Ethnic Tropes in Media (A Series I’m working on)

In my current research I am exploring colonial ethnic tropes in current media, particularly expanding on narrative tropes into the realm of diegetic and especially non-diegetic music in audiovisual media. This is inspiring me to do a serial-style explanation/breakdown of these tropes. There are so many examples of essentialized culture tropes in scores and screen music that perpetuate the post-Enlightenment reductive, colonial lens. So I think this is worth exploring as a way to encourage deeper thought into structuring multimedia narratives.

One of the metaphors that struck me recently is the way that cultural performance is imagined not just in various narratives, but also in the outward physical space of places like EPCOT. Disney’s EPCOT is a running macrocosm of colonial tropes that reinforces the “worth” of cultural performance by reducing traditions into a lucrative opportunity. Further evidence is seen in the physical and logistic structure of EPCOT, which is a nearly identical reproduction of large-scale “world’s fair” events that operate almost as a colonial victory celebration. EPCOT serves as a metaphor for ethnic tropes in media because the only value and/or visibility of certain characters in media narratives stems from their presumed “otherness” against a normalized colonial backdrop.

I’m also interested in the way these reductive frames play into the broader global imagination of cultural heritage. There’s a noticeable correlation between the structure of a media narrative and the structure of a place like EPCOT, but also between these frames and the presumed cultural “value” of heritage as articulated by colonial cultural displacement. In other words, the localization of cultural heritage among the current United Nations cultural organization seems to follow similar presumptions regarding cultural “value,” which I think hinders equity, weakens the actual mandate of these international organizations, and does nothing to challenge colonial assumptions about where power and knowledge exist. That these assumptions are deeply binary is another thread worth exploring too.

By Ruadhán

Ethnomediologist, writer, digital creator, & gamer. Author & developer of Augur's Lore TTRPGs. Polyhedral dice & pizza enthusiast. Pronouns: they/them/their

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