Racquel Gates, professor of media studies at Futures Ed (Graduate Center, CUNY) and the College of Staten Island has just published a brilliant op ed in the New York Times, "Why I love Reality Television."
Her complex way of viewing reality TV dispenses with the idea of "good role models" and "bad role models," in all TV but especially for race. Here's an example of what is so incisive about Professor Gates's work. She describes a recent episode of “Love & Hip Hop Hollywood" where cast member Brooke Valentine finds an engagement ring in the possession of her on-again-off-again boyfriend and slips it on her finger and declares herself engaged.
Professor Gates observes:
"On the one hand, Ms. Valentine’s “engagement on a technicality” may seem to play into a troubling representation of a black woman: someone who schemes and connives to achieve her romantic goal, rather than follow the ladylike conventions for how engagements and marriages are supposed to happen.
Yet on the other hand, her willful claiming of the engagement ring and of the title “fiancée” upends the traditional marriage proposal, in which women are the objects of a life-changing decision and never the agents. Ms. Valentine’s attitude and behavior may appear “ratchet” because of how it bucks convention. But her actions should also remind us that such traditions were not conceived with women of color in mind, anyway."
Read the whole Op Ed for more insights like this. Better still, read her stunning new book Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture (Duke U Press, 2018).
And best of all: sign up for our team-taught Spring 2019 graduate course, "Mediating Race." The book Double Negative will be the centerpiece of the entire course in which we will analyze race and popular culture and also be exploring a number of engaged and active teaching methods. (NB: If you sign up for the course, don't buy the book. Students will receive copies of the book for free from an anonymous private donor. This is called "win/win."(
Here's the full course description:
Mediating Race: Technology, Performance, Politics, and Aesthetics in Popular Culture
Wednesdays, 2-4pm, Spring 2019
IDS 81630 (Additional course numbers and crosslisting TBA)
Cathy N. Davidson (The Graduate Center, English and the Futures Initiative)
Racquel Gates (College of Staten Island, Media Culture)
What does it mean to be “cool,” to be “fierce,” or to “slay”? This course focuses on technologies, techniques, performance, and style (including fashion) as components contributing to our ideas, representations, conventions, and stereotypes of race. More specifically, this course asks how cinematic and media aesthetics have contributed to how we identify and “read” blackness in popular media. Rather than treat film, television, and new media as straightforward reflections of social realities, this course will analyze how the media established, and continues to shape, our understandings of what blackness “looks” like.
Blackness occupies a complicated space within the popular imaginary and popular culture. On the one hand, film and media have, since their inception, marginalized blackness in literal and figurative ways in order to reinforce the centrality and normativity of whiteness. At the same time, however, the world has obsessively consumed black performance and black style and celebrated black stars. When we talk about the “swag” of former President Barack Obama on the cover of Ebony magazine, or the glamour of Lena Horne in the 1940s, what are we seeing? When we identify Sidney Poitier’s cool film demeanor or Beyonce’s fierceness in her 2013 Super Bowl halftime show, what does this consist of?
These seemingly conflicted impulses are perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of the formation of American society, originating with the capture and introduction of African slaves (and their attendant cultures and traditions), solidified in the early days of minstrel performance, and reinscribed through today’s hyper-mediated culture. Debates around cultural appropriation have often focused on the racial politics of African American stylistic and cultural traditions being coopted by whites and other non-blacks, but there has been less exploration of how certain seemingly “ineffable” traits have become associated with blackness in the first place. This course asks how popular culture has created the aesthetic vocabulary for how media consumers “read” blackness in all of its various incarnations.
This is an ideal course for anyone in the humanities and social sciences, for those interested in traditional and new media, and for anyone looking for sophisticated, critical, and original approaches to issues of race, racism, and representation in American popular culture. In addition, the course will be using a number of active learning pedagogical techniques that will both make this a lively “workshop” of ideas to which every student will contribute and will offer anyone who is teaching, at any level, a new set of methods, activities, and ideas about active learning and the teaching of controversial, difficult, and complicated subject matter.