience. It’s cool, you’re still good at using a wok, right? Ha ha, everybody laugh… well, except you. You wouldn’t get it, an overwhelming segment of the global population.
It wouldn’t be racist if those pesky other races didn’t want to be included in the first place, right?
Oh, wait, that’s exactly what racism is.
And we should never forget that.
FGC #411 Clayfighter 63⅓ & Clayfighter Sculptor’s Cut
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Other M for the Nintendo Wii! Oh boy, that’s like the best Metroid title ever! Right? … Right? Please look forward to it!