Film Quarterly columnist Rebecca Wanzo surveys the history of fictional treatments of labor in US television and film and examines the frequently overlooked role played by sentimentality in media representations of labor and union organizing. Noting that sentimentality has been criticized for its deployment of suffering bodies as “other” objects for voyeuristic tears as well as for sometimes collapsing difference in an effort to construct empathy, Wanzo observes that documentary has often been a more welcoming space for the telling of sympathetic narratives about unions than Hollywood fiction films and television. This makes the depiction of labor and union organizing in Wanzo’s two case studies—the sitcom Superstore (NBC, 2015–21) and the primetime soap Homefront (ABC, 1991–93)—all the more exceptional. At a moment when labor issues are more relevant than ever, Superstore shows people why labor loses, but Homefront reminds people why labor won.
Sentimental Solidarities: Union Organizing and U.S. Television
Rebecca A. Wanzo is professor and chair of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research interests include African American literature and culture, critical race theory, feminist theory, cultural studies, theories of affect, and graphic storytelling. She is the author of The Content of Our Caricature: African American Comic Art and Political Belonging (NYU Press, 2020) and The Suffering Will Not Be Televised: African American Women and Sentimental Political Storytelling (SUNY Press, 2009).
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Rebecca Wanzo; Sentimental Solidarities: Union Organizing and U.S. Television. Film Quarterly 1 December 2021; 75 (2): 89–93. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2021.75.2.89
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