Monday, December 7, 2009

my take on The Blind Side

I'll be honest - I had a ton of preconceived notions before I went to see The Blind Side last week. On the car ride there I was telling my mom exactly what to expect regarding race representation (in retrospect I feel kind of bad about that because I think she just wanted to go see a heart-felt movie. oops). And as I sat down in the movie theater I was a total media & society student - ready to pick apart every single aspect of the film and how it related to race representation. I would say that I was in a pretty cynical mood...definitely feeling very "politically correct," and totally priding myself in that.

But then, pretty much from the moment the movie started, I felt my heart begin to soften. Okay, maybe I didn't completely fall for the "tear-jerking, win over your cold heart" aim of the film (or, maybe I did!), but I definitely gave up on my cynicism and (overly) political correctness. I realized that whatever the race representation in this film may be, I refuse to be that person I hate...the person that picks apart every single aspect of what *might* be racism or sexism or ideological etc. etc. Ugh. I never want to be like that, in the same way that I don't ever want to be on the other end of the spectrum as a naive spectator of media effects and race representations.

So before I even get into what I thought about the film, I learned something really important about myself. I never want to be an angry, pessimistic, "set in my ways" person when it comes to the media, politics, race, ideology...none of that. Maybe I am being that naive spectator in saying this - but I'd rather be optomistic and hopeful that humanity and even the media is taking steps forward with all of those things I just mentioned. And simply the act of going to see this film helped me to realize that.

OKAY, onto the film. Honestly, I really liked it. I stopped myself from picking apart each scene and just tried to enjoy the movie as a whole. Yes - of course there were race representations present. There is really no denying that. But given the story about a young, homeless black man from the inner city moving in with a rich, white family a) there was really no way around these representations taking place and b) I think the film did a fairly decent job handling them (I'm fully prepared to have tomatoes thrown at me right about now). Oh, and before I continue...I just have to say that I was SO glad when Mike said he didn't like being called BIG MIKE because if I heard someone call him that one more time I was going to scream!!!!!!!!!!!

Ahem, anyway. In class we talked about that fact that just because it was a true story it doesn't mean representations can't be created/changed/manipulated, and I kept that in mind throughout the entire film. And yes, I would say that certain representations were not exactly "positive." But here's what made me like the film. At the end, I did not get the sense that a white woman (family) sacrified herself to save a poor, helpless black boy. Rather, I left the theater thinking that in the end race really had nothing to do with their relationship. Leigh Anne truly loved Michael as her son, and he loved her as his mother. The pictures of the real-life family during the closing credits reinforced this for me. In fact, those images moved me more than the rest of the film. Seeing the real "Big Mike" and Tuohy family made the story so much more real to me, and I could see the love between them. I'm not saying that race was never a factor in the relationship. In the world we live in, it had to have been. But it seems as though they overcome that, and that is pretty encouraging.

Okay, it totally sounds like I drank the koolaid. And maybe I have! That could mean one of two things. The Blind Side is a true story that portrays the positive way that race relations can and should take place, or, the creators of The Blind Side did a really good job of convincing white people that "love" can overcome anything, even racial differences. I think that there is truth in both of those. And, unfortunately, the latter could potentially make a lot of people assume that race isn't as important of an issue as it really is, if that makes sense.

I know that this entry has mainly highlighted the positive things I thought about the film, but the truth is that I found some negative aspects as well - mainly regarding the "white family saves the day" concept. And like we talked about in class the other day.....even if that *is* truly the story that took place, and all of the right intentions were there, it is still important to look at the effects that this movie could/will have on our society regarding race relations and representations. Some people might view it as a step forward and some may see it as a step backward. So, which is it?! I really look forward to discussing that as a class, because as of right now my only answer is, "it's all relative."

Monday, November 30, 2009

my local highschool WOULD be the "Redskins"

Almost every Saturday morning my family and I have pancakes for breakfast (whole wheat with dark chocolate chips is my personal favorite, yum!). And yes - we use Aunt Jemima pancake mix. [I just checked the fridge to see if we use her syrup as well, only to find "Mrs. Butterworth's." Woops!] Anyway, it never really fazed me that Aunt Jemima was, well, black. I mean, if you asked me what race she was I would know, but I never really had a second thought about what that meant. When I googled "Aunt Jemima images," I was shocked to see what she used to be portrayed as.

The stereotypical image of the black mammy - especially combined with the type of language used in the blurb - is definitely racist. Just because her image has become more politically correct over the years (she's prettier and lost weight) that doesn't take away from what Aunt Jemima originally stood for. However, the use of race (or gender, lifestyle, etc.) seems to be kind of unavoidable if we're going to use images of people on products or advertisements. I'm not saying that that justifies the racist image of Aunt Jemima. But, for example, wouldn't it also be considered sexist to have an image of a housewife in an apron making the pancakes? Although Aunt Jemima is an obvious example of stereotypical representation in advertisements, others might not be so clear. As a society compiled of many different races, ethnicities, and lifestyles, advertisers are going to constantly try to relate to niche markets. So if representations of people continue to be used, this sort of stereotyping seems almost unavoidable.

With that being said, it's obviously not an excuse for racist representations to be used. So - moving on to Native American sport team names. I personally don't even see why there is an argument here. I mean, if the majority of Native Americans (81% according to the optional-reading article) are offended by these team names/mascots why is it even a question? Whether these sports teams' names are honorable and courageous or racist and disrespectful is not for the white majority to decide. UGH!! I'm actually doing my race essay on Native Americans' representation in the media, and the main theme that I've found is that their story is and has continually been written by the White mainstream society. And this subject of mascots just reinforces that.

I actually live right down the street from my district's high school, and they are the "Neshaminy Redskins." I've heard talk for a few years now that they are going to change that, but I'm not sure if that has happened yet. I'm going to look into that, actually. Speaking of which - redskins is definitely the name that irks me the most. I mean, how can you NOT see the racism in that? Ugh!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wanting to be a part of the hip-hop culture is something that I can personally relate to. I've pretty much lived in the suburbs all of my life. However, my church/school was located in Northeast Philadelphia. Although that is still quite suburbian, a good amount of my classmates were from more inner parts of the city. Because of that, I was able to experience more diversity than I would if I went to school where I live in Bucks County. Most of the kids that were from the city were a part of this hip-hop culture. Well, they at least walked and talked the part of it. Some of them were black, but most of them weren't. Three or four of these students just happened to be the cutest and most popular boys in our grade, and that seemed to be the case in other grades as well. So starting in 6th grade, it seemed as though my entire school tried to transform into being part of the hip-hop culture.

Throughout junior high and the beginning of high school things just intensified. Rap was everyone's music of choice. All of the boys wore their baggy jeans, diamond earrings, and chain necklaces. The girls wore big hoop earrings and scrunched their hair to make it curly (or just crunchy). And everyone who was anyone had a pair of Timberland boots. On the weekends my group of friends hung out at the Palace roller skating rink, where the truly hip-hop kids hung out. I remember trying so hard to "play it cool" to fit in with them because they were like...celebrities to me. This trend, I guess you could call it, stuck around all through high school. My close friends and I phased out of it just as we entered into high school, but there was certainly a huge majority of my classmates that remained as part of the hip-hop culture.

Okay, so it looks like I went off on a tangent. Woops! I guess I needed to fully remember what those days were like to get where I'm going. When I think back, I can honestly say that the main thing that led to this desire to fit in to the hip-hop culture was the fact that it was part of the counter-culture (although I didn't realize that at the time). As a blonde haired, blue eyed, Christian white girl from the suburbs, it made me feel less like a goodie-two-shoes and more like a cool, rebellious teen. And the more I was in on the popular clothes and music, the more empowered I felt. It was almost like there was a competition between everyone as to who could be the most genuinely hip-hop. It's so weird to come to that realization, but that's really how it was.

Looking back on my particular group of friends and social environment, mostly all of us where white. There were maybe 5 black kids in my grade at school, and even less when we would go to the hip-hop Mecca - Palace roller skating rink. It really was as though the hip-hop culture was transformed into a white institution, at least where I was coming from. But at the same time, there was that knowledge that what we were wearing and listening to was certainly derived from the black community.

I agree with Kitwana that my group of white friends did not want to be black. We didn't have anything against black people - they were in fact the people that we were trying to emulate. But the hip-hop culture (the one that I grew up in, at least) did seem to promote whiteness. Like I said earlier, there were not many black people to counter this, so the hip-hop trend was actually more of a "white" thing.

Okay, so I failed miserably at providing an image or video to analyze. But I really wanted to give my two cents since I've "been there," sort of. One last thing. I few months ago I ran into the cutest, most popular boy from junior high that I mentioned earlier. He looked completely different. His attire was straight out of a Gap ad. I couldn't believe that our "king" of the hip-hop culture from junior high and high school made such a transformation! But then we started talked, and I realized that although his clothes were different, the way he talked and acted was definitely still hip-hoppish. I can't really explain how or why, but it was. I find that interesting because it kind of shows that the hip-hop culture doesn't just lie in what a person dresses like or the music they listen to. It's kind of a whole demeanor or lifestyle. And once again, I think that that comes back to the feeling of empowerment that comes with the hip-hop culture.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Okay, so Hooks article was shocking. But besides the title of the article, it wasn't exactly the language used that I found shocking - it was the realization of how sexualized black women really are. I feel so naive! While I do realize that most representations of black women are very sexual, I sort of assumed that that was the case for all women. But the difference is that while many white woman are sexualized in this way, we are also provided with many *other* images and representations of white women.

Take the music industry, for example. Sure, there are the Britney Spears' and Madonnas who many people would argue are the queens of sexploitation. But then there is a large number of (very successful) white female artists who are considered wholesome, "the girl next door," or even motherly figures - i.e. Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Carrie Underwood, etc. I do think that mostly all women artists are pushed at least in some point of their career to sexify themselves. But - it seems as though white women have more of a choice in the matter than black women do.

My favorite black female music artists are Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Beyonce, all of which have either been sexualized from the start or moved towards that image as their career progressed. Beyonce was sexualized from the moment she stepped onto the scene as a member of Destiny's Child. She was in her teens at the time. Unlike Britney Spears, who went from the seemingly girl-next-door image to dressing like a dominatrix (literally), Beyonce was portrayed as a sex-symbol from the start. As I've watched her career progress, especially with her most recent performances and music videos, Beyonce's sexualized clothing and (more specifically) suggestive dance moves are certainly in line with Hooks' stance on black female representation. In fact, in the first image below, notice that the members of Destiny's Child are wearing a jungle-woman sort of costume - that exoticism that Hook often refers to.

And then there is Rihanna, who seems to have started out in a much more wholesome way than Beyonce did. If my memory serves me correctly, her first few songs released (when she looked like the first image below) were not entirely successful. However, around the time that Rihanna became more sexualized and had more edgy songs and music videos, her career took off. What is interesting about Rihanna is that her image was not just sexualized, but it was done in a very fantastical way. She became visually appealing in the sense that her sexual presence was extreme and quite bizarre. I feel like that kind of emphasizes Hook's point about the otherness and almost distorted-ness of the black female.

Although the following quote is describing black models, to me it also related to Rihanna's new image: "Reinscribed as spectacle, once again on display, the bodies of black women appearing in these magazines are not there to document the beauty of black skin, or black bodies, but rather to call attention to other concerns....their features are often distorted, their bodies contorted into strange and bizarre postures that make the images appear monstrous or grotesque. They seem to represent an anti-aesthetic, one that mocks the very notion of beauty. Often black female models appear in portraits that make them look less like humans and more like mannequins or robots."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

race and comedy, a perfect match?

I really enjoyed reading Acham's article because it was an easy read, and it was related to aspects of media that I am familiar with. Specifically, I can remember Chris Rock's rise in popularity. At the time I was too young to realize the importance of his representation and talk about African Americans. But now that I look back, I realize that he seemed to pave the way for many other black comedians to take on issues of race.

With that being said, Chris Rock definitely took a more blatantly political/ideological stance on race issues. He still used comedy, but he was also like an activist of sorts. Although I am not entirely caught up on comedy these days, it seems as though most comedians still take a strictly comedic stance on race issues. However, the presence of racism against other African Americans is definitely still prominent.

A black comedian that I am familiar with is Katt Williams. If my memory serves me correctly, he often pokes fun at other African Americans. But while I was searching for videos of him on YouTube I came up with a video from Guy Torrey. I must admit I've never heard of him or seen his comedy, but the video I found does seem to provide an example of what I'm talking about.

Interestingly, Torrey makes fun of African Americans by comparing them to white people. He basically says that black people spend their money on things to look good, i.e. a nice car and nice clothes, but in reality they are still poor and living in their grandmom's basement. He also makes fun of white people for the opposite offense: white people are rich and have nice houses but they don't give a crap about what they look like. Although he is making fun of both races, it seems to me that the assessment of black people is more harsh. Maybe I just feel that way because I'm white - I don't know. It just seems more insulting to say that black people are not only bad with money but they also pretend to be more wealthy than they are. And isn't it reinforcing the stereotype of black people being poor and lazy? I would think so. And I feel like many white people, whether subconciously or not, use this type of comedy to support their preconceived assumptions about black people.

I wonder what Chris Rock would think about this type of comedy. I mean, it seems as though he's the first person to admit that there are black people who fit into certain stereotypes. But what about the issue of black comedians sort of reinforcing that? Is Rock guilty of that as well? To be honest, hearing some of the things Chris Rock says and stands for does reinforce some of my own preconceived notions. And to be completely honest, while reading Acham's article I caught myself thinking, "wow, Chris Rock is thinking like a white person." I hate that I thought that - even if for a split second. It really is such a touchy subject. Like, white people making fun of each other isn't even questionable, it's fine. And black people making fun of white people is okay too. It's usually hilarious. But when it comes to black people making fun of each other - well, is our society ready for that yet? Obviously they have every right to do so, but is it in turn making white people think it's okay to hold those views of black people as well now?