Final Analysis

3 Jun

The duration of this quarter has exposed me to forms of racism that I hadn’t considered previously.

While it was evident in mainstream media that racial slurs still existed and people were still racist, prejudice and all around unkind to one another– I didn’t realize how subtle the acts of racism in the media could be until I took part in this examination.

Particularly in the second portion of the blog, I was able to take an in depth look at films, television shows and other means of media outlet in order to illustrate a deeper theme among all of these mediums.

Racism doesn’t exist in instances by which it is done purposefully or forcefully– but it occurs in places that are unexpected and perhaps unintentional.

Unlike real life, the racism portrayed in the media isn’t always necessarily meant to harm people intentionally– however it uses cultural stories and histories in order to evoke a feeling from an individual. A prime example of that type of subliminal messaging is seen in the PlayStation ad. While it wasn’t an intentional way of saying one race is better than another– it used ones thoughts and perceptions about race in a historical context in order to evoke a particular understanding when the image was viewed. We also were able to see this in the first section of the blog, when analyzing the casting choices of the film Avatar– and the creation of the relationship between the white audience and the white hero. With the white population being a much larger audience– it’s possible that they considered them as their primary target.

We can assume that a large chunk of modern American media is directed towards the predominately white audience– therefore the content, the assumptions, the illustrations are all written in consideration of their experiences, their perceptions and their likeness.

This type of white targeting is evident in the Volksgwagen “fake” commercial we see. The target audience was clearly not that of a middle eastern man or woman– that audience would have immediately taken offense to the image– but the white man or woman who has the opportunity and the privilege to say whether or not they find it offensive or politically acceptable. It’s fortunate to see how many white men and women were extremely unsupportive of the imagry– it shows how America, while not perfect, has progressed a small amount in their social acceptance of people who are different than themselves.

In a historical context– white America was taught to devalue anyone who was of a different skin tone, race, ethnicity– and this value structure existed in America well into the 50’s. We could assume that as it was something that was enforced by the media by infiltration that the teachings of how to produce media and evoke thoughts may have not changed a great deal since that period of time.

 

Building on stories of culture, identification and representation– we’re able to see that racism is evident in media and culture however we aren’t always able to determine the source, the reason or the cause– on the other hand, we’re able to see that it has been integrated into the way we watch and consume images– thus we can examine it and find out it’s meaning by using a historical lens and cultural studies discourse.

The New Yorker

31 May

The New Yorker Cover: Barack Obama

 

This may be one of the most intentionally racist pieces I have featured here on the blog. While many of the other images we have discussed have been perceived as racist due to historical aspects– this one isn’t beating around the bush. It is intentionally attempting to illustrate a political standpoint of racism, ignorance and anger.

Conservative radicals have attempted to portray Barack Obama as a Al-Qaeda affiliated, anti-American outsider who landed his way into the White House.

The above image shows just that.

Obama is shown in traditional Islamic garb standing in the oval office. He is portrayed as rather large headed, pompous and as though he had pulled the wool over the eyes of America. The New Yorker is attempting to illustrate that with the election of Barack Obama, we have thrown Americanism into the fire, and have nearly surrendered ourselves to Osama bin Laden  who is featured above the fireplace in a portrait in a similar fashion to the displays of previous presidents who had passed.

Furthermore, we’re able to see the illustration of Michelle Obama as a gun toting, vengeful, woman in a position of power. She appears greedy and misplaced.

The New Yorker is blatantly telling voters that this is the American change they voted for and this is the change they should be prepared for.

The issue is that many American people are very uneducated on the facts of Barack Obama’s heritage and what he stands for and could very well accept this illustration as a facet of truth and knowledge rather than satire and bad taste– it is one of the faults of people taking media portrayals very seriously.

Racialicious author Latoya Peterson noticed that the writing and editing staff, who was predominately white, may have had an influence on the fact that this was published:

“I noticed that there were no senior editors of color; the people of color in editorial capacity were already superstar writers before coming to the magazine (Malcolm Gladwell) or they were writing for the entertainment section (Hilton Als, who writes the theater column.) The former PR director, and African American woman, left the position. In other words, there’s no one of color to at least talk Remnick off the ledge of this kind of glib bigotry. (Not saying that having a person of color guarantees a firm commitment to anti-racism efforts. But I hope for a fighting chance.) And whichever white folks pride themselves on being anti-racist or at least race-tolerant at the magazine either didn’t get to Remnick in time or simply chose to shut up and run for cover from the mounting fallout. Or choose to entertain themselves with the anger of people of color.”

So, if there were representatives of color in the editing positions at The New Yorker would we have seen this published? Or would these employees be in a position where they are unable to speak out due to workplace fear and inequality?

White Is Better

31 May

Sony Advertisement for the PSP White

Sony’s advertisement for the Playstation Portable Ceramic White edition came under fire in 2006. Over 100 images were edited and approved for advertising purposes– however, did Sony take a moment to look at the image and see was it was illustrating?

The first thing anyone will notice about this image is the strong, aggressive, dominating white “avatar” of the white PSP; the white model. Her aggression is obviously directed to the avatar of the black PSP; the black model. She is shown clawing, grabbing and exerting her dominance over the black model. She illustrates her superiority by the way she stands, asserts herself and treats the other avatar. It’s obvious that the white women is set to be the center of attention in the way that the background nearly fades out the black woman in the advertisement.

“The marketing campaign for the launch of the White PSP in the Benelux focuses on the contrast between the Black PSP model and the new Ceramic white PSP model. A variety of different treatments have been created as a campaign to either highlight the whiteness of the new model or contrast the black and the white models. Central to this campaign has been the creation of some stunningly photographed imagery…”

While Sony claims to not recognize the allegations and accusations against them– they poorly chose the word imagery to describe the photo shoot used for the advertisement.

The imagery illustrated here is reflective of white supremacy, slavery and overall mistreatment of African American individuals in the past. The image reinforces the notion that white on black aggression is acceptable in order to display dominance.

After several weeks of harsh criticism, Sony pulled the images, however attempted to illustrate that their advertisement was not offensive to the demographic they were aiming towards (Holland natives):

“We recognize that the subject matter of one specific image may have caused concern in some countries not directly affected by the advertising. As a result, we have now withdrawn the campaign.”

In my eyes, Sony would have been better off pulling the images, sending out an apologetic press release and moving on with the release of their device– however, their patronizing response regarding the release attempts to devalue the accusations against them, thus rejecting the seriousness of the situation and the images that were published.

Images surfaced over the internet that mocked what Sony had done– and illustrated the actual imagery that Sony was portraying.

PSP Mockery Ad

Volkswagen Commercial

30 May

The above Volkswagen commercial was banned shortly after its release in 2005– the video features a young Arab man entering a vehicle in London, parking it in front of a busy street full of white individuals with intent to use a suicide bomb to destroy the area, he begins to pray and hits the detonator. However– his plan backfires when the vehicle is “too strong” and the explosion (sound and destruction) is confined to the vehicle and not a single person in the street notices his attempt.

The video plays on the cultural story and fear element of the July 7, 2005 synchronized bombings in London. The first bomb erupting in an Eastbound Circle Line Underground train, the second in a Westbound Circle Line underground train, the third in a Piccadilly Line train only 500 yards from King’s Cross, and lastly, a bomb planted in a double decker bus exploded in Tavistock Square. In total, 56 people were killed and nearly 700 were injured.

July 7, 2005 Bombing

By using a fear element to play on the cultural story that London had experienced in just months prior– they were able to create a shield of ‘protection’ by advertising the Polo in such a way. By purchasing the Polo and driving it, you would be protected from the things outside because of it’s strength and durability. This, while appearing to signify boming attacks may actually be indicated more to car accidents and other typical forms of protection.

We see extremely similar advertising tactics in the 1950’s and 1960’s although in a much more tame environment. Men and women were promised the notion of success or a happy family by purchasing products.

The element of racism is seen in the video by the association between the London bombings, which were attributed to Islamic radicals, and the casting of a middle eastern gentlemen in the film. This type of casting was not done incidentally and was done to create an image of what we assume suicide bombers are like.

Young, Male, Middle Eastern, Religious, Martyrs.

Despite the ban of the commercial, the internet never lets anything die (ask Sarah Palin), and it swarmed around for years to come still being cited as one of the most racist advertisements in history.

___________________________________________________

However… there’s a TWIST! Shortly after the videos release (and Volkswagen losing their brain) it was revealed that the video was simply a “hoax” by two independent film makers: Lee and Dan.

Dan, from Lee and Dan stated that the video leaked inadvertantly:

“The ad got out accidentally and has spread like wildfire. It wasn’t meant for public consumption. We think the spot reflects what people see in the news everyday, and in this instance the car is the hero that protects innocent people from someone with very bad intentions. We’re sorry if the ad has caused any offence.”

Jar Jar Binks

18 May

George Lucas' character Jar Jar Binks

Star Wars is the largest transmedia property in the world; a rich enterprise of story, creativity, and undeniable entertainment wrapped in movies, video games, books, tv shows and lifestyles.  Star Wars defined a generation and inspired millions of people to push the bounds of modern film-making; their influence on world citizens is simply endless.

This very influence was questioned during the introduction of the character Jar Jar Binks in the Episode I: Phantom Menace film. Jar Jar Binks is a clumsy, banished,  loud, annoying, Caribbean accented Gungan from Naboo.

While LucasArts strongly asserts that Jar Jar Binks was introduced for Comic Relief– many film analysts attribute the character and his actions to a modern day minstrelsy in a sense that it is capitalisizing on the stereotypical assumptions of black individuals by representing them as lazy, clumsy, uneducated and that any success is accidental and can be attributed to someone else.

Jar Jar Binks often doesn’t annunciate his words or pronounce things correctly, he’s often found doing favors and work for Qui-Gon and it appears that he admires him as a master or an owner. In the film, he actually surrenders himself to Qui-Gon as a servant.

The relationship exploits the racial ideals that were once held in America during the time of slavery.

While we are supposed to see Jar Jar Binks as a nationless individual in context of America, his portrayal in the film is representative of a particular race far more than we are able to examine with other aliens or droids.

Who Knew The Prince of Persia Was British!?

15 May

Prince of Persia

Actually, he’s American, with a poor British accent.

The film, while having absolutely no historical context or accuracy, was entertaining to say the least; another Jerry Bruckheimer Disney blockbuster (see Pirates of the Caribbean if you are having a blank brain moment on this one).

Starring American Jake Gyllenhaal and British Gemma Arterton, the film is based on the popular Broaderbund software video game of the same title. The story doesn’t attempt to have any historical references, but features a Persian setting.

STORYLINE:

Dastan (Gyllenhaal) is a young orphan adopted by the King of Persia; to great surprise he is treated like an equal his entire life. Dastan’s brothers and uncle attempt to overthrow the sacred city of Alamut because they are suspected of selling weapons to Persian enemies. During the fight, Dastan finds an ancient dagger and brings it back to Persia. The young princess of Alamut, Tamina, is taken and notices the dagger in Dastan’s possession– she agrees to marry Dastan’s brother Tus– however her real motive is to get the dagger back.

It is suggested that Tamina should marry Dastan rather than Tus. Dastan is provided with a robe to present to his father however he did not know that it was poisioned. Everyone assumes that Dastan posioned the robe to kill his adopted father and he flees the kingdom– Tamina, still interested in the dagger as it is from her sacred land that she is sworn to protect, decides to follow.

It is later revealed that the dagger is a sacred and enchanted instrument that has the ability to control time when used with a special sand. Dastan sees this as an opportunity to go back and save his father. Dastan later finds out that it is not his brother Tus (who he assumed) that was responsible for the murder, but his Uncle Nizam.  Nizam wants the dagger to ensure that his brother was not saved as a young boy– therefore allowing Nizam to be King and he had fabricated the entire accusation of Alamut selling weapons as an excuse to find the dagger.

After a long journey and the inevitable romance between the two protagonists, time is coincidentally reversed to the point where Dastan first receives the dagger, after the invasion and before the murder. He stops the siege on the Alamut and apologizes to Tamina for their invasion, thus re-sparking the romance, he exposes his uncle’s plans to overthrow the King and returns the dagger to Tamina and marries her.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Disney provides us with the same interesting formula we faced with Avatar: The Last Airbender— we see two very white and attractive main characters and a villain that is played by Sir Ben Kingsley, who was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji.

Sir Ben Kinglsey

Sir Ben Kingsley was born to a Gujarati Indian man who was born in Kenya and an Eastern European Jewish woman. While still having fair skin, it is obvious that Sir Ben Kingsley is not of traditional European “white skin”. Is it possible that we’re running into the same villianizing factor of non-white individuals as we saw with Avatar: The Last Airbender?

However, an equally pressing issue is the assignment of British accents to Persian characters; it’s as though we’re attempting to represent all nations as that are not American as foreign by assigning them British accents– rather than of their own culture or nationality. Foreignness in this way has become something that is represented by accent rather than culture or language. Rather than having English speaking actors speak English with learned Persian accents or having Iranian (this is now Persia) actors speak English– we’re assigning something that is entirely unrelated to Persia to represent that culture.

Are media producers attempting to illustrate something to children who watch these type of Disney movies? Are we attempting to say something about who the heroes are in our stories? This vastly reminds me of the film we watched in class that focused on how Disney represents people of color in particular lights. This is reflective of how these types of believe systems are formed– especially by young audiences.

We’re forced to wonder why the actors simply didn’t speak in their own accent or dialect of English– but rather had the main character, Jake Gyllenhaal, attempt a British accent in his portrayal of the Persian Prince.

* Interesting note: England nor Great Britian has never occupied Persia. Persia was occupied by many Greek states (Athens, Sparta, etc.) in 490 B.C. and later in the 480 B.C. by others (Macedonia, Thessaly, etc.) . In 92 B.C. Persia (occupied by Greece) was invaded by the Romans. *

Slanging Drugs and Joining Gangs

11 May

Television and movies both portray young African American and Latino men in a similar light; they are typically troubled, from a bad neighborhood, using or dealing drugs and participating in gang related activity.

It’s a formula that is often used in Law & Order, CSI, and movies as well.

These representations provide viewers with a fallacy and stereotype about their fellow community members. People assume because they are seen this way in film, that there must be a truthful source that this information comes from and they let this information support the influences of their own personal cultural story. They draw assumptions that these people exist in their neighborhoods or their cities and that they are partaking in the same illegal activities; therefore they should be feared. They become targets. These types of myths become embedded in the memory of individuals and can result in unfair treatment of young African American and Latino men.

I believe that these type of cultural misunderstandings are taken beyond the community and into the structure and are acted upon by members of the legal system. According to the Seattle Times, African American drug dealers are more likely to be arrested than whites.  Research from Professor Katherine Beckett from the University of Washington states that nearly two thirds of prisoners arrested on drug related charges were black– only 19% percent of those prisoners were white; furthermore Beckett goes on to explain that there is evidence that leads people to believe that white individuals deal just as many drugs as black individuals.  Seeing this evidence, we’re forced to question what makes this happen? Is it a result from profiling? Is it embedded in racism from America’s history? Or is it the reinforcing images we see in the media that illustrate these fallacies?

Rene Martin of Womanis Musings examines this very concept in her article Law and Order: The Invisible Black Victim:

“How many times do we have to see the black man as rapist, drug dealer, or all around criminal low life on Law and Order?  How many times is the black woman either not mentioned, or portrayed as a prostitute, uneducated, working poor, or single mother? “

Martin believes that these intentional representations and lack thereof are reinforcing the socially constructed “body of colour” that makes people assume these stereotypes are true.

How does this affect children?

A rather dated article from 1997 in El Futuro titled “Who’s On the Air? Latino Representations in the Media” examines how this is not an issue for only African American members of the community, but other non-white members as well. The article examines how research has surfaced regarding children’s perception of race after long term exposure to media. This observational study showed how children were able to draw the relationship between white and Latino portrayal simply by the positions they hold as characters.

“Many children also noted that non-Latino white characters play most of the professional roles, such as doctors, secretaries, managers and police officers, while ethnic minorities are often shown as busboys, gardeners and criminals. Given this observation, it isn’t surprising that they tended to associate positive characteristics such as wealth, education and high academic achievement with white characters on television, and negative characteristics such as criminal behavior, laziness, apathy, and low socioeconomic status with characters of color.”

This begs the question of whether or not children grow up to find their success or their demise by way of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Do children learn things about themselves through their cultural representation through media? Or is it the nurture factor that creates an environment that shapes them a certain way?

The questions that are posed have a great deal of research behind them– however, long term and intensive observational studies are really necessary in order to create any strong pieces of evidence that can show direct correlation between these events. We can however draw inferences from the evidence we have and the representations we see.