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“I think it was in poor taste that you were doing Murtaugh in whiteface” – Blackface goes West (and White) in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005-)

« Je trouve que faire jouer Murtaugh par un blanc maquillé en noir était d’un goût douteux » – Migration vers l’Ouest et blanchissement du blackface dans It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005-)
Sébastien Lefait

Résumés

Ainsi que l’ont montré de nombreux universitaires, la tradition américaine du blackface (ménestrel grimé en noir), qui s’est développée principalement dans le Nord des États-Unis, propose une vision déformée du Sud. Afin de corriger l’idée que cette tradition voyage exclusivement selon un axe Sud/Nord, cet article envisage la manière dont elle s’est récemment appliquée à l’Ouest américain, celui des cow-boys et des Indiens, ainsi qu’à leurs équivalents contemporains, les policiers et les bandits des films d’action. Deux épisodes de la série It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (s06e09 et s09e09) illustrent ce point. Un personnage blanc se maquille en noir pour jouer le rôle de Murtaugh dans des films « suédés », censés constituer les épisodes suivants de la série de films L’arme fatale (n° 1 à 4 ; Richard Donner, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1998). Dans ces films tournés au sein des épisodes, la tradition du blackface est utilisée pour s’attaquer à d’autres stéréotypes que ceux qu’elle vise traditionnellement. L’un d’entre eux est incarné par le méchant « Chef Lazarus », un chef indien joué par Frank Reynolds (Danny De Vito). L’analyse de séquences montre que le blackface peut se westerniser afin de critiquer certains clichés attachés au genre du western, mais également pour s’attaquer aux récents avatars du blackface visant les blancs, les Amérindiens, les femmes, et les homosexuels. La série attribue ces changements dans la tradition du blackface à certains aspects prédominant la culture visuelle contemporaine, mais aussi à la montée de l’idéologie suprémaciste blanche.

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The South/North axis of blackface minstrelsy

  • 1 William T. Lhamon, Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop, Cambridge (...)
  • 2 Ibidem, 6.
  • 3 Ibid., 6. Shohat and Stam even consider that “minstrel shows evolved largely in the north (...)
  • 4 Eric Lott, Love and Theft Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, New (...)

1Although blackface performance was once considered a truthful expression of the life of “happy Negroes” in the Southern plantations by early historians of the practice,1 other historians then noticed that “the minstrel show was neither about authentic black life nor about an authentic South.”2 In the most recent research on the topic, blackface minstrelsy is treated as “a fantasy of northern white performers.”3 Indeed, as Eric Lott has shown, the blackface is a caricature of the American South that flourished in the industrialized North of the United States, where it gained its “cultural purview, political referent, and context of performance.”4 The blackface being a distorted view of the South that developed into an appropriate prism through which to apprehend the North, its South-North trajectory is integral to its actual meaning.

  • 5 Lhamon, Raising Cain, 6.
  • 6 Ibidem, 6.
  • 7 Shohat and Stam, op. cit., 226.

2According to Lhamon, “the blackface mask […] is in itself an excellent signifier of overlap as a principle.”5 Consequently, its meaning rests in migrations from one space, and from one form to another. Even if traditionally considered a racist tradition because of its grotesque treatment of black slaves, many now suggest it “saps racism from within.”6 In other words, the meaning of blackface has evolved through its travels from location to location, and from white performers to black artists. It now owns a satirical quality as “an iconic paradigm of the simultaneous presence and absence of marginalized communities.”7

  • 8 When a film or TV show resorts to the tradition in a context different from the original S (...)
  • 9 As Andrew B. Leiter notes, this media migration has paralleled the evolution of th (...)
  • 10 “The invitation to ‘Go West’ in American culture always has rested upon utopian images (...)

3This concise history of blackface minstrelsy shows that aesthetic and geographic displacements are essential to its nature.8 As it emerged from the American South to thrive mainly in the Northern states, it now travels throughout the United States and abroad. Likewise, it can be transplanted from the silver screen, where it had its glory days with such works as The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927), to the smaller screen of the TV series, as illustrated in Mad Men, “My old Kentucky home” (s03e03, AMC, 2007-15), or in the Boardwalk Empire pilot episode (HBO, 2010-14).9 Yet, despite the historical importance of going West in American culture,10 it seems more difficult for the blackface tradition to emigrate westward than northward.

  • 11 I am here merely extending a list found on TV tropes (<http://tvtropes.org/), a we (...)
  • 12 James Kendrick, Hollywood Bloodshed Violence in 1980s American Cinema, Carbondale: Souther (...)
  • 13 Although set in Philadelphia, Lethal Weapon 5 and 6, like the previous installments, take (...)
  • 14 Further information on the episodes, including plot summaries, is available at <http://its (...)
  • 15 Although Richard Donner directed the films, it was producer Joel Silver who came up with t (...)

4Contemporary attempts at “westernizing” the notion of blackface minstrelsy demonstrate that it is not just a South/North phenomenon. The latest developments of the tradition rekindle its polemical and political values, allowing for new forms of displacement, thanks to such practices as whiteface, redface, or even gayface.11 Such recent evolutions from the original tradition allow blackface derivatives to travel West and tackle stereotypes related to the Western. Blackface thus uses the gendered and racialized conventions of the genre to renew itself and address other cases of racial or spatial segregation. As cases of direct connection between blackface and proper Western movies are uncommon, I will study incursions of blackface into the most obvious of the Western’s sibling genres, the action movie,12 as presented in two episodes of the American TV sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (s06e09 and s09e09). Members of “The Gang”– the underachieving white lead characters who run an Irish pub in South Philadelphia13 – shoot sequels to an emblematic series of four action movies, which they entitle Lethal Weapon 5 and 6. Although the videos are first designed to be broadcast through traditional media channels, they go on YouTube after the characters fail to secure sufficient funding. In the homemade movies, Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton), the co-owner of “Paddy’s pub,” and Mac (Rob McElhenney), his best friend, alternatively take up the part of Riggs (Mel Gibson in the films), and don blackface to perform as Murtaugh, originally played by Danny Glover.14 In their under-financed follow-ups on the Richard Donner/Joel Silver buddy movies,15 the blackface tradition undergoes a series of metamorphoses. These deviations include “reverse” blackface among others. In s06e09, Dennis first plays Murtaugh without any makeup on, before switching parts halfway through with Mac, who plays the same character, but now in blackface. Once the shooting is over, Mac comments on Dennis’s performance: “I think it was in poor taste that you were doing Murtaugh in whiteface.” As the quote highlights, the malleability of blackface minstrelsy is key to understand how the series tackles racial issues. Endowing the tradition with such plasticity enables the show to challenge many more clichés than those linked with slavery and Southern plantations.

Legitimizing blackface representations

  • 16 Donald Bogle, Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, New York: (...)

5The main characters in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are white males, except for Dee (Kaitlin Olson), Dennis Reynolds’s twin sister and bartender at “Paddy’s pub.” Yet, although their whiteness is an issue for casting someone as Murtaugh, they do not consider hiring a black man to play in their cheap sequels. They soon decide one of them should black up for the occasion, thus resorting to a practice that even CBS had decided against in the late 1940s for its TV version of the radio sitcom Amos ‘n’ Andy – because as Donald Bogle explains, “Hearing two white men playing colored clowns was one thing; seeing them playing colored clowns was another.”16 Nevertheless, they prove reluctant to indulge in the practice, triggering a fiery discussion on its level of political correctness. Because of racial ethics, the characters decide to justify their resorting to blackface. In s06e09, they decide to assess the acceptability of blacking up. The justification process first involves Dee, then the other members of the Gang as they join her. During the episode, Dee finds a job as a substitute high school teacher. This leads the characters to consider using her class as an audience for their film in the context of a test screening. When Dee organizes a showing of the Stuart Burge adaptation of Othello with Laurence Olivier (1965), they replace it with their homemade version of Lethal Weapon 5. They intend to use the class of teenagers as a panel to assess how politically correct their use of blackface minstrelsy is, judging from the school kids’ reaction or absence thereof.

Seeking legitimacy in cultural precedents

6Before using the teenagers to study the reception of blackface, however, Dennis, Mac and Frank search for cultural precedents. At first, the only ones they find are cheap comedies such as Soul Man (Steve Miner, 1986), where a white boy literally becomes black to obtain an affirmative action scholarship, and White Chicks (Keenen Ivory Wayans, 2004) where two black men disguise as white ladies. After realizing their examples miss the mark, they look for more respected jurisprudence.

  • 17 Peter Holland, “Rethinking Blackness: The Case of Olivier’s Othello,” in Sarah (...)
  • 18 Michael Neill, “Introduction,” in Michael Neill (ed.), Othello, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Pres (...)
  • 19 Similarly, as Olivier Esteves and I have shown in our analysis of the famous b (...)
  • 20 Corin Willis, “Meaning and Value in The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927),” in John Gibbs and Doug (...)

7Later on, Frank evokes Laurence Olivier’s performance as Othello. This reference to Shakespeare’s play underlines how important cultural prestige is to legitimize blackface performances – especially since, as Peter Holland explains, many critics thought at the time that Olivier was better as Othello than any black actor could ever be.17 However, the reference does not take into account that Othello is a play on racial stereotypes of the barbaric Moor. Since the first performance of Othello by a black actor, Ira Aldridge, at the London’s Theatre Royal in 1833, audience members have often resented that a white actor should play Othello, or preferred a black actor playing the part.18 Nevertheless, many Shakespearean academics have commented this reading by underlining that the reason white actors used to play Othello was that their performances were meant for white audiences. The homemade movies at the heart of the episodes fit a similar pattern, because they were designed by white 30-year-olds, presumably for people of the same skin color. Besides, the characters in the show do not seem to have friends from different ethnic groups. Otherwise, they would have turned to a black acquaintance in the first place to assess whether blackface was acceptable. This “white-for-white” pattern accounts for how quickly they draw conclusions from the Othello precedent to decide that blackface is no longer a cause for resentment.19 The next famous precedent quoted by Frank, The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927), plays the same part: to present the most positive reading of blackface minstrelsy. Its main character, a Jew who dons blackface to sing, stands out as the symbol of the ethnic hybridity at the heart of American identity. Indeed, in The Jazz Singer, blackface is a way of praising the virtues of the American melting pot,20 a quality that transfers to Lethal Weapon 5 and 6 – as hoped by Dennis, Mac and Frank.

Contemporary blackface as a positive representation of Black people

  • 21 Kimberly Fain provides an interesting historical perspective on how black villains becam (...)

8Finally, Mac comes up with James Earl Jones as a legitimizing precedent. The black actor plays Darth Vader in Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977-). Surprisingly, however, Frank claims that he was white. This case of mistaken racial identity underlines that there is one circumstance where the arch-villain can be performed by a black person without offending political correctness: as long as the evil character is wearing a mask, the color of his skin is not perceived.21 This is not what they intend to do in their film, which shall feature a white actor blacking up to play the archetypal action hero Roger Murtaugh.

9To conclude the debate, Dennis, Mac and Frank consider that, in the contemporary context where black people are generally praised for their good qualities or protected by the mask of political correctness, blacking up is no longer a touchy issue. One sequence in their movie confirms that for them, blacking up amounts to casting a positive light on a character. The sequence takes place in the gym and shows Murtaugh playing basketball with white people. Although he is alone against a full white team, he ends ups winning the game, concluding with a backboard-breaking slam-dunk. To be sure, without the black makeup, this would lack verisimilitude, which suggests that in the sequence, the amateur moviemakers exploit blackface to turn a white man into a sports superhero.

The legitimizing power of “sweding” the buddy movie genre

  • 22 Sybille Machat, “‘Prince Arthur Spotted Exiting Buckingham Palace!’: The Re-Imagined Wor (...)
  • 23 Although many critics disagree (see Hernán Vera and Andrew M. Gordon, Screen Saviors: (...)

10Another extenuating circumstance for including blackface is that Lethal Weapon 5 and 6 are “sweded” movies. According to Machat, “a Sweded Film is a film that re-shoots a well-known movie with a low budget, usually to parody the original movie.”22 As such, sweded movies are not supposed to trigger audience identification. This is what the reception-test organized by the characters in Dee’s classroom reveals. Not a single teenager in the audience reacts when the actors impersonating Riggs and Murtaugh switch parts midway through the homemade movies. Because they have raised their suspension of disbelief level in accordance with the Lethal Weapon parodies, the spectators pay no attention to major inconsistencies in the show. With this in mind, it is not surprising they do not find blackface offensive. In the series, more than ever before, minstrelsy is presented as fun for fun’s sake. Therefore, what the reception test assesses is less the acceptability of black stereotypes per se than how acceptable it is to use them as laughing matter in a parody. Just as sweded movies pay tribute to the films they continue or re-make, the ones included in the series endorse the role of buddy movies in putting a black cop on a par with a white cop.23

  • 24 All the more so as in Lethal Weapon, as in other films of the same type, the black cop i (...)

11Furthermore, since the characters seek excuses for using blackface, creating a skit on Lethal Weapon, of all action films, makes sense. The four-part series is a typical example of the buddy-movie tradition. It stands as a post-racial version of action movies, the black cop no longer being his white colleague’s sidekick, but his equal. Consequently, in this specific genre, the pairing of the white guy and the black guy against a common enemy supposedly reflects improved black integration in real life.24

Redface, bimboface, gayface, and the discriminatory remains of cowboy culture

12In s06e09, this strategy aimed at legitimizing blackface performances seems to work, at least to some extent. For instance, when the amateur movie makers visit an African American potential sponsor to present him with their project, the sponsor, whose name is not mentioned on the show, takes no offense at Murtaugh’s makeup. Yet even though the characters constantly seek to prove the appropriateness of blackface, their racially tolerant pose is riddled with loopholes. The most blatant one is that Riggs and Murtaugh collaborate to fight a villain of a different ethnic group. Both Lethal Weapon 5 and 6 cast Frank Reynolds as “Chief Lazarus,” a Native American chief who features as the villain of the YouTube videos. As an induced effect, “sweded” westerns conjure up stereotypes inherited from the Western tradition, which are thus rekindled in action movies.

Redface: cowboy culture and the vilification of Indians

  • 25 Garrick Alan Bailey, Handbook of North American Indians, Washington: Smithsonian Institu (...)
  • 26 C. Richard King, Native Americans in Sports, Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe Reference, 2004, 212.
  • 27 Gary A. Sokolow, Native Americans and the Law: A Dictionary, Santa Barbara, Calif: (...)
  • 28 Tracy Fessenden, ‘Race’, in Philip Goff and Paul Harvey (eds.), Themes in Reli (...)

13While the debate about the decency of blackface recurs several times during the episodes, the characters are undaunted by Frank’s “redface” performance. Frank even derives tremendous actor’s glee from it. Introducing the cliché of the Indian villain, however, not only reactivates a widely used pattern in Westerns.25 Chief Lazarus seems to condense stereotypes related to the Indians of Western movies and clichés of Native Americans into one hybrid caricature. Although he is dressed in what is supposed to be the traditional garb of an Indian chief, complete with braids and feathers, Chief Lazarus does business in casinos, a cliché tied to the media coverage of Native American issues.26 What is more, he seeks to control the whole water supply of Los Angeles – a grotesque reference to the claim of Native Americans to specific rights under Water Law.27 Finally, in s09e09, a shaman priestess performs resurrection rites to bring Lazarus back from the dead, yet another cliché.28

  • 29 The fact that Frank, who performs as Lazarus here, should be played by Danny DeVito stre (...)
  • 30 James G. Dickson, The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management, Harrisburg, PA: Sta (...)

14Moreover, the character Chief Lazarus includes, alongside stereotypes of Western movie Indians and Native Americans, many typical features of the archetypal villain. He has a glass eye and, as an allusion to The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947), he appears in front of a background aquarium where sharks are swimming, a metaphor for his ravenous greed. He is often seen with a tall blonde call girl by his side, suggesting that Native American casino-owners resemble movie mobsters.29 Implicitly, their villainy as the bad Indians of Westerns now expresses itself in the underground economy. In the embedded films, this merging of stereotypical features backfires against Riggs and Murtaugh. At the end of s06e09, Riggs shoots Lazarus in the back. The students used as an audience panel burst out laughing when they watch the execution. Their mirth is amplified by Murtaugh’s insulting line, “That’s one fried turkey!” (Turkey is the symbol of white flesh and a usual feature of Native American stereotypes, especially when their tribal life and communion with nature is depicted).30 On the other hand, the word “turkey” cynically exposes Thanksgiving as an idealized moment in the relationship between Native Americans and English colonists. Murtaugh goes on with the sarcasm when he throws a line at Lazarus that would have been better suited on the lips of a cowboy in a Western: “You’re supposed to be a noble people.” In the sweded movies, therefore, the black man’s victory is presented as a sop to Cerberus. Blackface suggests black people can now cast stereotypes once used against them, to target other minorities. The Lethal Weapon parodies thus cynically imply that giving black people other ethnic groups to blame for their condition is a deliberate strategy, designed to delude them into thinking they have overcome the oppressive white rule.

Female blackface: cowboy culture and the enduring fear of miscegenation

15In the show, the teenagers watching Lethal Weapon 5 do not respond negatively to the depiction of Native Americans by the fake sequel. Neither do they react to the film’s graphic violence. They chortle when Chief Lazarus is shot in the back, and burst out laughing again when his henchman, the “blond Dane,” tumbles down several floors and dies. Only one scene, although similar to the rest of the film for its lack of verisimilitude, raises grunts of disgust, apparently due to its explicit sexual content. As such a scene is as common in action movies as fights, car crashes, and on-screen deaths, it is questionable whether the sex itself raises objections, and the students’ reaction is more likely to be caused by the partners involved in the intercourse. In this scene, Chief Lazarus withdraws into his candlelit, four-poster bedded room to have sexual intercourse with the blond model often seen by his side. The shift to new stereotyping is explicit during this sex scene, which reads as an allusion to the murder scene in Othello. Indeed, this is how Othello’s smothering of Desdemona has often been staged. By mentioning the characters of the play a few minutes earlier, the connection is rendered explicit. The class was supposed to watch Stuart Burge’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, but Dennis, Mac and Frank replaced it with Lethal Weapon 5. The obvious alteration is that in this particular version, the man who corrupts the white girl by enthralling her is no longer black, but a Native.

16To emphasize the cross-pollination of blackface with other kinds of stereotyping as well as the switch to new scapegoats, Lethal Weapon 6 also suggests that a white man/black woman marriage is no longer a problem. At the beginning of s09e09, Riggs is getting married to Murtaugh’s daughter, performed by Dee Reynolds in blackface. To advertise racial tolerance, the wedding sequence inverts many codes associated with a blackface performance. It starts out by showing Riggs, a white man, playing the saxophone to his bride, to express that contemporary blackface, and perhaps also black identity, involves black practices or manners, rather than mere shoe polish. Secondly, his bride is the blonde Dee in blackface, and her disguise is betrayed by her deep green eyes. And as if she was aware that her performance as a black woman lacks credibility, she speaks in a thick black Southern accent.

17Yet, despite its general atmosphere of collegiate humor, the sitcom suggests that this acceptability ends when the question of mixed unions is raised, although under a different shape here than in the previously mentioned sex scene. Because Dee is in blackface, her makeup is a trick to fake the appearance of a black/white union, for beneath the surface lies the union of two people of the same color. Furthermore, as the sequence soon proves, the obstacle facing the young couple is not just that the white man refrains from marrying a black woman. In fact, while Murtaugh was the one who expressed his disapproval of the marriage earlier in the episode, he is now seen, as perceived by his daughter, standing next to the pure white statue of a young woman, indicating that he has turned up despite his disapproval of the interracial marriage. Nevertheless, Riggs suddenly stops the wedding, claiming he needs the approval of the bride’s father. Later on, he convinces Murtaugh that he is worthy of his daughter’s hand, thus reversing the usual pattern, in which the black suitor has to prove his worth to a white father. In this sequence, blackface clearly helps promote both gender and racial tolerance.

  • 31 Daileader defines the concept as follows: “The critical and cultural fixation on Shakesp (...)
  • 32 Ibidem, 31. Daileader also claims that “masculinist racist hegemony used myths about bla (...)

18The pattern resurfacing here recalls the one conveyed by the reference to Othello: patriarchal control over women, which also prevents one from marrying outside one’s race. The initial presentation of Othello as a forerunner of blackface thus displaces the focus from racial to father/daughter relationships. As Celia Daileader, the author of Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth: Inter-racial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee, has shown with her notion of Othellophilia,31 “the historical popularity of Othello on American stages – even despite squeamishness about inter-racial marriage – makes perfect sense. Whatever might have been Shakespeare’s point in telling the story, it has served well as a cautionary tale for white women who might besmirch either their own (sexual) ‘purity’ or that of their race.”32

  • 33 Daileader, Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth, 6.
  • 34 Sarah Munson Deats, “‘Truly, an Obedient Lady’: Desdemona, Emilia, and the Doctrine of O (...)

19What happens in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia confirms this view, as the reference to Othello enhances the notion that miscegenation has superseded racial difference as the main target of prejudice. What makes the concept even more relevant in connection with the Othello reference is that Daileader “originally coined the term to address a very specific problem in contemporary classical theater: the habit of casting black actors in ‘color-blind’ roles that uncannily recalled the role of Othello.”33 This is what happens when Lazarus sleeps with the blond girl in the scene described above, although a Native American is now put in a position reminiscent of Othello’s. This emphasizes a shift from one ethnic group to another, while showing that other prejudicial patterns live on thanks to the transferal. Lazarus’s strategy of seduction is far worse than the Moor’s: where Othello seduced Desdemona with his narrative talent, by turning his exoticism into a virtue, Chief Lazarus counts on money as an incentive. These differences undoubtedly highlight the persistence of a specific pattern involving a white woman and her lover of different ethnic origins. Even if, as demonstrated by Shakespeare scholars, Othello was an excuse for white men to ensure control over their daughters by preventing them from marrying a black man,34 the series elicits that the ethnicity of the scapegoat is now to be interpreted in a different light, as Native Americans have replaced black men to represent alleged danger to the established order. The sweded movies thus underline how racial issues are diverted from their original meaning and given a veneer of tolerance to preserve other types of power patterns.

Bimboface: cowboy culture and women stereotypes

  • 35 As the subtitle to her book indicates, the Othello myth has served misogyny as well as r (...)
  • 36 Leslie A. Fiedler, The Return of the Vanishing American, London: Paladin, 1972 (...)

20Another feature in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia corroborates Celia Daileader’s reading of racial issues in relation to the Othello legacy. Again, according to Daileader, the most enduring stereotypes found in Shakespeare’s play concern the sexuality of women, whether black or white, rather than black masculinity.35 By turning the female characters in action films into bimbos (such as Lazarus’s blonde companion and, as mentioned below, the dancers in a strip club), the Gang’s home-made movies prove that today’s most discriminatory stereotypes concern women, whatever their skin color. As many Western movie specialists have shown, the film genre precludes the possibility of unions between cowboys and Indian women to resolve tension.36 Similarly, the series shows that except for the variation from race to gender through genre, nothing changes. Black Murtaugh wants to protect his daughter from the mixed union with the white Riggs, who accepts his partner’s paternal control. To prove their faith in the patriarchal model, they fight an Indian who now substitutes for the black man in the role of the hypersexualized lover perverting young blond ladies. The ancient domination of whites over blacks may be erased in surface, the control of men over women is preserved. And so are the appearances of racial tolerance, after Riggs ends up marrying, albeit reluctantly, Murtaugh’s black daughter.

Gayface: cowboy culture and homosexual stereotypes

21In the same episode, another type of gender-related stereotyping is targeted. While the characters try to finance their work, another potential funder they visit is an Asian-American woman. She explains that, as a woman, she has not seen the Lethal Weapon series. The Asian-American woman thus suggests that, while they may be right to treat blackface as a non-issue, the characters should display political correctness either at other minorities, or just at women. Considering the spoof is too “male-oriented,” the members of the gang decide to include a scene that is supposed to pander to the tastes of women viewers. Hoping to draw female audiences, they recruit two muscular extras. In the homemade film, the extras are featured in a bare torso volleyball game between Riggs and Murtaugh on one side of the net, two muscular actors as white cops on the other, to further emphasize how racially progressive the former pair is.

  • 37 Christian Lassen, Camp Comforts Reparative Gay Literature in Times of AIDS, Bielefeld, G (...)
  • 38 Virginia Wright Wexman, Creating the Couple: Love, Marriage, and Hollywood Per (...)

22Watching this all-male addition later on during the episode, another potential funder describes the scene as “gay porno.” Although this constitutes yet another cliché, the patron does not disapprove, presumably because the scene depicts interracial homosexuality. The show thus implies that advertised racial tolerance allegedly counterbalances sexual stereotyping. The skit also clarifies the kinship of the action movie with the Western by suggesting that, like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday37 the partner cops figure as homosexuals. This ultimate transformation of blackface minstrelsy implies that, for the characters, revealing the gay subtext of Westerns is less appropriate than blacking up or dressing up as an Indian chief. In fact, it shows that although several films, such as Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), have made it quite clear that the legendary male-to-male friendship of cowboys carried homoerotic undertones,38 they have not entrenched the view that cowboys may be “un-outed” homosexuals. Evidence of this homophobic trend lies in the characters’ reaction to the “gay porno” label. To amend their film plot, the directors/actors include a scene at a strip club. In the resulting sequence, offensive representations of enslaved female bodies supposedly negate the possibility of a homoerotic reading. Above all, this plot development seems to confirm the characters’ propensity to indulge in stereotypes of young white adult virility.

23By suggesting that dimwitted 30-year-olds may still thrive on racist, male chauvinistic or homophobic clichés, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia points to the type of discrimination operated by a specific category of Americans. In this view, the leading white characters are the butts of criticism as much as of racial stereotyping – a criticism that is mitigated, nevertheless, by the kind of naïve stupidity that may explain their misunderstanding of intolerable stereotypes.

From blackface to “white trash”

  • 39 Andrea E. Morris, Afro-Cuban Identity in Post-Revolutionary Novel and Film: In (...)
  • 40 E. Patrick Johnson, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of A (...)

24It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia seeks to understand why racial performances are so often misunderstood. Part of the answer is that they encourage simplistic readings: as Andrea E. Morris explains, “the postulation of racial identity as performance makes it difficult to critique undeniably damaging racialized representations, as in the case of the blackface performance.”39 The title to s06e09, “Dee Reynolds, shaping America’s youth,” places focus on the capacity of the media to brainwash young people with racial or other views. In keeping with this guideline, it shows the students displaying no critical thinking where stereotypes are concerned. This turns them into easy preys to the media-conveyed stereotypes surrounding them as their teacher fails to call “the authenticity of older versions of blackness […] into question,” an essential step in the constitution and comprehension of black culture according to E. Patrick Johnson.40

Shaping young minds: the impact of media-conveyed stereotypes

  • 41 Colin Larkin, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, London: Muze, 1998, 263.
  • 42 Nathan Rabin, You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My M (...)

25The series points to a new component in this common pattern of influence. In the first episode studied here, it is suggested that blackface may have given birth to contemporary white avatars. A subplot present in the opening and closing sequences involves a student nicknamed “fatty Richard” who desperately needs to belong to a group. At first, his classmates bully him for posing as a Juggalo – the name originally given to fans of the Insane Clown Posse, a rap/metal fusion band.41 The Posse invented the Juggalo as a way of claiming they were poor yet proud. Considered as a gang by the authorities, Juggalos were discriminated against for constituting threats of rebellion. In the sequence, “Fatty Richard,” like all Juggalos, whitens up his face to abide by ideals of social trouble.42 As a kid in “whiteface,” he becomes a reminder that segregation against white trash does exist. Putting on a white mask may thus be a way of protesting against social intolerance concerning the poor. Since the term “white” has most often been used by contrast with minorities, to refer to the dominant side of the black-white binary for instance, it has for long remained odd to apply it to a racial category – especially one in a position to have to fight for its rights. As white stereotyping, whiteface proves this is no longer the case.

26Nevertheless, Richard returns at the end of the episode. Now, he has blacked up his face after watching Lethal Weapon 5. He has not chosen to paint his face red, which proves the movie he saw influenced his act, because its content glamorized black people to vilify Indians. As far as stereotypes are concerned, Richard has gone back in time in his endorsements by substituting simplistic idolatry for the multi-layered criticism of the Juggalo. In retrospect, he had presumably put on a whiteface mask without being aware of the claims made by Juggalos. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia thus points to a new phenomenon, in which blackface performance becomes void of meaning before re-surfacing under a new shape, now fraught with new racist undertones.

From the Western tradition to Aryan cowboys

  • 43 Andrew B. Leiter, “Introduction,” op. cit., 3.

27The young adult members of the gang are presented as WASPs. Because of their over-the-top stupidity, they read as avatars of yet another Southern stereotype. Indeed, the male lead characters embody a redneck caricature recurrently featured in American culture.43 Like the Juggalo, this stereotype is a possible whiteface companion to the blackface tradition. In It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the Southern hillbilly thus travels West with the protagonists as they shoot Lethal Weapon 5 and 6. Along the way, the characters exhibit enduring discriminatory attitudes. Their prejudice can be ascribed to their senselessness, as well as to clichés typical of the Western genre: the mean Indian, the fear of mixed unions, the domination of men over women, homoerotic tension and dreams of heroism. These generic stereotypes collide with current types of discrimination to highlight how new forms of intolerance are replacing older ones, and how they are culturally transmitted.

  • 44 Evelyn A. Schlatter, Aryan Cowboys: White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier (...)
  • 45 Ibidem, 3.
  • 46 Ibid., 2.
  • 47 Ibid., 14.
  • 48 James A. Crank, “An Aesthetic of Play: A Contemporary Cinema of South-Sploitation,” in (...)

28A similar logic operates when the series applies and reinvents the redneck stereotype. As a traditional movie cliché, it reemerges here to target a category of Americans who take inspiration from the legendary West of the movies. People in this category endorse codes borrowed from the Western to promote the very segregation accepted by the characters in the series. In her 2006 book, Aryan Cowboys: White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier, 1970-2000, Evelyn Schlatter describes this group as “Aryan cowboys” who, according to the book’s back cover description, correspond to “the new white supremacist groups in the West [who] have co-opted the region’s mythology and environment based on longstanding beliefs about American character and Manifest Destiny to shape an organic, home-grown movement.”44 Like the virile-sounding “Gang,” “the white supremacist movement in the United States is thus all about manhood. More specifically, white manhood and what it means to be a white man in America, whether historically, in the present, or the future.”45 Its ideology targets homosexuals46 as well as Native Americans.47 White supremacists even advocate creating a white reservation in the North-West of America, considering themselves worthy of the same affirmative action policies enjoyed by Natives. Like the idiotic characters in the series, they support their views on visions of the South that have over the years turned into cultural idioms.48 By parodying those excesses, the series implicitly disparages the hyper-segregationist ideology of white supremacists.

Niche programming and new media: from cultural to actual segregation

29The show ascribes this propagation and transformation of the blackface tradition to three interrelated aspects of current visual culture. The first one is the post-modern taste for parody and allusion. It entails that blackface can no longer be used without a preliminary reflection on its origins and previous instances, due to its longstanding presence in American culture. This is what the characters’ behavior elicits when they put blackface in perspective, resulting in a cautious approach to the tradition. Even though their films classify as grotesque parodies, they pay tribute to the multiple layers of blackface. They remind us that through its history, blackface has also been used as a satirical weapon, especially in the context of class struggles.

30On the other hand, the referential trend in contemporary media seems to have become an excuse for reviving clichés from the Western genre glamorized by time, as in the case of the Indian villain. Such a cliché as Chief Lazarus is, however, offensive enough for us to realize that, despite the legitimizing power of cultural precedents, it might not have passed muster if the characters in the series had stuck to the traditional channels of the action movie industry. For, as we know, on the Internet, videos containing derogatory representations of Native Indians sometimes flourish unhindered. This is why the characters vainly try to finance their films throughout s06e09. Through this plot development, the sitcom underlines that films lacking sufficient funding end up on YouTube. This remark highlights the crucial impact of the contemporary visual culture on the evolution of blackface performances. Indeed, today, media products reach millions of viewers without going through critical gates, dragging the blackface back to discriminatory or racist uses of the tradition.

31The third factor is related to the “cultural salad bowl” derived from the current possibilities of homemade movies. As underlined by the characters’ visits to potential funders, the kind of spoof they want to shoot will only be financed as long as it comes with guaranteed profit. In turn, the producers accept to invest in the movie only if it displays political correctness with regard to its targeted audience. It thus becomes obvious that introducing blackface is not likely to put off spectators, as even a black funder takes no offence at the practice. This is later confirmed by the classroom reception-test. In both cases, however, the reliability of the reception is impaired by the homogeneity of the spoof’s targeted spectators. In fact, the students in Dee’s class are mostly white, which may explain why they do not seem to find the blackface performance offensive. This is, of course, a fairly simplistic reading of film reception, as skin color is not a prerequisite to identify and criticize a racist subtext.

32Yet, as the series shows, “fatty Richard” dons blackface due to the influence of the funny video. Indeed, Lethal Weapon 5 and 6 fit within the category of collegiate humor. Such humor is likely to please the high school students, all the more so as it is often created by white kids for white kids. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia offers an ambiguous take on that type of humor. Collegiate jokes mark the episodes under focus here, and in many others in the series’ ten seasons (so far), prompt new stereotypes. The main characters’ behavior proves that they have not grown out of their teenage pranks to enter the world of adults.

33But at the same time, the show’s ironical tone may be an alibi to indulge in the very same pranks to reach spectators sharing similar tastes as members of The Gang. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia may be viewed as a show designed by white people for white people –one which may also be watched by spectators from other ethnic groups, provided their dislike of stereotyping is surpassed by collegiate jokes. The sitcom exploits YouTube humor to keep and extend its fan base, as youths spend less and less time watching TV, and more and more internet videos. This aesthetic double-blind has at least one positive consequence: it triggers cultural reflexivity. In other words, the specular dimension of the series helps interrogate a significant tendency by exposing how disturbing its approach to racial concerns actually is. This trend is the growing importance of ethnic programming on television, a byproduct of the increasing number of TV channels and other audiovisual media, such as YouTube. In a sense, the series suggests that introducing Native stereotypes into shows designed for white audiences is acceptable, and their reception of the Western seldom goes far beyond its Manichaean approach of good and bad, white and red. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia thus criticizes the contemporary strategy consisting in fashioning shows according to the supposed likes and dislikes of specific niche audiences. In addition, bearing in mind that the episodes analyzed in this essay were first broadcast in 2010 and 2013 respectively, their readings of racial cultural targeting sound strangely topical. The last two years have, indeed, witnessed the rise of ethnic programs (or their reappearance if one considers precedents such as Roots [ABC, 1977], The Cosby Show [NBC, 1984-92], The Jeffersons [CBS, 1975-85], or What’s Happening [ABC, 1976-79]). The targeted audiences are the main American minorities: Latinos (Cristela [ABC, 2014-15], Jane the Virgin [CW, 2014-], etc. …), Blacks (Black-ish [ABC, 2014-], Empire [Fox, 2015-], How to Get Away with Murder [ABC, 2014-], etc…), but also Asian-Americans (Fresh Off the Boat [ABC, 2015-]).

Conclusion: The critical role of cross-fertilizing Southern/Western clichés

  • 49 The movement backwards is well illustrated in the white supremacist’s view that white-only (...)

34The most striking feature of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the way it links niche programming with the rise of the segregationist ideology of “Aryan cowboys.” In doing so, it reduces the impact of stereotypes inherited from the Western genre. Culturally entrenched, the stereotypes are legitimized when they reappear on the small screen, in programs designed for audiences unlikely to find them offensive. It is thus possible to argue that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia thus reveals a movement backwards in time. The Western, usually considered as a white man’s genre, helps promote the notion according to which the West should be re-appropriated by white people. Although it used to be restricted to specific Southern locations, the blackface tradition may, indeed, have turned universal as it became cultural. During the process, however, it may have become a lever for “Aryan cowboys” to promote geographical segregation.49 In the series, therefore, minstrelsy emigrates to take on a different shape and to acquire a new role of social criticism. Where the original blackface used to target class differences by declaring black and white as equals in poverty, its current version proves that many social battles are now being fought in the field of visual culture, which may condition ideological or social progress. Within this more global context, the geographical landmarks of the Southern-born blackface and the Western-born Indian villain no longer seem to apply, as representations now travel worldwide in a flash. To conclude, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia brings to the fore the current state of aesthetic dis-location which may end up helping segregationist groups to recycle clichés in such a way as to endow their views with material consequences, in particular by using the Internet users’ loose attention to prejudicial representations. In any case, contemporary variations on the blackface pattern prove essential in the war of images that looks, more and more like a fight over on-screen representations.

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Bibliographie

BAILEY Garrick Alan, Handbook of North American Indians, Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2008.

BOGLE Donald, Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

CRANK James A., “An Aesthetic of Play: A Contemporary Cinema of South-Sploitation,” in Andrew B. Leiter (ed.), Southerners on Film: Essays on Hollywood Portrayals since the 1970s, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011, 204–216.

DAILEADER Celia R., Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth: Inter-Racial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

DEATS Sarah Munson, “‘Truly, an Obedient Lady’: Desdemona, Emilia, and the Doctrine of Obedience in Othello,” in Philip C. Kolin (ed.), Othello: New Critical Essays, London; New York: Routledge, 2013, 233–254.

DICKSON James G., The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management, Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1992.

ESTEVES Olivier, & Sébastien Lefait, La Question raciale dans les séries américaines, Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2014.

FAIN Kimberly, Black Hollywood: From Butlers to Superheroes, the Changing Role of African American Men in the Movies, Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2015.

FESSENDEN Tracy, “Race,” in Philip Goff & Paul Harvey (eds.), Themes in Religion and American Culture, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004, 129–161.

FIEDLER Leslie A., The Return of the Vanishing American, London: Paladin, 1972.

HOLLAND Peter, “Rethinking Blackness: The Case of Olivier’s Othello,” in Sarah Hatchuel & Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin (eds.), Shakespeare on Screen: Othello, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 43–58.

JOHNSON E. Patrick, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity., Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

KENDRICK James, Hollywood Bloodshed Violence in 1980s American Cinema, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

KING C. Richard, Native Americans in Sports, Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe Reference, 2004.

KING Neil, Heroes in Hard Times: Cop Action Movies in the U.S, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2010.

LARKIN Colin, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, London: Muze, 1998.

LASSEN Christian, Camp Comforts Reparative Gay Literature in Times of AIDS, Bielefeld, Ger: Transcript Verlag, 2011.

LEITER Andrew B., “Introduction,” in Andrew B. Leiter (ed.), Southerners on Film: Essays on Hollywood Portrayals since the 1970s, Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2011, 1–13.

LHAMON William T., Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop, Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2000.

LOTT Eric, Love and Theft Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

LUKE Timothy W., Shows of Force: Power, Politics, and Ideology in Art Exhibitions, Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.

MACHAT Sybille, “‘Prince Arthur Spotted Exiting Buckingham Palace!’: The Re-Imagined Worlds of Fanfic Trailers,” in Kathleen Loock & Constantine Verevis (eds.), Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel, New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, 197–214.

MORRIS Andrea E., Afro-Cuban Identity in Post-Revolutionary Novel and Film: Inclusion, Loss, and Cultural Resistance, Lanham, Md.: Bucknell University Press: Co-published with the Rowman & Littlefield Pub. Group, 2012.

NEILL Michael, “Introduction,” in Michael Neill (ed.), William Shakespeare, Othello, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006, 1–179.

PALMER William J., The Films of the Nineties: The Decade of Spin, New York; Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

RABIN Nathan, You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes, New York: Scribner, 2014.

SCHLATTER Evelyn A., Aryan Cowboys: White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier, 1970-2000, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

SHOHAT Ella and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media, London; New York: Routledge, 1994.

SOKOLOW Gary A., Native Americans and the Law: A Dictionary, Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO Interactive, 2000.

VERA Hernán, and Andrew M. Gordon, Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness, Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

WEXMAN Virginia Wright, Creating the Couple: Love, Marriage, and Hollywood Performance, Princeton, N.J.; Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1993.

WILLIS Corin, “Meaning and Value in The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927),” in John Gibbs & Douglas Pye (eds.), Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005, 127–140.

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Notes

1 William T. Lhamon, Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000, 5.

2 Ibidem, 6.

3 Ibid., 6. Shohat and Stam even consider that “minstrel shows evolved largely in the north and were performed without familiarity with southern culture.” Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media, London; New York: Routledge, 1994, 224.

4 Eric Lott, Love and Theft Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, 39.

5 Lhamon, Raising Cain, 6.

6 Ibidem, 6.

7 Shohat and Stam, op. cit., 226.

8 When a film or TV show resorts to the tradition in a context different from the original Southern show, the transposability of blackface performances is very often highlighted in one way or another. For instance, in the pilot episode of British TV series Life’s Too Short, the spectators are introduced to the small-sized lead character, Warwick Davies, who works as an impresario for the size-challenged. When he receives a male-female duet who perform an “ebony and ivory” act before asking for his opinion, Warwick disapproves, because the woman has “blacked up” for the occasion. Performing in blackface adds an ultimate disadvantage to a female performer who is already a midget and a lesbian. To express his disapproval in as diplomatic a way as possible, Warwick suggests: “Maybe in the North?” He thus reminds the performers, as well as the spectators of the show, of the geographical dis-location inherent to blackface minstrelsy.

9 As Andrew B. Leiter notes, this media migration has paralleled the evolution of the meaning of minstrelsy, especially over the last three decades. Andrew B. Leiter, “Introduction,” Southerners on Film: Essays on Hollywood Portrayals since the 1970s, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011, 6.

10 “The invitation to ‘Go West’ in American culture always has rested upon utopian images of what ‘going West’ will disclose or deliver to those who still remain ‘back East’ but are contemplating the big move.” Timothy W. Luke, Shows of Force: Power, Politics, and Ideology in Art Exhibitions, Durham: Duke University Press, 1999, 17–18. Keeping this in mind, the inability for blackface to go West strikes as being in contradiction with its progressive cultural trajectory.

11 I am here merely extending a list found on TV tropes (<http://tvtropes.org/>), a website that references TV clichés. Besides “blackface,” the list includes the less obvious “brownface” and “yellowface.”

12 James Kendrick, Hollywood Bloodshed Violence in 1980s American Cinema, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009, 97.

13 Although set in Philadelphia, Lethal Weapon 5 and 6, like the previous installments, take place in Los Angeles. This is obviously the best location for action movies so evidently inspired from the Western tradition.

14 Further information on the episodes, including plot summaries, is available at <http://itsalwayssunny.wikia.com/wiki/Dee_Reynolds:_Shaping_America%27s_Youth> and at <http://itsalwayssunny.wikia.com/wiki/The_Gang_Makes_Lethal_Weapon_6>.

15 Although Richard Donner directed the films, it was producer Joel Silver who came up with the idea of an interracial “buddy movie.”

16 Donald Bogle, Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 28.

17 Peter Holland, “Rethinking Blackness: The Case of Olivier’s Othello,” in Sarah Hatchuel and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin (eds.), Shakespeare on Screen: Othello, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 55.

18 Michael Neill, “Introduction,” in Michael Neill (ed.), Othello, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006, 50–71.

19 Similarly, as Olivier Esteves and I have shown in our analysis of the famous blackface sequence in Mad Men s03e03, the practice was not a problem for the all-white group of advertisers it was directed at, although it may have been a problem for someone like Don Draper, whose whorehouse upbringing and former hipster lifestyle led him to understand the ways of (racial) stereotyping (Olivier Esteves and Sébastien Lefait, La Question raciale dans les séries américaines, Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2014, 161–182). Similarly, the mere easiness of the characters in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to conclude that performing in blackface is correct behavior reads as a critical hint at their homogenous whiteness, thus accounting for their lack of empathy.

20 Corin Willis, “Meaning and Value in The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927),” in John Gibbs and Douglas Pye (eds.), Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005, 130.

21 Kimberly Fain provides an interesting historical perspective on how black villains became politically incorrect in relation to blackface. Kimberly Fain, Black Hollywood: From Butlers to Superheroes, the Changing Role of African American Men in the Movies, Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2015, 13.

22 Sybille Machat, “‘Prince Arthur Spotted Exiting Buckingham Palace!’: The Re-Imagined Worlds of Fanfic Trailers,” in Kathleen Loock and Constantine Verevis (eds.), Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel, New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, 111.

23 Although many critics disagree (see Hernán Vera and Andrew M. Gordon, Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness, Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, 171), this remains a culturally widespread reading of the genre (see William J. Palmer, The Films of the Nineties: The Decade of Spin, New York; Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 212–212).

24 All the more so as in Lethal Weapon, as in other films of the same type, the black cop is often the one who teaches the white cop how to behave in accordance with traditional white values. See for instance Neil King, Heroes in Hard Times: Cop Action Movies in the U.S, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2010, 93.

25 Garrick Alan Bailey, Handbook of North American Indians, Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2008, 383.

26 C. Richard King, Native Americans in Sports, Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe Reference, 2004, 212.

27 Gary A. Sokolow, Native Americans and the Law: A Dictionary, Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO Interactive, 2000, 98.

28 Tracy Fessenden, ‘Race’, in Philip Goff and Paul Harvey (eds.), Themes in Religion and American Culture, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004, 150–151.

29 The fact that Frank, who performs as Lazarus here, should be played by Danny DeVito strengthens this amalgamation, the Italian-American actor having performed as Mafia member Harry Valentini in Brian De Palma’s Wise Guys (1986).

30 James G. Dickson, The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management, Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1992, 8.

31 Daileader defines the concept as follows: “The critical and cultural fixation on Shakespeare’s tragedy of inter-racial marriage to the exclusion of broader definitions, and more positive visions, of inter-racial eroticism.” Celia R. Daileader, Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth: Inter-Racial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 6.

32 Ibidem, 31. Daileader also claims that “masculinist racist hegemony used myths about black male sexual rapacity and the danger of racial ‘pollution’ at least partly to exorcise its own collective psychological daemons: the slave-master’s sexual guilt, and his fear of the products – filial and social – of the inter-racial trysts so powerfully portrayed in slave autobiographies.” Ibid., 8.

33 Daileader, Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth, 6.

34 Sarah Munson Deats, “‘Truly, an Obedient Lady’: Desdemona, Emilia, and the Doctrine of Obedience in Othello,” in Philip C. Kolin (ed.), Othello: New Critical Essays, London: New York: Routledge, n.d., 245.

35 As the subtitle to her book indicates, the Othello myth has served misogyny as well as racism.

36 Leslie A. Fiedler, The Return of the Vanishing American, London: Paladin, 1972, 22.

37 Christian Lassen, Camp Comforts Reparative Gay Literature in Times of AIDS, Bielefeld, Ger: Transcript Verlag, 2011, 197.

38 Virginia Wright Wexman, Creating the Couple: Love, Marriage, and Hollywood Performance, Princeton, N.J.; Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1993, 170.

39 Andrea E. Morris, Afro-Cuban Identity in Post-Revolutionary Novel and Film: Inclusion, Loss, and Cultural Resistance, Lanham, Md.: Bucknell University Press : Co-published with the Rowman & Littlefield Pub. Group, 2012, 58.

40 E. Patrick Johnson, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity., Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009, 42.

41 Colin Larkin, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, London: Muze, 1998, 263.

42 Nathan Rabin, You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes, New York: Scribner, 2014, 210–11.

43 Andrew B. Leiter, “Introduction,” op. cit., 3.

44 Evelyn A. Schlatter, Aryan Cowboys: White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier, 1970-2000, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

45 Ibidem, 3.

46 Ibid., 2.

47 Ibid., 14.

48 James A. Crank, “An Aesthetic of Play: A Contemporary Cinema of South-Sploitation,” in Andrew B. Leiter (ed.), Southerners on Film: Essays on Hollywood Portrayals since the 1970s, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011, 205.

49 The movement backwards is well illustrated in the white supremacist’s view that white-only reservations should be created in some Western states. Using the term cleverly suggests that the West should be conquered again, but without totally getting rid of the progressive notion that certain ethnic groups are entitled to claims over certain territories.

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Sébastien Lefait, « “I think it was in poor taste that you were doing Murtaugh in whiteface” – Blackface goes West (and White) in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005-) », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XVI-n°1 | 2018, mis en ligne le 11 juillet 2018, consulté le 18 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/9491 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.9491

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Auteur

Sébastien Lefait

Sébastien Lefait est professeur d’études américaines et médiatiques à l’université Paris 8. Ses publications portent sur le cinéma, sur le théâtre de Shakespeare, et sur les nouvelles formes de l’adaptation cinématographique. Il s’intéresse également aux relations complexes entre la surveillance et les productions audiovisuelles, ainsi qu’à la dimension réflexive des séries télévisées. Il a notamment publié In Praise of Cinematic Bastardy (2012 ; co-dirigé avec Philippe Ortoli), Surveillance on Screen: Monitoring Contemporary Films and Television Programs (2013), et La question raciale dans les séries américaines (2014; coécrit avec Olivier Esteves). Sa recherche actuelle porte sur les modalités d’insertion de la surveillance dans les productions audiovisuelles, sur la culture de la téléréalité aux Etats-Unis, et sur le traitement de la question raciale dans quelques séries télévisées récentes.

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