Considering Contemporary Television’s Ideological Power
Isabel Molina-Guzmán / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Laura Brunner, Metropolitan State University of Denver
*denotes panel convener
Throughout FLOW’s roundtable conversations, my thoughts kept circling back to Cedric Robinson’s concept of racial capitalism defined as the interdependence between capitalism and racial inequality and violence to produce economic value. [ ((For more on the concept of racial capitalism see Cedric Robinson Black Marxism (North Carolina Press, 1983).))] Whether the discussion was about production, archiving, texts, gaming, it seemed white normativity and privilege was always in the space, always a question to be, but rarely, asked. “Television” as a form of Western cultural production stabilizes white patriarchal heteronormative privilege thereby preserving Capital, with a capital C. [ ((Jodi Melamed (2015) “Racial Capitalism,” Journal of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association (1) 1, 76-85.))]
Televisual Structures of Whiteness.
In the contemporary context, the technologies by which TV texts are produced and disseminated are continually innovated. And sometimes the world on our screens appears radically diverse and inclusive. But the structural conditions of televisual production in all its forms remains embedded in racial, sexual, and gender inequality. As Jodi Melamed observes, “we also increasingly recognize that contemporary racial capitalism deploys liberal and multicultural terms of inclusion to value and devalue forms of humanity differentially to fit the needs of reigning state capital orders.” [ ((Melamed, 77.))] Industry reports out of UCLA, USC, and Columbia document the people 1) who own the media, 2) who greenlight new projects, 3) who represent actors and cast the programs, 4) who produce, write, or direct, and, 5) the guilds who provide skilled technical labor are dominated by predominantly white, heterosexual, cis-men. [ ((See https://bunchecenter.ucla.edu/2018/02/28/new-hollywood-diversity-report-2018/; https://annenberg.usc.edu/recent-commission-card; https://fusiondotnet.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/latino_media_gap_report.pdf))]
Colorblind Ideology and the Televisual Flow of Whiteness
Colorblindness is the ideological mechanism of inequality by which whiteness is maintained and reified in mainstream U.S. television. It is an ideology evidenced in colorblind and multicultural ensemble casting practices – a casting strategy that uses racial difference to erase racial specificity, engages performances of ethnicity in order to homogenize culture, that makes queerness visible without subjectivity. [ ((See Isabel Molina-Guzmán Latinas & Latinos on TV: Colorblind Comedy in the Post-Racial Network Era (2018, University of Arizona Press); Sarah Nilsen & Sarah Turner (eds) The Colorblind Screen: Television in Post-Racial America (2014, New York University Press); and Kristen Warner The Cultural Politics of Colorblind Casting (2015, Routledge).))] It benefits from media industries’ strategic use of racial exceptionalism through the visibility of the exceptional few and the social acceptance of hipster racism, implicit racism, and affective inequities in media texts. Both are central components of the culture of civility in which white norms of behavior are reinforced and maintained. [ ((For more on heteronormative whiteness and the culture of civility see Bernadette M. Calafell’s (2012) “Monstrous Femininity: Constructions of Women of Color in the Academy” Journal of Communication Inquiry 36 (2), 111-130. https://doi.org/10.1177/0196859912443382))] The real-world consequence of colorblindness is that it minimizes the need for ethnic, racial, sexual, and gender equity by making difference culturally, socially and politically irrelevant.
Instead of colorblindness, we as media producers, audiences, and academics should demand and advocate for color consciousness. We must “see” whiteness and difference and become conscious of the filters and biases used to make sense of the world and those who are different from us. Contemporary political discourses, rhetoric, actions, and policies are raising the social, cultural, and political stakes of “seeing” television’s ideological drive.