And then the entire staff gathered around a computer screen to sip martinis while watching the Internet collapse on itself.
Yes, in 2015, even with absolutely zero women helming shows, diversity in late-night television is arguably “better than ever” save for two whole months in 2007 in which both George Lopez and Chelsea Handler had shows airing.
Immediately, this brings to mind Chris Rock’s remarks in New York magazine on the sad state of American race relations, which once again smartly exposed how black people generally don’t enjoy the luxury of nostalgia:
White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. …So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
Of course, Rock’s larger point was that yes, things are still terrible for many black Americans, but this is the least terrible they have ever been. Such is the state of late-night television diversity. Still terrible, but less so.
If you’re in the mood for magnanimity, you could credit the presentation of Vanity Fair’s story with similar insight — grimly sobering realism deceptively packaged as cheerful, fresh-faced — some might say clueless — optimism. But that requires an audience smart enough to fill in the blanks: “Why Late-Night Television Is Better Than Ever (Now With Two Black Guys!)” is also “Why Late-Night Television Is Better Than Ever (And Yet Still No Women).”
And yet, that’s not how it was received, and for once, it was not because the Internet is the place where subtlety and nuance book one-way tickets when they’re feeling suicidal. The public reaction said something about Vanity Fair and the lack of faith we place in the magazine itself. That was only exacerbated by the image accompanying the story, which looks as if the current late-night fraternity gathered for an art-directed, scotch-soaked, suit-bedecked festival of smarmy bro-ism and mid-century seating options.
The biggest lesson we may glean from Vanity Fair is that after so many years of earnestly exclusionary annual Hollywood issue covers, either celebrating the film industry’s homogeneity or willfully ignoring its existing (if paltry) diversity, we don’t trust its attempts at irony.