Harriet Tubman is Better Than You.

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 10/02/09

As most of you know, there's this show called "Warehouse 13." It finished it's first season ron back in September. It's an ok, but basically uneven series, essentially a latter day knockoff of "Friday the 13th: The Series," if anyone out there remembers that one. No? Didn't figure you would. Just fishing. If you haven't seen it, the show isn't really Science Fiction, it's more Urban Fantasy, but SyFy/Sci Fi has always had difficulty telling the two apart. But it's got Saul Rubinek in it, and he's always great.

Anyway, back in September they ran the season finale and while it was a pretty ok episode with a good (If predictable) twist at the end, there was something that really nagged me about it: (Spoiler) The entire plot ultimately revolved around a fictional magical artifact called "Harriet Tubman's Thimble," which, when put on your finger, lets you look and sound exactly like anyone you want to, through the miracle of cheap CGI morphing effects. We're told that Tubman had this magical dealie which allowed her to change appearance at will, and without it, she couldn't have pulled off her daring exploits on the Underground Railroad.

I found this offensive.

Harriet Tubman was an American hero, and a woman so astoundingly brave that the people who run this show aren't fit to lick her boots. At immense personal risk, she escaped from slavery, and at even greater personal risk, she made at least THIRTEEN further trips south - with a price on her head - to rescue seventy other people, and never lost a one. She also assisted in numerous other "Underground Railroad" escapes in an advisory capacity. And she did all this with a pretty traumatic head injury. Let me say this in no uncertain terms: Harriet Tubman is better than you. Harriet Tubman is better than me. She represents what's best about America: She was born in to an utterly terrible life, with all the cards stacked against her, and she made it better for herself, and then, not content to rest at that, she went back and made things better for threescore other people directly, and hundreds more indirectly. Harriet Tubman represents not only our shame, but our glory, and our amazing (if intermitent) ability to synthesize the two.

The idea that this goony show would diminish her accomplishments by attributing them to a magical geegaw, thereby saying "Oh, yeah, there was no personal risk to her whatsoever, aside from maybe stubbed toes" was demeaning. Things like that should be off-limits to a show like this, out of common decency.

Added to which, Ms. Tubman was a devoutly Christian woman. If she *had* had some kind of magical item, she would not have used it since magic is clearly forbidden. So: A lack of research and a lack of respect.

Now, let's put things in perspective: "Warehouse 13" is just a frivolous little fantasy adventure/comedy, and it's mostly run by Canadians pretending to be Americans, and not always pulling it off. I'm sure they meant no harm. I'm sure they thought it was cool. I don't believe for a minute that this was intended as a racist slur, I think it was just typical fuzzy-headed leftist thinking. "Wow, if she was that cool, then wouldn't it be even cooler if she had like an Iron Man suit or something? Yeah! [takes another toke] That would rule! Let's write that!" I do *not* think this was intended to hurt anyone, so let's be clear about that. I don't think they're evil, they're just TV people who almost-by-definition haven't got a clue, and wouldn't know what to do with it if they had one.

That said, I *DO* believe that it is entirely within the realm of politeness and respect to contact the network and let them know exactly how and why you found this plot element to be offensive. Don't be rude, don't call them names, don't threaten anyone. Let your voice be heard, but let it be heard politely, ok? Explain to them exactly how they crossed the line, and politely ask them not to do it again. You can email them directly here feedback@syfy.com

I brought this up the day after the episode aired, and contacted the network myself at that time, and suggested others do the same. It's been a couple weeks, and I'm bringing it up again just because I think it might be a good idea to let them know it wasn't a passing fit of pique on our part: we remember, and we're still (politely) annoyed at them, and to let them know that it matters.

Don't pick fights, don't call names, don't feel obliged to refer to us if you don't wanna'. Hell, don't write 'em if you don't wanna'. I just thought I'd mention it. That's about all. Have a good weekend.

UPDATE OCTOBER 2011: It goes without saying that I never heard back from them.

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