Under the Cloak of Whiteness: A Circuit of Culture Analysis of Opportunity Hoarding and Colour-blind Racism Inside US Advertising Internship Programs

  • Christopher Boulton University of Tampa
Keywords: Internships, Advertising, Race, Class, Labor, Ideology, Meritocracy, White Privilege, Affirmative Action, Intersectionality


Drawing on qualitative fieldwork at three large agencies, this article adapts Richard Johnson’s “circuit of culture” (1986) as a framework to examine both the material practices that help reproduce an overwhelmingly white labour force within US advertising agencies and the ideological screens that conceal them from scrutiny, critique, and reform. I argue that efforts to diversify advertising through internship-based affirmative action programs are ultimately undermined and overwhelmed by the more widespread systems of white privilege whereby agency executives and powerful clients bypass the application process and directly place personal friends and relatives into highly sought after internship slots. Furthermore, I contend that such material practices of class preference are masked, and thereby enabled, by ideological screens of colour-blind meritocracy. I argue that colour-blindness leads to meritocracy in theory, but race discrimination in practice, and conclude with a discussion of some possible implications for communication theory in general and critical media industry studies in particular.

Author Biography

Christopher Boulton, University of Tampa

Christopher Boulton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Tampa where he teaches critical media studies, television, and documentary. Before entering the academy, Boulton worked at Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Travel Channel, CourtTV (now TruTV), and Discovery Channel. Boulton’s research focuses on the intersection of communication, inequality, and activism, and his writing has been published in the International Journal of Communication, Advertising & Society Review, The Routledge Companion to Advertising and Promotional Culture, and New Views on Pornography.

Interrogating Internships: Internships and Creative Industries