Representations of Black Gay Men on American Television

I don’t wholly agree with this researcher’s argument that the gay male characters in The Wire and The Shield challenge stereotypes of gay Black men. Yes, as Lewis notes, these men are represented as being “hyper masculine”, which is the opposite of mainstream portrayals of gay men as “effeminate”. At the same time, these characters problematically play into other stereotypes of Black men as violent drug criminals, or as being “on the down low” (not publicly identifying as homosexual). Lewis includes some interesting clips from Noah’s Arc, essentially arguing that some presentations of gay black men is better than none, as they encourage Black communities to discuss and move past their fear of gay masculinity. This “micro lecture” is worth watching and debating.

Bottle Episode

I learned the phrase ‘bottle episode’ from Abed in Community, the episode Cooperative Calligraphy. He says: ‘I hate bottle episodes. They’re wall-to-wall facial expressions and emotional nuance. I might as well sit in the corner with a bucket on my head’. TV Tropes explains that when tv shows have used up all their budget on other major episodes, they contrive a situation where the main characters are kept in a single location to keep costs down.

In the case of this community episode, Annie believes someone stole her pen and she keeps the study group locked together while she questions everyone incessantly, as tensions and hilarity rise. Abed delivers this sweet reprieve:

If I could just take this time to share a few words of sarcasm with whoever took this pen. I want to say thank you for doing this to me. For awhile I thought I would have to suffer through a puppy parade but I much prefer being entombed alive in a mausoleum of feelings that I can neither understand nor reciprocate.

Noble Savages and Magical Pixie Conquests: Colonial Fantasies in Film

Via Wiki: Detail from Benjamin West’s The Death of General Wolfe (1771). This painting is an example of an idealised vision of the “noble savage” in North American art.

By Zuleyka Zevallos

I wanted to do a follow up on my post from a couple of months a go, on Hollywood racism. I analysed George Lucas’ claim that big Hollywood studios were reticent to back his film Red Tails because there were no white leading actors in the script. I used the idea of the Magical Negro Trope to explain how mainstream Hollywood films stereotype African-Americans as either thugs or benevolent, self-sacrificing figures who exist only to teach the white character a life-affirming lesson. I showed that this trope extends to other minorities who are people of colour, through the Noble Savage Trope. Today I want to focus on the sexualisation of Noble Savage trope. The Noble Savage is a term describing the over-simplified stereotype of Indigenous people on film. I will focus on gender and sexuality issues in big-budget Hollywood films depicting Indigenous and minority cultures during early colonial and “frontier” times.

Today I will draw a comparison between Avatar and other Hollywood films that depict Indigenous and minority women as savage conquests. Women in general are rarely cast in complex roles in big-budget Hollywood releases. They are usually romantic or sexual diversions to help portray the male lead in a sympathetic light. Minority women are even more simplified, especially in stories involving Indigenous cultures. Indigenous and women of colour exist largely as Magical Pixie Conquests:  they are painted as feisty, though ultimately submissive, pawns that help white male characters to dominate the “native tribe”. The fictionalised version of the “Pocahontas” story epitomises how Hollywood both fetishes Indigenous cultures and perpetuates patronising postcolonial fantasies.

Noble savages and magical pixie conquests

Continue reading Noble Savages and Magical Pixie Conquests: Colonial Fantasies in Film

Street Art and Distinction in Kabul, Afghanistan

By Zuleyka Zevallos

In the photograph below, street artist Shamsia Hassan is featured in front of one her graffiti creations in an industrial park in Kabul, Afghanistan. Hassan was featured today in The Guardian, where she argues that many people in Afghanistan have not been exposed to (non-religious) art, but she sees that graffiti is a way to change that. She says: “If we can do graffiti all over the city, there will be nobody who doesn’t know about art”. To many people in “Western” countries, Shassan’s comments might seem to be consistent with the dominant view that Afghan people exist in a “backward” social vacuum. From the outside, Afghans are perceived to live in a society untouched by modernity and completely ravaged by war. This view fails to recognise the history of Afghanistan, as well as the cultural and educational diversity amongst urban and rural groups from different tribes in different regions. Moreover, I see that Hassan’s comments about street art go to the heart of much of Bourdieu’s work on taste and distinction.

 

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Hollywood Racism: The Magical Negro Trope

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Adam Serwer reports in Mother Jones that George Lucas’ latest film, Red Tails had trouble getting made, partly because the “studios weren’t willing to finance a film without a White protagonist as an anchor”.  Lucas’ claim can be put into wider historical context by examining the entrenched racist practices of big Hollywood studios. In particular, the idea of the “magical negro trope” puts things into perspective. This term refers to the way valiant Black characters in movies exist only as a narrative device to teach the White protagonist how to be a better person. I also delve into other variations of the “magical negro” and the gendered dimensions of these characters. Hollywood studios bemoan that paying audiences have stopped going to the cinemas. Is it any wonder, when big productions treat us all as if we’re stuck in some arcane mono-cultural bubble?

Hollywood Racism: The Magical Negro Trope
Hollywood Racism: The Magical Negro Trope

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Sociology of Animation: Bugs Bunny

image

Continuing with my exploration of the Sociology of Animation, I focus on one of the world’s most famous animated rabbits: Bugs Bunny.

Sociologists have noted that the legacy of Bugs Bunny is twofold. On the one hand, like aspects of the Mickey Mouse/Disney franchise that has been infamously linked to war propaganda of its time, some Bugs Bunny cartoons produced at the height of World War II in the mid-1940s can now be read as racist. Some of these cartoons produced negative and offensive stereotypes of Japanese people, as Sociological Images has pointed out.

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Images of Otherness and ‘Unintentional Racism’ in New Florence + The Machine Video

Image of 'voodoo doll' and painted black hands in Florence + the Machine video. Via Jezebel
Image of ‘voodoo doll’ in Florence + the Machine video. Via Jezebel

Florence + the Machine’s (F+TM) new video, No Light, No Light (below), has stirred up quite a lot of controversy even though it was only released a couple of days a go. In the video’s narrative, Florence Welch is distressed as she is pursued by a man painted in black, who is half-naked (wearing only ripped up shorts) and who looks to be practising ‘voodoo magic’. Her assailant is wearing an ‘African-looking’ mask and sticking pins in dolls. He causes Welch to squirm in agony and to run for shelter. Welch is ‘saved’ by a choir of White children (whose faces are not painted) in what looks like a Christian church. In this post, I consider the video’s narrative with respect to the history of ‘blackface’, racist depictions of ‘otherness’ and African religions, and the notion of ‘unintentional racism’ in popular culture. I am specifically interested in the public discussions about the video, which are currently centred on what constitutes racism.

Continue reading Images of Otherness and ‘Unintentional Racism’ in New Florence + The Machine Video

Sociology of Jay-Z: Implications of Studying Celebrities

Mike Barry via Flickr.

I feel ambivalent about this: an American sociology course on rap maverick Jay-Z is being offered at Georgetown University. This story has received a lot of press over the past few weeks. I believe this story was first reported on MTV in the USA. Michael Eric Dyson, the course creator, reports that the course has attracted four times the size of an average Georgetown course (with 140 students). I first saw this story on Ology, but it’s also been picked up by The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, The L.A. Times and on many other sites. In this post, I consider the applied sociological implications of studying courses on celebrities. I place this in broader context of the ongoing problem that sociology has in preparing graduates for workplaces outside academia.

As a sociologist who is interested in promoting the study and break-down of otherness, I can only applaud Dyson’s premise that rap, hip hop and African American culture deserve greater legitimacy by mainstream culture. He tells MTV:

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Satire of Media Reporting

Rules of Crime Reporting - The Other SociologistThe first episode of The Hamster Wheel by The Chaser team aired on ABC1 last Wednesday. It offered a thoroughly amusing and scathing analysis of media reporting. There were so many golden moments of media and political satire. The show got me thinking about the reality of crime versus the way crime victims are represented by the media, as well as political journalism and ‘non-news’ (tabloid gossip dressed up as news).

My favourite segment on the Hamster Wheel was their send-up of journalism practices during tv reports on crimes. This included a pithy summary of the horrible ways in which some journalists harass victims and their families – a.k.a. the ‘four rules of crime reporting’:

  1. Stand outside grieving victim’s houses;
  2. Talk to a reluctant neighbour;
  3. Film the Victim’s Roof; and
  4. Keep People Calm (by drumming up misleading crime statistics). (See the video 24m:21s.)

I particularly enjoyed this segment on the Hamster Wheel because these familiar journalism clichés are morally dubious and they have always annoyed me. Mass media representations of crime are studied by sociologists and cultural criminologists.  The quality and content of media reporting on crimes varies across different media sources. Nevertheless, studies consistently find that television networks play a negative role in misinforming the public about the factual rate of crime. This is the case in the USA, Britain, Australia, Trinidad and in many other mainstream television news services around the world.

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