Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Racial Branding

The emphasis on race and more specifically, the distinction of “white” from the cultural and physical “other,” appears not only in Sultan of Babylon and King of Tars but also in popular culture of today, such as the box office hit Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which although mostly fantastical has some elements of medieval culture in it, and the cult television series Game of Thrones.

In the Sultan of Babylon as well as in King of Tars, the “white” and Christian characters are clearly separated from the idol worshiping, pagan others by both religious affiliation and the depiction of both the Sultan and the King of Tars as weak until they are either converted or killed. For both male rulers are manipulated or usurped by women, whether it be their wives or children, and made to become more similar to the “white” religious crusaders.

In the Lord of the Rings, the good and noble characters that are on the right side of the battle for control of and freedom for Middle Earth can all be classified as white, from the elves to the Hobbits to Gandalf “the White” to the various human characters. Throughout the duration of the trilogy, the white characters are fighting against the unjust, evil and rebellious forces controlled by Sauron (who isn’t even human, but simply represented by a giant eye) and are made up of a variety of mostly monstrous forms, the troll-like Orcs, the dragon-esque Smaug, the deformed creature of Smeagul and the Balrogs. While these races are undoubtedly evil, it is their physical difference from the “white” characters that is most striking. Similarly, in In Game of Thrones, all of the powerful characters, from Daerneys to the Lannisters to the Stark family, are primarily white and there is little to none African or Asian representation.  It is only wild, savage, rather uncivilized Dothraki, reminiscent of the conquering Mongols that differ physically from the rest of the show’s cast.

Ultimately, in both the tales from Medieval literature and our own modern depictions, it is clear that the practice of racial branding is extremely relevant, common and often used to solidify the correctness or right to rule of the narrating party.

1 comment:

  1. Another interesting modern example of this lightness of skin signifying goodness in a race can be found in the Dungeons and Dragons race of the drow. Elvish in origin, this people are characterized by pitch black skin, red eyes, and white hair. They are also considered almost unfailingly evil, and are hated as a general rule by the other, more peaceful races of the D&D world. Is this hated inevitable given the extremeness the othering has been taken too, with skin not just being dark but pitch black, the apparent opposite of the constant swan/snow/lily whiteness of those of good character throughout medieval stories. Also, while individuals of this race do on occasion find salvation, it is almost always through their own actions and not through divine intervention or the like (such as the babies “healing” through baptism in the King of Tars). I wonder if this is potentially reminiscent of societies heightened focus on the individual/”self” instead of the religious or hive-like mentality of previous eras?