Thursday, June 15, 2017

Racist white people who lack empathy...

Last night, I watched a movie I hadn't seen in probably thirty years or more.  The film was called Carbon Copy.  It was released in 1981 and starred George Segal and Susan St. James.  It also featured a young and talented Denzel Washington, who was making his film debut.  I used to watch that movie on HBO all the time when I was a kid, though I didn't understand it as well back then as I do today.


A trailer for the film, Carbon Copy...

I was moved to purchase Carbon Copy because it had a very catchy theme song that I got stuck in my head.  With music by Bill Conti and lyrics by Paul Williams, the bouncy tune was definitely an ear worm, if not a bit dated.  Having watched the film last night, I can honestly say I enjoyed it.  It's basically a satirical look at racist white people and the stupid things they say and do.

The story begins with Walter Whitney (Segal) in bed with his frigid wife, Vivian (St. James).  She's not into him and he's frustrated.  He gets out of bed and we immediately see that he lives in a fabulous mansion in fictional San Marino, California.  Whitney is a wealthy ad executive and has all the trappings of success.  He has a pretty wife, a beautiful home, a well-paying job.  But money doesn't buy everything.

Walter's wife is a snob.  His stepdaughter, whom he apparently adopted, treats him with contempt.  His father-in-law is his boss and treats him with condescension.  Even his job was handed to him with strings attached.

One day, Walter gets a blast from the past.  A young black guy named Roger Porter (Washington) shows up at his office asking for him.  He mentions that he's the son of Lorraine.  Lorraine is a dear friend of Walter's, though he hadn't seen her in many years.  Walter's face lights up at the mention of her name.  He asks his secretary to send Roger in for a visit.  Roger comes in, parks his ass at Walter's desk and drops a bomb on him.  He's actually Walter's son!

At first, Walter doesn't believe him.  I wouldn't believe him, either, since Roger/Denzel doesn't look like he's biracial; but hey-- it's the movies, right?  Roger then convinces Walter than he is his long lost  17 year old son and his mother has just died.  Walter, being somewhat decent, decides he has to help Roger.  He brings him home after pitching the idea of hosting a black kid to his racist wife.

Both Walter and Vivian are extremely ignorant, condescending, and racist to the point of ridiculousness.  They wrongly assume Roger is a high school dropout who has no idea how civilized people live.  They serve him fried chicken and tell him he'll be attending the Presbyterian church, even though Roger says he's a Baptist.  They force him to stay in the garage instead of their home.

Then, when Walter and Vivian have an argument, Walter tells his wife he's really Roger's dad.  Vivian's reaction is extreme, to the point of needing a doctor and a minister.  In short order, Walter finds himself tossed out on the street with his son.  He's abandoned by his friends, his family, even his doctor, lawyer, and minister.

Walter and Roger move into a cheap motel, then a crappy apartment and Roger soon finds himself shoveling horse shit.  As he's knocked off his powerful white station in life, Walter supposedly learns something about what it's like to be black.  He realizes that his former life was a very fragile sham-- an illusion of decency and decorum.  Walter develops empathy and appreciation for his son.  He rejects his shallow existence and becomes a much better person.


Funny scene about assumptions some white people make about black people...

Carbon Copy is kind of a silly movie and it makes its points with over the top gags that require viewers to suspend their disbelief.  There were parts of the movie that were actually a little offensive to me today, although they probably wouldn't have been in the less politically correct early 80s.  And yet, after yesterday's post, I realize that it was kind of appropriate that I was watching that movie.  I realized that many white people still have a long way to go.

Yesterday, because I was curious about "Margaret", my very first roommate at Longwood College, I went into obsessed fan mode and looked up her brother.  I wondered if he was anything like her.  Granted, almost 27 years have passed since I was last in the same room with Margaret.  For all I know, she may have evolved into a decent person.  Still, her behavior in 1990 was very strange, even for a stupid 18 year old.  I went looking to find out if Margaret's brother-- also adopted-- was as big of an asshole as his sister was.

Looking at his Facebook page and the page made for their father's business, I can see that Margaret's brother works for their father.  He's got a bunch of public stuff on his Facebook page.  Some of it's fairly innocuous.  Like, for instance, I learned that Margaret's brother-- let's call him Chip-- is a proud father of four.  He's happily married and a Christian.  He loves being Southern and living in the South.

I also learned that Chip is a firm believer in Donald Trump's genius.  He thinks that transgendered people should be forced to use the bathroom corresponding to their genitalia.  He obviously considers himself a "gentleman" and promotes attitudes reflecting conservative values.  He's probably pretty sexist, too.

Further down the page, I find the following...



This one in particular struck me as idiotic...


Chip expresses some very ignorant and rather offensive views about the Civil War and the Confederacy.  I can see that he's clearly very proud of his Southern heritage and he's against the recent moves to get rid of Confederate war memorials.

Having lived in South Carolina myself, at a time when the stars and bars were still flying over the South Carolina Statehouse, I can see where these opinions formed.  To be honest, I am not a fan of trying to whitewash history.  The fact is, there was a Civil War.  The South lost, but that doesn't mean there weren't great leaders from the Confederacy.  Should we still be publicly celebrating them in 2017?  Perhaps not.  But I can understand why some Southerners want to hang onto their memorials, even if I don't agree with them.  They do have a right to their opinions, ignorant as I might think they are.

On the other hand, the Civil War has been over for a long time.  The South is a part of the United States, not an entity unto itself.  And while I'm sure Chip is "nice" to black people he sees face to face, I have a feeling that deep down, he's quite racist.  Maybe that doesn't matter to him.  Since I don't know him, I can only base an opinion on what I can see in the messages he broadcasts publicly on social media.

I read that Chip's father served on some board at UVa. that celebrates diversity.  He also served as a Peace Corps Country Director in Jamaica.  How does that jibe with his son's evidently racist views?  These attitudes don't form in a vacuum.  

I read up on Chip's mother, evidently a woman very proud of her Greek heritage.  She and her husband met on a blind date when she was working for Senator Strom Thurmond.  I happened to be living in South Carolina at the tail end of Thurmond's time in the South Carolina legislature.  Although he was much celebrated in South Carolina, Mr. Thurmond had some pretty racist views, especially in his early political days.  If Chip's mom worked for Mr. Thurmond in the 60s, she probably has some racist ideas, too.  I know that racist ideas often die hard, especially in older people.  On the other hand, maybe she's evolved.  Based on her Facebook page, which also celebrates Donald Trump, I doubt it.  



According to Wikipedia:

During his 1948 campaign, Thurmond said the following in a speech, being met with loud cheers by the assembled supporters: listen (help·info)

I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.[6]


There was a time when Chip's views weren't that strange to me.  I grew up in Virginia, which despite being geographically pretty far north, is a very Southern state.  I spent time with people like Chip, although I don't think most of the people I hung around with regularly were quite as drunk on the southern pride Kool-Aid as Chip appears to be.  But his attitudes are not unfamiliar to me.  When I was younger, I probably even agreed with them to some extent.  Then I left the country a few times and started getting to know people from other places.  My opinions began to change, hopefully for the better.  I like to think I have a broader mind now than I did twenty years ago, although I'm sure I still have a ways to go.  

It's funny that a silly comedy like Carbon Copy, which was made 36 years ago, is still relevant today. If you watch the film, you can see that it goes to extremes.  Walter Whitney tells his wife he's the father of a black son and, just like that, he gets ousted from his cushy lifestyle.  We all know that it wouldn't actually happen that way.  In reality, Walter's downfall would probably be a bit more like Dan Aykroyd's was in Trading Places, a 1983 film also starring Eddie Murphy.

Trading Places' plot was somewhat like that of Carbon Copy's.  Basically, a rich white guy gets knocked off his pedestal by a black guy.  He ends up living in a way he never thought he would, while the formerly broke black guy takes his place.  It's not quite the same execution, but the message is similar.  Many people have a lot to learn about empathy.  


Trading Places trailer.

Anyway, if you haven't seen Carbon Copy, I'd recommend it.  It's a bit dated and kind of silly, but it does drive home a point that is still valid over 35 years later.  And then, when you're done watching Carbon Copy, you can watch Trading Places, which was a more famous and successful film about the same thing.

As for Margaret and her dysfunctional clan, I think I'm done peeking into their lives.  My curiosity is now satisfied, probably for at least another 27 years.

6 comments:

  1. I remember both of these films. Liked them both quite a bit. Never realized that was Denzel until now.

    I think the difference is people like you (and me) go out into the world and open ourselves to learning more and changing our views on things. People like that family don't want to learn anything that contradicts the views they've cemented in place.

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    1. You're probably right. They are clinging to what comforts them.

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  2. Two points that I thought about as I read your post:
    1. I believe that most of us can and, hopefully do, change our opinions a lot after we move away from our early influences. I think back to my rather inflexible ideas about abortion and homosexuality when I started college (& the latter was rather liberal for the time!) and I can't believe myself. For having been raised in a relatively conservative community, my opinions have certainly changed, sometimes to the chagrin of my former classmates.
    2. Did I ever tell you about how my very conservative grandmother (not sure if you ever met) dated Strom Thurmond before she met and married my grandad? According to family lore, his first wife was her spitting image. Grandma even got to travel with his office on an early voyage on a cruise through the Panama Canal! Comp,eternal with a paid chaperone to secure my grandmother's good reputation, she always assured...

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    1. I agree, most normal people can change their opinions. I did. As for my ex roommate, there is no telling. Her brother, though, is obviously wedded to those old values. Looks like their parents are, too.

      No, you never told me about your grandmother and Strom Thurmond. But then, when we talked regularly, we didn't talk about Southern senators! Sounds like quite a story!

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  3. I think Robert E. Lee was a great leader even though he was on the side of the South.

    When I visited the deep south when I was maybe eleven, it seemed as though some people of the South either thought the South had won the Civil War (they refused to use the term "Civil War"; I think they tended to call it "the War Between the States." A lot of home-schooling fundie families from all over the nation refer to it as such.) In the gift shops of places such as Jefferson Davis' home, there were books available for purchase covering topics such as how the South had actually won the war.

    I remember an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies where Jethro, who at whatever adult age he was, attended a sixth-grade class, made friends with a genius from the class. The genius came to the Clampett Mansion for a play date with Jethro. Granny didn't believe that the kid was a real genius, so she was quizzing him on various backwards concepts. One thing she asked him was, "Who won the Civil War?" Jed was trying to help the kid out, so he started singing "I wish I was in Dixie. The SOUTH! The SOUTH!" The kid picked up the clue and answered the way Granny wanted him to, so she agreed that he was a genius. In today's world they could probably never air a sitcom in which one of the main characters insisted that the South won the Civil War.

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    1. Yeah. I am not sure The Dukes of Hazzard would make it today, either.

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