It seems that even conspicuous vestiges of imperialism hardly merit concern. For example, take a look at the recent Golden Globe nominations, specifically for film, and marvel at how white everything is. The only visible racial anomaly is Will Smith, but he was accepted and appropriated by white America long ago as the lovable Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a show which has its own concerning classist representations that serve to obscure our country’s economic reality. What better way to pretend that black people have an equal chance to “make it” than to show an exceptional example of black success?
First of all, it’s silly that I have to qualify success with a racial marker, but I’m intending the marker as a signal to systemic tragedy, not a condescending reminder of remarkable individual triumph. Smith’s turn as the affable “hood” boy thrust into a decidedly white environment, populated by whitewashed characters putting on all the appropriate airs of aristocracy (and therefore acceptable social behavior), betrays the racial and economic context which might make the show more illuminating instead of strictly diverting. Instead, the show’s conceit is filtered through white vision, making it so we see only what allows us to laugh at such a comic situation, instead of interpreting the exceptionalism as simultaneously tragic. As with my previous criticisms of entertainment, I’m not faulting this show in particular, but magnifying the larger culture in which it participates. In that culture, entertainment is invariably created for the perpetuity of American hegemony. Fundamentally, if we’re entertained, we’re satisfied, and if we’re satisfied, we have no reason to question. If we have no reason to question, we tacitly endorse and sustain the status quo. As a white audience member, this orientation serves me quite nicely. When I watch something like The Fresh Prince, I can delude myself with the idea that I’m engaging with minority experiences, when really, I’m just engaging with a whitened version of them. In other words, I’m seeing myself, or rather, I’m seeing my white values represented, reinforced, and celebrated.
Adding to the celebration is the gross white masturbation of the entertainment awards season. I will concede that the television side of things is much more favorable and diverse (thanks largely to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, which presumably are not beholden to the traditional white audience of mainstream network television), but this only makes the homogeneity of film all the more confounding and frustrating. Is it the bloated financial investment of film that makes that medium/industry so slow to evolve? Is the film industry more incestuous and therefore more relentlessly white? The numbers, and you can look them up anywhere, aren’t really startling anymore, which then, of course, makes them startling still. We all know that the industry is dominated by white owners and laborers, yet there is marginal outcry against this obvious truth. Minor concessions get made to appease any objection to the industry’s white supremacy, but it’s clear, looking at who and what we’re celebrating in 2015/16 that very little is changing. And when you examine the biggest box office successes, the public isn’t helping in calling for greater diversity in such a prevalent medium and form of storytelling (and therefore of social normalization) in our culture.
I don’t have a solution here, but that doesn’t negate the problem. I simply want to highlight the absurdity of continuing to deliver the globe to white people while pretending that everything is golden.