Girl, White Guy, Non-White Guy

Raise your hand if you remember The Famous Jett Jackson. It was a Disney show from 1998 about a kid who… never mind, the plot is pretty irrelevant. I’ve been thinking about Jett Jackson today because I have the dubious privilege of being the featured photo on my college’s alumni weekend site.

The photo reminds me of the phenomenon I’m calling “girl, white guy, non-white guy” frequently used in promo materials and a Hollywood mainstay. Jett Jackson was the first time I remember noticing it, and I’ve been spotting it ever since. It works like this: when there’s a group of friends or coworkers with more than three members, the producers choose one girl, one non-white guy, and the rest of the group is rounded out by white dudes.

Why? If there were more girls it would become a girly show because, you know, ladies together will start talking all girly like. And if the non-white people outnumber the white people, then it becomes a show that white people won’t watch (see The Game). These are generalizations, to be sure, but here are some examples:

The Big Bang Theory (non-white guy, white guy, girl, white guy, white guy)

The New Girl (non-white guy, white guy, white guy, girl)

SVU (non-white guy, white guy, girl, white guy)

House (white guy, white guy, girl, non-white guy)

Hawaii 5-0 (white guy, girl, non-white guy, white guy)

There are exceptions, of course. Grey’s Anatomy stands out, largely, I imagine, due to the influence of creator Shonda Rhimes (who is black) and her color-blind casting. The Wire also breaks the mold with content that requires using predominantly non-white actors. And there are whiter, less-diverse shows too (HIMYM, Friends, etc.)

So, back to my alumni photo. I chuckled when I saw it, imagining the delighted alumni committee getting all excited when they spotted this snapshot, “It’s the ideal balance! We couldn’t have planned it better!” I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up on other promotional materials, and not because of my extremely photogenic visage.

Related Post: Remember when I did a more systematic analysis of gender in Golden Globes nominations?

Related Post: Vanity Fair’s list of Hollywood’s biggest earners, and it’s not surprising.

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6 Comments

Filed under Gender, Hollywood, Media

6 responses to “Girl, White Guy, Non-White Guy

  1. Interesting observation. I’ll now be testing out your hypothesis with every ad I see.

  2. Astute and true observation.

    Working with images and promotional materials myself, you wouldn’t believe how many comments we receive if there isn’t racial and gender “balance.”

    Of course this definition of balance varies so widely, we’ve begun (subconsciously, perhaps) to favor images of single people or much larger groups.

    • That’s so interesting! I mean, what “should” it look like? An exact accurate representation of the U.S. demographics? That seems silly. But I do think it’s interesting that “white dude” is sort of the default neutral, because too many girls or too many people of color somehow skews it against “mainstream.”

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