Whiteness is not the neutral storyteller

It's the neutralizer of storytelling. You can even come right out and say it's downright neutering.
...[M]ost television show creators still rely on the same gendered and racial structures that inform and manipulate the mainstream. Audiences find mostly narratives presented through the perspective of white leads (and most often, white male leads), even if people of color are prominent characters or the basis of the show’s plot.

The ABC Family teen show
Twisted is a murder mystery structured around three leads: Danny Desai, the prime suspect; Lacey Porter, one of Desai’s childhood best friends and the most popular girl in school; and Jo Masterson, Desai’s other childhood best friend and a social outcast. The show begins on Desai’s first day back at school after spending five years in a juvenile detention center for killing his aunt. Desai begins to assimilate with his old friends and within his new school, but is once again the town pariah when a fellow classmate winds up dead the next day.

Although the show is about the mystery and whether or not Danny committed the crime, the creators of the program frame the narrative around Jo. Precious screen time is wasted on conversations between Jo and her parents, or Jo and her best friend Rico. Instead, the show should focus on (and is greatly lacking without) its initial premise: whodunit?

As of this week’s episode, the show’s creators have yet to offer a reason the show must focus on Jo. However, looking at the cast may answer the question. Danny is half-Indian with distinctly dark features. Lacey is black. Jo is blonde and white.


By focusing on Jo, the show not only does its two other main characters a disservice, it does its audience a disservice. I was drawn to the show because of the murder mystery. Taking time away from that core plot element reduces the show to a whiny drama about how one girl handles her life. As a structure, it's not compelling and risks turning off viewers.

From a business sense, it makes some sense. If ABC Family knows that shows with a white female leads do well in ratings, it only makes sense for them to continue to pursue this storytelling structure. However, it is disingenuous to present a show about three people and spend the largest amount of time focused on one.

In a recent NPR interview, Jenji Kohan, the creator of
Orange is the New Black confirmed the idea that her show about the rich characters within and the culture of a women’s prison could not sell without a white woman as the protagonist. On the show, Piper is sent to prison for her minor role in a drug conspiracy. Especially during the first episodes of the show, the prison is seen through Piper’s eyes. Although this is understandable based on the show’s memoir source material, it becomes evident as the show progresses that the most compelling characters and stories have little, if anything, to do with Piper.

...Whiteness is the neutral storyteller. Through the prism of whiteness, creators can focus on people of color.
Orange is the New Black and Twisted are not part of a new trend. Rather, they are merely new shows to add to a long list of shows that have employed this same technique.

~ "White Characters as 'Trojan Horses' for TV Diversity"
Oh...no, no, no...no, no, no.

First of all, when white writers, white producers, etc. tend to show a keen interest in POC so long as drugs, prison, murder, and overall ratchet culture are involved, they're not interested in POC.  They fascinated with POC pathology, so let's just get that straight.

Second of all, whiteness is not the neutral storyteller.  Whiteness is the white storyteller who tells us tales of a world beginning and ending with white people.  A world in which POC are not valued or relevant unless they have some of form of a white endorsement.  A world in which POC are dysfunctional and need a white savior to fix them.  A world in which whiteness is moral, brave, beautiful, and heroic while anything outside whiteness is not or, at least, a lesser version thereof.

On Twisted, Avan Jogia emerged as a true force of nature, appearing every bit the engaging, charismatic individual his character is supposed to be.  He was the lead, carrying the cast and the show on his shoulders like a man, and I was more than ready to laud him for it.

Now his character has turned into Jo's bitch, mewling and begging for forgiveness in every other episode, apparently unable to even fart without her permission.

Meanwhile, Lacey Porter - quite predictably - went from being the beautiful, resilient popular girl to being the school outcast who comes from yet another black dysfunctional family, where her parents are divorced because her father was a closeted gay man for years and years...and apparently needed a lecture from Jo to man up to his responsibilities - the fuck???

And I can't even get into Orange is the New Black.  For the last time, black is the new black.  Black will always been the new black, so for all of you non-black folks who whine about being the new black, let that fantasy go.  Your asses could not handle being black.

'Cause if at the end of the day, if you can read a blog, watch the news, listen to a podcast, or analyze a TV show, and still have the nerve to say/think,"Wow...thank God I'm not black", then you need to shut the fuck up and recognize.

Secondly, I'm neither empowered nor entertained by watching WOC rotting prison, where I can tell their characters were clearly drafted by non-POC writers.  I have tried to watch Orange repeatedly, and it's just not happening.  So I hope all the WOC on the show are making some good money, and I hope that their next gigs are a thousand times better.

And as for Twisted, ABC is on a very short leash with me right now, and needs to do some serious damage control.  Like...they need to go on ahead and see their show for the complete and utter Chernobyl it's become and then begin the appropriate clean up.

Last of all - and you know what time it is - I have a few Fashion Tips I need to share.

One: White writers, producers, and other white powers that be...you and your audience are racists

The fact that we are in the 21st Century and you are still allegedly having trouble buying, selling, funding, and overall supporting brown stories written by brown people is a testament to just how far you haven't come.  The stories you're writing are racist.  The networks and studios you're pitching them to are racist.  Your true target audience, which you consistently refuse to come out and call by name, is racist. You all just want to see yourselves, write about yourselves, stroke yourselves, then lather, rinse and repeat.

And because a steady diet of vanilla gets boring even for vanilla, that's when you round up some colored folk to make yourselves appear more interesting.  Thus, we - not you - become the 'Trojan Horses' by which you lure in a wider audience...until we catch onto your bullshit and stop watching your lame-ass shows.

Two: Fuck You

Fuck you, fuck your butler fantasies, your help fantasies, your twerking fantasies, your hoe fantasies, your Mandingo fantasies, your Asian Girlz fantasies, your Fes fantasies, your William Hung fantasies, your brown-loyal-selfless-sidekick-BFF fantasies, your brown-folks-in-prison fantasies, your brown-folks-conveniently-wiped-off-the-face-of-the-earth fantasies - fuck 'em all.

With a click of a mouse I can see brown projects by brown people and let them have my motherfucking money, thereby completely bypassing you.  Suck on that.

Three - Reread One and Two as often as necessary.

Recommended

Solidarity is for white women and Asian people are funny

White Is The New White
The Politics Of Being Friends With White People
Taking the Danny out of "Twisted"

Comments

  1. I'm starting think my ass my be safer just sticking with Pretty Little Liars.

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  2. I struggled to see the season finale of Twisted. From what I seen, the show seemed predictable, and somewhat annoying. You were right. Though they showed a little bit of Lacey and Danny, somehow it all came back to Jo.

    Man is it really that bad for Jo being told about Danny and Laceys former relationship? Why tell her that you dated? I mean..why do they have make it "right" for her? Most people would just go on about their business and just tell people like Jo to accept the fact they like who they likely and to move on.Danny struggled trying to tell Jo that he still has feelings for Lacey. The only time I will justify a person doing that is when they pose a threat to others,otherwise this part of the series seemed sooooo unreal.

    Though I also didn't agree with most of what Trojan Horses said, one thing I will agree with them about is the part about Jo's parents. Twisted seems a little dragged out putting most of the focus pn her parents...at least until the end (will get to that).I'm not saying that they are a totally dead couple.... then maybe again they are. For most of the show,their lives seem pretty routine. They'll take the longest to put the camera on Danny ,Jo and the others.

    You know, I didn't want Jo with Danny, so they have her going with Tyler and Rico spontaneously kissed Jo out of his crush on her. Initially, I thought it wouldn't as awkward....boy I was wrong! I don't know if anyone else will agree with me on this but she didn't even seem right kissing Tyler. I was like "Ugh!" not with the guys but Jo.Like I said before Jo looks too juvenile and nun-like.. someone who look as if they aren't romantic. With Jo and Tyler, it just look as if Jo was about to make out with him for the first time. Tyler would have looked better kissing Phoebe, Regina..but not Jo. Even with Rico...mind you that he's a nerd, but he's a handsome functioning nerd.He wouldn't picture me as a guy who wouldn't know what to do with a girl.

    The most exciting parts of the episode.. ironically... was near the end of the show. Wow, some of you guys predicted that Vikram is alive, but I wonder about Tess (this is the part I was talking about).How is she connected to him.I was thinking about the car that Chief Materson and the detective came out of and the first time they showed it.Could Tess be the killer? Makes me wonder?

    I'm going to try to stick out a couple of episodes of Twisted in January. I'm not optimistic about it,but I will give it another chance

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  3. *claps*

    I wonder if I should bother watching TV series from my country and do some analyzing as well...
    Here, they don't really go that far, and it's different. There's only one black girl in one series that I've noticed so far...married to a white man...I'll try to keep an eye on her but the series sucks (too soap opera for my taste).
    There's one North African woman (non black) in a sitcom and she's written 100% like a white woman. It's safe and so far nothing racist about her non-white looks and foreign origins/muslim faith. I think the white writers know that they better not mess around with this ethnic community (and probably have higher esteem for them compared to black people) but they think it's OK to have this obese very dark skinned black man with a funny face who looks a bit dumb...Hm-hm.
    Here, Asians are non existent on TV or so. Same with our cinema...

    Now y'all know why I don't bother with my country's TV entertainment. Well, that and the lackluster of the storylines.

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  4. Yeah, The finale was a predictable mess. But better than the previous two eps, I thought. It gave me enough that I'll give it a chance when it comes back in January. I mean, I have to see these two: http://mrslaceyporterdesai.tumblr.com/post/59597441934/interviewer-favorite-episode-avan-i-like-5-and

    I'll muck through the dreck just to get a few crumbs of their amazing chemistry.

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  5. Sounds like they are still pulling the same old bait and switch they did in Heroes and Flashforward: start the series with interesting compelling well developed POC then mid series kill them off, neuter them, make their entire life revolve around serving/saving a white woman then act shocked when the ratings decline because they got rid of the plot strengths to focus on white people with daddy issues.

    The only American tv shoes I watch anymore are True Blood (all about the white fairy vagina) and Boardwalk empire (adding new black characters and giving them interesting back stories). I prefer to watch foreign media or independent media where POC are fully realized human beings with their own agency.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like they are still pulling the same old bait and switch they did in Heroes and Flashforward: start the series with interesting compelling well developed POC then mid series kill them off, neuter them, make their entire life revolve around serving/saving a white woman then act shocked when the ratings decline because they got rid of the plot strengths to focus on white people with daddy issues.

      Girl, you took the words right out of my mouth.

      This isn't about profit; it's about paranoia. If POC stories - written and executed by POC - garner a wide audience, then Hollywhite fears no one will watch the tired-ass vanillacentric shows and that impressionable young white kids will want to emulate POC (even more than they do now), breed with us, and immerse themselves fully into our worlds.

      And since white folks currently suffer from extinction anxiety, they can't let that happen.

      Delete
    2. Extinction anxiety!!!!! *falls over

      Delete
    3. "Extinction Anxiety". I now have a new very useful term at my arsenal! I love this Blog!!!!

      Delete
  6. Excellent piece, as usual.

    Although, you can't expect anything more from big networks owned by white men where most of the programming is by white people, especially white men. And when you hear excuses like "whiteness is universal" and anything else is "not marketable", you are dealing with a racist institution.

    Sadly, I don't see any hope for change with the mainstream media as long as it is owned and operated by sheltered white people who look for other sheltered white people for ideas, no matter how stupid or tired they are.

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  7. Whiteness is the neutral storyteller. Through the prism of whiteness, creators can focus on people of color.

    In other words, they're doing it for our own good - the fuck you say.

    In "White is the New White", the author points out that Piper Kerman didn't get signed permission to publish and profit from the WOC's stories she got in prison, and she sure as hell isn't sharing the profits, nor is Jenji Kohan.

    If white audiences want to consume a steady diet of vanilla, then by all maens give them that and leave us the fuck out of it. Because the moment we get involved, we don't to be written and viewed through a "prism of whiteness."

    That sort of goes without saying.

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  8. Okay so ABC Family and I have history, a lifelong history. I mean I was with this channel back when it was Fox Family, and before that when it was the Family Channel.

    In fact my favorite show was the Family Channel original series Zorro. Saturday nights, I was all about some Zorro. Keep your Kaukasian Kaped Krusaders, I was reppin the Z up in this mother.

    That show was a hit and went on for a few seasons and the cast was primarily Latino.

    Fast forward to when ABC Family launched. Two of its flagship shows were Kyle XY (one of my all-time faves) and Lincoln Heights. Both were a huge hit.

    Specifically the latter which tackled the struggles of a black family, the father was a cop, the mother a nurse who moves into a POC neighborhood and try to rebuild and make a community. And yes there was a white love interest for the eldest daughter but the show still managed for the most part to portray blacks and the black community with respect and make it a family friendly show that white audiences loved.

    So this is why I'm calling bullshit every time people cry about POCs can't be marketable or it's taking too much of a risk. When networks or movie studios need to establish themselves, they know how to tell our stories properly. But once they've garnered ratings, cash and success, suddenly we're not marketable or POC stories are too hard.

    Case in point:

    http://arsmarginal.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/681/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But once they've garnered ratings, cash and success, suddenly we're not marketable or POC stories are too hard.

      Speaking of which, why haven't Ben Aaronovitch's books been made into a series with him as executive producer?

      Delete
  9. And regarding that nonsense that Whiteness Is The Neutral Storyteller, this post breaks down why THAT IS NOT the case:


    http://arsmarginal.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/complexion-for-the-protection/

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  10. And this is the reason why I haven't seen Twisted past ep8 or 9 cuz I knew that sme tomfoolery would happen as soon as they showed faux Danny videotaping Danny and Lacey getting hot and heavy ( btw that was sooo white man creepy and illegal).

    Jo can kick rocks, big rocks with no shoes on. I am hoping by the time the show comes back on in JAN, two things have happened either Jo is recast ( please please pretty please) or Danny and Lacey get back together like they are ment to; oh and that Jo mysterious gets pushed off a cliff :D

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  11. And this is why you are my dealer of choice. "Extinction anxiety?"

    GIRL!!!!!

    This is definitely one for the Lexicon.

    ReplyDelete

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