MS 190: Authorship is the course website for the Fall 2006 Media Studies senior seminar at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
I'm writing my final paper for my Race Theory in Media course on racial and gender representations in contemporary mainstream television, with a focus on Grey's Anatomy. Since I know it's a popular show, it's interesting for me to hear people's opinions about the representations. So, if you love the interracial relationship between Burke and Cristina or are intrigued by the fact that the show has women in power, I'd love to hear input.
The show is particularly intriguing in how it interconnects all of the elements of race, class, gender, and sexuality and while it is praised for all of these various representations, the program upholds many ideologies that have negative affects on various groups. The show appeals to a large variety of people because it presents an assortment of races and genders in significant roles. Grey's Anatomy successfully integrates genders and races into a mainstream, popular show. However, it is interesting that despite the vast representations, the cast's gender and racial differences are not a central focus. This is acceptable because the characters and the relationships attract audiences and their races are incidental. The cast's race is not directly addressed and it is embraced by many people who can relate to the various cast members.
I just discovered the "I Am African" campaign website, which features images of celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Richard Gere, Elizabeth Hurley, and Elijah Wood in tribal makeup. Sure, it's for a good cause (i.e. raising money for AIDS victims)... but as neurotica said in response to my post about Regina Spektor's video for "On the Radio," it's the impact and not the intention that really counts.
The impact here, in my opinion, is the exotification of African culture. The face paint creates a false image of Africans as primitive. My friend who spent the last two summers in Africa says she has never once seen anyone there in tribal makeup. To make matters worse, it's not even an "authentic" representation, since Iman has said that it's something along the lines of a "modern reinterpretation of the African aesthetic" (okay, she didn't exactly phrase it that way, but that's the jist of it). I'm also struck by how "sexed up" the images of women are. Whereas David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, Alan Cumming, Richard Gere, and Elijah Wood have shirts on, all of the women are completely naked, except for the occasional necklace or headdress. They also wear tons of makeup, and their hair has that studio-produced windblown look to it. They seem like sex symbols to such a degree that the humanitarian message gets completely lost. The pictures comprise most of the advertisement, and the phrase "I AM AFRICAN" appears in large text at the bottom, but the actual message of the campaign is in such tiny print that it would probably not even catch someone's eye as they flip through a magazine. In short, pretty much everything about this campaign seems flawed to me. Our common humanity is a positive message, but it just doesn't come through when it's depicted through such naive and offensive imagery.
Lately I've been loving Regina Spektor's songs and music videos (I recommend "Fidelity," "Samson," "Us," and "On the Radio" for starters), but I noticed some controversy on YouTube surrounding her work, and I thought it might be worth mentioning here.
As you'll see if you click on the link, the video shows Regina as a teacher in an elementary school music classroom. Sounds innocent enough, right? But if you dig through the 90+ comments that have been left on the page, you'll see that lots of people aren't too happy with the fact that Regina is white and all the schoolchildren are black. Some people called it "colonialist," implying that Regina sees herself as the "white woman who takes it upon herself to educate the black children." One person left the comment, "Sooooooo racist." Other people say that there should have been children of ALL races in the video (even though that strikes me as a little too "It's a Small World After All"... if that phrase can be used as an adjective... oh well, you get what I mean). I have to admit that it did strike me as a little odd at first, but I figured that Regina seems a little too sensitive and poetic to be a crazy colonialist. I really doubt that she intended for the video to cause any kind of controversy. Nevertheless, people have read it as problematic, which says a lot about how race is perceived in popular media.
So I was on afropunk.com doing research for my thesis (I have now written 4 pages of the thing! Yes!!) when I came across this crazy story. Apparently, there's been a lot of speculation about racial profiling taking place in CVS drugstore chains. The rumor is that in some CVS stores Black hair products are fitted with anti-theft devices while all other hair care products (regardless of price) are not. So, I did a little internet search to try and find out if this rumor is true. According to snopes.com, a website devoted to determining the validity of urban legends and the ABC Channel 5 Eyewitness News Team (lol, such a long name), it is.
Like my previous blog, this one was also sparked by my Digital Art class (yay for class overlap!). We had a visiting artist last week who did a lecture about his work, which includes elements from LARPs (Live Action Roleplaying, like we talked about with "First Person"). Although this presentation was astoundingly boring, he did talk about how LARPs are evolving beyond the fantasy/sci-fi genre. He briefly touched on Colonial Williamsburg, which intrigued me because it seemed like a very problematic premise, like living out a colonial fantasy. I went to their website to find out more, and it turns out it's a lot more complicated than that.
Not to be predictable, but Melting Pot wasn't really my favorite movie. It did make me uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong, I do believe there is great value in being disturbed. I just sometimes wonder how effective things like that are. I mean I feel like I'm pretty sensitive to racial stuff and pretty aware of white hegemonies and stuff like that. In my case he's kinda preaching to the choir, and making me uncomfortable in the process, so not so effective on that level. And then what about the people who aren't already in the proverbial choir? How likely are they to watch a film called Melting Pot or RACE? I'm just not sure what the goal of that film was.
So tonight I went to see Borat (which I will probably make a whole separate post about) and I saw an interesting preview before the feature presentation. The trailer was for Mel Gibson's new movie "Apocalypto," which comes out in December. After being confused by the trailer I went online when I got home to see what the movie was all about. So basically, it's about the decline of the Maya civilization. The trailer starts with a quote that's something like "A civilization can't destroyed from without until it's weakened from within". I thought that was a little odd, and seemed to be downplaying the effects of colonialism.
I was doing research for my thesis, reading the forums on Afropunk.com when I came across an interesting thread that had a connection to our readings on videogames this week. People were talking about an article about racism in videogames, and specifically the Grand Theft Auto series. While most people agreed with the article (which condemned games like these for perpetuating racist stereotypes), a couple of poster were avid players of the game and felt that since there were stereotypes or everyone in the game, that made it okay.
Personally, I find the games very problematic, in particular "San Andreas", which is the one I've seen the most/heard the most about. If games are a form of cyberdrama and powerful new storytelling tool, it seems that when it comes to representations of people of color in mainstream media, the form may have changed but it's the same old story. I wonder who the intended audience for these games are. What does it mean for a white surburban kid to play as a black inner-city gangbanger? It will be interesting to see how larger systems of domination continue to affect (and limit) what kinds of stories games will tell.