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We Need to Talk About Grimm

  It’s time we talk about Grimm.

  Grimm is a police procedural by way of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It follows a Generic White Savior™ named Nick who can see the supernatural and has the sacred duty of killing them should they impugn his dainty sensibilities. Basically, he can see the supernatural woge—or shift from human to hybrid-monster form—when they are emotional. If they are suitably deferential to him or just flat out need him, he may let them live. He kind of has a Book of Job God Complex going on.

  Nick, largely speaking, is an asshole when he isn’t being the most oblivious cop in the world. The first several seasons see him taking what appears to be a very sadistic joy in the terror he gives the supernatural whatsits when they woge. The canon explanation for their fear is that the Wesen (said supernatural things) see his eyes go pitch black and rightly shit themselves when they realize a guy whose entire line is dedicated to exterminating them is in the same room.

  This doesn’t make the quasi-orgasmic faces he makes upon seeing a woge during the first several seasons any better.

  Joining Nick on his life of threatening people who for the most part want to be left alone are his girlfriend Juliette, his partner Griffin, a sergeant by the name of Wu, a vegan “big bad wolf” named Monroe, and Rosalee the fox lady. That last one was not a sexist comment on her looks, as she is a woman who can turn into an anthropoid fox. He also has a couple of guests he cycles through depending on when the plot cavalierly decides to make them relevant, such as his Wesen police chief and a witch-woman-monster who, at one point, rapes him but he falls in love with her and she has his baby so it’s totally okay.

  It’s kind of a mess, is what I’m saying.

  While I am being dryly harsh of the show, there is no doubt that it is entertaining. If you can muscle your way past Nick’s general oafishness and the narrative’s bizarrely incompetent pacing, there are some really neat storylines. On top of that, there are some really genuine character interactions that make for some compelling arcs and some interesting spins on the supernatural that make for thrilling moments.

  The biggest issue that I have with the show is the fact that its writers readily co-opt narratives of non-white communities to tell stories of white characters. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the way that they do it comes off as equally sanctimonious and atonal, as though on some level they know what they’re doing and feel they should be praised for it.

  For instance, there is a major story arc involving an extremely intolerant group of Wesen who are obsessed with blood purity (you can probably already tell where this is going). Nick’s wolf buddy wants to get married to a nice fox lady, but gosh darn it, those bigots in the Wesen community are getting all riled up over it! Why, it’s to the point where they literally kidnap the wolf man, conduct a show trial, and then decide that he shall be murdered because purity has been besmirched by this intermarriage!

  For those of you who have no understanding of history, what the show did was copy-and-paste the Ku Klux Klan into their goddamn story about werewolves and octopus monsters. The only difference, of course, was that the people who were targeted were both white people—a wolfman and a fox lady, yes, but still white. And, yes, the KKK did also target the occasional white person, but they really weren’t the focal point of domestic terrorism so don’t change the goddamn topic.

  The point that I’m making here is that the writers of the show took a historical terrorist campaign targeting African Americans in an effort to kill and intimidate them and turned it into a story about white people. And yet the writers got to have their good chest-beating morality moment of having their white wolfman scold the bad mans about how, no, it’s they who suck! Yeah, close-minded people. They’re the fuckin’ worst.

  In the run up to the trial episode, the werewolf Klansmen placed their cross-like mark in the front yard of the newly-married couple and burned it. And while all the other characters are panicking over this violation, it’s Griffin—a Black man—who runs to get a hose to extinguish the blaze.

  Do I need to tell you what is gross about that?

  I pick on Grimm, but this is a problem in any genre that uses fantasy races. Too often, there’s an earnest desire by people to write about social issues and, instead of doing all that boring learning and being a decent person and occasionally fucking up, they attempt to translate their understanding of said issues onto a fantastical stand-in. Orcs, elves, dwarves, aliens, werewolves, vampires, whatever. And they do this time and time again without the slightest nuance or what even appears to be a tangential understanding of the gravity such issues actually entail.

  Earlier in Grimm’s run, it’s revealed that Adolf Hitler was secretly a werewolf Nazi. You see, he had these magical coins that had vague powers to make him really convincing, or guaranteed him power, or something. Look, it’s complicated. The important thing is that in this show that makes clumsy attempts to paint the Wesen as sympathetic marginalized people, they also manage to take the architect of the fucking Holocaust and say he was literally only partially human. Thank goodness for us, real human people, that Adolf Hitler wasn’t like us at all! He was a literal fucking wolfman. Really makes those atrocities a lot more palatable, doesn’t it?

  And, hey, speaking of palatable, how about the fact that by giving him magic, world-ruling coins, it absolves all the people complicit in the murder of millions of human beings! It wasn’t their fault that western civilization, with its deep historical ties to anti-Semitism and inability to see the Roma as human and open embrace of other forms of racism as a major throughline for pretty much every aspect of society, resulted in a the creation of literal death camps! It was magic!

  While they may not have dwelt on this, even the casual alignment of the Third Reich and this whole supernatural bullshittery results in this kind of narrative. I mean, what else are we supposed to take from that, other than the writers are lazy?

  The writers doubled down on this, of course. Season five saw the return of Hitler-as-wolfman trope with the introduction of Black Claw, which isn’t the name of some terrible garage band but a secret society dedicated to a world ruled by Wesen. When Nick is brought in to the covert government taskforce meant to stop them, Juliette tells him in an offhanded aside that Hitler was Black Claw, and basically WWII was their last attempt at taking over ze verld!

  A smarter show could have questioned why, if this was about Wesen, did Hitler hate Jewish people so much? That seems like a really weird stance to take when you’re a literal werewolf monster unless you’re playing on the already virulent anti-Semitism in place in Western Europe. But then again, didn’t he have magic coins that had vague empire-growing powers? Did the genocidal autocrat just randomly choose a group of people to persecute?

  Seems a bit weird considering the diversity on display when Black Claw makes an appearance in the 21st century. Maybe they rebranded. But it still begs the question: why did the writers make the conscious decision to make Hitler Wesen, and then to tie his racist legacy to an entire season’s plotline when they wouldn’t give the horrors of the Holocaust even a single mention? It’s almost—almost—like they don’t really care and simply went for a cheap historical gut punch when they could.

  It’s clear to me that Grimm is only comfortable with stories it can make about white people. They’ll only really hop into other cultures when it involves swiping something magical or supernatural that can plague the White Savior™. Jewish history and culture is relevant for precisely one (1) episode when a golem is sent to punish bad people, but they may as well not exist the rest of the time. Wu’s Filipino heritage is mined for a baby-eating Wesen (the aswang), but it’s just a monster-of-the-week for all of its import. Griffin’s Blackness is relevant when there’s a burning not-a-cross as some kind of weird statement, but otherwise his presence works as a testament to a “colorblind postracial America” that exists only in popular delusions.

  Long story short, be mindful of the fucking stories you’re telling and the messages that slip through. You may think there’s no harm (or even some good) in translating other communities’ experiences this way, but without a lot of effort, you’re going to fuck up.

  Or maybe hire competent, diverse writers who don’t think referencing WWII is the best way to raise the fucking stakes.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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