In the medical drama, House, M.D, one may first observe the character of Dr. Eric Foreman as a progressive representation of black males. Indeed, Dr. Foreman is a successful, intelligent, and integral main character in the series. Many have praised House, M.D‘s writers for Foreman’s character, a highly accomplished black doctor.
However, upon closer analysis of his character and how he interacts with Dr. Gregory House, we begin to see that his character is muddled with the same racist stereotypes that are featured in so many other problematic shows.
A constant running ‘joke’ in the series is the often abrasive interactions between Dr. House and Dr. Foreman. In many instances in the show, Dr. House will end the squabble with a racist remark towards Dr. Foreman. One such example is shown in the clip attached. As the sole main character of the series, the character of Dr. House has the unique ability to develop other characters in the series through his interactions with them. Thus, every time he points out Foreman for his ‘otherness’, the audience is made to believe that his character is, indeed, different – regardless of the fact that he is just as successful as a doctor if not more than the other characters in the series.
This theme is also continued throughout multiple small moments in the series. These momentary interactions imply Foreman’s past criminal record, alluding to his “stereotypically black” past though plot events such as his ability to pick locks and break into houses (a feat Dr. House doesn’t fail to point out and make fun of), and Dr. House secretly bribing someone to obtain past criminal records of him breaking and entering as well as stealing cars. These small interactions begin to paint a picture of Foreman that is the complete opposite of who is actually is, making the viewer associate his character to his criminal past and perceived “otherness” which is highlighted though Dr. House’s comments.
Herman Gray, in Television, Black Dreams, and the American Dream, says “The commercial culture industry presents idealized representations of racial justice, social equality and economic success. Idealized middle class black Americans increasingly populate fictional television. They confirm a middle-class utopian imagination of racial pluralism.” Perhaps, as Gray says, the character of Dr. Foreman exists as an idealized assurance of racial plurality, but secretly serves to highlight the ‘otherness’ of black people in the medical profession, as seen in the above clip. What do you think?
Some questions to consider:
- Are there any other depictions of black males that seem positive at first, but are in fact stereotypical?
- Do you think that a problematic character may sometimes be positively depicted, but is made problematic by the character’s interactions with other characters?
- What is the difference between telling a story of hardship of a character and enforcing negative stereotypes onto otherwise ‘good’ characters?