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From Redhead to Ginger: Othering Whiteness in New Media

O'Malley, Donica (2018) From Redhead to Ginger: Othering Whiteness in New Media. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the recent (2005 - present) development of the ginger internet meme, people’s experiences with so-called “gingerism,” and the cultural environments that have fostered these sentiments. With incidents like Kick a Ginger Day, the phenomenon walks the line between being satire and not. Jokes about gingers needing extra sunscreen or having no souls circulate alongside both tragic news, like a series of redheaded teen suicides due to extreme bullying, and seemingly bizarre occurrences, such as the banning of redheaded men’s sperm from an international cryogenics bank. However, the aim of my project is not to insist that redheaded people are subjected to discrimination, nor to compare gingerism to the oppression of any marginalized group. Rather, incidents like those above lead me to ask: how has “the ginger” been created and spread through new media, and what can it tell us about current and changing conceptions of whiteness in our culture? Using online discourse analysis, oral history interviewing, and archival research, I argue that against a backdrop of shifting racial and ethnic demographics in the Anglo-American world, the ginger meme exposes the contingencies, limits, and constructed nature of whiteness. The ginger figure acts as a scapegoat for anxieties about white heteronormativity. The qualities ascribed to the ginger, namely, weakness, nerdiness, and disgustingness, are those same qualities some white men fear they represent, but with which they do not want to be associated. As such, these qualities are projected onto the ginger’s representation of “excessive whiteness” and thus safely distanced from “normative whiteness.” The ginger phenomenon also reflects sentiments towards white women, who are either dichotomized into the same ginger stereotypes as men or hypersexually fetishized. Because whiteness’s power comes from its unquestioned authority as “normal,” the ginger phenomenon could potentially undermine it; yet the ginger phenomenon is also polysemous and thus interpreted in myriad ways. The ginger phenomenon results from the memetic and racio-visual logics of the new media environment during the transition from a “colorblind” view of race to an increasingly anxious perception of whiteness as under attack.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
O'Malley, Donicadco11@pitt.edudco11
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairZboray, Ronaldzboray@pitt.eduzboray
Committee MemberMalin, Brentonbmalin@pitt.edubmalin
Committee MemberKuchinskaya, Olgaokuchins@pitt.eduokuchins
Committee MemberBowler, Leannelbowler@pitt.edulbowler
Date: 28 June 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 11 April 2018
Approval Date: 28 June 2018
Submission Date: 12 April 2018
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 283
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: gender, new media, ginger, red hair, masculinty, whiteness
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2018 18:39
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2023 05:15


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