- Precarious Locations: Streaming TV and Global Inequalities
Hollywood makes an increasing number of contemporary TV series in precarious places, profiting from conditions that produce structural inequalities for people of color while projecting conflicted representations of race and difference. I examine three streaming TV series and their filming locations: Watchmen in Atlanta, Georgia and environs; Los Espookys in Santiago, Chile; and Vida in Boyle Heights, California. The three shows contain disavowed critical knowledge about how government incentives to attract TV and filmmakers reproduce racial inequality and, more broadly, about the historical preconditions for contemporary precarity.
That knowledge remains invisible, however, so long as we view TV shows as cultural narratives isolated from their places of production. There are excellent, content-based readings that decode ideological meanings in particular shows, but such research can suffer from a textual reductionism that ignores racial capitalism, labor, and the role of government in media production and distribution.1 Drawing inspiration from Black, Chicanx, and Indigenous TV studies of state and capitalist power in media production, I instead attempt to bring together political economic and textual analysis.2 Which is to say I present a materialist account of how location shooting contributes to the reproduction of unequal spaces that in turn influences the meanings of television texts. Although in their content TV series often repress their locations in an effort to preserve their fictional worlds, the conditions of their genesis nonetheless seep into their narratives and images, rewarding against the grain readings of televisual places.
I also draw on research in critical geography which analyzes how capitalism, state power, and cultural production make and transform different places.3 In A [End Page 9] People’s Guide to Los Angeles, Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng argue that rather than being fixed and natural, landscapes are dynamic and changing, the product of “millions of individual decisions, all made within the constraints of state policies and capitalist imperatives that are occasionally, and sometimes successfully, resisted by people, with an alternative vision of how the world should work.”4 Corporate and state institutions maintain the upper hand in part because they obscure or hide their landscape creating decisions. As Pulido, Barraclough, and Cheng put it, “This is, in fact, one of landscape’s greatest tricks and one of the most important ways in which landscape operates in the service of maintaining an unequal status quo. Because it is not always apparent why a landscape looks the way it does, it becomes easy to assume that it somehow naturally reflects the character, qualities, and moralities of the people who inhabit it.”5
If we substitute “filming location” for “landscape,” we can see how TV locations “provide evidence about past generations, economic and political regimes, and ecologies. History is literally embedded in” them. “Even if certain histories are excluded” from TV shows, “they cannot be entirely silenced, because there will almost always be some piece of evidence” in the filming location itself “that we can use to challenge dominant historical narratives and recover hidden histories.” Finally, locations can help us “rethink commonsense understandings of history and local geography and of the unequal relationships of power that sustain them.”6 TV shows intervene in their locations, helping to reproduce a sense of place that naturalizes racial inequality. Textual methods alone can miss how media makers, together with state agencies, promote TV production as a boon to the communities where they film, thereby legitimating a place-based status quo, or new neoliberal forms of “creative destruction” that build off of the old.7
One model for my study is research on the production of HBO’s Treme in New Orleans. In his essay about “the role of scripted cable television in the making and remaking of place in the conjuncture of post disaster crisis and the neoliberal transformation of urban space,” Herman Gray argues that Treme helped remake post-Katrina New Orleans with representations of local authenticity (food, music, and diversity) and narratives of individual enterprise that preclude a “critical engagement with public policy choices and state-centered redress for economic, cultural, and social injustice and inequality.”8 Helen Morgan Parmett similarly analyzes the show “as a site-specific...