In the essays I had you read leading up to this assignment, Letterman situates pop culture within a larger conversation about race and consumption, economics/class and consumption. In other words, Letterman thinks (and I agree with him, as do basically all other cultural studies scholars/critics) that pop cultural artifacts are consciously designed with a white audience in mind, and that then goes on to be (one of the guiding) principles of how pop culture is run, regardless of audience intent in their watching/listening/buying of pop cultural artifacts. You can see it in everything, even in hip-hop (what some might say to be a very specific cultural type of art), in that the large majority of hip-hop buyers/listeners comes from white suburban boys/men. Letterman (especially in “33”) makes it clear that he thinks that, when we grow up, we are expected to align ourselves with a certain type of person as seen in various pop culture artifacts (whether that person is an athlete, a pop star, a television character, a writer, etc) so that the art we consume can become more personal. Indeed, that is one of the very points of pop culture and its power–the ability it has (and what it needs) to turn the impersonal personal. For this assignment I want you to think about the pop culture material that you consume, that you enjoy, that you think about. Watch TV, watch movies, listen to music, and make a note of what you see. This happens particularly on popular (mainstream) TV, but it happens everywhere, so it’s unavoidable. It is dominated by whiteness. All of it, whiteness everywhere. It’s not exclusively white, of course, but it is absolutely predominantly white. Pop culture depends upon its audiences to buy it and the products within it; and if you take popular TV, film, music as an indication, the makers and keepers of pop culture must assume that it is white people who are watching, or at least white people buying–the implications of this are profound. So I want you to think about, then to write about (using Letterman as your guide, as well as your source) these implications.
In a 3 page minimum (double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 pt font, 1″ margins all around) paper I want you to write about what you think this all means. What do non-white audiences do with this (very) white material? If the point of pop culture is in part to find common ground with the characters you see, what does it mean that the VERY large majority of those characters are white; what does it mean especially if you are a non-white consumer of pop culture? Do you feel that pop culture in this way fails those who are not white, and those who are not privileged enough to find (actual) common ground with the characters on TV, film? I have always been so interested in these questions, and it fascinates me to hear from students who are very invested in pop culture as pop culture is connected to race. So this paper should touch upon all of these issues–the largest one being: what are the real-life consequences of what seems to be a very race-specific agenda by those who design the material that we all (regardless of race) consume? What are the consequences in the mind of the non-white consumer who must consume white pop culture in order to fit in with the people around us who are also consuming this white pop culture?
So go and watch TV, watch movies, and think about this stuff. It’s everywhere, and I want to know your thoughts on this. Be as creative as you can, be as detailed as you can (LOTS of detail, specific shows, specific films, specific characters, your relationship to these things), and use Letterman to help.