Why Pete White & The Venture Bros.’s Albino Representation Matters

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To Pete White: A Letter of Appreciation

At first, I wasn’t even sure if I liked The Venture Bros. or was just stricken by the trainwreck of main characters (minus the cool machismo of Brock Samson) but the show ultimately taught me how to love myself a little more. Long before the second season told me that everyone was free to feel good, I knew I had a connection to this wild franchise, which is now getting its own movie. One Venture Bros. character, in particular, opened me to more personal reflections and a deeper analysis of the show.

Pete White is an important side character in Venture Bros., a brilliant computer scientist with his own swagger and wit that demands attention over his obvious lack of melanin. But what is the most important aspect to me, he’s an albino. In fictional worlds, characters with this mutation are often saddled with villainous roles, so it’s refreshing to see someone with my condition that exists outside that trope. To be fair, he does have a small cocaine problem (because of course someone with albinism and the last name White would put white powder up his nose), is a bit callous, ungrateful, passive-aggressive, and as the show describes, a “star fucker,” but who doesn’t have flaws? Thankfully, people like Shore Leave and, yes, even Sergeant Hatred put him in his place from time to time, but I otherwise view him as a role model in many ways.

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White and I have a lot in common, aside from our shared love for video games, specifically the Grand Theft Auto series. Like him, I’ve been in a situation where I was speaking to a friend about why a certain girl wouldn’t notice me and received the response, “She’s hot and you’re an albino.” All of my branding either incorporates my last name or references me being an albino, my original blog, Into the Pale Wilds, referencing both. White, whose college radio show was called “The White Room,” does the same thing. I’m not sure where the marketing aspect ends and the cry for identifying begins, but I think both of us saw some bleed over.

It’s easy to write Pete White off as a joke, especially for those who have only seen a few episodes. He shines through in small moments, but I also died laughing the first time I heard White explain to the rest of the characters why a fun day in the sun just wasn’t possible for him: “Do I have to spell it out for you people? I am an albino. This isn’t a fashion choice. My body literally hates the sun on, like, a molecular level.” I knew from that one quip that I had found a new line to respond with and that the character understood me. One of the first quotes we hear from him is, “Us freaks have to stick together,” which is strangely touching and a nod to the outsider culture so prevalent in the darkly comic adventure genre.

Venture Bros. likes to flex its dark humor, bathe in its vulgarity, and push a few buttons on the way down the drain, so it’s no surprise that it treats a character with albinism as a joke, trotting out the genetic mutation for a laugh. This was reserved at times, allowing Pete autonomy alongside his traits being part of the story. His sensitivity to the sun was overdone, but seeing him with shades and an umbrella planted him in my reality. It was representation in the oddest form.

White is known as The Pink Phantom, a reference to his complexion and something I’m incredibly familiar with. I don’t mind being called white or pale, but at a younger age, pink was just a step too far and it is a visible trait I’ve fought against my entire life. A longtime friend once endearingly tried to call me “Pinky,” as those close to us tend to test out, but I hated the name and was thankful when they got the hint. White embraced the pink, though, and wore it as a moniker, something I’m not sure I could do even now. In one facet I see his comfort with calling himself things like The Pink Pilgrim as exceeding me in his comfort with the condition, but I’m also reminded that simply because we both have albinism, we don’t share the same experiences with it.

At times, I feel a juxtaposition between our relatable experiences (being called “pale face” or Casper) and a less familiar hero science life and albino code that he clearly knows more about than me. I’m also jealous of any person in my mutated position with a better fashion sense—which my best friend says is all of them—especially those albinos who have learned how to wear other colors than black. Pete carries his dressed-up, new wave, club look with a natural swagger.

I attended Dragon Con in 2012 with some friends and sat in on a Venture Bros. panel featuring the show’s creators, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick. It was hilarious, even with all of the smoke breaks (a running gag for their presentation). We were a few minutes late to the large conference room, so our seats were further back. During the Q&A portion, I decided to ask a question. My friend used his cellphone to get the attention of the man running around with the microphone. When it was my turn to speak, I didn’t ask about the upcoming special, the new season, or the rumored troubles with Adult Swim like I normally would. I wanted the creators to address something notable from my last re-watch of the show: their treatment of Pete White.

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I began by thanking them for including the character in the show, happy to see an albino in a good role, and they appeared to embrace the questions in our back and forth, realizing I also had albinism. When I referred to their brand of jokes and asked how they were going to, “answer for their crimes against albinism,” they seemed nervous and unsure of how to react. They made typical jokes about pink eyes and cooking in the sun, but as they went on it was clear they knew more about the condition and had done some research. They were sincere in sharing how much they enjoyed writing White and Billy, with Hammer discussing their relationship and what it meant to him, while Publick compared the character to his father (he claims on the DVD commentary that White’s voice was based on his dad). This part of the panel ended with them hinting that there would be more albino humor coming in the next season.

Fans were then introduced to a villainous albino ninja, and with a new character came a fresh round of jokes based on albinism. In a way, it wasn’t what I wanted, but I was also happy to see more of White and have those characters on screen, even as a joke at the expense of my condition. Having that moment with the creators and understanding where they were coming from with the humor strengthened my connection to the show. Even if it isn’t always a one-for-one representation, seeing it in some form still matters. I don’t necessarily want to be more like White—unless we can work this fashion thing out—but the new movie gives me a chance to check in on an old friend I’ve known for almost eighteen years, someone I feel a genetic connection to, and that will mean a lot.