by Rebecca Wanzo
“Futurity” connotes not just what will happen or a time that is not yet. It is laden with affective attachments such as hope and fear. But it is best understood in relationship to the other words that are often proximate to it, such as “time,” “horizon,” “utopia,” and “dystopia.” Throughout North America, futurity is consistently associated with identity, linking ideas of what the future will look like with the belief that various groups can build a new space or, in our worst imaginings, be injured by an impending world that disavows or has no place for them. Futurities are simultaneous and sometimes competing, with the idea of the future always contained within another project related to nation or identity. Theorists of the future in American studies and cultural studies have thus focused on this nexus of identity and imagined world-building.
The term “popular” is a tendentious term defined by both audience and content. A popular cultural production is generally understood as appealing to a large group of people or as designed to do so, with the mass appeal suggesting—to some people—that the popular is of lesser quality or inferior.
The term caricature emerged in Italy in the sixteenth century and was a form of exaggerated portrait drawing. The distortion or exaggerated representation of people’s features had a long history before that and can be seen in visual work produced by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans (Robinson 1917). It has often been used for comic effect. Part of what can make caricature comic is the way in which phenotypic excess can suggest the grotesque—a liminality between humanness and something else. Many caricatures of people are anthropomorphic, sometimes producing a feeling of the uncanny.
The term “race” in critical race theory makes discriminatory ideology and practices visible where it is often treated as absent or a negligible issue. Even when confronted with empirical evidence to the contrary, many people have argued that racism is functionally not at play in various institutional and social contexts. When opponents of critical race theory idealize inattentiveness to race as a factor, this approach can obfuscate discriminatory racial projects.