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.
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.
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….
…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.
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.
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
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….
…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