In response to my post about WetPaint videos, Jim Brown suggested that the casting of a black woman as the savvy tech person is consistent with Martin Kevorkian’s observations in Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America. I just picked it up from my library today and couldn’t put it down. It is smart, pointed, witty when it needs to be, and extremely readable:
My research has uncovered a peculiar pattern: race comes into sharp relief when computer use is depicted as difficult labor requiring special expertise. Time and again, in such scenarios, the helpful person of color is there to take the call—to provide technical support, to deal with machines. In interpreting such images, Color Monitors analyzes the computer-fearing strain in American whiteness, as aspect of white identity that defines itself against information technology and the racial other imagined to love it and excel atit. The computer expert most disproportionately projected by this cyberphobic whiteness is the black male. I argue that fears about the dehumanizing, disembodying effects of information technology and fears of the black male body work as mutually reinforcing impulses behind popular depictions of black males as computer experts. (p. 2)
I have only gotten through the Prologue and a bit of Chapter 1 (which begins with a discussion of the brilliant moment when Oliver Wendell Jones—of Berkeley Breathed’s Outland—has had a color monitor surgically implanted into his face) and in that short space, Kevorkian makes observations of the black tech expert in Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Office Space, The Matrix, Mission: Impossible, and Minority Report—and also exposes movie reviewers’ penchant to question the casting of the white male actor stud in the role of a tech expert, but say nothing of equally studly black men in such roles. It looks to be a fascinating read.
Jim’s commen suggests that the casting is not unique to the black male. This panel from the comic strip Retail—posted in their blog by one of my students—follows along the same lines: