In which I ignore quals for a second to talk about my diss.

Slowly collecting links for dissertating. I figured I should post them:

Delicious archive.

There is so much One Direction, but that's because they're mid-Beatlemania right now. What I really need is to go back through the Rolling Stone archive and find all the stories on all the other bands.

And I still don't know where I'm going to put the One Direction chapter. Because the entire dissertation is about the role of American whiteness and masculinity in the formation of American boy bands, and they're just there, being British and wildly popular and homosocial as hell, and I'm kind of like, "could you not mess with my argument?"

Also, I appear to have fallen for their ridiculous faces, which is useful in terms of maintaining enough interest to write, but detrimental in that I want to sit down with my niece and say, "Isn't Harry the cutest?"

On Black Women, Teen TV, and Fantasy Space

When I hit puberty, I was Jezebel. The world made it pretty clear that any black girl with big breasts must be up for anything. In high school, as I got older and fatter, I became Mammy, ready to lend a maternal ear to anyone. Then I went to college, started studying the media, and became Sapphire, perpetually angry about something. None of these things were me, but I realized that people wanted to be able to more easily categorize my existence, and they were just using the tools they had. I grew up going to predominantly white schools, watched mostly mainstream white TV, and lived in a white world. Outside of my home and church, everything I was exposed to was reductive when it came to race. And as a kid (and adult) who loved television, I became inured to the fact that I was rarely going to see anything that challenged those stereotypes.

This all changed when my brother had kids, and I realized that one of the things I wanted for them was to have no expectation that the stories they consumed would portray them as an amusing accessory for the main characters. My nieces are now twelve years old, and their environment is a lot like mine was. They never say it directly, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that they want to listen to what their friends listen to, and watch what their friends watch, and still find a way to see themselves in what they’re consuming.

One of their favorite TV shows is Glee.  We have this thing where whenever we watch it, and the characters Sam and Mercedes (who are white and black, respectively) interact, I tend to say, "You know why [x happened]? Because they're in love."  We're big dorks, so they put up with me doing it.  But they're constantly talking about how it's their favorite couple on Glee, and they're more emotionally invested in it than I’ve seen them be about anything else on TV.

Here's the thing: the black girl on an average U.S. TV show rarely gets a romantic storyline. She's the best friend, and she hangs out in the background making snarky comments, and occasionally they introduce a prop boyfriend who exists to round out the couples.  So the fact that this one show, one that all my nieces’ friends watch, is making this an actual plotline is amazing.  There's a black girl in a love triangle involving two boys who think she's special and talented and worth fighting for, and that tells the audience that she is.

I know how dangerous it is to place your expectations of validation on media products, especially validation through heteronormative romantic success, which is a problematic concept in and of itself. But it’s still the primary way the media tells us that women characters are worthwhile.  I’m extremely ambivalent about this because, problematic or not, I believe that everyone deserves fantasies, and it’s a fantasy that black women are generally denied access to.  

I've noticed that in the past few years I've found myself having to explain to my girls why they never even see anyone on TV with curly hair.  They're aware that the media is telling them that they're not worthwhile and that they don't deserve fantasies starring people who look like them.  So this one storyline has been hugely important to them.  The magic box that sells them stories is actually saying, "Look, there's a big black girl and she doesn't have to look or be just like everyone else to get the same things everyone else has.  She's perfectly fine just the way she is."  And that's good for them.  Hell, that's good for me.

I want my girls to grow up watching a media landscape where people who look like them are considered both important and normal.  I want them to feel like the world actually sees and values them.  I want them to know that their stories are stories worth telling.  And being able to watch this one little storyline on a show they like is helping to communicate that to them.

My interests are mainly in the stories mainstream media sells and how we negotiate their portrayal versus our reality, but it’s extremely important to note that there are options out there that provide different voices.

The Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project is a San Francisco-based group that not only holds film festivals showcasing the work of queer women of color, but provides training to teach them how to tell their own stories.

Voices from the Gaps is a teaching resource from the University of Minnesota that provides essays and reviews of work done by women writers and artists of color. There are interviews with people like Sandra Cisneros and Zadie Smith, and a treasure trove of book reviews.

And, finally, one of my favorite blogs is The Crunk Feminist Collective, a group of writers who come out of the hip hop feminism movement and have insightful critiques on media and current events.