Sunday, July 26, 2015

Veronica Mars, Un-American Graffiti: The White Perpetrator is Forgiven

In "Un-American Graffiti," episode S3E16 of Veronica Mars, a brother of a veteran wounded in Iraq vandalizes "Babylonian Gardens," a restaurant run by naturalized US-citizen "Arabs," no nationality mentioned. There are a number of ethnic stereotypes and tropes the episode uses which I hope producers and writers will avoid in the future. But, in the wake of the Charleston massacre, there's a larger issue of the portrayal of non-white victims of white perpetrators' hate crimes.

Rob Thomas is the show's creator. Robert Hull is the episode's writer.

The casting, for the most part, uses actors of Afghani or Arab or Persian ethnicity to play the roles. The exception is Carole Davis (Twitter), who plays the Arab woman who owns the restaurant with her husband, played by Anthony Azizi née Kamal Rowshan (Twitter). Their daughter is Azita Ghanizada (Twitter). For some reason, she is wealthy enough to be on the "Pirate Points" side of the Neptune High School divide, but her parents want to marry her to an employee in their restaurant who is in the United States on an expired student visa. Haaz Sleiman (Twitter) plays this employee.

Anthony Azizi's character is portrayed as misogynistic because he doesn't trust his wife's judgment in hiring Veronica to solve the mystery of who vandalized the restaurant. He's also patronizing towards Veronica, presumably because she's a young woman. To be fair, many characters in the Veronica Mars series have made the same mistake.

Anthony Azizi's character is also anti-Semetic. His daughter's extramarital sex won't bother him; it's the fact that her "co-star" in the nude pictures is Jewish.
Veronica: Are [the pictures] X-rated?
Azita Ghanizada's character: It's not the nudity; it's the co-star. The Jew.
At least she only fears being disowned. She could have feared an honor killing in many other shows.

Haaz Sleiman's character rides a bicycle, which in some circles is a sign of character deficit. He spies on Azita Ghanizada's character, taking pictures of her with her Jewish boyfriend. Curiously, he wears a taqiya (kufi) on his head and a dishdasha.

Eventually, Veronica Mars finds the perpetrator, a white felon on parole whose white brother is a wounded veteran. Haaz Sleiman's character had been passing out a political cartoon showing an Iraqi insurgent laughing at invading US military personnel who emerged later in coffins. The perpetrator followed Haaz Sleiman's character back to the restaurant and decided to vandalize it.

When Veronica presents the evidence to the restaurant's owners, they decide not to report it to the police and go with Veronica to talk to the perpetrator. Anthony Azizi's character gives an inspiring "we all came from somewhere" American-melting-pot speech, and then the perpetrator calls him Ali Baba and remains unrepentant. When Veronica begins to call the police, Anthony Azizi's character nobly tells her to stop. He forgives the perpetrator, and he accedes to his wife's request to relent and accept his daughter's Jewish boyfriend. He then reports Haaz Sleiman's character to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, whose agents arrest him and prepare to deport him.

I could complain about the overdone accents, the "arranged" marriage and the presumption of anti-Semitism, which are sadly par for the course whenever the "Arab," sans back story, even nationality, appears on screen, I'm more concerned with how the Arab can only redeem himself by forgiving the racist perpetrator and turning against his recalcitrant, less-assimilated Arab brother.

White Americans seemed to be so moved by the families of the Charleston massacre forgiving the racist mass-murderer Dylan Roof, but nobody seemed to care about forgiveness for the Tsarnaev brothers until the sentencing phase of the trial.

While you may or may not agree with me that non-white victims of white perpetrators are expected to forgive while white victims of non-white perpetrators are not expected to forgive, there's no subjectivity in pointing out that the only person to feel the weight of the law in this episode was the non-white guy who had not perpetrated a crime.

Updated July 29, 2015: Anthony Azizi says a lot in this interview. We should realize that the Veronica Mars episode I criticized is much better than many other portrayals of Muslims in USA entertainment.
Updated July 30, 2015: Consider the case of Sam Dubose, whom Raymond Tensing, a University of Cincinnati police officer, murdered.
Updated 2015-Sep-19: I should add that, for some reason, I really like the Veronica Mars franchise. The first thing I ever watched was the movie that came out after the series. I then watched the series. I also read two books set after the movie. I also should mention that there's an important Muslim-positive line in Season 1, Episode 9, "Drinking the Kool Aid."
Veronica: I'm so ashamed of myself for my meltdown last night. I was a rampaging jackass. Casey: Have you forgotten who you're talking to? I'm Casey Gant, okay? I wrote the jackass Bible, the jackass Qur'an, the jackass Talmud.
I say this line is Muslim-positive because it places the Quran on equal footing with the Bible and the Talmud. So props to the writers.