White

Richard Dyer, Author
Richard Dyer, Author Routledge $140 (284p) ISBN 978-0-415-09536-5
Reviewed on: 10/27/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Paperback - 284 pages - 978-0-415-09537-2
Open Ebook - 284 pages - 978-1-136-14532-2
Open Ebook - 284 pages - 978-1-136-14524-7
Open Ebook - 285 pages - 978-1-306-04923-8
Ebook - 284 pages - 978-1-136-14540-7
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In this inevitable study of whiteness as metaphor, University of Warwick film professor Dyer (Now You See It) takes an idea from Moby Dick, applies it to visual media (photography, film, television, advertising) and expands it into six essays. Proceeding from the view that white people ""remain a large unexamined category in sharp contrast to the many studies of images of black and Asian peoples,"" Dyer looks at how Western--primarily American--culture grants privilege to whites through positive associations, such as blessedness, purity and heroism. After a tedious confessional in which the author identifies himself as a privileged, white, British ""queer"" with a sensitivity to other oppressed people, Dyer uses case studies from Tarzan to The Jewel in the Crown to bleached-out depictions of Christ in order to reach many predictable conclusions: ""being visible as white is a passport to privilege"" or ""white is no colour because it is all colours."" A chapter on the development of ""photography and film [as] media of light"" around the white face as subject, however, is both original and compelling. This study of ""whiteness qua whiteness"" may be the first of its kind at book length, but there are too many theoretical variables operating at once (historical, Christian, ""queer,"" post-colonialist, pop cultural) for whiteness to mean anything but whatever you want it to. This may be the point--that whiteness is powerful because it can mean so many different things--but that still makes for difficult subject matter, which here is handled with only partial success. (Sept.)
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