Hi. I’m supposed to be going up north but the highway is closed because some truck crashed and “dangerous liquids” spilled all over it and it won’t be open until 8 and I have nothing to do but wait as the bag of frozen edamame I just bought casually melts in the car where I left it because I have basically given up on everything. (PS: I… hope everyone is OK. Truck driving is scary.)
Anyway, I thought I could make use of the time by stating a thing: if you, like me, heard about the upcoming TV show picked up by HBO to be created by the Game of Thrones showrunners D&D about an alternate universe current America in which the Confederacy won the Civil War and slavery is still legal, and if you, like me, went, “Uggggggggh,” then, trust me: it’s OK. Even though everyone’s going to call you an over-emotional SJW, your reaction is fair. At least, according to me, it is.
It’s super early, we don’t even know if it’ll actually happen, who knows what it will look like, maybe D&D will hire a black creative team and they’ll treat the subject with respect and compassion and will ensure it won’t be exploitative. But. Probably not.
Even if they do (and… I hope that they do. I hope that either they have a good creative team and they salvage something out of this terrible, terrible idea, or, that they decide not to do this at all), this should never have happened in the first place.
Slavery is one of America’s greatest shames. It’s legacy continues to affect everything that goes on there. Everything. I think it’s generally a good thing if people want to explore these issues in art, but I have noticed that it tends to be white people who really want to do it in this specific way. “Oooh, here’s a super great premise that will be really important to work through: what if slavery still existed?”
The books I’ve read that take on slavery have been fantasy written by white Americans. One is the A Song of Ice and Fire series. One is Queen of the Tearling. Both feature young plucky white girl monarchs fearlessly stepping in and ending slavery. Like. In one fell swoop. There are complications later on, sure, but they end it fast, usually in front of a large, adoring audience. Slavery as a topic shows up, I would suggest, mainly to bolster the white girl saviour queen’s awesome hero image. I loved both of these stories. When Dany has Drogon fry that incredibly over-the-top evil slave merchant, I mean, I loved that. I was a little more cynical when Kelsea declared that slavery was over now forever, but that was probably because Johansen’s book is less about the spectacle than GRRM’s are. But here’s the thing: I think a useful discussion of slavery wouldn’t be easy, spectacle-driven, ideologically clear reading/watching. It might be fun for Quentin Tarrantino to imagine what he would have done as a white guy in the slavery-era south (so, he’d be a former dentist, current bounty-hunter, and he would mess everything up because he’s too pure to shake a horrible person’s hand) (that movie is embarrassing) (good, but embarrassing), as it might be fun for us to watch young white women take down slavery infrastructure with fire. But it doesn’t help. It’s easy to say, “Slavery was bad and I wouldn’t have participated.” It’s harder to say, “We need to rethink our current prison system because it is incredibly racist and if we’re perfectly honest it is a gigantic violation of human rights and it ends up functioning in ways that are quite eerily similar to slavery, which is supposedly illegal now.” You can barely say anything even close to that if you’re a politician and you’re seriously considering earning more than, like, ten votes. But if we’re as serious about being anti-slavery as we say we are and as we think we’re demonstrating when we geek out over Dany and Kelsea, then we should probably be thinking about the modern-day ramifications and equivalents of slavery. Because. Come on.
Considering the fact that they could have picked up a show about literally anything else, it’s even more annoying. You might argue that taking on modern racism by depicting slavery as being still legal could potentially be thought-provoking and norm-challenging, but even if it turns out to be just that, why would nobody instead do an alternate universe in which the Americas were never colonized? Or taking a look at what Africa would be like today without decades of European meddling? My guess is because there aren’t really opportunities to inject white saviour narratives into stories like that. But maybe that’s me being uncharitable. (It isn’t.)
Also D&D are not good. So, even early on, I think it’s a safe assumption to fear for the worst here.
Anyway. Be angry, it’s perfectly valid, you don’t have to wait and watch a show about modern day legal slavery before you’re allowed to say that it’s probably not a great idea and that you’re not interested and that most other ideas would have been better for a new TV show.