Here’s What I Meant by “Culturally Heavy.”

A few years ago, I posted about a lost very special episode of Hey Dude. On Saturday Night, I got a notification that a podcasted aptly titled Hugging and Learning had used my post as a source for their recent episode, “Saved by the Cowbell” — once again awesome title.

The portion of the podcast I’m writing this follow up post in response to involves the character Danny Lightfoot, a member of the Hopi Nation, portrayed by Joe Torres. Let me pause here and acknowledge that this casting and the way the show’s creators have since described it could be its own separate post entirely. According to Michael Koegel in the book Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, when casting the show “we fudged it because Joe Torres was really Mexican-American. He had a little American-Indian blood in him, but once you get into that part of the country, there’s a fine line between what’s an American Indian and what’s a Mexican Indian. It’s a cultural divide.” This book was published in 2013 and even though it is an oral history, I am struck by how glib this statement is, right down to the “what’s” instead of “who’s”. And in case it needed clarification, tribal sovereignty is much more than a “cultural divide.”

In all fairness, I did not dive into the casting (nor did I research it) in my original post and it doesn’t appear to come up in the discussion between hosts Chelsea and Andrew on the podcast either, though I may have missed it. However, as anyone would in 2020, Chelsea and Andrew immediately zero in on the incredibly problematic line Danny says to describe why he would not go drinking with his coworker Melody’s brother. If you’re listening to the podcast, this section starts at about 24:52.

For those of you who haven’t read the original post, I’ve included a screenshot below for the section in question.

There is so very much to unpack here. The first of which is that I’d like to clarify that “betrayed” is my word. Chelsea refers to this in the podcast, but she attributes that word to the character (before she quotes the same section I quoted in the original post). To be clear, Chelsea says, “He had a friend of the family that he says betrayed all of them by becoming quote another Indian with a drinking problem.”

The text from the show is actually as follows, “it felt like he let us all down.” So here’s where this gets sticky and where I want to be very clear because this podcast is using a lot of my phrasing. Anything in the screenshot above that I did not directly quote came from me, not the show.

My interpretation of the line reading was that Danny and his community felt “betrayed” and I chose that word in 2017 because of my personal experiences with alcoholism and perhaps that’s unfair for me to apply to this situation. However, alcoholism runs in my family and I was very strict about experimentation (or lack there of) as a teenager because I personally would have felt that I betrayed my family if I were to become another member of the family with an alcohol problem: betrayed the experiences and examples of my ill family members; betrayed the expectations of my immediate family; betrayed the family name at large in our community. I don’t know what the writers intended, but Danny’s sentiment of not wanting to let anyone down or in essence “betray” them resonated with me. The most glaring difference here being that my perfectionism was self-imposed and Danny’s was the result of generations of oppression following a genocide.

Chelsea then goes on to say that, “He basically lays it out like therefore I can never drink because that would make me a stereotype, which is like a really weird thing for a writer to put into the mouth of a character who’s, I’m guessing, ethnic group they don’t share. You know what I mean? Like part of me is sort of like wow okay we like got culturally heavy here for a second.”

Once again, that “culturally heavy” is my interpretation of the actor’s line reading, one that Chelsea and Andrew appear to agree with. But I want to take this one step further and tell you exactly what I meant by that in 2017 because I didn’t lay it out and I should have.

To me, one of most devastating aspects of racism on a micro level is that individuals do not feel permission to express a full range of emotions, and there are often devastating consequences should they choose to do so. My interpretation of Danny’s statement is not that the show unfairly “puts” this desire to avoid “stereotypical” (and wholly untrue) behavior “into his mouth” so to speak, but rather that this statement reflects the innermost thoughts of a young man who is not afforded the opportunity to make mistakes in the same way that Melody’s white brother is.

And let’s be clear, Melody’s brother has a disease. All people experiencing alcoholism unfortunately face stigma and stereotyping. That said, the stereotypical interpretation of his disease is not nearly the same as it would be for Danny’s friend.

I do think this is an appropriate conversation to have. I do not think this is a “weird” statement for Danny to say because the pressure this character feels is very real and very relevant. He in fact states, “I don’t think there’s anyway I could have gone with Billy, even if I wanted to.”

What I find to be inappropriate in this episode and, more accurately, harmful is that this statement is said and dropped. Within this episode, there is no unpacking of Danny’s feelings or the systemic pressure that created them. There is no acknowledgment of the immense unfairness in the simple fact that he cannot make a mistake even if he wants to.

I wrote “culturally heavy” and I figured people would get it. But maybe what I should have written was “personally heavy” because we personally carry the pain of our cultures and for minority communities that pain is more than any individual should bear.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” — Anne Lamott

Hey Dude: Melody’s Brother (My White Whale, My Broken Teenage Heart)

Very Special Readers, I am very excited to share with you “Melody’s Brother,” a.k.a. my white whale of Very Special Episodes. This is a “lost episode” of Hey Dude, and I have been looking for it for YEARS. (Hey, this blog just had it’s 3rd birthday. The VSB isn’t a toddler anymore. Aw, it’s growing up so fast.)

01-07-brownHey Dude is a show about a bunch of teenagers working on a dude ranch. I was really into it as a small child, but I think this was mostly due to the fact that there was a girl named “Brad” on the show and I thought that “Brad” was a cool name for a girl. Incidentally, Brad was the name of my first boyfriend. I don’t think the two facts are related since I was mostly into him because he was into Nirvana and had blond hair.

Sadly, things ended badly with Brad. He brought another girl on a date to a football game at my high school (which he did not attend) mere days after he crushed my little fourteen year old heart while Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” played in the background. (To add insult to injury, I had only slightly earlier in the day determined that this would be “our song.”) But it’s funny how life goes because now I look back on this fondly as one of my better break ups. (For the record, Brad apologized to me a year later, so we’re good. I’m not here to drag some dude through the mud for youthful transgressions over a decade later. OVER A DECADE. And the VSB is 3 years old. OH NO, I AM AGING.)

Alright, alright, I promised you a very special episode.

Would you let that kid in the middle fix your toilet?

Melody’s brother comes for a visit and tells her he’s going to propose to his girlfriend. She refuses to be a bridesmaid, which is pretty rude, and invites him to go canoeing. He’s like NOPE I AM GOING TO CHILL WITH MY FRAT BROS. (Rude family.) He presumed that she would be working, and she says, “No, I switched with Brad.” (Brad being the girl character on the show and not my ex-boyfriend.)

On his way into town, Melody’s bro invites some of her coworkers into town to a bar that WILL NOT CHECK ID. But they’re good ranch hands, so they say no. Listen, The VSB would NEVER condone underage drinking, but as someone who is a few years past the legal drinking age, I must say that I will never again be able to drink like I could drink when I was 20. Would that I could, Hey Dude, would that I could.

dude12Danny (played by the “missing” Joe Torres but this guy on Facebook says he’s Joe and not to worry), says that he doesn’t want to go because a friend of the family had a drinking problem. Melody’s brother says, “there’s a big difference between having a few beers with your friends and having a problem.” He’s right, but obviously this is the Chekov’s gun of this episode.

He leaves the room and the ranch hands comment on his stank alcohol breath. (Oh, yep. Here we go.)

Danny, says that the friend of the family betrayed all of them by becoming “another Indian with a drinking problem.” Therefore, Danny can never drink even if he wants to lest he become a stereotype. Shit, things got culturally heavy here.

Later in the afternoon, Billy dry heaves by the cabins. He doesn’t want to join Melody for dinner. His jeans are ripped and he has an injury that he can’t explain. He says he only had two beers. (LIES!)

12-38-melody-delightedThe overzealous ranch hands see Melody talking to her brother and they’re like oh hey, your brother is drunk. And she gets all defensive and says he’s just tired. Meanwhile, it’s dinner time and everyone wants to tell Melody her brother has a problem in their judgey voices but no one wants to help this guy metabolize that booze by encouraging him to eat some bread or drink some water. Have we no plain pasta, people???

In a flagrant violation of child labor laws, the manager insists on opening up the room where Melody’s bro is “sleeping it off” so that a thirteen year old can presumably fix the plumbing. This obviously fails, so her brother has to move rooms. While they’re moving the luggage, a big old bottle of brandy falls out of his bag.

Melody is PISSED. Apparently, their dad is an alcoholic too. But her bro says he’s just having a hard time right now. You know that girl he wanted to marry? That girl broke up with him and is in love with someone else.

Okay, Rule #1. Don’t drink when you’re sad. 
Rule #2. Enjoy your fast metabolism while it lasts and STAY HYDRATED.
I’m dishing out very special lessons all over the place today, guys.

Melody’s bro promises to never drink again (but don’t count on it because this episode still has several minutes left.) He leaves the ranch to go see a movie and…uh oh…this ends with the cops calling to say there has been an accident. He’s alive, but he has a DUI. Melody decides to practice some tough love and not bail her brother out of jail. Woah. Damn. This episode is rough.

37-73-melody-billy-2Her boss bails him out and big bro is mad as hell that Melody wasn’t there to support him. Melody is devastated and she says that she’s already been lying to everyone for him and is starting to resemble their mother covering for their father. (GUYS, THESE PEOPLE NEED THERAPY AND CRAP I’M SO GLAD I DIDN’T SEE THIS ON NICKELODEON AS A KID.)

She says, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t have a problem with your drinking. But I do.” Mic drop.

Turns out, he lied AGAIN. That girl from earlier (the one who he wanted to marry but she broke up with him because she was in love with somebody else), she wasn’t really in love with somebody else. She broke up with him because they argued all the time about his drinking. Damn, those overzealous ranch hands are perceptive. Be careful who you invite to hang out with you. They may just expose your deepest secrets in an instant.

Anyway, he has to fly home to their parents’ house since he no longer has a drivers license.

Very Special Lesson: Listen, there were some veritable truths dropped all over this post. I cannot even synthesize this post in a witty one liner because I have an overwhelming urge to listen to “Undone: The Sweater Song.”

Salute Your Shorts vs. Hey Dude

Ever noticed how some shows have basically the same plotline? And what’s even more bizarre than a PSA type episode with a boyfriend dying from injuries sustained while driving under the influence (Clueless and Growing Pains), is an episode about really intense capture the flag with odd rules. I guess it makes sense in a way because these shows both involve a group of people isolated from mainstream society. So maybe that’s some strange Lord of the Flies coping mechanism?

Let’s see who did it better, shall we?

Hey Dude: War
As it turns out, the only requirement for being head of staff at the Bar None Ranch is winning a game of Capture the Flag–except if capture the flag was more like Manhunt and involved finding the flag in an undisclosed location. The two teams stay up until dawn and look for the other teams flag and the first one to run it up the flag pole in the morning wins.

Everyone is divided into the red team and the blue team, but basically all you need to know is that Ted and Brad are competing for senior staff status. Everyone else is cool just letting the duke it out and supporting them as teammates for whatever reason. I would have been all like:

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 11.11.53 PMAnd when Ted starts to take everything too seriously (a.k.a uses fake military tactics), Danny and Melody tell him that they don’t actually care and that they just want to play the game.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.35.17 AMWhen Melody decides she’s better off just going to bed, the Blue Team kidnaps her and tries to get her to tell the Red Team’s secrets. They plan on using music-torture, Noriega-style, to get her to talk. But she really doesn’t care about the game at this point, so she tells them right off the bat that they booby-trapped it over the fireplace in the main lodge.

Meanwhile, the blue team has hidden their flag in the lining of Ted’s coat, which is pretty brilliant, if you ask me. Finally, both teams obtain the other’s flag and race to the flag pole. But when they arrive, Ted and Brad collide into one another and are knocked out cold. In the meantime, Mr. Ernst (owner of the Bar None) runs the American flag up the flagpole. The kids decide to share Senior Staff Leadership and walk off arm-in-arm.

Salute Your Shorts: Capture the Flag
Let me start of by saying that I want to play Camp Anawanna’s version of Capture the Flag. This is intense. But we’ll get to that. First off, everyone at the camp has to tryout for a position on Ug’s team. He’s challenged another counselor, and the loser will have to dress up like Madonna and sing “Material Girl” in the cafeteria. So there’s a lot riding on this. Donkey Lips (I can’t believe they let that name exist in children’s television) wants to be an attacker, so it’s a really underdog story.

Now, Camp Anawanna doesn’t play your typical capture the flag. They’ve got bunkers. They’re decked out in war paint. And best of all, they use water balloons as ammunition. Ug communicates with team captain, Budnick, via walkie talkie and a VHS Camcorder attached to Sponge’s helmet. It’s kind of like Vietnam but in a fun way.

Donkely Lips doesn’t get to be an attacker though, and he’s left behind has Budnick leads the charge across the hill. (By the way, your favorite Anawanna kids are the red team and they’re playing against the blue team). But it’s a trap! They’re heavily attacked by water balloons.

The retreat behind a log, while the blue team slowly stalks them on the offensive and things get very:
Meanwhile, Donkely Lips and Z.Z. have dug a trench and captured nine members of the blue team. (But isn’t that like the entire size of the red team?) Pinsky talks them into saving the rest of the red team, while he stays behind to watch the prisoners.

But it’s only when Donkey Lips can overcome the tire obstacle course (his kryptonite) that barricade the other team’s flag that the red team can return victorious to camp.

So, I want to try this new thing. I’m calling it “Friday Face-Off” where I compare two similar episodes and you pick your favorite. Then on the following Friday, I’ll reveal the winner and the next face off.

Melody from Hey Dude is Matilda from Zoolander

And I don’t mean she’s the same actress. Well, I know she’s the same actress.

But I’m pretty sure that Melody from Hey Dude grew up and changed her name to Matilda before becoming an investigative reporter in Zoolander. You see, I discovered all of this in a very telling scene from the “Miss Tucson” episode of Hey Dude.  This is the first time in which Melody/Matilda reveals that she was an overweight child who idolized the pretty beauty queen type.

Clearly, she trusts her dude ranch friend, Brad, enough to share this tragic past. But it’s not until she meets the love of her life, Derek Zoolander, that she reveals her history of Bulimia.

Poor Melody/Matilda! She deserves better. Hopefully, we will find out that everything worked out great for her when Zoolander 2 finally comes out.