Was Friday Night Lights Xenophobic?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Flickr/Evoo73Flickr/Evoo73Friday Night Lights ended its fifth and final season last week. Needless to say, we’re devastated. But as a small consolation, the show’s ending means that lots of people on the Internet are now posting long-winded scribblings about what it all meant.

Over at Time, James Poniewozik makes a bunch of interesting points in his eulogy for the show, but I have to take issue with his grand takeaway:

The underlying theme is, we need each other. Everyone, even a teenager, is part of a web of dependence. You could see the show, from the right, as an example of how the best social programs are a job, a family and self-discipline; you could see it, from the left, as an argument for the crucial importance of an under-funded government institution, the public school. You would be right both ways.

I suppose I agree with this in a micro-sense—the show is about relationships, not football—but I think the larger point is that FNL didn’t so much bridge the red state-blue state divide as sidestep it. Given how overtly political the original book was, that took some work. The real-life inspiration for Tim Riggins took Buzz Bissinger hunting and complained that Americans don’t make things anymore, while lamenting the fact that we didn’t finish off the Japanese when we had a chance. Bissinger described a town gripped by a tea party-like fervor twenty years before the tea party, but the Dillon, Texas of FNL is exceptionally apolitical.

There was also the total absence of a significant Hispanic character. Slate‘s panel brought this up, as did Tony Lee at the Atlantic, but it’s worth reprising, especially given the demographics of West Texas. Odessa, which Dillon is loosely modeled on, is about 50-percent white and 6-percent black. Hispanics make up more than forty percent of the population, but in the final two seasons of Friday Night Lights account for maybe 10 spoken lines, tops.

We learn the names of three four* Hispanic characters in five seasons: One was thrown off the team for falsely alleging racism; another came from juvie and hung out with a bad crowd; and the third was expelled. A source of serious friction in Odessa circa 1988, Mexican-Americans are practically invisible in 2010. Fictional towns aren’t bound to Census data, but when a show veers so wildly from the reality, it’s worth wondering why.

None of this was to the detriment of FNL‘s brilliance as a television show. Its focus was on relationships—husband-and-wife, parent-sibling, younger brother-older brother, player-and-coach—and it nailed those dynamics better than any show I’ve ever seen. But the argument that the show somehow reconciled liberal sentiments with conservative values needs to acknowledge that it did so only be rewriting the script to ignore some serious divisions.

*Update: I forgot Grandma Saracen’s live-in nurse, Carlotta, who moved back to Guatemala after a brief fling with Matt.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate