S02E18 – Is The Rings of Power too woke?

In this episode of Finding Common Battle Grounds, we discuss the claims that Amazon’s new series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, is too woke. We return to our traditional format this time and each poses the other three questions, trying to find common ground. We agree from the outset that the “wokeness” claims center on gender (powerful female leads) and race (a racially diverse cast). We don’t agree on Josh’s question that “woke scolds” ruin everything. We also agree that Tolkien wrote race into his universe and that, as a product of the late 19th century and early 20th century, the racial hierarchy in his universe is a reflection of the time in which he lived. Josh then argues that the racially diverse cast raised issues of continuity for him with the Peter Jackson movies, though he frames the question as, “Is it ever okay to kill all the people who have a common skin color?” to be a bit more provocative (just a bit!). We don’t find agreement on this point as Ryan argues that, once Amazon bought the rights to this, they did not have to stay true to Peter Jackson’s vision. (We do all agree that the meme is funny.) We all agree that the producers and directors behind The Rings of Power intentionally cast people who are racially diverse for the show – though, of course, we don’t know their actual intentions, but it seems pretty obvious. We then get bogged down into a discussion of whether there are Tolkien fans who like the show. Finally, Josh argues that the producers of The Rings of Power pushed so hard to be “woke” (i.e., to have empowered women and a racially diverse cast) that the rest of the story suffered. We don’t agree on this point. Tom provides a summary statement that we do agree on: Amazon is conducting a test to see whether a racially diverse cast and strong female leads will be attractive enough to people that it will make them money. We’ll get to see whether the experiment works based on how well The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power does. BONUS: After we wrap up the main content, we then get into a very long discussion about racism. Ryan argues that this episode is a great illustration of how he cannot challenge racial perspectives: He cannot call something Josh says “racist” as that is the equivalent of calling him a member of the KKK, but he also cannot imply (even if he isn’t implying it) that something Josh says is racist as that also results in Josh inferring that Ryan thinks he’s a racist. It’s a lose-lose proposition for Ryan because any challenges to Josh’s arguments are immediately interpreted by Josh as though he is a racist, and we all agree that “racist” is the 2020’s equivalent of calling someone a Nazi or communist or pedophile. We don’t resolve this issue and instead request insights from our listeners.

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