Thursday, 19 April 2012

Blacks on white TV - with illustration by Mpumelelo August

The incredibly talented Mpumelelo August's work

I am prone to cynicism about almost everything (including issues of race), thinking about the harsh realities some have to deal with often leaves me unpleasant taste in my mouth and psyche. So, I’ve really been trying to look on the bright side. I try to acknowledge how much more Black folk have to practice their crafts on public platforms. This bubble of delusion was burst when I saw a media campaign advertising Candice Breitz’s exhibition in which she tackles issues of being the white other in South Africa.

To my horror, I saw that she super-imposed pictures of herself into still-shots of the soap, Generations. I’m sure I don’t need to introduce any of you to the vacuous mind-fuck that is Generations.  Is that the Blackness to which constructions of whiteness are juxtaposed???? That is not to say we should be dogmatic about race, it is fluid, a social construct but a lot of meaning has been vested in race, in the supremacy and subjugation of some, so juxtaposing race is quite stupid. 
Breitz's work: image from internet

Because of this 400 year old tale of subjugation, television and mainstream media at large is dominated by white folk. That is supposed to sound more diplomatic than it does, but hey, it’s not a big spoon. It’ll be very difficult for someone to contest that statement but I welcome the challenge. Speaking as a person who has lived south of the Sahara my entire life, I am not claiming that this is the case world over but I’d like to think I speak with some authority. Although I grew up surrounded by Black faces and ZBC tried with all their might to interest us in Gringo and Studio 263 just as SABC did with Velaphi and Bophelo ke Sempego amongst others, I was more drawn to Beverly Hills 90210 and 21 Jump Street, I was fortunate however to grow up in the glory days of Black comedy, the early 1990s where Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the Cosby Show (Denise Huxtable is one of my biggest style inspirations) provided alternative images and archetypes of Blackness.
Denise Huxtable - image from the web

Fast forward a decade plus later and the situation has changed and remained similar, Anglo-Saxon ideals and images are now projected, alongside other fleeting trends, at an exponential rate thanks to twitter/tumblr/Friendster/the list goes on. Black comedy is mostly a bunch of cheap laughs and playing to every stereotype you can name. This is not to say there isn’t some great content whatever the orientation, we are more similar than we are alike right? However, hardly ever do we question what images of Blackness are portrayed on the stupid box and what those images mean for us and our children.

The sad truth, folks, is that Generations really has come to represent to many people, what Blackness is or at least should be in some people’s South Africa. Swathed in layers of highly flammable satin, layers of hair extension piled on in the suffocating heat and feet squeezed into towering stilettos – that is the average Generations character. Add to this Tyler Perry style stereotypes of Black women as hostile and in the eternal pursuit for male approval and we have a certified recipe for disaster. We are teaching our children that to be is to consume conspicuously and that one must subscribe to one ideal type of beauty, an active effort needs to be made by those who produce and project media images to explore the diverse identities and interests of souls in Black, White, Puerto Rican, Asian, name it skins and we as consumers need to give Generations  and Tyler Perry less ratings if we have any hope of changing the status quo. 

1 comment:

Lox said... there is hope