Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Core Post 2

I wasn't sure if I wanted to post this, but I wonder if I am the only one who had a problem with Esposito's article on Ugly Betty? While I don't disagree with her reading of the episode "Betty Meets YETI", I felt that the essay invoked strong assumptions about the show's surface text while mostly functioning as a polemic against such cultural notions as "reverse discrimination." Furthermore, the analysis lacked context about the show's production and reception. At one point, Esposito contends that the show is hindered by its comedic premise, which allows complex topics to be "taken less seriously" (527). Her call to reconsider popular notions of a "post-racial," "color-blind," and meritocratic reality is persuasive, but uses Ugly Betty's text only as incidental evidence, a singular case study. What larger cultural work might Ugly Betty have been trying to accomplish? How might the show's other episodes, its channels/patterns of release, its network development, and its fanbase have generated progressive or transgressive results?

While television programs are defined in the essay as notable for both "reflecting and constituting majority culture" (524), I would argue that the goal of Ugly Betty was always to create a character with the agency to embody multiplicity -- the opposite of stereotyping, it makes the argument that Betty is defined by, but not limited to her ethnic/racial identity. Whether this is expressed in meritocratic terms throughout the show is debatable to me -- ought the audience to support a Latina protagonist who claims the ability to make her own choices? Or ought we to see this choice as a win for dominant white hegemony and a loss for racial visibility? Esposito argues that Marc's failure to interrogate his own white privilege is a point of failure in the episode as a narrative and political whole -- however, isn't this where irony and humor are used to their best advantage? As Betty points out Marc's advantages as a white, gay male in the fashion industry, he denies them while receiving free concert tickets. Here, the audience witnesses Marc's privilege even if he doesn't admit to it himself. The moment is humorous, but that doesn't make it meaningless or "less serious." Far from constructing a "typical" Latino/a personality in the public imagination, I think the show grapples with Betty's identity politics as a Mexican American while trying to make her singular. Perhaps instead of doing too little, programs like this (including today's Fresh Off the Boat and Black-ish) could be judged as attempting too much...

Just quickly, I'd also like to note that the article limits its discussion to only black, white, and brown people groups. Asian people have had a long relationship to meritocracy in the United States and have defined the politic of "model minority" which is so often used against groups with a more unstable record of "success," yet none are mentioned as fellow people of color. While perhaps burdened by fewer systemic disadvantages, the image of Asians and Asian Americans has been strongly (and mostly negatively) coded by Hollywood in the past century to the proliferation of regional homogenization, rampant stereotyping, and a silent majority. While not a "social problem," Asians in American media represent mostly an ellipsis, defused and decentralized if seen at all. Aziz Ansari's Master of None seems to be the latest TV series to deal with this non-representation, through comedy no less. Yet he was criticized on the episode "Indians on TV" for comparing the hypervisibility of black men and women to the invisibility of South Asians. Does this, and Esposito's article, suggest that there is not just a hierarchy of privilege, but a hierarchy of struggle that should be acknowledged when it comes to race in media?

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