29 December 2008

Black as the "new" white?

Oh, the short-term memory of global capital! In a strange (if not, perverse) twist, it seems that blackness is to be exploited, to be resignified, as the latest marker of super-elite status. In the blink of an avaricious eye, centuries of negative cultural framing and demonizing appear to be eclipsed - forgotten. And by an industry which otherwise so consistently privileges and promotes "whiteness" as the idealized signification of luxury and prestige (see Thurlow & Jaworski, 2009, p. 10-11; also Richard Dyer's well-know critique of "white").

Is this, I wonder, where the voracious culture industries are headed in their search for even newer capitals under the Obama-nation? A shameless aestheticization and commodification of blackness? Is this what they think social justice looks like? In the same way, perhaps, that HIV/AIDs is commercialized by (Product) Red's "call to action"? Or in the way that Bumble & Bumble have recently co-opted the language of political action for their latest range of hair styling products? Strike a blow for global health: shop with a red Amex card!

Anyway, speaking of credit cards, and on the theme of blackness, here are just two recent examples of what I mean.

Visa's latest gimmick is the "carbon graphite" Black Card . We are told that this is "not just another piece of plastic" but rather "the world's most prestigous" credit card which promises "limited membership, 24-hour concierge service, exclusive rewards program, luxury gifts". (Thanks, Jamie Moshin, for bringing this to my attention.) The whole idea of the "concierge" is such a telling one - especially given the racialized and classed histories of the waiters and the waited-upon. Having said which, some things don't change; true to the racialized histories of class inequality, this card is, we are reassured, "not for everyone".

Visa's online sales pitch: "For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you. The Black Card is not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon graphite, it is the ultimate buying tool.The Black Card is not for everyone. In fact, it is available to only 1% of U.S. Residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every Cardmember."
There's also a copy of this commercial on YouTube - along with its husky, female voice-over. (So, a gendered production too. Of course.)

Then there's this unconscious (unconscionable?) little cultural production, an advertising campaign for Cunard's Queen Mary II, Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria cruises:

What historically myopic - no doubt, White - person thought this one up? Did no-one at the high-paying ad agency notice the tasteless irony in their sloganized "Somewhere between contintents you feel something stirring and realize it's your soul"? Over the last few years, I have gathered together a pretty sizeable collection of luxury tourism adverts (most of them here online). Be rest assured, however, this one from Cunard is the only one - the only one - which features people of colour as the luxury travellers as opposed to the servants. In fact, one of the biggest deceits in many luxury tourism ads is that even the servants are White - as in this one here:

Yeh, right?! So, the White body too becomes resignified as an up-to-the-minute marker of prestige. The service is so luxurious, we are told, even the servants are White! The human geographies of cruise liners tell a very different story - these ships are what Ross Klein calls "sweatshops at sea" staffed almost entirely by the global poor. (See his book Cruise Ship Blues or his latest book Cruise Ship Squeeze: The New Pirates of the Seven Seas).

Oh, and if the online marketing for Visa's Black Card is to be believed, even the concierge's teeth are nice and white - that would be the same concierge service that is "designed to improve quality of life" and enables members "to focus on what is truly important" - er, like luxury shopping and stock-market trading?

10 December 2008

A class act: The lines that divide

Back in the summer, I ran a special undergraduate course called Class Acts: Intercultural Communication and Social Inequality. Students spent most of the four-week, intensive course working in groups on a public messaging statement or campaign about the nature of local, national and/or global inequality. Their remit was to create something which would make people sit up and listen - people who "suffer" from so called "compassion fatigue" or who think class doesn't really matter/exist. Here's just one of the projects - the one put together by Quesha, Catherine and Teresa.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: global inequality)

Two of my favourite students (yes, we do have them), Tiffany and Miracle, helped to prepare these materials for display. I'll be posting some of the other students' work shortly.

08 December 2008

Praying for time

It's been too long since my last post - a lot of life, a fair bit of love and a shitload of work. There's a backlog of iNeedle thoughts which need posting, though - not least of which, ones prompted by the economic non-crisis which so many people are evidently enjoying right now. "Do I buy a big yacht or a huge yacht?" In the meantime, however, here's a gentle place-holder. It's been a while since I posted some music - and I'm sure not everyone might share my taste in George Michael. Whatever. He's one of my youthful and not-so-youthful idols. I just had reason to remember his lyrical critique in Praying for Time from the Listen Without Prejudice album.

Praying For Time
These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
Because God’s stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all Gods children
Crept out the back door

And its hard to love, there’s so much tohate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much, much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year

This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say what’s mine is mine and not yours
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
Because God’s stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you
That he can’t come back
Because he has no children to come back for

Its hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say its much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time