Woke TV: Politically Alert Television in the Trump, Blm, and Post-#metoo Era

Edited collection

Deadline for submissions: November 1, 2020

full name / name of organization: Georgia Aitaki / Örebro University

contact email: georgia.aitaki@oru.se

Debate around ‘woke television’ has been increasingly more present in popular parlance. Within television criticism, there has been heavy reflecting on (and co-constructing of) a meta-genre of contemporary US television characterized by a particular sensitization to issues of social justice, racial justice, and gender equity and a showcasing of commitment toward denouncing institutional ideologies such as structural poverty, white supremacy, and patriarchy. Indeed, a swell of popular criticism has been quick to discern the micro-contexts of politically alert television fiction, discussing for instance African-American history and white privilege in Atlanta and Dear White People, diversity in Star Trek, progressive reimaginings of classic shows such as Buffy and Charmed, the gender-swap in Doctor Who, LGBTQ pedagogy in the revival of Will & Grace, multidimensional female characters in Glow, complex and unapologetic teen sexuality in Normal People, Big Mouth and Sex Education. These instances inform the notion of “woke television” as the inclusion of relevant and topical themes, blatantly calling out structural inequalities and delivering cultural texts that reify the pleasures and intricacies of ‘woke culture.’

Apart from celebrating contemporary television’s bold engagement with social, racial and gender-related issues, popular critical writing has simultaneously questioned the transformative and empowering implications of woke television, recognizing issues such as the ideological ambiguity of feminist shows (including the impossible-to-ignore whiteness of critically acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale and the poshness of Fleabag), as well as the problematic representational strategies of gendered violence and rape (for example, in 13 Reasons Why). Concurrently, the popular press has engaged in debates that challenge the legacy of some of television’s most revered cultural monuments, by exposing for example the problematic layers of shows such as Friends and Sex and the City. Criticisms of this kind discuss ‘wokeness’ not only within today’s cultural zeitgeist, but also as a rejuvenating source for contemporary television criticism, thus revealing a climate of close monitoring of television production and heightened expectations from entertainment—and one that specifically invites viewers to position themselves with regard to that wokeness.

‘Wokeness’ is not only addressed as a textual feature of contemporary television but also as part of particular production logic seeking to accommodate audiences in the Trump, BLM, and post-#MeToo era; as such, it genuflects to their needs for more complex takes on everyday realities and experiences, ones that are not exclusively tainted by the requirements of the ‘majority white’ viewers. Industrial perspectives, including Netflix’s commitment to inclusion and diversity and BBC’s strategy of “repurposing” classic novels to cater to contemporary television audiences, reveal a commitment to discussing and advancing social change within the industry itself. However, audiences’ reactions have been ambivalent: ranging from discovering newfound pleasures to complaining about how contemporary television reeks of didacticism and political correctness.

As little attention has been directed toward the concept of woke television within academia, Woke TV aims to gather contributions that further explore how expressions of woke culture translate into the world of television narrative and representation, but also in dimensions of production and reception. This collection is primarily interested in navigating the context of US television; however, studies based on other national/cultural contexts will also be considered. We seek to engage with the following lines of inquiry: (a) industry perspectives, (b) textual (representational/discursive) approaches, (c) issues of audience reception, as well as (d) issues of critical reception. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • white privilege and racism-as-problem narratives (Dear White People, Atlanta, Gentefied)
  • revisiting/rewriting history (Glow, Hollywood)
  • strong women characters and female camaraderie (Orange Is the New Black)
  • quirky femininity (Insecure, Broad City)
  • toxic (but self-reflective) masculinity (BoJack Horseman)
  • woke teen TV (Euphoria, Sex Education, Big Mouth, Never Have I Ever)
  • woke reboots/revivals (Will & Grace, The L Word Gen Q)
  • retrospective criticism (Friends, Sex and the City, etc. and whiteness)
  • woke TV as queer pedagogy
  • LGBTQIA+ superheroes
  • industry perspectives such as specific production logics/strategies, questions of casting, programming etc.
  • woke TV before ‘woke TV’
  • woke TV in international contexts
  • woke TV and its audiences
  • woke TV in popular criticism
  • woke TV and woke capitalism (e.g., woke advertising)

Deadline for proposals: November 1, 2020

Notification of acceptance: November 15, 2020

Deadline for first drafts: February 15, 2021

How to Submit Your Proposal:

Please submit one-page abstracts/proposals to either Georgia Aitaki (georgia.aitaki@oru.se) or Lauren J. DeCarvalho (Lauren.DeCarvalho@du.edu) by November 1, 2020 and be sure to include both a tentative title and short biographical note.

About the Editors:

Georgia Aitaki is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication at Örebro University, Sweden.

Lauren J. DeCarvalho is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies at the University of Denver, USA.