Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Mimicry and Winston

1 Comment

Bamboozled is a difficult subject to decipher.  Clearly, it portrays a racist show being made by black people, critiquing (among much else) the defense that the media strategist in the film evoked: “If it’s made by a black person, it can’t be racist!”  So do we subject the film itself to critique despite its seeming stance of “by black people for black people”?  I believe that Stuart Hall would argue that the film is an effective means of combatting racist ideologies by making them so obvious.  Namely, that “[t]elling racist jokes across the racial line, in conditions where relations of racial inferiority and superiority prevail, reinforces the difference and reproduces that he unequal relations because, in those situations, the point of the joke depends on the existence of racism.  Thus they reproduce the categories and relations of racism, even while normalizing them” (Hall, 166). Racism is depended upon in the film, but that’s clearly the point, because the film is critiquing real, practical racism in today’s world.  The audience of the Minstrel Show is a good example of this normalization in action in the film; they start out vaguely uncomfortable but by the end of the movie are all calling themselves the n-word.  What Spike Lee is doing is mimicry; he exaggerates a normal, naturalized occurrence to an absurd level that draws attention to it, thereby denaturalizing it.  

The film highlights racist tendencies that Hall argues exist, but are not often thought of.  I think of the CNS executive, who believes himself “blacker” than Delacroix, when Hall states that “[b]lack stand up comics still ape their ambiguous incorporation into…entertainment by being the first to tell a racist joke” (163).  Black comedians are popular, and often involve race and racist slurs in their stand up.  It lets us believe that it’s okay for black people to say slurs, but not for us to.  This does two things; 1, reinforces racial divisions, and 2, continues the use of such derogatory words, which are founded in blatant racial hatred.  The CNS executive takes this a step further, by being so “in tune” with black culture that he’s therefore also allowed to make racist slurs, therefore continuing racist thought.  He becomes enthralled at the idea of a show where black people are racist against themselves.  Such a show seems absurd, such a practice exists, though not quite so blatantly.  Spike Lee is emphasizing this practice in the film, making shows that Hall says “are the focus of a secret, illicit, pleasurable-but-taboo admiration” into outright racism in the white audience of the Minstrel Show (165). 

The film is obviously problematic, however.  I believe Hall would have an opinion on the caricatures of black stereotypes the main characters fit into, though I’m not entirely sure what it would be.  I personally believe that’s one of the more problematic hurdles to overcome when considering how the film attacks racism.  

This is an explicit example of the racist ideologies at play in New Girl; this shows just how present superiority/inferiority, stereotypes of anger/emotion, and black man as “clown” are in modern representations of black people are in mainstream media. Most are more implicit: Winston as the token black guy, who is always looking for love, the brunt of the joke, and weirder than the rest (which is saying something, ’cause the other characters are “quirky” and weird).

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One thought on “Mimicry and Winston

  1. WINSTON. So many thoughts about Winston and the show’s handling of him — why can’t he be part of the “main” narrative? Why does he have to be out on his own hanging out with the cat? What prevents his inclusion?

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