Public Science and Tropes

A dark-skinned hand holds out a microphone against a dark background

My research on harassment of public scientists and racist Hollywood tropes is featured in two new books!

First, my research on the Sociology of Public Harassment Prevention Policies has been featured in a new textbook by Faith Kearns. In her 2021 book, Getting to the Heart of Science Communication, Kearns writes:

Zuleyka Zevallos, an applied research sociologist, developed a framework that outlines steps in individuals and institutions can undertake to address some of the risks involved in public scholarship, particularly for those who work on controversial topics and are marginalised by factors such as race, gender, sexuality, and age. She first notes that, of course, scholars have a responsibility to use their knowledge for the public good. Simultaneously, Zevallos writes that institutions have a duty of care for their employees. “Institutions benefit from media interviews and social media work by academics and researchers. That means equity and diversity considerations must be undertaken to support staff when they are besieged by public abuse as a result of their justice education, publications, media appearances, and social media discussions. Media policies should not simply tell academics what to say, or what not stay. These policies must also clearly show measures and processes to protect the safety of staff and students when their lives are endangered.” (Kearns 2021: 51).

Second, my research on racist tropes in Hollywood films—the ‘Magical Negro‘ and the ‘Noble Savage‘—is referenced in the book, The Practice of Mission in Global Methodism, edited by Darryl Stephens and David Scott. In Chapter 2, ‘Decolonising Methodist mission partnerships,’ Taylor Walters Denyer writes:

Sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos (2012) analysed racist tropes common in Hollywood films, describing the Magical Negro trop (when Black persons are ‘benevolent, self-sacrificing figures who exist only to teach the white character a life affirming lesson’) and the Noble Savage trope (‘the over-simplified stereotype of Indigenous people’ that involves ‘the white protagonist being the saviour of the Indigenous group’ that involves ‘the white protagonist… being the saviour of the Indigenous group’ and at times even becoming romantically involved with a member of the group being saved). Zevallos showed how such tropes undermine and dehumanise the very communities they claim to admire. For example, ‘by painting the white protagonist as a saviour, the Indigenous people are conversely rendered as passive, submissive and amenable to being conquered’) (2012). (Walters Denyer 2021: 38).

The Walking Dead: Gender, Race & Sexuality

Rosita and Tara from The Walking Dead

This article was first published on Medium, 2 April 2015

Warning: analysis and spoilers for Seasons 1 to 5.

Like millions of fans around the world, I love The Walking Dead, and I’m an avid horror aficionado. Yet after five seasons, with breathtaking plot twists and turns, The Walking Dead’s treatment of gender, race and sexuality remains stagnant. For a show that takes many liberties when asking the audience to suspend disbelief, there’s one area it has no trouble maintaining a familiar narrative: the dominance of White, heterosexual men.

Since it launched, the show has focused on relationships and character development. This proved a novel way to bring horror to popular TV. Anthropologist, Professor Juan Francisco Salazar and Dr Stephen Healy, a geographer, argue that Season Five “reflects on the meaning of group solidarity in a brave new world.” The researchers demonstrate how various social science readings of the show centre on social anxiety. In their view, this most recent season was concerned with “Rick’s communitarian family.” That is, the other characters on the show who have bound together supposedly through Rick’s leadership, even when there have been long periods (notably Season 3) when Rick provided little guidance.

The show invites its audience to consider their own bravery under zombie duress. Would we panic and leave sweet Noah stuck in a revolving door swarming with zombies? Would we become “weak” within the walls of Alexandria? Should this frustrating person or that annoying character be killed? The show does not encourage us to think about why the writers persist on upholding White men as leaders, and why White women, people of colour and other minorities are notably absent from the narrative landscape.

It’s no accident that the diplomatic and inclusive leadership of Deanna (a White woman), flawed as it may be, is presented as fundamentally irrational because of its inclusive ideals. Meanwhile, Rick, a White man, is presented as the only model for viable leadership in spite of his flaws.

Michonne looks at her sword as she runs moves it through the air
Michonne from The Walking Dead

Continue reading The Walking Dead: Gender, Race & Sexuality