American Renaissance

Column Drawing Unfriendly Comments

Mike Seate, Tribune-Review, May 18, 2004

After this week’s mail, I tip my cap to anyone clever or intuitive enough to predict the public’s passions. That’s something most newspaper columnists can’t do with any accuracy.

Poke fun at serious subjects, from the Iraq war to our city’s fear of economic progress, and nobody seems to care. Columns like those generate maybe one e-mail — no calls, no letters.

It’s enough to give a fella the impression nobody really cares what our troops are up to in their endless foreign adventures or whether our city will survive.

Now I understand that we’re not disinterested or unfeeling. We just need the right subject to help get our anger out.

That issue is, apparently, situation comedies.

After Thursday’s column ridiculing NBC’s beloved “Friends” for taking place in racially diverse New York City, but never casting any minorities, I was bombed with a shock-and-awe load of reader hate mail.

By the level of passion they displayed, some “Friends” fans have elevated Monica, Phoebe, Joey and their pals to religious icons.

“No blacks or Puerto Ricans on ‘Friends’?” one reader said. “Maybe if it was a crime show, minorities would be better represented.”

Most of the rest of the 300 “must-see TV” fans who called did so with requests for my head on a platter at Central Perk, the friends’ favorite coffee shop.

Here’s the weird part: Most of the folks who contacted me were angered not by their favorite show’s lack of realism and diversity, but by someone joking about it.

“I don’t recall any white people (complaining) about how unrealistic (’The Cosby Show’) was,” one reader said. “A black doctor married to a black lawyer with five kids in Ivy League colleges? That’s about as realistic as this bridge I’d like to sell you.”

This reader was far from alone in his angry characterization of comedian and Jell-O spokesman Bill Cosby as “the nation’s leading racist, next to you and that jerk Jesse Jackson.”

Overall, I came away with the impression that lots of viewers were captivated by the show because it provided a view of New York that looked more like Salt Lake City.

“The fact that there were few blacks on ‘Friends’ is a good point for me. I’m sick of seeing (blacks) everywhere. As for the future, yes it would be brighter if whiter,” said one reader, sounding suspiciously like that loudmouthed OxiClean spokesman.

“We will never accept blacks or enjoy seeing them on TV, so leave ‘Friends’ alone,” another reader said.

Honestly, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get this passionate about more important issues such as wars, famines and social injustice? Maybe we could — if those events all happened to pretty, thin, white singles.

Mike Seate is a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at (412) 320-7845 or e-mail him at mseate@tribweb.com.