Gender in Pop Culture: Is there a Sinister truth?

As a feminist, I’m often totally disgusted by pop culture’s treatment of women in so many regards.  I remember being a little girl, watching Disney princess movies and wondering—why do I need a prince to save me?  Why couldn’t I just save myself, or perhaps, save the prince?  But these were just little kid thoughts, I did not spend hours questioning the patriarchal framework of Disney movies.  These issues became more apparent as I grew up.  Not too long ago, I read about how, even at the editing level of movies, the male perspective is favored and women are there to, essentially, be looked at by men.  This claim totally had me.  I was ready to watch hours of film and shit on each and every one about how misogynistic and awful it was.  But then I saw a horror film.  I had never really seen one before, so it totally blew me away.  Everything was so weird and atypical of what I’d anticipated in film.  I was utterly confused.  I thought I’d understood gender in pop culture, but this film made me question my beliefs.  But of course, I didn’t want to change my beliefs.  I love being right about things far too much.  At the same time, I couldn’t just ignorantly hold views that could be totally inaccurate, so I watched another horror film—Sinister.

Now, I’m not sure how Sinister stands in comparison to horror film as a genre—it was honestly just the first horror movie I saw on Netflix.  I know how fun digging around Netflix can be, but as busy college student, just watching a movie was already a stretch.  Nevertheless, I was able to give up one pleasant evening in Williamstown to indulge in academic horror film consumption.  I live my life with no regrets, this decision included.  So the movie began and within the first few moments I could tell that a man was indeed the main character—there would be no final girl here.  The final girl is a horror film motif describing the last girl alive who usually defeats the evil male killer by adopting typically male characteristics and, along the way, getting an audience of all genders to sympathize with her and see from her perspective.  The first horror film I watched, Silence of the Lambs, had this feature, and in turn, casted uncertainty onto my view of movies as inherently favoring men.  So picture me, all smiley in the middle of horror movie, mind you, because alas, I am not wrong about the sexist framework of movies after all!  But this thought was oh so premature.  It did not take long for the film to do some interesting things, making me question myself all over again.

Before discussing this male lead in greater detail, you should know the basic story in Sinister: the male lead moves to a house to investigate and eventually write a book about a family who was mysteriously murdered there, but the incident is eventually interpreted as a pattern and his family is next.  As you probably have guessed, they die.  So then, who is this male main character?  How is he portrayed in the story? We can begin with listing who he is not.  He is not: epic badass fighter masculine guy.  This, right away, sets him apart from the typical men that come to my mind in pop culture.  In fact, he writes books for a living, one of the least macho professions. He is also fairly scrawny and weak looking, definitely not strong enough to take care of himself.  He is, however, a smart and fairly brave man, which are qualities of a typical man’s portrayal.  So the male lead is an interesting mix of masculinity and femininity and is seen, at least at the very end, as a weak victim.  He is drugged and murdered by his own young daughter and an androgynous weird looking boogie man.  I mean come on, any macho man could have defeated this iconic duo—but not Sir Writesalot here.  Okay so we’ve established that he isn’t the toughest of men, but this really means nothing on its own.  It is much more interesting to think about how this characterization affects an audience.  First of all, viewers of all genders likely identify with him to some degree because he is the main character.  I still think that male main characters are the most universally identified with, even when the agenda is not misogynistic.  To some, the reasoning for this is that there are a disproportionate number of POV shots from the male perspective which, in turn, makes the male perspective the norm and forces it on everyone.  I personally understand this phenomenon as a consequence of male leads dominating film, though I was, at one point, totally convinced by the former.  Now, however, I see the claim as true in some situations, but inaccurate in that it cannot be understood as all encompassing.  This idea is particularly lacking in the horror realm.  In interpreting identification with the male lead while watching Sinister, it has little to do with forcing the male perspective upon the audience and more to do with the fact that he possesses qualities of both genders.  This is quite strange if you think about it.  Here is man that is manly and feminine and is identified with differently by men and women because of this.  But all identification is with him as a person.  This is not forcing us to believe that men are the best and that as women, I am here only to be looked at by a man—not even a little bit.  This is telling us that, perhaps, gender should not be thought of as binary.  Men can be masculine and also feminine to some degree.     

Now, you are probably curious about the male lead’s killers—the boogie man and the murderous child—too, as you should be, considering that they are both essential in explaining the film itself as well as its further implications.  So let me start with the boogie man.  I don’t know what preconceived ideas you have of what a boogie man looks like, but I’ll explained Sinister’s very own for you.  The boogie man is lean and pale, with dark makeup and long black hair. I believe the common assumption is that the boogie man is, in fact, a man, but this is not so certain from looking at him.  Makeup and long hair are typical features of women, while the long lean frame is more along the ones of a scrawny male.  These characteristics, combined, make the boogie man appear to be quite androgynous.  However, even with all of the uncertainty in the descriptors, for most of the movie, you never get a good glimpse of him anyways.  He is always faded and appears briefly, at least until the end.  As viewers, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what this boogie man is.  But even when we understand it as a man, it is difficult to see him as such.  We have preconceived notions of “man,” so we are quite confused by this monster’s lack of clear gender.  But the monster’s twisting of gender is even more complicated.  The female horror film audience has been studied and understood to actually identify with this monster much more than men do.  I can vouch for this to, as I found myself strangely drawn to the boogie man while watching Sinister.  I was oddly satisfied whenever Mr. Boogie made a scare, particularly during a scene where his figure makes direct eye contact with the male lead from the bottom of a pool as a family is drowning.  This may seem like something only a psychopath would feel, but trust me, I am not alone, though this may not at all rid you of judgement in my direction.  But that’s what I’m getting at here—this, outwardly, makes no sense.  Why the hell would weak and scared girls identify with this monster?  This same study also showed that female audiences don’t look away much at all from the films, as many believe to be true.  These two findings each help to explain the other.  Let us first try to understand the identification bit.  Monsters live in a world that is dominated by men who are trying to hunt and kill them.  Now, at least in my life, I do not have men trying to murder me, but I do live in a society hounded by the male gender.  On the grounds of this shared experience, does it not makes sense to relate?  I think it does.  And why would a girl want to look away when she sees a monster sharing her experience and coming out on top?  The monster’s androgyny is interesting as it is, but adding female identification with this monster gives way to a whole new and perplexing idea.  Women identifying as a monster may, at least for a brief moment, feel power to rise above the man, who is portrayed in this film as a weak victim. And male viewers, who rarely identify with the monster, are being defeated.  This seems to me strategically feminist.  Women are given power that is not a, so called, norm—all from identifying with a creepy, androgynous monster.

So far, we’ve got a feminine, yet manly male lead, and an androgynous monster, both very strange compared to gender as many understand it…so what’s with the child killer?  The boogie man is followed around by an ever growing group of devil children, each of whom he’s made murder their family.  This film, for reasons I will soon bring to light, chose to make this devil child a girl.  So let us discuss this devil girl as a concept.  Girls are young women and are, therefore, children of innocence, purity, and civility by association.  This makes them most susceptible to corruption.  But when these young girls are corrupted, they gain a lot of power—their weakness became their strength.  This particular girl fits all of these ideas.  She is a seemingly sweet and innocent as a talented little artist, but her innocent and sweet art becomes devilish when she begins to paint murderous children and the boogie man’s sign.  Furthermore, she uses her family’s freshly murdered blood to paint innocent girly animals, one being unicorns, all over the walls.  I’m picturing unicorns painted in blood right now actually, and let me tell you, it is quite unsettling, and rather disgusting.  This child’s ultimate display of evil innocence, however, is when she leaves a note with her father’s drugged coffee reading—“Good Night Daddy”—meant to indicate that he is about to die by her hand.  But in any other context, this is just a cute note any little girl who loves her father would write.  This girl, as a young female, is given enough power to kill her father, the male lead, and the rest of her family, through evil innocence.  This is weird when looking at the bigger gender picture.  A little girl, seen as the weakest of all people, has an unfathomable amount power—enough to murder her entire family.  Compared to her brother, who often gets night terrors because of the haunted nature of their home, she seems even more powerful, as she is feeding off of the murderous and evil energy.  So even on the level of children, gender is super messy.  This little girl should be the weakest character in the entire film if we don’t veer from what we think of as normal gender roles, but she is nearly the most powerful, second only to the rough and tough Mr. Boogie.  I’m not sure how people identify with this child in general, but I, personally, found myself in awe of her.  I mean, who doesn’t fantasize about a little girl working with a monster to rise above the man.  What I’m saying is, this is the dynamic duo of my dreams.  I identify with the male monster and feel a connection to the child at the same time.  

At this point, I can clearly see a gender story.  It seems to be feminist in nature, as there are no totally masculine characters at all.  The male lead, who is the most masculine of all characters, is hardly manly.  He is weak and pitted against the powerful evil beings—a monster whom women identify with, and a badass, devilish girl, whose innocence is her power.  This story alone is pretty weird in terms of understanding gender.  It has subverted everything I think of as typical gender roles, and everything I thought was typical about gender in film.  It is not forcing the male perspective on viewers, but rather giving females more power in terms of the female character, and promoting female identification with the most powerful characters.  So I should feel totally in support of the evil side, but there is still a part of me identifying with the feminine aspects of the male lead as well.  On top of this, the idea of siding with evil seems morally unsettling to me.  And what does it mean that even though the male lead is weak, he is still on the side of good in a good versus evil scenario?  With all of this in mind, I am, honestly, still trying to piece together how I feel about each character.  Regardless, my one definite take away is just how goddamned confusing gender is in this movie.  Silence of the Lambs was not an anomaly, as Sinister threw some mystifying gender stuff my way just the same.  I cannot mindlessly continue to think that all movies inherently favor the male when I’ve shown myself just how untrue this can be.  In a way, the lack of clarity in Sinister’s gender bending emphasises this point even more—gender is just too confusing to make broad claims about.  You can look for patterns and try to understand each film’s individual gender story, but there is not one all encompassing truth.  But I’m fine with this—I can’t wait to spend hours of summer freetime analyzing various movies and finding out what each one has to say about gender.  Will there be any correlation?  Or will the crazy confusion prevail in its purest form?  There’s only one way to find out, and I intend to do so.      

This essay was written in the style of Chuck Klosterman

This essay was read by Chloe Henderson

Works Cited

Cherry, Brigid. “Refusing to Refuse to Look: Female Viewers of the Horror Film.” Identifying Hollywood’s Audiences. Ed. Melvyn Stokes and Richard Maltby. London: BFI Publishing, 1999.

Clover, Carol J. Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. S.l: British Film Institute, 1993.

Creed, Barbara. “Baby Bitches From Hell: Monstrous Little Women in Film.” Scary Women. N.p., Jan. 1994.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Media and Cultural Studies : Keyworks. Eds. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

Cultural Appropriation: the idea hidden in the visual

      For a long time, I have tried to explain the momentary discomfort I felt from time to time upon seeing the media’s version of an “Asian culture” for the first time. I vaguely imagined that I was offended, but at the same time I had doubts about the validity of my own feeling, that felt rather foreign. The pop industry’s claim about Asian culture–despite their tendency to confuse Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures–usually has a grain of truth. The celebrities did wear what appeared to be some Asian countries’ traditional costume, the martial arts indeed is an East Asian cultural artifact, and I was not a qualified cultural expert to pinpoint some minor details they may have gotten wrong. Before I finally found out the true source of my unease hidden behind a few factual inaccuracies–an unfamiliarity behind a familiarity–I was cautious not to appear overly sensitive and tried to believe that what I was witnessing was an interaction among different cultures. People’s dismissive attitude about cultural appropriation, in this context, is not hard to understand. A white narrator from TheRebel Media explains one should stop “whining about cultural appropriation” because wearing a foreign costume does not take away anything from the original culture, and she herself wore a kimono to a japanese festival without offending anyone. I believe it was essentially a similar sentiment that inspired Erika Christakis, a former Yale lecturer who urged her students to “be a little obnoxious..a little bit inappropriate or provocative or…offensive” in their choice of Halloween costumes. From the perspective of a child development educator, she saw indirect contact with the foreign as “transgressive”. Bell Hooks might call this desire for a personal transcendence a cultural cannibalism, readily consuming the culture and the history of the Others for one’s use (Hooks, 2001). But Christakis would doubt if wearing your favorite costumejust as she herself bought a Bangladesh clothes in a local marketbrings such grave effects.

I am not giving all these claims from proponents of cultural appropriation to say they are wrong. It is simply superficial to think that only things that can be appropriated are things with forms, such as clothes, accessories, food recipes etc. Frankly, the products themselves are of secondary importance. I am aware that Katy Perry’s special performance of her new release Unconditionally in American Music Award 2013 roused controversy mostly because she was white, and she was wearing a traditional Japanese costume. She used a Japanese costume to perform in front of her white audience, and some critics found it appropriative. And my argument starts here: it is not the apparent visual discrepancy that makes her performance a blatant example of cultural appropriation. It is not the reason people should care at all about a pop industry appropriating a culture. The discussion of cultural appropriation should instead focus on the hidden idea wrapped in the visual.

It is not to say that the visual aspect of the performance is irrelevant. It seems that Perry confused traditional Chinese clothes with Japanese clothes in her delivery of Japanese cultural artifact.

Image result for katy perry kimonoOverall pattern and style of the costume appears to be kimono, but the neck and open slits resemble cheongsam, a traditional Chinese costume. What she gives her audience is the general feel of East Asia, nonspecific and generalized, while claiming to represent one specific culture. Kimono is a costume a Japanese person would wear to funerals, festivals, coming-of-age ceremonies, or on any other ceremonial occasions. It is a quintessential symbol of Japan that people “hold it to their heart” (Valk, 2015). Nonetheless, this very item is now tailored to fit into Perry’s marketed image. With the open chest and sides that reveal Perry’s legs, kimono now is an outfit for a free spirited and hot California “gurl” who sings in her powerful voice.

Traditional Cheongsam

Traditional Kimono











Kimono is a costume a Japanese person would wear to funerals, festivals, coming-of-age ceremonies, or on any other ceremonial occasions. It is a quintessential symbol of Japan that people “hold it to their heart” (Valk, 2015). Nonetheless, this very item is now tailored to fit into Perry’s marketed image. With the open chest and sides that reveal Perry’s legs, kimono now is an outfit for a free spirited and hot California “gurl” who sings in her powerful voice. Nonetheless, I have to say that it is worth pointing out Perry’s inaccurate representation but such analysis does not touch the heart of the issue. Yet even critics these days end their analysis on what they can see. Their analysis is shallow, trite, and insignificant. Patricia Park, a writer of New York Times and Guardian, expresses her confusion in her editorial:

      “Her kimono, despite some cultural inaccuracies in the form of strategic slits, was rather prim by Hollywood standards. (…) I couldn’t find anything that officially screamed offensive … And there have been far more egregious “yellow faced” attempts.

Park adds that she as an Asian American is rather indifferent to her choice of clothes, and so were the most of Asian American students to whom she gave lectures about culture.  Park’s analysis is noteworthy for two reasons. First, even the language of a cultural critic focuses on visual aspects of the performance. What she assumes in her argument is that if Perry wore traditional kimono and cultural experts confirmed everything they saw was right, there should be no problem. Park only succeeds in analyzing a piece of cotton, not the context in which it is placed –which I will discuss soon. Second, she emphasizes her Asian American ethnic identity to give her voice more depth and authority than it deserves. And Park is not the only one. In Perry’s performance, Just like many other talks about cultural appropriation, one’s ethnic identity appears to be an ID card one shows to enter the discussion forum about Perry’s performance. A frequent reference to one’s ethnic identity and origin in this sort of discussions is an appeal to one’s historic lineage rather than one’s knowledge in the subject matter. It is inherently given, not earned. It is just like an unalienable right – a right to freedom, a right to happiness–except that it is a right reserved for only a select number of people. I call it a ‘right to be offended.’ And this right, directly or indirectly called for in the public discourse surrounding Perry’s performance, decides whose voice is to be heard and whose is to be discarded.

      It is the conversation between the appropriator and the appropriated, the offender and the offended. People who are in neither of the category are cautious, unsure, and silent. One Japanese commented online expressed what appeared to be a general confusion at the apparent “fuss”: “I’m Japanese and I appreciate she expressed the beauty of Japan and its culture. Everyone is unnecessarily nervous on cultural issues.” Some tried to argue that Perry’s performance was problematic and offensive, to which an anonymous commentator replied: “Are you Japanese?” With the right to be offended as the ultimate authority, the public discourse about Perry’s controversy is bound to be dichotomous. There is only one Japan and one Foreign. In the past, it was a similar division that led the West to treat the Eastern counties and their culture as one collective entity, the Orient, and decorate it with their fantasies (Said, 1987). And even in the present, the seemingly productive discussion on culture is caught up in generalization, stereotypes, and deindividualization. One well-received Youtube video “Can Foreigners Wear Kimono? (Japanese Opinion Interview)” by a Japanese cultural writer shows how this works. Two entities –“Foreigners” and “Japanese” – have conversations about cultural appropriation, while all the others are spectators. Himself a Japanese, he and his interviewees found no problem with Perry’s performance. To confirm this claim, he put representative authority on seven Japanese people, whose name, age, background etc. remained unknown. It was this precise vagueness that seemed to give those voices a license to speak on behalf of the Japanese. One can only speculate from their causal outfits that they are probably ordinary young people, perhaps college students. Filling the void of their individualities, are their Japanese faces, the language, and their presence in a street of Japan. One interviewee speculated why Perry’s performance might have been criticized: “Because of the umbrellas? They could be weapons.”

      This Japanese Youtuber who profits from his production, does what the business of appropriation is accused of doing. He asks the audience to take a generalized imagery associated with Japan, perhaps with the touch of childlike innocence of the East and appreciation to the West, as ordinary experiences of the Japanese. The audience willingly does, disarmed by the license of cultural identity.

      So far, I have given most attention to the reception of Perry’s performance, and now I move to direct my attention to the content and the idea behind her work–the point a conversation about cultural appropriation should focus on. Anyone who has watched the music video of Perry’s Unconditionally –and here she does not wear kimono but a dress in a ballroom – can see that her message is simple and straightforward. The images of a mother holding her child, affectionate gestures between lovers of different race and even gender show Perry’s emphasis on the love that transcends limitations.

     A car crashing into Perry in the music video almost reinforces the idea of self-sacrifice. In Perry’s AMA performance, she embodied this embracing and almost self destructive love through a body of japanese geisha. The nuance and the visual association Perry draws in her performance reminds one of a fictional character “ChoCho San” from Madame Butterfly. ChoCho San first appeared in a short story written by an American writer in 1898, a period after the year 1853 when Japan was forced to open its port to the West. Later in 1904, this piece turned into Puccini’s opera in 1904. ChoCho San is a geisha who falls in love with white lieutenant, waits for him everyday, and kills herself when she is abandoned. At that time, an affair between a Japanese woman and a white visitor was not unheard of. But the portrayal of ChoCho San is only complete with a Western fantasy about an unconditional love of an Asian woman. Un bel dì vedremo (“One fine day we shall see”) shows ChoCho San’s endless waiting:

And I wait a long time

but I do not grow weary of the long wait.


I with secure faith wait for him.

     And in her performance, Perry brings back the idea from more than hundred years ago and sings of unconditional love just like ChoCho San would do. She sings of “All your insecurities / All the dirty laundry” that she readily embraces while she is dancing in a kimono. She sings of a love that can, as shown in her music video, bring her own destruction while she shows herself surrounded by japanese cultural artifacts.

Perry’s AMA performance

ChoCho San from Madame Butterfly

Many follow-up articles on the performance said the staging was exotic – “originating in a distant foreign”. The very idea is constructed upon the notion of distance, but not a physical distance in this context. It is a distance between time, between a modern and postcolonial, between the present and the past. Even in the year 2013, the image of Japan is still trapped in the late 1890s when Japan was first penetrated by the West. This is the idea of Japanese culture wrapped in kimono, flower blossoms, and extravagant paper fans. And Perry returns this newly crafted culture to not only her white audience but also to the Japaneses. In all her innocence, Perry said her performance was meant to pay tribute to Japanese culture, and clarified that she did not mean to mock their culture at all. It was her love that led to the production of this particular performance. The crucial question at this point is – does intention still matter? Perry has the product of cultural appropriation up on stage, people have seen it, and it’s there. I say what matters is the invisible idea that the images hide, an imaginary fantasy about the Others that the consumers are asked to believe as a reality. Changing the content and returning it in the same wrapper is the industry of appropriation.


Emulated the style of George Orwell (“Why I Write”), revised by Aanya Kupur, in response to the prompt about cultural appropriation of ordinary people.



Park, Patricia. “Why all the fuss over Katy Perry’s geisha performance at the AMAs?”, The Guardian, November 26th 2013, Web.

Rebel Media, “Cultural appropriation isn’t racist–it’s really cultural appreciation”, Rebel Media, September 21st 2015, Web.

Said, Edward. “Orientalism”, Pantheon Books, 1978. Print.

Valk, Julie. “The “Kimono Wednesday” Protests: Identity Politics and How the Kimono Became More Than Japanese”,  Asian Ethnology Vol 74 No.2, 2015, Web.

Yuta, “Can Foreigners Wear Kimono (Japanese Opinion Interview)”, That Japanese Man Yuta, September 26th 2016, Web.



The Black Hero: A Cultural Impossibility

In April of 1967, Stokely Carmichael coined the phrase, “Black Power”  (Ture, 1992). Later in the same year, one of the deadliest riots in United States history broke out in Detroit between white police and Black civilians.  Many people, especially African Americans, had previously requested the establishment of a civilian police review board there, because the department was well known for its racism.  But the citizens were declined by the mayor’s office, as white residents had already accused the town of being soft on crime.

In response to the Black Freedom movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Hollywood, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and other “mainstream media idioms made a self-conscious effort to address the dramatic racial shift in American society” and to allot Black actors more attention (Nama, 2009). There is an important film that opens in 1967 as its protagonist (a biracial half-human, half-vampire) is born from his human mother, who was just-bitten and near death.  The narrative of Blade, starring Wesley Snipes, toys with traditional American perceptions of race.  It is perhaps the case that the Civil Rights Movement is the reason why the film could exist in the first place.  The plot follows a hero as he kills villains, a Black hero as he kills white villains who possess mafia-like control over the police.  Even still, the two seemingly antithetical forces are interchangeable, and the death of the white monsters can perhaps be interpreted as the success story of their own white race.  If you only look bit closer, it’s evident that the whites who were murdered actually resemble the condition of Black lives in America.  The film propagates the racism that it appears to buck.  After all, a producer knows that her movie’s audience would like to continue to believe in what it already understands.

It is unconventional in Hollywood to cast a Black actor in a leading role, and it’s more or less outlandish to cast a Black actor who is not light-skinned in a leading role.  Wesley Snipes, as “Blade,” is one such rarity, and his performance in the 1990s would dent the 21st century’s #Oscarssowhite.  Snipes began his acting career under the direction of Spike Lee, an upbringing that imbues his professional identity on screen.  It is not possible to interpret Blade outside of the context of a racialized Hollywood.  In an essay on the relationship between vampires and race, Sarah Broderick writes that films carry the weight of the images of monsters they must portray, and she pays particular attention to cases where the monsters are actors of color.  Broderick notes, “the history of the bodies being placed within the film’s frame must be taken into consideration alongside the historical moment in which a monster arises, revisits, or is re-appropriated by a culture, in order to fully grasp the levels of meaning at stake in the images” (Broderick, 2011).  Blade’s unique image is contradictory and worthy of discourse in the context of American racial culture.

What’s peculiar, then, is how Blade’s character manages to be both culturally white-passing and a dark-skinned African American, and is able to infiltrate and destroy a white stronghold without making the audience think twice.  The movie pits white vampires, led by a devilish young monster whose name is “Frost” (about as white as you can get), against an African American, half-vampire, half-human named “Blade.”  If you compare their individual images on screen, whiteness is associated with evilness, and Blackness with goodness.  In order to infiltrate the white vampires, Blade utilizes his evil white vampire privileges — he can bear the sun, a “Daywalker,” he has inhuman strength, the ability to kill, etc.  Is this not related to how some part-Black, part-white people are occasionally ridiculed by the Black community for their ability to pass and reap the benefits of white people?

Despite Blade being ‘mixed-race,’ degraded because of his white impurity, he is still the hero of the story.  His goodness goes hand-in-hand with his Blackness.  However, in traditional (read: white supremacist) American culture, Blackness is grotesque, fleshy, wicked, uncivilized, violent, herd-like, and primordial.  It is associated with the body and sexual behavior (think of jazz and the blues).  Continental African practices, such as masquerading, scarifying, and assembling spiritual headdresses, were all debased by white colonists who discredited their sophistication and artistry.  Alternatively, whiteness is considered to be tame, self-critical, ethical, an abstraction of aristocracy, and translucent to the extent that whites are not faulted people but perfect vessels of a cerebral and spiritual ideal.  Elite white women in the 1800s went so far as to douse their skin in arsenic to appear more pasty and exude higher status.

Traditional whiteness does not characterize the white vampires.  They are violent, sexy, hickie-giving, animalistic monsters who throw blood festivals for their herd.  Their revelry is like 

the ancient Romans’ Bacchanal, which stood out from everyday life in Rome because of its orgies, drunkenness, and garish indulgence.  Just as the Bacchanal features gluttonous consumption of red wine, the vampire rave in Blade climaxes as fire sprinklers spout blood from the ceiling.  The film manages to demonize white beings by ascribing to them the qualities that American racists and European colonists have used to reduce Black people.  The white vampires are identifiable as evil because they possess Black traits.  So if the white vampires resemble Black people, then where does that leave the African American protagonist who heroically fights for humanity and goodness?

On the surface, the film appears to have accomplished a socially progressive feat: to entice a (white) audience to cheer on a Black man as he kills white people.  Imagine the potential of this effect on changing the narrative of racism that currently perpetuates the murder of innocent Black people by police in Detroit, or in Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland, or Baltimore.   Among the police departments in the U.S.’s 60 largest cities, 41 of them have disproportionately shot and killed Black members of the community, relative to the city’s actual population of Black people (Mapping Police Violence, 2015).

But does Blade actually feature a flipped world where a Black man commits mass murder against white people?  In the film, Blade is white in most aspects of the cultural term. Despite the fact that he is not light-skinned and got his start by learning from Spike Lee, Snipes plays a character who was produced and edited into a white hero in Black skin.

The characteristics that encode an evil antagonist are so tightly tied to cultural predispositions to being Black (solidified in the historical reality of the world) that a white vampire with a ghostly hue cannot be anything but Black — violent, animalistic, sexualized, and ‘all jazzed up.’  Because the American and European codes for good and evil are founded on perceptions of white and Black people, a Black hero can’t be made.   The way to represent a hero on screen is so white, and the manner of portraying a villain is so Black.  The racially progressive film and the Black hero cannot exist.




Broderick, Sarah. “Some Vampires Are Real: Racial Stereotypes and Dominant Fears (Re)presented in the Black Vampire of American Popular Film.” Gnovis Journal at Georgetown University, 21 Nov. 2011. Gnovis,

Nama, Adilifu. Brave Black Worlds: Black Superheroes as Science Fiction Ciphers. The Black Imagination, Science Fiction and the Speculative, by Sandra Jackson, New York, Routledge, 2011, p. 10.

Ture, Kwame (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael), and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. New York, Random House, 1967.

“2015 Police Violence Report.” Mapping Police Violence, 2015,


This essay was read by Chloe.

This essay was written in the style of Mark Greif.

The (White) Lion King

There are other ways to read The Lion King than as another part of the age-old trend of bending the way we see race. Some might see it as a tribute to the culture of ‘Africa.’ Others, maybe as a lesson on leadership and how we should behave with power and protect the ones we love. Or simply as a great story not to be looked too far into. It’s these kinds of ideas that might be shared by the vast majority of kids and parents who have seen the film, in theaters and TV rooms, classrooms and airplanes and afforded it it’s dear place in the heart of American film culture. With our thinking hats on, however, we can discern more sinister goings-on beneath the giftwrap. Perhaps Simba and friends aren’t so deserving of their pedestal.

Maybe you don’t fully understand the extent of The Lion King’s elevation in the minds of kids my generation. If you lived in America at the time and had even the smallest aptitude for popular culture, chances are that you remember. The film was untouchable; the secret weapon of substitute teachers and summer camp counselors, always sure to subdue us tots. My grandmother received hate-mail when she wrote an article bashing The Lion King for its stereotyping when it came out. “It would be inappropriate to keep a racial scorecard about these films,” producer Don Hahn said of the accusations, “That’s not the spirit of the film at all.” (Shaw 1994, Entertainment Weekly). The damn movie was almost decreed loved.

The Lion King’s almost unfailing immunity makes it potent. Little do we know it, but under the radar, the tale creates and supports a racial dichotomy. Blunt, physical associations are built between certain characters and racial boxes. More specifically, The Lion King equates the lions with ‘whites’ and the hyenas with people of color, especially those with dark skin. These associations are set up starting with the most basic attributes: the lions have lighter skin than the hyenas. Yes, this is a biological fact, but before the Lion King defenders come crawling out of the cracks, consider how the movie goes on to emphasize the lightness of the lions and darkness of the hyenas. Early in the film, the late lion king takes his son and heir Simba, the main character, out to show him their kingdom. “Look, Simba,” he says, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” The ‘camera’ shows a sun-bathed, bright place, before panning to a dark spot in the distance.

Image result for lion king shadowy place

The home of the hyenas is “that shadowy place.” Here, the hyenas are associated with darkness while lions are linked with light, in their appearances and in their homes. Shady, dark, non-white, black – the subconscious logical progression the viewer would undertake is not hard to believe. Such color-based visual associations persist throughout the movie, solidifying the viewer’s linking of non-whiteness with hyenas and whiteness with lions.

The racial color contrast between lions and hyenas extends past the obvious physical colorings as well. Of the three main hyenas, one sounds a mentally instable person, and– more importantly in this case – the other two sound like a stereotypical Black American and Latino American. The actors who play the parts of the non-white-sounding hyenas are Black and Latino: Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin, respectively. Plus, the black-talking hyena looks just like Whoopi Goldberg, or more generally, an African-American – she has dreadlocks.

Come on. This dog is so ‘black.’ The fact that these actors have voices that resemble the stereotypical intonations of American people of color is evidence to the film’s linking of hyenas to American non-white races. No, the Hyenas don’t all sound the same. But the effect is that the hyenas become an amalgamation of the traits of America’s people of color.

Upon this white/colored dichotomy of the lions and hyenas, the film builds and suggests associations for the viewer to make mapping from race to behavior or fact. Look no further than the ‘shadowy place’ Simba sees as he checks out his inheritance with pops. The shadowy place is an elephant graveyard, and the unfortunate home of the hyenas. This fact is significant taking into account the cultural meaning of an elephant graveyard. Such a place is a myth: it is incorrectly believed within the American cultural logbook that when elephants are old and unproductive in the community, they go to a specific place to die: the elephant graveyard. For the hyenas to live in an elephant graveyards is to associate them with unproductivity and stagnancy, as they are living beings that make their home in such a place. To say this is to say the same about people of color. Lions, on the other hand, remain in the center of productive society, constantly working to serve society and make themselves useful. Within simple details about living locations, The Lion King builds the racial script of the Black and White racial categories, labeling the prior useless and idle and the latter as valuable members of society.

Image result for hyenas lion king elephant skull

Such racial scripting is further uncovered in examination and comparison of the capacity for self-control of lions and hyenas. Lions are portrayed as being creatures of the mind, able to transcend the corporal wants of the body. Hyenas, on the other hand, are less able to exist without succumbing to their bodily needs. They are shown trying to eat the bird and Simba and his royal friend, knowing their status and the consequences yet being unable to resist their urge to eat. One of the hyenas is at one point shown gnawing on his own foot.

Image result for hyena ed eating foot

Here, the hyenas have no capacity to do anything but give into the urge to eat, thus having no self-control over their basal urges. The lions, on the other hand, have enough mental ability to tackle their bird-servant as a hunting lesson without eating him. The lions are shown to be able to transcend such primitiveness and be more civilized. The Lion King thus manages to slip in the old stereotype of blacks being more primitively corporal than whites. Shrouded in a lovely movie are racial categorical molds for our naïve brains to adopt. Watching The Lion King, both parent and child ingrain these racial associations into their minds under the surmise that the movie is an innocent icon.

But the film goes yet further into their heads, prescribing sentiment on these racial scripts, changing not only the objective inventory of the associations these scripts include, but also the default emotions the viewers have towards a race. The Lion King sets up a parallel between the members of the racial dichotomy and the plot emotions a viewer might have. Hyenas are a constant threat to the security of the lions, from their treasonous talks about the lion king to their attempts at eating Simba and his friend. The viewer literally sees a Whoopi Goldberg-looking hyena about to chomp down on the ‘camera.’

Fear and sympathy are instilled in the viewer as he or she watches how the dark hyenas menace their beloved, Simba or his blue-eyed lion friend. Further, the plot of the movie centers around the take-over of the lion kingdom by hyenas, aided by the jealous, black-haired brother of the king named Scar, who kills his kin to take the throne and allow the dogs to run the ‘pridelands’ over. Understanding that the hyenas are black and the lions are white, the premise of the conflict, then, is that people of color are encroaching into white territory. Viewers, siding with the white good guy lions, are subsequently subconsciously conditioned to fear the encroachment of non-whites, just as they fear the take-over of the hyenas. And as the proponent of this encroachment is Scar, the viewer learns to hate him and thus those who advocate for racial-mixing. This way, The Lion King manages to define not only the viewers’ racial categories, but also their opinions and emotions on them.

Thus, we see how dangerous these movies can be. Things thought to be inherent and unchangeable, like race, are malleable in concept and interpretation and can and are changed in our heads by the pieces of culture we love most. The Lion King capitalizes on this fact, linking white and black races to species in the movie and tying racial associations and reactionary emotions to these categories. All of this trickery under-hood is packaged in a movie we hold so dear. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, after all. Biblical scholar Joe Paulien contends that part of what makes us so interested in this movie is that it addresses the apocalypse. Whether or not you buy the religious aspect of Paulien’s argument, you must recognize that he’s right –  The Lion King frames the hyena takeover as the end of the world. Though on the surface the movie seems to be about lions and their battles for power, it’s ultimately calling out that integration is the apocalypse. With a movie so loved and a message so insidious, that message, though ridiculous it may seem, has got to be in our heads somewhere whether we like it or not. I wonder how Trump and his travel ban feel about The Lion King



Works Cited

Paulien, Jon. “The Lion/Lamb King: Reading the Apocalypse from Popular     Culture.” Reading the Book of        Revelation: A Resource for Students, edited by David L. Barr, Society of Biblical Literature, 2003,              pp. 151–162. JSTOR,

 Shaw, Jessica. “The Politically Incorrect Lion King.” Entertainment Weekly 5 Aug. 1994: n. pag.      Web.     19 May 2017.


This essay was read by Julia Gunther.

It is meant to emulate the style of Greg Tate



The Race Story of a Song of Ice and Fire.

Blue or brown eyes, pallid or swarthy skin. These trivial differences that are no more than biological have gained intrinsic meanings. Race is a matter of culture. We are not born knowing how to act black or white. We adopt it depending on our surroundings. This means that race is also omnipresent in pop culture. Every TV show, movie, book or record has a race story. These stories are usually subliminal and as consumers we do not notice the story that we are being subjected to. The Song of Ice and Fire, also known as Game of Thrones, explores a fictional universe where seasons can last decades and fantastical creatures such as dragons exists. However the most prevalent species is mankind. This leads to humans from all kinds of backgrounds, therefore humans who have different races. So what is the racial narrative of the Game of Thrones? How George R.R. Martin trying to adjust our attitudes towards race?

Game of Thrones is of the most watched TV shows ever. It is based off of books by George R. R. Martin who was inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Currently on season 7, Game of Thrones is the story of the struggle for power. With thousands of characters, important and trivial, we are bound to get a variety of races. The main narrative of these books/TV show is not about race. Yet if we study the characters we get a story about race as all pop culture has a racial narrative that is being told without the consumer knowing.

The Game of Thrones universe is split up into two different continents, Westeros and Essos. The etymology of the names is very straight forwards as Westeros is in the West and Essos is in the East. Westeros is portrayed in the books as the where all the civilized people live. It has castles and knights, it is ruled by a central power, a monarch on the Iron Throne. If it isn’t explicit enough, Westeros is the embodiment of the western world. Of the 7 house only one of them is based off a non-white race.

House Martell lives in Dorne. The southernmost point of Westeros. The legend has it that Dorne used to be connected to Essos. The people of the Dorne are ethnically from Essos as their ancestors crossed the Narrow Sea. Dornishmen have varied real world roots. There are some elements that are based off the Moors. This is seen in their architecture, as it is heavily based off of Moorish Palaces such as Alhambra in Grenada Spain. In GRRM’s third book of the series, a Storm of Swords, the Dornish horses were described as small, “but it was said they could run for a day and night and another day, and never tire” (page 520). This is very similar to the Arabic horses who are known to not be very big but have great stamina.

But what is the race story? Why is it important that the Dornish are the only non-white race in the embodiment of the western world? Well the answer to these is seen through the actions of the Martell. They are known to be a treacherous people that are only thinking about themselves. House Martell’s motto is “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” This is a reference to the fact that they do not bend their knees and accept that they are beaten. They are a deceitful people. One of the most interesting things about how their society works is that they allow the heir to be a girl or a boy. Unlike the rest of Westeros, the non-white race is the most progressive. This is an example where gender and race become intertwined. Stacey Goguen writes in her book Game of Thrones and Philosophy that “other regions in Westeros categorize women from Dorne based on their ethnicity. Dornish women are known for being not quite like “regular” women of Westeros.” (p. 218) So George R.R. Martin is subconsciously ingraining mistrust for the Arabic/Andalusians who inhabit Westeros. Out of all the people living in Westeros, the only ones who treat men and women equally are the non-white, devious Southerners. Is he making a concealed comment on the alleged deceitfulness of women? The same deceitfulness which is present in the Bible? Another thing to note is that a subsect of Dornish women call themselves the Sand Snakes, a creature that appears in the Bible and tricks Eve into eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. The snake in this case is a representation of the devil incarnate. So by associating snakes with Dornish women we are subjected to internally associating women with deceit. This is where the gender narrative and racial narrative merge.

The story for Westeros is very similar to the wars of the Roses. The wars of the Roses was a conflict in Britain where several families fought to put their heirs on the throne of England. It lasted from 1455 to 1487 with several intervals of peace.  House Lancaster was one of the houses that fought in this war their counterpart in the Game of Thrones Universe is House Lannister. See where this is going? On the other side of the confrontation is House York. Their counterpart is House Stark which are a representation of the Scots.  This is exemplified in the TV series by their accent which is the Stark use. They speak with a heavy Scottish accent and the Lannisters, speak with a strong aristocratic accent.

The race narrative of Westeros is also a class narrative. The struggle between House Stark and House Lannister is a class struggle. House Lannister is the wealthiest family in Westeros. They discovered gold in their hills and managed to make immense profits from that. One the other hand, House Stark is the northernmost house who live in a barren landscape. The readers of this series find themselves siding with House Stark as they are the main protagonists of the story. This means that subconsciously we are being influenced to root for the downfall of the aristocracy.

The struggles between Stark and Lannister are not the only class narratives that are present in the series of Game of Thrones. Let us move over to Essos, the continent to the east of Westeros, home of the free cities. There is a bigger variety of races who inhabit Essos. These races are based off of more eastern roots. The Dothraki Tribe is a band of nomadic savages who are loosely based off of the Huns. They pillage, rape and burn all of the communities that they come across and rely heavily on horses in combat. However, their story is one of redemption. In the first seasons they are seen as an enemy. One of the many protagonists of this series, Daenerys Targaryen was married to their leader. She felt like their prisoner, having to do whatever her husband wanted. But as the books progressed we got to understand their culture and community. As we grew to like the Dothraki, Daenerys adopted their culture, become their Khaleesi (Queen). We are presented with a barbaric tribe and as we get to know them better we have empathy for them. This change comes when Daenerys Targaryen becomes their leader. She is the epitome of white. She is given the title of “Breaker of Chains” as she has fought for the freedom of the slaves in Slavers Bay.

What’s the race narrative of Daenerys? Well, her character arc goes from, the poor innocent refugee who gets married to a savage so that her brother can have an army. She goes from a helpless girl to the fearless leader of a huge army. She is represented with immense goodwill. The real life equivalent to the Slave Masters (those who own the slaves), are the Egyptians. Their city of Meereen is known for its Great Pyramid. The ancient Egyptians were also known to use slaves. Daenerys Targaryen is one of the only white character in Essos. She is leading an army of non-white soldiers, some from which she has freed from slavery. Her final goal is to take over Westeros, her home that she has never been to. Is George R.R. Martin advocating for white supremacy? This is seems very unlikely. First of all Daenerys is against slavery above all else. She went out of her way to free the slaves. So is the author promoting Dany as an example of white altruism? It seems like our first impression that the Dragon Queen is not symbolic of white supremacy but that George R.R. Martin has imbued in his books a sense of hope. As viewers we are being guided to believe in the altruism of white people.

Game of Thrones is the perfect show to analyze for a race story. The diversity in the universe of Ice and fire is encourages character arcs for all races. All pop culture is telling a race story and as we see through Gage of Thrones, this story often gets meddled among class narratives and gender narratives. The general narrative that surrounds the Song of Ice and Fire is pretty straight forwards. George R.R. Martin makes numerous links between past civilizations and races in his novels. The Moors and the Dornishmen, the Huns and the Dothraki, the Ancient Egyptians and the Slave Masters. By doing this we are subconsciously being told how to feel about them. This changes our attitudes towards them. Being aware of this manipulation of thoughts is one way to avoid being influenced. But how does one isolate the race narrative? It is important to make the real world comparisons to understand the true meaning of the author.



Read by Gray Livingston

Written in the style of Ernest Hemmingway


  • Martin, George R.R., 2003, A Storm of Swords, Random House Publishing Group.
  • Goguen Stacey, 2012, Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper than Swords, John Wiley and Sons.

Po the American Panda

Apparently Kung Fu Panda is considered a good movie. I don’t think my dad thought so as he grumbled as he walked out of the theater with my sister and I, at the time aged 9 and 7. But, probably to my dad’s surprise, not only was Kung Fu Panda very popular in the United States, it was also a big hit in China, which serves as the setting and aesthetic for the animated film. In addition to being set in China, the movie incorporates a lot traditional Chinese elements and symbols—Kung Fu and pandas, for example. Those familiar with the fiercely waged battles over cultural appropriation will be unsurprised to hear that this American-made movie using Chinese culture provoked controversy. “The movie is nearly perfect,” said Chinese director Lu Chuan, noting that the creators “showed a very sincere attitude about Chinese culture” (Lee). Taking a rather different standpoint, Chinese artist Zhao Bandi said the movie “twisted Chinese culture and served as a tool to kidnap the minds of the Chinese people” (Lam). So, which is it—dangerous cultural appropriation or sincere engagement with Chinese culture?

Of course, those responsible for the movie would say the latter. They called the film “a love letter to China” (Jörg & Zhao, 111). Many elements of the movie could plausibly point to that conclusion. Obviously the movie features a panda, the Chinese national symbol, and Kung Fu, which is an important part of China’s cultural history. The movie starts out with hand-drawn animations that closely mimic classic Chinese art and the scenery is filled with temples and other symbols that clearly let the viewer know that they are in China. Its cast includes Chinese American actors, as well as Jackie Chan, ever a feature of Kung Fu movies. In an effort to maintain authenticity in the fight scenes, the animators were given martial arts lessons (Chung). One Chinese academic, Bu Xiao-yan finds evidence to support the filmmakers’ claim, saying that the correct uses of Chinese words “spread the traditional Chinese specialties, symbols, values, and so forth, filling the movie with thick Chinese flavor” (Bu, 880).  Bu also talks about the oblique presence of Taoist and Confucian beliefs, along with the presence of traditional Chinese elements, such as noodles, sedan chairs, lanterns and acupuncture (Bu, 881). Realistically, the elements of Chinese culture in this movie are not much more than flavor and props.  The plot and characters reveal a very different perspective about the movie. Kung Fu Panda follows an overweight, immature, panda who, much to everyone’s surprise and dismay, is chosen to be the legendary Dragon Warrior. With the help of wise masters, he becomes a Kung Fu warrior, defeats an evil leopard, brings peace to the valley, and—of course—discovers that everyone is special and you just have to believe in yourself.  None of this is Chinese. In fact, it is distinctly not Chinese.

Take the main character, Po the panda. Voiced by Jack Black, Po is portrayed as fat and immature from the very start of the movie, where, upon waking up, he struggles to stand up. After achieving that task, he greets his action figures, bewildering his neighbors. He is living with his father, a goose, who expects him to take over the noodle shop, even though Po dreams of becoming a Kung Fu master. When he is accidentally chosen as the Dragon Warrior, he is ridiculed for his weight, clumsiness, and lack of hygiene. Eventually, he trains to become a master, but can only do so if he is incentivized by food. Jack Black essentially plays the same character in every movie he does. Kung Fu Panda is no different. Po is not differentiable from the unattractive, deadbeat, immature characters that Black is known for. Po and Black become “inseparable, if not identical, through the composite of sound and image” (Chung). Po’s facial expressions, body, and movements also mimic Black’s. These characteristics are quintessentially American. We Americans are known to be overweight, lazy, and consumptive—not to mention brash and, perhaps, immature—and Po clearly reflects that.

Po hungrily eyes dumplings

Before closely examining this movie, I imagined that the Kung Fu training would make Po somehow more Chinese. After the training montage, Po turns down the food that he has finally won through his hard work. Yet, his character never changes after that point, and in fact Po affirms his Americanness in the final fight scene. His opponent belittles him as “just a big fat panda,” and as he delivers the final blow, Po proclaims, “I’m not a big fat panda, I’m THE big fat panda” (Kung Fu Panda). This brash affirmation of self is not only an indication that Po retains his American qualities, but also an American act in it of itself. The US is not subtle about its patriotism, and Po’s affirmation of his American qualities (i.e. his weight) is evocative of that.

But, not only is the main character American: the film’s overall message of individualism is aggressively American as well. Po immediately stands out. He’s a panda with a goose for a father in a community that is almost exclusively comprised of pigs, bunnies, and geese. However, all of the other Kung Fu masters—and therefore main characters—are also the only example of their species represented in the movie. So the characters who stand out from the crowd are the heroes of the movie. But maybe that’s not convincing. The movie’s morals are more telling. Po begins the movie as a directionless fanboy who wanted he was someone else. When he is chosen as the Dragon Warrior, he worries that he’s inherently incapable of becoming a Kung Fu master—that he isn’t good enough. But (of course) he discovers something important: you just have to believe in yourself. When he receives the Dragon Scroll—thought to contain the secret to never-before-seen Kung Fu power—and finds that it is blank, everyone is confused and dismayed. Similarly, the Secret Ingredient to Po’s father’s Secret Ingredient Soup is (you guessed it) nothing. There is no special secret; every individual is special—you just have to believe in yourself. This is textbook American participation trophy culture. It’s part of an ideology that tells children, “You can grow up to be whatever you want” and, “we’re all winners!” Don’t believe it? Try googling “millennials individualism” and you’ll find a plethora of articles in The Atlantic and The New York Times decrying the end of the community and declaring millennials to be self-centered narcissists. Apparently our parents told us that we were special too frequently. Whether or not you believe the hype, individualism is certainly seen as an American value, particularly in contrast to stereotypes about the Chinese.  One of the main forms of Western, anti-Asian xenophobia is the notion of the yellow horde or yellow peril; Americans fear East Asians because of their sheer numbers. Central to the notion of the yellow horde is the image of the faceless masses taking over the world, which stands in contrast to the hyper-individualism of America. Generally, the Chinese are perceived to be more community and family oriented. In Chinese, the family name comes before the individual’s name, which represents the promotion of the group over the individual. So Kung Fu Panda’s morals are explicitly American. What do we make of the Chinese elements? As one academic who studies images of China in American film put it, “China is reduced to a series of visual motifs” while “at a still deeper level, America—at least American values and sensibilities—is felt at every turn” (Greene, 199). Though many elements are Chinese, they have been stripped of their true meanings and filled with American meanings. China is reduced to “a visual one-dimensional landscape that has severed all connections with a ‘real’ place or ‘real’ people” (Greene, 199).

Should we be alright with the fact that Chinese culture is stolen, reduced to scenery and subjected to American morals? Bu says yes. He says that Kung Fu Panda—neither totally Chinese nor totally American—is a “transcultural version” which “represents a unique way in which the world’s cultures are being hybridized to form what can be called a global culture” (884). He sees the movie as “a good way to spread traditional cultures and enhance effective exchanges with other cultures to reach a far better international cooperation and communication” (884). According to Bu, it’s “a win-win situation” (884). But this assumes that Kung Fu Panda treats both cultures equally. The film’s morals don’t reflect that. An already American character becomes more American. More importantly, Kung Fu Panda promotes American culture at the expense of Chinese culture. It superimposes American ideas onto important Chinese symbols. Though Chinese aspects are included, they are stripped of their meaning and subordinated for American ideals. This represents a form of cultural domination, which is literally sold back to the culture being dominated. These days, China is one of the major threats to American world influence an important. As many Americans fear economic dominance from China, it’s no surprise that American culture would push back and assert its supremacy. Though the filmmakers may have attempted to engage genuinely with Chinese culture, the end product reduces Chinese culture to props and symbols, and in doing so, asserts that American individualism is better than Chinese collectivism. They—very successfully— sold back a low-fat, lite, version of Chinese culture, which has been reduced to accommodate American individualism. So, good movie? Maybe—I’m sure Uncle Sam would love it.


This essay was read by Noah Nsangou, written in the style of Ellen Willis, and responds to prompt #3.

Works Cited

Bu, Xiao-yan. “An Intercultural Interpretation of Kung Fu Panda—From the Perspective of Transculturation.” Sino-US English Teaching 9.1 (2012): 878-85. David Publishing Company. Web. 18 May 2017.


Chung, Hye Jean. “Kung Fu Panda: animated animal bodies as layered sites of (trans)national identities.” Velvet Light Trap, no. 69, 2012, p. 27+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 18 May 2017.


Greene, Naomi. From Fu Manchu to Kung Fu Panda: Images of China in American Film. Honolulu: U of Hawaiʻi Press, 2014. Print.


Huber, Jörg, and Chuan Zhao, eds. A New Thoughtfulness in Contemporary China: Critical Voices in Art and Aesthetics. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2011. Google Books. Google. Web. 18 May 2017.


Kung Fu Panda. Dir. Mark Osborne and John Stevenson. Perf. Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross. Dreamworks, 2011.


Lam, Andrew. “Chinese Culture and the Politics of “Kung Fu Panda”.” New America Media. N.p., 15 June 2011. Web. 18 May 2017. <>.


Lee, Min. “‘Kung Fu Panda’ reaches Chinese box office milestone.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 03 July 2008. Web. 18 May 2017.


Popular culture: questioning or confirming stereotypical gender roles?

Girls are meant to wear dresses, be nurturing, shy away from physical exertion, and, obviously, wear pink. And boys? Well, they are meant to be strong, sporty, authoritative, and, rarely, emotional. Some might say that these are harmless stereotypes but most would agree that these views are outdated, archaic, and, frankly, quite f’d up. It may seem incredible, but children experience the process of gender-role socialization as early as 24 hours after birth (Witt, 1997). The major agents of socialization—family, friends, education, religion, and media—teach us the gender ‘norms’ and the potential consequences if these norms are challenged (Trier-Bieniek, 2014). I mean, when have you ever considered buying a mini kitchen set for a boy’s Christmas present? Or a toy truck for a girl? What a story that would make—for future generations—if you were to. In this light, I will delve into the way gender is represented in The Hunger Games (2012–2015), a popular sci-fi adventure film trilogy set in a dystopian future. Millions of teenagers, especially teenage girls, eat this series up because the main character, a girl, starts off as the one in power. I argue that these views are blind to the way gender falls back into the traditional binary.

It is commonly thought that popular culture refutes rigid male-female gender distinctions, sex-role stereotyping, and sexism through movies like The Danish Girl (2015), but I disagree.  I will discuss the apparent gender transgression in The Hunger Games through the lens of two main characters: Katniss and Peeta. They portray a diffused notion of gender identities without a clear idea of what a “woman” and a  “man” should be. But is pop culture really propagating the evolution of gender-roles? I propose that popular culture is simply responding to progressive changes our Western society is leaning towards, by appearing to present gender roles as transgressive. But, it ultimately reinforces the conventional roles we are all too familiar with to attract a wider audience.

First, let’s look at the main character Katniss: ‘The Girl on Fire’. The name ‘Katniss’ comes from the centaur of mythology, Sagittarius the Archer, whose name in Latin means “he that throws arrows”, a fitting description for her highly skilled action with a bow and arrow (“Sagittarius”, 2017). In the beginning, Katniss is strong and fiercely self-sufficient: she takes care of her mother and sister, risksher life in the black market to provide for her family, and displays her physical prowess and archery skills. When citizens are randomly picked to participate in The Game, Katniss bravely volunteers to take the place of her sister. She is bold. In the scene where Katniss bids farewell to her mother, before leaving for The Game, she shows no emotion, warning her mother, “Don’t cry. Don’t.” When a participant is dying in The Game, Katniss is unable to connect with or comfort her; she watches her perish without a trace of emotion, thereby being “non-feminine” by opposing the volatile, emotional stereotype normally attributed to females. Nor does she care for fashion, beauty, or vanity. The movie shows her as being uninterested by the glitz and glam of the Capitol (a metonym for the ruling government). In short, most of Katniss’s explicit and overt traits presented at the beginning of the film line up with the idea of a ‘New Woman’, a term coined by Sarah Grand (1894) in her article “The New Aspect of the Woman Question”. Grand discusses how women are shown to push the boundaries of male-dominated society (Lee, 1988). Pop culture, through media like The Hunger Games, presents women “with a regularly updated and evolving range of subject positions that celebrate assorted female roles and practices and improved and emancipatory versions of womanhood” (Genz, 2010). Although a passive watcher would argue that Katniss takes onthe role of a man, we shall see that Katniss does not remain true to the concept of the gender-transgression. But, we’ll get to that later.

Now, as promised, I will turn to the second gender transgression in The Hunger Games: Peeta: the ‘feminine’ man who appears to challenge the norms of what it means to be masculine. A very pretty man with blond hair and blue eyes, Peeta is Katniss’s counterpart and is (unconventionally) shorter than she. At the beginning, he bakes and paints—traditionally feminine jobs—andchooses to use his strength in ways other than hunting: “He can throw a hundred pound sack of flour straight over his head.” He is emotional, in touch with his feelings, and sensitive towards the pain of others. In a heart-touching scene, when Peeta is comforting the dying participant who Katniss can’t comfort in The Game, he tells the stranger, “Look up. Look at that. It’s incredible isn’t it? All those colours. Don’t look at anything else.” He really cares about people, shies away from violence, and knows how to connect with and help others. Peeta’s portrayal fits that of a traditional woman, and even that of a mother.

From the above, it seems like Katniss and Peeta transgress the usual female-male stereotypes. But scratch the surface and contradictions quickly rear their heads. Katniss might display ‘manly’ traits with her physical strength and impressive bow-action, but we see that it is her emotional attachments and interpersonal bonds, which she learns to develop, that keep her alive. She becomes a feminist archetype who brings all the women in The Game together. She even forms a sister-like bond with another participant who ends up saving her life. Katniss becomes completely reliant on her empathy and intuition—stereotypical female attributes—to form a strong alliance. She joins The Game, unable to connect with people on an emotional level, and quickly learns that she must foster and rely on her feelings to stay alive. She even uses sex(ual contact) as a weapon to coerce others to get what she wants. In Mockingjay Part 2, as Katniss and Peeta are escaping a dangerous trap, Peeta falls and says he can’t run any farther. Instead of encouraging him, or helping him up, Katniss kisses him to do her bidding. Despite Katniss’s reluctance towards material goods and fashion, she eventually succumbs to The Capitol that dictates how she looks. As the “symbol of the rebellion”, she is forced to don tight-fitting outfits, accentuate her boobs and butt, and wear an excessive amount of makeup. In the final film of the series, the rebel fighter group forbids her from fighting because she is the ‘face’ of the rebellion. They describe her as being “very valuable”; not for her masculine traits, but for her physical appearance, her feminine characteristics. Do the gender roles still sound transgressive? One important way that Katniss stays alive is by pretending she is pregnant with Peeta’s child during The Game, in order to gather sympathy from the Capitol’s audience members and manipulate them into pitying her. So here, her ability to pose as pregnant—which only a female could do—is what keeps her alive. It gets worse. Not only has she given up control over how she looks, but she also loses autonomy over how her body is used. At the beginning of the film, she expresses clearly, “I’m never having kids.” To the viewer, this comes in direct conflict with the traditional childbearing role of women. By the end of the film, however, Peeta convinces Katniss to bear his children, and in the penultimate scene, we see Katniss, cooking in the kitchen; a perfect fit for stereotypical gender roles. The movie ends with Katniss holding her youngest baby to her breast, while she watches Peeta and their older child playing in the meadow; thereby giving us a quintessential image of entrenched, traditional femininity. Katniss doesn’t want to be a mother, but society refutes her individual wishes and places her in an undesirable position. Ultimately, I suggest that the representation of Katniss as a ‘new woman’ be “a recurrent sales technique” (Lee, 1988). Katniss’s masculinity portrayed at the beginning is a token; something to keep the feminists happy, and the viewers intrigued.

Peeta, too, does an about-face. What intrigues us is his emotional, sensitive, and ‘feminine’, character. But in the end, his sensitivity becomes his liability. The Capitol tortures and brainwashes him by replacing his positive memories with evil and inaccurate ones of Katniss. We quickly see his feminine side be replaced with a hyper-masculine version, that even tries to strangle Katniss to death with his bare hands. Every emotional and sensitive sentiment he once had is replaced with a ruthlessly unemotional, machine-like man. It’s almost as if he is being punished for stepping outside societal expectations. In society, women are stereotypically thought to be the ‘weaker gender’, and here his femininity,i.e., his ‘weakness’, is not only taken away from him, but also used against him. Makes me wonder if gender roles can really be stretched without collateral damage.

Before I wrap up, I want to take a quick detour and look at the relationship between Katniss and another male character, Gale: the prototypical alpha male. Gale is Katniss’s childhood friend: tall, broad-chested, rugged, and handsome. He is physically strong, stubborn, confident, and very protective of women and children around him. Throughout the movie we see a love triangle between Gale, Katniss, and Peeta—so much so that fans of the movie have even been dichotomised into ‘Team Peeta’ and ‘Team Gale’. Gale, with his macho personality, opposes Peeta’s supposed femininity and competes with Katniss’s apparent masculinity. At the end of the movie, it is Peeta and Katniss who are deemed more compatible for each other. Katniss herself deems Peeta a more suitable partner than Gale, who she thinks is too similar to her. This relationship really follows the clichéd term ‘opposites attract’, and reaffirms the binary of female-male. At the end of the film, Katniss and Peeta fulfill the feminine-masculine pairing which is deemed normal in our society. Gender role stereotypes construct the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways for men and women to behave and are mapped onto what are the ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ sexual practices, beliefs and behaviours (Ikkaracan, 2007). “Gender norms operate by requiring the embodiment of certain ideals of femininity and masculinity, ones that are almost always related to the idealisation of the heterosexual bond”, says gender theorist Judith Butler (1993). So, the heterosexuality which confirms the feminine-masculine pairing is also reinforced here, and conforms to the binary gender roles.

I am left to wonder: Why are the gender transgressions in pop culture not allowed to develop in more meaningful ways? Katniss starts the movie as ‘The Girl on Fire’, a strong independent citizen who provides for herself and transcends norms of femininity, but ends up taking on the role of the doting mother of two. Peeta’s femininity also gets subdued. His emotional susceptibility makes him vulnerable to manipulation, and his caring, sweet self gets transfigured to become a more ‘manly’ tyrant who turns to violence. And Gale? Well, he is far ‘too masculine’ for Katniss. It seems to me that the non-conformist plot and the supposed ‘gender-bender’ characters are there to peak the audience’s interest and, hence, maximize gross sales. It is also possible that the creators (the author, Suzanne Collins, and the director, Garry Ross) are, indeed, experimenting with gender boundaries. But in order to appeal to a wider audience, they have chosen to conclude the story in an acceptable and secure way (read “hum-ho”) to please the crowd. Interestingly, this trend is not unique to The Hunger Games. Over and over again, just like Einar Wegener in The Danish Girl, women and men in pop culture are shown to transgress normative ideas of masculinity or femininity but often conclude by endorsing traditional gender roles. So next time you find a film that claims to transgress gender stereotypes, I ask you to look further than the tokens that merely appear to counter traditional gender roles. Because you might find that they actually confirm them.


I have written this paper in the style of John Jeremiah Sullivan.

Earlier version of this paper were edited by Annie Kang and Juna Khang.

Work Cited

Butler, Judith (1993): Bodies that Matter : On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’, New York & London : Routledge.

Ilkkaracan, P. and Jolly, S. (2007). Gender and Sexuality. BRIDGE Overview Report, Institute of Development Studies.

Lee, Janet. “Care to Join Me in an Upwardly Mobile Tango? Postmodernism and the ‘New Woman’” The Female Gaze : Women as Viewers of Popular Culture. Eds. Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment. London: The Women’s Press, 1988. 166-72.

“Sagittarius.” N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2017.

Trier-Bieniek, Adrienne M., and Patricia Leavy. Gender & Pop Culture: A Text-reader. Rotterdam: Sense, 2014. Print

Witt, Susan D. Parental influence on children’s socialization to gender roles. Adolescence; Summer 1997; 32, 126; ProQuest. Pg. 253.

White as a Flipping Gh-gh-gh-gh-gh-gHOST!!!!!

Drew Cohen

Due 5/16/17

English 117 – Christian Thorne

White as a Flipping Gh-gh-gh-gh-gh-gHOST!!!!!

Perhaps you’ve heard about this before, but apparently you can be taught to fear people of mixed race.  Now, obviously you’re not going to call the police and run screaming if your half-Asian best friend turns the corner too quickly, but on a more subtle level, you can be tricked into thinking that mixed race people are untrustworthy and that they maybe even “give you the creeps.”  You may believe that you’re above such prejudice, but keep reading, and I can prove that racial purism can be made subconsciously appealing to you.

Being mixed-race and identifying more toward whiteness can seem like wearing a mask.

Race, as you might imagine, is not only determined by skin tone: throughout history, racial scripts and the societal roles of people of different races have defined race as just as much a cultural phenomenon as a pigmentary one.  As such, being mixed race might allow you to not only experience multiple racial cultures in daily life, but to also have the freedom to choose which race you align with more.  Studies like one by Miri Song of The Sociological Review have shown that people of mixed race tend to “choose one race as their primary basis of identification” (Song, 2010).  But at the same time, society tends to enforce a “one drop rule,” especially on African Americans, such that even “part-Black people are expected to see themselves as black” (Song, 2010).  In cases of misalignment between socially-expected and self-conceptualized racial identity, choosing to identify with a race that is unexpected of you can be seen as something like wearing a mask: the you that the world sees is not the real you.  

In this case, if you want to consider how masking true identity can play into anti-mixed-race stigma, simply look at a classic series that bases much of its own cultural identity on “unmasking” monsters: the Scooby-Doo franchise.  

From left to right: Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Scooby-Doo, Shaggy Rogers, and Velma Dinkley. Above them is a spooky, spooky ghost.

Scooby-Doo is a kid-friendly mystery series all about uncovering the “masked madmen around the world” as the lovable Great Dane, Scooby-Doo, and his four teenaged friends in Mystery Inc., Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, Daphne Blake, Fred Jones, and Velma Dinkley, travel in their flower-power “Mystery Machine” van to solve the world’s spooky puzzles (Elzinga and Wolfswinkel, 2011).  And if you don’t already know who Scooby-Doo is, that’s “like, totally uncool, man.”  

This guy’s pretty uncool.

Quite seriously, a study by neuroscientists at CU-Boulder found most college students to have adept semantic memory of the Scooby-Doo theme song, finding that these students could remember and fill in a missing word at any point in the song (Overstreet et al., 2015).  Scooby-Doo is a genuine household name in any of its many iterations, from the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? cartoons to the reboot series What’s New, Scooby-Doo? and beyond.  

Notorious among this notoriety is the 2002 live-action movie, Scooby-Doo.  Andrew O’Hehir of notes that the movie is “lowbrow” and “tries to walk that same well-worn line of simultaneously spoofing a classic TV series and remaining true to its spirit” by reuniting a disbanded Mystery Inc. and crudely making fun of the clichés of the original series and its characters (O’Hehir, 2002).  

Mystery Inc. in 3-D.

And with language that includes the words “bi-otch,” and lines like “I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling sons of-” and “you don’t have the scrote for this job,” you can clearly see that this is a movie for nostalgic teens and adults that, alongside wanting to see Daphne with actual, human breasts and Freddie Prinze Jr. with bleached hair, feel the urge to relive their nostalgia of the classic Scooby-Doo experience outside of the second dimension.

Yet more significant than this slightly more adult interpretation of the series is the way that the movie honors the clichés of the original cartoons by flipping them on their heads, the classic “unmasking” a notable example.  Freddie Prinze Jr.’s Fred insists at one point in the movie that Mystery Inc.’s “area of expertise is nut jobs in Halloween masks,” and claims that ghosts and monsters aren’t real.  Or, at least he does until they are real.  

And Velma said, “Let there be sunlight!”

Rather than playing up the man in the mask like the cartoons do, the movie utilizes man as the mask: the movie’s monsters can’t survive in sunlight and need to use the human body, as Velma says, “like a human suit, SPF 1,000,000,” after removing the human’s spirit from his or her body.  Along the same lines, the true villain of the movie is the obnoxious Scrappy-Doo, a pint-sized pup with a glandular problem who disguises himself in, you guessed it, a human suit: the “Mr. Mondavarious” that invites Mystery Inc. to his amusement park is really Scrappy-Doo in costume.

Does this immediately instill fears of multiracial people in you?  To understand why it might, you need to first understand Richard Dyer’s arguments on the embodiment of whiteness.  Dyer argues that “to represent people is to represent bodies,” but for white people “whiteness involv[es] something that is in but not of the body” as “white people have a peculiar relationship to race, of not being quite contained by their racial categorization” (Dyer 14,18).  In this way, white people can “transcend” their bodies, since their racial identity does not limit them to judgment based on their physical appearance (Dyer 17).  The white identity is thus unique because it is more spiritual than physical – Dyer even mentions Christianity as an embodiment of whiteness.  It makes sense then that essentially all of the possession victims in the movie are white, including Fred, Velma, and Shaggy’s new love interest, Mary Jane.  In order to be possessed in this movie, you need to be able to allow your spiritual identity to transcend and be separated from your physical one and have your spirit removed from your body.  

The Voodoo Maestro.

This might also explain why a certain black side character, the Voodoo Maestro (yes, that is the only name they give him), can resist possession.  Of course, you can see in the movie that part of the Voodoo Man’s protection comes from his voodoo rituals, but the underlying ideology is crucial here: the one visible, semi-important black character in the movie has protection from possession.  The movie hungrily consumes Dyer’s argument like Shaggy and Scooby eat Scooby Snacks.

To this effect, the possessed humans in the movie are reminiscent of classic movie zombies.  

In one of the movie’s action scenes, a possessed Fred and his legion of white bodies chase Shaggy and Scooby into a shed, the monsters attempting to break in by reaching in through holes in the wall.  Sound familiar?  You might recognize this from every zombie movie ever.  

Don’t they look cuddly?

Physically reaching in or out is a classic feature of zombies from Night of the Living Dead to The Walking Dead, and the “trapped inside with zombies outside” scene like the one in this movie is an unmistakable cliché.  Justin Ponder of The Journal of Popular Culture notes that “the first reason that zombies horrify is that they are impure” and that they “defy boundaries considered not only social but also natural, the separation between live and dead enforced not by social institutions, but by the very laws of nature” (Ponder, 2012).  You can see similar impurity in the movie’s “zombies” in their language.  In an attempt to effectively emulate the speech of “today’s young people,” the monsters are taught “faux hip-hop lingo” (O’Hehir, 2002).  One of the movie’s more comedic moments happens when a possessed white girl named Carol throws her friend and yells “back off my grill, son!”  The possessed are notable for sounding different than you would expect them to by their looks: they look white and speak with stereotypically black, “hip-hop” language.  Compare this to the Voodoo Maestro’s stereotypical language (“why you all up in the voodoo ritual space?”), which isn’t seen as abnormal.  Similar to zombies, “mulattos” or, half-black, half-white people, once “horrified” people because they were “racially impure” (Ponder, 2012).  While zombies were impure for being both living and dead, mixed-race people “def[ied] the racial dichotomy upon which life in North America stood” and were long considered impure themselves (Ponder, 2012).  Remember how the possessed are essentially white masks for monsters?  The movie’s ideology demonizes people trying to “pass” as white.


But the unmasking cliché isn’t the only one flipped in this movie.  Alongside its prejudicial racial scripts, Scooby-Doo fortifies its female protagonists with narratives of female growth and empowerment.  Velma is empowered by being given the attention, publicity, and respect she deserves for her “brainwork” on Mystery Inc.’s cases.  At the same time, “damsel-in-distress” Daphne becomes a black belt and plays a huge part in saving the day rather than just “getting captured again.”  

Definitely not her anymore.

Victoria Anne Newsom of Femspec gives us a definition for girl power, “the ability for young women to achieve personal empowerment while maintaining a distinctly ‘girlish’ style” (Newsom, 2004).  By this definition, Scooby-Doo is abound with “girl power,” but to a somewhat harmful extent.  Velma laments always being “picked last” and that guys like Fred “only care about supermodels” (which leads to one of Fred’s most classic lines: “I’m a man of substance.  Dorky chicks like you turn me on, too”).  What’s a good sign of Velma’s eventual empowerment?  Perhaps her possession by the monsters (an essential loss of agency) and a resulting “hot girl” makeover, including a new hairstyle and more revealing clothes than her classic “look at me, I’m Sandra Dee” turtleneck.  

Yeah, she’s pretty smart, but that eyeshadow game is on point!

An inversion cartoon featuring a male rape victim.

And Daphne’s fighting ability makes her story similar to an “inversion cartoon,” which, as Joyce Hammond of The Journal of Popular Culture describes, “depicted women and men in a manner which inverted societal expectations” (Hammond, 1991).  These inversion cartoons were often “created by men for men” and used in Playboy magazines, while also aiming “primarily at white audiences” with white people “overwhelmingly depicted as characters” (Hammond, 1991).  So when Daphne helps save the day by fighting and defeating the stereotypically hispanic luchador Zarkos, the “famous masked wrestler” whom “you may recognize from Telemundo,” she actually applies yet another racial script to this movie – white women can be “empowered” through their girliness, essentially at the expense of marginalized races, and often to tailor to male gaze.

When you get down to the details, the girl power in this movie is hardly honorable.  But the key here is, as Andrew O’Hehir puts it, “mid-’90s nostalgia” (O’Hehir, 2002).  Look at the girl power in TV shows from the 1990s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sailor Moon and you’ll see this female empowerment through “hyperfemininity and youth” (Newsom, 2004).  But the Scooby-Doo movie rips this off completely, actually casting Sarah Michelle Gellar, a.k.a “Buffy,” as Daphne to make her seem more capable and badass.  

I feel like I’ve seen her somewhere before, maybe with red hair and vibrant purple clothing?

Scooby-Doo masks its harmful racial narratives by playing up nostalgic girl power, which we don’t recognize as problematic because calling out women’s empowerment as problematic is inherently sexist.  What you get in the end then is a masking of the bad with the bad, and it works because, as Joyce Hammond mentions about inversion cartoons, “the audience identification with the cartoon characters was a significant aspect” and the cartoons “carried messages for the predominantly white male or white female audience” (Hammond, 1991).  When white audiences see the white female protagonists they grew up with achieve personal victories, they don’t notice that they’re being conditioned to fear the “mulatto” monsters of everyday life.  Jinkies!  Find me a better unmasking than that and I might just let you have a Scooby Snack.


This essay was read by Chloe Henderson and modeled after the style of David Foster Wallace.

Works Cited

Dyer, R. (1997).  The matter of whiteness.  In R. Dyer.  White.  London: Routledge, 1997.

Elzinga, Luke and Wolfswinkel, Kelsey (2011) “Scooby-Doo 101,” Ethos: Vol. 2011, Article 11. Available at:

Hammond, J.D. (1991), Gender Inversion Cartoons and Feminism. The Journal of Popular Culture, 24: 145-160.

Newsom, V.A. (2004), Young Females as Super Heroes: Super Heroines in the Animated Sailor Moon. Femspec, 218: 57-81.

Ponder, Justin (2012), Dawn of the Different: The Mulatto Zombie in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. The Journal of Popular Culture, 45: 551-571.

O’Hehir, Andrew.  “Scooby-Doo”  14 June 2002.  Accessed 12 May 2017.

Overstreet, M.F., Healy, A.F. and Neath, Ian (2015), Further differentiating item and order information in semantic memory: students’ recall of words from the “CU Fight Song”, Harry Potter book titles, and Scooby Doo theme song.  Memory, 25: 69-83.

Song, Miri (2010), Does ‘race’ matter? A study of ‘mixed race’ siblings’ identifications. The Sociological Review, 10: 265-285.

White Walls


Chloe Henderson

May 16, 2017

Engl 117 Cultural Theory Prof. Thorne

White Walls

He’s mostly known for “poppin’ tags” and going “downtown,” but there are other ways to read Macklemore’s music video “White Walls” than as mere signs of Cadillac admiration – it’s about race. No, not a race between two Cadillacs, I’m talking about the Black, White, Hispanic race that permeates American pop culture. It’s not unusual for Macklemore to talk about more than “the guns and the drugs / The bitches and the hoes and the gangs and the thugs” in his songs, but if the song title of this one wasn’t enough for you, then here it goes.

The music video starts off in the countryside with Macklemore dressed up as a cross between a cowboy and a Mariachi band musician prancing around. As the Hispanic-country music blend finishes and an eagle squawks in the distance (reminiscing the end of traditional Western movies), the words “Starring Mackle Jackson” appear on the screen in cowboy font. Besides being an obvious pun, this name has other connotations.

First, Jackson is of Scottish origin and is a typically white name. It’s also a typical name of many cowboys, especially as “Jack,” such as the infamous cowboys like Jack Helm, Jack Dunlop, and Texas Jack, which could be reasoning as to why Macklemore chose to use this pun during his Western cowboy imitation. The use of cowboys in the beginning and end of “White Walls” could also be a reference to the song by Chris LeDoux, “Cadillac Cowboy,” which is about exactly what it sounds like y’all. But what’s more interesting is the pun’s most prominent association: Michael Jackson. There’s no way to mention Michael Jackson without talking about race – the man bleached his skin and had plastic surgery on every facial feature to completely change his own race while singing “it don’t matter if you’re black or white.” So what’s Macklemore got to do with calling himself “Mackle Jackson?”  

The Washington-state grown liberal Macklemore is has been a champion of racial equality and an adamant supporter of Black Lives Matter for years. Just last January Macklemore released a song, “White Privilege II,” to raise awareness of racial injustice to get more white people to talk about race despite its growing sensitivity and discomfort as a topic of conversation. But Macklemore isn’t the first to talk about race in his songs. In fact, Michael Jackson’s Black or White was an open plea for racial harmony in 1991. So when Macklemore openly equates himself to Michael Jackson, he too is pleading for racial harmony, intermingling, and equality while offering himself as a racial justice advocate like Michael Jackson also did in his songs. Ok, so now back to “White Walls.”

Once the Hispanic-cowboy music fades out and the “White Walls” anthem begins, Macklemore is pictured singing with two identical Black women dressed in 70’s outfits clenching either of his arms. Macklemore is literally surrounded by Blackness belting “I wanna be free / I wanna just live” as if Blackness were a freedom to live away from the constraints of whiteness. This isn’t the only point in the video in which Black culture is offered as a freedom from (or alternative to) whiteness. As the video progresses into the chorus, there is a party going on, but not the usual party you would imagine in a young rapper’s music video. It was a pool party with old women in swimsuits dancing, smoking, drinking, swimming, and even making out with young black men! This is Macklemore screaming for cultural intermingling between even the stereotypically most conservative people (old people) and Blackness. Not only should White people adopt Black culture though, but Black people should also adopt White culture. The video displays a young black man wearing a purple polo and white flat cap playing golf and croquet, typically White sports, as well as young Black men participating in a backyard picnic, a pillar of American White culture. By placing old women and young Black men unexpectedly in cross-racial stereotypical scenes, Macklemore is encouraging the blend of cultures and deletion of racial cultural boundaries while also claiming that participation in other cultures can be an escape for White people from the constraints of their Whiteness.

Other cultures have often been seen as an escape for White people from the expected etiquette and civility that White culture carries. In his book Playing Indian, Philip Deloria argues that throughout history White people have briefly adopted Indian culture to free
themselves from expected White civility, such as when the White colonists dressed as Indians to throw tea in the Atlantic during the Boston Tea Party or when “modern children of angst-ridden upper- and middle-class parents wore feathers and slept in tipis and wigwams at camps with multisyllabic Indian names” or when “World War II descendants made Indian dress and powwow-going into a hobby” (Deloria, 7). In each of these cases, the “uncivilized savagery” and “irrational violence” associated with Native Americans was used as a disguise for White people to dress up and “play Indian” in order to express and free themselves from the constraints of Whiteness. This is analogous to White people today dressing up as Native Americans at music festivals and listening to rock and roll or rap (which both originated from Black culture) that talks about the drugs, sex, and rule breaking that most White conservatives are brought up to keep quiet. In the “White Walls” music video, one older White woman literally deserts her White trash life, White husband, and white trailer park home to go to the pool party to flirt, drink, and deep-throatedly make out with a young tattooed black man. Macklemore capitalizes on the freedom that “playing Indian” or “playing Black” or “playing Hispanic” provides by integrating various races around a common commodity: Cadillacs.

Cadillacs are unique in that they transcend racial boundaries. One historical stereotype
behind Cadillacs were that Cadillac Sedans were driven by old, rich conservative “Amuricans.” This was often seen in the company’s advertisements directed towards wealthy White people who were pictured in extravagant dresses enjoying a better, quieter, more luxurious life with a new Cadillac. The company even used Christianity references to appeal to Whites claiming that Cadillacs are “Where Craftsmanship is aCreed!” (Advertisement, 1960). The rich White community Cadillacs appealed to also included many presidents and elites, such as President Hoover up through President Trump whose security posses solely drive black Cadillac SUV’s. In fact, the Cadillac One has been named the official Presidential State Car of the United States reflecting the car’s popularity among even the most elite and (besides the Obama administration) whitest of the country.

The other historical stereotype behind the “most celebrated and sophisticated cars on the streets of the world” (Advertisement, 1929) was that Cadillac SUV’s were typically driven by Black rappers or gangsters. Interestingly enough, Black people actually saved Cadillac from bankruptcy when sales had plummeted during the Great Depression. Nicholas Dreystadt, the Cadillac manager, had “discovered that the car was very popular with the small black bourgeoisie of successful entertainers, doctors, and ghetto businessmen” (Cray, 279) and that Black men were actually paying White people to buy Cadillacs for them. According to American Professor, David Bell, “a Cadillac was a tool to further Blacks (at least in terms of image) along the road to equality…a solid and substantial symbol for many a Negro that he is as good as any White man…a demonstration that equality can be found” (Bell, 65). When this was discovered in 1932, a new series of advertising directed towards the Black community was initiated, causing Cadillac to be the first motor vehicle to have “diversity marketing” not necessarily by picturing Blacks in advertisements, but by openly selling to Blacks. This continued to spread the Cadillac’s popularity throughout the Black community, eventually leading to the creation of the Pimpmobile in the 1970s which originated in blaxploitation films. These films targeting Black viewers by featuring Black actors, playing funk and soul music soundtracks, and taking place in the ghetto with stereotypical depiction of Blacks dealing with pimps and drug dealers, adding to the rising popularity of Cadillacs in the Black community.

Not only were Cadillacs targeted towards both Blacks and Whites, but Cadillacs were also targeted towards the Hispanic community, especially once they were made into lowriders by Mexican-American Barrio youth in the 1950’s. In fact, in 1953 Cadillac released the Cadillac Eldorado which, as obvious as it sounds, used a name of Spanish origin to appeal to Hispanic buyers. Cadillacs were also frequently featured in the LowRider Magazine as another means of appealing to Hispanics. Unlike many other car companies, Cadillacs both attracted and invited Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics, creating an aura of equality and connectedness among all races and cultures, much like Macklemore does in his songs.

Macklemore surely incorporates each of these Cadillac stereotypes into his “White Walls” music video picturing a young Hispanic boy bouncing in his dad’s lowrider, an old White American man eating a burger in his Cadillac convertible, and a Black rapper “ridin’ real slow in [his] paint wet drippin’ shining like [his] 24’s.” Macklemore uses the different associations with Cadillacs to encourage the intermingling of cultures, races, and ages through this common commodity. But anyone who listens to Macklemore undoubtedly knows that he has a multicultural desire for sharing and equality. But what’s more is that in “White Walls” Macklemore sings, “I’m rollin’ in that same whip that my granddad had” claiming that the ability to share cultures and equally validate other races has been around for generations, just as Cadillacs have been. Yet on the contrary, so also has the ability to discriminate. We get many of our beliefs, values, and physical commodities from generations before us, yet we also get our prejudices from them. According to Professor David Bell, “The Cadillac has no prejudice” (Bell, 65). So by passing down Cadillacs through generations, we are also passing down “a weapon in the war for racial equality” (Bell, 65). However, in “White Walls” Macklemore sings about having “that off-black Cadillac” which makes it sound like although Cadillacs are popular among the Black community, they aren’t entirely Black, they’re “off-black.” So even though Cadillacs are a commonality throughout various cultures, they also have a different meaning in each culture that make them “off-Black,” “off-White,” or “off-hispanic.” The same four wheeled vehicle to a Black, White, or Hispanic person, has different associations for each culture (rich wealth for Whites, fame or status for Blacks, anti-Anglo cultural statements for Hispanics). So when Macklemore sings about Cadillacs, he isn’t just singing about a car. He’s singing about a commodity that has been consumed by Black people, White people, Hispanic people, old people, young people, men, women, and children to express themselves differently, but with a shared basic purpose of driving.

Macklemore recognizes that there’s a stigma against cultural appropriation, and as a White rapper in the hip-hop world, he is fully conscious of his own appropriation of Black culture. In his newest release, White Privilege, he admits his guilt for appropriating Black culture saying, “I give everything I have when I write a rhyme / But that doesn’t change the fact that this culture’s not mine.” Nonetheless, Macklemore’s entire career is attributed to Black culture. But what Macklemore suggests through his songs and particularly through “White Walls” is that cultural appropriation can be used to spread awareness and appreciation of other cultures and to become a more unified community of many races. Some, like James Young, author of Cultural Appropriation in the Arts argue that cultural appropriation “can harm insiders by misrepresenting them in certain ways…by employing bigoted stereotypes [so that] members of these cultures [are] subjected to terrible discrimination” (Young 107-108). And yes, it’s true that cultural appropriation can lead to discrimination, just like any image of another culture can lead to discrimination; but what Macklemore’s “White Walls” suggests is that instead of using cultural appropriation to build stereotypes, cultural appropriation can also be used to break stereotypes by sharing values and traditions of various races through cultural artifacts, like Cadillacs.

Cadillacs are a commodity that have been a “Favorite of All Nations” (Cadillac
advertisement, 1955), and also a favorite of all races since 1955. And like their most recent commercial claims, Cadillacs have “carried a century of humanity – lovers, fighters, leaders”  and have shared the message that “although we’re not the same, we can be one” (Carry Cadillac Commercial, 2017). This, too, is Macklemore’s message, and he uses Cadillacs as a
vehicle to share this idea. Just as Cadillac has promoted and embraced shared commodities and culture across races, we too can try to tear down the white walls of white constraint, privilege, and “superiority” to create a more just, equitable society for everybody. A society where we can all “be free” and “just live inside [our] Cadillacs.”


Bell, D., & Hollows, J. (2006). Historicizing lifestyle: mediating taste, consumption and identity from the 1900s to 1970s. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Cadillac: Favorite of All Nations [Advertisement]. (1955).

Cadillac La Salle Wherever the Admired and Notable Congregate [Advertisement]. (1929, March).

Cadillac Where Craftsmanship is a Creed [Advertisement]. (1960).

Cray, E. (1980). Chrome Colossus: General Motors and Its Times. Mcgraw-Hill; First Edition edition .

Deloria, P. J. (2007). Playing Indian. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press.

James O. Young, Cultural Appropriation in the Arts (Blackwell Publishing, 2008).

LowRider Area 61 [Advertisement]. (2013). LowRider.

[Recorded by Macklemore, R. Lewis, & Hollis]. (n.d.). White Walls [CD]. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.


This essay was read by Drew Cohen.

I have written this essay in the style of Greg Tate.

Prompt #6

Ri-Dick-ulous Pop Culture

Picture this: a group of college kids, tired from the hours of studying, reading and problem sets of the day, gathered on a collection of chairs and bean bags on a Saturday night.  They are laughing hysterically, falling out of their seats as tears roll down their faces from sheer enjoyment.  Now imagine another scenario:  a family gathered on a couch after their wonderful teenagers get home from sports practice/choir rehearsal eating ice cream sundaes, though struggling to eat them, because every time they put a spoonful in their mouth, they start laughing and nearly spit it out.  Now I’m sure you are wondering, what is it that these groups of people seem to be enjoying so much?  There are actually a lot of possibilities here: Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Interview, or something else entirely.  But why these examples in particular? What do they have in common?  And what do they say about pop culture in general?  By taking you through a movie that is similar to the former examples, these answers will, hopefully, become clear.  

If you are familiar with American history at all, you’ve probably heard of the Watergate Scandal.  Nevertheless, it is important to explain it for this essay’s purposes.  Basically, in June, 1972, burglars were arrested inside the Democratic National Committee’s office in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., trying to steal secret documents and wiretap phones.  These burglars were connected to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign, and Nixon tried to cover up the scandal with a multitude of illegal activities, though he was eventually caught.  But don’t worry, this is not a history paper.  This knowledge just provides important context for the movie I will be discussing, Dick, which is the ultimate parody of the scandal.  The concept of parody is an essential one in beginning to understand the answers to the posed questions.  Parody is an important connecting factor of the various movies/TV shows I’ve listed.  Parody is something made to pick on something else.  SNL makes fun of current political figures, The Interview pokes fun at America’s intelligence agencies and Kim Jong Un, and every other example picks on something else.  And, as you may have guessed, Dick picks on Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal.  So we’ve established that the media making people laugh are, indeed, parodies, but what does this mean?  What are the parodies doing that is making them so appealing to consumers and evoking such enjoyable responses?

For starters, the title, “Dick,” makes it clear that the movie is not to be taken seriously.  In fact, the movie can be seen as a giant dick joke in the sense that “Dick” Nixon is portrayed as a joke of a president, and the fact that the movie itself is riddled with jokes about the male genitalia.  First of all, the two teen girls, who are the main characters and are, spoiler alert, behind the reveal of the Watergate scandal, refer to the president as “Dick.”  He is the president of the United States, but they do not refer to him as Mr. President, or anything respectable in the least.  And when one of the girls falls in love with the president, she proclaims that she loves Dick.  This, obviously, has a raunchy double meaning.  Then, there is the whole Deepthroat joke.  Deepthroat is the name of the secret informant(s) who gave two journalists information on how Nixon was involved in the scandal.  And Deepthroat was none other than the two girls.  And why did they call themselves this? Because the brother of one of the girls had just been caught watching a pornography video with the same name, which is an incredibly crude way to choose a pseudonym.  The last dick joke that I recall is when the two girls, very upset with Nixon, hold up a sign as he flies over their house in a helicopter saying “You suck, dick.”  I don’t think I need to explain this one  But you get the idea, there are a bunch of distasteful usages of the word “dick” in this movie.  The purpose of this type of humor is to make it clear that the movie, in its entirety, is a crude joke.  

The most notable humor however, that makes this type of parody special, lies in the relationships between characters.  The crude dick joke theme establishes the fact that the movie is, in fact, totally non-serious, but the relationships take the parody further.  These relationships, especially between the president and the girls, are totally flip flopped compared to the norm.  The girls have so much power over the president, which is very much atypical.  First of all, they are the reason that the Watergate break in was discovered in the first place.  When sneaking out one night from the house of one of the girls, which happens to be in the Watergate complex, they leave tape on the door and draw attention to security.  During the aftermath of this discovery, they see some of the CREEP members, which becomes a huge issue.  They visit the White House with their school the next day and spot a member, hear sneaky conversations, and see suspicious paper shredding activity, though they realize nothing of what they are seeing.  The film dumbs them down to make the power they have over the president appear even more atypical.  The president makes them the official dog walkers of the White House because he thinks they know too much and wants to keep an eye on them, when in reality, they don’t know that they know anything.  Here, we can see how these girls have power over the president of the U.S. as ditzy and clueless children.    

The power shift doesn’t end here though, it goes much farther.  The girls make cookies for the president in which they, cluelessly, add marijuana from the brother’s secret stash.  There are jokes made explaining why Nixon is paranoid that are linked to the discovery of this secret ingredient.  The weed cookies also lead to an accord with the Soviet Union because Nixon and Leonid I. Brezhnev eat them together and end up happily getting along.  Just think about this for a second.  Two girls, portrayed as even dumber than average, bake weed cookies for the president and, essentially, save the world from nuclear war.  They are literally drugging the president and influencing America’s foreign affairs.  And it goes even farther.  They tell Nixon that war is wrong, and he proceeds to begin the Vietnam peace process.  They are referred to Nixon as his “secret youth advisors” (Dick).  The biggest accomplishment representing the girls’ power over the president is their eventual reveal of the Watergate Scandal, which ends Nixon’s presidential career.  And it happens only because one them, while leaving Nixon a love message on his tape recorder, accidently plays back a message featuring him being cruel to his dog and a multitude of scandal proof.  But of course, the girls are upset about the dog alone, and only reveal Nixon’s scandal to avenge the dog.  So these girls are the reason why the Watergate Scandal is revealed all because they are animal lovers.  As I’ve emphasized already, these girls have a total power over the president that they have no business having.

The girls have power over the president, but so what?  What does this power switch have to do with the success of parody as an entertainment form?  And what is the big picture here?  Stick with me and we will soon know the answers.  Let’s start with the basics.  Little girls should not have political power over a president, yet they do.  And this means something big.  The reason that typical rules and hierarchies are thrown away here is to actually rebel against authority.  In other words, this movie is a form of rebellion among the people.  Even though it is temporary, the actors and the audience, together, experience liberation from the constraints of everyday life.  Laughing alongside one another makes authorities seem like humourous spectacles rather than threatening big shots.  It’s almost as if people experience a temporary second life.

This type of feeling can be seen as carnivalesque, though a carnival often brings up images of Mardi Gras and Carnival.  But political satire is a carnival that can be experienced by so many more people so much more often.  And the idea of carnival is nothing new, there is a history of using carnival to fight oppression.  It makes freedom and a hope for better things more tangible (Karolee 67).  Success seems, even if it is only for a brief moment, like an actual possibility.  And this optimism is so essential for an engaged public culture.  Parodies copy something and then turn it into an object of attention which people see as something that can be discussed and ridiculed rather than untouchable.  Parody seems to work by, as excellently summed up by Robert Harimon, “exceeding tacit limits on expression—the appropriate, the rational—but it does so to reveal limitations that others would want to keep hidden” (251).  So parodies, in a way, are a path to the truth.  They give the ordinary person a way to realize and talk about what is actually going on, and perhaps inspire them to even do something about it.  Dick, through its crude jokes and crazy role reversals, opens up a discussion for the truth and a door for action surrounding the Watergate scandal, which is a lot of power for a seemingly innocent and hysterical movie to have.

Parody is a huge part of popular culture.  I don’t know the last time I met someone who didn’t engage in it in some way.  Because of this, it is no stretch to say that popular culture has often been a kind of carnival, this carnival, in it’s most popular form, being parody.  And in this carnival, ordinary people set aside norms and liberate themselves from those who seem untouchable any other time.  We laugh, then we speak, then we find the truth, and then, in the ideal instances, we act.  All because of some distasteful, likely offensive, piece of popular culture.

This essay was read by Chloe Henderson.

Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail, Rabelais and His World, Helene Iswolsky (trans.), Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965/1988, pp. 4-11.

Dick. Dir. Andrew Fleming. Perf. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams. 1999.

Hariman, Robert, “Political Parody and Public Culture,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 94, no. 3, 2008, pp. 247-72.

Stevens, Karolee, “Carnival: Fighting Oppression with Celebration,” Totem: The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology, vol. 3, no. 1, 2011, pp. 65-8.