Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Not-So-Representative Representation Test

There are many, many stereotypes at play in the 2008 comedy Pineapple Express, a comedy chronicling two marijuana enthusiasts journey after finding themselves in trouble with drug dealers and the law. This film scored an F when I filled out the representation test for it, obtaining zero points and I can’t disagree. While there are many problems with this test-which I will get to later-this film certainly fails in representation while also reinforcing, often popular, but false stereotypes.
            Pineapple Express really only has one major female role, if you even want to call it that. A female police officer is played by an attractive actress and commands very little respect throughout the film, disqualifying the role for any of the points for women on the representation test. Also, the actress, Rosie Perez, was 44 at the time of the film and doesn’t pass the over the age of 45 question as well. Next, the men in this film are violent in parts and are overly stereotypical. One of the most famous lines of the film includes James Franco shouting an obscenity then attempting to gun down police. This, to me, can be classified as glorifying violence. In terms of characters in the film, the low-lever pot dealer and his customer-turned-friend are young, lower-middle class, disorganized, goofy, white males. This is the first sign of a stereotype being introduced in this film. Continuing the trend of cultural and racial stereotypes, you would never guess what race the “thug” working for the big time drug dealer is. Finally, when the Asian gang arrives towards the end of the movie, the same, worn out, Asian jokes and stereotypes are turned into humor once again. In terms of the representation test, this disqualifies the film from the final question about men and the only question in the Race, Ethnicity and Culture section. Finally, the film has no use of LGBT people or people with disabilities and gains no bonus points.
Now, this is not to say that “the representation test” is the be-all-end-all for determining films credibility. In fact, I have many problems with this test and its criteria. First, something as elaborate as a film or script certainly cannot be judged by 16 simple questions, most of which are irrelevant, in my opinion. First, the test asks if the protagonist is a woman or a woman of color. It is absurd to me that a films credibility can be damaged by simply not having its protagonist be a woman of color. Every film is unique and has a different storyline and setting. Just because a film may need certain characters doesn’t mean it is racist or unfairly represents society. Some films take place in small-town, rural America, requiring a mostly Caucasian cast while others may take place in African-American neighborhoods, requiring a very different cast. Using this example, both films could accurately represent their respective settings and still score very poorly on this test. Similarly, a film about a lesbian, of color, under the age of 45, would score very highly on this test. However, that does not reveal in the slightest whether this film would be truly accurate of this society. This hypothetical film could greatly misrepresent what is means to be a woman of color or homosexual, and could even be offensive, yet would still do well on this test. This leads me to believe that what the test attempts to address is simply meaningless, in addition to the very poor criteria selections. The statement at the bottom corner tells us “an “A” does not guarantee that a film addresses every structural issue of inequality, but simply represents a diverse array of people and experiences.” These 16 questions still do not even guarantee that a film will actually represent these “experiences” they claim of. These “experiences” could be false and even harmful, yet all this test shows is whether they’re there. This is like telling someone “well, the menu at restaurant X looks like it may or may not have a good selection, but we can’t tell you anything about the actual food.” This is meaningless advice, as is this test.

            Although I am not a fan of the representation test, I do approve of the low score for Pineapple Express. The film does nothing but reinforce social stereotypes and fails to “represent” any characters that would make an argument to the contrary. While this film mostly received good reviews due to its humor, much of which is based off of these stereotypes, in that sense it does a poor job of representing society accurately.  Comedian Steve Hardy told The Hollywood Reporter, “Hollywood is more racist than America is. They put things on TV that they think the masses will like.” No movie portrays this better than Pineapple Express. The masses seem to enjoy Asian jokes or African-American stereotypes in film, regardless of how offensive we may find it in real life. All producers do is cater to this mass and their demands. Because film is not reality, as shown in Pineapple Express, Hollywood truly is more racist than real-life America.

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