How Can We Get Majority Audiences Consuming Culture About Minority Experiences? ctd.

By Tyler Lewis

I’ve been thinking a lot about Alyssa’s really thoughtful post about how to get majority audiences to watch movies and shows about minorities and their experiences.

I cycled through the usual “as long as it’s not too black, white folks might show up” and “the ‘gayer’ and more desexualized the gay character seems, the more comfortable straight folks will be watching that character” thoughts. Yup, all of that. And I quickly got bored.

We can talk forever about how to make “black experiences” more “universal” or about making gay people as boring as straight people so they can be “normalized,” but the truth is all we are doing when we have that conversation is reinforcing the majority’s cultural hegemony. I don’t actually think it gets us to the goal of an integrated, diverse society. It’s great for assimilation though. I’m not, personally, so interested in that.

In truth, majority audiences need to be made uncomfortable, they need their assumptions about minorities challenged, and they need to step outside of their own narrow experiences and consume stuff that they may not understand. Sure, we need to emphasize how we are all human and are essentially the same, but we also have to challenge the tendency to deem difference as bad, dangerous, or threatening without asking that difference be erased or eliminated.

But there is also part of me that just doesn’t really give a damn if majority audiences consume minority cultural products. What I really care about is the fact that the majority’s narrow consumption affects what minorities get to consume.

Our communications infrastructure has become so consolidated that there is no way for a multinational telecommunications conglomerate to make any money on something that only appeals to 13 percent of the population and has zero international appeal. So no more black shows on network television. No more $15 million black romantic comedies. No more $20 million gay coming of age stories. Or, if we want to be generous, fewer.

The conversation we need to have is one in which minorities think about what kinds of economic models will make it possible for them to make cultural products for themselves and about the way we’d have to redefine what success means in order to do that. This might actually be something we could do more quickly than trying to get majority audiences to broaden their consumption.