Post Racialism, Romance, and The Real World D.C.

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2013-04-03 16:55Z by Steven

Post Racialism, Romance, and The Real World D.C.

Volume 11, Issue 13 (2010-05-07)

Jon Kraszewski, Assistant Professor of Communication
Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersery

MTV recently finished airing The Real World, DC, the twenty-third season of this long-running reality series. This past season, Ty, an African American from Baltimore, and Emily, a white roommate from Columbia, Missouri, became the series first interracial heterosexual couple. The Real World previously captured a few interracial one-night stands between roommates and people outside the house, and season three occasionally portrayed the courtship and engagement of Pedro Zamora and Sean Sasser, an interracial gay couple, although Sean was not part of the cast. The relationship between Emily and Ty is unique because both were members of the cast and had an ongoing relationship.
The romance, which is part of a larger post-racial project on The Real World where race no longer matters in an integrated world, is representative of a third era of race relations on the series. During the Clinton presidency, The Real World focused on defining country conservative roommates as racists and then on the urban African Americans who teach these country hicks the errors of their ways, in the process transforming the rural roommates into hip, urban liberals free of any racism and in line with MTV’s then liberal brand. In the early 2000s, The Real World turned its attention to multiracial roommates with one black and one white parent. Here MTV transitioned out of its liberal brand and courted viewers across the political spectrum, a move the channel had to make to stay relevant after the election of George W. Bush and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Real World tapped into the liberal beliefs (i.e., multiracialism could help dismantle America’s racist past) and conservative notions (i.e., multiracialism was a neoliberal project of racial self-management in opposition to African American civil rights initiatives) present in multiracial activism at the time to win over viewers of various political backgrounds. Since the election of President Barack Obama, The Real World has presented race as inconsequential, as an afterthought in an integrated world. In the 2009 season set in Cancun, the roommates were multiracial, black, white, and Latina. Aside from the roommates identifying their races in the premiere, they never mentioned race again…

…As it defines Ty and Emily as atheist hipsters and dedicated athletes, The Real World provides troubling assumptions about blackness by positioning Ty as a threat to whiteness. Here race matters, even though the post racialism in the series claims it does not…

…It is hard not to see the post-racial world on the DC season as a nostalgic fantasy of blackness’ threat to a white America, especially since the season is set in America’s capital. Although race doesn’t matter in the way the series initially portrays the romance of Ty and Emily, race becomes important as Ty becomes a threat to Emily, the other roommates (especially white women), and white moms…

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Shades Of Grey: Interracial Couples On TV

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2013-04-02 03:01Z by Steven

Shades Of Grey: Interracial Couples On TV

Volume 15, Issue 4 (2011-12-05)

Erica Chito-Childs, Associate Professor of Sociology
Hunter College, City University of New York

Showing interracial couples on television is not necessarily something new. In 1968, Star Trek aired what is widely regarded as the first black-white interracial kiss on television between William Shatner’s character, Captain Kirk, a white man and a black woman, Lt. Uhura, when the two were forced to kiss against their will by a galactic enemy.

Now, over thirty years later, media reports play up the idea that the numbers of interracial couples, both on-screen and off, are skyrocketing, and push the idea that these unions are so common that interracial relationships barely raise an eyebrow. Yet according to 2010 Census data, only eight percent of all marriages are interracial. While real-life interracial marriage remains low, interracial couples may be cropping up more frequently on television. Do the growing numbers of interracial couples on television signify increased racial acceptance and color-blindness or do these depictions overwhelmingly reproduce long-standing societal notions about the deviant nature of interracial sex and the location of these relationships in the margins of society?

Looking at the contemporary representations on television, interracial relationships are most often found as temporary relationships (lasting just a few episodes), in side-storylines or otherwise marginalized. These relationships are almost exclusively depicted as comical misadventures, introduced as part of a criminal case, used as symbolic of the different worlds that are being portrayed, or play on perceptions of difference, highlighting that racially matched characters are the norm.

Even among newer shows that are heralded for their diverse casts or cutting-edge approach, interracial representations are arguably problematic. There may be a trend to present interracial couples without mentioning race but that does not mean that these representations do not carry familiar racial messages. Still a number of television show producers maintain that they have adopted a colorblind strategy, which they argue transcends race. For example, on New Adventures of Old Christine, Christine is a divorced white woman who becomes interested in a black teacher at her daughter’s private school

…The question remains, if interracial coupes are portrayed in these problematic ways, then why do television shows feature interracial relationships at all? I argue that by showing interracial relationships yet parodying or fetishizing them at the same time, the shows can maximize their audience without alienating others. Difference sells, yet the presentation must be constantly adjusted to fit the contemporary discourses on race. Using interracial sex to push boundaries is widely recognized. Dana Wade, the president of advertising agency, Spike DDB, discussed this idea with television ads, arguing “certain brands might use interracial couples to convey a hip image” adding that “the whole personae of the brand is kind of risky, or on the edge.” Ironically these “hip” and “cutting-edge” depictions are actually just barely repackaged stereotypes…

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What’s at stake in claims of “post-racial” media?

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-06-09 06:45Z by Steven

What’s at stake in claims of “post-racial” media?

Department of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of Texas at Austin

Mary C. Beltrán, Associate Professor of Media Studies
University of Texas, Austin

Tracy Morgan, comedic actor best known for his role as comedic performer Tracy Jordan on the NBC series 30 Rock (2006+), trumpeted America’s supposed post-racial identity at the Golden Globe Awards in January 2009. When 30 Rock was awarded Best Musical or Comedy Television Series, he gleefully snatched the statuette from Tina Fey, creator and star of the series, quipping, “Tina Fey and I had an agreement that if Barack Obama won, I would speak for the show from now on.” He continued, “Welcome to post-racial America! I am the face of post-racial America. Deal with it, Cate Blanchett! We’d like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press … especially me, ’cause a black man can’t get no love at the Emmys. I love you, Europe! That’s what’s up!”…

…Unsurprisingly, when used in description of media trends, post-racial has taken on differing meanings both for scholars and media professionals. For one, it’s been used as shorthand to describe purported progress in ethnic/racial inclusion in employment and casting, as appears to be at least part of what Morgan had in mind in his claim that he is the face of post-racial America. In fact, a fair number of television series and films now integrate a few characters of color into their casts (notably, this was described recently by the Hollywood Reporter as perhaps due in part to an “Obama effect”), and we’ve witnessed a growing number of non-white and mixed race stars. Important to note and study, a major catalyst of these shifts is a turn away from niche productions targeting African American or Latina/o audiences to media texts that aim instead to appeal to a broad, multicultural audience. Arguably this does not make these texts post-racial (Dale Hudson’s concept of “multicultural whiteness” comes closer to describing this trend in relation to the continuing centrism of whiteness), but does raise the need for new methodological tools and theoretical frameworks for studying ethnic and racial representation in this supposed post-racial era. Also important to take into consideration is the continuing and sometimes growing underrepresentation of creative professionals of color behind the screen in tandem with “post-racial” shifts.

There is a need in such study to also take note of the casting and portrayal of mixed-race actors and individuals in Hollywood media productions. I’ve noted in my own work that the rhetoric of post-race has followed in the wake of the rising vogue for mixed-race and racially ambiguous actors and models since the 1990s. The “raceless” or “ethnically ambiguous” aesthetic (as I and journalist Ruth La Ferla described this trend, respectively), particularly noticeable in contemporary tween programming and stardom, is an important strand of contemporary media formations that at times falls into descriptions of post-racial trends. Given that mixed-race representation does offer the potential to highlight the constructed nature of race and fissures in racial boundaries, as Camilla Fojas and I discuss in the introduction to Mixed Race Hollywood, this will be an important site of study in relation to the implications of contemporary trends in ethnic and racial representation…

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