“Reassuring Convergence: Online Fandom, Race, and Disney’s Notorious Song of the South”

July 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Touching racial moments, except not really.

Oh my gosh you guys, some things online are racist (WHAT?????). Like fan communities for this one movie called Song of the South, which is all “black people liked being slaves and are happiest when they’re working for white people, who take care of them even after the War of Northern Aggression, because they’re thoughtful like that.” You probably know the film from here, and/or the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland. It’s super super racist and raises all kinds of problems in terms of online fandom. Because the fans of this film? Some are icky white-power types, some refuse to see the racism, some just really like the story and don’t see what the big deal is because it’s just entertainment, people –which according to Jason Sperb is a counterexample to the oft-repeated claim that fan texts are all about opening people’s minds to new ideas, and also Utopia. Or whatever the claim is, apparently we travel in different corners of the internet. In this case, all people see and talk about is the stuff they choose to see and talk about. This is a problem because of the whole racism thing. Then again it’s tricky because in many cases people aren’t (deliberately) engaging with or condoning the political ideologies. Course you can’t escape politics, it’s just that you may not be aware when you step in a puddle of hegemony. On account of hegemony is designed to be invisible? Anyway. You guys. The fans of Song often just really like the darn thing, which is a tricky thing to theorize. Because again, even though there’s an implicit argument beneath all that affect, it’s not the kind of argument that makes itself visible. So what should we do? Disney sure doesn’t care, going so far as to turn a blind eye to the more vocal (gross/racist) supporters of the film, because the company stands to turn a profit. Capitalist pigs! But racism is really bad, so we should be careful not to get too caught up in people’s affective responses. The stories might be warm and fuzzy (“it reminds me of my childhood, before mama died, back when papa didn’t drink so much”) but the text itself embodies the worst kind of racist and therefore political ideologies. I mean just because it’s touching doesn’t mean it’s not also offensive. But just because it’s offensive doesn’t mean it can’t also be complicated, and possibly even a teachable moment. So it’s important not to shy away from ambivalent spaces online on account of there’s a lot to learn about fan behavior and we shouldn’t just focus on the shiny happy examples.



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