Mass Media/Popular Culture

Whitewashing in Movies

Whitewashing in film is when either 1) white actors play characters of color and pretend to be of the character’s racial / ethnic heritage or 2) the story itself is changed and characters of color are made white.  This has long been a problem, but has reignited recently with casting of films such as Aloha, Ghost in the Shell, and Doctor Strange.

In the case of the film Hell Boy, actor Ed Skrein decided to back out of his portrayal of Major Ben Daimio.  He released the following on twitter concerning his decision:

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Casting characters of color with actors of color can also be contentious.  In the case of The Hunger Games, the casting of Amandla Stenberg and Lenny Kravitz, casted as Rue and Cinna respectively, resulted in a racist twitter backlash.  Readers of the book assumed these characters were white, despite descriptions to the contrary.  Similarly, the casting of black actress Noma Dumezweni as adult Hermione in the Harry Potter play was met with racist reactions.

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Some Pre 1980 Songs Referencing LGBTQ

A not – exhaustive list of some songs before 1980 that reference LGBTQ people and issues. (*Needless to say, these should all be contextualized for their relative milieu.  Some are direct in their topic, others oblique.  These are not necessarily advocacy or activist related songs and can contain tokenizing and stereotypical characterizations.)

Gene Malin – “I’d Rather Be Spanish than Manish,” 1932

Troy Walker – “Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe,” 1962

Van Morrison – “Madame George,” 1968

Lou Reed – “Candy Says,” 1969 

The Kinks – “Lola,” 1970

Madeline Davis – “Stonewall Nation,” 1971

David Bowie – “John, I’m Only Dancing,” 1972

Jobriath – “I’m A Man,” 1973

Chris Robinson – “Looking for a Boy Tonight,” 1973

The Miracles – “Ain’t Nobody Straight in LA,” 1975

Valentino – “I Was Born This Way,” 1975

Rod Stewart – “The Killing of Georgie,” 1976

Sylvester – “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real,” 1978

The Village People – “YMCA,” 1978

Tom Robinson – “Glad To Be Gay,” 1978

Bonus spoken word:

Rae Bourbon – “Let Me Tell You About My Operation,” 1956

Pink Politics

In the 2016, the Trump campaign accused Hillary Clinton of lacking “stamina,” being “nasty,not looking presidential, and stated that she was unable to “satisfy” her husband, and therefore would be unable to “satisfy” America.  Though an increasing number of Americans might say they are open to voting for a female president, it is inarguable that some of the anti Clinton rhetoric was rooted in sexism.

Last Week Tonight covered the UK Labour Party’s similarly sexist tropes relied upon in 2015.  Labour defended the pink minibus campaign and continue to be critiqued for sexism from within the party.

Rise Like a Pheonix

In 2014 the Eurovision Song Contest was won by Conchita Wurst from Austria.  Conchita Wurst is the drag persona of Tom Neuwirth.  “Conchita” is Spanish slang for vulva / vagina and “Wurst” is German slang for penis.

The Eurovision Contest is known for its eccentricity and gay representations are not new, but Wurst’s performance was particularly unique.  Though wearing long, curled hair, full makeup, and a beautiful gown all culturally signifying female, she also had a full beard, a secondary sex characteristic associated with males.

The song “Rise Like a Phoenix” holds additional meaning when sung by Wurst.  The lyrics “Peering from the mirror  No, that isn’t me  Stranger getting nearer  Who can this person be  You wouldn’t know me at all today” and “Once I’m transformed  Once I’m reborn I rise up to the sky  You threw me down but I’m gonna fly  And rise like a phoenix” can all be read as referencing gender ambiguity or transformation.  Neuwirth has stated “Conchita Wurst” is his drag persona and he does not identify as transgender, though, like many drag queens, uses ‘she’ pronouns when in character.  Wurst’s genderqueer performance was attacked by the Russian Orthodox church as an “abomination” and Vladimir Putin as “aggressive” because non traditional gender identity was “put…up for show”.

In her acceptance speech, Wurst stated “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom.  You know who you are.  We are unity and we are unstoppable.”

Commercial Activism

A Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner recently made it into the news:

The ad was widely met with derision.

This is not a new phenomena.  Imagery and ideas of rebellion have been used to sell products for decades.  Sites such as Jezebel, Sociological Images, and this blog have previously looked at this issue.  Following are some additional examples:

Having ‘Juice’ and Being ‘Hard’

In Code of the Streets, Elijah Anderson discusses how poverty, racism, fallout from drugs, and a lack of faith in the criminal justice system in inner cities have resulted in alienation.  The code of the street is a set of informal rules governing interpersonal behavior that act as a framework for obtaining and maintaining respect or “juice.”  The code creates an alternative status system whereby respect is hard won and easily lost.  The presentation of self, such as facial expressions, body language, manner of dress, and word use can signal intentions.  Ignorance of the rules are no excuse; everyone is expected to know the code and behave in the prescribed manner.  

In Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt talks to academics and rappers about representations of masculinity and violence in rap music.  Though the documentary is a bit older (2006), the content is still relevant.  In an interview, rapper Fat Joe talks about how even at music industry events and in night clubs, everyone feels the need to present themselves as “hard.”  Later, rapper Mos Def talks about growing up as a black man you “don’t want nobody taking you for short…but when shit got critical, you can’t be no punk…and you will get tested.”  Hurt also includes discussion of the need for poor men who lack financial power to have control over their bodies and be able to present themselves as deserving of respect.

The Risk podcast, episode 510 “Impulsive,” featured a story called “Judgment Day” by J.J. about his experience coming from inner city poverty, going to college, and returning home to visit.  The storyteller gets in an altercation with a man from the neighborhood and comes very close to killing the man as retaliation for hurting his pride.