Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Core Response 3: The ABCs of Racial Representation on ABC

The potential in utilizing television as a catalyst for advancing social conversations is historically relevant in today’s era because, as Gray writes, “these structures are central to television's construction, organization, and circulation of blackness” (57). In an epoch of televised social demonstrations, marginalized cultures voicing their rights, and people demanding inclusivity in media, television must continue to assume its role as a responsible entity invested in accurately representing cultural groups disproportionately displaced from mainstream network visibility. As more networks began to establish themselves among the dominant ones in the 1980s, those new alternative channels began to cater to a diverse audience; African-Americans being the primary target. With the emergence of Fox, WB, UPN, demographics shifted and once again, a regression in representations catered to white middle-class audiences—yuppies. In the process, content primarily focused on people of color was eclipsed by popular hip programming moving from urban to suburban once again. Arguably, after Obama’s election in 2008, a focus on race and other intersectional representations were undertaken by television with a more critical angle.

Increasingly, the representation of minorities in the past few years have impressively moved past surface personalities and explored multifaceted characters. One problem that merits further attention is the emphasis placed on the bourgeois class. This narrow focus fails to acknowledge broader issues with working-class individuals disadvantaged by race and other cultural identities. Again, my primary focus is on network television and not on cable or streaming platforms dealing with those issues. As progressive as diverse representations on television may appear to be, it is actually problematic in the sense that middle-class minorities are celebrated because this may influence the idea that racism is nonexistent, thus ignoring notions of privilege and colorblind racism. As Esposito eloquently elaborates, post-racialism—the term in question—complicates our understanding of race and class due to the rhetoric of meritocracy (523). The ABC network in the present day is moving towards inclusive representations of Asian, Black, and Chicano (Latino) cultures, hence ABCs of representation.  Unlike former televisual content concerned with uplifting the race, these new shows challenge assumptions of cultural and ethnic difference within mainstream media. 

While progressive television attempts to portray nearly accurate situations of racial minorities, an issue that must be taken into consideration is the milieu in which these characters are inserted. Occasionally, questions around figuring out racial identity come at the expense of comedy, and this may potentially distract spectators from engaging with complex notions of understanding race. Nonetheless, television has achieved what film has been incapable of doing due to standardized (re)productions of race and culture circulating in the social imaginary. If ABC, as a mainstream and family network, is taking a role in addressing race through a critical angle, and is producing high quality content, we can confidently say more multi-dimensional representations of race are under development. 

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