Buffy and Racism

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Wed Feb 24 08:21:03 PST 1999

Gar wrote:
>Everybody seems to miss my last point. So once more, no irony. What is
>the objection to Meta-narrative? As I've said to a couple of people
>off list: Agreed, the map is not the territory. Still if you are
>planning a trip around the world someone (you, the pilot, the airline,
>someone) had better have a pretty extensive map or set of maps. Maybe
>I'm misunderstanding what people mean when they criticize
>meta-narratives -- but if it is an attack on all large theories, it
>seems to me misplaced.

And everyone--including Paul, given his analysis of Buffy--has a map or two in his or her head, even though it is not expressed in what Paul probably thinks of as grad-school-speak.

Some of the objections to meta-narratives (or theories, maps, whatever you call them) may come from what listers think of postmodernism (some of which are on the mark, others way off).

Others may stem from an idea that trying to look at a given piece of art (be it Buffy or Shakespeare) using, for instance, a feminist theory does violence to the specificities of the work that distinguish it from all others and/or takes away pleasure and enjoyment.

About the former, such a close reading (of, say, Buffy) surely reveals something that cannot be seen through an analysis of a genre (of, for instance, Vampire films in particular and horror films in general and how race tends to figure in them) alone; on the other hand, many fans (as well as critics) recognize some things about genre conventions (as well as larger cultural narratives of race, class, sex/gender/sexuality, etc.), and recognition of specificities has a lot to do with that of differences from (or reworkings of) genre conventions. Otherwise, Paul, for example, would not be able to say X stands out among cop shows, Y is brilliant while all other teen shows suck, etc. In fact, cultural producers depend upon the knowledge that audiences bring to their products for effects (irony, inversion, surprise, allusion, homage, send-up, etc.), nowadays a rather sophisticated (and perhaps weary) knowledge of 'having seen them all.' (Michael Pollak mentions some 'black vampire films,' but even their titles gesture toward their anomalous status, thus relying on the audience knowledge that vampires normally don't come from Brooklyn, for instance.) Meta-narratives inhere in any close reading or even a casual reading. (Otherwise, a text doesn't 'make sense.')

As to pleasure and enjoyment, much of it comes from our joy of recognition of patterns as well as disruptions of them, in form and content. For instance, nursery rhymes and fairy tales give pleasure to us (esp. children) first of all because they are pleasantly repetitive, while giving us variations. Any good artist knows how to repeat (and get that groove going, in sounds, meanings, colors, visual metaphors, etc.), for pleasure (including pleasure of transgressing the rules) is conservative (and I don't use this word negatively).

More specifically, for many readers/viewers who are oppressed/marginalized due to race, gender, sexuality, etc., not much pleasure is to be had from ordinary mass cultural products, unless pleasure comes from pattern recognition, for we are not only _not_ their intended audience but also often pointedly put out of the picture (so to speak); worse yet, we can be a butt of a joke (as Charles Brown said of jokes about 'spooks') or an object of a racist agression fantasy (as in _Falling Down_). I can't imagine many black teenagers going ga-ga over Buffy, with a possible exception of cinephiles or incipient pop culture critics among them (who may enjoy picking it apart or admire how cleverly it's put together).

As to your mention of King Kong, of course, black viewers would not 'identify with' him (as I would not 'identify with' obligatory Japanese businessmen in many American films from the 80s or environmental 'pests' that Angela was talking about in another thread). That doesn't mean that King Kong doesn't signify a white fear of a black rapist, for instance, among other possible interpretations. For better or worse, we are not 'interpellated' by Hollywood narratives in the same way that white viewers might. (For instance, I think the white viewers who are not anti-racist and do not think of race and representation, etc. wouldn't even 'notice' that there are few blacks + non-whites in Buffy. They don't very often 'notice' our absence in the real world either.)


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