Sunday, October 7, 2012

Changing Shades of Brown

I want to discuss the Brown, because I believe this archetype is morphing. And in an odd way. Previously I believed the Brown were "non-Anglo foreigners who do not pose any sort of threat. Socially, politically, and sexually inferior to their black or white counterparts, browns often appear as comic-relief" namely Hispanics, but could include any non-Anglo character.

For example, the very entertaining movie Moulin Rouge! (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp, 2001)* has five prominent male characters: Christian, The Duke, Harold Zidler, Toulouse-Lautrec, and The Unconscious Argentinean. (Okay the Argentinean isn't very prominent, but he sings a song).  You'll note that the first three actors listed are of Anglo descent (Scottish, Australian, and English) while the last two are not (Colombian and Polish). Yes, the characters of Zidler, Toulouse, and possibly the Duke are French but what counts are visual cues and accents. We perceive the main influential/manipulating characters (Christian, the Duke, Zidler) as Anglo, while the side characters (who still play a role, just not active ones) as non-Anglo. Toulouse and the Argentinian never threaten Christian's chances with Satine, and only act as advisers/friends.

[*Moulin Rouge! is listed as both a American and Australian film on; I'll let you decide if this is allowed in the New American Mythology cannon.]

Besides obvious 'White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male' dominance that has pervaded American culture since its founding (by WASPM), I believe that kind of Brown existed for several reasons.  First, the 20th Century was dominated not just by America, but the United Kingdom, Germany, and the USSR, and after World War II, to just America and USSR. Which means those 'other' countries (i.e. Mexico, China, Iraq, India, etc) aren't of too much concern. Eastern Europeans and other communist countries (non-Anglo countries), unfortunately, were the enemy and therefore characterized as impotent savages.

He looks just like a Wildman
And by Wildman I mean this guy

Next, the United States won the Cold War, and not just against the USSR. Communism proved to be inferior to capitalism in Latin-America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and vicariously parts of the Middle East. The communist aligned nations were riddled with general instability and lack of infrastructure that stalled economic growth and political development.

Finally, the 9/11 attacks brought a crises of faith for American citizens. They questioned their supremacy, their dominance, and thought that maybe they weren't as potent as they believed. What's more, China and India's econmies and populations burgeoned, taking with it American jobs and investments. In the U.S., Latin-Americans and other other non-Anglo-Americans began to develop stronger presence, voicing concerns of discrimination in politics, the media, and the larger communities. In the first decade of the twenty-first century Americans sensed the world shifting away from WASP dominated culture.  However, the media decided to reassure the public that the 'foreign' invasion was benign with characters like the Argentinean or Toulouse-Lautrec, Fez in That 70's Show, or Oscar in The Office.

Cece in New Girl (Fox, 2011)
The powerful, confidant, sexy best friend of Jess.

However, I believe this is no longer the case. Foreigners have become stronger, smarter, and sexier. Maybe it just took a decade for the media to catch up to people's beliefs. Or maybe the recession has disillusioned those who had clung to the 20th Century. The 'Other' are no longer just the backward folk who live on the fringes of society. They are, in fact, real people, doing real work, with real lives, real culture, and real opinions...

...which may differ from the 'majority's' in good and bad ways. Now we see non-Anglo transitioning from the background and emerging as a part of American society. American culture processes this change in various ways. The conflicts between the past perspectives and present projections surface in quite interesting ways.

Perhaps the more familiar example of such conflicting ideas is in The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 2007 - ) with the Koothrappali siblings. Raj exhibits the old perceptions: he's inept with women, is a sidekick (to the sidekick), and has sexually ambiguous moments. Overall, rather submissive. Priya on the other-hand gets pick of the guys, is a self-possessed woman (separate from both the girls and the boys), and does not hide her sexuality. Overall, rather normal (compared to depictions of WASPM). And there's the odd part- the rise of the 'other' in America Culture comes in the form of a woman (distinctly not a Girl). Other examples include, Gloria from Modern Family (ABC, 2009), Dr. Cristina Yang from Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 2005), Miranda from The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros. Productions, 2012), and Neytiri from Avatar (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporations, 2009).

Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Strong non-Anglo in American Culture women aren't limited to fiction.

Why this is...?  It might be an attempt to dis-empower non-Anglo by using a 'weak' symbol. It might be a carry over from Orientalism, where viewers sexualize the exotic 'other'. It might be a way to soften the  integration of non-Anglo into American culture. Of course the male 'other' does appear at times, but largely as a Brown, the inferior, or as an Alien, the unintelligible/irrational threat. We'll just have to wait and see how this new archetype integrates into the larger mythology, and how it effects American's perceptions of non-Anglos. Who knows, maybe Puerto Rico will become a state sooner than we expected.


  • Chang Community (NBC, 2009) - Mostly just strange. If he was more powerful he'd be an Alien
  • Abed Community (NBC, 2009 ) - Again, really strange. No sexual motivations
  • Mr. Chow The Hangover (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2009) - Although he causes trouble, he isn't a real threat.
  • Tom Haverford Parks and Recreation (NBC, 2009) - He started out as just a Brown in a greencard marriage, and although he's developed into a more influential character, he's not really all that important.  
  • Borat Borat (Four by Two, 2006) - Sacha B. Cohen played on American's perceptions of non-Anglo to create a very convincing Brown character.


  • Bane The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2012) - subservant to Miranda
  • Red Skull Captain America: The First Avenger (Paramount Pictures, 2011) - He's Russian
  • Matthew Bascalli (the Art Teacher) Parenthood (NBC, 2010) - Sleeps with Grandma!
  • Gustavo/Gus (Pollos Hermanos owner) Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008) - Despite his controlled facade, Gus' actions are not the most predictable, nor are any of the other Latino characters'.


  • Oscar The Office (NBC, 2005 ) - Gay, and not a power player BUT he is having relations with Angela's husband. 
  • Ann Perkins Parks and Recreation (NBC, 2009) - She's more of a Girl, but she is racially ambiguous, and has gained power through the series.
  • Most Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson movies - With the exceptions of The Mummy Returns The Rock plays characters that aren't neccisarily Browns or Aliens, just traditionally Anglo archetypes. 
  • Jacob in Twilight series - He doesn't end up with the 'heroine', but he's not powerless either.
Has anyone seen Puss In Boots (Dreamworks, 2011)? I couldn't glean much from the trailer, but it seemed like Puss is a cowboy who may have a spunky latina cat friend to protect him. Then again, he is a cute little kitty- Brown?

Addition: I've named a new archetype after writing this post. The Amazon: Non-anglo individuals (usually women) who do not pose any sort of threat and are socially, politically, or sexually superior to their peers.

Keep the discussion going in the comments below.

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