In it's 4th season, Showtime's drama The Affair, which started out as a steamy forbidden romance, is suddenly taking on issues pertaining to gender and race. Non-hetero normative sexuality was barely ever touched upon on this show, and racism was never talked about…and now all of a sudden (spoiler alert), key characters are facing obstacles surrounding racism and homophobia. What gives?
Don't get me wrong, I love that this show finally found a reason to weave racism and homophobia into their highly sexualized plotlines…but why now? I can't help but think that networks as boundary-breaking as Showtime know their audience, and they must know that anyone who will watch a show about extra-marital affairs…for four seasons…is also concerned with gay rights and racism. Too far a stretch?
Let me connect the dots. If watching someone dissolve a marriage, in almost the most destructive way possible (Noah Solloway did not bow out of his 20-year marriage gracefully) is entertaining to you, it's likely because you relate to some of the characters. Even if you swear that you don't relate to the cheating Noah himself (he is very relatable), the wife he cheated on, Helen, isn't exactly a bowl of ice-cream. Noah is "the cheater" but the writers do a great job at compelling us to love and forgive him despite his indiscretions. So audiences must like Noah at least a bit, as the show's plot-lines rely solely on the fact that there is no one "bad guy," and all characters are flawed and forgivable. Then, isn't it possible that Showtime is making the assumption that audiences who find intellectually sharp, emotionally challenged, complicated characters compelling must be progressives and thus must care about homophobia and racism? I hope so! (I'm sure there is technology that Showtime is using to know if this is true or total malarkey).
So how does the show address racism? Wellll…the best way! From the perspective of white privilege, which is fantastic since even in the era of Black Lives Matter, so many well-meaning white people think they can end racism just by "being nice" to people of color. But you, my sophisticated readers, know that that's ridiculous! You know that racism relies on a system of privilege and it is this system (not individual acts of racism, though duh…those are bad too) is what needs to be disrupted. This unhelpful, "white savior" approach to racism is what I think the writers wanted to depict when they have Noah inspire teenagers of color to stage a school wide walk-out. What happens? He almost gets the kids shot. Why? Because when white suburban kids walk out of a high school the police assume they are protesting peacefully. Guess what they assume when Black teenagers walk out of a high school?
So, Noah learns that he is not Michelle Pfeifer and this isn't Dangerous Minds, and clearly he has no idea how to serve communities of color (hint, it's not by leading them). But don't worry. It looks like he will sleep with the very smart Black principal of the school and all will be forgotten. I said the show "takes on racism," I didn't say it did it well. But don't worry…he has a gay son! I think.
Noah and Helen's son seems to be coming out as gay…but the best part is that Helen is obsessed with the fact that there is a reason for it. It's 2018, this show was seemingly filled with very progressive characters, and yet, the idea that a parent can accidentally make you gay is still a thing. I like this. No, I don't believe it, but I like that this show is shining light on some of the darker ideologies that many families are still dealing with. Yes, we have made progress, and yes we have Queer Eye, Ellen, and Modern Family, but we still have kids being bullied for being gay, families that blame themselves for "making their child homosexual," and millions of people globally who think gay people are sick, broken, and morally screwed. Even in progressive familes you can hear parents say out loud, "Of course we accept you!" and in the same breath utter, "Where did we go wrong?"
This show doesn't get it all right, but I enjoy the nuances of the characters, their outward progressive values, and their veiled unaddressed ignorance. It's how many of the liberals I know exist. When it comes to real life people, it's not all bumper stickers and memes. "Black Lives Matter"…unless you really want that 3 bedroom Victorian in that "up and coming neighborhood" and "Gay Rights Are Human Rights" ...unless I have to take time out of my day to organize a petition. After all, I have a haircut and a basketball game to catch.
Keeping It Real,
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, is a writer, a personal coach, and even though she is very very fun (just ask her three-year-old daughter) due to her academic inclinations, always the pooper at the party. She works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding from her two children in her laundry room. More about her on her website.