Representation Matters


I came across this illustration on tumblr recently, accompanied by this quote from Whoopi Goldberg about her experience watching Star Trek as a young girl:

Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.

This brought me back to what Professor Parham mentioned in class on Thursday – about how controlled the imagination of representation already is for us, and how so much of our history has either been lost or rewritten without fully documenting the role that women played.

To put it simply, representation matters. I’ve often had people query why I take courses about popular culture (I’m a sometimes historian in most of my graduate work) and it often boils down to that – the desire to see some part of the self, something I can identify with, within the culture. But it’s more than that as well – people deny it all they want, but it matters what it represented in the media. As bell hooks asserts, “popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is.” It’s where we learn what it is to be human. I grew up in a predominantly white rural middle class town in England, and it was through the media, I got a sense of what it might be like to have not grown up in those circumstances. The media helped open a door to critical thinking and cultural critique that might not have otherwise been opened. Representation matters. What we are exposed to determines who are, who we will be. That’s why it matters.

4 thoughts on “Representation Matters

  1. Great post as usual, Meg. I love how refreshing your perspective is on most class discussions.

    Your Whoopi Goldberg quote immediately got my mind racing to Lacan’s Mirror Stage. Isn’t Goldberg in seeing a “black lady on television” seeing an Ideal version of herSelf? “I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.” Indeed, Goldberg even needs to bring the Other of her Mother into the scene in order to actualize and process the moment.

    Just a thought to throw out there.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Derya!

      I actually hadn’t thought of that at all but it’s a great connection to make. Rather than occurring through a mirror, Goldberg’s mirror stage potentially happened through the television screen, which is of course, a surface that not only transmits images, but one in which you are able to see yourself reflected in.

      This makes me wonder if there is some sort of neo-Lacanian theory which substitutes the numerous reflective devices we now have (not only television, but smartphones, tablets, etc) for the traditional mirror?

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