Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Has Someone Already Written the Book on Racial Balance in the Visual Media?

Has someone already written the book on racial balance in the visual media? Anybody? If no one has and you want to take a crack at it, the ad in frame 5 of 13 of the slideshow in this Slate article would be a good place to start.

It's a Volkswagen ad highlighting safety. The four young people in the auto are a black couple in front with the male in the driver's seat and a white male and Asian female in the back. The images are a perfectly pitched rendition of the racial and gender dynamics of the times. Compared to this, those ads with babies/children of every color in the appropriate proportions are a snap. (Just to be on the safe side, the ad avoids any romantic overtones, so the couples could just be friends for all the viewer knows.)

The first Die Hard (1988) managed to sustain such a balance over an entire movie, and threw in class conflict and geopolitics into the mix. Every death is painstakingly calibrated not to offend, while maximizing customer satisfaction, starting with Takagi, the Japanese business executive (the only decent character to die; remember, we're talking about 1988) and finishing up with Karl, the superhuman terrorist in the anticlimax, including a couple of arrogant (yes, black and white) FBI agents along the way.

And remember, that's Takagi, not Tad, not Dan, not any of those names Japanese businessmen routinely adopt to work with Americans, if you catch my drift.

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