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A critical postmodern response to multiculturalism in popular culture Brayton, Sean


My dissertation is motivated by two general problems within contemporary North American racial politics. First, the increasing ideological impetus of a “post-racist” society contradicts a spate of events that are symptomatic and constitutive of racial and ethnic essentialisms. Second, the logic of multiculturalism and antiracism has often been expressed in a language of race and identity rooted in a rigid system of immutable differences (Hall, 1997; Ang, 2001). The challenge is to deconstruct race and ethnicity in a language that is critical of new racisms as well as the ways in which racial and ethnic difference is seized and diffused by market multiculturalism. While some theorists have used elements of postmodern theory to develop a “resistance multiculturalism” sensitive to shifting social meanings and floating racial signifiers (see McLaren, 1994), they have rarely explored the political possibilities of “ludic postmodernism” (parody, pastiche, irony) as a critical response to multicultural ideologies. If part of postmodernism as an intellectual movement includes self-reflexivity, self-parody, and the rejection of a foundational “truth,” for example, the various racial and ethnic categories reified under multiculturalism are perhaps open to revision and contestation (Hutcheon, 1989). To develop this particular postmodern critique of multiculturalism, I draw on three case studies concerned with identity and representation in North American popular media. The first case considers vocal impersonation as a disruption to the visual primacy of race by examining the stand-up comedy films of Dave Chappelle, Russell Peters, and Margaret Cho. The second case turns to the postmodern bodies of cyborgs and humanoid robots in the science fiction film I, Robot (2004) as a racial metaphor at the crossroads of whiteness, inhumanity, and redemption. The final case discusses the politics of irony in relation to ethnolinguistic identity and debates surrounding sports mascots. Each case study recycles racial and ethnic stereotypes for a variety of political purposes, drawing out the connections and tensions between postmodernism and multiculturalism. A postmodern critique of multiculturalism may offer antiracist politics an understanding of race and ethnicity rooted in a strategic indeterminacy, which allows for multidimensional political coalitions directed against wider socioeconomic inequalities.

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