Harold and Kumar and Racism
I’m not sure what the wisdom of mining Harold and Kumar for social commentary is, its creators have offered up one of the most prescient insights into our culture that I’ve seen recently:
Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Schlossberg, who grew up in Randolph, N.J., have known each other since high school, where the idea of Harold and Kumar took root. “We always had a very multicultural group of friends,” Mr. Hurwitz said. “One thing that struck us was that no matter our ethnic background, we were very much alike. But whenever we saw Asian or Indian characters on screen, they were nothing like our friends, so we thought we would write characters like them.” (Mr. Cho’s character is based on an actual Harold Lee. Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Schlossberg are Jewish, as are Harold and Kumar’s best buddies.)
The signal achievement of both Harold and Kumar films is that they make race incidental without taking racism lightly; they presuppose an enlightened audience. “When we start to write, we’re under the assumption that everyone knows racism is bad,” Mr. Schlossberg said. “If you don’t know that, you’re a moron. Harold and Kumar’s attitude toward racism is more frustration at having to deal with idiocy than moral outrage. We try to create a world where racism is stupid.”
This has been my experience exactly, among my generation and especially amongst those younger than me (I’m 25).
I’ve observed mixed groups throw around words like Nigger, Jew, and Gay both as insults and terms of affection, in front of and sometimes directed at people to whom those terms would apply – and without anyone taking offense or intending it. In context, the behavior is so normal that I hardly even notice it except when I step back and take a broader view.
At the same time, I cannot imagine ever using those words in a group of older people, regardless of the context or group make up. They still live in a different world.
I think what’s going on with that kind of language is exactly what’s stated in the quoted bit. The terms aren’t being used as a way to reinforce stereotypes, but rather in a way that makes fun of the stereotypes themselves – because the stereotypes are, quite simply, stupid.