Making race mean : the limits of interpretation in the case of Australian Aboriginality in films and television programs
Academic work on Aboriginality in popular media has, understandably, been largely written in defensive registers. Aware of horrendous histories of Aboriginal murder, dispossession and pitying understanding at the hands of settlers, writers are worried about the effects of raced representation; and are always concerned to identify those texts which might be labelled racist. In order to make such a search meaningful, though, it is necessary to take as axiomatic certain propositions about the functioning of films: that they 'mean' in particular and stable ways, for example; and that sophisticated reading strategies can fully account for the possible ways a film interacts with audiences. These sophisticated readings can then by rendered as ontological statements, prefaced by such nonnegotiable phrases as: 'Jedda is ... .' his thesis suggests that such approaches fail to take account of the work involved in audiences making sense of these texts. Although the possible uses of a film or a television program are not infinite, neither is it possible to make final statements about a text's status. Rather, it is necessary to take account of various limits which are placed on the interpretations of texts, for different audiences at different moments. Moving the focus of attention away from feature films (which have traditionally encouraged the idea of a spectator constructed by the text) to include television programs (which have proven more difficult to write into such a project) facilitates this move to an understanding of Aboriginal representation more concerned with the work involved in its interpretations. This thesis addresses three main areas. Firstly, favoured modes of spectatorship validate particular practices of consumption. These have implications for the readings which will be made of Aboriginality. Secondly, sets of validated intertexts circulated as 'genres' and 'oeuvres'enable meaning to be made in particular ways. Finally, secondary texts(including academic work) which explicitly purport to explicate films and television programs provide frameworks within which interpretation can be made. Each of these limits works to close down the radical polysemy of television and film texts, enabling meaning to be made of them, and of the Aboriginality they purport to represent.