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You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!

Jean Birkenstein Washington

Boston Herald

MSNBC feature

Robin Washington

Shouldn't be long until this offensive Diary' is history

Boston Herald, September 30, 1998

Somewhere around the age of maturity I realized that "Hogan's Heroes" really wasn't a funny concept.

Those zany Nazis. Couldn't do anything right. Yet Sgt. Schultz and his "Know nothink, know nothink" goofs still managed to kill 6 million Jews and who knows how many others.

Now comes UPN's "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," making "Hogan's Heroes" look like "Schindler's List."

I received my own special copy in an effort by publicists to stem negative pre-release rage flooding the Internet. There's so much misinformation about this show, I was told. They're saying it's racist. That it makes fun of slavery. That the main character is a slave in the Lincoln White House.

Well, except for the latter - the protagonist (Chi McBride) is a black British nobleman somehow tricked into becoming a White House servant - the Net is right on the money.

He's not a slave, mind you, but he's ever plotting how to get his rightful dukedom back in Merry Ol' England - yet somehow can't just get on a boat and go.

Indentured servant, then, maybe?

Even if you buy the inane premise for a minute, it certainly doesn't give license to make our hero butler the butt of endless black jokes: "Feet off the table, Pfieffer. The slaves haven't been freed yet!"

But he's not a slave, remember?

All of this just rolls off his dignified shoulders, of course, as do the advances of Mrs. Lincoln, who purposely drops her soap in her bath for him to retrieve."The fire's gone out of the old Lincoln log," she sighs.

It gets worse. Pfieffer's Irish servant concocts a Celtic aphrodisiac that leaves Ol' Abe lusting after Pfieffer as well - while panting in homage to young boys with large biceps and washboard stomachs.

Who writes this stuff?

Well, one writer is a winner of the Organization of Black Screenwriters scholarship, I am told. And the coordinating producer is black, too, so it can't possibly be racist (never mind homophobic, sexist, and hell, anti-dead white male at that).

This is not to say that race, sex, gender-identity, etc., aren't fair game. But this is just offensiveness mixed in with a heavy dose of anachronisms and bad history: "Francis Scott Key is waiting for you, Mrs. Lincoln."

Must've been waiting a long time for that meeting.

So a black coordinating producer, eh?

On the daytime talk shows, that's the guy who tells you when to laugh.

Hell of a job for this show.

EDITOR'S NOTE: UPN announced yesterday it will air a different episode of the "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" next week, and review the pilot episode again before airing it. "UPN respects and appreciates all our viewers, and we especially wish to respond to feedback from our loyal African American audience," the network said in its statement.

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