REPRESENTATIONS OF TRANS/GENDER AND SEXUALITY

Discrimination, terror, rejection and even confusion are present everyday within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community (LGBT). It was not long ago that homosexuality was considered a disease by doctors and crime by the government (Benstoff 2009). Since the passing of same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015, the nation has slowly been accepting the true meaning of happiness and love for all. Films like Broke Back Mountain, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and even shows such as Glee and Will & Grace have significantly emerged into progression and the acceptance of gay lives in mainstream media (Benshoff 2009). Yet the perpetuating the idea that homosexual people are considered “deviant” and not “normal” in society is still immensely apparent (Benshoff 2009).

Naomi Gordon-Loebl, a writer who lives in Brooklyn, shares her several encounters of people questioning and even asking if she is a boy or girl. In her article “Even Lumberjacks Deserve Lotion: Gender in the Locker Room,” she shares her fear and struggle of keeping a low profile to avoid being kicked out of the women’s locker room. She states, “There are people, real people, many of them, who think we are freaks…” and these are the people who make the lives of LBGT miserable and taunting. Unfortunately studies have even shown that LGBT people have higher suicide rates than those who are heterosexual people. She ends her article with an aspiration to have joy and pride, without being embarrassed or ashamed for whom she is. Although Gordon-Loebl is not the only person who has been terrorized by her own community, Caitlyn Jenner was ridiculed and judged by the entire world. As an Olympic winner back in the 1970’s, Jenner was easily considered a national hero for his heterosexual masculinity and strength. Caitlyn Jenner shocked and confused many audiences when she came out as transgender, yet sparked awareness and much more support for the LBGT community. But before Jenner came out to the world, she hid her identity behind closed doors and continued to dress as man for many years. This supports the notion of many LGBT people who are “scared straight” (Benshoff 2009) in order to be accepted and avoid panic and fear from others. While most are proud and very outspoken human beings, there are hundreds of lives within the LGBT community who are trapped in the conception of fear and scrutiny. Rejection from their family, friends, and society have created a harsh world for these lives who only want to fulfill happiness and find their identity.

 

Benshoff, Harry. “(Broke)back to the Mainstream: Queer Theory and Queer Cinemas Today” in Film theory and contemporary Hollywood movies. Ed. Warren Buckland. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Gordon-Loebl, Naomi. “Even Lumberjacks Deserve Lotion: Gender in the Locker Room” The Toast: LGT. 7 March 2016.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

At the 2013 MTV Movie Awards, Selena Gomez’s performance of her newly released single “Come & Get It” was criticized for culturally appropriating Indian culture and misusing the religious bindi embellishment. Not only did she adopt the Indian culture as a trend for her performance, the song itself is quite appropriated as well. The melody of the song reflects the culture due to its heavy percussion beats and a man’s singing in Punjabi. Her style appropriation and content appropriation of the culture was profoundly offensive and misrepresented. According to James Young and Conrad Brunk’s introduction in The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation, the concept of respect and offensiveness is closely related (Young and Brunk 2012). Gomez might have not realized that cultural appropriation is an extremely disrespectful act while recording her music, yet it all comes down to the common values and sensitivity audiences may intake from watching her performance or listening to her music (Young and Brunk 2012). The understanding of ethical issues from cultural appropriation is aesthetically important for cultures itself, in order to gain respect and diminish the attacks of their identities (Young and Brunk 2012).

Another example in popular media of the “unjustifiable harm” cultural appropriation has created (Young 2010) is associated with No Doubt’s lead singer, Gwen Stefani. When she released her first solo album in 2004, Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Gwen Stefani incorporated Japanese culture all around her image, music, and career during the promotion of her album. Not only did Gwen Stefani appropriate the Japanese culture to identify her and her image during these years, but she also used her Japanese back up dancers, Love, Angel, Music, Baby, as her props! She created an entourage of what she called “Harajuki Girls” who were indeed Japanese pinup girls. She was seen everywhere from award shows to appearances with these girls, which was utterly offensive and disrespectful. As stated in Young’s “What is Cultural Appropriation,” he poses that “artists represent their own experience in their works… when artists represent their experience of other cultures, the insiders are left with their experiences” (Young 2010). This is exactly what Gwen Stefani delivered for her intended audiences and fans around the world. She provided an insight of how she believes the Japanese culture should be portrayed; specifically in her own Gwen Stefani rock star way.

In cultural appropriation the appropriator is praised for the adoption of one’s culture while the creators of that culture are criticized for representing their unique culture (Young 2010). This is especially true within African-American culture. When someone adopts the culture by wearing dreadlocks, cornrows, or by having big booty and baby hairs (Brown 2014), they are automatically praised. Yet, when a black woman or man lives everyday life with these culturally related circumstances, they are bashed and ridiculed. There is a thin line between appreciation and appropriation of a culture. However not many people are aware of how to respectfully exemplify a culture. Whether or not the representation of a culture is appropriate, it often fails to be nothing but offensive when it is appears in media platforms.

Brown, Kara. “The Problem With Baby Hairs, ‘Urban’ and the Fashion Industry” Jezebel. 17 September 2014.

Young, James. “What is Cultural Appropriation” in Cultural Appropriation and the Arts. Wiley Blackwell, 2010.

Young, James and Conrad G. Brunk. “Introduction” and “‘Nothing Comes from Nowhere’: Reflections on Cultural Appropriation as the Representation of Other Cultures” in The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation. Wiley Blackwell, 2012.  

ARAB AND MUSLIM REPRESENTATIONS

After the horrifying attacks on September 11th, 2001, Americans have treated Arabs and Muslims with such anger and terror in the news and media. They are viewed as a constant global threat and nothing but a deceiving group of terrorists. Arabs and Muslims have been greatly discriminated against, mistreated and stereotypically portrayed due to the actions of specific Muslim terrorist groups (Alsultany 2012). The power the media has on the Arab and Muslim culture has significantly created negative, terrorizing imageries for American audiences and “in the eyes of Americans, they have become collectively known as dangerous outsiders” (Bayoumi 2009). The American press and news play a major part in influencing the existing idea that Arabs and the Islamic religion are evidently a threat to the U.S. economy, as well as the U.S. national security (Alsultany 2012).

In the 2006 drama, Babel, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, there are multiple misconceptions of the Arab and Muslim world. The movie consists of four different storylines, which are all linked with a symbolic object, a rifle. The background setting of the film takes place in Morocco where many could assume to be paradise. In one of the storylines, Americans Richard and Susan visit the Arab country of Morocco and Susan is shot. This scene inflicts a negative image of the behavior of Muslims, inferring that they are cruel and do nothing but terrorize Americans (Alsultany 2012). This representation of Moroccans and Muslims inherit fear and horror to tourists and outsiders, thus targeting the United States. In a different scene one of the two Moroccan brothers accidentally shoots Susan and is later shot by Moroccan police officers. His brother then picks up his father’s gun and begins shooting as defense. This also reinforces the stereotype of violence and terror, and how apathetic Muslims (Alsultany 2012) seem to be. Muslims go as far as committing suicide for their religion, Islam. Yet this scene also shows a different point of view, in which the brothers share their interpersonal relationship and portray the “good Muslim” instead. There is an indefinite of love between these two boys, despite their race or religion.

According to Evelyn Alsultany’s Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representations after 9/11, she states, “‘Bad’ Arabs or Muslims are the terrorists, and their ‘good’ counterparts are those who help the U.S. government fight terrorism.” Americans definitely view all Muslims as an entire group of “bad” Muslims. In today’s society when a shooting/attack occurs, it is automatically categorized as a terrorist attack if the assaulter was Muslim or Arab. The media covers news about bombings in Paris and Belgium, but when it comes to the tragedies in Palestine, Syria or the Middle East, the media is blinded by these atrocities. The 9/11 bombing and those specific terrorist groups do not represent the entire Muslim and Arab population and culture. These negative and repulsive stereotypes presented in the media only continue to support the existing beliefs that do nothing but turn Americans against the Muslim and Arab world.

 

Alsultany, Evelyn. Selections from in Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11. NYU Press, 2012.

Moustafa Bayoumi, “Preface,” in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America. Penguin, 2009.

Booty & the Beast

"American Idol" XIV Grand Finale - ShowHOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 13: American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez onstage during “American Idol” XIV Grand Finale at Dolby Theatre on May 13, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Jennifer Lopez is a bonafide triple threat in Hollywood; the talented “Boricua beauty” from the Bronx has shown the world that she can act, dance, and sing – which is a feat that only a few have conquered successfully across all three categories in the entertainment industry. Despite the breadth and depth of her abilities as an entertainer, the media has shifted the focus away from her talent and versatility, and onto her being “the Puerto Rican girl from the wrong side of the tracks who speaks her mind. They say she is famous for her looks, her bottom, her ex-boyfriend. And her big mouth” (Molina Guzman, pg. 66).

  Guzman’s reading delineates how the media interprets and delivers different messages when talking about ethnic women versus white women in Hollywood. The negative connotations that are attached to ethnic female celebrities like J.Lo, who “embraced her booty as a marketable symbol of desirable beauty,” are meant to counteract the challenge that her celebration of her body had posed on “white cultural dominance” (Guzman, pg. 61). In order to strengthen the pillars of white supremacy, the media took to alienating and devaluing ethnic females through objectifying, hyper-sexualizing, and subsequently reducing these powerful figures to their physical figures. The weakening of an ethnic woman’s esteem in both herself and her ethnic background reasserts “the power of whites to control or contain constructions of nonwhite ethnicity in the U.S. popular culture” through the “white gaze” (Guzman, pg. 65).

This creates a perpetual cycle of building women up about something as fleeting and temporary as their physical appearance—rather than talent or intelligence—and then shaming them for being proud of the bodies that they praised them for having just earlier. As a result, there is a constant anxiety and uncertainty placed on ethnic female celebrities to make sure they fall somewhere within the realm of what’s “acceptable” by Hollywood’s white standards.

White female celebrities are not burdened with the bait-and-switch strategies employed by Hollywood the way their ethnic counterparts are. In fact, they are taking part of the shaming themselves at times. In Negron Muntaner’s article, he mentions Lopez’s own experiences with bullying from white supermodel, Cindy Crawford, who “was repeatedly quoted in the media dissing Lopez’s bodily proportions with drag queen meanness” (Muntaner, pg. 245).

In an atmosphere thick with racial tension and power-struggles, white Hollywood norms are not planning on making any concessions for people who they perceive as inferior. It’s easy to target ethnic females because of their inherent appeal to white men, and white people in general. Ethnic women like Jennifer Lopez, who is proud of her figure and works hard to maintain it, are a threat to the institution of marriage in a hegemonic society. It might be that these white men feel shame for harboring lascivious thoughts and temptations towards the ethnic female body, and their way of relieving themselves that shame and guilt is to transfer it onto the women themselves. Sexism parallels racism in many ways, as Peggy McIntosh pointed out in a previous reading, and the white male patriarchy simply cannot allow these non-white women (for whom they have lusted after and objectified as a piece of meat) actually feel good about themselves, even in a superficial way (McIntosh, “White Privilege”). No, these ethnic women must accept the sexual objectification forced upon them through the media, as well as men in general; they must accept the compliments and perform in a hyper-sexualized way – but only begrudgingly, and never with any pride or empowerment – and always as the subordinate sex and race.

-D. Liao

Asian Misrepresentations

Asian and Asian Americans are a nearly-invisible group when it comes to representation and presence in media/Hollywood, despite their being the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. since 2010. Hollywood’s brief and sordid interest in making Asian-themed movies during the early 20th century involved depictions and representations of Asian people that were inaccurate at best, and disparaging at their worst. The most common and ill-conceived portrayals during that time were of Asian men as sexual deviants or, conversely, as asexual eunuchs, opium drug-lords, gangsters, and evil masterminds. Asian women were portrayed almost in opposition of their male counterparts; they were usually the exotic seductress, cunning mistress, or love interest who repudiates her culture and ethnic identity to assimilate to white society (Marchetti, pp. 2-5).

What’s more, many of the Asian roles were not even portrayed by actual Asian actors or actresses, but by white ones. “The practice of white actors playing Asian and Asian American characters were not scarce. When such characters did exist, a convention of yellow face ensured that they were played primarily by whites (Ono Pham, pg. 45).” Thusly, the earliest imagery many people had of Asian people were actually of white people performing explicit yellowface, which allowed them full control of the way the character was conveyed. The image of Mickey Rooney in explicit yellowface as “Mr. Yunioshi” for Breakfast at Tiffany’s has provided yet another unsavory Asian archetype manufactured by Hollywood. His exaggerated yellowface that featured his taped eyes, balding head and cartoon-like buck-teeth did not paint a pretty picture of Asian men. “Mr. Yunioshi functions as comic relief, especially through his unrealistic desire for Ms. Golightly. His broken english, excessive clumsiness, and implausible sexual fantasy are there for the comedic pleasure of the non-Asian audience (Ono Pham, pg. 49).”

Furthermore, these images are generally devoid of historical, cultural, or racial substance. This is largely due to their being the creation of white writers and filmmakers, who had no genuine knowledge of the East and its vast array of different cultures, societal structures, languages, religious standings, and political systems. “White media producers have created imaginary and derogatory fictional representations of Asians and Asian Americans, while Asian and Asian American actors simultaneously are virtually excluded from writing or playing such roles (Ono Pham, pg. 46).” Keeping Asians out of the industry, even in Asian-themed films, has only made it more difficult for people to accept real Asians into society because of their lack of exposure to authentic Asian people that are relatable.

Postmodern representations of Asians have not changed much, in spite of the relatively forward-moving trajectory of almost all other groups. There have even been recent instances of yellowface, such as Alex Borstein playing “Ms Swan” on MadTV, or Eddie Murphy as “Mr. Wong” in Norbit (Ono Pham, pg. 52). It seems as though everyone is allowed to have a laugh at Asians, at the expense of Asians. Consequently, alienation and vilification of Asians in Hollywood has cemented their roles as “the others” in the U.S. on and off the screen.

Works Cited

Marchetti, G. (1993). Romance and the “yellow peril”: Race, sex, and discursive strategies in

Hollywood fiction. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ono, Kent A., and Vincent N. Pham. “Media Yellowface “logics”” Asian Americans and the

Media. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010. 45-62. Print.

The Persecuted Pilgrims: America’s Oppression of the Latin Community

Ace Campaign with Sofia Vergara - Press Conference

The United States has been embroiled in a prolonged hate/love/hate relationship with the Latina/o community, especially the Mexican community. Although the nation has happily embraced a great portion of Latin cuisines and some of its diverse cultures, there remains an almost palpable sense of animosity towards Mexican and Latina/os by the Anglo-American population. Early depictions of Mexicans on television and in movies would paint a largely negative image of the entire Latin and even the Hispanic community. Prior to the advent of Hollywood archetypes and as early as the late 1800s, depictions of the slovenly immigrant wearing a sarape and reposing underneath a cactus with a sombrero over his face for shade became the unwarranted spokesperson for all Spanish-speaking immigrants. The image still remains, though now it is not widely accepted as truth. Modern representations differ greatly for Latina/os, but at a price: low visibility in the media.

Post-Hollywood images of Latina/o people have changed to be a little more accepting, but that might only be due to the sparse amount of representation. This is not for the lack of entertainers or talent from the Latin community, but rather the lack of Hollywood casting agents willing to hire them for leading roles. A popular image of Latina/os that comes to mind today are basically any photo of Sofia Vergara — a beautiful and alluring Colombian actress who embodies Hollywood’s archetype of the feisty Latina temptress. But even this image is a very narrow and one-dimensional trope that is meant to represent Spanish-speaking women only.

The reason why an image of Latina/os in the media is hard to conjure up is due to two pervasive realities: one, the Latin community is rife and brimming with more diversity in culture, dialects, beliefs, races, heritage, and nationalities than any singular image is capable of representing; and two, Hollywood is replacing their Latina/o talent with Anglo-Americans/Europeans — even for specifically Latina/o roles. One arena that Latina/os have not been excluded from, however, is in broadcasted segments dedicated solely to one controversial topic: immigration.

“Latinos comprise just 1 percent of news stories. When they do appear on camera, it’s not as an anchor in a suit with coiffed hair but on the background video feed as a criminal or in relation to illegal immigration,” says Weston Phippen in an article for The Atlantic. The media’s refusal to cast Latina/o actors in Latina/o roles is a blatant insult to the Latina/o community. To invite them only to speak about immigration issues is blatant disregard for them as anything more than an expert on immigration. Why is this so bad? If one takes their representing a voice for the Latina/o community at face value, then of course there is no other candidate for whom to adequately speak on behalf of Latina/o population on the topic. The problem lies in the fact that audiences will continue to associate real images of Latina/os in America with the topic of immigration itself. That means, Americans who hold the sentiment of all immigrants being “illegal” will likely equate any Latin-looking person with that very sentiment — hence the imperative need for more diverse and visible Latina/o representations in Hollywood.

-Dotty Liao

Week 9: East Asian Representations

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“While perhaps seeming to invite and embrace inclusion of Asians and Asian Americans, yellowface ensures the distancing and ultimate abnegation of them. By not attributing any specificity to Asian Americans, yellowface is ambiguous and aggregative. It helps white viewers feel comfortable and simultaneously be at ease with something they understand to be a diametrically oppositional other, quintessentially alien and inscrutable. Inscrutability is an effect of structural yellowface, the denial of Asian American subjectivity and complexity, which provides no insight into lived realities and experiences.” (Ono, Pham, 2009. Pg. 60)


This is a photo from Katy Perry’s 2013 American music awards performance. Here she performed her single, unconditionally, while in yellowface. As a white woman dressed in traditional Asian clothing, a kimono, she is strengthening stereotypes on a show that is broadcasted and viewed widely. Perry dressed up as a geisha, whose job is to solely entertain men. Through her performance she is exoticizing Asian stereotypes, while strengthening fetishes. The song also reinforces stereotypes with lyrics like “I will love you unconditionally” encouraging that Asian women are submissive and defenseless.

Representation of Blackness

Instagram Photo

“Much of the post-Civil War literature paints a negative image of black people designed to reinforce institutional and social racism. Many of the accusations against Black integrity that emerged during Reconstruction are now too familiar: laziness, slow wit, loose standards of morality, fondness for alcoholic beverages, and so on” (Wilson, Gutierrez, Chao, 58).
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I felt like this image was very relevant to both the assignment and in real life. It covers multiple aspects of the course, but mainly that Black people have been and will continue to be painted in a negative fashion. The same rhetoric that was used to create racial divide in the Reconstruction-era is being recycled by figures such as Donald #drumpf in order to perpetuate this form of systemic and cultural racism.#donalddrumpf #blacklivesmatter#perpetualracism #fayettevillenc #fiatoa

Grey Areas

  • “Blackness does not only reside in the theatrical fantasy of the White imaginary
    that is then projected onto Black bodies. Nor is Blackness always consciously
    acted out. It is also the inexpressible yet undeniable racial experience of Black
    people*the ways in which ‘the living of Blackness’ become material ways of
    knowing . . . The interanimation of Blackness and performance and the tension
    between Blackness as ‘play’’ and material reality further complicates the notion of what constitutes a Black ‘‘performance’’ and of what playing Black is and what
    playing Black ain’t” (Johnson, 2005, p. 606). 

  • I chose this image and quote because I think that it’s so important to remember how much stereotyping and unconscious presumptions on racial behaviors are mostly a product of WHITE Hollywood. People often take these depictions of Black people, as well as other minorities, for face value, despite knowing that Hollywood is a land of make-believe. Somehow, Whiteness has had a huge role in shaping the way others perceive and define Black culture, and the subtlety makes it almost imperceptible that many people who are non-black are ignorant or oblivious to the incredible barriers that the black community faces in almost every aspect of their lives. They are punished for displaying passions and emotions because of their being black, even when white people can display the same, or even more, passion towards the same subject, and be admired for that very same fervor. Awarding and praising Black individuals for carrying themselves the way White people would is detrimental and regressive because it reaffirms that “white is right,” and that type of flawed thinking prevents social progress for minority groups.

Latina/o Underrepresentation

  • “Filmmakers attach conditions of poverty, marginality and deviance to the Latino male experience. The constant focus on the street life of inner-city youths and delinquents make this attachment salient and exclusive and leaves out important aspects of Latino immigration and adaptation to US society. This is important since very few cinematic narratives actually tell stories about their lived experiences and status in US society and the particular historical, political, and economic circumstances in which they arrived (Flores 1993). In essence, the narratives of these movies promote the sense that the poor and economically marginalized represent a threat to urban life and to society at large. They live broken lives in broken environments, and as a consequence have no future. Within this depiction, Latinos should not be ‘rescued’ or ‘vindicated’, since neither their families nor their communities are deemed able to cope with their problems or improve their situation. They live marginal lives and possess a marginal citizenship.” (Ana S. Q. Liberato, Guillermo Rebollo-Gil, John D. Foster and Amanda Moras, 2009, pg 955) 
  • I chose this quote and image because of how much Latina/o representations are portrayed in ways that are not accurate or positive towards Latina/os. These subliminal messages that are being projected through negative depictions of the Latin community on film and tv reinforce presumptions and hostile stereotypes. Hollywood’s inclusion of Latinos in film (mostly in the ‘90s) were often for roles that portrayed them as criminals, misogynistic abusers, comedic relief, or a deft immigrant. The audience is then influenced by these projections and as a result, that’s how some may learn to see Latinos. By only presenting the picture/imagery of troubled Latino delinquents living in dangerous and predominantly Latin neighborhoods, carrying out drug deals and beatings, and as well as engaging in implicit homoeroticism, Hollywood has constructed the image of Latinos as dangerous and lazy eunuchs, ensuring that they are seen as bad while attempting to take away their sexual prowess. Creating these roles for Latinos without offering a background story of these characters that show their emotional, social, cultural and personal struggles, or how difficult it is for Latino/as to adapt to the US and take care of their families when all odds are against them, only perpetuates a lack of understanding; it widens the racial divide, making it impossible for others to see Latina/as up close for who they truly are, which is what we all are: people.