Sunday, May 8, 2011

Analysis 7: Uncle Ruckus' Sermon

                The above clip from the television series The Boondocks is from the episode “The Passion of Uncle Ruckus” where the Uncle Ruckus, a recurring character that hates black people and claims to be white but he believes he has “re-vitiligo, the opposite of what Michael Jackson got,” finds out he has cancer and claims to be called to the cloth by “White Jesus” who is depicted as Ronald Reagan.  In this clip is his final sermon where he eventually goads the white people in the audience to beat the black (sin) out of the black people which incites a massive brawl.  This clip aligns well with what Langston Hughes was saying in “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” with Aaron McGruder, the creator of The Boondocks, and his recognition of a self-hatred or self-shame in the face of whiteness.  This is reflected throughout Ruckus’ entire sermon but most notably in the line “If you are black of skin and full of sin come forward so I may lay my hands on you. (Slaps black audience members) Black, begone!” but this is most notably reflected through the reaction of Tom. 
                Tom is the blue-suited lawyer who is half black and half French (white).  He is a talented member of society by virtue of his intellect and law skills yet he, like the Negro poet Hughes referred to, show that they want to be white but more importantly that they don’t want to be black and have a hatred of the self with all of its blackness.  However, there is a positive element that subverts the hatred of this scene which is in McGruder’s recognition and satirizing of the issue of self-hate within the black community.  Hughes wanted to communicate that there is a beauty in your own individuality that is reflected through your being and your art.  Although, the scene is all that the audience gets to see, it’s worth noting that this is McGruder’s art and an expression of his thoughts and his individuality.  The Boondocks exist as the work of a proud black artist with all of his expressions of blackness and his concerns for its well-being.   

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In Your Own Skin

Langston Hughes in his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” speaks about racial insecurity black people have and the desire to be white.  He begins by mentioning a talented black poet that said “I want to be a poet –not a Negro poet” to which Hughes interprets as a desire to become white and an internalization of the idea that whiteness is a symbol of all virtues.  He conjectures that black middle class families never learn to appreciate their own people because they experience enough of what white America has to offer and allows white America to define their values.  They become ashamed of blackness and fetishize and desire whiteness and all of its perceived virtues. 
                Such circumstances are problematic when it comes to artistic endeavors because artistic mediums facilitate individuality yet the desire for the Negro poet to be white directly contradicts the power of a work.  Hughes believes that there is beauty in that individuality and that there is beauty is your own experiences as yourself.  That being said, Hughes shows his disappointment towards those such as the Negro poet whose minds work under the assumption that their own racial experiences are less relevant and interesting to other races, particularly whites.  The main message of the piece is that shame and fear have no place in the beautiful art of African Americans and anyone else’s. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Analysis 6: Black Swan and Feminist Theory

(there is no clip due to youtube and copyright crackdowns, etc.)
          The ending of “Black Swan” which I cannot provide a link too because it is not on Youtube is an example of Susan Bordo’s notion of the body being a discourse or a text for our culture.  She believes that the body is a cultural statement in the sense that the many of our actions and activities are determined by the cultural climate, our cultural expectations for our behaviors.  Susan Bordo believes this to be particularly true of for women and their obsession with enhancing their appearance to match ideal cultural expectations.  She believes this idea of bodily discourse in females to be particularly true of anorexics, hysterics and agoraphobics because these disorders are indicative of taking practices related to enhancing their appearance to an extreme.  Women are expected to live up to a standardized appearance but they take that to excess and become anorexic.  The damaged body of an anorexic is indicative of the flaws in the dominant prevailing logic of society’s expectations. 
           Such is the case with Black Swan where the main character Nina is pressured by conflicting ideals of purity and perfection imposed by her mother and her role as the White Swan while simultaneously being pressured to tap into her dark side, her reckless nature and raw sexuality, in order to play the Black Swan.  Nina’s body becomes a text of her cultural climate because the outside pressures that compose that climate manifest themselves within Nina’s body.  The pressure is reflected by her masochistic habit of scratching herself as well as her hallucinations and general mental instabilities.  The illusion of power she gains by scratching herself is similar to that of Bordo’s analysis of the hysterical woman’s sense of power.  Power for Nina and other hysterics takes the form of the effect their actions and cries for attention has on the outside world that has so deeply affected them.  Nina easily brings her mother into deep concern and pain when she arrives home late from her night with Lily.  The end of the movie where Nina is seen bleeding after she has achieved her “perfect” performance is also indicative of the body as a discourse for the cultural climate and in this case, the pressure that society imposes on beautiful, talented young girls.     

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Second Sex and Ms. Turkey

                Beauvoir asserts that women, like minorities, are given another label or separate identity that is abstract rather than concrete.  The concrete would be our existence as human beings and the abstract would be labels such as Jew, Muslim, etc.  Women, and the submissive nature of their gender roles indicate that they too exist as both a concrete human and an abstract idea of what a stereotypical woman is.  She takes it further by then asserting that men only see women for sex, as “the sex” because men can think of himself without women in his life and women always think they need to be co-dependent on men. She feels that men are the One and women are the Other, that women are submissive and compliant enough to accept their role as the Other in society. 
This theory does seem relevant in everyday society when we’re faced with millions of advertisements everyday depicting women as sex objects, women as the Other.  Victoria Secret posters, Ms. Turkey and other women in Carl’s Jr. commercials, Sports car ads, cheerleaders, etc.  These are all popular and widely perpetuated images of women that parallel Beauvoir’s points.  Another point she makes that remains culturally relevant is that unlike minorities who suffer from being Othered, women do not have the same solidarity between them that makes them rise up and fight for better treatment.  Blacks for example have always been treated like dirt in America but eventually they began to make positive changes for themselves in society through organized movements such as the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Riders, Black Panther Party, etc.  Women lack the same solidarity because there is a difficulty in organizing half the populace of the planet.  Ultimately, women are caught between being objectified and subordinated to men as merely sex objects and at the same time they are unable to live without men meaning she cannot simply withdraw from society or cast men aside. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Analysis 5: Foucault and the Snitch

Retrospective on snitching:

Riley's refusal to snitch during interrogation:

An episode from The Boondocks entitled “Thank You For Not Snitching” is heavily rooted in the ideals of panopticism as it highlights snitching in relation to the black community as an unwritten taboo.  The episode begins with a mystery in the neighborhood pertaining to the identity of the thief that successfully burglarized three houses with the same week.  Robert Freeman vehemently refuses to talk to the police whereas his mostly white neighbors, who are all in the neighborhood watch as well, are eager to cooperate with the cops.  Panopticism is presented in two different ways: one where the blacks feel the unseen pressure of the stigma against snitching and another where the members of the neighborhood watch want to make the criminal(s) feel their presence as they actively keep an eye out for their whereabouts –there motto being “neighbors watching neighbors.”  A common trait between the characteristically black stigma against snitching and the existence of the neighborhood watch is that both their functions rely upon internalized pressures.  Just as the Freeman’s are not aware of black people potentially witnessing their snitching, the burglars are unaware of whether or not someone in the neighborhood is actually watching and calling the police on them.  Deterrents against unwanted actions, in this case snitching and home invasion, are primarily unseen forces that rely upon the Foucaultian notion that imperceptibility of authority becomes self-discipline.
 Riley discovers that his friends Ed and Rummy were the burglars as they run from a neighborhood watch member with a shotgun, resulting in the duo speeding off in Robert Freeman’s most precious possession, his car Dorothy, in the getaway unbeknownst to him or Huey.  Riley vehemently refuses to cooperate with his family or the police pertaining to finding possible suspects regarding the theft of his grandfather’s car.  In response to his livid grandfather grilling him for details, Riley reflects his panoptic self-discipline through responses such as “what would my niggas think of me if I snitched.”  Riley experiences anxiety about losing the respect and street-credibility from a presence, other black people, that may or may not be there to see him snitch. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

          Bentham came up with the imprisonment concept of the Panopticon which has guards in the center of a circle of prisoners that are all kept in one prisoner per cell.  The central idea behind this structure is that every prisoner is capable of being watched at any given time but is unable to perceive or relay to each other if they are being watched and when.  Prisoners are left in the dark and just assume that because they can be watched then they act as if they are which allows for the prisoners to behave without needing the presence of many guards.  They are discipline themselves simply because of the possibility of being watched and it is this whole idea that Michel Foucault took and applied to our own behavior.  He dug beyond the surface explanation of people behaving because they are being watched and asserted that even though they may or may not be watched, the possibility of being watched results in our own internalization of social pressures that we voluntarily abide by.  Just as prisoners in the Panopticon, we discipline ourselves.  Personally I’ve never thought had this take on how social pressures work but off of the top of my head here are quick everyday examples that are common:

·         * Taking a quick look around to see if there’s anybody around to see you litter.  Even if you don’t see anyone you may still decide not to litter.

·         *Deciding whether or not to tell a dirty/sexist/racist joke in a public place.  Even if you do decide to tell a joke you may do it in a hushed tone or not tell it at all.

·        * Cleaning up after your dog with the pooper scooper during a walk despite the temptation to continue walking without having to deal with handling excrement.

Many common everyday dilemmas that we deal with can be easily explained panoptically.  We internalized right and wrong and we don’t want anyone to see us do wrong so our temptations to break social rules compete against the panoptic social eye of anyone who may or may not be watching.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Analysis 4: The Commoditizing of Catcher Freeman

Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism is that the commodity and its money-making potential become more important than the labor behind it and those exploited in the monetary pursuit which in this case is black Americans.   Marx states “But for the very reason that personal dependence forms the ground-work of society, there is no necessity for labour and its products to assume a fantastic form different from their reality” (Marx 668), that there is no reason to ascribe traits to the physical products of labor outside of their intended use.  The fetish lies in people transforming a product with its specific physical uses into a commodity which encompasses not only its uses but its ascribed cash-value.  Cash-value gives the product an appeal that goes beyond its intended function, an appeal that never existed until people granted it that power.  The slave-trade exists as a real life example.  Slave auctions occurred where people would bid over slaves.  The physical composition of a human being cannot literally function as a means to produce money yet the auctioneers ascribe cash value to slaves.  In a literal, material sense the slave’s physical being is able to do work such as housecleaning or cotton-picking but with the fetishism  over the slave’s muscles, stamina, and other traits, the slave’s physical being transcends its intended function by becoming a symbol of power, status, and control in the eyes of the auctioneers.  A slave’s physique does not literally have the power to conjure money but in the eyes of the auctioneers it is common sense that toned muscles or sexual attractiveness does indeed conjure money.  Black people were literally entrapped by this commoditization process as well as by slavery itself directly in the episode “The Story of Catcher Freeman.”  

(this is where a clip would go but youtube really cracked down on Boondocks stuff)
The episode features a stereotypical Uncle Tom house slave named Catcher Freeman that intended to earn his freedom by creating the very first screenplay in hopes that his master would overlook Catcher’s forbidden literacy due to the script’s marketability and entertainment value.  As Catcher planned, the master is pleased with the script and says, “If you are selling, I am buying, you are going to be a very rich man, son (winks)” finally taking ownership over his illegitimate child, and thusly shocking Catcher with the revelation.  At the core of this exchange lies the commoditization of a major historical black success, the creation of the very first screenplay.  Originally the script exists as sheets of paper functioning merely as a medium to transcribe words however it changed by being commoditized.  Catcher originally fetishized those pages into a symbol of his potential freedom as well his potential death should the master decide to slay him for the crime of literacy.  The script in the master’s eyes clearly assumed the “fantastic form” of money and fame which is indicated by his joy upon reading it as well as his superficial adopting of his son well over twenty years after his birth.  Master committed a blatant act of commodity fetishism by placing more importance in the script’s money-making potential than in actual love for his son.  Catcher is effectively reduced to a product while his script is upgraded to the human status of being the master’s son, indicating that black success in America has traditionally been a costly matter in which monetary success is paid by becoming even more vulnerable to the distortion of one’s own identity.