White People — Communication and Technology in the Wild

For my assignment I chose to go to the screening of White People in the cinema in Witherspoon Student Center. The screening of the film was on February 29, 2016, but the documentary was originally released and aired on July 22, 2015 on MTV (joseantoniovargas.com). The film is about forty minutes long and was directed, produced and it starred Jose Antonio Vargas. In the film Vargas goes around and interviews mostly white people, but he also interviews one or two minorities here and there to discuss topics such as, reverse racism and white privilege. However, it is made clear by one of the interviewees that reverse racism does not exist. Majority of those that were interviewed were young and mostly teenagers. Vargas created an atmosphere that allowed the interviewees to express themselves without being judged or criticized.

The space where the documentary was screened was quiet once the movie started and the screen was Movie Theater sized. When I first arrived the lighting was bright, but as soon as the movie started it was dark and the only source of light in the place was from the screen that was showing the movie. The movie was being played on the screen by a projector that was located in a room above the audience. The chairs for audience members were close together to discourage movement during the film. There were around one hundred fifty or more seats in the cinema.

The medium is being consumed visually, auditorily and cognitively because you are watching and listening to the film as you process what you are gaining from the film mentally. The volunteers and/or employees were in charge of setting up the film and renting out the space. Volunteers led the discussion that occurred after the documentary was shown and they also passed out questionnaires at the beginning of the event. The discussion was geared by the questionnaire. The volunteers utilized a text message based application to have the audience text in the letter that corresponded to their answer on the questionnaire. The questionnaire involved question related to views on racism and white privilege. I do not have the exact questions because the questionnaire was collected at the end. However, one of the questions had to deal with whether or not it would be better to be color blind. Also, the volunteers went around passing microphones to people so that they could either ask or answer questions. The work and workers were only visual when the discussion was going on and at the beginning of the event. In addition to passing out the questionnaire the workers also had to start the movie and make sure that the projector was working alright. The work that the workers and volunteers put in allowed for the event to be a success. If they would not have did all that they did then the environment for the screening would have been drastically different. The lighting may have been too much or the audience would have gained anything from the event. The chance for discussion allowed for the audience to reflect on what they just watched and to learn from it. I believe that white people most likely gained the most from the screening because the documentary was about their race after all.

The written rules for interacting with the medium was to not illegally copy the documentary and the unwritten rules were to be quiet and actually watch the screen. Another written rule would be to not video record or use any electronics while int the theater. These rules are meant to allow the audience to consume the media in the best environment possible and to protect the copyright of the film’s creator. The conditions tell us that the social and cultural status of the medium is fairly prevalent. The documentary aired this past year so it is recent and it aired on a popular television network. Also, the documentary has many topics in it that are relevant to our society. The documentary discusses the cost of higher education and the scholarships involved with it. In addition to that topic, the documentary talks about white privilege and the skewed view that those of that race can sometimes have of the world.

The main points that I took from the documentary is that some people view white as being the default race and that it is “good” to be white. Unsurprisingly ninety-one percent of the average white person’s friends are white. The most interesting thing that I saw in the video is what white people believe are the disadvantages of being white. According to some, the disadvantages of being white are less scholarships (apparently because there are more scholarships for minorities) or there are none. In the article White People 101, viewers felt that white people were being bashed and that there apparently was what they referred to as “white shaming”.This is not the case because the video never says anything derogatory about white people. It just highlights the facts of white privilege. In the video Vargas provides statistics that state that white people are forty percent more likely to get scholarships. The amount of white people is gradually changing in public schools. According to the documentary whites now make up less than half of public schools.

It is a popular belief that a person cannot be blind to color because it means that a person is running away from racial issues. When the discussion occurred after the film many people agreed with this statement. Some people, that shared their race with the title, stated that there needs to be more education on the matter because in some cases racism occurs because there is ignorance among those that are being racist. This brings us back to the idea of white privilege. The video says that with white privilege there are no stereotypes, no systematic oppression and no fear of walking in and out of a convenience store.

By analyzing and studying this medium it is important to know the content of it, so that you can better understand what the medium is trying to portray. As stated earlier, the audience is consuming the medium visually, auditorily and cognitively which also brings to mind the importance of the content. According to McLuhan, “effective study of the media deals not only with the content of the media but with the media themselves and the total cultural environment within which the media function” (The Playboy Interview, 1969).

This documentary and the medium relates to the course topics on film, TV, the net and the web and computers (especially the topic on screens). In the class discussion and readings on film we learned the history of film and the cultural and historical context behind it. According to the lecture on film, the cultural and historical context behind it had to deal with nickelodeons and the differences between “high” and “popular” culture. (Early Motion Pictures, Czitrom, 165). High culture is places such as, the opera, symphony, ballet, libraries and museums. Popular culture places include early cinema, magic shows and musicals. High culture is European and intended for the ruling class, while popular culture is American and intended for the masses. The documentary that we watched would be considered as a part of popular culture. In reference to TV, this documentary is relevant because even though I watched it in a cinema, it was originally consumed on television. Chuck Tryon states that “the introduction of platform mobility complicates traditional concepts of medium specificity, creating a situation in which many of the technological and physical properties associated with film and television as media may no longer be relevant, forcing us to rethink our understanding of media” (‘Make any room your TV room’: digital delivery and media mobility, 290, 2012). This is definitely true because anyone in the audience could have easily pulled up the film on their phone on YouTube or the MTV website. The difference in the two would be the environment in which the person would then be in and would change the way the media is consumed. The topics of the net and the web and the computer go hand in hand. Access to the internet allows the viewer to view the film multiple times if they desire too and it also allows the viewer to research and learn more about the documentary. An article even states that the film “lives online” and that it sparks conversation about diversity and tolerance (Hua Hsu, The Trouble With White People, 2015). In reference to computers, it is all about the screens. According to the lecture on computers, a screen is a continuous flow of information projected as data. The historical meaning of a screen was to protect, shield and examine systematically. The screen that we viewed the documentary on is a perfect example. The audience was allowed to examine the content of the film and there was always a continuous flow of information as they watched.