A: Note how Richard Dyer uses some of the theories alluded to earlier in the course (hegemony and Satre’s ideas of the self) to analyse the films and make his arguments
B: Over the period of a week, see how racial identity and identities are dealt with in the visual media: film, newspapers, the web, any exhibitions you might visit, advertising images and, particularly, the television. Makes notes, illustrated where possible of your analysis.
A: Regarding Simba – 1955 (info here)
- “…white power secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything at all…” I’m not sure I agree with this entirely. Yes, it’s true here in the west – white might be described as invisible, “revealed as emptiness, denial, or even a kind of death”. But having grown up in South Africa it was anything but invisible. White was clearly defined; as a specific minority with God given rights to rule over the majority and its visibility manifested itself in signs such as the ones in the images below. Dyer suggests that looking at “non dominant groups has the effect of producing the sense of oddness, differentness, exceptionality of these groups, the feeling they are departures of the norm.” And … “Meanwhile the norm has carried on as if it is the natural, inevitable, ordinary way of being.” (457) It is a bit complicated really because the absence of passbooks which white people were not required to carry, but that non-whites were, seems like an example that makes Dyer’s argument true. But in SA white was definitely visible. And they were dominant in power but not in numbers. And when I arrived in England at 14 I saw whiteness everywhere in places I had not seen it before. It was clear in SA the ‘norm’ was constructed, so much so it was blatantly written into parliamentary laws rather than being covert as it is here nowadays. Many, many people fought the ideology, across class and SA was ostracized although racism continued in less obvious forms in the countries that sanctioned SA. (My father in his ‘act’ – he was a comedian – highlighted the hypocrisy with satire about Australia in particular). However, I am very aware having argued with my peers at the time, that little children bought up in households where apartheid was seen as acceptable openly thought like the father-character in the film Simba did. They believed their whiteness made them closer to God, and therefore more human. Or rather, that ‘blackness’ meant the opposite; less human. But white was not the norm. Much energy was spent on behalf of the white National party, who governed, trying to obliterate the norm and control it. The demolition of Sophiatown, a vibrant non-white community in Johannesburg, is just one example of this (Its story was made into a play produced by The Market Theatre). People’s homes were bulldozed and they were driven out. And in its place came a ‘white’ suburb called Triomphe – which you may translate as Triumph. Yes, white people were violently attempting to ‘colonise the definition of normal’ (458) but it was a blatant response to the underlying sheer terror they felt daily – bought on by the undeniable fact that their whiteness was anything but normal. Whiteness was unusual and the opposite of the norm in that country.
- ‘We’ and ‘our’ are discussed by Dyer as problematic. Am reminded of ‘vagueness’ as explored in Timothy Williamson’s essay On vagueness, or, when is a heap of sand not a heap of sand? Philosophers argue about language being difficult to define. Racist ideology does exactly that – it attempts to define who is valuable and who isn’t.
- Dyer says, “it is only avowed racists who have a theory which attributes this [a belief in god-given superiority] to inherent qualities of white people” and that whiteness is presented more as a case of historical accident, rather than a characteristic cultural/historical construction, achieved through white domination” (459) I think I have trouble with this because having grown up in a country where racist ideology was accepted and ingrained into constitutional law, perhaps I am sensitised to it, not only in others but also myself. We are all tribal and look for similarities in others whether it’s the colour of skin, or the middle class habit of putting white shutters up in windows. Unless people can admit to that and look at possible evolutionary reaons, and I don’t believe we tend to very easily, domination of one group over others will continue without sufficient anlysis.
- Dyer says it is hard to analyse whiteness, people don’t see it. I suspect are all too busy claiming we’re not racist to see it and analyse it – when in fact we are all led by feelings of ‘groupishness’ based on various factors as described in the previous point.
- We are asked to consider the three films that Dyer decodes. “The three films relate to situations in which whites hold power in society, but are materially dependent upon black people. All three films suggest an awareness of this dependency – weakly in Simba, strongly but still implicitly in Jezebel, inescapably in Night [of the Living Dead]“
- Simba – a film which underlies the ‘painful’ realisation of Empire, that its time has ended. Whiteness, as embodied by the Hero, Alan is seen in the end as fair, capable of growth, ultimately good – even when dealing with the ‘darkness’ supposedly inherent in Africa. (It’s a shocking film to watch today for its open racial assumptions and language – i.e. ‘boy’ when addressing non-white people, something I grew up with.) Dyer quotes Franze Fanon – “colonist sensibility”; and Paul Gilroy – “absolutist view of black and white cultures” (462) Dyer shows us how the “binarism” is evident; white = modernity, black standing for “backwardness”. He explains this can be seen in the meetings – whites in very well-lit scenes, black people in dark, night, ‘jungle’ music, tribal ritual and the brutal killing of anyone who won’t acquiesce to the agenda. White meeting consists of nothing but speech, black meeting “on the other hand takes place at dead of night, out of doors, with all black characters in shadow;…. sub-expressionist, lighting that dramatises and distorts the face, …etc.” (462)
- “Clear boundaries are characteristic of things white (lines, grids, not speaking until someone is finished and soon)”(463)
- “Thus whites, and men (especially) become characterised by ‘boundariness’. (464) Important for me to think about in relation to what I have written/submitted for A4 and styles of writing I have begun to explore in more depth (discussed in previous blogs and reflection for A4)
- “The empire provided a narrative space for the realisation of manhood, both as action and maturation. The colonial landscape is expansive, enabling the hero to roam and giving us entertainment of action; is it unexplored, giving him the task of discovery and us the pleasures of mystery; it is uncivilised, needing taming, providing the spectacle of power; it is difficult and dangerous, testing his machismo, providing us with suspense. In other words the Colonial landscape provides the occasion for the realisation of white male virtues which are not qualities of being but of doing – acting, discovering, taming, conquering. At the same time, colonialism as a social, political and economic system, even in fiction also carries with it the challenges of responsibility, the establishment and maintenance of order, of the application of reasons and authority to situations.” (465) There is not time here but it is useful to think about these words in connection with how photographers have and still do capture ‘others’ as described in this article by Alex Thompson, Otherness and Fetishization (sic) of Subject. He describes fantasy, romanticism and a lack of respect from photographers for the people they photograph.
- Simba is, ultimately “an endorsement of the moral superiority of white values” (466) even though it pretends otherwise by trying to imply white culture is capable of hieghtened humanity towards the ‘lower’ orders. How have things changed in today’s media? See below…
- Interesting relevant quote from anthropology book Taboo which I refer to often -“…a conversation of ‘us’ with ‘us’ about them’; of the white man with the white man about primitive-native man… a conversation in which ‘them’ is silenced. “Them” always stands on the other side of the hill, naked and speechless, barely present in its absence.” (Blackwood, 95; 52) (1989: 65,67)
- Last Man on Earth, 2015 – 2016 TV, Fox, Review and synopsis here (comedy about last handful of survivors on Earth trying to exist)
Quote from the article.essay titled, Donald Trump and the Fall of Whiteness by Michael Mark Cohen “A startling survey, reported in 2015, revealed that older white American men are dying off at an alarming rate. This demographic, virtually alone in the overdeveloped world, seems to be dying off in increasing numbers. Due to unprecedented rates of suicides, drug addiction, alcoholism and overdoses, the life expectancy of white men has declined by nearly four years since the 1990s. No wonder Trump supporters speak in such apocalyptic terms, because for millions of older white men, their world is literally ending.”
The series Last Man on Earth features a white early middle-aged American male who has little respect for women, rules, and other people, all living in a post-virus world where only a handful have made it following the virtual end of humanity. The few survivors who do meet up, very quickly turn against him because of his behaviour. However, the woman he marries in a pretend ceremony sticks with him after the only non-white male character leaves him for dead in the desert. Both men are called Phil. White Phil had previously attempted to do the same to another character (white) but he was in the end too decent to go through with it. As for the name; the small group of survivors force the white Phil to change his name after he loses a contest which seems unfair and makes us feel sorry for white Phil. Of course, the black Phil attempts to take the white Phil’s ‘wife’ which might be seen as a reflection of what lies beneath the following statement by journalist Abi Wilkinson in a recent Guardian article about alt-right online activity. “One thing I noticed early on is that the community seems to be largely white. And that’s evident because race comes up, a lot. Sometimes, in the form of a kind of racial pseudo-science that advocates use to explain the dynamics of heterosexual relations. The age-old racist argument – that black men are “taking our women” – is made regularly.” (Wilksinson, 2016) Wilkinson describes an online community populated by (terrified?) white men who enjoy sitting behind their screens and denigrating anyone who isn’t a white male. Such men are arguably represented by the character, white Phil, wronged, misunderstood, childish but basically, as framed in the series, forgivable and even loveable despite his grossness.
Given the racial breakdown of the USA it could be statistically questionable the majority of survivors are white, although such a statement invites any number of ill-informed statements one can easily imagine from people who see colour as a sign of seperateness. Nevertheless, Cohen’s statement, “The 500 year old world historical project of racial white supremacy is coming to an end. Slowly, incompletely, necessarily, whiteness is ending” (Cohen, 2016) resonates when considered in connection to the show and Cohen’s statement which opens this short passage.
2. The right-wing press’ reaction to teenagers arriving from Calais arriving in the UK before the Jungle was demolished.
The headlines communicating derision, bile and scorn in The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Express as teenagers arrived in the UK from France was a clear example of bias. This article from the Huffington Post features British teens responding by posting images of themselves looking very grown up at 16.
The way the media represent colour and white tends to be different as explained in an essay titled Racial Bias and Media Coverage of Violent Crime : The article starts with “Studies of Americans’ unconscious beliefs shows that most people — white and black — think black people are dangerous and both average folks and police are quicker to shoot black than white people.” (Wade, 2016)
Dyer, R. (1999). White. In: J. Evans and S. Hall, ed., Visual Culture: A reader, 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications, pp.457-467.
Cohen, M (2016). Medium. Donald Trump and the Fall of Whiteness – Secret History of America. [online] Available at: https://medium.com/the-secret-history-of-america/donald-trump-and-the-fall-of-whiteness-3a568132ef71#.qh9cwifdi [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].
Wilkinson, A. (2016). We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men | Abi Wilkinson. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/15/alt-right-manosphere-mainstream-politics-breitbart?CMP=twt_gu [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].
Google.co.uk. (2016). photographs of ‘non blankes’ signs in South Africa – Google Search. [online] Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=photographs+of+’non+blankes’+signs+in+South+Africa&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&gfe_rd=cr&ei=An0tWKSlJcrU8gf2zIfYDw [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].
Williamson. T . (2016). AEON On vagueness, or, when is a heap of sand not a heap of sand? – Timothy Williamson | Aeon Ideas. [online] Available at: https://aeon.co/ideas/on-vagueness-when-is-a-heap-of-sand-not-a-heap-of-sand [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].
Thompson, A. (2016). Otherness and the Fetishization of Subject. [online] PetaPixel. Available at: http://petapixel.com/2016/11/16/otherness-fetishization-subject/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].
Wade, L. (2016). Racial Bias and Media Coverage of Violent Crime – Sociological Images. [online] Thesocietypages.org. Available at: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2015/04/09/racial-bias-and-media-coverage-of-violent-crime/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].
Blackwood, E. (1995). Falling in love with an-Other Lesbian. In: D. Kulick and M. Wilson, ed., 1st ed. London and New York: Routledge, p.52.