Of course, representations always matter. Both choices and implications.
Disregarding the author and his/her/their background and intent (see, for example, “The Death of the Author”) is typically important when analyzing culture. Humans are generally blind to their own circumstances and why–truly why–they make the choices they make. Only with time can we begin to see aspects of the historical unconscious.
For example, those involved with the reel version of The Help said they were committed to giving a voice to the voiceless and to producing an anti-racism film. However, numerous authors–including myself–have found The Help to be extremely racist and ahistorical.
(A film can be anti-racism and still show historically/culturally relevant racism.)
In other examples, Hollywood frequently receives much warranted criticism for casting White characters in non-White roles. Black women are still cast as Mammy in far too many cases, as I and others have argued elsewhere. White men who are jocks are cast as privileged, know-it-all bullies in too many cases. White characters are often cast as “innocent” pure victims, drawing on the virgin/whore trope.
These representations have implications: They teach audiences, and they perpetuate inequalities. The institutional problems are endless.
However, sometimes knowing about the author(s) and the related circumstance(s) is vital and makes poststructuralist criticism unwarned and arguably, inaccurate.
For example, if a group of people work together to make a high-quality but low-budget film about issues they are all passionate about, critiques regarding representation are not as important or accurate, especially when this group of people consist of close, long-time friends or colleagues. In this case, critiquing the work because people play characters that might ordinarily be read differently in a Hollywood production completely misses the existing beauty.
The dominate film and music industry has thoroughly manipulated and skewed audience feelings and expectations such that we (“must”) criticize all media, even though we know that any given cultural text cannot possibly include representations of everything and be completely free of anything that could possibly be associated with a stereotype.
With their limited funds and resources, independent films or local theatre productions, for example, cannot be fairly accessed by analyzing the text alone or by using the same standards used for major-studio-funded works and their bottomless pockets.
Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda
Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives