I heard a story on NPR about Spike Lee's public criticism of fellow black filmmaker, Tyler Perry. Lee says the "buffoonery" of Perry's films, shows, and plays, sends a negative message about black people to white people and reinforces stereotypes. Now, I like Spike Lee and his films, but the guy gets a little preachier every day, and it's getting old. I've never seen anything, besides commercials, with Tyler Perry in them, but it does seem like the sort of humor that causes your IQ to drop while you watch it.
But the story got me to thinking whether people who write about minorities, or even majorities, have a responsibility to modulate their messages based on the fact that they're somehow speaking for all of their people. It's not a simple question. Am I representing all women, all Irish people, all people with mental illness when I write? No. But I do try to keep in mind that I may be the only "out" person with a mental illness that folks know, and I do try to not to behave or write in a stereotypically bipolar way. I try not to be strident in my liberalism, elitist in my Unitarianism, nor drunken in my Irishism.
And rather than seeing that as unfair - that I have to modulate my behavior because people might take me as a representative of "my people," or whatever, I see it as an opportunity. Because everybody knows the Irish drink. Not everybody knows that the Irish in both Ireland and America were some of the most ardent slavery activists. But that doesn't mean I'm going to pretend I don't love me some Jameson's either.
Should Tyler Perry change his work based on the fact that it might reinforce stereotypes of black people? Should Rosanne have changed what she did because it reinforced stereotypes of "white trash"? Should Seinfeld's George Costanza have toned down the penny-pinching, or Marilyn Monroe have worn less revealing clothing? I don't really have an answer.