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Quotes from my Film Cultural Studies Class 
8th-Feb-2010 03:55 pm
I've been meaning to do this for a while, but I've been far too lazy. Anyway, last semester I took a course called Reading Film where we talked about how ideology has shaped the production of films in Western society. I figured it might be cool to write out some of the quotes I find the most fascinating and helpful. Hopefully you will too :D

Keep in mind, though, that the course covered film from all sorts of angles: gender, sexuality, class, production etc. But I've decided to write down the ones that pertain mostly to race, since it'll be more relevant in this community. My personal notes or emphasis are in bold. Anything italicized is straight from the article. Of course citations are included :D

Also please note that '...' just means that there was more written there but I left it out. Like for example if I were going to quote the last sentence I wrote, I might write "Also please note...written there but I left it out." There's a lot of jargon and asides in these articles so I tried my best to keep it to the point. Still, there is a lot of text here. It's all really awesome though so I hope you don't let that deter you from taking a peek :D

Richard Dyer "Excerpt from 'The Matter of Whiteness'"

Having no content, we can't see that we have anything that accounts for our position of privilege and power. This is itself crucial to the security with which we occupy that position. As Peggy McIntosh argues, a white person is taught to believe that all that she or he does, good and ill, all that we achieve is to be accounted for in terms of our individuality. It is intolerable to realise that we may get a job or a nice house, or a helpful response at school or in hospitals because of our skin colour, not because of the unique, achieving individual we must believe ourselves to be.

But this then is why it is important to come to see whiteness. For those in power in the West, as long as whiteness is felt to be the human condition, then it alone both defines normality and fully inhabits it. As I suggested in my opening paragraphs, the equation of being white with being human secures a position of power. White people have power and believe that they think, feel and act like and for all people; white people, unable to see their particularity, cannot take account of other people's; white people create the dominant images of the world and don't quite see that they thus construct the world in their own image; white people set standards of humanity by which they are bound to succeed and others bound to fail. most of this is not done deliberately and maliciously; there are enormous variations of power amongst white people, to do with class, gender and other factors; goodwill is not unheard of in white people's engagement with others. White power none the less reproduces itself regardless of intention, power differences and goodwill, and overwhelmingly because it is not seen as whiteness, but as normal. White people need to learn to see themselves as white, to see their particularity. In other words, whiteness needs to be made strange. (Dyer 9- 10)

There is a political need to do this, but there are also problematic political feelings attendant on it, which need to be briefly signaled in order to be guarded against.

Note from tryx: I'm going to number these even though it doesn't appear this way in the article so that it's more easily readable :)

1) The Green Light Problem.

Writing about whiteness gives white people the go ahead to write and talk about what in any case we have always talked about: ourselves...Putting whiteness on the agenda now might permit a sigh of relief that we white people don't after all any longer have to take on all this non-white stuff.

2) Me-too-ism

A feeling that, amid all this (all this?) attention being given to non-white subjects, white people are being left out. One version of this is simply the desire to have attention paid to one, which for whites is really the wish to have all the attention once again. Another is the sense that being white is no great advantage, what with being so uptight, out of touch with our bodies, burdened with responsibilities we didn't ask for. Poor us. A third variant is the notion of white men, specifically, as a new victim group, oppressed by the gigantic strides taken by affirmative action policies, can't get jobs, can't keep women, a view identified and thus hardened up by a Newsweek cover story on 5 September 1993 on white male paranoia...I dread to think that paying attention to whiteness might lead to white people saying they need to get in touch with their whiteness, that we might end up with the white equivalent of 'Iron John' and co, the "men's movement" embrace of hairiness replaced with strangled vowels and rigid salutes. The point of looking at whiteness is to dislodge it from its centrality and authority, not to reinstate it (and much less, to make a show of reinstating it, when, like male power, it doesn't actually need reinstating).

3) White Guilt

The kind of white people who are going to talk about being white, a part from conscious racists who have always done so, are liable to be those sensitised to racism and the history of what white people have done to non-white peoples. Accepting ourselves as white and knowing that history, we are likely to feel overwhelmed with guilt at what we have done and are still doing. Guilt tends to be a blocking emotion. One wants to acknowledge so much how awful white people have been that one may never get around to examining what exactly they have been, and in particular, how exactly their image has been constructed, its complexities and contradictions. This problem...is a special temptation for white people. We may lacerate ourselves with admission of our guilt, but that bears witness to the fineness of a moral spirit that can feel such guilt - the display of our guilt is our cavalry. (Dyer 10 - 11)

One cannot come up with a limited range of endlessly repeated images, because the privilege of being white in white culture is not to be subjected to stereotyping in relation to one's whiteness. White people are stereotyped in terms of gender, nation, class, sexuality, ability and so on, but the overt point of such typification is gender, nation etc. Whiteness generally colonises the stereotypical definition of all social categories other than those of race. To be normal, even to be normally deviant (queer, crippled), is to be white. White people int heri whiteness, however, are imagined as individual and/or endlessly diverse, complex and changing. There are also gradations of whiteness: some people are whiter than others. Latins, the Irish and the Jews, for instances are rather less securely white than Anglos teutons and Nordics...

...there is a specificity to white representation, but ti does not reside in a set of stereotypes so much as in narrative structural positions, rhetorical tropes and habits of perception. the same is true of all representation - the taxonomic study of stereotypes was only ever an initial step in the study of non-white representation. However stereotyping - complex and contradictory though it is - does characterise the representation of subordinated social groups and is one of the means by which they are categorised and kept in their place, whereas white people in white culture are given the illusion of their own infinite variety. (Dyer 11-12)

Richard Dyer: "Excerpt from 'The Light of the World'"

The rest of this section is concerned with the way the aesthetic technology of photography and film is involved in the production of images of whiteness. I look first at the assumption of whiteness as norm at different moments of technical innovation in film history, before looking at examples of that assumption in standard technical guides to the photographic media. The section ends with a discussion of how lighting privileges white people in the image and begins to open up the analysis of the construction of whiteness through light.

Innovation in the photographic media has generally taken the human face as its touchstone, and the white face as the norm of that. The very early experimenters did not take the face as subject at all, but once they and their followers turned to portraits, and especially once photographic portraiture replaced painted portraits in popularity (from the 1840s on), the issue of the 'right' technology (apparatus, consumables, practices) focused on the face and, given the clientele, the white face. Experiment with, for instance, the chemistry of photographic stock, aperture size, length of development and artificial light all proceeded on the assumption that what had to be got right was the look of the white face. This is where the big money lay, in the everyday practices of professional portraiture and amateur snapshots. By the time of film (some sixty years after the first photographs), technologies and practices were already well established. Film borrowed these, gradually and selectively carrying forward the assumptions that had go into them. In turn, film history involves many refinements, variations and innovations, always keeping the white face central as a touche stone and occasionally revealing this quite explicitly, when it is not implicit within such terms as 'beauty', 'glamour' and 'truthfulness'. Let me provide some instances of this.

The interactions of film stock, lighting and make-up illustrate the assumption of the white face at various points in film history. Film stock repeatedly failed to get the whiteness of the white face. The earliest stock, orthochromatic, was insensitive to red and yellow, rendering both colours dark...The solution to these problems was a 'dreadful white make up' (actress Geraldine Farrar, interviewed in Brownlow 1968: 418) worn under carbon arc lights so hot that they made the make-up run, involving endless retouching. This was unpleasant for performers and exacerbated by fine dust and ultraviolet light from the arcs making the eyes swollen and pink...These eyes filmed big and dark, in other words, not very 'white', and involved the performers in endless 'trooping down to the infirmary' (Brownlow 1968:418), constantly interrupting shooting for their well-being and to avoid the (racially) wrong look. It would have been possible ot use incandescent tungsten light instead of carbon arcs; this would have been easier to handle, cheaper...and pleasanter to work with...But incandescent tungsten light has a lot of red and yellow in it and thus tends to bring out those colours in all subjects, including white faces, with consequent blacking effect on orthochromatic stock. this was the reason for sticking with arcs, for all the expense and discomfort. (Dyer 91)

One of the principal benefits of the introduction of backlighting, in addition to keeping the performer clearly separate from the background, was that it ensured that blonde hair looked blonde... Backlighting became part of the basic vocabulary of movie lighting...From 1926, the introduction of panchromatic stock, more sensitive to yellow, helped with some of the problems of ensuring white people looked properly white, as well as permitting the use of incandescent tungsten, but posed its own problems of make-up...Max Factor recognised this problem, developing a make-up that would 'add to the face sufficient blue coloration in proportion to red...in order to prevent excessive absorption of light by the face' (Factor 1937:54); faces that absorb light 'excessively' are of course dark ones. (Dyer 93)

An account of the making of The Color Purple (1985) speaks of the 'unique photographic problems that occur when shooting a film with basically an all black cast' and goes onto detail the procedures the cinematographer, Allen Daviau, used to deal with these 'problems', in the particular 'having the set interiors and set decorations darker than normal' (my emphasis) (Harrel 1986:54). Cicely Tyson recalled her experience of filming The Blue Bird in Russia in 1976, where there was little experience of filming black people. A white woman had been used during the lighting set-ups:

They light everything for her and then I'm expected to go through the same paces with the same lighting...Naturally, my black skin disappears on the screen. You can't see me at all. (quoted in Medved 1984:128-9) (Dyer 97)

Movie lighting in effect discriminates on the basis of race. As the rest of this chapter will argue, such discrimination has much to do with the conceptualisation of whiteness. There is also a rather different level at which movie lighting's discrimination may be said to operate. What is at issue here is not how white is shown and seen, so much as the assumptions at work in the way that movie lighting disposes people in space. Movie lighting relates people to each other and to setting according to notions of the human that have historically excluded non-white people...At a minimum, in a culture in which whites are the important people, in which those who have, rather than are, servants, occupy centre stage, one would expect movie lighting to discriminate against non-white people in terms of visibility, individualisation and centrality. I want however to push the argument a bit further. Movie lighting valorises the notion of the unique and special character of the individual, of the individuality of the individual. It is at the least arguable that white society has found it hard to see non-white people as individuals; the very notion of the individual, of the freely developing, autonomous human person, is only applicable to those who are seen to be free and autonomous, who are not slaves or subject peoples. movie lighting discriminates against non-white people because it is used in a cinema and a culture that finds it hard to recognise them as appropriate subjects for such lighting, that is, as individuals. (Dyer 102)

Richard Dyer "White"

The property of whiteness, to be everything and nothing, is the source of its representational power. On the one hand, as one of the people in the video Being White observes, white domination is reproduced by the way that white people 'colonize the definition of normal'. Paul Gilroy similarly spells out the political consequences, in the British context, of the way that whiteness both disappears behind and is subsumed into other identities...On the other hand, if the invisibility of whiteness colonizes the definition of other norms - class, gender, heterosexuality, nationality and so on - it also masks whiteness itself as a category... The colourless multi-colourdness of whiteness secures white power by making it hard, especially for white people and their media, to 'see' whiteness. this, of course, also makes it hard to analyse... Any instance of white representation is always immediately something more specific. Brief Encounter is not about white people, it is about English middle-class people; The Godfather is not about white people, it is about Italian American people, but The Color Purple is about black people before it is about poor, southern US people.

This problem clearly faced the makers of Being White, a pioneering attempt to confront the notion of white identity. The opening vox pop sequence vividly illustrates the problem. Asked how they would define themselves, the white interviewees refer easily to gender, age, nationality or looks, but never ethnicity. Asked if they think of themselves as white, most say that they don't, though one or two speak of being 'proud' or 'comfortable' to be white. In an attempt to get some white people to explore what being white means, the video assembles a groupt o talk about it and it is here that the problem of white people's inability to see whiteness appears intractable. Sub-categories of whiteness (Irishness, Jewishness, Britishness) take over, so that the particularity of whiteness itself begins to disappear; then gradually, it seems inexorably, the participants settle in to talking with confidence about what they know: stereotypes of black people. (Dyer 735)

Charles W. Mills "White Ignorance"

The transition away from old-fashioned racism of this kind has not, however, put an end to white normativity but subtly transformed its character. If previously whites were color demarcated as biologically and/or culturally unequal and superior, now through a strategic "color blindness" they are assimilated as putative equals to the status and situation of nonwhites on terms that negate the need for measures to repair the inequities of the past. So white normativity manifests itself in a white refusal to recognize the long history of structural discrimination that has left whites with the differential resources they have today, and all of its consequent advantages in negotiating opportunity structures. If originally whiteness was race, then now it is racelessness, an equal status and common history in which a ll have shared, with white privilege being conceptually erased.

Indeed, the real racists are the blacks who continue to insist on the importance of race. In both cases white normativity underpins white privilege, in the first case by justifying differential treatment by race and int he second case by justifying formally equal treatment by race that - in its denial of the cumulative effects of past differential treatment - is tantamount to continuing it.

What makes this denial possible, of course, is the management of memory...Memory is not a subject one usually finds in epistemology texts, but for social epistemology it is obviously pivotal. French sociologist Maurice Halbewachs (1992) was one fo the pioneers of the concept of a collective social memory, which provided the framework for individual memories. But if we need to understand collective memory, we also need to understand collective amnesia. Indeed, they got together insofar as memory is necessarily selective - out of the infinite sequence of events, some trivial, some momentous, we extract what we see as the crucial ones and organize them into an overall narrative. Social memory is then inscribed in textbooks, generated and regenerated in ceremonies and official holidays, concretized in statues and parks and monuments...But memories and identities are not fixed things, but representations or constructions of reality...embedded in complex class, gender and power relations that determine what is remembered (or forgotten), by whom, and for what end...As the individual represses unhappy or embarrassing memories that may also reveal a great deal about his identity...so in all societies, especially those structured by domination, the socially recollecting "we" will be divided, and the selection will be guided by different identities with one group suppressing precisely what another wishes to commemorate....with conflicting judgments about what is important in the past and what is unimportant, what happened and does matter, what happened and does not matter, and what did not happen at all. So applying this to race, there will obviously be an intimate relationship between white identity, white memory, and white amnesia, especially about nonwhite victims. (Mills 27-29)

Note from tryx: For some reason, this article always gives me chills. History does matter, but what history does society remember? I always think about this quote whenever someone says that Last Airbender is just a film. That it doesn't have anything to do with real social issues or problems. But the kind of whitewashing we see in the Last Airbender is a direct result of Western Society's past of colonization, domination and racism. But we either forget/ignore that these things happened or at least pretend that they are irrelevant to the present or have nothing to do with today's media. Even within media, history can be changed drastically to fit the purposes of dominant culture. For example, how many Western movies have you watched where the poor innocent white frontiersmen had to protect their land and loved ones against those evil 'Indgins'? Or A Birth of a Nation in which the KKK were the heroes, defending poor innocent white women from newly freed black savages in Post-Civil War America? But when certain people are the ones making the movies, its their views that get put up on screen and disseminated to the mass public. Members of this public - particularly those in a position to not be negatively affected by this creative reworking of history - see these narratives so much that they believe it to be true, stereotypes and all. And once they get into Hollywood, the reproduce these narratives in their own movies. The cycle continues. The problem is, since Hollywood is quite selective about who gets to tell the stories and which stories are told, different opinions, differing narratives hardly ever see the light of day.

Robyn Wiegman "Race, ethnicity and film"

To contemporary race theorists, this mobility demonstrates that race and ethnicity are social constructions linked to the specific discursive spheres within which they are used (Goldberg 1990). In the transformation of natural history into the human sciences, for instance, race undergoes a radical re-articulation, losing its primary ties to national identity to become a biological distinction evinced by skin, hair and cranial shape (Wiegman 1995). In the United States, these changes were crucial to white supremacy in the aftermath of the Civil War, making possible a continued subjugation of African Americans as racially different int he context of their official entrance into a shared national identity. So powerful has the racialization of 'blacness' been in the United States that film scholarship today concerning African Americans overwhelmingly uses race and not ethnicity as its central term (see Bobo 1995; Boyd 1996; Reid 1993; Snead 1994). (Wiegman 159)

Scholarship examining Jewish American filmic representation and industry participation, on the other hand, is decidedly organized under the rubric of ethnicity (Erens 1984; Friedman 1982). This is the case even though early cinematic representations of Jews were predicated on nineteenth century racialized notions of Jewish identity, notions which culminated in the genocidal catastrophe of the second World War. In the cinematic classic, The Jazz Singer (USA, 1927), in which a cantor's son seeks assimilation into the American 'mainstream' through vaudeville, Jakie Rabinowitz erases his Jewishness only to put on blackface and participate in the miming of African American musical traditions (Rogin 1996). In blackface, the protagonist demonstrates his assimilable whiteness, and it is this demonstrates that inaugurates the necessary compromise between a racialized difference and ethnic life in a new world.

the transformation of Jewish identity from a primarily racial to ethnic discourse is the most extreme example of a process that, in far more subtle ways, has affected other European immigrant groups, most notably the Italian and Irish. In silent film, these groups relied on certain characteristics of race discourse, featuring - through the representation of the body, its skin, hair and facial shape - physiognomic assertions of innate and inferior differences...Ethnic variations within white racial identity reference, often stereotypically (but without the institutional force of national discrimination and exclusion), customs, languages and artifacts drawn from a group's past cultural or national milieu.

Other immigrant groups in the United States have not fared as well in the popular imaginary as have those of European descent. Asians, for instance, have long sought the kind of differentiation within race categorization which would recognize specific ethnicities, but instead the popular conception melds together the disparate histories, cultures, and languages of those from East Asia (Korea, China and Japan) and Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines, and the Indonesian archipelago). In Charlie Chan, Kung Fu, the Dragon Lady, and other staple Asian figures of Us film (such as the Vietcong), ethnicity is powerfully overridden by an emphasis on physical difference. Richard Feng's 'In Search of Asian Cinema' reads the lack of specificity informing the film industry's approach to, and conversation about, Asian American ethnicities in the context of the contemporary commodification of identity. As he puts it, 'there is a market for Asian American Cinema - the problem is, it's a market that looks for Asian faces and looks no further' (Feng 1995:34). (Wiegman 160)

What this brief and albeit condensed history of the deployment of race and ethnicity as critical terms in the study of US cinema indicates is twofold. First the terms are differentially mobile. Where ethnicity provides the means for differentiations based on culture, language and national origins, race renders the reduction of human differences to innate, biological phenomena, phenomena that circulate culturally as the visible ledger for defining and justifying economic and political hierarchies between white and non-white groups. Only when we are dealing with European immigrants and their descendants does ethnicity become the sole operative term, whether in the complex language of specific films or the critical archive. (161)

The industry's use of role segregation is part of the history of the stereotype for a number of reasons. First, it enables white actors to occupy and signify the full range of humanity in film as a body of cultural representation, which has the powerful effect of locking non-white actors into minor roles, or what Wong (1987) calls role stratification. In minor roles, character development and complexity are even harder to achieve as narrative combines with the ideology of the camera to reiterate the secondary or background nature of non-white groups and cultures. In the western, for instance, most Native Americans will be confined to minor roles, often shot in groups from long distance, and rarely individualized through spoken lines (Hilger 1995)....Second, the practice of horizontal movement of whites into non-white roles has necessitated certain kinds of development in film cosmetology that are part of the stereotype's performance. In My Geisha (USA 1962), make-up artists created a new procedure for actress Shirly MacLaine's transformation from Anglo to Asian by using dental plaster, clay and wax to fashion rubber eyepieces as her epicanthic fold. This, combined with dark brown contact lenses, a black wig, and certain habits of halting speech, perform Asian racial difference for the big screen (Wong 1978).

What scholarly analysis of the stereotype most powerfully reveals, then, is the pervasiveness of racism as an institutionalized element of Hollywood film. In filmic structure and forms of visual pleasure (narrative, setting, cosmetology, and camera technique) as well as in industry labor practices..., we witness the full arsenal of the stereotype's production. Add to this other elements - the ethnicity of directors and producers, or the specificities of English-language use - and one can begin to explore how the seeming simplicity of steroetypes it he effect of complex histories and representational forms. (165)

Fernando Solanas and Octavia Gettino "Towards a Third Cinema"

The placing of the cinema within US models, even in the formal aspect, in language, leads to the adoption of the ideological forms that gave rise to precisely that language and no other. Even the appropriation of models which appear to be only technical, industrial, scientific etc. leads to a conceptual dependency situation, due to the fact that cinema is an industry, but differs from other industries in that it has been created and organized in order to generate certain ideologies. The 35mm camera, 24 frames per second, are lights and a commercial place of exhibition for audiences were conceived not to gratuitously transmit any ideology, but to satisfy, in the first place, the cultural and surplus value needs of a specific ideology, of a specific world-view: that of a US financial capital. The mechanistic takeover of a cinema conceived as a show to be exhibited in large theatres with a standard duration, hermetic structure that are born and die on the screen, satisifies, to be sure, the commercial interests of the production groups, but it also leads to the absorption of forms of the bourgeois world-view, which are the continuation of nineteenth century art, of bourgeois art: man is accepted only as a passive and consuming object; rather than having his ability to make history recognized, he is only permitted to read history, contemplate it, listen to it, and undergo it...The result is a cinema studied by motivational analysts, socialogists and psychologists, by the endless researchers of the dreams and frustrations of the masses, all aimed at selling movie-life, reality as it is conceived by the ruling classes. (Solanas and Gettino 272)

There is no knowledge of reality as long as that reality is not acted upon, as long as its transformation is not begun on all fronts of struggle. The well-known quote from Marx deserves constant repetition: it is not sufficient to interpret the world; it is now a question of transforming it. (276)

Works Cited

"Excerpt from 'The Matter of Whiteness'"
Dyer, R.
White. Dyer, R.
Copyright (C) 1997 Routledge

"Excerpt from 'The Light of the World'"
Dyer, R.
White. Dyer, R.
Copyright (C) 1997 Routledge

Dyer, R.
Film and Theory: An Anthology, Stam, R. ed)
Copyright (C) 2000 Blackwell Publishing Inc. (US)

"White Ignorance"
Charles W. Mills
Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance, Sullivan, S., & Tuana, N. (eds.)
Copyright (C) 2007 State University of New York Press

"Race, Ethnicity and Film"
Wiegman, R.
The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, Hill, J. & Gibson, C. (eds)
Copyright (C) 1998 Oxford University Press (US)

"Towards a Third Cinema"
Salanas, F. & Gettino, O.
Film and Theory: An Anthology, Stam, R. (ed)
Copyright (C) 2000 Blackwell Publishing Inc. (US)

I definitely urge you to seek out and read the articles in their entirety if you have the time. They're definitely eye-openers.
8th-Feb-2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
I'm taking a course right not (in preparation for an announcement you will see up on here shortly) called "Race, Ethnicity and Class in Media" at the new school.

Did your class used "Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text Reader" as a textbook?
10th-Feb-2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
There was no textbook. Just a bundled courseware featuring different articles that could be found in other journals/books/anthologies.
9th-Feb-2010 12:15 am (UTC)
Wow, tons of awesome resources! Thanks!
10th-Feb-2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
yw! I'm glad at least a few people read it :D
9th-Feb-2010 05:48 am (UTC)
I've done some readings by Dyer for my own Technicolour (technology&race) course, and I'd just like to add this article by McIntosh (mentioned in your first Dyer excerpt):
it's got a handy list that I think white people should take a careful read through just to see what they've never considered a privilege before
10th-Feb-2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
That's awesome! Thanks for the link :D
9th-Feb-2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
this is soooooo interesting
10th-Feb-2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
lol I can't tell if you're being sarcastic, but thanks!
10th-Feb-2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
LOL i wasn't! ahaha i think i was kind of dazed after reading so i didn't pay attention to internet social cues... patterns... idk @__@
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