Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ironic Racism and Culture's Conversational Backdoor

I ended my post The Outsider's Advantage: Why Blacks and Gays are Funnier and Brits Make Great Rock 'N Roll with a link to Stuff White People Like. A friend in publishing just told me that they are going to make a book based on the site.

My initial thought was "is that necessary?" Then I went ahead and started to think about what I would do with it if it was my project. Sidebar content with call-outs that highlighted "great moments in white history" and "white people of note" quickly came to mind... then I took pause. I can't remember EVER hearing a positive non-ironic celebration of "whiteness" and you certainly never hear phrases like "great moments in white history". The context such thoughts immediately thrust you into is that of "white supremacism".

Below: Whitey Whitney from that whitebread show "Leave it to Beaver".

Irony, like parody and satire, make possible the expression of thoughts and ideas that would otherwise be taboo. The most powerful example in recent years (and my favorite) is the use of ironic-sexism (or retro-sexism if you prefer) by the brand Axe. It allowed for a brand to take over a category by speaking to its audience the way that audience speaks among themselves under the guise of irony.

Works like "Stuff White People Like" (and a subsequent book) have the power, for better or for worse, to make possible cultural conversations, ironic and sincere, that may have been uncomfortable in the past. In a very real sense, irony is a way of sneaking things in.

Someone turned me on to Rent-A-Negro yesterday. After many reservations I posted it but then took it down later in the day. Within the context of this discussion it becomes a point of interest.

From The Sherman Foundation Archives: Retro-Sexism (The Ya Ya Brotherhood)

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