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Whether it's In The Heat Of The Night tackling racism, Philadelphia taking on AIDS, or Three's Company's bold portrayal of polygamy, generation after generation has received its moral cues from what's onscreen. But even the most socially ambitious show or movie still needs to be entertaining, and that leads to some mixed messages ...

4
Zootopia Has No Idea How To Feel About Racial Profiling

Walt Disney Animation

Zootopia is so determined to use animals as a metaphor for racial oppression that it forgets who exactly the oppressed are, and ends up biting its own ass ... which we guess isn't entirely out of character in the animal world. Central character Judy Hopps enters the police force as the first bunny officer. It's the film's equivalent of affirmative action. The situation is teeming with racial metaphors, and they're not exactly subtle. A cheetah officer calls her "cute," and she reprimands him, telling him that only other bunnies can use that word.

Then the film pulls a complete U-turn. Right in the middle of traffic. Without signaling. And winds up hitting a bus.

It turns out predator animals are the real minority in Zootopia. They're the ones who end up victims of profiling, thanks to a streak of violent attacks by the closest thing to a terrorist cell we'll probably ever see in a Disney movie. But that's part of the film's complexity, right? Racism is never a one-way street. Ultimately, racial profiling is wrong, however you cut it, and the characters learn an important lesson about tolerance and judgment.

The thing is that the movie's actual minority is presented as a genuinely fearsome presence. Predators occupy the upper echelons of Zootopia's society -- even the mayor is a lion. They're not marginalized. They are also far more physically powerful and capable of violence than the herbivores, but also rendered into stupid beasts when they go "savage." The herbivores have a solid reason to be wary of the predators. At the same time, predators are both the 1 percent and an unfortunate manifestation of the ideas of scientific racism -- both superhuman and subhuman at once.

Walt Disney Animation
"What? All I said was you look really fast."

The movie's panic about literal predators even has a direct real-world equivalent. In the mid-1990s, the "super predator" theory -- which explained the rise in youth violence as coming from gangs of unstoppable, "feral" inner-city youths going on inevitable rampages -- targeted and dehumanized black people, making them responsible for their own marginalization. It was obviously a bad idea; Hillary Clinton even had to publicly apologize for her use of the term in a 1996 speech.

Note to Disney: Tackling difficult issues is fine and all, but maybe don't shape your movie's central tenet after an extremely racist theory which even its central proponent disowned 15 years ago. Maybe.

3
Breaking Bad Turns Meth Into A Character Quirk

Sony Pictures Television

Breaking Bad revolves around the production of meth -- a horrible, highly addictive drug which slowly turns its users into zombies who crave scrap metal instead of human brains. So surely, the show that's famous for pulling no punches doesn't rein in the blows when it comes to this drug, right?

Wrong. Some experts suspect the series may in fact have inspired a real-life resurgence in crystal meth use. It's not like it condones the practice, but Breaking Bad seems to intentionally avoid delving into the realities of meth abuse. For some reason, Walter White never really has to face the direct consequences that the use of his drug has on people. He's a high school teacher -- surely one of his students, if not his own teenage son, would be dabbling in harder addictions than breakfast?

Sony Pictures Television
*scratch, scratch* "Gotta have my Pops ..."

But no, it never really touches the main character. On the few occasions when Breaking Bad does show someone adversely affected by meth abuse, they're portrayed as someone so incompetent or vile that they were going to fail in life regardless of their chosen vice. (One of these characters is named "Spooge.")

Sony Pictures Television
"Spooge IV, actually. It's a family name."

On the other hand, the meth habit of Jesse Pinkman, the closest thing to a likable character in the show, seems to be akin to a World Of Warcraft addiction. Sure, it causes him to fail on some commitments and annoy his associates, and it probably does his personal hygiene no favors. Yet ultimately, Jesse is able to drop his habit with no immediate or lasting consequences. The same is true of his buddies, Badger and Skinny Pete.

We know guys named Badger and Skinny Pete. They are not paragons of willpower and abstinence.

Even when the show featured an arc which included horrific consequences brought on by drug abuse, they had Jesse and his girlfriend Jane start mixing meth with heroin, leading to an overdose and Jane's death. That's right, they had to bring in heroin as a ringer substance, because apparently they didn't think meth was hardcore enough.


This is indistinguishable from an anti-drug PSA, up until the part when you realize the main star is a drug lord.

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2
42 Accidentally Legitimizes The Color Barrier

Warner Bros. Pictures

42 is about one of the most screenworthy triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement: Jackie Robinson breaking through the Major League Baseball color barrier. Here's how the movie says that went down: Jackie Robinson was so good at baseball that he sportsed a white man into learning tolerance. Whitey, overcome with saintly charity, then eased Jackie into the major leagues. According to the movie, Robinson was too good to fail, the first of his kind.

Warner Bros. Pictures
"And black athletes were never maligned by the press or public ever again."

But was Robinson really the first colored dude in history good enough to play MLB? If so, doesn't that imply the MLB was right -- that the only reason black guys weren't in the majors already was that they simply weren't trying hard enough? Because as soon as one does, why look, the gates open right up for him. Or could it be that countless greats before Robinson were unjustly shunned and lost to history, so the fault lies solely with racism, and not with an inherent lack of talent? Saying Jackie Robinson was so good that he overcame the color barrier carries the uncomfortable undertone that segregation in professional sports might have ended way earlier if black players had applied themselves a little.

Warner Bros. Pictures
"Gee, it sure is coincidental that the first black person I ever saw play baseball is one of the best players ever."

See, in reality, many, many, many civil rights activists -- including Robinson himself - had been working to bust through the color barrier for years, patiently putting pressure on the league to make changes. Eventually, politicians were spurred into making noise about ending segregation in baseball, and the Eleanor-Roosevelt-supported End Jim Crow in Baseball Committee was formed. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia also specifically promised to deal with this issue. When the president's wife and the airport guy start yelling at you about hiring a black dude, reluctantly doing so doesn't exactly count as "an act of heroic charity."

1
Glee Tries To Simplify Homophobia

20th Television

Glee has won praise for its diverse cast and representation of sexuality, but it really dropped the ball when it came to homophobic bullying. Homophobia is a complex cultural issue, and there are many nuances behind the baffling practice of "harassing somebody because they fuck differently." Yet Glee boils the whole issue down to a romantic subplot. The homophobic bully of the show is only at it because he's secretly gay and in love with his victim.


See, all of you thousands of yearly victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation? Your bullies just LOVE you!

That's like telling children that members of the opposite sex only pick on you because they like you, only far worse. Historically, trying to "hook up" with your homophobic bully has not met with ideal results.

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