"Columbo" is absolutely one of my favorite pop culture artifacts and it is absolutely 100% copaganda. It features a police officers who 1) holds the wealthy accountable 2) cares about due process 3) engages in a kind of deductive investigative work cops rarely actually do
4) assumes the arrest is where justice is served without showing how wealth and race will create mass disparities in legal outcomes and 5) creates a friendly, people focused image of a police officer.
But the point here isn't that "Columbo" is a bad show for being any of these things. It's a fantasy, like most television. And we can enjoy our fantasies and engage in our fantasies and indulge our fantasies. But the problem is we don't often question our fantasies.
I can watch "Columbo" and enjoy it for its quirks, its surprising twists in logic, the inherent charm of its performances. But if I never question what it leaves out, what it doesn't show, the unfounded assumptions it's built on, then it's not fantasy anymore. It's a delusion.
And so much pop culture, which is largely made for comfortable white audiences and take place in comfortable white worlds, need questions asked about them, and about why these fantasies are primary, and what assumptions they're built on, and why they get primacy over other voices
The whole idea of "just let people like what they like" is a way to stop questioning assumptions, especially when "what they like" is a fantasy that reinforces a racial and social hierarchy that does endless violence on black lives.
I believe that pop culture is a text. It can be viewed seperate from its creators' intentions (that doesn't free us from asking why some get to be creators and some don't). We can find fruitful interpretations anywhere. I can find radical ideas watching a 1970s detective show.
But text is something we have to learn to interpret. We have to question our own assumptions. We have to understand the reality of our world before engaging in fantasies. And a lot of people never really learned to read.
All of this also is not to say art is beyond being good or bad and that it's all just grist for the mill. A lot of art is unequivocally horrid, either in technique or in a worldview built ultimately on racism.
But if we think we can get out of it just by declaring some show or book or movie to be beyond concern because it passively or actively promotes harmful politics, then we're missing the point. We're not questioning assumptions at then. Just looking for ones we like.
I could give a fuck if "Gone With the Wind" disappears from one of the 50 ways anyone who wants to watch it can watch it, but us white people need to deal seriously with "Gone With the Wind" and the assumptions it represents, because they're still with us.
It's not some hoary old racist artifact best left in the dustbin but an active piece of political propaganda that has been theatrical re-released twice in my lifetime. And its worldview is shot through our culture like a unremovable stain.
You can't delete history and just hope the assumptions, attitudes and traumas go with it. The past isn't done with us and we need to reckon with ourselves.
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