Cult of Personality, Inc

Here’s my business proposal that I wrote for a class (Cultural Criticism) in the early aughts. Ironically enough, I was totally onto something and should have searched out a VC company for it.

BTW, DON’T STEAL MY IDEA, I’ll gladly sell it.

In the late 21st century the marketing arena changed from a capital based system to a personality based system. No longer were big corporations able to inundate the public sphere with commercial product advertising. Consumers wanted to not only to buy the brands that they were exposed to but wanted to become the brands themselves. This all started with a brilliant young artist and her desire to move away from the commercialism that was now intricately linked to advertising and not only show off her art, but show off herself. That’s how our company, Cult of Personality Inc., was created.

“The spectacle erases the dividing line between the self and world, in that the self, under siege by the presence/ absence of the world, is eventually overwhelmed; it likewise erases the dividing line between true and false, repressing all directly lived truth beneath the real presence of the falsehood maintained by the organization of appearances.”[i]

  • Guy Debord The Society of the Spectacle

Cult of Personality began with the premise of what would happen if, in a market driven society, people- everyday folks- began using a more complex marketing or sales paradigm for their personal relationships.   No longer was just meeting a person and the weight of the interpersonal relationship the deciding factor in the level of activity or the basis of the relationship. What if all interpersonal relationships were based on some sort of mediated advertising or marketing model. It’s of course apparent that, to a degree, this is what human beings do. From clothing, to hair, to education, to the type of house they own or car they drive, they all say something about a person’s personality. Yet what if a prepackaged persona were created? What would be the impact on corporate marketing if the market were flooded with “reality advertising”? What kind of things would people sell about themselves?

In trying to see if this question had any validity, a survey was sent out to a random selection of people. The questions were formulated not only to discover how people felt about marketing themselves and how they were influenced by current marketing techniques, but also how that influence influenced their responses.

The answers were hilarious, idiotic and enlightening. The enlightening part was that everyone had an idea for how they’d market themselves. Some people took it more seriously than others, but that’s the American way.   People do think of themselves in terms of product. That, on the one hand goes without saying in America, but on the other hand, few would sell what it is they do for a living.  What did this prove about how Americans would market themselves?   Nothing. Only that everybody (at least everybody surveyed) would be famous if they could and many of them may be sociopaths.   Yet if they are, they are indeed “[t]he individual[s], …condemned to the passive acceptance of an alien everyday reality,… driven into a form of madness in which, by resorting to magical devices, [they] entertain the illusion that [they] are reacting to this fate.”[ii]

Company History

We began in the late-21st century after the “Great Advertising Boom”. There wasn’t any space left that was unmediated and didn’t have some sort of corporate sponsorship of some kind attached to it. Human’s were even getting huge salaries simply to get tattoos of brands like Coca Cola. We were “in the midst of “an onslaught of ads that accost Americans at every turn’”[1] There was no getting away to not get bombarded with brands being sold by huge transnational conglomerates that cared about consumers only as dollar signs on year end reports. Congruently, the social media landscape was also changing. There was a proliferation of “reality TV” shows that leveled the playing field between the famous and the rest of the world. Anyone could get famous if they warranted the support of corporate backers. There became entire channels devoted to the viewing of anyone doing anything they wanted. The Osbornes, The Anna Nicole Show, Survivor, Fear Factor, these shows had sprung networks devoted to the shock value and suspension of belief that they were real. Then came the John Traina Show. He was one of our first clients. This was a show devoted to trouble. Not in the Tom Green/ Jackass sense of trouble, but here was a real “normal” guy with no stunt men and just a buddy with a camera devoted to causing trouble. Later when asked why he did what he did he replied that he wanted to start “trouble, plain and simple. I, as a product, can almost guarantee, that if you follow my instructions, you will have more trouble than you can handle.” And he did. Only it took off. More people wanted to go out and do what they loved doing and not get paid for it, just do it. Without corporate sponsorship. On their own. That’s where Cult of Personality came in. We used John Traina’s idea of personal marketing. He would market himself “like telemarketing, in that I would go directly to the people to find potential customers. I would seek out these people wherever they may be, in person, get them into some trouble, and let things follow their own course. Direct advertising! Maybe a little too direct.” At first viewers were skeptical. They were already aware that the introduction of a television camera into a “real” experience automatically changes the dynamics of the space.

Yet the idea of actually becoming an individual again was appealing. Not having to drink only Coca Cola. People started drinking water out of the sink. It was a small step, but it was felt in the pockets of the largest conglomerates in the world. Tags were being cut out of clothes. People began writing their own names on things again (as opposed to using the “property of” stamps they were paid to use). It became a small countercultural revolution.

Then came Amanda W. and her turning the tide and being the first person to market herself “Because she wanted to.” This idea was not new and had been debated in the late 20th century. When large transnational media corporations began their conglomeration stage, the voices of dissent and skepticism felt it was a conspiracy ploy to destroy the “public sphere” and create an environment for mass consumption only. It was felt that “it is in the interests for the controllers of multinational capital to keep nation-states and their citizens in a state of disunity and dysfunctional ignorance united only by market structures within which such capital can freely flow, while at the same time they develop their own private e communication networks”.[2]   Amanda W. wanted to challenge “a commercialized culture industry effectively clos[ing] off the possibilities for dialogue (dialectical conflict) because intellectuals (such as journalists), including those with oppositional ideas, [were] forced to sell their skills to the culture industry.”[3] She wanted to sell herself, but not for money per se. Sure, as an artist, she would love to make some cash we still existed in a capitalist system, but more than the money she wanted to be famous. She had held a lucrative job as an architect but wanted to sell herself in another way.

Understandably the concept of selling oneself leads the ear to either prostitution or slavery. Yet in a capitalist society, many citizens sold their time, their knowledge and/ or expertise, or their physical labor for cash. Résumés, job applications, headshots, and business cards, were all marketing tools necessary for those who wanted and needed money to find a way to get it. But what Amanda decided was that instead of using marketing to get a job, it was used just to try to get famous. In the vein of reality-based programming she watched some Americans do anything to get on TV or get recognized. Since renting a billboard wasn’t cost prohibitive for her she decided to rent one billboard stating she loves to paint. She wasn’t selling a service or product, she just wanted to get their face blown up to larger than life proportions and have people see it.

It’s important to understand the historical movements of the time to understand the ground breaking innovation of personal advertising. Then it was only large companies who took out billboard ads and had television commercials. Conceptually it was unheard of for an individual to market themselves based solely on acquiring fame. The founders of Cult of Personality asked the question what if there are enough individuals who through whatever guerilla marketing tactics decided they just wanted their faces to be seen. It was then the premise for a lot of “reality-based” television shows. What if every American, or world citizen for that matter, decided they wanted to be famous in this way (in this just wanting to be seen)- what would fame mean then? It was now possible with the Internet for anyone with access to a computer to create a webpage and market themselves on a global level.   Cult of Personality then went on to question: Why was it economically, politically and socially acceptable for “celebrities” (also known as people) to take out ads in trades asking for votes for awards which increases sales, not only to themselves, but also to movie production and distribution companies and so preposterous for an average Joe to do the same? Politicians bombarded us, on the television, in newspapers, on lamp posts, with statements illuminating how much better they are as people than their opponents to sell us on voting for them to increase their individual power in the government. The answer was that these types of advertising had socially permissible ends. Money and Power.

Cult of Personality changed the value of money and power and made fame the greatest asset a human could hold. That’s why now it’s not about how much money or power you have but how ubiquitous you are. How much exposure you can get as a human to increase your personal value which can translate itself into power (and if money was still used… that too).

When the bottom fell out of the Capitalist system Cult of Personality was there to fill in the gaps of personal identity the lack of commercialization had left. Without brands to give them a sense of identity what was just an artist trying to fight against a system and a potential sociopath who wanted to cause trouble- a new form of marketing was created for a new world order. The Revolution put the intellectuals back in power who were able to remove the stigma of big business from cultural production and use the media as the democratizing form it is today.   The key was to not allow themselves, the intellectuals, to become the dominant ruling regime. They didn’t want to become the next power to be overthrown. In stepped the idea of individual marketing.   Since money was in a state of flux, before it went away all together, there had to be some way of democratizing the people to not have an elite class. A way of socialization with out it being socialization per se. The media was the great democratizer.

Cult of Personality is about democratization of media images. We are the anti-thesis of what was the dominant mass cultural movement of the early 21st century. “If Freudian therapy involves encouraging a people to ‘confront’ themselves and their circumstances, the culture industry does exactly the opposite; it encourages people not to think about themselves or their circumstances but rather to immerse themselves in the ‘pre-arranged harmony’ of ‘distraction’, ‘escapism’ and manufactured leisure… Commodified culture makes people feel comfortable because it requires no effort and does not challenge them to think. It is a culture designed to relax, pacify and provide easy answers and ready-made opinion.” [4] Using you and your ideas of who and what you are in a simultaneously ultra mediated yet individually tailored environment, the creation of your media image is wholly up to you. We are simply here to take your ideas and thoughts to the level of the spectacle. There is no escapism here because you can’t really escape from who and what you really are. We work with you, a team of psychiatrists, media consultants, medical personnel, and spiritual advisors to help you find who you really are and how you want the world to see you. There is no discrimination here- only that your personality be compelling enough to sustain the magnitude of constant spectatorship. Even if it’s not when you come to us, it will by the time we complete your media blitz.   Here is the process:

 

 

Product:

You. Answer these questions:

  • If you were the commercial, what would you be selling?
  • If you were a commercial- what would you be? Name an existing commercial
  • How would you market yourself? (Give examples)
  • What medium would you choose for your ad? TV, music, film, magazines?
  • How do brands influence your personal style?   What brands are you?
  • Do you buy just for brands? What brands do you trust?
  • If you were a musician, or actor, or artist- who kind would you be? Why?
  • If you were famous, how would you acquire fame? (Politics, stardom, dictatorship?)
  • What are your favorite commercials? What medium? Why?
  • How are you influenced by ads? Do you notice them? Which ones work on you? Which ads influence you?

As we move you to a more personal branding a branding of yourself by you- It’s necessary for you to know how you see the world.   A lot of people are so jaded by the overabundance of images, that they don’t think about how much work goes into creating a media persona while trying to maintain some distance between the persona and who you are. Yet, we at Cult of Personality don’t believe it’s necessary to maintain distance between the two. That’s where a lot of today’s recent crimes come into play. We are working with the human psyche and melding the internal person and the external personae. This is not about illusions or escapism.

How we can help you

Being that we are the innovators of this form of marketing there is no company better than us. We are based on the principles of spectacular reality. There is no “acting” or “pretending” in the work we do. We are working from the Amanda W. / John Traina examples of real “reality TV”, as is were. It’s can be difficult to negotiate and unless the proper training and support systems are in place, as they are here, the mind can crack.   We at Cult of Personality have the superior distinction of not having one fractured psyche in our 75 years of individual marketing. What we have are a lot of satisfied customers.   We take you to the next level of you. We help you see the you that even you didn’t know existed.

Positioning

As the creators of personal brand marketing, we have the honor of having access to every piece of public space available. Even our competitors must come to us. That says a lot about them. Yet we are fair, since we were created in the spirit of democracy, and we gladly share space, but rest assured- our customers come first. So, except for some places of religious worship, we can get you whereever you want to be. Based on what approach you take, we can get your face anywhere on the planet.

Services

As we stated earlier, we work closely with medical personnel and psychiatrists to insure the physical and mental stability of our clients. Being in the public eye affects people differently and fame can sometimes be a little overwhelming. We understand that and take all aspects of fame into consideration. We’ve been studying the famous for years. Using the late 20th century as a model for fame’s excesses (like Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder) we’ve use these people who were up and then down as case studies for behavioral types. Now Dr. Robert Downey Jr. became Head of Fame Studies here shortly after presenting his Nobel Peace Prize winning paper discussing fame as commodity and revolutionizing modern economic thought. We also have a staff well educated in the Frankfurt School of thought emphasizing the importance of public discourse and maintain the omni- dimensional system of democratized marketing.

Pricing

Pricing is based on a case by case basis. See your consultant for more on this. We do accept Property Rights as a acceptable form of payment.

Notes:

  • Cult of Personality is not responsible for any sort of mental breakdown you might have as a result of being constantly in the public eye. If this is what you want- REALLY– want we’ll give it to you.
  • Cult of Personality is not responsible for any lawsuits arising from any actions taken by you or to you as a result of your fame. We make people famous. We can’t make people like you.   But we will have doctors available for to help put you back together.
  • Cult of Personality can not take responsibility for the cleaning of billboards, hate mail, or any other negative reactions to your ad. We will have doctors available with medications to make you feel better about yourself.
  • Cult of Personality cannot be held responsible for any unhappiness or lack of worth you might feel in the emptiness of shallow hollow fame. We do have doctors available with medications to make you not really think about that all the time and believe you know you more than anyone else could. Anna Nicole Smith has been cryogenically frozen and is unthawed bi-annually for such cases.

[1] McChesney, Robert. Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times. New

York: The New Press,1999. 41

[2] Louw, P. Eric. The Media and Cultural Production. London: Sage, 2001.92

[3] ibid. 97

[4] ibid. 97

[i] Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1995. 153

[ii] ibid.

Saturday, I really saw Ice T at the Barbican

12 Movements: Ask your Mama

[I didn’t take out my notebook until after what would have been an intermission, so about halfway through. We’d had a few drinks while watching Liverpool beat the stuffing out of Man City so we were on top of the world.  This is what I scribbled in my notebook.]

Ice-T is here!

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Yes. That Ice-T!

It’s the dozens.

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Music: there were moments when it felt like the bass player was looking at the screen when a bass player came on and he was mimicking him. My eye went to the two of them.

The poems are lyrical. So lyrical that as a lyricist Ice-T can’t help but sing them. But it’s not sing songy.

They totally need an intermission. It’s a lot of information too. It needs a breather.

Blues, Afro-Brazilian, classic jazz quartet. Horn as voice. Ogun. “To the village of an anglo”. [Note to self: Langston Hughes tour (where he’s been, like the ones about the black expats in Paris)]

Cha Cha

White marshmallow drumsticks. Softer sound but cymbals have more ting drum solo during the Gods piece. DRUMS!!!

Sojourner   images-7

“Investigate them negroes, who brought them Doberman Pinschers.”

Music

In the quarter of the negroes

Sister Betty in her black veil almost got me.

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It always gets me.

[I want the pictures (there’s a slideshow on a screen between Ice T and the band. Ron McCurdy as voice and horn) to tell a story they should follow Langston’s studies & experiences. Moorland Spingarn Library/ HU.]

Brits need you to play an instrument fast and with passion to clap. Like they have to feel you earned it. Or when familiar riffs are played. And this guy [piano player] is cheap.

some song I don’t know or know in some other concoction. Cheap. Jingoistic and Langston would have hated it. Or loved it, nah, I don’t think so.

Astute audience? I guess…***face scrunch***

Spread the Gospel of Langston!

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Ice T: music is too segregated and he hates a musical snob. music is here to make you feel good. Ice is having a baby this week.

Mood 12

Lindy hop, Savoy needed. Crisis covers.

There was a lady in our balcony section clapping and responding. But she might have been drunk.

 

So there you have it. I saw Ice T at the London Jazz Festival performing Langston Hughes at the Barbican with a jazz quintet.  What a sentence!! I need to find the visual producers Jumbo Arts Productions. If you know them, gimme a shout.

 

Nothing But a Man: The Understated Genius of Ivan Dixon | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Source: Nothing But a Man: The Understated Genius of Ivan Dixon | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Why is Judge Judy on in England so much?

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In my unemployed, I guess I’d be called a housewife; only I’m not necessarily cleaning or cooking. I’m washing hella dishes and not averse to putting a load of clothes in the machine. But mostly I’m applying for jobs, trying not to beat myself up for not becoming an investment banker and having a soul, and watching TV.

We have SkyTV now, but when we were in “the other house”, I would see that Judge Judy was on and get struck by a longing I hadn’t expected. I didn’t really watch her at home as I had Judge Milian and Judge Hachette. Naturally, as a single woman, Divorce Court was a warming panacea reinforcing my choice to wait for MY dude. Hell, there were even cases of whether the people should even get married or not.

But Judge Judy, comparatively, was the man. Her old school insistence on having a job and not having babies out of wedlock had a certain Judge Mathis/ Joe Brown type of respectability politic built into it. It came on CBS and was for me the judicial equivalent of yelling, “get offa my lawn”.

That was til I came here. And I got older and although I don’t have a lawn, I wouldn’t want any darn fool kids playing on it.

But why is she on so much here? I can watch Judge Judy (and ANY of the Law & Order franchises- even Trial by Jury & LA) at almost anytime of the day here in the Blighty.

Is this to teach Britons with their barristers and House of Lords  how superior our legal system is? I don’t really understand this system as it’s not an actual democracy, I don’t think…but who am I kidding, neither is ours.

But why Judge Judy? Over our myriad other sitting know it alls? In watching her so much now, I think I get it. She’s such a boomer it’s not even funny. And it’s weird for me to think of her as such, but she is.   But while she gets what “the kids do” she doesn’t approve and still has a certain amount of Victorianism about her. Maybe it’s the robes. She doesn’t understand text messaging or why people use such bad language in it. (Thank God for Bird who’s there as her protector, translator and straight man.)

Which brings us to race. I know, I know, but if you don’t want to read about race and TV, you’re in the wrong place buddy.

I can tell when she’d made up her mind already based on how someone looks and sounds. Watching older ones I can see more compassion during the financial crisis then I can now as she suggests to the unemployed to go collect cans.

If a woman has more than 2 fathers of their children (try writing that sentence, awkward), I heard her tell a woman “you’ve been around the block a few times, madam”. Black man with cornrows…he’d better have an MBA and a shoebox worth of receipts.

More on this later.

TMI #1

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Yesterday I an older lady was rushing to get to the bathroom. She went in right before me. Then I heard, from her stall, her EXPLODE then the sound of utter relief. Like panting relief.  I wanted to say, “Good Girl!” because I know that there was a moment, a real moment, that she didn’t think she was going to make it.

That’s the stuff I think we should be able to share.

Conclusion- Where Do We Go From Here?

Conclusion-
Where Do We Go From Here?

In this thesis, I have explored the visual representations of black men, black women and black couples primarily in film. I wanted to answer the questions: How have loving relationships between blacks been portrayed? How have the images of black love influenced the hip-hop generation?
Black representational media readings have historically been based in the reading of stereotypes. Stereotyping defines a way of seeing a visualized “other” outside of the flow of experience; yet, when that “other” internalizes the representations of themselves, created within the context of global media conglomerates, the result is a re-appropriation of stereotype into a false sense of empowerment. “The degree to which the fantasy of film interfaces with reality in the public imagination, especially in the imagination of the younger generation for whom such image induced definitions are central to our identity, can no longer be ignored. For young Blacks grappling with questions of their own-some living close to the battlefield and others in the thick of it- popular culture, […] rather than societal institutions, have provided answers- often wrong headed ones.” (Kitwana 139). The combination of the lack of visual images showing blacks loving each other, and the profusion of the absence thereof reinforce a false ontology.
Brooklyn based writer Angela Ards’ Ms. Magazine article “Where is the (Black) Love?” tells a familiar story of the effect of racism on the behaviors men and women of this generation exhibit toward each other. In her article, she states that as young people,
We don’t want to mold our relationship to mirror traditions that don’t serve our realities. We rack our brains to name couples whose unions we admire. The lack of viable paradigms and role models humbles us. Can we be so arrogant to think that we can make love between black men and women work when, besides Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, the couples around us largely have not? (Ards)

This familiar story is mirrored in the realization that I could not think of many other media examples of committed black loving couples, either real or fictional.
In discussing black manhood, we see that black men are portrayed as sexist, sexually compulsive, nihilistic and untrustworthy. Black women are seen as supportive of patriarchal models, sexually manipulative, emasculating and untrustworthy. Young black couples are perceived as sexually transient, afraid of commitment/ marriage/ responsibility/ pain, exist in peer based support systems, and are untrustworthy.
Black men have become frustrated with trying to fulfill the white patriarchal model of manhood; their hopelessness has been translated into rage against black women, which is evidenced by the abundance of unloving imagery created in film, television and music videos. “On the manhood front, the image of the militant black prince fighting for his freedom was soon replaced by the get- over playboy image of the daddy mack, ‘the pimp.’ … While they might not possess the political and economic power of patriarchal white men, they could out do them on the sexual front. When it came to sex, they could win… Embracing sexual images that were racist/sexist and dehumanizing gave black men the license to use and abuse black women.” (Salvation 138)
The absence of the self-reflection needed to emotionally mature past these images is the fuel that feeds a capitalist patriarchy. When there is no self-reflection there is no growth. Combined with the legacy/ mythology of black male infantilism by the alleged matriarchal female, many hip-hop generationers, regardless of class, remain emotionally, socially and sexually retarded. They are stuck in puberty- the moment when sexuality is blooming and adolescent experimentation begins. When viewing images of their imagined selves black men learn, “that a real male is fearless, insensitive, egocentric, and invulnerable (all the traits powerful black men have in movies) a black man blocks out all emotions that interfere with this ‘cool’ pose” (hooks, Cool 61). Obsessesed with teenage cool, the black man- regardless of age- is represented in the media, and reflected in his subjectivity, only one evolutionary step from child.
The lack of self-reflection and self-definition is not only emblematic of black men. The female characters in the films discussed show us that women are ready to create loving relationships and have been taught under patriarchal tutelage that women must sublimate themselves to men. I agree with bell hooks in her assessment that black women overall are not feminist. “Many of us were raised in homes where black mothers excused and explained male anger, irritability and violence by calling attention to the pressures black men face in a racist society where they are collectively denied full access to economic power. They clearly believed…that racism was harder on males than females, even though many of these black women worked for low wages in circumstances where they were daily humiliated and mistreated” (Yearning 75). In addition, many of the specifics of the mainstream feminist movement did not apply to the realities of black women’s lives and white feminists were not particularly interested in exploring issues of race within their fight against gender oppression.
Young black women, trying to define their roles within the media’s assault have molded their behavior to how they are seen by men. They have adopted the complementary performance to the men’s pimp thug by becoming his moll. In “an already entrenched understanding of women’s bodies as objects of consumption,” the hip-hop generation’s women continue the support of black male sexism with their acceptance of this role (Rose 168). Despite the new dominant mythology that black women are moving up the economic ladder, black female sexuality is still seen as commodity that black women are willing to sell to the highest bidder.
According to black people’s imagery in film, and subsequently in music videos, there is no sexual fantasy a man (black or white) can have that a black woman will not fulfill. Music video and film reciprocally influence one another creatively reinforcing both visual and social cues. Music videos, again, borrow films visual power while entering the private sphere of the home. This constant reiteration of dehumanizing images within the home can arguably be more influential than those created in film. I am not arguing that music videos have no redeeming socializing value, only the proliferation of such a small set of images (mostly the body parts of a shaking young woman draping herself over a rapper or singer) so wholly monolithic and constant when set to music can be a powerful influence on an individual’s behavior. It is the reinforcement of the one image that is disturbing. Despite there being others in the world of music videos, the rewards go to those who best promote empty selfish values and who have the most anti-loving images as their advertisement. Increasingly these images are feeding the reality of women’s sexual definitions. “When any black female acts out in a manner that is in keeping with negative stereotypes, there is more room for her in the existing social structure […]. No doubt this is why so many young black women feel that the only options they have are to claim the roles of bitch and ho” (hooks, Salvation 106).
In a recent Village Voice article titled “The Height of Disrespect” Thulani Davis discusses how a study of young black adolescents have adapted patriarchal sexist dogmas. Young women admit to having sex with multiple partners as a way to overcompensate their increased lack of feelings of power or value. “Since many do not expect exclusive relationships with partners, and sex is spoken of as a transactional relationship rather than an emotional one, keeping a partner by way of sex or pregnancy seems a viable strategy, at least temporarily”. Using strategy and manipulation to “bag” a man who is only interested in sex increases feelings of mistrust between black men and women. Subsequently, their feeling of devaluation leads to dangerous sexual behavior, “‘Young people today are facing a …whole set of images of themselves—hypersexual, sexually irresponsible, not concerned with ongoing intimate relationships. [They] can’t help but be influenced by those images.’ When several young women were talking about their reluctance to use condoms, one said that no one on TV or in films is ever shown using them” (Davis).
Like the visual relationships discussed earlier, the space black couples inhabit is practically a war zone. The images perpetuated in hip-hop music and videos expose, “…the extent to which patriarchal black males, like the males in general, see sexuality as a war zone where they must assert dominance” (Cool 73). It is in this space that the future of the black family is being created. In many black homes, it is the women who provide material support for black men, women, and children while some men take these loving actions for granted as well as the women not being thanked or supported emotionally, psychically, or spiritually. “When it comes to issues of love, the mass media basically represent black people as unloving. We maybe portrayed as funny, angry, sexy, dashing, beautiful, sassy and fierce but we are rarely represented as loving” (hooks, Salvation 51). Yet if the women do not trust the men and vice versa where do the children learn to love and trust? The media?
Media literacy is our hope. One of the goals in being a media literate society is to understand the role media play on personal behaviors. “Because the Europeans did not have enough manpower to control the vast territories and populations they were taking over in Africa and Asia, they began to use the media as a form of mind control, colonizing people around the world, just as they also colonized information about the world. Today the mass media includes every visual object that influences the mind—billboard advertisements, commercials and more, but especially movies and television” (Clarke). In order for the media to not be considered “mind control” those immersed in and connected by the media must have an understanding of how it not only reflects society but has the power to shape it from the inside.
In John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk, historian John Henrik Clarke stated that the family is the nucleus of civilization and if the black family is in trouble, then the black community is in trouble. There will be no black family without “loving relations” in some form. What I found was a battleground of hurt feelings, hopelessness, sexual pathology, and scarred people, afraid of each other; afraid of media reflected images of themselves.

Chapter III- Hopeless: Moving Past Postmodern Hip-Hop Adolescence

Chapter III-
Hopeless:
Moving Past Postmodern Hip-Hop Adolescence

Love and Basketball and Love Jones are culminations of all of the previous representations with the distinct voice of the hip-hop generation. They stylistically reflect the influences of music videos while addressing the biggest challenge the hip-hop generation faces– how are we supposed to behave? These films re-appropriate hip-hop’s superficially materialistic and sexual manifestations and show the ramifications those images have in our everyday existence. Gender lines are not as specifically defined in these films creating different approaches to relationships. Without the specific struggles against racism and classism, these films are also a reminder of the personal and spiritual work the black community as a whole must continue to do in their intraracial, interpersonal relations.
These characters are the beneficiaries of all of social, cultural, economic and political changes of the last thirty years. The hip-hip generation, imbued with the legacy of sexualized youth culture, sees marriage as the end to the freedoms (sexual and otherwise) they have enjoyed and seen as their right their entire lives. Marriage is a pseudo fantasy that for men marks an end of youth and for women idealizes security. It is also seen as something done by “grown ups” (an act performed by the previous generation) or whites. Sex- only relationships and strong male-female platonic friendships (most with the possibility of sex) are the dominant models for relationships. The blurring of the lines between these relationship positions reinforces the question of how the hip-hop generation is supposed to behave. No longer looking to their parents as models, the media offers behavioral cues. In these films, their portrayals begin to question what they have been taught and follow them on their explorations of how they learn to define their lives for themselves.
Love and Basketball tells the story of a young man and woman who grow up next door to each other and their love of basketball is what pulls them together and ultimately drives them apart. They grow up in an upper middle class environment in two parent homes. Throughout high school, they are best friends. Their intimacy for each other grows from their love of basketball.
Monica is a tomboy. She hides her dresses, hates having her hair combed, is obviously, as the younger of two girls, the son her father never had. She watches her mother defer her dreams and never stand up for herself and decidedly abhors anything she deems as “prissy.” Q is a talented and privileged young man who idolizes and emulates his father, an ex professional basketball player. His mother is a stay at home mom who tends to his and his father’s every need.
At the age of eleven, Q asks Monica to be “his girl” after watching her get her hair combed through the window while listening to his parents have loud passionate sex, thereby infusing Monica with sexuality. William Simon discusses the role of parental sexuality in the lives of adolescents:
“Parents, particularly the parents of the opposite sex for those experiencing themselves as moving towards heterosexuality, will obviously have many of the attributes that the adolescent is expected to recognize and respond to as being sexual. This connection becomes particularly significant when the child sees the parents as being sexually active, sometimes increasingly evident particularly to those adolescents who have witnessed parents returning the dating and mating game. The stereotypical notion of Victorian reticence and prudery clearly create a different set of conditions for managing the problems of inclusion and exclusion than would be true for most of the varieties of contemporary middle-class North American families- even where the family remains intact. (83)

The adolescence of the parental relationships in this film teaches the children dysfunctional relationship models. Q’s parents ultimately divorced because of the father’s infidelity. Q’s identity was tightly wound with that of his father, and the women he later dates are sexually feminized like his mother. When Q sees Monica the next day, she has changed from the androgynous being, (who was beating him at basketball, leading him to push her on the ground, scarring her face for life) to a cutie in dress with her hair in plaits and accepting of his advances. When her mother told her the night before that Q was riding to school with her in the morning, she told her sister to make sure her hair looked nice. She’s developing a sexuality not outside of her tomboyishness, because after they share her (their?) first kiss that morning, he demands she ride on his bike because she’s his girl and his dad drives his mother. She refuses by telling him “ I don’t have to do what you say,” a verbal argument ensues before she pushes him off his bike and they start rolling in the grass fighting. Despite her change in costume, the performance of gender equality was the same. It was not until after he called her “an ugly dog” that she made the fight physical. She had already been initiated by the letting of blood with the scar he had given her on her chin the day before. She was not going to be his victim again.
Fast forward to senior year in high school where they are both the stars of their basketball teams. Q is sexually active and Monica is pining away, loving him but able to relate to him only through basketball. The use of the ball as the link between the two identifies her not just with Q but also with both his father and hers. The inclusion of parents in this film shows the hip-hop generation’s longing for behavioral models, but finding only antiquated ones. Monica complains that her mother never attends her basketball games. The fact that she played basketball took her out of her mother’s domain. Even after Monica has played all over the world, her mother does not understand or know basketball lingo; effectively not knowing anything about her daughter. Therefore, when Monica has a problem, she asks her father. Senior year, she asks him to talk to the coach so she can stay in the game that her temper keeps getting her kicked out of. Her contention is that she’s “a ball player” and if she were a man, she would just be showing heart. Monica is one of few black female characters that address sexism. Her playing a sport makes her gender conflict keener.
At one of the two games her mother attends, her mother scolds her from the sidelines for not behaving like a lady. The visual separation of Monica from what is traditionally “women’s work” is the division of labor in the household. While she is talking to her father, her mother and feminized sister are setting the table. It is here that she tells her mother that she is a lesbian, “well that’s what you think ‘cause I would rather wear a jersey than an apron.” It is also here that her father tells her that since she has not been recruited, that she might want to look at different roads. She’s upset by his lack of faith and her mother’s comment that she has more going for her in the off- handed compliment of her being smart and “[she] would be pretty if [she] did something to [her] hair”.
Later she goes to the Spring Dance that her college-aged sister not only gets her a date for but also her sister dolls her up. Naomi Wolf discusses the image of the “doll” as “[o]n TV, female sexuality was about these dolls who were obsessed with getting dates with men. It was not a mature sexuality…There was no power in their sexuality…Being doll-like was part of how you reeled in a man. But what you did with him after you reeled him in- I had no clue” (Wolf 17). Neither did Monica. Her mother’s advice was to “enjoy being beautiful”, but to what end. At the dance, she is visibly uncomfortable in her skintight dress and heels. Unlike the young women in music videos who fit Wolf’s “doll” image, Monica is attempting to define herself through her own actions and not through anyone else’s acceptance. She is redefining standard gender stereotypes without being all feminist about it. Monica is simply working on being comfortable in her own skin.
When she gets home and talks about her date to Q on their mutual rooftop, she tells him that she went parking with her date, and while he was kissing on her and touching her, she could not remember how many offensive boards she got in the finals. That is her version of sex. She has attached it to the power she feels on the court. Her performance is not in the doll-like prissiness of sexuality but in the intimacy, it gives her with the one man who understands her love for basketball. That night she and Q physically make love. Director Gina Bythewood does not portray her body as the “docile body” as described by Foucault, traditionally associated with female sexuality, and it is at this moment that the narratives surrounding the black female body collide. According to Peterson, “to the dominant culture the black body was often both invisible and hypervisible… or… the black female body could be perceived as simultaneously feminine and masculine” (xi).
Yet, her sexuality through the rest of the film is focused on Quincy- the masculine. When he is not around, she is not sexual. Q on the other hand uses their emotional and sexual intimacy as his power over her. When he needs her and she is not available to him because of her basketball schedule, he starts “dating” another girl. Monica, despite her love for Q, when faced with his ultimatum, chooses basketball over him, and he leaves her. She ultimately conforms, in a way, to a model of male domination. “Females who wanted black male partners felt they had to conform to sexist expectations. Tragically, where much attention had been given to these conflicts, all the attention was now focused on black male satisfaction.” (hooks, Salvation 166) Quincy’s emotional denial through his sexual infidelity further demonstrates the behaviors that sustain the lack of trust between black women and men.
When Monica loses Quincy, she loses her love for basketball, despite her playing in the European League. Like Tracy in Mahogany, success means nothing because she does not have anyone to share it with. She comes back to the states (five years later) to find Quincy, now potentially unable to play basketball himself, engaged to an archetypical female. She gives up basketball and takes a job at her father’s bank.
On her mother’s advice, Monica challenges Q to a final basketball game for his heart. She has no female peers, despite all of her years on female basketball teams. She has only bonded emotionally with Q. He is her only friend. Therefore, when she looks to matters that require a “feminine touch” the only person she has to turn to is the mother she has fought so hard not to become. She acquiesces to her prescribed gender role and is rewarded by marrying Q, having a baby and playing with the WNBA. Only when she gives up her youthful insistence of gender ambivalence can she achieve marital attainment. Like Bleek, Q had to lose his ability to pursue his passion for basketball to be able to finally settle down.
Love Jones is a standard Hollywood romantic comedy set on Chicago’s segregated Southside. It weaves through the lives of a group of middle class college educated black friends, focusing on the romance of Darius and Nina. Darius, a writer, pursues Nina, a photographer, who plays (not so) hard to get. They have a casual sexual affair—“ just kickin’ it”, begin to “catch feelings” for each other, and use half-truths and other manipulative tactics to discover the other’s feelings. They break up, get back together, break up, and ultimately get back together.
Where do they learn the social workings of their sexuality? In discussing adolescent sexuality, which all of the behavior in this film points to, William Simon’s comments,
… the collapsing into a brief period — some might say too brief — of the time between the initial sense of oneself as a sexually significant person and the point at which regular socio sexual involvement occurs…. Most adolescents, then, find themselves within richly sexualized subcultures where there are modes of acting in sexually significant ways that are not necessarily genital in uses of language and costume, as well as pluralized definitions of relationships in which they are expected to be sexually involved. There is probably more social support for adolescent sexual activity by peers and others than has been known previously in modern Western experience. (81)

The peer relationship is paramount in their dealings with each other and their advising support systems. Yet when the married person, the group’s older statesman of sorts says, “falling in love is the easy part, but could somebody please tell me what to do to stay there?”, how does anyone learn anything?
Darius is a standard twenty-something male losing the women that he loves by “trying to be a player”. Although he is the economic, cultural, and educational antithesis of the nihilistic young men in Menace II Society and Baby Boy, his sexual behaviors are exactly the same. His behavior is endemic of many young middle class black men who are in short supply among their female counterparts. His “music video” mentality of spreading himself around to avoid getting “caught up” ultimately backfires. This environment breeds the lack of trust that ultimately destroys their relationship.
Although Nina’s sexuality is more developed than Monica’s, her behavior is not. We meet her reminiscing about love lost as she is packing up her life to start anew. When her best friend, Josie, asks when Nina is going to return her former fiancé’s ring she says, “I would if I knew where the hell he was. Or maybe I’ll just keep it as a reminder to never make the same mistake twice…[Josie: get engaged?]… No, falling in love. Because that shit is played out like an eight track”. Nina does not trust that she will be able to become vulnerable again because of the betrayal of her ex-fiancé; and like Angela in Boomerang, she is.
She then goes to a poetry reading where Darius creates a provocative poem for her on stage where he invokes African and African American literary and spiritual images along side of:
Hey girl- can I be your slave…who am I? It is not important. But they call me Brother To The Night and right now I’m the blues in your left thigh trying to become the funk in your right. Who am I? I’ll be whoever you say. But right now I’m a sight raped Hun blindly pursuing you as my prey. And I just want to give you injections of sublime erections and get you to dance to my rhythm…. Come on slim. Fuck your man, I ain’t worried about him….Cause rather than deal with the fallacy of this dry assed reality I’d rather dance and romance your sweet ass in a wet dream.

That poem sums up the course of their relationship in this film. Who is he? Does he even know? How will she know who he is? Dealing with the “fallacy of this dry assed reality” is called living life. It is not realistic or practical to believe he can live in the fantasy of a wet dream. It is an imaginary existence reinforced by the constant perpetuation of youthful sexual freedom. The superficiality of their ensuing relationship is reminiscent of teenagers who have sex and do not know how to communicate their feelings for each other because they do not understand them. They just know they do not want their feelings hurt and will do anything to not experience rejection.
Immediately after that performance, Josie reminds Nina about love being played out and Nina responds with a guilty look. As if she is thinking about love with a man she does not know. Who is talking about love? Physical attraction is not love or anything close to it. He just did an inappropriate sexual poem about a woman he had just met at the bar. Afterwards she tells him that he probably would not know anything about love, in front of his three male (and one female) friends who begin a teasing ritual about what they would do to her if it were them.
Darius then uses his female friend to get Nina’s information and shows up at her house after she had told him she was not interested. She acquiesces to a date, which after much back and forth and “I can’t go out on a first date like that,” she sleeps with him. He awakens the next morning and makes breakfast, signifying that he, like Marcus, is “pussy whipped”. Darius’s married friend Savon appropriately states, “when a man gets a hard- on, ya know where the blood come from, right? … His head and his feet. So A. he’s stupid and B. he can’t run.” Is that what a relationship is? Is that what adult sexual expression is? Stupid men who cannot move their feet? Nina, like Nola in She’s Gotta Have It, is just as trapped in her role of a sexual being as Darius is.
Rose identifies a certain amount of resentment and hostility by black men towards black women based on women’s ability to control sexual situations using rejection and manipulations of desire. She states, in discussing hip-hop lyrics, that black men have an “…intense desire for and profound mistrust of women. The capacity of a woman to use her sexuality to manipulate his desire for her purposes is an important facet of the sexual politics of the male raps about women” (173). Black male masculinity, though evolving, is still equated with his sexuality; only it is how the sexuality is viewed and used that changes its perception.
The childishness displayed on all fronts can not help but lead one to believe that the collapse of time Simon discusses, has stagnated their emotional growth and relegated the idea of love to be forever synonymous with sex and sexual desire/ longing. Fear of being “whipped” and losing their male power is unfortunately the same fear bonding these young men to their behaviors, regardless of how destructive they are in their lives.
Nina and Darius’ reconciliation occurred when they had a “perfect date”, this time at Nina’s invitation, which did not involve “bumpin’ and grindin’”. That night Nina denied Darius sex claiming to want to “save something for later” to which he replied “Baby, you ain’t gotta save mine for later, I’d rather have it right now anyway”. She then asks him to unzip her dress, she seductively walks up the stairs, aware of his gaze and picks out a sexy negligee to sleep in. The night ends with them dancing over a montage of her adopting his habit of smoking and various “intimate and romantic” scenarios with them as a couple, with his friends. We never see Josie again.
Even after Darius and Nina reconcile, their lack of communication and the emotional blackmail they exact on each other, shows that romance leads to sex, not a mutually loving relationship. Nina is once again dumped and once again longing. She moves to New York, comes back to Chicago to do a shoot and, seeing his book published and dedicated to her, finally decides to perform a poem on stage:
“I was hoping a certain someone would be here tonight, but I don’t see him, so I guess I’m gonna get it out anyway. Funny what you can do in a room full of people that you can’t even seem to do in front of one person…It is the color of light, the shape of sound high in the evergreens… I am tasting the wilderness of lakes, rivers and streams caught in an angle of song…. I am dancing a bright beam of light. I am remembering love.”

Darius catches her outside (soaking wet in a rain shower- he’s dry as a bone) and tells her “I want us to be together… for as long as we can be…this here right now is all that matters to me. I love you. And that’s urgent as a muthafucka” This harkens back to slave days when the slave master could permanently end the time spent with loved ones at any moment. The urgency to love was hard and fast. Though the possibility that love might at any moment be stolen from them is still a reality for black men in America, the perpetuation of that kind of speed, on top of the speeding up of sexualities in a postmodern arena, leaves little time for the kind of honest self reflection needed in a mutually loving relationship. It leaves no room for the “care of self” Foucault discusses.
Comparatively, Love and Basketball fares better in it is depiction of romantic love in the hopefulness that in Q holding the baby while Monica plays ball, he may have abandoned his patriarchal notions of family. However, the audience will never know. Though it still has the Pollyanna happily-ever-after ending, showing the contexts in which these young people interact reflects their familial socializations giving them more depth than their Love Jones counterparts. Yet the sexualized roles of the female leads still fit into traditional Hollywood madonna and whore scenarios. Monica’s alleged (the filmmaker chose not to show her with any other men) sexual mummification denies her the growth beyond her childhood relationship. Nina’s sleeping with her fiancé, a man who left her allegedly without a trace, while still “kickin’ it” with Darius and getting upset because she saw him with someone else, is infantile.
These films attempt but fail to do what bell hooks suggests of black filmmakers (women specifically) and take us outside “conventional racist and sexist stereotyping” (hooks, Reel to Real 212). Instead their imitative qualities of standard practices lead black female viewers to use an adjusted oppositional gaze. There is a level of recognition and identification, yet upon closer readings, and outside the readers’ own romantic paradigms, the immaturity of the relationships is heartbreaking. Particularly, since the filmic fantasy of finding love is so seductive.
In a demographic marriage is being postponed further and further (if ever), and the ratio of black men of similar class, emotional and educational levels not being equal , simply seeing young black people attempting love is refreshingly dangerous trap for young women bombarded with a steady stream of hip-hop cultures abusive images. The relief of seeing people on the big screen “representing” lives more closely related to middle class blacks experience could arguably increase identification with the fantasy. “[Claude Steele] argues that ‘devaluation grows out of our images of society and the way those images catalogue people. The catalogue need not be taught. It is implied by all we see around us: the kinds of people revered in advertising … and movies (black women are rarely seen as romantic partners, for example)…” (Harris 183). These films images of romantic relationships do make visible experiences not commonly seen between blacks while, I argue, reinforcing their verisimilitude, “the norms of motivation for ‘believable’ behavior, the requirements for effects to be shown to have causes and hence the demand for certain forms of narrative conventions” (Cowie 368).
I suggest that the social effects of such portrayals on the hip-hop generation have been multifold. First, was an increased lack of trust between black men and women. If a relationship is simply sexual then there is no emotional bonding. When images of sexual abandon and freedom, independent of any emotional connection, are perpetuated; blacks not participating in romantic relationships become normalized. If the emotional connection that leads to an emotionally equal relationship is absent then it not only leaves no room for vulnerabilities to exist, but also creates a space for disrespect to abound. Such is the space dominated by hip-hop videos.
Secondly, the lack of emotional bonding also reflects the significant decrease in black marriage. Marriage is viewed as an alternative relationship in black communities. When the marriages in these films are dysfunctional or unseen, where can we look for models to learn the skills necessary to sustain a committed monogamous relationship? When only older adults or whites are seen getting married, it moves outside of the hip-hop generation’s perception of attainable goals. Our expectations or even desire to marry is a fantasy we cannot afford to have because as a generation so thoroughly and constantly disappointed by our models of marriage and each other; the idea of creating that bond is scary and unfathomable.
Thirdly, friendships become a familial substitute, which increases the space for men and women to discuss everything together without the responsibilities of a romantic relationship. It creates a space for emotional bonding but does not foster the skills necessary to create lasting emotional communicatively intimate bonds within sexual relationships.