Friday, August 14, 2009

Weeds: Of WASPS and Mexicans

The latest season of Weeds is bothering me. It has certainly come a long way from its original premise: Nancy, a very white soccer-mom (I mean she's at a soccer game in the very first episode) sells weed in her community so that she can maintain her suburban lifestyle after her husband dies. But she makes no pretense of being a soccer-mom now.

Weeds is essentially a show about white people. It critiques all the details that affect white people, including their relationships with people who are not white. I must say that this show is specifically about white people in California, who are very different from white people elsewhere in the U.S. I think a lot of the critique is clever; I like that Nancy's suburban home was a McMansion, falling apart at the seams despite its high value. It used to be a comedy, now it has turned very dark.

I realized early on that the audience isn't supposed to think any of the main characters are good people. It isn't about being good. If you like Nancy Botwin it's only because you think you're supposed to like her, because she's the hero. But she's not a good mom, she's not a good neighbor, though when she does sometimes try to be a good person, I do feel sorry for her when it all goes wrong.

I thought that was an important aspect of the show. A major theme is Nancy's struggle to be both a drug dealer and a decent person. In the first episode she roughs up a teenager for selling drugs to little kids, as if she's better than that. By now, the body count directly attributable to her actions is in the double digits. You can't be involved in the drug trade and come out with a clean soul. You just can't- and the show is very realistic about this. I have very strong opinions on this too, which I explain here. Basically I feel if you wear American Apparel because you want to know your t-shirt wasn't made in a sweatshop, then you better know that your weed doesn't have blood all over it, because that's way worse than sweat.

If none of the white people on the show are good people, then what are we supposed to think when they make racist comments about minorities on the show?

Is it supposed to be funny when Doug tells an Asian woman she eats dog after she calls him an asshore? He's just a stoner loser anyway... right? So ... are we supposed to think he's just a stoner loser and a racist?And is his racism part of why we should think his character is funny? I really don't know what the writers want from me- but I don't think he's that funny.

When Celia asks Nancy if she picked her Mexican body guard up at the Home Depot- are we supposed to think that's funny too? Or are we supposed to think Celia is a racist person for saying it? Or both? Is it funny because the joke is really on Celia as her white life has already crumbled to pieces?

The show makes use of many racial stereotypes as punchlines. Do the writers think they can get away with this because they are also making fun of white culture at the same time? Are we supposed to see the racism of Nancy and Celia and Doug as part of why they are not decent people? We should laugh about how racist and obnoxious they all are and feel good because we aren't that way?

There are no more black people on the show. There used to be three black characters from whom Nancy bought her weed. In this new season, the black characters from LA don't make it to Renmar. But there are a lot of new Mexican characters- and everyone of them is a stereotype. The corrupt politician, the pandillero, the dirty Mexican - what?!? Yes, there is an entire episode called Su-su-sucio with a character named Sucio who does-not-take-baths.

What is this? Are the show's writers laughing at white people for having such ideas about Mexicans? But it's just really not that clear or funny, having a character who is literally a dirty Mexican for no apparent reason. White characters constantly speak terrible, slow Spanish because, naturally, few of the Mexicans speak English. There are constant jokes about the water, the Mexican characters are seen as a corrupting force for Nancy's son, everytime Nancy goes to Tijuana she's in danger of being killed- by Mexicans.

What is Weeds trying to say about Mexico? I get what it's trying to say about white culture, but I don't feel like they've given us a fair view of Mexican culture- only men with guns that can't speak English or take baths.

* My husband rightly pointed out to me that my title is all wrong. The Botwins aren´t WASPS (White Anglo Saxon Protestants), as they are Jewish and live in SoCal, not Connecticut. But I´ll leave it as is because it´s already indexed in Google that way.

Related Posts:

Drugs are a Human Rights Violation Part I

Post Secret: Drug Abuse


Anonymous said...

The entire show is about stereotypes. Most of the humor (and a lot of the drama) revolves around recognizing the truth behind some stereotypes (the evil self absorbed suburban wife/mother).. and the juxtaposition of stereotype with the situation (a white suburban soccer mom as a drug dealer).

I agree that the show would have a lot more depth if they relied less on stereotypes than they do, but they spread the abuse around pretty evenly.

B. said...

While I agree with you regarding the show's problematic portrayals of people of color and the questionable "humor" of the white characters (is it about their racism or are these one-liners about a person of color's race supposed to be played for unfortunate laughs?), I take issue with these comments: "Basically I feel if you wear American Apparel because you want to know your t-shirt wasn't made in a sweatshop, then you better know that your weed doesn't have blood all over it, because that's way worse than sweat."

I strongly agree that if one smokes pot, one should be absolutely sure that their pot source is conflict-free and fair trade - people do die over drugs and the drug trade. However, the clothing industry can be almost if not just as corrupt. Sweatshops are not just about working people so hard that they sweat. A sweatshop is a work environment in which workers rights' are violated in any number of ways. Workers may not be allowed to unionize, be cheated out of fair pay and treated like virtual slaves, or be threatened, harassed, and even suffer violations of their human rights. Often, sweatshop workers live in places where the laws are insufficient to protect them against such abuse, or else they are unable to get the help that they need to end workplace harassment/abuse. Many sweatshop workers are people (especially women) in regions of the world where they have/had little or no opportunity at education or better job opportunities and are unable to earn enough to make a decent living.

In particular, American Apparel is known for its anti-union stance, racism (many of their ads have been racist, models in modern blackface), and sexism (the CEO has had a number of sexual harassment suits brought against him; also, their hiring practices are highly discriminatory and based on physical "attractiveness"). American Apparel's work conditions might or might not be somewhat better than those at other companies, but they still actively deny their workers the right to form unions and therefore the legal protections that most people take for granted.

If someone wants to be ethical in the way that they wear their clothes, they should search for certified fair trade clothing and avoid companies like American Apparel that claim to be fair to their workers without going through the proper channels to ensure that a third party can legally back their company's claims.

To read more about fair trade, visit

Elvia said...

Thanks for posting this. I have been looking for commentary on this, and can't believe how hard it is to find. I can't believe all my friends who rave about this show have never mentioned this aspect of it. I just saw a few episodes for the first time last night and I was really pretty shocked and very turned off. I don't know what the show wants from its viewers, either, but I know I didn't get anything out of watching it but insulted.

Heather said...

* One note about the American Apparel comment. I don't think American Apparel is that great either, which I explain here:

The point was that people who do things like, wear American Apparel because they think it's more ethical, should also think about where their drugs come from. But, perhaps it wasn't such a great comparison because American Apparel is a loaded product too. Maybe a better thing to say would be: People who go out of their way to make sure their coffee is fair trade should also make sure their weed was obtained in a way in which no one died.

Anonymous said...

I was watching Weeds and the racism finally got to me in season 6, ended up googling the two words.. Just like you, I kept watching but I kept questioning the racism along the way, in most cases it was so over-the-top and I told myself its just for comedic value, it is a show about marijuana after all but at this point the blatant racism has become obvious, Nancy literally said "Its racist to think all asians are bad drivers but they are...", that was her response to her son asking "Isn't it racist to think all arabs have access to fake passports?". Her response is the definition of racism! As if to say, racism sucks but its true, there was no comedic value to it, by that I mean the scene had serious over-tones. The writers created and seized an opportunity to racially generalize. Why..? Kenji is obviously racist, Sucio?!? Mexicans are animals? Asians are pretty much non-existent until a stereotype is needed, up to season 6, every black person on the show has been criminal one way or another directly or by association. This show is not about its clever dialogue, its all visual, so lets face it -- *WHY* is the racism there? Its a show about a mother doing what she has to do to make ends meet mostly by selling marijuana, the racist element isn't even necessary but if you're going to do it at least make it work! For a pothead like me to even be thinking about racism while watching a show called "Weeds", needless to say something is seriously wrong. After 6 seasons you come to realize the whole family is disgusting and/or evil, anything short of death falling on the whole family would leave me feeling cheated. This show tries to be about female empowerment, "Lioness protecting her cubs" as she said it, yea... Ok.. Her youngest son becomes a violent sociopath, she gets him shot and kidnapped, Im just sayin'... Thats the opposite of female empowerment. The overall message of the show is.. I have no idea, do what you want and screw over anyone in your way? 6 seasons in all I got out of it was a racism, thats the only thing thats been consistent throughout. The whole show is nothing more than Nancy doing her little cutesy act and cutting away to images of cannabis landing on a twist ending Cheech himself could have predicted all sprinkled with retarded 1 liners. I've watched every episode back to back to season 6 and Im about 5-6 episodes from the finale but I can't bring myself to watch any more of it, when you analyze the whole show its all about races and families, not weed. A messed up white family (with racial carte blanche because the Botwins are already portrayed as scum) taking you through a racist stereotypical tour of all races and how they overcome all of it no matter what the cost. As I watch it I just get the feeling someone petty is getting a kick out of it like its an inside joke among the writers/creator. The undertone of the show is somewhat subliminal but the effect is clear, Im am offended even when I tried to convince myself its for comedic effect and now its obvious I've been lying to myself.

Anonymous said...

Well said. One can push a great deal of ignorance under the guise of a joke. For the record, I absolutely love the show, and will continue to watch it; I think it's funny, entertaining and has some great actors. But it's important to be clear; we can like the show and still rationally acknowledge if and where the writers might be ignorant. If there were any illusions about Weeds not being racist (or prejudiced, whatever term you like), the latest episode should put that ambiguity to rest. To explain a halt in drug flow from Afghanistan, they depicted a scene where two Afghani men are laughing about how one cuts a hole in his sister-in-law's niqab to have sex with her, and his wife then runs in wearing a full veil and a suicide bomb vest, then blows them all up. There was no sense of irony from the main characters talking about the occurrence, as they weren't even aware. It wasn't presented as an ignorant person's perception. It was ignorance of the highest order, completely validated as a firsthand factual event. Weeds has taken its ignorance to a new level, and seems to show particular bigotry with respect to Arabs/Muslims. Again, I'm a fan of the show and will continue to watch. But that doesn't mean I have to leave my rational assessment and awareness at the door.

Heather Leila said...

Thanks for the update on the new season. I haven´t been watching it because I´m out of the country this year. But I´ll probably watch it later. It seems like Arabs and Muslims are the new Mexicans in the current season.