Gloved Hands, Pressed Uniforms, and Silver Trays
Herman Gray / University of California in Santa Cruz

Downton Abbey

Publicity Still from the Series Downton Abbey

Reality television marks the boundaries between the ordinary and celebrity, brand campaigns align desire and choice with distinct brands, and our civic discourse appeal to our sharpest differences in political ideology. In our perpetual connectivity enabled by digital technology and social media, we live the collapse of time and space. Our image cultures promise greater connection but depend on finer and finer gradations of taste and demographic distinction. In the midst of access to social intimacy, there is greater economic vulnerability and social distance for those without access to resources and life chances. Distinctions of difference and power, difference as power, structure the brand culture to which we have become accustomed. Now the genre of reality television is the conventional locus in our image culture where we amplify social difference of class, body image, cultural competence, tradition, and appearance among others, in order to transcend them. Rather than reality television to contemplate spaces where proximity, intimacy, and distinction operate as a forms of power I want to comment briefly on three rather unlikely texts: PBS’s Downton Abbey, the Academy Award Best Picture nominated, The Help, and CNN’s coverage of The Funeral of Whitney Houston.

Downton Abbey, is the story of The Earl of Granthom, his family, including three daughters, his wife and mother and large domestic staff of service workers—butlers, valets, chamber maids, drivers, footmen, cooks—who serve them and whose labor make their lavish lives possible. The PBS series, which recently completed its second season, is set in a stately English manor house called Downton Abbey during World War I and its immediate aftermath. Based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, The Help, is a mid-twentieth century American story of white middle class manners and the black female domestic labor on which white middle class households depend for order, socialization of the young and markers of status. Set in Jackson, Mississippi The Help is a coming of age story for its lead character, Skeeter Phelan and her relationship with two black women, Aibleen Clark and Minny Jackson who work as maids for the women in her social circle. As different at these two stories are in form (Hollywood film and quality television series), setting (American South and English countryside), historical period (early and mid-twentieth century), and critical and popular receptions, in their representations of social difference, the spaces of physical proximity, cultural intimacy, and social distinction, there are some things that they have in common. For example, both films underscore explicit markers and social practices of distinction that structure relations of domination and subordination.

PBS Trailer for Downton Abbey

The relations of subordination and domination in the American south and the English countryside at least as depicted in these films depend on shared information and codes among the participants that affectively charge the spaces of employers and employees, bosses and servants with investments in secrets, complicities, resentments, care, and anger. These texts seem to suggest that the terms of these unequal social relations are certainly not all that meets the eye, that the social relations and people that these structures and codes organize do not observe them with fidelity.

Nonetheless, it is precisely in the attempt to bracket these practices and mark the spaces of distinction and difference that we see the force of such practices and the spaces of intimacy on which inequality depends. In such spaces, we also see, especially from the perspective of those on whose labor the system depends, the practices of inequality at their (most absurd) limit. Black critics of The Help, are skeptical of film’s depiction of black women’s sacrifice: black maids whose physical labor made for clean homes, whose emotional labor made for the socialization of ethical young white children, and whose friendship enabled white female humanity and self worth among the most abject members of the white world (Celia). True enough. I am more interested in the film’s account of what the intimacies of inequality look like and what they show us about how race and class actually work in the intimate spaces and daily practices of inequality. Practices like the gloved hands and silver tray on which a maid in Downton Abbey presents the mail to the Lady of the House and in the way hand maids and boot men undress their lords and ladies in the intimacy of Downtown Abbey’s bedrooms and chambers. Complicities like the whispered reassurance of the black maids who share in secrets and fears of white children and the repeated humiliation witnessed by sympathetic whites when the black maid and confidant is not allowed to use the indoor bathroom. Crisp uniforms, rural accents, separate living quarters, silver trays, gloved hands, and black skin all working to maintain rules of decorum and appearances.

Character of Aibleen in The Help

The liberal conceit of both Downton Abbey and The Help is their movement between the worlds of the aristocracy and the servants, the white middle class and the black help to give us a sense of the link between the spaces of domination and subordination. While members of the Downton Abbey household are occasionally present in the “lower-spaces” of the servants and we come to know something about the lives of the characters that live there (including affairs of the heart, sexual transgressions, and crimes). With the lone exception of the white protagonist in The Help, by the codes and practices of Jim Crow segregation, black lives are strictly off-limits to whites. In that particularly mid-century American way, Aibleen and Minney know more than a thing or two about their white employees and their families, while whites know nothing about their black employees and their family. But what to make of what The Help and Downton Abbey says or rather shows about the play of proximity and intimacy and what it means for our time of uncertainty, economic crisis, racial suspicion, xenophobia, and nationalism? For one, the codes of decorum and practices of separation and distinction depicted in these films seem so out of place, confined to the distant past which means that perhaps we are free to take the measure of them in our own time as brand expressions of quality culture— Academy award wining performances by Octavia Spencer and quality television from PBS. The political and historical terms through which we remember these social worlds and the social relations that defined them are of a very specific kind—they represent a crucial moment of modern aspirations for equality and personhood that eliminated once and for all the collusion of intimacy and proximity so necessary (and central) to inequality in the first place. In the case of Downton Abbey, we see (and with our modern sensibilities and romantic codes root for) the servants and the aristocracy to defy the codes of social class—keep intimacies, love across class lines, reject inheritances.

The Help, gingerly anticipates black challenges to Jim Crow. In Aibileen’s moment of contemplation in response to the assignation of Medgar Evers, the film acknowledges the social impact of black maids who through their example of grace and courage touched the lives of liberal white women (including viewers of the Motion Picture Academy) who were to play a role in the then emergent second wave feminist movement. In black women characters like Aibleen and Minney, we see new social subjects of the black civil rights movement, subjects who, by the depth of their sacrifice and the enormity of their courage challenged white supremacy up close and personal.

Example of Intimacy and Resistance from Aibleen in The Help

Both films recognize and celebrate modern conceptions of new subjects and a changing order—in the case of The Help of the subject of the civil rights movement and the slow demise of a Jim Crow order of racial terror (especially in the close spaces of domestic proximity) and in Downton Abbey, the transformation of the British class system. Of course, today we recognize these subjects and the social transformations they helped usher in as topics of cinema, history, and culture. Where are the spaces that shape and define the practices of equality in our own time and what are the terms of mediation do we negotiate to access such spaces. I found such a space in a most unlikely place, the televised coverage of Whitney Houston’s funeral (but not the wall to wall news coverage and media spectacle of the tragic death of Whitney Houston). The distinction is important. Against the backdrop of celebrity spectacle, media events of such magnitude have become routine (e.g. the coverage of 9-11, the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the funeral of Princess Diana, the OJ Simpson trial, the Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings, the marriage of Prince William, and the death and funeral of Michael Jackson).

What about those uniforms, you ask. What might the black space of the funeral and television’s coverage of it tell us differently about spaces of intimacy, difference, and community as practices of equality? First of all the funeral was held in the black Baptist church of Whitney Houston’s youth, a space whose intimate yet communal rituals of baptism, witness, community, and loss frames lives, defines communities, and animates the rhythms of ordinary life. The logic of the black Baptist church effectively mediated the conventional televisual grammar and looking practices that we associate with coverage of major media events—the close up, the cut away, expert commentary, spectacle, and celebrity. I watched the CNN’s two plus hours of nonstop coverage and I could not help but notice the (mostly futile) attempt by CNN hosts Don Lemon, Piers Morgan and Soledad O’Brien to give a play-by-play account of the event. Perhaps out of respect or futility O’Brien gave up (or in) to the rhythm of the black church, a rhythm that momentarily, at least, returned to broadcast television’s founding claim to liveness and simultaneity. Because the temporality of grief and mourning resisted the rhythm of television’s standard conventions (lighting, camera shots, cut-away, commercial interruption, and commentary) these conventions did not define the terms of the event. Instead the church service–length, pacing, improvisation, spontaneity, digressions, break downs (in the program, among the audiences, among the participants), mistakes, confusion subordinated television’s standard conventions to the rituals and rhythm of black space. Here are a few examples: Stevie Wonder’s encore performance; Rev. Marvin Winans calling members of his immediate and extended family to the pulpit to share in stories and song; the Rev. Marvin Winans’ sermon in in which his meta commentary on black preaching was itself a performance of black signifying; and heart wrenching expressions of grief, love and loss. These expressions black grief, praise, and celebration were conveyed in the broadcast through a very limited number of camera shots—medium close-ups and long shots dominated the visual coverage.

Houston's Funeral

Image from the Coverage of Houston’s Funeral

With CNN’s coverage of Houston’s funeral, I could not help but draw comparisons between the staging and coverage of Houston’s funeral and Michael Jackson’s a few years earlier. In many respects, the television coverage of each stressed their roles in transgressing the boundaries of race and celebrity that defined their times. Jackson’s was a black space too but one designed and staged for a global fan base, for a media spectacle that could only take place in the vastness of the LA’s Staples Center, whose grammar and representation was spectacular in every sense. Billed as a celebration, it is fair to say that producers and family produced the event for a global television audience. Black space. Whitney Houston’s funeral was also black space; but the space of the Black Baptist church and community of her childhood where black woman ushers dressed in uniforms of distinction (white nurse uniforms) signifying aid and comfort, took charge of the emotional health of members and visitors alike. People came to worship, praise, and mourn in the space of community and fellowship.

Transactions and crossing boundaries in spaces such as those represented in The Help, Downton Abbey and the Black Baptist Church of Houston’s youth make visible practices of inequality. They also show us spaces of community and the common. In such spaces the same uniforms that distinguish and mark differences in social station, resources and access to life changes can in other spaces signal welcome, participation, justice and equality. Those uniforms indeed!

Image Credits:
1. Downton Abbey
2. Houston Funeral

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Seeing in Spanish: The Nat King Cole Show
Herman Gray / University of California in Santa Cruz

Nat King Cole

Album Cover for Nat King Cole en Español

Long before he was a television host and celebrity Nat King Cole was an accomplished jazz pianist and song stylist. Over the course of a very successful musical career Cole recorded hundreds of songs with his innovative jazz trio including a series of records featuring classic song from Latin America including pre-Castro Cuba.

Nat King Cole Performing “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas”

In his most recent compact disk release, “David Murray’s Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole (En Español)” (3d Family 2011; 3d Family.org) saxophonist, composer, and arranger David Murray revisits some of these classical Latin American recordings by Cole. David Murray’s reinterpretation of Nat King Cole prompts me to rehear The Nat King Cole Show, especially in the context of black televisual presence in today’s digital platforms. What Murray has done with this remarkable project is to signal some of the radical possibilities in sight and sound, hemispheric transnationalism, border crossing, and the politics of representation that Nat King Cole gestured toward in the short run of his television show. David Murray’s sonic riff on Cole’s often commercial and sometime brazen south of the border collaborations is no mere project of nostalgic recuperation either. David Murray links Nat King Cole’s sonic presence on television to a powerful musical tradition and diasporic conversation.

Murray’s exploration of Cole’s Latin music archive provides the chance to reflect on Cole’s impact on 1950s American television sonically (through Murray’s sound, arrangements, and reconnections to what Jelly Roll Morton called the Spanish tinge) rather than just visually. Indeed for me Murray’s recording suggests a conception of Cole as Ellingtonian, a figure exuding the celebrity persona necessary to command a television show and cultural gravitas to disturb (even if momentarily) the racial order of things. Murray, who came of age politically and culturally in the 1960s, uses the musical and television legacy of Cole to take listeners through the history of exchange, collaboration and borrowing from Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, and Puerto Rico; Murray places Nat King Cole in the company of black American composers and performers (e.g. Randy Weston, Sarah Vaughan, Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, John Birks Gillespie, Miles Davis, Melba Liston, and Sonny Rollins) who musically probed black American diasporic connections to Central and Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Sonny Rollins Performing Jazz Calypso Live

Forging connections to the political and racial history of the US and Latin America in the 1940s and 1950s is fraught since it is saturated as much by nostalgia for the good old days of resorts and playgrounds for the wealthy as by illicit commerce, Jim Crow racial terror, economic inequality, and authoritarian governments. Yet, it is precisely these collaborations, both Nat King Cole’s original work with musicians in Cuba, and Mexico and David Murray’s contemporary collaborations with musicians in Cuba, Argentina, Spain and Portugal, that continue the complex sonic transactions that go back to the founding moment of black Atlantic exchange and exceed the boundaries of the national and the visual.

David Murray

David Murray

Sonically, Murray manages to do what television could not or perhaps, more to the point, would not. That is, make explicit Nat King Cole’s (and black America’s) cultural and aesthetic alliances with diasporic communities of affiliation in Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. After listening live and on record to David Murray’s Cuban Ensemble play the Spanish music of Nat King Cole when I see black and white television footage of Nat King Cole on fifties American television it is not just though the patina of nostalgia for the golden age of television or the liberal American gesture toward racial tolerance. (Anna McCarthy’s excellent, The Citizen Machine: Governing By Television in 1950s America analyzes, in rich and fascinating detail, the role of American broadcast television in the story of liberal racial tolerance.)

This is a double move too. Cole’s musical collaborations with musicians in pre-Castro Cuba occurs at the same time as black artists like Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, and Paul Robson in the US and revolutionaries like Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Cuba were helping to imagine and usher in a new world. In his embrace of Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, both Nat King Cole and David Murray continue to forge sonic links among black diasporic speaking communities in the global south and the global north.

What better translator to reanimate this imaginative possibility for our time than David Murray. The songs featured on “David Murray’s Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole (En Español)” include some of the most recognizable and frequently recorded Spanish language material—“Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”, “ Cachito”, “Piel Canela” “A Media Luz” and “Aquí Se Habla en Amor”. Murray’s arrangements update the Nat King Cole songbook without sacrificing the soul of the music or the richness of its tradition.

David Murray plays Nat King Cole en Español – Quizas, Quizas, Quizas

To hear this material and to look at that old television footage now is to see different black Atlantic communities with distinct cultural histories engaged in diasporic collaboration and celebration. While this collaboration is neither original with Nat King Cole nor unique with Murray today (others worth noting include Steve Coleman, Jerry Gonzalez, Roy Hargrove, Stephan Harris, Regina Carter), with this recording Murray conjures something valuable and important, what I would describe as the invitation to hear visually and to see sonically in the black Atlantic sonic and visual imagination.

This raises the question thus, of what The Nat King Cole Show and the Latin American songbook might mean for black televisual presence in the US today with the new crop of new black owned, themed, and focused broadcast platforms: OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network cable network which partnered with The Discovery Channel), Bounce TV (broadcast network started by Ambassador Andrew Young and Martin Luther King III), TV One, BET (Black Entertainment Television). Ironically, like the broadcast environment in Cole’s time, these days black original programming is a rarity in the contemporary prime time schedule. Unlike television in the mid-nineteen fifties, black characters and black story lines are considerably more dispersed and visible across broadcast and cable programming schedule.

What is more, it is not surprising that more black owned cable and media platforms appear with the transformation of the digital television environment and capacity to identify and reach distinct demographic niches. For the new black focused networks, access to the archives of global entertainment companies like Viacom makes syndicated programs and reality-based appeals to race, gender, and lifestyle more cost effective than expensive original scripted programming. Russell Simmons, BET, and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions demonstrated that they could brand and market blackness across different media platforms. BET and then TV One proved the financial viability of stocking the broadcast schedule with low cost and high return programming. So viewers turning to recent ventures emphasizing black themed content will find a mix of old movies, sports, syndicated situation comedies, in-studio talk shows, and canned programming from the archives of parent and affiliated companies.

What, I wonder, of the histories, collaborations, aspirations, and memories in this generation of broadcasting platforms aimed at black audiences? The programing offered by these new ventures model middle class arrival and tutor viewers in normative ideals of citizenship and self-improvement that turn histories of struggle and collective action into iconic images and heroic individual efforts. The poor, displaced, and most marginalized sectors of our communities stand as the limit of what is morally permissible and at the limit of a social order that continues to be ordered racially. David Murray’s homage to Nat King Cole’s Español recordings and The Nat King Cole Show taken together evoke, for me, the hidden histories of black diasporic collaboration and circulation. Unlike Murray, the account of our present and the programing choices presented in the new black owned platforms remind us as much about the exploitability of the black market niche for corporate investments and brands as they do about the unwillingness of sponsors a generation ago to invest in The Nat King Cole Show, because it defied the racial order.

Image Credits:
1. Nat King Cole en Español Album Cover
2. David Murray

Please feel free to comment.




Representation, Politics and Publics
Herman Gray / University of California Santa Cruz

Al Sharpton on MSNBC

The “Rev Al” on MSNBC

The public spat between members of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and MSNBC for the cable network’s selection of the Rev. Al Sharpton to host a nightly cable talk show, prompts me to consider our cultural investment in media representation to express a greater measure of racial equality. ((Don Irvine “Black Journalists Criticize Potential Sharpton Hiring at MSNBC” Accuracy In Media (http://www.aim.org/donirivine-blog) (Accessed October 5, 2011); Richard Prince “NABJ Happy for Al Sharpton Opporunity” The Root (08/10/2011) (http://www.theroot.com) (Accessed October 5, 2011); Alan Feuer “As an MSNBC Host, Sharpton Is a Hybrid Like No Other” New York Times, Business Section (September 18, 2011) (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/business)) My interest in the alliance between visibility and equality is also occasioned by the public criticism of President Barack Obama by radio and television host Tavis Smiley and Princeton Professor Cornel West.

Al Sharpton on MSNBC with Cornel West

In selecting Sharpton to anchor MSNBC clearly aims to challenge its main competitor, Fox News, and to cultivate brand visibility among liberal audiences, especially African Americans. Tapping Sharpton to host the evening program demonstrates what media scholar Jennifer Fuller describes as a marketing strategy (especially for scripted cable programming) where black themed content is mixed with edgy programming conventions and branded as quality television. (( Jennifer Fuller “Branding Blackness on US cable television” Media Culture Society. 2010, 32: 285. (http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/32/2/285)) According to Fuller, cable stalwarts like HBO have successfully used this strategy with series like The Wire and Treme. At the same time, for, a handful of black journalists and television critics by passing over trained, reputable, and professional national correspondents, anchors, and editors, MSNBC chose ratings and perhaps polemics over a commitment to professional journalism. That is, in hiring Sharpton MSNBC made a commitment to ratings over the credibility of news.

This controversy also plays in the shadow of journalism and a news business being transformed by new portals, platforms, social networks, interactivity, digitalization, and miniaturization. Social media and personal networking sites now serve as alternative sources of information and means of distributing that information. Black journalists too are feeling the effects of the erosion public trust, the pressure to grow audiences and increase market share, the decline of control over their work, and the blurring of entertainment and serious news.

So in what ways might hiring Al Sharpton to host his own nightly television program on MSNBC matter? Does hiring Sharpton increase the mix and number of voices in the public conversation? And most of all, does it contribute to expanding the audience and enriching the public discourse? Polls continue to show that most people still get their major news from traditional news sources and outlets like network television, especially on stories of national importance like war, health care, taxes and presidential elections. Hence, I suspect that Sharpton will go on “preaching to his particular choir” and MSNBC (like Fox) will continue serve as an echo chamber for its demographic.

Al Sharpton Preaching to His Choir

Al Sharpton “Preaching to His Choir”

In his In Search of the Black Fantastic, Richard Iton suggests that black counter publics once offered critiques and helped organize and give voice to radical black discontent. ((Richard Iton. In Search of the Black Fantastic. Politics and Popular Culture in the Post Civil Rights Era. (Oxford, 2008).)) These critiques were crucial in the face of mainstream political blocks and interests such as those represented by the black middle class, black elected officials, and the Democratic Party. In his account of black counter publics in the civil rights movement, Houston A. Baker Jr. points to the crucial role of black radio and newspapers, and black religious and social organizations. ((Houston A. Baker. “Critical memory and the black public sphere” Public Culture. 1994, Vol. 7, No. 1: 3-33. See also: Leigh Raiford. Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle (University of North Carolina Press, 2011).)) I am not so sure that the presence of black voices—be they professional journalists, public intellectuals or activists on venues like MSNBC, NPR, or the NABJ represent counter publics of the sort detailed by Baker or Iton.

What to call them—Markets? Publics? Audiences? Moreover, where and how to locate these and other voices in the post network period of television and the neoliberal discourse of post racial colorblind public policy. Moreover the transformation in racial discourse and the global media environment as well as the centrality of difference in branding and marketing to consumers make so-called ethnic media both more important and less. More, in the sense that marketers and opinion makers (including intellectuals of color) have more precise means of reaching more precise slivers of their desired demographic, less, because in the hands of corporate owners these same demographics are branded and marketed as life-style choices rather communities.

Indeed, a generation ago activists, intellectuals, organizers, and culture workers engaged with their communities and audiences through mass organizing, newspapers, and broadcast television news. Activist organized and spoke on behalf of social movements and community organizations. Some even reached minor celebrity status on the basis of book sales, public appearances, and speaking tours. Small presses, independent publications, regional theater, music and cinema were a crucial part of the infrastructure that constituted spaces of representation and community. In the absence of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and web pages communities and publics were cultivated though organizations, and to no small extent, media.

By contrast, given the availability and impact of new technologies, especially social media and the networking capacities they enable, we might rethink the squabble between a few NABJ members and MSNBC over access to the evening host/anchor chair as about continuing to insist that an acceptable representative has a voice and relevant groups are included in market share. We might ask if the continuing investment in representation can deliver what it promises especially in the new media environment? The dispute seems mired in older notions of identity politics and community, but with a twist—building brand identification and building audiences. So I want to use the dispute as an occasion to rethinking the scholarly and political investments in questions of difference and representation, building publics, and making community inherited from mid century racial and cultural politics, conceptions that are in need of upgrading. In other words, what might the televisual media-scape look like, what might be its potentialities in terms of building communities?

If by their sheer presence, a greater number of journalists of color in news rooms can effectively represent the complex views of communities of color, then we should assume that such representation will produce more diversity of views and perspectives. The dust up over Sharpton’s hiring suggests a continuing investment in the capacity of media representation and visibility to insure a measure of fairness and equality. It seems to me that this continuing investment in representation assumes something about the nature of citizenship, its exercise and its relationship to information and some idea of the common good. It assumes that the distinction between professional journalists and activist is important and it assumes a view or conception of cable television as a site for the expression of the relationship between information and citizenship. Cable television news programming is viewed as a crucial space in which professionals generate, parse, and present news that informed citizens and members of communities use to make informed decisions. Various interest, identities, and political positions are not to be negotiated in this space for that is the work of pundits, activists, and celebrities not professional journalists.

We might also regard cable news as one of a number of potential spaces for building affective ties between viewers, brands, and a specific take on the world. In this view, Sharpton’s recruitment and hiring by MSNBC might be understood less as an affront to professional journalism (and journalists) and rather more as a contested cultural site where pundits operate in the guise of impartial professionals and politics is less about considering and evaluating impartial information, than about affirming strongly felt ideologies and brand identity.

Branding of MSNBC

The Branding of MSNBC with the Hiring of Al Sharpton

As different as these takes on the question of representation and diversity may seem, I would suggest that they have in common some of the core commitments and directives outlined in the 1965 Kerner Commission Report written in response to the urban uprisings of the period and which argued that increased representation of communities and their views in the nation’s commercial media would, at the very, least insure greater sensitivity and understanding. As the election of the nation’s first African descendent president shows, despite four decades of the Kerner Commission as the dominant framework for realizing diversity in the media, on matters of representation and visibility, access and recognition are no longer simply about people of color, women, and gay and lesbian, and marginal communities being seen in the media. In today’s post racial, post affirmative action discourse of neoliberalism conservatives and liberals regard such claims on visibility and representation as an unnecessary zero sum game that gums up the work of the free market, individual choice, and reward for meritorious work.

The issue of how to read and position dominant corporate media seems important here, less in terms of older binary model of media and audience power but in terms of the contradictory spaces enabled by social media and technological advances in platforms, networks, and interactivity. In this respect, the dispute over MSNBC’s appointment of Sharpton, bears consideration, but not just in terms of professional and middle class claims on representation and authority or, on the other hand Sharpton’s claim for the interests of common folks of color as an anchor. Sharpton is in a position to build the network brand (as a liberal inclusive organization) building what in turn might actually prefigure access not to representation in the old sense, but access to potentialities for new alliances and identifications. In this sense the politics of media and representation are less about increased recognition and visibility in the old sense, than in figuring out how to mobilize and deploy those capacities and to what end in the new environment.

Image Credits:
1. The “Rev Al” on MSNBC
2. Al Sharpton Preaching To His Choir
3. The Branding of MSNBC

Please feel free to comment.