Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Weimar in L.A. (303)

Bertolt Brecht, “Hollywood Elegies”

I

The village of Hollywood was planned according to the notion

People in these parts have of heaven. In these parts

They have come to the conclusion that God

Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to

Plan two establishments but

Just the one: heaven. It

Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful

As hell.

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Mentioned (310/485)

Some things we failed to mention. The montage sequence from Bamboozled not only gathers blackface tropes from US pop culture. Note also the amazing score by Terence Blanchard laid over that clip. I would argue that the music functions as a melancholy yet dignified solvent, cutting through the visual sludge of minstrelsy with the sound of one of Black America’s most signal cultural achievements: Jazz.

The invocation of the minstrel figure continues to exert fascination and provoke explosive responses, from Wesley Brown’s novel Darktown Strutters (the title of a film and a song as well) to Little Brother’s 2005 album The Minstrel Show to American Apparel’s ill-advised ad “Sweeter Than Candy, Better Than Cake” (see below).

There are also abundant scholarly studies of blackface performance. Off the top of my head: WT Lhamon’s Raising Cain, Louis Chude-Sokei’s The Last Darky, Robert Toll’s Blacking Up, and Donald Bogle’s Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies and Bucks, all of which I recommend.

AmAppBlackface

 

Ellen and Mike and Empire (225/303/310/485)

Imperialism is hegemonic in the sense that the citizens of Empire are often shocked or angered by the assertion that they do, in fact, live in one– usually before they bother to define that term.

In honor of Fleet Week– which is clearly a symbol of American Empire– here are two speeches that have been supplemented with images.

First, a by-now viral video of Ellen.

I’d never heard of this next one until yesterday. I don’t know who originally made it.

Consider our discussions about hegemony and interpretation. What codes and values are invoked by these clips? How does form shape or undermine content? Do you live in an Empire? What evidence and arguments support your claim?

Hanover (310/485)

David Fulton, writing as Jack Thorne, also wrote a novel about the Wilmington Coup, titled Hanover (5mb pdf). He worked as a journalist for the Daily Record, Wilmington’s Black newspaper, where Alexander Manly’s “inflammatory” editorial first appeared. The issue concerned what Angela Davis has called the myth of the Black rapist (see this pdf: MythBRCh11).

“Women of that race (white),” Manly wrote, “are not any more particular in the matter of clandestine meetings with colored men than are the white men with colored women. Meetings of this kind go on for some time until the woman’s infatuation, or the man’s boldness, bring attention to them, and the man is lynched for rape. Every Negro lynched is called a ‘big burly, black brute,’ when in fact many of those who have thus been dealt with had white men for their fathers, and were not only not ‘black’ and ‘burly’ but were sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them as is very well known to all.”

Consult Sundquist’s introduction for further information.

Below is an excerpt from Hanover which captures some of the flavor of white supremacist ideology:

Hanover.jpg

 

 

Robert Frank (225/303/310/425/485)

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Robert Frank, the celebrated photographyer, died on Monday at age 94. That’s a pretty good run. Probably his most highly regarded work, The Americans, is really worth examining. The images in this post are taken from it. You can find these and many more images at artstor.org, which is available through the library website.