I admit it. I love trashy teen television. This will probably show my age a little more than I care for... but mine is a generation that grew up on 7th Heaven, Dawson's Creek, Felicity, Gilmore Girls, and the like. I've wasted more of my life on Charmed than I would care to admit... but there is something about the over-sentimentality of the Camdens, the long-winded monologue conversations between Dawson and Joey, the campiness of the Halliwell sisters, and the lightning-quick witticism and pop culture references of the Rory and Lorelei that continue to draw me back. (I neglect to include Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this list, because while it definitely falls within the purview of primetime teen drama... Buffy is art, a pure chef d'oeuvre of pop; and Joss Whedon is my personal god of all things pop culture.)
One fixture in American popular culture that I never had the opportunity to partake in was Beverly Hills: 90210. I've been told I missed out on the television show of my generation (although I hardly blame myself for missing out, considering I was four when the show premiered. At age four, my television regimen included Barney and My Little Pony). Naturally, with the media hooplah over 90210, the relaunched "sequel" of the beloved series, my interests were peeked and I looked forward to recapture my teenage years swooning and cringing in front of the television over the unrealistic but thoroughly cathartic misadventures of television teens.
While I'm withholding judgment on the series as a whole (I thoroughly believe a show needs ample time to shake out it's wings before it can really soar. case in point: Buffy season 1), I was struck by the racial make up of the cast. Out of a cast of 10 main characters, there was a total of 1 real non-white character, Dixon Wilson (I hardly feel like I can mention Navid Shirazi, as his character is very much a side character and barely gets screentime in the two hour premier). And on top of that, Dixon, the lone black guy in this cornucopia of rich white kids isn't even from a black family. He's adopted by rich white people. Give CW a frakin' humanitarian award.
The one black character they're able to squeeze into this elite clique of Beverly Hill-ers, and he's barely black.
Does anyone else think there's something slightly wrong about this picture? Now, 90210 is far from the only television show to exclude non-white folks from their cast lists. Some of my favorite shows have scant mention or appearances of non-white people. And when they do appear, they're frequently stereotypical (The Asian nerd, the Black thug, the Latino landscaper, etc.). But usually when non-white characters are portrayed, they at least have some kind of cultural connection to these communities being represented.
I find it strange that Dixon, who was adopted and raised by white folk, is portrayed with a distinctive "Black" performance in his speech and mannerisms. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but as I was watching the premier with my flatmate, we actually couldn't tell if Dixon and his adoptive sister, were indeed siblings or simply chummy. They were raised by the same parents, why the odd choice in disparate racial performance?
We still have yet to see how Dixon's character will play out. Whether or not the issue of race will be addressed in his character. It would be interesting if the show writers explored the cultural crisis a racially marked kid raised by white people might experience. But so far, it's a strange choice with even more chilling social commentary.