The post-racial wet dream of The Last Man on Earth

So I’m watching a couple episodes of The Last Man on Earth and becoming increasingly nauseated by Will Forte’s character (but impressed by his performance) to the point that I had to pause and wonder: why am I watching this? Typically, this leads to a more pressing question: why am I consuming any television at all? But before I could get to that fleeting moment of self-loathing and delusional optimism about changing consumption habits, for some reason, the issue of racial representation crept forward in my mind. I imagine it’s due to my return to teaching Media Studies, which heightens my consciousness of skewed representation. We’ll be focusing on race in a few weeks, and it appears I’m anticipating it already without even intentionally thinking about it.

When I began observing the show through this particular lens, I was reminded of television’s racial normality and, by extension, normativity. Having white protagonists is not only the way things typically are, but, precisely due to that fact, it’s implied that having white protagonists is the way things ought to be. Otherwise, why would that be the way things are?

What follows isn’t an accusation against the show really but a magnification of a larger cultural problem in which the show unwittingly participates and plays out. Not only does it continue to perpetuate the overvaluation of whiteness, it underscores the undervaluation of every Other race. Because, of course, whatever isn’t white is “naturally” less than. Or at least that’s the idea in our cultural DNA, the code that shapes all forms of communication in our society. Sadly, we’re still not ready to admit that it’s in our country’s bloodstream.

So what messages are encoded into a show that portrays the last survivors of America (and presumably Earth, which will undoubtedly endure any global catastrophe) as 4 quirky white people? Is this the gross manifestation of a country insisting to itself that it’s post-racial? A cathartic wet dream for white viewers who are constantly on edge about, but not really threatened by, their whiteness? In an apocalyptic world free from Other races, white people aren’t white because they have nothing to set their race against in that manner, and therefore nothing to understand the history of their whiteness. Indeed, there’s something of an insidious utopia present in this premise. White people are liberated from their historical role as white people, permitted to live out an ahistorical sexual fantasy about racially pure repopulation. They live where they belong, in opulently furnished mansions, free to destroy and create as they please.

Should I hold the show’s conceit accountable to present reality since it’s an imaginative leap into the future? Probably not. But as I said, I’m not worried about being fair to the show. I am worried about a culture that is fundamentally unfair to its people.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Last Man on Earth’s Insipid Racial Normalcy (continued) | Poop Epiphany

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *