Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Core Response: Broad City and Proximity to Blackness as Feminist Expression

Sarah Banet-Weiser’s essay “What’s Your Flava?: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture” offers great context to discuss one of TV’s foremost examples of contemporary feminism negotiated via racialization -- Comedy Central’s Broad City.

Banet-Weiser examines generational schisms between types of feminisms. She says,

“...postfeminist popular culture is more accurately antifeminist in its trajectory. Postfeminism, understood in this manner, is thus a different political dynamic than third wave feminism, which is positioned more overtly as a kind of feminist politics, one that extends the historical trajectory of first- and second-wave feminism to better accommodate contemporary political culture and the logic of consumer citizens. Postfeminism, on the other hand, is as McRobbie puts it, “feminism taken into account, a process in which feminist values and ideologies are acknowledged only to be found dated and passé and thus negated. (206)

I believe that Broad City is situated somewhere between third wave feminism and postfeminism, not only through its gender politics, but it’s proximity to Blackness, an oft-utilized tool for non-Black people to legitimize their leftist political leanings. 

Broad City was created by and stars Jewish millennials Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. The show is a half-hour comedy sitcom and is celebrated as a feminist and progressive.  Its feminist identity is central to not only the show’s diegesis, but it’s critical standing and audience reception.  Articles include Broad City: Feminism 101, according to Abbi and Ilana,” and “'Broad City's' Ilana Glazer And Abbi Jacobson Are 'Totally Feminists' among others and Bitch Magazine has co-signed. It is positioned as an heiress to third wave feminism -- Jacobson and Glazer have interviewed riot grrrl icons Sleater Kinney for NPR. But according to the New Republic, “'Broad City,' TV's Best Comedy, Is a Post-Feminist Barrage of Bathroom Humor and Romantic Flubs.”  
The show’s ideological and generational questions surrounding its feminism are negotiated via racially-coded characterizations, plot-lines, and materiality.  Most of this is through the character of Ilana. She smokes weed all day (which, yes, is not necessarily racialized) and is clearly influenced by and plugged in to Black culture. In Season 1, Episode 2, Ilana gets Abbi into an ad-hoc money-making mission so that they can buy Lil Wayne tickets (and the necessary pre-game weed) and during a break in Washington Square Park, Ilana fantasizes about hanging out with Queen Bey and BadGalRiri, a dream that ends with Rihanna “going down on her.” Ilana has a casual sexual relationship with a Black dentist, Lincoln and when getting fancy she dons a weave ponytail. Additionally, there are episodes titled “Pu$$y Weed” and “Fattest Asses,” the former being being a reference to the frequent hip-hop linguistic tool of dollar signs substituting for S’s and the latter indebted to the fact that Black culture (in the U.S. but also globally) generally praises and privileges big butts. In “Pu$$y Weed,” Ilana stops by Lincoln’s dental practice while he is operating on a 7-year old Black girl and Lincoln asks her how she could forget so many important things. Ilana tells the girl “don’t ever do drugs,” which I think subconsciously derives its humor from the fact that in a room with 2 Black characters, a young White Jewish woman is the one whose life is dictated by illegal drugs, the young-ish Black man is a successful pediatric dentist, and the young Black girl is innocent (which young Black girls never really get to be). Ilana’s proximity to Blackness is what gives the show authenticity (Also, the opening theme is hip-hop song “Latino & Proud).  This is also interesting in that it’s proximity to Blackness is the primary way that the show legitimizes it’s feminist cred and disavows the Whiteness of it’s stars but the character’s Jewishness is a distant, distant second.  

"Proximity to Blackness” as a tool to legitimize progressive identity is something that should be explored in scholarship but also pop culture conversations. See also: Workaholics and Das Racist/Himanshu Suri & Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation (Desi relationship to Blackness is particularly interesting in the U.S. and the U.K.).

Some notes:
  1. Ilana’s queerness  also figures in the mix as a site for third wave feminist expression, but it is acknowledged but never really explored, which ties it to postfeminism
  2. It should be noted the second season has led to conversations surrounding the show’s racism, transphobia, and homophobia.
  3. Ilana’s  roommate is a queer Venezuelan immigrant (who doesn’t have U.S. citizenship). This adds layers to the show’s racialized aspects.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “What’s Your Flava?: Race and Postfeminism in Media Culture.” Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Eds. Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. 201-226. Print.

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