Example of when colorism manipulated popular culture
Popular culture mirrors international relations, as a whole.
”Damsel in distress” and women as ”visions of beauty” get glorified, as a way to promote ‘benevolent’ sexism or sexism disguised under pretentious ‘good intentions’, and yet men’s stories are still prioritized over women’s stories every time. Women are still silenced, even when we’re the participants of both geek culture and international relations.
Deep seated scorn for all that is perceived to be feminine is what drives the Gender Pay Gap in the United States (and other first world countries). This is the similar nature of of toxic hypermasculinity, which is also widespread in tech and gaming.
This is especially as how damsels in distress with white savior myths are presented — ”In 1991, when it was researched 8% of video games had female characters, a most common role was still ‘damsel in distress.”’ Dietz (1998) studied that of the female characters present in video games at that time, they were “damsels in distress”, “visions of beauty” or “evil/obstacles”. The same themes in popular culture often bring out the message that,’ white saviors are always unquestioningly right’ next to objectified damsels in distress.
The scorn for what is seen as feminine is also oddly contradictory, for instance in women being represented as ”visions of beauty” in video games, there’s the aspect of ‘objectifying women for their own good.’ It’s as if there’s a certain glorification for what is seen as feminine, and yet it’s an over-idealization that also dehumanizes.
Also, white savior myths often favor dichotomies which add to the contradictory nature – women as ”evil/obstacles” is like the ”evil (radical)/ liberal anti-racist person of color” dichotomy, while reinforcing the lie that ”white saviors are always unquestioningly right.” The aspect of contradictory dichotomies is a part of hypermasculinity – toxic hypermasculinity tells you that gaming/ popular culture should be a ”men’s world”, yet the same hypermasculinity is very harmful to men.
White savior myths and toxic hypermasculinity are never separate from each other, especially shown from trends of popular culture over the years. Even games of the past that have inverted the damsel in distress ”white savior myth” stereotype still went back to being male-centric. For instance, the Secret of Monkey Island game did an excellent inversion of damsel in distress, yet was very much focused on the male protagonist.
Then, there’s also the issue of colorism (putting light-skinned/ white/ white-passing features on a pedestal) because in video games and many other popular culture, the ‘saviors’ that are humanized are always either white, white-passing or light-skinned. It brings messages that intensify all the dichotomies favored under white supremacy.
These are built-in trends which also reflect the normalization of toxic hypermasculinity and white savior myths worldwide. This is NOT to encourage censoring any part of popular media, but just to show that we can be critical of the problematic aspects of popular media we enjoy. It is noteworthy to unpack and recheck the internalization of scorn towards what is perceived as feminine which continue to encourage gender pay gap in first world countries, unfairly glorify objectified damsels in distress in entertainment and unfairly put light-skinned/ white ”saviors” as the sole arbiters of human rights.
If you played Bioshock Infinite, you would be familiar with Daisy Fitzroy. Daisy Fitzroy did not have to be hypersexualized in the Bioshock Infinite game, the entire game was already set on the male gaze. Because there was the dichotomy of pitting the stereotypical white male savior as an anti-racist ”progressive” against the more ”radical” black woman whose story mattered less in the game.
Of course we are not able to have a more well-balanced discourse because when talking about sexism or objectification in games, there is always the annoying anti-feminists/ MRAs who say,” YOU JUST HATE SEXY WOMEN!” and white feminists who frame the conversations as simply, and exclusively ”my choices” versus ”how men see them.” And as a woman of color who plays games, this is quite frustrating to me. The aspect of white privilege is that it unconsciously sets certain dichotomies in place, and it is difficult for women of color like me to find more room when we want to make more valid cultural criticism. There leaves little room for me to publicly examine trends of colonialism and racism that do impact games – games may seem like just a medium for entertainment, but art does not exist out of a vacuum. Colonialist cultures do inform a lot of arts, and games are no exception.
White women: I don’t have a problem with hypersexualized characters ( * women of color* ) in video games. It’s about women’s choice.
Women of color: Well, actually certain parts of objectification still relate to racism, white (instead of only male) gaze.. kind of like Far Cry 3 etc
White women: But IT’S ABOUT WOMEN HAVING CHOICE.
P/S Who said anything about YOUR choices, white douchebags?
So I came across this Time article that said Prince of Persia (1989) was one of their ”picks for the All-TIME 100 greatest video games.” This is the article:
I could recognize the photo because well I played it a lot as a child
Just..no. First of all, it obviously had the typical damsel in distress, trope, with added Orientalist depictions. I mean, seriously?
Even if it’s subtle, it’s still Orientalist, ‘exoticizing’ and racist. And yes, I’m sure first world audience will immediately associate certain stereotypes with this above.
Why, yes, *trying* to associate turbans with hostile swordsmen is what makes this game one of the best and most progressive /sarcasm
And this is quoted from a website;
”The plot of the Disney 1992 film Aladdin has many similarities with Prince of Persia. In the film, the evil vizier Jafar tries to force the princess (of the mythical city of Agrabah) to marry him, and Aladdin tries to save her. Towards the end of the film, Jafar also traps the princess inside a giant hourglass, similar to the one the evil vizier from Prince of Persia summons forth at the beginning of the game to indicate the time in which she has to make her decision to marry him or die.”
Seeing as how Jasmine was also ‘exoticized’ and hypersexualized (let’s be real, mostly with racialized connotations), you really think this game should be one of the all time best top 100 video games?
Objectification against women has become historic for a very long time already. Pointing out that something objectifies women doesn’t necessarily mean ”hating sexiness in entertainment”, it means — objectification against women involves treating women as background props to make men or white supremacist causes look ”better.”
If you could have one goal as you approach year 2015, make it to point out objectification against women in popular culture and tell others why it’s problematic.
Photo from Violent Storm (1993)
I’ve been thinking about my childhood and how even growing up in a ”non-white country” still means I was not separated from white supremacy. I’ve been thinking about the cartoons I watched, and I remember I used to laugh a lot at this. Only during my adulthood, it occurs to me that this is very Orientalist:
I also remember the times when I as a child played Prince of Persia (1998) on my relative’s computer.. And I liked it during my childhood. And again, I realize now how Orientalist and cliched that game is, sigh.
Again, I start remembering more about the things I used to enjoy during my childhood. I remember the times when I used to enjoy watching Police Academy series, I used to think American cops were ”heroic” and ”superior.” (Of course that’s just an oppressive myth) This was how I thought — as a child!
I realize that for more than 90% of the time during my childhood, I had to enjoy things which had racialized and Orientalist connotations. Of course, you can still enjoy and like popular media while being critical of the problematic parts, as a lot of us already know. At the same time, I’m convinced that the ”white man’s burden” and ”savage brown/dark-skinned people” tropes in popular culture are a root to a lot of evil around this world.
1) Continue speaking my truth — with much less shame
2) Remind others to respect my boundaries
3) Remind people why ‘white man’s burden’ and ‘damsel in distress’ stereotypes are bad for popular media