Wednesday, January 04, 2006
It's Bigger Than Hip Hop. posted by leninWell, the latest outrage about Young Black Men, and the supposedly concomitant violence and misogyny, centres around the latest 50 Cent movie advertisements. Before I start, I do want to mention that I think 50 Cent is a talentless fuckwit and a relentless crawler up every rich arsehole he can find. (There's even a mixtape somewhere where he and the rest of G-Unit waste fifteen minutes of radio time sucking up to Donald Trump, of all people). But the latest manufactured controversy is about this:
You see, apparently the fact that he is carrying a baby while packing a gun is offensive because there has been gun crime in some parts of Britain, and this could be seen as 'condoning' such acts. Before we go any further, why was there no such controversy over this?:
That's not 'condoning' gun violence: it is nakedly, unashamedly, sexualising it. If you've seen the film, you know it does this more brutally and disgustingly than even the poster makes out - and, of course, the killing is on behalf of the CIA, a repulsive and bloodsoaked arm of US imperialism. So, where were all the concerned citizens then? There are countless other examples, of course, and they pass by the censorious eye of consumers and the Advertising Standards Agency without a blush or even a glint in the eye. Young Black Men are what these defenders of the peace are frightened of. For Young Black Men are supposedly especially prone to cultural manipulation, particularly unable to critically digest the fare that is placed before them by largely white, rich plutocrats.
Naturally, one couldn't indulge in such transparent racism on national television without putting a black face on it. So, ITN got soul-singer Mica Paris, whose brother was shot and killed, to denounce the 50 Cent ad. She explained that when you go to these neighbourhoods (not specified, but you know she's referring to Young Black Men), "all they're listening to is 50 Cent" and hence something is up. That is precisely wrong, of course. Via Chabert, here is 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. While patriarchy and sexism continue to be the political and cultural norm in our society, feminist movement has created a climate where crude expressions of male domination are called into question, especially if they are made by men in power. It is useful to think of misogyny as a field that must be labored in and maintained both to sustain patriarchy but also to serve as an ideological anti-feminist backlash. And what better group to labor on this "plantation" than young black men.
To see gangsta rap as a reflection of dominant values in our culture rather than as an aberrant "pathological" standpoint does not mean that a rigorous feminist critique of the sexist and misogyny expressed in this music is not needed. Without a doubt black males, young and old, must be held politically accountable for their sexism. Yet this critique must always be contextualized or we risk making it appear that the behaviors this thinking supports and condones,--rape, male violence against women, etc.-- is a black male thing. And this is what is happening. Young black males are forced to take the "heat" for encouraging, via their music, the hatred of and violence against women that is a central core of patriarchy.
More than anything gangsta rap celebrates the world of the "material, " the dog-eat-dog world where you do what you gotta do to make it. In this world view killing is necessary for survival. Significantly, the logic here is a crude expression of the logic of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. In his new book "Sexy Dressing, Etc." privileged white male law professor Duncan Kennedy gives what he calls "a set of general characterizations of U. S. culture" explaining that, "It is individual (cowboys), material (gangsters) and philistine." Using this general description of mainstream culture would lead us to place "gangsta rap" not on the margins of what this nation is about, but at the center. Rather than being viewed as a subversion or disruption of the norm we would need to see it as an embodiment of the norm.
That viewpoint was graphically 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 from some unique black cultural experience.
Contrary to a racist white imagination which assumes that most young black males, especially those who are poor, live in a self- created cultural vacuum, uninfluenced by mainstream, cultural values, it is the application of those values, largely learned through passive uncritical consumption of mass media, that is revealed in "gangsta rap." Brent Staples is willing to challenge the notion that "urban primitivism is romantic" when it suggests that black males become "real men" by displaying the will to do violence, yet he remains resolutely silent about that world of privileged white culture that has historically romanticized primitivism, and eroticized male violence. Contemporary films like "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Bad Lieutenant" celebrate urban primitivism and many less well done films ("Trespass, Rising Sun") create and/or exploit the cultural demand for depictions of hardcore blacks who are willing to kill for sport.
50 Cent is not "all they're listening to", and even if he were, he reflects the dominant values of this society rather than presenting a deviation from them. 50 Cent and people like him merit criticism not for some pathological alterity, but for reproducing the worst aspects of culture in capitalist society - the kind, in fact, that keeps people in chains. But if you refuse to broaden the net of your critique, and obsess only about black misogyny, black violence, black gangsterism, the terrible homophobia and sexism in hip hop, the awful violence etc - as if it's a black thing - then you should least be honest and consider yourself a racist.