Category Archives: media representation

So Close Yet So Far!

So I’m obviously not as plugged in as I thought I was because until last night I had never heard of the Emmy-winning web series Satacracy 88. Twenty-four episodes were done in ’06 and ’07 and they are all viewable on hulu. Now the pluses are complex, interesting Woman of Color protagonist, plenty of People of Color,  passes the Bechdel Test, gotta support indie art and the plot is pretty interesting and grabby.

I stayed up late last night watching the whole thing, each episode is only 3 -5 minutes and I was loving it until I reached the end. Now I’m not gonna ruin it for anyone who is going to head over and watch it but I found it anti-climactic and boring and just plain annoying.

This time though I can’t really blame the creators or the showrunners for the badness. See, Satacracy 88 comes to us via ItsAllInYourHands.Com where at the end of each episode the protagonist is left torn between two possibilities and the audience vote decides which way they go. It’s like a group census Choose You Own Adventure Book!

They have two other shows on their webpage and on hulu.com but I’m too burned on how Satacracy 88 ended to put myself willingly into mob rule television again anytime soon. I would recommend people go watch it if only so I can have someone to discuss some of the possibly problematic elements I recognized. One of which was Satacracy 88′s origin story which I put under a cut so as not to spoil:

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Talking Amongst Ourselves

Now something I’m sure most folks who are knowledgeable about anti-oppression politics and discuss them in their everyday life have seen is the attitude that you only hold those beliefs to be politically correct or to be argumentative about “the way things are”. I know when I’ve told people that “No, I talk about these things all the time because they effect my life everyday.” I’ve gotten disbelieving looks or right out accusation that I don’t discuss race when I’m with other People of Color, etc. Now anyone who knows me, has talked to me at a convention or has hung out with me for more than a few hours can tell you that’s bullshit but the attitude is always there, that thought that you only talk this way or feel this way because of the company you’re in or whatever other outside factors. First of all it’s straight out insulting to insinuate that I can’t form my own opinions or that my opinions are so ludicrous that there must be some outside force exerting pressure on me. Secondly it’s just untrue. 

Now the documentary U People which I’ve been desperate to see for months and is now up for free in it’s totality on Logo Online explores the conversation people have within their community. Hanifah Walidah a poet, rapper, actress and black lesbian was filming the video for her song Make A Move where she recreated a house party. Now black GLBT folks have a long history of house parties that stretches back for decades. It arose out of a number of factors but a major one was the racism they tended to encounter when they tried to enter GLBT watering holes and forming a vibrant community outside of that hostile environment. Since they couldn’t go to the limited number of GLBT bars/clubs at the time they made their own parties and clubs in each others houses. Some of the parties were exclusively for men or women and some were mixed. And this is not a tradition that has died out, it’s still alive and strong – moreso on the west coast than anywhere else but the legacy is all over.

Anyway, while Hanifah was filming this music video she heard the conversations that were happening all around her and decided that those were just as important as what was going to end up in the music video. She calls it an accidental documentary for just this reason but go and read about it in her own words at the website linked above.

But there it is: a group of 30 People of Color, mostly lesbian women and a couple of transfolk (I also believe there are two or three straight women who talk about being straight in a majority lesbian environment) talking amongst themselves. Talking about gender and the “definition” of woman, talking about coming out, talking about the intersection of race and gender, and all of it to each other, with each other, about each other. It shows not only the complexity and differences among the supposed monolithic horde of “you people” but is also a chronicle of community and the way we form it around ourselves.

Go check out U People even if you don’t think you’ll learn anything from it because it is a touching, smart and funny documentary that shows a segment of society so exceedingly overlooked by the mainstream.

Even leaving aside the personal connection I feel to this documentary despite not being a lesbian - because in so many ways these are the women I grew up around and connect with very well - it’s an amazing film. Now if only I could see black./womyn.:conversations sometime soon. 

We Don’t Get This.

So while I was rejuvenating last week and re-finding inspiration and all that hippy-dippy shit I saw something that made me angry. It was this:

Now let’s ignore for the moment that this latest in the way too long line of “Seth-Roganesque/40-Year-Old-Virgin/SuperBad/socially-awkward-boy-meets-beautiful-intelligent-articulate-girl-who somehow-falls-for-his-dumbass/storyline-that-was-already-done-and-done-better-in-the-eighties/just-playing-to-socially-awkward-guys-who-live-in-their-parents-basement-to-try-and-convince-them-that-no-really-totally-smart-funny-with-it-girls-are-just-waiting-for-you-to-drag-them-to-the-depths-of-mediocrity-really-would-we-lie?” films shows that we’ve reached a point where even the illusion of diversity is totally unnecessary. Watch that trailer. Try to spot a Person of Color anywhere in the cast or background. I saw it 20 times this past week and I couldn’t see one but I might have missed it, so please let me know if you spot one because it seems to me as if there are no People of Color in that weird pastiche of the 70s/80s/90s these movies are all set in. Okay *deep breath* leaving that behind. What really annoys and angers me about these films is that People of Color don’t get to have these narratives.

We don’t get to have the fun summer of growing up film, we don’t get to show our childhoods on screen unless they are somehow tragic. In discussing this with one of my housemates she said the closest film she can think of is Roll Bounce - I’ve never seen it (How many of you have? Or even heard of it? I remember hearing a little bit of something and then it was gone like a whisper in a wind storm) but from what she told me about it it does sound like what I mean. Now obviously that means that sometimes the story does get lit for production, one could maybe argue that Love Don’t Cost A Thing (a remake of 80′s Can’t Buy Me Love) fits the mold as well. But overall the stories of Youths of Color tends to center on Boyz In The Hood  or Hustle & Flow where the story can be about how bad the ghetto is and how hard it is to try and rise above that and we almost inevitably end up dead or right back where we started thereby allowing the audience to feel sympathy for us and at the same time not have to deal with the idea of relating with a Person of Color on an equal level.


(In this one there’s at least a couple of Asian side characters)

And it’s not that the story of the ghetto and the particular intersection of  -isms that result in ghettos don’t need to be explored or aren’t true for some people but that should not be the only stories we get. I want the wild night out story of our own. I want to see the spectrum of People of Color experience on the silver screen. I want to be able to see a film that has the growing up story of a young middle class Latina girl, one where she’s not sexually assaulted, abused, arrested, demonized. I want to see a movie with an all Asian cast but that’s not about overachieving drug dealers (Better Luck Tomorrow) hell we can’t even get an Asian cast when the actual people the story is based on are Asian (21).

Now one could argue there’s no market for these films but that’s a massive oversimplification that ignores the critical and box office success of such films as Waiting To Exhale, Eat Drink Man Woman, Harold & Kumar, Soul Food, Like Water For Chocolate and Independence Day. Now the last may seem like a stretch from what I’m talking about but it fits as well because when I say “We Don’t Get This.” I’m not only talking about the frat-boyish/awkward-teen/buddy-buddy movie genre. I’m talking about the fact that we don’t get a huge diversity of characters so to have a Sci-Fi film where the two heroes are and African-American man and a Jewish man was a huge deal. In all of the movies I list Actors of Color were allowed to play roles that are usually not written  for them and they received praise for their portrayals.

So why don’t we see more films like those?

Because audiences are taught not to expect anything but tragedy from films featuring People of Color. We are conditioned by society in general and media depictions specifically to accept that People of Color can only fall into one of two roles, the ridiculous sidekick or the tragic hero who dies winning/lives on without any changed circumstances/without fulfilling their dream. Even when we prove that stories about us can be hits, that we can be a box office draw it doesn’t seem to open the door for other films that stretch the perceptions of People of Color. It doesn’t get us our own Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally. We still get the occasional non-sterotypical role green-lit but it doesn’t happen that often and when it does happen it rarely gets the promotion or press coverage that it deserves. Yet, I could not turn around without seeing a commercial for the hot-crap-on-screen that is Adventureland.

The movies I listed are exceptions (excluding for Like Water For Chocolate which is definitely a tragedy in my mind) but simply look at the movies that People of Color as actors win Oscars for – Sidney served as labor for some German nuns for no pay. Halle had to play the tragic poor beat down by life black woman and Denzel had to die in war and play a crooked cop, Whoopi was the comic relief/fake-psychic. And I’m not at all saying that they did not deserve the awards they received what I’m trying to get across is that audiences are more comfortable praising us and awarding us accolades is we play a certain role. If anything the actors mentioned deserved to win more than one Oscar a piece for other fantastic roles that stretched their acting prowess.

The sad part is that I like these kinds of films. I would almost definitely enjoy Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist if I were to see it. But I can’t help but wonder when we get to run around Manhattan all night having a good time? When do our crappy summer jobs get chronicled?

Critiquing Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon created – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity and the upcoming Dollhouse. Now I have issues with a lot the shows listed, I’m also a huge fan. My problem isn’t entirely with the shows but also in the way a lot of of fans perceive Joss. He gets a lot of cachet from certain segments of fandom – about how he loves strong women, how he describes himself as a feminist, his population of diverse women.

Yeah I kind of scoff at all of that. First of all I will never understand why men who choose to treat women decently get a fucking medal, that should just be par for the course. I know it’s not and we as a society need to work on that but handing out cookies to these men and not allowing them to be critiqued or not critiquing them just allows them to get away with a lot of bullshit – that without the cachet of being a “feminist man” or “pro-feminist man” they would be torn to shreds for.

While I love Buffy & Firefly. (Angel I’m kinda *meh* on) the first thing that I notice is that Joss likes a certain type of woman to be strong: they have to be skinny and white and ever so traditionally beautiful. Not really that feminist to me. I’ve had a lifetime of reading comics where skinny  women become superheroes all the time. Buffy was little different from them to me. I liked her sarcasm, her determination but didn’t truly see her or the show as ground breaking…wait rephrase perhaps it was ground breaking for the medium of television specifically. But it seemed to me that everytime there was a feminist moment of fabulousness it was always within this very narrow view of women so that no ground was actually gained in my eyes. If it was anything it was the feminism he ascribed to was this prevalent “girl-power” pseudo-feminism. Yes, it was great to see girls and women being strong but you know what I would have loved? If we could have seen women of different colors, sizes, abilities, classes being just as strong without fucking up and killing someone innocent (Faith) or dying (Kendra).

And so often the shows fell into stereotypes and tropes:

The destruction of Angel’s life through Cordelia’s rampant sexuality and yes we find out she was possessed and it wasn’t really her but that whole excuse was way muddled and not thought out. 

I would have loved for Gunn (the only recurring POC in his first two shows) to just be able to be smart without a mystical intervention.

The dead lesbian – Tara

The breakdown of women without a male partner or when the male partner leaves – Buffy, Anya, Willow and on and on – in a way where we rarely if ever saw the reverse with Xander and Giles.

There’s a way in which Joss likes to consistently pair physical strength in girls with emotional weakness or fucked-up-ness, almost as if they have to exist side by side and that’s what pissed me off more than anything.

And yes we can’t say that Joss had a hand in all of those, he was the creator but he did not write every episode but as the creator he sets the tone, the pace and the message of the show. None of the show writers are going to write a character completely out of the character that Joss has set. It’s a trickle down effect.

Also I think most of us can agree while Joss might have an inkling of feminism he’s really bad at race…really really bad. Yes, in Firefly we have a mixed crew – which I love – but there’s a way in which River and Inara never have their heritage brought up and the complete absence of Asian folks in this Asian inspired show could be a whole post in and of itself. Just plopping down some folks of color is not good race politics you have to explore it at least a little – and I know he only had 12 episodes. Also the gender politics in Firefly/Serenity weren’t the best. In fact cracked.com listed Hollywood’s 5 Saddest Attempts at Feminism- River’s at #3.

I want to talk about these things, I want to talk about his consistently really bad race politics in all three of his shows. I want to talk about the co-opting of feminism by the mainstream into this whole “girl power” movement where there’s not real critique of power structures and the similarity of this “girl power” movement to the Republican ideology of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” without any discussion of the continuing hierarchies and how difficult that can make it. I want to talk about all of that and how that’s filtered into Joss’ work but all too often I’m completely shut down by calls of “He’s a feminist!” as if that gives him a free ride to do whatever else he wants.

I own: all 7 season of Buffy, Firefly, Serenity & the first two seasons of Angel so it’s safe to term me a fan but I know that Joss has issues that crop up as do all creators. Shoot I know my own work probably has issues but I would hope that no one would give me a pass, that folks would tell me imy issues so I could be aware of it and either acknowledge it as a problem that had to exist in the work or apologize and try and do better next time. When we don’t allow for these critiques and questions to be voiced then we’re doing a disservice not only to the work but to the creator as well.

There might be posts later that focus on these shows and specifically their race politics when I get the time because:

Buffy - So. California town with little-to-no People of Color?

Angel – Only representation of POC is the trope of ghetto-gang-hustler?

Firefly/Serenity – The already mentioned absence of Asian folks coupled with the complete appropriation of their culture.

Elves, Elves and more Elves!

I’m sick of elves! Their pale-as-moonlight, arrogant, earth controlling, long-lived, ivory-skinned,  lawful-”good” (oh, except when they have black skin, forgot that!) always-hollywood-skinny asses make me throw up in my mouth.

Okay so maybe that’s a little harsh but it’s true. I’m tired of Celtic urban fantasy in general and elves specifically. Although I should say that like any overused trope there are ways to make it new and interesting again, such as Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come which linked faerie England with Queen Elizabeth I from her rise to power to her golden age. Those instances aside I’m sick of elves. 

Maybe this is because I didn’t have a “proper” introduction to elves. I didn’t read about elves in Tolkien or any of those authors who followed in his tradition. My introduction to the fanciful creatures came from a comic called – Elfquest. Created by Richard & Wendy Pini this series explored a tribe of elves that lived in the forest and their ongoing altercations with both humans and trolls. Eventually they escape and make a trek across the desert where they run into another tribe of elves  who’re guess what? Brown! And the Sun-Elves of the desert aren’t more savage and wild than their whiter forest cousins, in fact they view the Forest-Elves in that way while they are more civilized and urbane.

Already Elfquest is a step ahead in the race department with y’know an actual biological basis for elves that dwelled in the sun developing darker skin as opposed to the ricockulous idea that elves going underground and being cut-off from sunlight would darken their skin to midnight black. There is no evilness connected with the darker skin, there are heroes and villains on all sides but beyond even that the villains are all complex. None of the villains are simply evil they all have motivations and reasons for doing what they do and being the way they are.

It’s more than that though. The way the series dealt with sex/love was so innovative and progressive.  These elves had bonds between pairings of all genders and even three-bonded relationships. They weren’t shy of their bodies, they had open marriages, they had relationships with many differing levels of commitment and investment as opposed to the normal dichotomy of spouse/partner/mate versus friend. And the different relationships had varying levels of intimacy - some that included sex not only as a benefit but as a tool to connect and keep those connections strong. The series acknowledged the idea of soulmates while also stating that great love was possible and important even without a mating of souls. Basically the elves in this series valued love, family,  loyalty and friendships above all else - across all differences. Of course there were also fights with power-mad witches, searching for past ancestry, exploring different worlds and times and being haunted (literally) by someone you both loved and killed.

So after reading Elfquest being introduced to the more traditional fantasy elves was quite a let down. Sure there were occasionally elves that weren’t white but they were invariably the more savage “wild elves” or the universally evil “dark elves”/”drow”. Or if the main character was one of these “savage” or “evil” races then they were a good person but only as an example of how the rest of their race fit the stereotype exactly, the exception that proves the rule.

These elves were rigid and boring and more hide bound than the humans in the stories, they took forever to move and seemed to lack empathy or sympathy and run on pure arrogance…and this was the “pure/lawful good” race? This is what we’re supposed to consider good? This belief that they are always right, this arrogance that they know best. That very idea will sound familiar to anyone aware of colonialist reasoning. And this post isn’t even really getting into the HUGE problems with morality being connected to race, where whiter skin usually marks the race as good and dark skin marks them as evil and the colonialist thoughts that went into the creation of that trope and the racist notions it perpetuates.

Maybe it’s my politics or how I was raised but I much prefer the elves that accept folks for who they are, don’t think they know everything and value emotions and fighting for what’s right above tradition and safety. I’d rather the baseline for elves be ones that come in all different shades with no savagification or evil tied to their skin color. I’d rather if writers wanted to adapt an elf mythos they chose Elfquest over Lord of the Rings. The Elfquest elves take diversity and progressive writing in mind while the elves of Tolkien descent just seem to try and reestablish old stereotypes of race and gender.

Media Friday – Singing With Soul [IBARW Edition]

Estelle is a rapper/singer/producer from across the pond who you mightknow because of her song “American Boy” featuring Kanye West.

I love her recently released album Shine I think it’s amazing but here’s the thing she’s nowhere near as heavily praised as some of the other “neo-soul” artists that have come out of Britain – Amy. Winehouse, Duffy, Adele. The difference is of course that all of those are white women who get cred for having throaty voices and singing “soul” music. There is a huge disparity in the way that the Music Industry treats white soul singers as opposed to black soul singers like Leela James, Jaguar Wright, Lina and more.

Estelle brought up the disparity herself in the Guardian, about Adele and white soul singers in general she says:

“She sounds like she heard some Aretha records once, and she’s got a deeper voice – that don’t mean she’s soul. That don’t mean nothing to me in the grand scheme of my life as a black person. As a songwriter, I get what they do. As a black person, I’m like: you’re telling me this is my music? Fuck that!”

And while I will say I have Winehouse’s and Adele’s albums I always feel uncomfortable listening to them, there’s a cultural appropriation happening that really bothers me. This is not to say white folks can’t sing soul, one of my favorite soul acts is Robin Thicke but there’s a way in which his music crosses the line to cultural appreciation instead of appropriation. It’s hard to explain but when he sings and performs it feels different, like he knows and cares about the community he’s interacting with as opposed to just caring about profiting from them. But Estelle hits the nail on the head, when listening to Winehouse, Adele and Justin Timberlake I can’t help but think – “As a black person, I’m like: you’re telling me this is my music? Fuck that!”

Links – Female, Muslim & Mutant, Olympic Rumors, WoC & Beauty Carnival, Publishers Contract Issues – Deja Vu & Why Say No?

Links for today!

*Broken Mystic explores the position of Muslim Women in comics comparing the American-created Dust and super-heroines created by Muslims such as Noora, Hadya, Jalila and Aya in two parts – Female, Muslim and Mutant (Part 1, Part 2) . All characters are deconstructed and its a very interesting exploration of the true existence of Muslim women and the biased Western views of the lives of Muslim women. Also the comic he talks about “The 99″ sounds pretty awesome I’m picking up the English translations as soon as payday swings around.  

*Racialicious talks about black athletes being banned from bars in Beijing during the Olympics and the xenophobia and racism that’s been directed at Chinese since these unsubstantiated rumors popped up. It all exploded at Perez Hilton’s blog and the comments are really quite horrifyingly racist and soul-killing – Perez Hilton Hates Yellow People.

*A new carnival is looking for submissions. The Women of Color and Beauty Carnival looks to explore:

This Carnival is intended to focus on beauty and what it means to and about women of color. In particular, I would like to see discussion go beyond a focus on the ways in which women of color can internalize self hatred to the ways in which women and communities of color recognize and celebrate beauty.

Submissions from women and men of color are welcome, focusing on these areas:

What does beauty mean to women of color?

What is the difference between beauty and ethnically based sexual stereotyping? How does stereotyping and white supremacy affect our concepts of beauty, and how can we create change? What kind of responsibility do white women who identify as allies have to analyze and take ownership of their privilege in this area?

How do popular standards of beauty based on generalized whiteness affect our relationships with ourselves, each other, and between different groups of people of color?

The deadline for submissions is August 5 so hop to it, I’m gonna try to come up with something myself for this soon.

*If you’re even marginally involved with the publishing world in any capacity then you probably remember last year when Simon & Schuster and the Authors Guild went head-to-head over a change made in their contracts. If you didn’t hear about it or want a quick refresher go here. Pub Rants is a great blog by Agent Kristin who blogs about new writer mistakes, query letters, contract negotiation and more. This morning she brings us news that though S&S’s bid to change the contract failed here in the States the Random House Group is now trying something similar in the U.K

*Liz Henry over at Feminist SF – The Blog! asks:

Why are characters in SF so reluctant to Undergo The Great Change or quaff the vial of super-spice or be part computer or become immortal or have my DNA reengineered to be part-alien and merge with the giant group nanoconsciousness?

Then asks readers what they would do if offered that kind of choice. Head over and join the discussion. I’ll go into more detail in my reply over there but the simple answer is I would not hesitate to “quaff the vial of super-spice” at all.

Links – An Icon Passes On, Musical Muse & Buffy Still White As Ever

Three Things:


#1

If you haven’t heard already actress Estelle Getty, best known for her portrayal of Sophia on Golden Girls passed away yesterday. Getty had a long and varied career on the stage and on screen both large and small but her iconic status comes from her signature role as Sophia. Golden Girls is one of the ultimate feminist shows to be, not only in the messages but in the set up of the show and the characters. Feministe goes into it more here but I really think of Golden Girls as the first feminist show I watched. I still watch it often, on the Lifetime Channel, on DVD, etc. It’s a great hilarious show and the highlight is almost always Sophia’s witty, sarcastic one-liners. She was an icon not only for her wit but for her activity and sexuality well into her 80′s. She was the old person we all wanted to grow up to be.

Estelle was 84 and had been sick for quite a while, she was found yesterday in her Hollywood home.

A lot of folks won’t remember this clip from the 1996 MTV movie awards but it’s hilarious and always tickles me 
The Golden Girls doing Clueless  


#2

One of the most anticipated Comic book releases this year (and not just by me) is Comic Book Tattoo. The 480 page anthology contains over 50 stories contributed by over 80 comic book artist/writers (I’m talking a who’s who of the industry) and everyone of the stories takes a Tori Amos song as it’s base.

It’s premiering this week at Comic-Con but since I’m too broke to go I went ahead and ordered it on Amazon.com yesterday. They have all three versions of the book: The Limited Edition (regular price - $149.99/Amazon.com – $94.49), the hardcover (regular price – $49.99/Amazon.com – $31.49) and the paperback (regular price – $29.99/Amazon.com -$19.79). Being, as I mentioned above, broke I ordered the paperback version and it’s a good thing to as it’s the only one listed as In Stock at the moment, the other two versions are listed as not yet released.

This is so exciting, I keep checking my order every hour to see if it’s shipped yet. Amazon says I’ll recieve my copy by this Friday and I hope they’re telling the truth because I fully expect Friday night to be spent in a haze of transcendence as I listen to Tori songs on repeat while reading the stories they inspired.


#3

Karen Healey over at Girls Read Comics, And They’re Pissed talks about her relationship with the Buffy comics and the fact that they still can’t seem to keep any People of Color in the main cast even now in  I Was Reading On The Train, So I Couldn’t Throw the Book.  Anyone who’s discussed Buffy with me knows that though I do love the show I have so major issues with it as well. One of these issues is the lack of People of Color in a Southern California town which is just illogical. It’s the same reaction I have to shows set in New York with no POC: …wuh?…

In fact in my essay in the WisCon Chronicles Two I touch on Buffy as an extremely all-white show. I mean the last season introduced in my opinion two stand out POC characters, Rona & Principal Wood except look how they ended up in the last episode both extremely injured and clinging to life.

Anyway the point is that as good as some feminist fans think Joss is on gender  (Digressing! -though I think he’s better than a lot of men I disagree vehemently with those in the feminist community who practically deify him and have to fight not to scream “I Told You So” at those who are so disappointed with his web series Dr. Horrible because of it’s horrible third part – The Hathor Legacy has more on the badness of Dr. Horrible in a recent post) he is pretty bad on race. I mean folks want to point at Firefly/Serenity and say “Look he’s good on race truly he is!” but …no, as much as I love both Firefly and Serenity and hope for a sequel just …no it’s not being good on race to just have POC in the show. The POC actually have to be done well and be full and complete characters that don’t rely on problematic stereotypes:  Book -Magical Religious Godly Negro, River – Scary fighting Asian chick but with white parents which Idon’t get, Inara – Sexualized darker skinned Latina. I mean maybe Joss was really going to disrupt these things later in the show and never got the chance but there’s no evidence he was gonna do that either.

Okay off to work!

Can’t…Think… Doctor Who Has Hijacked My Brain

Okay I wish I could give y’all some kind of thinky-smart-ranty post ’cause there haven’t been anmy this week and I’m in a space where I think I could and I have a couple in the draft stages. But being completely honest all I can think about is this:

WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FINAL TWO EPISODES OF DOCTOR WHO SERIES 4

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Terminology – Savagification!

In my post last week about representation of Africa in the media I talked about the savagification that bleeds through in these articles. If you haven’t heard of “savagification” used in this way let me explain:

Savagification is the way in which countries/continents, not in the affluent West (This does of course have exceptions. It also happens in articles about Indigenous People located in the West, brown folks who live in the ghetto in the West, etc.) are dealt with in the press. Often the articles are written to be as inflammatory and “fear the brown invaders” as possible and very often include very little input from folks from that region except for small soundbites that bolster the reporter’s view that the people are just a bunch of savages. There are a couple of methods used to achieve this end.

Savagification means that the acts the people/country (because often the articles do not distinguish between individual acts and the country as a whole, so if Gambia has one serial killer all the people must be serial killers in the making) are accused of are described in loving gory detail. There will often be pictures that accompany the article that do their best to show the person in their “native dress” or poised with a machete or in some way that depicts them as savage and untameable. Those are often the only pictures that accompany the article unless there are to be some pictures that show the victims of these acts, often bloody mutilated and sitting on a filthy dirt floor with big tearful eyes staring up at the camera. This is a deliberate scare tactic used to bolster the West as some bastion of truth and civilization while painting the “others” as “savage uncivilized places” (and of course any people of the Diasporas of this country also carry that violent brown blood!). They won’t show the skyscraper cities with computers, cars, etc. because that would refute the “this whole country is just a backward savage place” notion they’re trying to promote. And of course they wouldn’t think to examine the colonialism that profits off of this view, the destabilization of the country and the continued subjagation of the people there.  

Another way savagification is achieved is by ignoring any history in the situation.  This is seen when the Rwandan genocide is discussed and there is no mention of the fact that colonialist policies are what instituted the original separation between the Hutu and Tutsi. When there are articles about witch-hunts in Africa that fail to point out the West’s own history with women accused of witches and the pagan-bashings that happen everyday in America. Because if they showed that horrible things happen in America too that would undermine the sensationalism of the article itself. Articles written about horrible things in the West are always carefully formed to present the atrocity as an isolated incident, actions by sick individuals but not part of the fabric of the country. (In a way you can zero this in to how POC are treated in the media versus White people, where anything that POC do is seen as representative of all POC whereas whiteness doesn’t hold that monolithic idea.)

There are other ways the people/countries in these articles are savagified having to do with word choice and the angle at which facts are presented but these were two of the big ways I wanted to touch on. So now you know what to look for in these articles and knowing is half the battle (I’m sorry, I’m a child of the 80′s I couldn’t help it).