The three readings this week deal with race, ethnicity, representation in T.V., and the political stakes those representation holds. In “What Does Race Have to Do With Ugly Betty?” Jennifer Esposito details an episode of Ugly Betty that takes an anti-affirmative action stance. In “The Cosby Show: Representing the Race”, Christine Achman deals with the double whammy of the Cosby Show as a “positive influence” on black Americans but also used as a rhetorical tool for conservative beliefs in meritocracy. Finally, on chapter 4 of “The Transformation of TV”, Herman Gray discusses how Black representation is influenced, in part, by industry standards.
Obviously, representation is still a huge subject in the entertainment and the art world. As all three articles point out, this is due to the fact that the mainstream entertainment industry lacks diversity, or, when diversity is present, said diversity is usually pernicious stereotypes or used against poor people of color. In other words, representation matters.
What these articles—and other readings on representation—lack is a more nuance, deeper understanding of the politics of representation; only Herman Gray attempts to complicate this issue, but only sparingly. Representation is a myriad of factors, and should not be just limited to “good representation” or “bad representation” depending on the political stakes; furthermore, the conversation also leads to a myth of progress, as in “Black representation is getting better and better every century” (change does not always mean better, but that’s another argument). As Stuart Hall’s “Encoding and Decoding Television” article points out, what is said and what is read can be two completely different stories.
So, how does one complicate the politics of representation? Acham and Esposito looks at the social-political-historical context of Ugly Betty and the Cosby Show, and those are a great start. As a person who consistently researches and engages with the politics of representation, I pose the following questions to begin complicating this aspect of research:
-How do we move beyond “good” or “bad” representation?
-In what ways is digital media challenging our notions of what representation is or is not?
-How does power (besides identity power) influence the frames and lens of stories?
-Which stories are considered legitimate and why? What makes a legitimate “black” story?
-Could TV or media ever be radical? What attempts have been made to do so?
-How does the history of U.S. entertainment continue to influence what is seen on the screen? After all, nothing comes out of a vacuum.
-What is the relationships between creator, industry, culture, and consumer?
These are just some of the questions I ask as I continue on my quest to stop limiting myself to “good” or “bad” representation.