The media in the Trump era often operates like a hypersensitive immune system. It overreacts to the slightest provocation by flooding the zone with progressive backlash to perceived outrages, not unlike cells pumping out histamines at the first hint of pollen. The problem isn’t the reaction per se, it’s the fact that it often seems so disproportionate to the actual problem at hand. That’s how you get a full-scale national media freak out over a high school kid smiling. It’s how you get progressive blue-checks on Twitter freaking out over Melania Trump’s shoes or the House dress code.
Sometimes, there’s very little evidence that the thing which prompted the collective outrage was ever much of an issue in the first place. How many people were upset about that AOC dance video? Judging from the response you’d think the answer was thousands. But it turns out the whole cycle of outrage stemmed from a handful of anonymous Twitter accounts with few followers. There was another incident like that earlier this year. It was an image of Malia Obama with a bottle of wine. Instantly, progressives claimed the right was “frothing at the mouth” in anger over this and called them hypocrites. Tens of thousands of people retweeted these outraged reactions, but reactions to what? Conservatives of every stripe were saying the same thing: Who cares? Leave her alone. The hyperactive reaction doesn’t need much to get it going. Sometimes it’s just the media’s assumption of what those bad people must be thinking.
And that brings us to the latest case in point. There’s a media outrage cycle over the casting of Disney’s new live-action Little Mermaid film. Producers announced they had cast a black actress named Halle Bailey (not Halle Berry) and people were supposedly furious about it. From Reason:
“Us white girls, who grew up with The Little Mermaid, deserved a true-to-color Ariel,” wrote one critic, Rebeccs, in a tweet that went viral. “Disney, you made a huge mistake by hiring Halle Bailey.”
Horrified? Don’t be. A troll account was responsible for the tweet, as Buzzfeed’s Brandon Wall helpfully explained:
This viral tweet complaining about the Little Mermaid casting being racist has a profile pic stolen from an Instagram model. The “half black best friend” pic is taken from god knows where, but shows up in a bunch of Pinterest BFF roundups pic.twitter.com/aYMwKf1XNl
— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) July 4, 2019
Despite the fact that this wasn’t a real person, the media swooped in on the story:
The Washington Post ran not one but two articles on Tuesday bemoaning the “uproar over a black Ariel.” (Articles appeared at other sites as well.) The only evidence of said uproar is a handful of tweets, which again, are more than canceled out by all the other tweets. But try telling that to history professor Brooke Newman, who implies in The Post that there’s an Ursula-sized backlash to the casting and that it all has something to do with Trump:
Let me say for the record that I’ve seen the Little Mermaid probably 50 times and I’m not outraged by the casting. I don’t see why a Mermaid can’t be black even though it is a change from the animated film and arguably from the story itself. In fact, I think the actress (who I’d never heard of before this controversy) actually has a good look for this.
But at the risk of setting off another media freakout, I do think there’s a bit of hypocrisy coming from some on the left. Look I get it. We’re supposed to be beyond superficial differences. We’re supposed to allow for a little variation in these stories if, for no other reason, than because they are fantasy stories anyway about things that are deeper than skin tone. And yet, remember the whole controversy over Scarlett Johansson playing a transgender character almost exactly one year ago? She dropped out of the film because people claimed there was something wrong with casting a straight actress in a trans role, even though make believe is sort of the job description for actresses.
Why is that so different? And don’t tell me it’s about allowing for more representation. No one gets represented if the film isn’t made!
So I’m fine with Ariel being played by a black actress (assuming the film sticks to the story people love) but I’m not convinced the left is playing by the same rules.