Has the United States moved beyond racism? Or is its popular culture keeping centuries-old racist stereotypes alive?

Butler faculty members Kristin Hoerl and Casey Kelly explore those issues in separate articles published in leading academic journals in April.

Hoerl and Kelly are both assistant professors in the Media, Rhetoric, and Culture program of the Butler College of Communication.

The Quarterly Journal of Speechprinted Hoerl’s article “Selective Amnesia and Racial Transcendence in News Coverage of President Obama’s Inauguration,” which describes how mainstream press frequently characterized the election of President Barack Obama, the first African American U.S. President, as the realization of Martin Luther King’s dream.

The coverage suggested that the nation has transcended – or, at least, wishes to forget – its past and present racial divisions, Hoerl said. “I argue that this routine characterization of Obama’s election functions as a site for the production of selective amnesia, a form of remembrance that routinely negates and silences those who would contest hegemonic narratives of national progress and unity.”

Kelly’s article “Neocolonialism and the Global Prison in National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad” was published in Critical Studies in Media Communication.

The essay examines how National Geographic Channel’s Locked Up Abroad, a documentary program that chronicles the narratives of Westerner travelers incarcerated in foreign nations, builds drama based on racial stereotypes similar to those that justified early U.S. ambitions to colonize other countries.

Locked Up Abroad’sdocumentary techniques and framing devises present non-Western societies from a “neocolonial” point of view, Kelly said, playing up “the historic association between dark-skin and savagery, the backwardness of the non-Western world, and the Western imperative to civilize it.”

“I advocate for neocolonial criticism to trace how NatGeo remains haunted by its own history in support of America’s civilizing mission,” Kelly said.

Media contact: Mary Ellen Stephenson
(317) 940-6944

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