McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams

EastEnders (BBC)

EastEnders began as a flagship show for primetime weeknights on BBC1. The series started in 1985, and now runs four nights a week. It is one of the BBC's most popular shows, and regularly nets between 7 and 13 million viewers each episode. The series is based in the East End of London, and centres around Albert Square, which contains a pub, a number of shops and cafes, a launderette and a pub, The Queen Vic. The buildings are as central to the story of the characters that own and disown them on a regular basis. Although there is no main character, the stories focus around a number of families in various different states (divorced, married, widowed, single-parent) and their everyday lives. Of the current six main families that dominant antics in "The Square" the Fowlers, the Mitchells, the Slaters, the Brannings, the Wickes' and the Foxes, five are white. Once established families such as the Truemans (black) and the Ferreiras (Asian) were dispatched due to a lack of popularity or the sudden realization that the characters had no more "room to develop."

American History X (Kaye: 1998)

Danny Vinyard, a white teenager with an interest in neo-Nazism, is asked to write a paper by his black teacher on older brother Derek, whom he idolizes. The paper will be called American History X. Displayed in black and white, which some commentators suggest allows for the white characters to look even whiter and almost "spiritual," (Ware: 2002: Chicago) the film follows the story of Derek through Danny's eyes.

The Black Dahlia (Ellroy: 1998: Warner Books)

Part of Ellroy's LA quartet, the novelist attempts to give "real" portrayal of LA in the 1940s and 50s, and has stated that he aims to make the racism in his novels "a casual attribute rather than a defining characteristic." (www.notesinthemargin.org) Despite the fact the novel is primarily the story of the murder of a white woman murdered by another white woman (in itself a fantasy - the real murderer was never caught) the white characters are defined by their treatment of the black characters depicted as background subject in the novel. When Officer Bucky Bleichart is assigned to Newton Street (quickly dubbed "niggertown") he sets about assaulting every dominant black male in the area to demand respect from his fellow white officers. He quickly succeeds and it becomes clear that violence through black characters is seen as acceptable, as well as dubbing them "niggers and coons" without complaint. But in the case of this white discourse, it is seen as acceptable because the black characters are deemed lower class people without a second thought. This supports Feagin's claim that Bleichart, like many white people, "see themselves as 'not racist' and 'as good people' while enforcing black derogatory stereotypes.'" (2001: 187) Bleichart does not see himself as racist, such labels are reserved for skinheads created in discourse such as American History X. It is worth noting that the novel is set in an era when stereotypes of black people as unintelligent, lazy and inclined to crime were still enforced, nearly 100 years after slavery was abolished in the state. As Feagin claims: "Blaming African-Americans for their own poverty has been a characteristic white opinion for decades." (2001:189) Ultimately, Bleichart is displayed at the climax of the novel as the "white hero." He settles down to a happy ending with a white wife and a white child, but refrains from persecuting the white middle class murderer of a white lower class woman because the murderer has had a less than happy life. He is displayed as a hero with a heart, despite the fact he beats people from a different race (assumed to be criminals - it is often proved they are not) to build upon his image as the white oppressor. Of the texts displayed in this study, The Black Dahlia portrays its white image as heroic as opposed to defeatist or victimized. Although the white characters display good traits, it is the discourse of their defeat and aggression against black people that defines them as respected by their peers.

The three selected texts display very specific images of whiteness. The first, EastEnders, portrays the image of the white working class man that no longer truly exists, at least in the east end of London. The second draws on the dominant and violent stereotype of white supremacies, and The Black Dahlia focuses on the image of the white man as the oppressive hero. In terms if what this tells us, it is worth noting that EastEnders is a popular TV serial, with viewers ranging between 7 million and 13 million on a regular basis. (www.wikipedia.com) American History X took £12, 353,801 at the worldwide box office (www.boxofficemojo.com) and The Black Dahlia has sold 43 million copies. (Lengel, The Arizona Republic, 12/05/06) In other words they all appear to be popular, and particularly in the last two examples cannot help but be popular due to the portrayal of popular images of whiteness in the text. But although they portray dominant white images, the tide is turning within media texts. Films such as Pulp Fiction (1994: Tarantino) and Jungle Fever (1991: Lee) go to lengths to display whiteness not as dominant discourse, but as stupid, poor, "white trash" while the black character's discourse is far more dominantly featured and respected. Gormley claims that these films now illustrate "the instability of the white cultural identity" (2005:132). It would appear that although white discourse is popular, the featured texts rely heavily on stereotypes as figures to be dissected and mocked. "Whiteness" as a discourse is developing all the time. The new white cultural identity no longer fits into these stereotypes, but rebels against them to the point of de-stabilizing the dominant discourse completely.

Related Links
To Top