The White House in Technicolor: Race and Representation in Televisual Political Dramas
This study seeks to understand how the state of race relations in America is interpreted, imagined and portrayed through modern American televisual political dramas. The recent marked increase in the number of prime-time fictional programs set in or around the White House reflects, in part, a search for meaning among audiences disillusioned with American politics, as well as an eagerness among producers and writers to explain Washington's inner-workings. The emergence of this genre coincides with a period of unprecedented developments in bringing racial diversity to the American political process, most notably in the 2008 election of President Barack Obama; this landmark moment for the American presidency has also highlighted the challenges the nation still faces in confronting its racial history. Televisual political dramas are uniquely positioned to incorporate race themes into their characters and their dialogue to comment, explicitly and implicitly, on what progress on race issues can look like. This study assesses the extent to which dominant narratives on race issues in American politics are represented in four popular televisual political dramas: The West Wing, 24, Scandal and House of Cards. The case studies incorporate not only the story told on screen, but the real-life political and creative contexts that shape their storytelling as it relates to race issues. The study uses a combination of literary criticism, contextual research and data visualization through design thinking to identify storytelling patterns and feedback mechanisms that inform how race issues are addressed. The analysis illustrates that these dramas, despite their freedom to imagine, are ultimately cultural artifacts of their time that exhibit many of the same limitations that constrain meaningful dialogue on racial inequality and the sources of racism embedded in American politics.