Racism, “Realism,” and High School Sports

Curator's Note

This clip is taken from the opening of a recent episode of Friday Night Lights. The episode concludes with the black players walking off the field in protest over what this coach has said. Of course, there is more to this clip than what fans saw as a “PC” agenda or unrealistic story, for Friday Night Lights is part of what we might call a multiply mediated text: there is a film Friday Night Lights, and both it and the television series are based on a non-fiction book of the same name. While the film almost completely writes out the issue of race, race is the central concern of the book. Bissinger, the author, says the book is about “some of the most ugly racism I have encountered.”

Despite fan’s objections, the show is painting a much kinder picture than “reality.” The book is more nuanced in its approach, detailing all the pieces of the complex picture of racism in the town. However, in another sense there is something about watching the coach in this clip that is more “real” and visceral than a book.

How do we develop a critical study of these issues that addresses the complexities of these multiply mediated texts across the various representations (film, book, television) without collapsing back into a “medium is the message” or a simplistic understanding of popular culture (“TV has to be bland and hopeful for the masses”)?

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