San Junipero: Recognizing Inclusion in Awards and Media

By Hailey Corkery

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At the 2017 Emmy Awards, Black Mirror: San Junipero won two awards: “Outstanding Made for Television Movie” and “Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special.” In this episode of Black Mirror, two women named Kelly and Yorkie meet and fall in love in San Junipero, a technologically created space in which people who are either dead or sick spend their time­. In this digital manifestation of an afterlife, the deceased are permanent inhabitants and the ill, like Kelly and Yorkie, are “tourists” who can only spend a few hours a week in this destination. The recognition given to San Junipero from the Television Academy was applauded by many due to the TV movie’s representation of many different marginalized groups as well as its celebration of queer relationships. While this instance of minority representation in media and its Emmy win is significant, it is imperative to inquire about the ways in which the representation in this film is presented: how was this episode of the Netflix hit series inclusive and celebratory and how was it exclusive and problematic? 

Black Mirror fans’ praise is mainly focused on the relationship between Kelly and Yorkie. The two women meet in a club and after some flirtation, Kelly asks Yorkie to sleep with her. Yorkie politely declines, but a week later, she looks for Kelly in the same club. Yorkie finds her and tells her that she really does want to sleep with her, but is nervous because she has never slept with a woman before (we later find out Yorkie has never slept with anyone before and this is really where her anxiety came from). Kelly listens to Yorkie and then takes her home. The sex scene is very brief and does not show much: the couple is only seen kissing in a bed and just beginning to take off clothing. This sex scene differs from sexual encounters in other queer television shows. For example, The L Word shows graphic sex scenes, “relying heavily on heteronormative or hypersexualized images” (Kessler 603). The simple indication of the sexual encounter in San Junipero, however, takes away the common media trope sexualizing and degrading lesbians purely for heterosexual male pleasure.

The relationship is also commended for giving the couple a happy ending–out of the few queer couples represented in television and movies, many do not get the privilege of receiving this positive fate. Also, the women’s relationship, which eventually turns into a marriage, does not take on heteronormative roles. Many queer couples are thought to have a “man” and a “woman” in the relationship, but San Junipero does not give into this stereotype, or any gender roles regarding relationships. Many romances in media depict female passivity as being “at the heart of romance” (Radway 64), but neither of the protagonists take on a “feminine” (i.e. submissive) role in their relationship. This power balance between the two women resists the heteronormative roles of the dominant and the subordinate placed onto queer couples.

The couple are also representative of other marginalized groups. Yorkie is white and Kelly is black, creating a successful representation of an interracial marriage. Also, outside of San Junipero, the two women are in their eighties and are sick and disabled; Kelly is dying of cancer and Yorkie is quadriplegic. This includes older women in the narrative and discredits the myth that only young people can fall in love and be queer. This representation of age, however, is somewhat problematic. When they are in San Junipero, Kelly and Yorkie are in their twenties. The fact that these women leave their old age behind romanticizes youth and echoes the fact that “[i]n popular culture the older female body is particularly vilified” (Fairclough 298). This relation of the older female body to sadness and boredom perpetuates ageist stereotypes.

Another possible issue in Black Mirror: San Junipero is the promotion of consumerism. In their happy ending, Kelly and Yorkie live together in a big, beautiful house and in the very last scene, drive away in a fancy new car. This, in turn, promotes luxury: “Because television shows are so heavily skewed to the ‘lifestyles of the rich and upper middle class,’ they inflate the viewer’s perceptions of what others have, and by extension­–what is worth acquiring” (Schor 253). This subtle promotion of indulgence through the belongings that constitute San Junipero’s happy ending perpetuates society’s high value of consumerism.

Another question to consider when analyzing this TV movie is this: is the inclusivity of marginalized people merely included for branding and monetary reasons? It is essential to consider this because it is often problematic when media includes “empowerment via consumption in the marketplace” (Murray 285). Was the celebration and visibility of queer women in this episode purely created to increase the number of Netflix’s subscribers or to get Netflix more publicity? It could possibly be a “cause branding strategy that merges messages of corporate ‘concern and commitment for a cause’ (Cone 2000) with the participation of [the audience] for the same social goals, further concealing corporate aims” (Murray 286). However, it is extremely difficult to truly determine the main goal of the production of this work.

Due to the fact that television is ingrained in capitalism, it is challenging for a TV show or movie to be issue-free when it comes to representation and oppression. With that in mind, Black Mirror: San Junipero did a great job of being inclusive in its unique narrative while also trying to defeat stereotypes of different minority groups. Not only is the creation of this story important, but also the awards it won are also extremely noteworthy. The fact that a diverse production received multiple awards and lots of positive publicity could possibly push other screenwriters to create more stories that fairly and accurately represent people of minority groups.

 

Rail Jam, WinterFest, and Whiteness: Examining CC’s Outdoor Culture

By Valerie Hanna

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Colorado College seniors Nia Abram (EV Policy major, FGS minor) and Eliza Mott (Film&Media Studies major) gave a presentation to the CC student body on Monday, February 2nd about diversity and inclusion in CC’s outdoor culture. Abram and Mott’s presentation focused on how CC can re-imagine a relationship with the outdoors and a commitment to sustainability that is truly intentional and accessible to people of color on campus. Abram spoke from her personal experience as a middle-class black woman, making clear to a mostly white audience that she could not speak on behalf of all students of color on campus. Mott spoke about her experience being a white counselor at City Kids, an outdoor summer camp, where all of her campers and many of her staff members are black.

The crux of Abram’s and Mott’s argument was that simply making outdoor activities cheaper to try and get people of color outside is problematic. While financial aid is important for students of color who are in need, Abram stated that even though she has the financial means to ski, ski culture (and other outdoor activities) don’t feel inclusive and welcoming for her. In his piece “White Racial Formation: Into the Twenty-First Century,” Charles A. Gallagher writes, “The cultural mythology that has become today’s commonsense understanding of race relations is a definition of society that is colorblind” (9). In solely providing financial aid without intentional, thoughtful questions and reflections, CC outdoor culture perpetuates an attitude of colorblindness that does not take into account the cultural differences among white students and students of color. While Outdoor Education and the ORC have recognized financial need and offer generous funding, consciousness cannot be just of class but also of race and therefore culture.

Abram and Mott are attempting to promote critical reflection among a white-dominated outdoor campus culture. In “The Transparency Phenomenon, Race-Neutral Decisionmaking, and Discriminatory Intent,” Barbara J. Flagg asks white readers: “In what situations do you describe yourself as white? Would you be likely to include white on a list of three adjectives that describe you? Do you think about your race as a factor in the way other whites treat you?” For white folks like me, we may not realize the way that our whiteness informs our relationship with the outdoors because we have the privilege of not needing to think about our whiteness in day-to-day interactions with others or with nature. However, if we truly are committed to diversity and inclusion, we as white folks must reflect on our positionality in our leadership endeavors and in the spaces we occupy.

Abram and Mott stressed the importance of involving people of color in the dialogue and planning of outdoor events. They also offered several suggestions, such as including more activities at WinterFest (like snowshoeing) as well as subsidizing the ticket and lodging costs for students who are in need of additional aid. During outdoor activities on Yampa, they suggested including a wider variety of music (not just bluegrass, but R&B, perhaps). Mott and Abram proposed that instead of Railjam only showcasing a select number of skiers and boarders, Railjam could also include other winter activities in the vicinity, such as sledding and snowshoeing which more students could partake in. In “The Transparency Phenomenon,” Flagg goes on to state: “Even whites who do not harbor any conscious or unconscious belief in the superiority of white people participate in the maintenance of white supremacy whenever we impose white norms without acknowledging their whiteness” (222).  Similarly, white students must examine the norms we’ve constructed or are complicit in upholding, often unintentionally, in the context off CC outdoor culture. Abram and Mott challenge us to imagine new possibilities of engaging with the outdoors in ways that challenge mainstream white norms of being outside. Abram stated: “It’s not that one way of engaging in the outdoors is better than others. However, there is a dominant white narrative to outdoor culture and sustainability at CC. This is what we’re trying to challenge.”

 

PETITION: Diversify the Curriculum at Colorado College

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By Amairani Alamillo (‘16) & Han Sayles (‘15)

Dear President Tiefenthaler, Dean Wong & Faculty,

In recent years, Colorado College has made strides in becoming a more inclusive and diverse institution. There has been an increase in diverse course offerings; an increase in tenure-track lines for the Feminist and Gender Studies, Race and Ethnic Studies, and Southwest Studies programs; a restructuring of academic programs, such as the Bridge Scholars program; the establishment of The Butler Center; and, finally, a substantial increase in the percentage of students of color admitted to CC each year. The aforementioned accomplishments are all evidence of the current administration’s and faculty’s commitment to having an inclusive campus. We want to propel these efforts forward, as we believe there is still much work that needs to be done to transform CC into a truly diverse educational environment.

We, the students of Colorado College, believe that every student who graduates from CC should have a basic grasp of issues concerning responsible citizenship in a globalized world. In an increasingly hostile racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic national and global environment, we want the skills to peacefully confront the hurdles that we are facing today, which we will undoubtedly grapple with throughout our lives. That means our curriculum should facilitate a critical historical engagement with the pertinent issues affecting ourselves and our local, national, and international communities. This petition is a formal statement of our dedication to engaging with subjects of (but not limited to) class, race, gender, and sexuality everyday—subjects we want to see reflected in our classrooms and in syllabi across campus. We want to embrace Colorado College’s core values: “value all persons and seek to learn from their diverse experiences and perspectives,” “seek excellence, constantly assessing our policies and programs,” and, “honor the life of the mind as the central focus of our common endeavor.”

Many members of the staff and faculty at Colorado College have been advocating for this initiative, privately and publicly, for decades, and students have been by their side, but there has not yet been a collective effort on behalf of the students at the College to communicate clearly to faculty and administration exactly what we want from our education. Here and now is the time and place for Colorado College to become a national leader. The following are the points that we believe the faculty and administration at Colorado College need to enact in order for our education to be utilitarian, relevant, and ethical.

  1. The College needs a diverse curriculum; a commitment marginalized and/or outsider perspectives needs to be reflected in the syllabi of every single department or program on campus.
  2. The College needs to reassess the current all-college course requirements in place to ensure that students are taking courses that are rigorous for an introduction to issues of global and social inequality.
  3. Faculty development is the core of a diverse curriculum and pedagogy, which means the College needs to focus on committing to the development of the current faculty so that they are well-equipped to handle these issues in their classes, as relevant to specific disciplines.
  4. The forthcoming proposal to make Race, Ethnic Studies, and Migrations a major should be fully-funded and supported by Colorado College. As the proposal made on behalf of the Core Faculty of Race and Ethnic Studies points out: “RES continues to consciously bridge the spaces between theory and practice, the classroom and the communities outside it, the individual and the individual as citizen.” Besides being a well-established, productive field of academia, having a Race, Ethnic Studies, and Migration major would enable students to develop important practical professional skills in cross-cultural competency and a basic social understanding of the world we live in.”

In closing, as Stephen Quaye and Shuan Harper report about the effects of diversity on 15,600 undergraduate students after four years, all students, not just students of color, report that they are most satisfied with “faculty who employed methodologies that respected and were inclusive of cultural differences; constructed welcoming environments for sharing cultural perspectives; and required writing assignments that challenged students to think critically about diversity and equity issues.” We believe a diverse curriculum for the students of Colorado College is not only valuable but essential to our success as educated people in the 21st century. Thank you for your time and commitment to our continued success.

CC STUDENTS, please click here to access and sign the petition.