Monday, November 27, 2006

america the ugly

(Editorial comment: this is my first post made using my new MacBook laptop, truly the best computer I have ever owned, and I have had a computer since I was 3 and built a number of them from scratch. if loving something inanimate this much is wrong, i don't want to be right)

Ugly Betty not only the most watched show of the new fall season, it is also the most socially subversive primetime show in recent memory. Technically it is two shows: one about Betty Suarez, a frumpy but bright and determined Latina who has become executive assistant to the new editor-in-chief of Mode magazine (a thinly disguised Vogue, complete with a not-quite-dead Anna Wintour type); and the other show a more soapy and dramatic Americanization of the original Colombian telenovela.

The most poignant of these dramatic storylines came with the revelation that Betty's father, Ignacio, is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Thus Betty, as the child of an illegal, is exactly the type of strawmexican bashed by nativist politicians like Pat Buchanan as taking college tuition and jobs away from more deserving Anglos. It just illustrates how susceptible we are to the divide-and-conquer class warfare tacitly perpetrated every time the issue of illegal immigration is brought up. The characterization is all about contrasts, such as between glamorous Wilhelmina Slater (played with diva elan by Vanessa Williams) and Betty, or between Betty's functional but impoverished family in Queens and her boss Daniel's highly dysfunctional family back in Upper Crustington. Even Wilhelmina, the daughter of a senator, finds herself trapped by the nepotism that made the son of the boss the new EIC, over her, even though the show demonstrates how much more immensely qualified she is for the position.

Glimpses of Latino culture, from Ignacio's flan to the problem Betty's effeminate nephew Justin has with his macho father, lend a crisp authenticity to what at other times tends towards slapstick comedy. In its initial weeks, the show had to endure endless comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada, whose protagonist had a much worse boss and much better fashion sense. Clearly, this is the right show at the right time. For a country that still proudly touts that it is classless, more and more the superrich is becoming divorced from even the merely rich, as society goes ever toward the pyramidal model of a very few on top and everyone else stuck on the bottom. Betty gives us all hope that despite not having won the genetic lottery of beauty and money, with the help of family and loyalty to those who deserve it, we can all succeed.

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