Hollywood is making another attempt at making a film version of the science fiction classic Dune. We already have David Lynch’s 1984 version by David Lynch, which I didn’t care for, and a SyFy channel miniseries from 2000, which I enjoyed rather more. The new movie (movies, actually – it’s going to be a two-parter) appears to have a strong cast and $165M worth of production value, so my friends and I are excited. Early reviews are very promising.

Hollywood being Hollywood in the 21st century, it seemed inevitable that there would be tinkering with some of the facts of the source material, and this incarnation of Dune seems no exception. The story takes place 20,000 years in the future, a time horizon that, coupled with the book’s relatively sparse descriptions of some of the characters easily allows for plenty of creative license. Duke Leto is “a tall man with olive skin and black hair.” “Olive skin” is one of the great copouts of descriptive prose, fitting anyone from a thousand-mile-wide swathe that ranges from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Himalayas, and skin tones 20 millennia from now will be anybody’s guess.

On the other hand, the book is pretty clear about everybody’s gender, so the decision to cast a woman as Liet Kynes (“a tall, thin man with long, sandy hair, a sparse but mussed mustache and beard and under heavy brows, eyes that were fathomless blue-within-blue), especially given the plethora of strong female characters (Lady Jessica, Chani, Gaius Helen Mohiam and the Bene Gesserit, Irulan, etc) seems unnecessary…

but for the fact that visual entertainment producers seem almost compelled to make obvious identity-politics alterations to source material, often purely for the sake of doing so. Modern television shows, especially those on network television, are the Benetton ads of this decade, virtually certain to have a full spectrum of race/ethnicity, as well as gender and orientation diversity.

This “full spectrum” is not an issue, given that society at large includes them all, and it’s better – at least in some ways – than the segregated offerings of decades past. All-white or all-black shows of the 20th century, at least in the instances that aren’t reflective of a particular setting or social segment, weren’t honest mirrors of culture. Shoehorning multiple “de mode” identity characters into a show just for diversity’s sake isn’t either.

And yet, it happens. Almost universally at this point.

Two likely purposes/reasons come to mind for this overt (and often ham-fisted) phenomenon. One is promotive, the other is defensive.

This Benetton-casting trend, we can safely assume, reflects a desire to education and promotion of a better and more inclusive society. Acceptance of individuals who, solely based on one or more demographic characteristics, have traditionally been discriminated against, or simply viewed with reflexive bigotry and negativism, is a good and necessary aspect of advancing society toward greater liberty and equality.

My cynicism, however, doesn’t allow me to simply swallow this good-will and pure-of-heart explanation, because the world doesn’t work that way. This points us at the defensive explanation. Given how much influence a small but very loud segment of activist-wokesters has demonstrably had on society, ensuring that every show is “diverse” – not just sufficiently but proactively – is a means of pre-empting those pests’ attacks. It’s also bending the knee to the demands for “anti-racist” behavior that some of today’s social agitators insist is the only way forward. Thus, we can’t simply have a movie based on source material that offers a certain amount of diversity – the new iteration has to be more diverse than the original, just to show that the producers understand and comply with what’s demanded of them.

South Park has a character named Token Black – I assume I don’t need to explain anything further. Hollywood’s business of making it obvious they’re filling out their diversity checklist in every show, even when it clashes with source material, even when it is not reflective of society (current or idealized), reeks of tokenism. As with all other forms of tokenism, the individual is secondary to the identity. As I’ve flogged exhaustively on this blog, the moment you subordinate the individual and the premise of equality for all, you create an untenable, zero-sum-competitive, socially corrosive set of incentives that replace harmony with discord, and that will ultimately tear this society apart. As for the people who are hired as “tokens,” some may not care, some may see a chance to show that whatever identity markers created the opportunity help move things in a good direction despite the tokenism, but some will feel the “cloud” of that tokenism. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has had much to say about that, about how affirmative action’s negative effects on both individuals and those with whom they interact.

The worst part of all this lies in how blatantly obvious it all is. If it were simply a shift in writing and casting that mirrored the improvement in society’s acceptance, there’d be nothing to complain about and everything to applaud. Instead, it’s doctrinaire excess, whipped in that direction by an abject fear of a few Internet harpies. As evidence, consider the criticism leveled at Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk, a movie about young English soldiers being rescued from slaughter in the early days of World War II. The actual young English soldiers were white and male, and a movie based on the very real and very harrowing events that befell those soldiers that injected diversity for its own sake would be pure narcissistic conceit. A “make it all about me” disgrace. Tokenism as egotistical virtue signal. Fortunately, there was pushback against this criticism, and pushback is how we keep these excesses from running to ever-more-farcical heights. And, fortunately, we still have the option to vote with our eyeballs. If we ignore their most blatant efforts at tokenism, if we direct our viewership elsewhere, perhaps the true motivator of all this – money – will help stem the excesses.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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