wearing a mask that grins and lies

We often have a sometimes contradictory and ambiguous relationship to popular culture. In one way, its potentially powerful means to share knowledge and criticize consumer society across different boundaries in an oppositional and sometimes subversive manner. However, against this backdrop, theory meets the practical. Where the rubber hits the road, we have a deeply ingrained culture that circulates ideas about Blacks  which are shaped and molded by racist stereotypes. Underlying the culture is that of  white supremacist capitalist patriarchy; with very little critical thought given to a pervasive cultural  context that socializes  young males into projected values of white culture; preferably what has been termed the “negro pet” ; and into  what Grace Lee Boggs calls the trinity of racism/militarism/consumerism.

---Representations of black folks as "modern primitives" currently over-determine the ways images of blackness are constructed in the mainstream cultural imagination. No one seems to be concerned with hearing the testimony of black folks who knew Basquiat (the two black characters in the film who say anything are his fictional parents -- their words are limited to a few sparse sentences). Schnabel's film is not really a work that imaginatively interprets the life of Jean Michel Basquiat. It treats him as though he is merely a compelling artifact in a particular milieu. The social context that enabled a Basquiat to emerge is what this film is about. That context is always and only white.--- Read More:http://blogs.howstuffworks.com/2010/05/07/first-look-jean-michel-basquiat-the-radiant-child/

Much as Arabs are regarded as inhuman and insane, whose rages of unconsciousness are beyond human comprehension and control, so it is for blacks, who for example are perceived as writing rap and hip hop  lyrics somewhere off in the “jungle,” far removed from the impact of mainstream socialization and desire, the “purity of the middle-class”. We very rarely question why audiences, particularly  white male consumers, are aroused, turned-on  by much of black entertainment that is heavily dosed with misogyny and sexism, and brutality. Even Tarantino’s Jackie Brown can be described as an ironic satire of exactly this phenomenon.

Bell Hooks:The sexist, misogynist, patriarchal ways of thinking and behaving that are glorified in gangsta rap are a reflection of the prevailing values in our society, values created and sustained by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. As the crudest and most brutal expression of sexism, misogynistic attitudes tend to be portrayed by the dominant culture as an expression of male deviance. In reality they are part of a sexist continuum, necessary for the maintenance of patriarchal social order. Read More:http://race.eserver.org/misogyny.html image:http://alexandernelson.webs.com/apps/blog/show/3878283

In fact, the anti-conformist, anti-social and violent overtones contribute perfectly into the creation of “spectacle” and controversy; the outlaw image of misdirected individualism  ideally itself within commodity culture. A commodity which erases the history of radical struggle and transforms it into waht Joshua Glenn calls a commodity of “fake authenticity” whereby an ongoing process implies that if whites can no longer “buy” black people, they engage the “negro pet” theory through purchasing the black experience through the black culture industry, of which Basquiet was perhaps simply a “high-end” luxury good:

Thomas Frank- But one hardly has to go to a poetry reading to see the countercultural idea acted out. Its frenzied ecstasies have long since become an official aesthetic of consumer society, a monotheme of mass as well as adversarial culture. Turn on the TV and there it is instantly: the unending drama of consumer unbound and in search of an ever-heightened good time, the inescapable rock `n’ roll soundtrack, dreadlocks and ponytails bounding into Taco Bells, a drunken, swinging-camera epiphany of tennis shoes, outlaw soda pops, and mind-bending dandruff shampoos. Corporate America, it turns out, no longer speaks in the voice of oppressive order that it did when Ginsberg moaned in 1956 that Time magazine was

always telling me about responsibility. Business-
men are serious. Movie producers are serious.
Everybody’s serious but me….

---bell hooks reminds us from her outstanding book “Outlaw Culture”, that we must be “enlightened witnesses” to these racist images. The reason actors of colour were chosen for the movie “The Brave One” is because men of colour are traditionally viewed as the ”bad guys”. Also these racist representations of black manhood are palatable to people. Racism sells and Hollywood has been doing this for decades. People believe young black men and other men of colour are “violent” and “evil”. The filmmakers are “conscious” of this obvious racism so they place the Terrance Howard character as the “noble” good black man in the film. Howard’s character does not conceal the deleterious racist and misandrist messages this movie is sending.--- Read More:http://gayblackcanadianman.com/2007/09/14/watch-bell-hooks-talk-about-racism-against-young-black-men-in-film-and-then-watch-jodie-fosters-new-film-trailer-for-the-brave-one/

…Nobody wants you to think they’re serious today, least of all Time Warner. On the contrary: the Culture Trust is now our leader in the Ginsbergian search for kicks upon kicks. Corporate America is not an oppressor but a sponsor of fun, provider of lifestyle accoutrements, facilitator of carnival, our slang-speaking partner in the quest for that ever-more apocalyptic orgasm. The countercultural idea has become capitalist orthodoxy, its hunger for transgression upon transgression now perfectly suited to an economic-cultural regime that runs on ever-faster cyclings of the new; its taste for self-fulfillment and its intolerance for the confines of tradition now permitting vast latitude in consuming practices and lifestyle experimentation. Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/f/frank-dissent.html

In terms of the African American experience, we have a form of emancipation, as long as the black conducts themself within a given range of tropes or stereotypes, such as in he entertainment industry; an ostensible elimination of racism in a normative sense is proclaimed; but the structure of hierarchy remains intact without any cultural transformation.

Hooks:...highlighted in the film "Menace To Society" which dramatized not only young black males killing for sport, but also mass audiences voyeuristically watching and, in many cases, "enjoying" the kill. Significantly, at one point in the movie we see that the young black males have learned their "gangsta" values from watching television and movies--shows where white male gangsters are center stage. This scene undermines any notion of "essentialist" blackness that would have viewers believe the gangsterism these young black males embraced emerged

m some unique black cultural experience. Read More:http://race.eserver.org/misogyny.html

Where Jean-Michel Basquiat found himself was in the difficult role within the context of developing a critical black masculine identity. Basquiat is concerned with the violent colonization of the black male body and mind, taking the “Eurocentric valuation of the great and beautiful and demanding that we acknowledge the brutal reality it masks.”( Hooks) The black male body in his work, becomes reminiscent of colonial relations of subject-self and object-other.  However, the black male for Basquiat is also complicit in colonization, “by virtue of a shared obsession with conquest, both sexual and political.”( Hooks) Though the merit of his work can be debated, his work at least sought to uncover a legacy of the colonial enterprise and his own relationship, and black celebrity status towards that legacy. Either remaking the work of  Leonardo Davinci in his own terms or recounting events from the Black experience, it is not in dispute that Basquiat presented a vision of a fragmented self in search of an organizing principle, a return to some of the themes of a Frantz Fanon: the angst of black protest culture and the psychology of the colonized.

Read More:http://www.potomitan.info/ayiti/basquiat.php

Bell Hooks:One cannot answer them honestly without placing accountability on larger structures of domination and the individuals (often white, usually male but not always) who are hierarchically placed to maintain and perpetuate the values that uphold these exploitative and oppressive systems. That means taking a critical looking at the politics of hedonistic consumerism, the values of the men and women who produce gangsta rap. It would mean considering the seduction of young black males who find that they can make more money producing lyrics that promote violence, sexism, and misogyny than with any other content. How many disenfranchised black males would not surrender to expressing virulent forms of sexism, if they knew the rewards would be unprecedented material power and fame? Read More:http://race.eserver.org/misogyny.html


Lorette C. Luzajic:Hughes believes that Basquiat’s success was an unlikely accident of white patronization, of rich people wanting a wild pet. In his mind, Basquiat’s success was itself based on racism, not talent. In his book, American Visions, he writes, “His career, both actual and posthumous, appealed to a cluster of toxic vulgarities. First, the racist idea of the black as naif or rhythmic innocent, and of the black artist as ‘instinctual,’ someone outside ‘mainstream’ culture and therefore not to be rated in its terms: a wild pet for the recently cultivated collector. Second, a fetish about the freshness of youth, blooming among the discos of the East Side scene. Third, guilt and political correctness, which made curators and collectors nervous about judging the work of any black artist who could be presented as a ‘victim.’…And last, the audience’s goggling appetite for self-destructive talent:…. All this gunk rolled into a sticky ball around Basquiat’s tiny talent and produced a reputation.” Read More:http://fascinatingpeople.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/jean-michel-basquiats-unquiet-mind/

The 19th century world of the white invasion of New Zealand is utterly romanticized in this film (complete with docile happy darkies–Maori natives–who appear to have not a care in the world). And when the film suggests they care about white colonizers digging up the graves of their dead ancestors, it is the sympathetic poor white male who comes to the rescue. Just as the conquest of natives and lands is glamorized in this film, so is the conquest of femininity, personified by white womanhood, by the pale speechless corpse-like Scotswoman, Ada, who journeys into this dark wilderness because her father has arranged for her to marry the white colonizer Stewart. Although mute, Ada expresses her artistic ability, the intensity of her vision and feelings through piano playing….

---The essay fed off the work of French existentialists, particularly Sartre’s book-length studies of Baudelaire (1950) and Saint Genet (1952), which examined the dandy and the criminal as existential figures, and mixed those ideas with a philosophy based on African American experience. Mailer labeled the African American as an existential hero denied recognition by white society. He would also describe black experience as psychopathic and glorify the power of orgasm. In turn young middle- and upper-class whites, dissatisfied with the sterile and mind-numbing environment created by their elders, embraced black culture and experience as a vital alternative lifestyle. Stereotypes of black virility and a fascination for the cathartic aspects of psychopathic violence made for a heady brew that blew the heads off New York intellectuals. If you can get past the sexual and racial stereotypes — and many cannot (in the 1950s and today) — the essay proved incredibly perceptive. In the humdrum 1950s, Mailer predicted the explosive 1960s: Black Power, The Weathermen, and student revolt.--- Read More:http://realitystudio.org/bibliographic-bunker/william-burroughs-and-norman-mailer/

…This passion attracts Baines, the illiterate white settler who wears the facial tattoos of the Maori–an act of appropriation that makes him (like the traditional figure of Tarzan) appear both dangerous and romantic. He is Norman Mailer’s “white negro,” seducing Ada by promising to return the piano that Steward has exchanged with him for land. The film leads us to believe that Ada’s passionate piano playing has been a substitution for repressed eroticism. When she learns to let herself go sexually, she ceases to need the piano. …

…We watch the passionate climax of Baines seduction as she willingly seeks him sexually. And we watch her husband Stewart in the role of voyeur, standing with dog outside the cabin where they fuck, voyeuristically consuming their pleasure. Rather than being turned off by her love for Baines, it appears to excite Stewart’s passion; he longs to possess her all the more. Unable to win her back from Baines, he expresses his rage, rooted in misogyny and sexism, by physically attacking her and chopping off her finger with an ax. This act of male violence takes place with Ada’s daughter, Flora, as a witness. Though traumatized by the violence she witnesses, she is still about to follow the white male patriarch’s orders and take the bloody finger to Baines, along with the message that each time he sees Ada she will suffer physical mutilation. Read More:http://race.eserver.org/misogyny.html

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