Those of you who’ve read my book So Yesterday may remember the following scene in chapter 2. A focus group of cool-hunters has just been shown a new sneaker advertisement, and they all seem to agree that it’s awesome.
That is, until Jen speaks up . . .
“I was kind of bugged by the missing-black-woman formation.”
Mandy blinked. “The what?”
Jen shrugged uncomfortably, feeling the eyes on her.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said, even though I didn’t.
Jen took a slow breath, collecting her thoughts. “You know, the guy on the motorcycle was black. The guy on the bike was white. The woman was white. That’s the usual bunch, you know? Like everybody’s accounted for? Except not really. I call that the missing-black-woman formation. It kind of happens a lot.”
It was quiet for another moment. But gears were spinning. Tina Catalina let out a long sigh of recognition.
“Like the Mod Squad!” she said.
“Yeah,” Hiro chimed in, “or the three main characters in . . . ” He named a certain trilogy of movies about cyber-reality and frozen kung-fu, whose title ends in an X, counts as a brand, and therefore will not grace these pages.
The floodgates broke. More comic books, movies, and TV shows tumbled off everyone’s lips, a dozen stuffed-full pop-cultural memory banks rifled for examples of missing-black-woman formations, until Mandy looked ready to cry.
She smacked the clipboard down.
“Is this something I should have KNOWN ABOUT?” she said sharply, sweeping her eyes around the table.
An unhappy silence fell over the conference room. I felt like an evil genius’s henchman when something goes wrong in a certain series of secret agent filmsâ€”as if Mandy might push a button on the control panel and we would be ejected, chairs and all, out the roof and into some lake in Central Park.
I noticed only yesterday that we’re living through a nation-changing MBW formation right now. (Gloria Steinem may have jogged my brain on this point.) So let’s all take a moment to appreciate the predictive, productive, and representative powers of pop culture.
We have a way of becoming the stories we tell ourselves.
Just to be clear: I’m not mocking what’s going on here in the US. Having a woman and an African-American man as serious contenders for president is momentous. It’s great to see.
Still, I didn’t want to let a missing-black-woman formation as epic as this one pass by unnoticed.
And for you younger folks, here’s the scoop on the late-1960s TV show The Mod Squad.
Update: To comply with Federal Election Commission equal time rules, I am also required to display a picture of the Republican candidates . . .