Borderlands 2's Tiny Tina isn't Racist
Borderlands 2's Tiny Tina isn't Racist
So the latest trumped up controversy in games (I'm not saying all controversy is trumped up, but a bit of it is) involves Mike Sacco, (formerly) a Creative Director at trading card company Cryptozoic (if there's a TCG that isn't Magic, they're probably involved) telling Anthony Burch (Lead Writer for Borderlands 2) that Tiny Tina's portrayal in Borderlands 2 is racist because she talks like a person of colour.
Or, rather, she talks like a person of colour as a vehicle for laughs.
This is extremely ignorant. It's not ignorant because because everyone in Borderlands 2 is some sort of stereotype. It's ignorant because it wilfully ignores what Borderlands 2 represents as a comedy game, and who Tiny Tina represents.
Borderlands 2 is funny. It's got slapstick, it's got catchphrases, it's got references, it's got out-and-out jokes, it's got cringe humour, farce, absurdity, sarcasm, puns and it has satire.
The comedy in Borderlands 2 is crucial to its existence, because humour is the vehicle by which the game carries the player from one moment to the next. It's why some can accurately argue that Borderlands 2 isn't a great game - because if the humour doesn't appeal to you, the game can't mask the grind (it is a loot and XP chase at its core).
Tiny Tina's portrayal could potentially be considered racist - if she existed in a world devoid of humour. She might be seen to be a parody of exaggerated ebonics as seen in hip hop culture - and without the context of humour the idea that this portrayal is satirical might be difficult to see.
In a world full of humour though, her existence as a satirical mirroring of the language of a younger generation and of people misappropriating a cultural identity as a substitute for their own should be blatantly obvious. This point is made even more powerful thanks to the fact that her adoption of the lingo is characteristically dated - a reflection of the way the people outside of this culture adopt it slower than those 'within'.
Later Sacco asks detractors to see it from his point of view, saying "Imagine if Tiny Tina was black - the only female POC in the game except for an 800-lb cannibal - and gauge your reaction to her dialogue". This is a distraction from the topic at hand and indicative of Sacco's ignorance about the game, because it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the game's nature as a comedy and it renders Tina to just two characteristics - she is white, and her language is black.
This does the writing a disservice as it grossly oversimplifies Tina as a character - she's not exactly complex, but there's more to her than her skin colour and one portion of the language she uses. She uses language borrowed from a wide range of sources - including Pandora native Psycho lingo and that of a small child (appropriate, being that she is a small child). She's friends with Roland, her parents were killed earlier and she's clearly got some mental health issues because she is a 13 year old who tortures and kills people for fun. Like I said, not deep - but not that shallow.
At one point someone called her portrayal 'verbal blackface', and Mike Sacco replied to say "precisely. the slang is not only outdated and exaggerated, it's all there is. "badonkadonk"?". An insane proposition, because it equates the words someone says with their race (and it demonstratably isn't 'all there is').
This is a huge problem with the argument, because language is not a specifically racial thing. Anthony T, who joins the debate to argue that it's like "If a white character had a cheesy Asian accent and said "me love u long time" it would be racist." misses the point spectacularly - because Tina doesn't put on any accent.
A white character saying the phrase 'me love you long time' without any accent isn't racist. Later, when he points out Native Americans portrayed saying "How" - this in particular highlights how ridiculous the argument is, because the word how is a common word in the English language, and is only racially stereotyping when combined with a number of other factors (typically a headdress, a hand motion and an accent).
Tiny Tina doesn't put on an accent. She doesn't posture the way certain people commonly associated with this sort of language posture. She does less to evoke the image of a white person adopting rap culture's vernacular than Sasha Baron Cohen does with his Ali G persona. As a satirical reflection of people who adopt this language, she's less able to be construed as racist than Jamie Kennedy's character in the awful Malibu's Most Wanted.
Tiny Tina's portrayal in Borderlands 2 isn't racist for a number of reasons, none of them terribly complex. It's not racist because the entirety of her character can't be boiled down to just two things - the colour of her skin and the way she talks. It's not racist because it is a satirical parody of white people who actually use hip hop vernacular as their everyday language - the humour being similar to The Onion's Herbert Kornfield. And it isn't racist because language isn't inherently racist.
The thing is, just because something makes you uncomfortable, that doesn't make it racist. When Quentin Tarantino puts on a thick Australian accent towards the end of Django Unchained I would bet there isn't an Australian anywhere who didn't cringe to some extent - but not due to racism.
There are large swathes of comedy which rely on the person to feel uncomfortable to derive its humour. Ricky Gervais made his career on it. All of this particular style of humour is derived from the fact that the characters mirror situations, traits or ideas we're not comfortable with - either within ourselves, those around us or our culture in general.
I know several people who don't like Tiny Tina as a character because her traits are grating, or her characterisation is annoying. You can tell Anthony Burch you think she is annoying and you don't want to see her character again because she reminds you of that awful Buzzard filled hellhole. You can even tell him you don't want to see her because she makes you uncomfortable. Burch is on Twitter, so you can tell him anything you want. But don't tell him Tiny Tina's portrayal is racist, because you'd be wrong.
While I disagree with Mike Sacco's assertion that Tiny Tina's portrayal was racist, I absolutely respect his right to voice his opinion as a fundamental principle upon which modern civilisation and the internet in particular were founded, and it's absolutely abysmal that people might have attacked his livelihood for sharing that opinion. The greatest thing the internet has contributed to our species is the ease at which it has afforded us the ability to have conversation and debate with those who disagree with us, and attempting to silence a voice through coercion is utterly reprehensible.
Comments on this Article
Tue 05 Feb 13, 12:36pmhoax86
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Tue 05 Feb 13, 12:52pmJebbyc11
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Tue 05 Feb 13, 1:03pmhoax86
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Tue 05 Feb 13, 1:15pm0fficersniffy
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Tue 05 Feb 13, 2:01pmTooTs
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Tue 05 Feb 13, 6:21pmGreySquirrel
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