Marianne Faithful, Lord Guinness and Mick Jagger by Slim Aarons
After over two decades of identity consciousness and politically correct, cultural transformation, the white man has been negated. Of course, centuries of white authority are not resolved in a few decades, as a recent study showed continuing unbalanced racial representation in fashion magazines. However, there is also a question of what even constitutes whiteness. As a 12th generation Scotch Irish American, I wanted to understand my stereotype. WASP - White Anglo Saxon Protestant - is a racial and faith subculture from North Atlantic and Central Europe. About half of Americans today trace their lineage to England and Germanic countries while the other half represent the rest of the world. The WASP's puritan values and classic aesthetics now seem nostalgic to a postmodern era, yet they continue to influence many editorials, campaigns and art work. The result is like most things in media, Waspness is both a legitimate condition and a media construction.
Vogue Paris 2004
Chloe S 2010
Ralph Lauren, 2004
The link between Wasp and wealth was part of the agenda of the English Americans who wanted to distinguish themselves from the Germans. Though they were united by Protestantism, the English were the first to establish American wealth and property. In time Wasp was used to describe simply Northern European origins with wealth and education. The wealth association was further solidified in a famous 1957 text by Andrew Hacker which named Protestants as the "aristocracy of America." The term has even described some who were powerful but not Protestant, such as the Kennedys. By the 1960's there was an increased popularity of prep school culture in literature, film and television. Preppy culture is now understood as white or Wasp culture even though most American prep schools are increasingly diverse and the best boarding schools are global. More on aristocratic power and fashion here.
The Great Gatsby, 1974
We know what Wasp looks like but have forgotten what it means. The association of Wasp with wealth or madras for example, is due to genuine lived associations but more so to media constructions, as is for most stereotypes. The ascent of multi-culturalism has made Waspness or whiteness into an overdetermined identity. Not all Wasps are wealthy or powerful as they are normally portrayed in media. Like any subculture, Wasps are simply united by shared values, not the arbitrary variables presented in media such as duck print or lawn parties.
Wasps are defined by Protestant faith. The original Protestant fervor among the founding Americans could be said to have decreased in that many anglo saxons no longer associate with Protestant roots. Concerning the lessened Protestant fervor among anglicans, minister John Stott wrote, "today the church is not persecuted so much as ignored. Its revolutionary message has been reduced to a toothless creed for bourgeois suburbanites. Nobody opposes it any longer, because really there is nothing to oppose." Puritan values have in many ways been replaced by capitalist ones. Yet the faith has also intensified with a larger more global evangelical movement among all races.
Perhaps the most apparent Wasp effect is that media has normalized the blue eyed blonde. Uma Thurman described her pale aesthetic as "average" while Cher said she would always be insecure because she would "never look in the mirror and see a blonde blue eyed girl," what she would "like to look like." As media more fairly represents diversity, through independent film and self-directed social networking, fixed values are being transformed. Fashion and art however further our acquaintance with the surface, thus legitimizing surface values and surface understanding. While some races and faiths aim to make their identities outwardly apparent, from afro to burka, many races and especially faiths are not instantly evident on the surface.
James Spader, Pretty in Pink, 1986
See more - Wasps on Film