I was watching Toy Story 4 yesterday and was reminded of how intentional ambiguity is.
Toy Story 4 follows a young girl named Bonnie. Bonnie has tan skin, brown straight hair and brown eyes. Her parents have slightly darker skin and wear glasses but share the same color eyes and hair.
Culture is defined as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. The major elements of culture are symbols, language, norms, values, and artifacts. Not once in the movie does the family speak any language other than American English. Not once in the film did the family display customs, rituals or any of the aforementioned beyond “American” culture.
Last year I was a guest on a podcast focused on racial ambiguity, Our True Colors. I shared that “ambiguity only exists when specificity isn’t present and assumptions are prioritized in exchanges.”
In real life people are proud of where they’re from and who they are. In real life people poke ambiguity with a “stick” often. People, White people, are always asking “where are you really from?”
This leads to one of the top questions around Bonnie being about her ethnicity.
We see this often with Queerness as well. Large corporations love the “are they, aren’t they” questions because it exploits the Queer viewers for more of their time and money without supporting them. In real life people are honest about their journeys and struggles towards understanding their sexuality and gender. In real life people desire support and often seek it.
The more we see these vile practices, the more we’re able to understand how intentional they are. They use viewers’ need for representation to get us invested in something that may or may not be there and by the time we realize it’s appropriation, exploitation or straight up misrepresentation, they've already got our money and support.
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