You know, that moment in an interview where suddenly the subject goes wandering off script, and becomes fervent — obsessed even — on a subject that makes your eyebrows rise up and reach for your hairline, and you’re beginning to wonder whether someone will kick the person under the table or make that throat-cutting motion with their hand or something, anything, to get them to shut up because you can’t believe that they’re saying such hateful, stupid stuff? Yeah, that happened.
Mathew Klickstein has a niche: he’s fanatical about old kid shows on Nickelodeon. It’s a weirdly twee sort of thing to care so much about, but I can sort of see it — my kids were big fans of shows like Rugrats and The Adventures of Pete & Pete (that one had Iggy Pop on it, which I thought was awesome) and Clarissa. So he’s doing a show in New York about these old cartoons, he’s written a book about them, and he’s getting interviewed, and yes, he really, really knows a lot of minutiae about Nickelodeon cartoons.
Then they ask him about diversity.
He’s uncomfortable when shows with white characters have brown people shoved into them.
I think it’s worse when they shove it in there. Sanjay and Craig is a really good example, which funnily enough is written in part by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi from Pete & Pete. That show is awkward because there’s actually no reason for that character to be Indian — except for the fact that [Nickelodeon President] Cyma Zarghami and the women who run Nickelodeon now are very obsessed with diversity. Which is fine — do what you’re gotta do, and Dora [the Explorer] was certainly something of a success, but there’s no reason for [Sanjay] to be Indian at all. No one working on that show is Indian. They’re all white. It’s all the white people from Bob’s Burgers and Will and Chris.
How awkward! It’s a show with an Indian character, and there’s no reason for them to be Indian! When, as everyone knows, there are lots of really good reasons for characters to be white. What?
This is going off the wall, but he keeps on talking. Apparently, it’s really hard to be a white man.
To just shove it in there because, “Uh-oh, we need diversity,” is silly and a little disgusting. It needs to be the best people working on the best shows. They happen to be white, that’s a shame. They happen to be all guys, that’s a shame. No one says this about sports — they do sometimes, the owners — but sorry, that most basketball, football players happen to be black. That’s just the way that it is. Publishing, too! You might not like this or care, but it’s very hard to be a man in the publishing world. No one talks about that. My agent: woman. My editor: woman. My publicist: woman. The most successful genre is young adult novels — 85% of which are written by women. That discussion doesn’t really come up when it’s the other way around. It is 2014 now. It’s not 1995. Political correctness needs to change.
There are worlds where white guys get shit, too. I’m starting to do stand-up comedy now and it’s hard to go up there and talk about how hard it is to be a guy. People don’t wanna hear it! A girl can go up there and talk all she wants about how hard it is to be a girl, and she gets applauded. These are obviously some of my own personal views and aren’t as important, but I’m bringing up this stuff because it’s all very malleable, it’s very flexible.
He keeps talking. Dear god.
What we really need to bring to the fore is: how good is the show? How good is the end product? I don’t really care who worked on it. I don’t really care what sector of society it shows. What I care about is: Is it good or is it bad? Pete & Pete is an amazing show; who cares that it was made by white people and is about white people? That’s not important. What’s important is, how good is it? Some of these other shows — My Brother and Me, Diego, and Legend of Korra — it’s great that they’re bringing diversity into it now. Fantastic. But you know those shows are not nearly as good as Ren and Stimpy, which was made by all white people! Or Pete & Pete, which was all white people! I’m not saying white people are better at it or anything, I’m just saying that part of it doesn’t matter. What matters is how good is it and does it hold the test of time?
He doesn’t understand why a show might need some non-white characters, but at the same time, he’s offended when they have ethnic characters, or someone in a wheelchair — why, that’s exploitation.
You’re saying, “If it doesn’t matter, then why not let them be Indian?” I’m saying, “If it doesn’t matter, why make them Indian?” There’s no reason for it. It becomes, “Look, we’ve got an Indian character now on our show, our network, as opposed to not doing that.” I think that that can be predatory. I would be offended if one of the friends on Clifford the Big Red Dog had a friend who was in a wheelchair. I understand the idea of “There’s someone like me,” but … it’s necessary [that the show is] actually saying something, doing something with it. When you just throw it on there — oh, the friend happens to be black, the best friend’s a girl — I feel that it’s being used. I feel like it becomes a pickaninny thing. That’s honestly how I feel about it. Because there’s no reason for it, that makes it more offensive, exploitative, and predatory because then it is just being used.
I don’t think Mr Klickstein did his book sales any favor.
Also, his New York event got cancelled.