NYT Times Critic Sees 'White Hot Supremacist Summer’ in TV, Movies, Boxing Ring

August 23rd, 2017 8:30 PM

Wesley Morris, the New York Times critic at large with a focus (or obsession) with race in entertainment, declared a “white supremacy summer” on television and in the movies in a long essay posted Wednesday, “In Movies and on TV, Racism Made Plain.” Earlier headlines were even more provocative: “In Virginia and on TV, A Supremacist Summer,” and the URL suggests that the phrase “white hot supremacist summer” made a headline appearance as well.

Morris made a klutzy segue from Donald Trump and Charlottesville to TV, movies, and boxing:

But to watch the movies or TV -- or even to catch the hype for a certain boxing match -- is to know that normalized white supremacy has been here all summer. It’s to know that the people who manufacture all sorts of popular culture have also, intentionally or not, tossed some racism onto the assembly line. It’s to know that whatever occurred in Charlottesville and then at that news conference didn’t happen in a vacuum. They were just the gnarliest flare-ups in a season of provocations that seem so business-as-usual that they scarcely feel provoked.

How else could anyone explain Lee? Not the aforementioned hero of the Confederacy but the dunce from ABC’s “The Bachelorette.” Normally, “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” feature a gentleman or a lady who leaps into a heterosexual pool of suitors and climbs out with a potential spouse. That was more or less true this season, too. Only, for the first time ever, a black woman took the plunge....

Before its official kickoff, in a sort of televised tailgate party, the bachelorette, Rachel, met a few of her suitors. One was a sweetie named Dean, who told her that he was “ready to go black,” as if he were preparing to head deep into outer space. But at least he seemed to understand the journey. Lee, a white musician from Florida, was stuck on dreary old Earth. His interest in Rachel went only as far as robbing other contestants of time with her. His primary targets were the other black men on the show, namely Kenny, a charming pro wrestler, whom Lee characterized to Rachel as “aggressive” and about whom he fabricated an altercation that culminated in Kenny’s heaving Lee from a van.


The week before the final episode, the show gathered some of its contestants, including Lee and Kenny, to rehash their behavior in front of a live audience. The men -- and not only the black ones -- seemed baffled and truly hurt as they confronted and chastised Lee: What was he doing on a dating show starring a black woman? There was something powerfully novel in seeing a handful of black men confronting a white racist.

Then on to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor’s boxing match, the hype to which will come to a merciful end Saturday night:

The tour made a quick descent into a kind of racial taunting that felt aptly vestigial for a sport in decline, and grew only more deplorable as it went. On each stop -- in Los Angeles, Toronto, Brooklyn and London -- Mr. McGregor would work the capacity crowds into a lather by asserting a particular style of supremacy over his future opponent, who’s undefeated and flamboyantly black....

“Dance for me, boy!” Mr. McGregor barked to Mr. Mayweather on the first two stops. The tour’s ostensible psychological goal was for the men to get in each other’s head. But Mr. McGregor, seeking a full-body invasion, aimed to get under Mr. Mayweather’s black skin....

While “Mr. Mayweather played nasty, too, veering into homophobic put-downs” Morris seemed to think him superior because at least “he didn’t mock his opponent’s race.” Morris also ignored Mayweather’s long history of domestic violence, focusing his criticism on the tacky tactics of McGregor:

Nonetheless, everything about the Irishman’s performance -- from commands that Mr. Mayweather dance to Mr. McGregor’s own nonstop nervous shuffling -- seemed like something from America’s enormous minstrel-show catalog. Mr. McGregor never painted his face black, but neither did lots of early white minstrels....


Not too long ago, men like Lee and Mr. McGregor remained hidden within message boards. They were anonymous Twitter eggs. But now the eggs have hatched and some of those people are feeling free to come out of their supremacist closets.

And then we were back in Charlottesville, in a paragraph that concluded with this bizarre line: “Some of them looked like contestants on ‘The Bachelorette,’ carrying props from its set.” Ok.

Morris returned to his previous criticism of Kathryn Bigelow’s movie Detroit:

....Some of the distrust surrounding “Confederate” plays out in “Detroit” -- that it might be more interested in death, humiliation and suffering among black people than it ever is in life.

Morris claimed “white supremacy” is “wedged in the bedrock of American popular culture,” and that he can’t escape it, not even at the movies. He was enjoying the Steven Soderbergh movie Logan Lucky but noticed that in the inmate-visitation scenes, the white characters were in the foreground, blacks in the background.

He concluded, “In American culture, white characters visit prison, but anonymous black people tend to live there.” As if he would have been happy for the prisons to be portrayed as only containing black people, thus hewing to another stereotype of blacks as a criminal element? “the criminal-justice apparatus that preys upon black men has wound up linking blackness and incarceration statistically -- and, apparently, culturally.”

Showing he's not 100% fixated on race, on the August 3 edition of his New York Times-hosted entertainment podcast Still Processing Morris graciously admitted he liked the latest Spiderman movie, even though Peter Parker was “a young white dude.”