This is a repost. I wrote this hybrid movie review/story entry for my original Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife on June 15, 2017. I reposted the first part of this story on May 28, 2021. I’ve decided to repost this follow up today, because I’m not quite ready to post fresh content. It might be advantageous to read the first part of this story before reading this one. I’m leaving this mostly as/is.
Last night, I watched a movie I hadn’t seen in probably thirty years or more. The film was called Carbon Copy. It was released in 1981 and starred George Segal and Susan St. James. It also featured a young and talented Denzel Washington, who was making his film debut. I used to watch that movie on HBO all the time when I was a kid, though I didn’t understand it as well back then as I do today.
I was moved to purchase Carbon Copy because it had a very catchy theme song that I got stuck in my head. With music by Bill Conti and lyrics by Paul Williams, the bouncy tune was definitely an ear worm, if not a bit dated. Having watched the film last night, I can honestly say I enjoyed it. It’s basically a satirical look at racist white people and the stupid things they say and do.
The story begins with Walter Whitney (Segal) in bed with his frigid wife, Vivian (St. James). She’s not into him and he’s frustrated. He gets out of bed and we immediately see that he lives in a fabulous mansion in fictional San Marino, California. Whitney is a wealthy ad executive and has all the trappings of success. He has a pretty wife, a beautiful home, a well-paying job. But money doesn’t buy everything.
Walter’s wife is a snob. His stepdaughter, whom he apparently adopted, treats him with contempt. His father-in-law is his boss and treats him with condescension. Even his job was handed to him with strings attached.
One day, Walter gets a blast from the past. A young black guy named Roger Porter (Washington) shows up at his office asking for him. He mentions that he’s the son of Lorraine. Lorraine is a dear friend of Walter’s, though he hadn’t seen her in many years. Walter’s face lights up at the mention of her name. He asks his secretary to send Roger in for a visit. Roger comes in, parks his ass at Walter’s desk and drops a bomb on him. He’s actually Walter’s son!
At first, Walter doesn’t believe him. I wouldn’t believe him, either, since Roger/Denzel doesn’t look like he’s biracial; but hey– it’s the movies, right? Roger then convinces Walter than he is his long lost 17 year old son and his mother has just died. Walter, being somewhat decent, decides he has to help Roger. He brings him home after pitching the idea of hosting a black kid to his racist wife.
Both Walter and Vivian are extremely ignorant, condescending, and racist to the point of ridiculousness. They wrongly assume Roger is a high school dropout who has no idea how civilized people live. He’s served fried chicken as they tell him he’ll be attending the Presbyterian church, even though Roger says he’s a Baptist. They force him to stay in the garage instead of their home.
Then, when Walter and Vivian have an argument, Walter tells his wife he’s really Roger’s dad. Vivian’s reaction is extreme, to the point of needing a doctor and a minister. In short order, Walter finds himself tossed out on the street with his son. He’s abandoned by his friends, his family, even his doctor, lawyer, and minister.
Walter and Roger move into a cheap motel, then a crappy apartment and Roger soon finds himself shoveling horse shit. As he’s knocked off his powerful white station in life, Walter supposedly learns something about what it’s like to be black. He realizes that his former life was a very fragile sham– an illusion of decency and decorum. Walter develops empathy and appreciation for his son. He rejects his shallow existence and becomes a much better person.
Carbon Copy is kind of a silly movie and it makes its points with over the top gags that require viewers to suspend their disbelief. There were parts of the movie that were actually a little offensive to me today, although they probably wouldn’t have been in the less politically correct early 80s. And yet, after yesterday’s post, I realize that it was kind of appropriate that I was watching that movie. I realized that many white people still have a long way to go.
Yesterday, because I was curious about “Margaret”, my very first roommate at Longwood College, I went into obsessed fan mode and looked up her brother. I wondered if he was anything like her. Granted, almost 27 years have passed since I was last in the same room with Margaret. For all I know, she may have evolved into a decent person. Still, her behavior in 1990 was very strange, even for a stupid 18 year old. I went looking to find out if Margaret’s brother– also adopted– was as big of an asshole as his sister was.
Looking at his Facebook page and the page made for their father’s business, I can see that Margaret’s brother works for their father. He’s got a bunch of public stuff on his Facebook page. Some of it’s fairly innocuous. Like, for instance, I learned that Margaret’s brother– let’s call him Chip– is a proud father of four. He’s happily married and a Christian. He loves being Southern and living in the South.
I also learned that Chip is a firm believer in Donald Trump’s genius. He thinks that transgender people should be forced to use the bathroom corresponding to their genitalia. He obviously considers himself a “gentleman” and promotes attitudes reflecting conservative values. He’s probably pretty sexist, too.
Further down the page, I find the following…
Chip expresses some very ignorant and rather offensive views about the Civil War and the Confederacy. I can see that he’s clearly very proud of his Southern heritage and he’s against the recent moves to get rid of Confederate war memorials.
Having lived in South Carolina myself, at a time when the stars and bars were still flying over the South Carolina Statehouse, I can see where these opinions formed. To be honest, I am not a fan of trying to whitewash history. The fact is, there was a Civil War. The South lost, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t great leaders from the Confederacy. Should we still be publicly celebrating them in 2017? Perhaps not. But I can understand why some Southerners want to hang onto their memorials, even if I don’t agree with them. They do have a right to their opinions, ignorant as I might think they are.
On the other hand, the Civil War has been over for a long time. The South is a part of the United States, not an entity unto itself. And while I’m sure Chip is “nice” to black people he sees face to face, I have a feeling that deep down, he’s quite racist. Maybe that doesn’t matter to him. Since I don’t know him, I can only base an opinion on what I can see in the messages he broadcasts publicly on social media.
I read that Chip’s father served on some board at UVa. that celebrates diversity. He also served as a Peace Corps Country Director in Jamaica. How does that jibe with his son’s evidently racist views? These attitudes don’t form in a vacuum.
I read up on Chip’s mother, evidently a woman very proud of her Greek heritage. She and her husband met on a blind date when she was working for Senator Strom Thurmond. I happened to be living in South Carolina at the tail end of Thurmond’s time in the South Carolina legislature. Although he was much celebrated in South Carolina, Mr. Thurmond had some pretty racist views, especially in his early political days. If Chip’s mom worked for Mr. Thurmond in the 60s, she probably has some racist ideas, too. I know that racist ideas often die hard, especially in older people. On the other hand, maybe she’s evolved. Based on her Facebook page, which also celebrates Donald Trump, I doubt it.
According to Wikipedia: During his 1948 campaign, Thurmond said the following in a speech, being met with loud cheers by the assembled supporters: listen (help·info)
I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.
There was a time when Chip’s views weren’t that strange to me. I grew up in Virginia, which despite being geographically pretty far north, is a very Southern state. I spent time with people like Chip, although I don’t think most of the people I hung around with regularly were quite as drunk on the southern pride Kool-Aid as Chip appears to be. But his attitudes are not unfamiliar to me. When I was younger, I probably even agreed with them to some extent. Then I left the country a few times and started getting to know people from other places. My opinions began to change, hopefully for the better. I like to think I have a broader mind now than I did twenty years ago, although I’m sure I still have a ways to go.
It’s funny that a silly comedy like Carbon Copy, which was made in 1981, is still so relevant today. If you watch the film, you can see that it goes to extremes. Walter Whitney tells his wife he’s the father of a black son and, just like that, he gets ousted from his cushy lifestyle. We all know that it wouldn’t actually happen that way. In reality, Walter’s downfall would probably be a bit more like Dan Aykroyd’s was in Trading Places, a 1983 film also starring Eddie Murphy.
Trading Places’ plot was somewhat like that of Carbon Copy’s. Basically, a rich white guy gets knocked off his pedestal by a black guy. He ends up living in a way he never thought he would, while the formerly broke black guy takes his place. It’s not quite the same execution, but the message is similar. Many people have a lot to learn about empathy.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen Carbon Copy, I’d recommend it. It’s a bit dated and kind of silly, but it does drive home a point that is still valid over 35 years later. And then, when you’re done watching Carbon Copy, you can watch Trading Places, which was a more famous and successful film about the same thing.
As for Margaret and her dysfunctional clan, I think I’m done peeking into their lives. My curiosity is now satisfied, probably for at least another 27 years.