Racial Spectacle and Campus Climate: Media Representations and Asian International Student Perceptions at U.S. Colleges

Racial Spectacle and Campus Climate: Media Representations and Asian International Student Perceptions at U.S. Colleges

Kenneth Robert Roth (California State University, USA) and Zachary S. Ritter (University of Redlands, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9869-5.ch015
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Media spectacle has become an important way countries, culture, and commerce is expressed in the global marketplace. Media spectacle is a combination of power and capital and in its final form produces ideology. The U.S. is the global leader in the production and distribution of media, accounting for one-third of more than $90 billion annually in worldwide film distribution alone. U.S. media representations can be distinctive due to their racial dialogue and International college students with little exposure to the U.S. outside of media depictions arrive in America with perceptions that may be detrimental to campus climate. Supported by two independent qualitative studies, this chapter interrogates implications media representations may have for cross-cultural interactions. We identify ways U.S. colleges and universities are addressing campus climate issues, and how these efforts may not be enough. We call for increased diversity training across curricula to promote greater tolerance.
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When rising pop star Bruno Mars was named the headliner for the half time show of Super Bowl 48 in 2014, many of America’s biggest and most influential media outlets wondered out loud whether the Hawaiian-born singer-songwriter was sufficiently luminary to stand among America’s gridiron gladiators and wow the crowd (Atkinson, 2013; D’Addario, 2014; Ryan, 2014). After all, the Super Bowl is arguably the most celebrated annual media spectacle in America, and inclusion in its halftime festivities signals entrée into the pantheon of the globe’s great performers. The reason why Mars accepted the gig should be obvious, since already he has been characterized as the likely successor to the once and previous King of Pop, Michael Jackson (Benhaim, 2013; Levin, 2013). But what these media pundits didn’t mention was Bruno’s cross-racial appeal in light of his racially mixed heritage as a Puerto Rican-Filipino-American. This appeal plays well, both domestically and internationally, and may signify a cultural acknowledgement of the ascendancy of a mixed America. Mars’ spectacular performance also offers a glimpse into how positive representations in media spectacles have implications for career trajectories, promoting racial acceptance, and portraying an egalitarian inclusivity. For days after the Super Bowl, a widely circulated social media meme flipped the spectacle by proclaiming, “Apparently there was a football game at the Bruno Mars concert” (Nicotheory: So...Apparently There Was A... 2014).

Alternately, as Lou Jing took a bow after her performance on China’s version of the U.S. talent show, American Idol, viewers flooded social media outlets with comments such as, “she never should have been born,” and she should “get out of China” (Chang, 2009). The 20-year-old Chinese-born woman, who was referred to by show hosts as Chocolate Girl, was the daughter of a Chinese mother and African American father. Her nationally televised performance and the subsequent reaction by viewers sparked a countrywide debate on race.

Depictions of people of African descent in East Asia are often problematic and fraught with stereotypes (Dikotter, 1997; Fujioka, 2000; Johnson, 2007; Russell, 1991; Talbot, 1999). These stereotypes are likely framed by imported media representations of race, and may have implications for cross-cultural interactions. As more East Asians, particularly Chinese, become a larger portion of the United States’ higher education landscape as international students, it is likely campus relations between them and African American students may be strained, due in large part to stereotypes they’ve formed based on other examples of U.S. media spectacle that are not as racially accepting and inclusive as the Bruno Mars example.

The circulation on the Internet of an image of the uncovered dead body of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenage black male who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch vigilante (Alvarez, 2013) comes to mind. Like front page newspaper accounts of the lynching of black men and women in the U.S. well into the middle of the 20th century, where bodies were shown hanging from trees or lying bloody on the ground (Chandler, 2013), Martin’s body was splayed out on a lawn, his legs and arms akimbo, and his lifeless eyes staring upward into the night (Nyasha, 2013). Images of non-black males subjected to any similar fate are almost never seen, with the possible exception of Reginald Denney, who was not killed but beaten during broadcast coverage of rioting in South Los Angeles following the acquittal of LAPD officers who had savagely beaten an unarmed Rodney King, a black man, during a traffic stop videotaped by a witness and distributed globally (Cannon, 1997; Los Angeles Riots Fast Facts, 2014; Mydans, 1992).

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