Monday, April 22, 2013

Last Talking Point (11)--Teen Voices--Reflection

I found videos that feature teens talking back in various ways. The videos I'll be presenting aren't all as explicit as the first (which will directly tackle a mediated image and the structure that created it) but I believe that all of the videos I will be including we have moments of fugitivity, moments in which these voices are challenging the dominant paradigm in various ways.

The first is a piece called "Nicki Minaj" also known as "The Mis-Education of Barbie" by Jasmine Mans (something that makes viewing/comprehension easier is to keep in mind that the parts that seem out of place, like the "It's me","Give it up" and "I annihilated every rap bitch in the building" etc etc are lines of Minaj's interjected into the poem. Mans is about 20 in this video, and given the way in which youth is a cultural construction we know that the age included is not fixable and nowadays people are considered a part of the "teen" community well past the age that stops using teen as a suffix.

Some amazing moments
"don't let the industry rape the Assata out of you"
"do you know what this media is trying to do to you? Look in the mirror, they will porcelain (barbie) doll the shit  out of you. Leave you noose-necked hanging from Zion. They will Lauryn Hill you, the mis-education of a Barbie doll coming soon. I just had an epiphany (Barbie) I think NYC is making you forget you come from queens"

I select the first quote because it's just so straight-forwardly powerful. For those who don't know, Assata Shakur is a revolutionary. She's currently living her life in Cuba after being targeted by the US government because of her affiliation with Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. Assata is a strong and powerful revolutionary woman. She's a role model for many. I believe the Mans is pointing out that we, as women-identified-folk all have the potentiality for revolutionary womanhood (I specify because of the examples given. That is not to say that Mans would argue against the idea that we all have the potential for revolutionary person-hood, but the poem and the examples are very much woman/girl role model/images/representation oriented). By name-checking Assata she is being resistant; Assata is a name we aren't taught in most schools for a reason (and if we are taught about her she is presented as some sort of social problem instead of the true revolutionary figure that she is). In that same line Mans indicts the industry, and thus the structure the industry represented and the ideology it is putting forward (because we know, thanks to Croteau, that the media has the ability to act as a medium for dominant ideologies/paradigms)

The second quote I chose partly because I think it highlights the way in which media matters and the way in which media can be incredibly powerful.

The above is from Brave New Voices, a youth poetry competition/show. Unfortunately I don't know the names of the two boys but the girl is Alysia Harris.

The poem is called "Sean Bell" and is about the killing of Sean Bell by police officers. By recognizing this form of Black death and anti-Blackness and indicting the police state these poets are being subversive to the dominant paradigm. If we are to believe that Whiteness is a dominant ideology then centering Blackness and calling out anti-Black gratuitous violence is an act of resistance. We aren't taught to think of the Police State as "hunters of humans", but one could argue that that is precisely what the Police State is (and at this time I would like the point out that this is a discussion of POLICE on a macro level. We aren't discussing individuals but a SYSTEM).

These folk are giving a voice to a situation that has none. Sure, Sean Bell took over the media landscape for a moment, but for many he is but a memory. Much like Oscar Grant. Much like Trayvon will be in a few years (although, it would appear he is simply a memory now for many people). Much like the countless 'nameless' people gunned down and executed in the same fashion whom we will never know about. They are giving voice to a problem in our system.

The 4 girls who lost their life in the 16 Street Baptist Church Bombing
Comments (no questions today): And on the note of giving voices I'd like to end with another Jasmine Mans piece. This is a persona poem from the POV of one of the girls who lost their life in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in
Birmingham. This young girl lost her life because the dominant ideologies of white supremacy and anti-Blackness. Giving a voice to the voiceless is an act of resistance. Questioning the things that Mans questions is an act of resistance, it's not allowing the history fed to us by the media and by history texts to be the one history in our minds. Want to be resistant? Question everything. Always look critically. That is something that we could definitely take from the Croteau text and we should be leaving this class with.

Thanks for reading. It's been swell

(If any of the videos don't play please right click and just watch the videos on Youtube. They are too powerful, significant, and important to ignore)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Talking Points 10--Glee Extended Commentary

For this post I intend on providing extended commentary on Julie Kessler’s post on Glee. I will utilize not only Julie’s post but also the episodes (Pilot, Never Been Kissed, and Furt) themselves.

Before I dive in I just want to point out some of the things that I noticed. The first episode alone was filled with moments that spoke to concepts we’ve discussed and meditated on throughout the course. We were particularly able to see these concepts come up when the students were speaking about
themselves. With Rachel she talks about how she doesn’t have much time for outside friends because she’s too busy with her networking online. This immediately made me think about the first media artifact group and the Toyota Venza commercial they used. Teenagers being so disconnected from reality and subsumed into the world of hyper-reality of the internet. We also got to see a bit of Kimmel (in all of the episodes but we first see it in the episode) with the footballers harassing Kurt, and later Finn when he joins the Glee club. In the case of Kurt it was homophobia as homophobia, but with Finn it was homophobia in the way that the Kimmel article described---misogyny projected as homophobia. He had failed to be a “proper man” and they had to try and put him in his place.

Speaking of Finn, in his end scene (starting with telling Puck that he’s not quitting until the end), we see a lot of the discourse of “becoming” that Raby discusses. Finn seems incredibly conflicted with trying to be someone, with being on a journey to becoming a “man” that his mother and others could be proud of. This discourse of becoming serves as motivation for Finn throughout the series (we also see this in Furt when he’s clearly struggling with doing the right thing and being particularly hurt when Rachel says that she’s disappointed in him).
Now, on to my extended commentary. I’m basing this off of Julie’s comments/questions for class. She asks:What do you think of Glee’s overall messages? Positive portrayal of characters? Bad writing aside, do you think it makes a difference?

As I mentioned in my comment toJulie, I have a really big issue with Glee, particularly when it comes to representation. I understand Glee’s message which is basically “We’re all different and weird and come from different backgrounds with different skin colors, sexual identities, preferences, etc. We’re diverse! And that diversity is beautiful. Our differences make us special”. However, I wonder sometimes if Glee even understands its own message as often the way in which the show operates tends to contradict with this idea. Glee preaches tolerance, but the way in which it is so dependent on flagrant stereotypes is anything but tolerant. It highlights ignorance. It’s a big problem I have with Glee and, even moreso, its creator Ryan Murphy. He seems to think that because he is in a marginalized community he has some sort of skeleton key that allows him to make fun of other marginalized communities and prey on stereotypes as if they are his to “reclaim”. He’s able to use a form of hipster ignorance (which presents itself as hipster racism, hipster sexism, etc) to hide behind so that he never has to truly take accountability for the messages that he puts out in to the world. It’s as if he thinks we’re so beyond certain topics that we can joke about them in a way that simply recreates the oppression/marginalization. Casting the main Black girl and making her into some sassy diva isn’t a huge stride when it comes to Black female representation. Mercedes (the name alone preys on Black naming stereotypes). In the very first episode we see her neck-snappin’ and sassy-talking. Her and Kurt are THE sassiest characters, which is a stereotype of Black women and gay men (the sassy Black woman, the sassy gay friend). Speaking of racial stereotypes…Mike Chang?! He gets pushed to the sideline most of the time but when we do get to meditate on him we’re given  the same old tired Asian-stereotypes. It’s hard to think that it’s coincidental that he’s the one man from New Directions whose girlfriend needed to think about Bieste to cool down and not take things too far sexually. It feminized Mike in a way that Asian men have been, and continue to be, feminized and emasculated in American media. Do I think Ryan Murphy did these things intentionally? Not necessarily. Some things, such as Mercedes’ characterization, are too obvious to think Murphy didn’t know what he was doing. But other, more subtle things (like the Mike Chang example), are probably simply symptomatic of a secret education Murphy himself received overtime and is continuing to spread to others who are taking in his messages by watching his show. 

What were the things that stood out to y'all throughout the episode(s)? Which reading that we've done so far did you find yourself mentally turning back to while watching? Were there any previous texts that we've encountered that seemed to speak more to your experience viewing the Glee episodes, and if so what were they? What stereotypes did you pick up on while watching the show? Do you think that the intended message of Glee is still able to be effective even though the show and its creator continues to perpetuate various forms of marginalization?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Talking Points 9: Tricia Rose--Hip Hop/Black Suffering--Hyperlinks(?)

Texts: Tricia Rose TIME Magazine Interview and Tricia Rose's Hip Hop Wars Youtube Video

The above is a video taken during a National Action Network panel discussion on the entertainment industry. The man speaking is Radio One (one of the few major companies that own MANY radio stations, Radio
Emmett Till before (left) and his corpse after the brutal fatal beating he received (right)
One alone owns almost 70 stations) CEO Alfred Liggins . I included this video because it relates to what Tricia Rose was addressing, particularly in the TIME magazine interview. I cannot speak for these girls who spoke out during this panel discussion (quite impressively, I must say) but I must say that I agree, to an extent, with their argument. I have no issue with the proliferation of hip-hop on the airwaves. However, I wish that the hip-hop that got radio play was not the same ole' track saying the same ole' thing (get money, get bitches, get drugs [yayo, weed, and now molly]). We need more "conscious" rap on the radio. We need a diversification of what we have access to. As it stands, the popular rappers with the popular tracks are simply saying exactly what the Machine wants us to hear. The message being shared and what we are taking in falls in line with the dominant ideologies of society. 1)Capitalism--the music often praises money as being one of the greatest things on earth. Be it money made by selling drugs or money earned my slangin' beats. 2)Misogyny/Patriarchy--Let's just look at Rick Ross' lyrics about  date rape or Jay-Z's "Bitches and Sisters"
3)Anti-Blackness/White Supremacy--Lil Wayne's lyrics about beating up "that pussy like Emmett Till", Lil Wayne again, this time on a track with Drake, saying "Beautiful Black woman I bet that bitch look better red", Kanye West stated in Essence "if it wasn't for race mixing there'd be no video girls"
4) Homophobia/Straightness-Snoop Dogg Lion said "Frank Ocean ain't no rapper. He's a singer. [Being gay] is acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don't know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine"

A "meme"type image I created durng a workshop in which we discussed the ways in which hip-hop has been hijacked by capitalists and other hegemonic figures who now use mainstream hip-hop as a way to spread their message. 
These are all examples from commercial hip-hop, and, as Tricia Rose said, "commercial hip-hop--that is dead". By saying that commercial hip hop is dead, what Rose means is that it has lost its way. It has gotten so far from the roots of hip-hop and what hip-hop is supposed to be, that it might as well be dead for it's lost almost all of its connection to its genealogy.
Rose does not state this outright in neither the TIME magazine article nor the video clip from the alumni talk at Brown but I would argue, and others would as well, that the origins of hip-hop are comparable to that of Black studies. In "Black Op" Fred Moten states:
This open secret...the aim of black studies...the critique of the structures and tendencies whose delimitation and denial of that aim appear integral to their own foundation has rightly been understood to be indispensable to black studies: "the critique of Western Civilization" is black studies. (1743, emphasis mine)
 Essentially, Black Studies' goal is the critique of Western civilization. It is possible that the same argument could be made for the origin of hip-hop. Particularly given a quote from the same article of Moten's in which he states:
Black studies' concern with what it is to own one's dispossession, to mine what is held in having been possessed, makes it more possible to embrace the underprivilege of being sentenced to the gift of constant escape (1745)
If we were to replace Black studies with hip-hop the first sentence would still work because an argument could easily be made that owning/recognizing one's own disposession is a large part of hip-hop, old and new. And to recognize the state of being dispossesed, of being considered separate from the rest of humanity, of being considered inferior/less than/inhuman in the variety of ways that the dominant society has created (see: Black folk and hypersexual representation, Black folk and inherent criminality/ Black folk and natural lower intelligence, the list could go on)

It is precisely for that reason that my idea of "conscious" rap is a bit more encompassing than most people's. Many only see rappers like Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, and up-and-comer Kendrick Lamar as "conscious rappers" because they think they're rapping about something 'more important' than drugs, people think their raps are smarter or have more to offer. I would argue that there are plenty of rappers who are disregarded as having nothing to offer who actually do have quite a lot to say, and that those folk are plenty "conscious". The hip-hop that often plays on the radio right now, that kind of music that talks about slipping molly into a girl's drink, has lost its connection to hip-hop of "the past". But, I would hesitate to group some hip-hop that gets dismissed as garbage with that same group. A lot of "hard" rap, also known as "gangsta" rap very much deals with acknowledging one's dispossession. There is a lot of pain and hurt in the lyrics, these so-called "tough" guys are opening up about their own depression, about feeling trapped with nowhere to go, about feeling like they are outside-of-humanity. In Troublesome '96 Tupac announces that he is "hopeless", he goes on to say that there "ain't nothin worse than this cursed-ass hopeless life". DMX spent a lot of time talking about his depression, likening himself to demonic figures because that is how he saw himself (because he was looking through the lens given him by the dominant society); in "Get at Me Dog" X states that "the days are longer and seems like I'm wastin' time/I've got a lot of dreams but I'm not really chasing mine...I live to die, That's where I'm headed".
These are rappers, young men, who have been reaching out with the means that they were given. But, it is easier to simply dismiss them as criminals or "gangstas". To use their pain as proof of the criminality rampant in the Black community and/or as entertainment. Black suffering turned into entertainment for the masses.

Questions/Comments for the class:
I suppose I don't really have any direct questions, just general things that I wonder. I wonder how many people simply dismiss hip-hop or never look deeper into lyrics that they think are "garbage". I wonder how many of those people actually reflect on why they so quickly decide to dismiss this music, whether they've ever truly given it a chance or if they've allowed what they've learned through various 'secret' and not-so-secret educations about rap and the Black community to cloud their judgment. I've also got to be honest and say that I'm disappointed with the readings for this week. I was so excited for this week from the very beginning of the semester. I wish we could've read an essay of hers or two. Perhaps there'd be less breadth, but I think the depth that we'd get would be beneficial for the class.

ETA: Rachelle's blog post reminded me of one of my favorite Talib Kweli songs. I linked a bunch of rappers that I'd argue should join the ranks of conscious rappers, I might as well include a song by a a rapper unquestionably considered "conscious" by most hip-hop heads and fair-weather fans alike. He's amazing, and unlike Mos Def who I have problems with after watching Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, he's also quite consistent and never seems to front.
anyway, enjoy two Talib videos. First is "Beautiful Struggle" and the other is 'Black Girl Pain' featuring a fantastic woman rapper who does not get nearly enough love. Both are from his album "Beautiful Struggle"

Monday, April 1, 2013

Talking Points 8--Kimmel & Mahler: Adolescent Masculinity, Homophobia, and Violence (Argument)

In "Adolescent Masculinity, Homophobia, and Violence: Random School Shootings, 1982-2001" Michael Kimmel and Matthew Mahler argue that masculinity, and feelings of inferiority as it pertains to masculinity, may be the major contributing factor to acts of mass violence, particularly in schools. They argue that masculinity, more specifically White masculinity, may be intrinsically* linked with acts of violence. Throughout the article Kimmel and Mahler note how homophobia is often fueling the ways in which boys tease other boys as a way to call their masculinity in to question. The authors also address ways in which young men can resist certain factors that might crack others and cause them to turn to violent means as payback.

Above I note that the authors argue that White masculinity may be intrinsically linked to violence. That is my perception of their argument and the article, not necessarily something that they explicitly stated. In fact, one could argue that they believe the opposite to be true, that violence in not inherent in White masculinity. On page 1440 they conclude their introduction stating that "in [their] view, these boys are not psychopatholoical deviants but rather overconformists to a particular normative construction of masculinity, a construction that defines violence as a legitimate response to a perceived humiliation". This particular line can be read in a variety of ways, but I choose to read it as I've expressed above. The issue I have with this statement of theirs is the same issue that I have with a few other points found in this article: they don't go far enough. I don't think they level a harsh enough critique. These boys, these shooters, aren't overconformists. They are simply conformists who needed to prove that they were in fact still "men" and chose the grandest ways of doing so according to the doctrine of masculinity that they abide by. It is because of this fact that I feel comfortable stating that White masculinity is intrinsically violent, for it is not the same as me saying that men  are intrinsically violent but rather that the idea of what it is to be a man in our society has its foundation on violence and domination, particularly as it pertains to the White patriarch.

The other aspect of this article where I feel they do not go far enough or explore deep enough is their usage of homophobia. I don't disagree with their argument that homophobia plays a large role in the ways in which men have their masculinity put into question. I would argue, however, that as it pertains to the situations in this article it would have been better if they acknowledged that this particular form of homophobia has its roots in patriarchy and have very little to do with actual hatred and fear of the gay community. They come so very close but they drop the ball several times. For example, when they snarkily quoted Eminem and his idea of the word "faggot", they should have followed that quotation with a deeper exploration of the fact that this homophobic slur has little to do with being "Gay" and everything to do with being an inferior man. For the homophobia that many of these bullied boys face has very little to do with a hatred and fear of gay men, as stated above, and a lot to do with a hatred and intense fear of being an imperfect/failed man. And, if we go back to the 13th century church, women are imperfect men (Albert Magnus: Woman is an imperfect man and possesses, compared to him, a defective and deficient nature). There exists, possibly particularly amongst adolescent men but I doubt it is confined to that age group, a deep fear in many men of being "woman-like". The concept of masculinity that men in our society have been socialized to believe is one that has its foundation in hating women at the core. It is thought, mostly subconsciously, that to be a woman (when we're talking simply of patriarchy and not involving other factors such as race. If we were to explore race here then this concept would become far more complex) is the worst thing to be. In C.J. Pascoes' "'Dude, Youre a Fag': Adolescent Masculinity and the Fag Discourse" Pascoe states that "the relationship between adolescent masculinity and sexuality is embedded in the specter of the faggot. Faggots represent a penetrated masculinity in which 'to be penetrated is to abdicate power'...Penetrated men symbolize a masculinity devoid of power, which, in its contradiction, threatens both psychic and social chaos. It is precisely this specter of penetrated masculinity that functions as a regulatory mechanism of gender for contemporary American adolescent boys". She goes on to argue that "'Homophobia' is too facile a term with which to describe the deployment of "fag" as an epithet. By calling the use of the word "fag" homopobia--and letting the argument stop with that point--...obscures the gendered nature of the sexualized insults" (124).

This is not to say that "fag" or other forms of homophobic taunts and behavior are never just that, homophobic. But, in these instances, so often these slurs have very little to do with the sexual identity of the boys that are at the receiving end and everything to do with throwing that boy's masculinity into question. As Pascoe found in her research, and the quote that Kimmel and Mahler used of Eminem's supports, to be gay does not necessarily throw an individual's manhood into crisis (or, rather, does not necessarily throw an individual's manhood into crisis in the eyes of others. For that's what this is all about in the end, the perception of one's masculinity. These boys have to constantly prove their manhood to others, very little is actually about the way one feels about themselves). Pascoe states that "according to this group of boys, gay is a legitimate, if marginalized  social identity. If a man is gay, there may be a chance he could be considered masculine by other men". But, to be gay or "a fag" in the pejorative way used by these young men, does not mean to sleep with other men but rather to be a failed man.

I think that Kimmel and Mahler's article could only have benefited form a deeper exploration of the complexities of the "homophobia" that they cite as a factor in violent White masculinity. Although I think that this exploration would only have strengthened their argument, I also appreciate the strength and content of this piece as well as their section regarding resistance and acts of resilience. And I do acknowledge that I am  doing a disservice to anyone reading this by not fully exploring my own usage of "White masculinity" instead of simply "Masculinity". Part of my reasoning in doing this is because Kimmel and Mahler themselves are concerned with White masculinity, not masculinity across racial axes and so to simply use "masculinity" without the qualifier would be to skew and misrepresent their argument.

Questions for the class:
Did you find yourself disagreeing with points brought up in this article? Was it difficult for you to read this analysis of masculinity and keep your mind on the macro level or did you find that there were moments where you said to yourself "Well, my guy friends are nothing like this, so maybe there's not that much validity here?". I'm always interested to see the ways in which conversations/readings that are about structural issues end up getting derailed by a focus on the individual, and it's interesting to see the ways in which people struggle to maintain a macro-lens. It's a constant struggle, particularly when studying structural inequalities, but it is something that we would all do best to remember, that individuals may seem to be exceptional but they do not invalidate arguments about systematic/structural problems.