Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism

I began reading Jonathan Walton's new book, Watch This!, on the night before last. His prose is amazing--both academic and readable. It's a must read, I want to share a bit of it, and will write more later. The introduction concluded with an application of Roland Barthe to the author's subject matter.

Before doing so, I will share why I found this passage interesting. Walton's thesis struck me because I have been thinking about a recent conversation with someone with a lot of influence about new visions for our society. My conversation partner deployed an argument that implied our current society, with all its beauty and blemishes, is simply the natural product of time and human activity.

Moreover, they seemed unable to imagine further evolution. In my mind, this kind of thinking creates the context for an unconscious apathy that leads to half-hearted approaches to adressing social (in)justice. Anyway,after reading the following excerpt in Watch This!, I went to slept with a new insight into how we tend to believe that culture is static. Walton writes:

… Roland Barthes has argued that when cultural myths become naturalized over time and become that which is taken for granted, they serve a legitimating role. Whatever systems of relations are in place are deemed natural and legitimate—what has always been will always be. Appeals to cultural myths of American success, black victomology, and the Strong Black Man legitimize conservative and anecdotal based views of wealth distributions, racial discrimination, and gender hierarchy that contradict the liberating intent of televangelists. They (cultural myths) may also serve to anesthetize participants [in institutions advocating social change] to the unjust ordering of the larger society even as persons seek to revolutionize their own world. So while the ritual of self-affirmation may inspire hope and optimism about achieving the ends of individual liberation, the competing ritual of social accommodation can frustrate the televangelist's professed aims by encouraging viewers to appeal, adjust, and adapt to ideological conceptions of an unjust society. (Walton, 2009).