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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.

If love is not present in our imaginations, it will not be present in our lives: Black Love and the Hip-Hop Generation- Intro

Introduction-

This thesis will examine how loving black relationships are being portrayed in film, and will analyze the possible social effects of those portrayals on the marital/ committed relationship practices of the hip-hop generation . Loving relations will be defined as a sexual relationship where emotional equality, reciprocal vulnerability, and communicative intimacy are apparent and motivated independently of the sexual stigmas and stereotypes of, what cultural critic bell hooks commonly describes as, America’s “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” . Being a member of the hip-hop generation, I experience the daily assault not just on my black womanhood, but also my humanity. The images of male-female relationships that have been normalized are so pathological and hateful, creating such unloving environments, that I wanted to know where these ideas were formed. Though this thesis focuses mostly on film, the convergence of film and television (through cable, VCR’s and DVD’s) makes it necessary to mention the interrelated qualities of music videos and contemporary films. This thesis investigates how the hip-hop generation’s imaginations are fed.
This paper hypothesizes that the lack of visual representations of blacks loving each other (as opposed to simply being sexual objects), given that the media operates as powerful social educator, adds to the risk of a lack of loving in everyday life. Stories of courtship, romance and love have been storytelling fodder in some form since antiquity. The powerful yet seemingly invisible role of film and television as social educator has been greatly chronicled. Yet influence of film and television specifically on the hip-hop generation’s black sexual relationships is only recently being researched . There is still a gap in the body of research regarding black loving relations as an indicator of emotional well-being. Violence, HIV prevention and teen pregnancy are the general research catalysts to study media’s relationship to this particular age group as opposed to marriage or current interpersonal relations. This paper contributes to current studies using discursive methods regarding loving representations in order to analyze black film images. The visuals being analyzed have been chosen because of both their relevance to the body of black media images and their mainstream appeal. More obscure images, while interesting for scholarship, were omitted because of an assumptive lack of influence on the relationship practices of the hip-hop generation. I will analyze the selected films based on the romantic theme and plot in instances, as well as the driving forces of the film. The way we, the hip-hop generation, have been taught to love has such an important influence on how we will teach to love. As such, I will focus on intra-racial heterosexual, intimate/sexual romantic screen relationships, from the post-civil rights and feminist movements of the early 1970’s through the end of the century, and I will argue that they serve as a microcosm of community. I looked for some of the ways hip-hoppers have been taught to love.
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. Sexuality in relation to stereotyping blacks shall be important to this discussion.
Sexuality, particularly after the dissolution of the Hayes Code , is a major part of American film’s visual and thematic landscape. Black sexuality is peculiar because of its schizophrenic political and social history in reality and in the American imagination. D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation not only seared the American imagination with the use of innovative and groundbreaking film techniques (such as the introduction of the long narrative, the close-up, and the wide angle shot ); but also promulgated a set of Americanized racist stereotypes to a global audience, stereotypes which are still actively perpetuated and must be considered when discussing blacks in film. Descriptions of the stereotypical mammy and exotic primitive characters for black women and the brute Negro (who evolved into the thug) for black men are the most sexually charged of these still perpetuated visual images . Historically most stereotypical black portrayals evolved from literature to the stage to film and television screen. I am interested in exploring new images created by a people thinking of themselves in new ways.
Currently, loving relationships in the black community are fractured. According to M. Belinda Tucker and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan:
Between 1970 and 1990, the proportion of Black women who had married by age 24 decreased by half from 56% to 23%; while the proportion who had ever married declined from 83% to 63% …. Although there was a similar decline in early marriage in the general population (from 64% to 37%), the proportion of women in the general population who had ever married stayed the same (77%). Over the same period, Black divorce rates, as well as that of U.S. women as a whole, nearly quadrupled. However, since divorce was much higher among Blacks even in 1970, the 1990 differential is quite striking—358 divorces per 1000 women among Blacks, compared to 166 among women overall. African American women are also less likely than other groups of women to remarry after divorce or widowhood. The explosion in divorce rates is one factor in the greatly changed living arrangements of children. In 1970, just under one-third of Black children were being raised in single parent homes. By 1990, that figure had increased to 55% (compared to 25% in the general population) (“Understanding Marital Decline”).

As a result of economic, social, and political disenfranchisement, the images seen of blacks loving each other do not inspire romantic expectations and can subsequently lead to a lack of love in everyday life. I will present some examples of how fictional media images both emulate and propagate the lack of positive loving images of blacks.

Defining Black Loving Relations for the Hip-Hop Generation

I have defined loving relations as: a sexual relationship where emotional equality, reciprocal vulnerability, and communicative intimacy are apparent and motivated independently of the sexual stigmas and stereotypes of America’s “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”.
Three separate ideas have informed this definition. I looked to bell hooks, first and foremost, for insight into blacks in media but also for insight into loving relationships in the black community. She also provided strong theoretical critiques from a cultural studies and feminist perspective. In hooks’ book Salvation the statement “If love is not present in our imaginations, it will not be there in our lives,” gave a title to this thesis and led me to further want to look into the question of filmic representation within, “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (53). “When it comes to issues of love, the mass media basically represent black people as unloving. We may be portrayed as funny, angry, sexy, dashing, beautiful, sassy and fierce but we are rarely represented as loving” (51). She goes on to mention the failure for blacks in positions of power to create “new images of blackness” that do not depend on the caring for whites – and caring for each other. This view includes the historic and economic realities of black representation in film: Black economic power and authorship means nothing if the product created only perpetuates oppressive racial stereotypes for the turning of a profit.
Secondly, Cornell West’s Race Matters provided insight into the distortion of black sexuality in the American (specifically) and colonial (generally) imagination as a method of control and propaganda of oppressed people. Sexuality is not something commonly discussed among blacks and in its most recent commodification –again- provides an easy visual. Cornel West states:
Black sexuality is a taboo subject in America principally because it is a form of black power which whites have little control- yet its visible manifestations evoke the most visceral of white responses, be it one of seductive obsession or downright disgust. On the one hand, black sexuality among blacks simply does not include whites, nor does it make them a central point of reference. It proceeds as if whites do not exist, as if whites are invisible and simply don’t matter. This form of black sexuality puts black agency center stage with no white presence at all. (125)

The current creation of images of black people in intimate sexual situations perpetuates standard racist stereotypes under the auspices of black agency. Although black sexuality has more visual accessibility due to music videos, music video production is still produced and controlled by mainstream capitalist interests. Those interests maintain the black body’s position as the same marketable commodity that has defined it since the first arrival of black Africans on these shores.
I looked finally to Anthony Giddens’ The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies for insight into the changing nature of intimacy in modern society. Giddens examines “the potentialities of the ‘pure relationship’, a relationship of sexual and emotional equality, which is explosive in its connotations for pre-existing forms of gender power” (2). The construction of gender is challenged by egalitarian sexual relations which redefine gender roles. I wanted to see how this dynamic of “pure relationship” transferred to the black community. Images of intra-racial, romantic, heterosexual relationships which move toward “pure relationships” are rare. It is easier to show sexuality — it is tactile and more visually dynamic; and showing blacks in sexual situations is part of racism’s current subtle double entendre.

The Hip-Hop Generation
The generation of adults now 20-35 is the one most heavily influenced by hip-hop culture . Hip-hop began in the late 1970’s as a burgeoning musical art form and evolved into a “fad” that has lasted almost thirty years. The beneficiaries of the progress made during the Civil Rights Movement’s progress helped propel this grassroots urban music form into a now multi-million dollar industry. In his book The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture, Bakari Kitwana defines this demographic as:
…hip-hop generationers — those young African Americans born between 1965 and 1984 who came of age in the eighties and nineties and who share a specific set of values and attitudes. At the core are our thoughts about family, relationships, child rearing, career, racial identity, race relations, and politics. Collectively, these views make up a complex worldview that has not been concretely defined.” (4)

The lives of hip-hop generationers (particularly those born between 1965- 1975) are not specifically marred by the same degree of racism the previous generations experienced. There are no social and legal Jim Crow laws, yet the racism they experience has more to do with class and its subtler social injustices and humiliations. At the same time, technological advances have created a mediated world driven by a global capitalism. “We live in an age where corporate mergers, particularly in media and entertainment, have redefined public space, the viewing public is constantly bombarded by visual images that have become central to the identity of an entire generation” (Kitwana 9).
Youth oriented means more television oriented. Movies are seen on television. Television remediates film, using Bolter and Gruskin’s adaptation of the word as “the way in which one medium is seen by our culture as reforming or improving upon another” (59). Coming of age with the VCR and the expansion of cable, watching films on television is normalized . It can be argued that this generation makes no real distinction between film and television. “Today, more and more Black youth are turning to rap music, music videos, designer clothing, popular Black films, and television programs for values and identity” (Kitwana 9). The batch of children born after 1965 entered a world their parents generation had created, and were learning themselves, leaving their children to either follow their parents’ baby boomer models of mating and courtship or learn it from the new media teacher- television.

Film as Social Teacher
The films discussed in this thesis present various ways that the media could be viewed as undermining black loving relations by creating black unloving images — as well as images that can be read as loving. I believe it is not just that the same images have been recycled in newer clothes, but that the social contexts show men and women moving in such opposite directions that the space where they could express themselves lovingly is destroyed as well. In the chapter discussing relationships, the films chosen are an attempt to show sexual relationships that have shades of emotional equality, reciprocal vulnerability, and communicative intimacy.
I argue there are four interrelated points that describe how black unloving images are portrayed. The first is the distortion of black sexuality into a commodifiable transaction (such as that between pimps and whores; or masters and slaves) further legitimizing colonial mythologies. When the human body is reduced to the basics of its physical existence absent any interiority, the humanity of that body is more easily devalued. “White supremacist ideology is based first and foremost on the degradation of black bodies in order to control them. One of the best ways to instill fear in people is to terrorize them. Yet this fear is best sustained by convincing them that their bodies are ugly, their intellect is inherently underdeveloped, and their culture less civilized, their future warrants less concern than that of other peoples” (West 122-3).
Secondly, nihilism is felt throughout the black community but is acted out specifically by black males. Nihilism is defined as the “entire rejection of established beliefs, as in religion, morals, government, and laws,” and philosophically as, “the denial of all existence; rejection of objective reality or of the possibility of an objective basis for morality”. (“nihilism” def. 1 and 2) West furthers this definition of nihilism specifically in reference to the black community as “[…] the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness. The frightening result is a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world” (23).
The third point is abject materialism – as counter stance to abject poverty and as sign of middle class success. Contemporary black rappers’ celebration of possessing and obtaining material objects by any means necessary feeds not only their music video personas/performances but also informs the narrative of many films created for black audiences. Black women are often reduced to a series of body parts and are treated as objects that are easily replaced if male desire is unmet. On the other hand, black women use this as a way to gain some value from sexual transactions that they have no expectation of leading to committed relationships.
All of this contextualizes the fourth and final point: the lack of trust between black men and women. Based on history, observed behaviors and the reinforcement by the media, there is no space allotted black women and men to find a way to learn to trust each other. From music, to books, and largely the visual media of television and film, black women and men are constantly bombarded with reasons why they should not trust each other.
The chapters of this thesis are organized by the depictions of images from the point of view of black men; black women, and films that present their narrative from the dual sides, i.e. the “relationship”. In Chapter I, “Never Trust a Big Butt and a Smile” : Black Manhood, black men are represented as sexually compulsive, sexist, nihilistic thugs regardless of class. Sexuality and its performance has become the core of identity formation for the hip-hop generation. In Chapter II, “When Ya Say Ya Love Me It Doesn’t Matter- Goes Into My Head As Just Chitta Chatta” : Black Womanhood, black women are represented as sexually manipulative, emasculating and untrustworthy. Simultaneously, these same female characters are often developed in a way that supports sexist patriarchal models. In Chapter III, “Hopeless: Moving Past Postmodern Hip-Hop Adolescence”, the relationships in these films re-appropriate hip-hop’s superficial materialism and sexual manifestations. These images give examples of how the hip-hop generation is attempting to learn how to behave. The idea is to draw a line through the visuals created, discussing manhood and womanhood, and the interactions that should lead to family. In the Conclusion: “Where Do We Go From Here?”, the discussion of contemporary romantic images fuses music videos with film, highlighting the complex relationship hip-hop generationers were having with media representations of themselves.

Open Letter to Dana Dane

Dear Dana Dane,

Since the old days, rap now sucks. Please make it better.

Sincerely,

Charity Thomas

P.S. Please tell Big Daddy Kane that he can still come over

my house anytime he wants because he’s The B- I- G D- A- double D- Y givin’ good and plenty….

It Ain’t Free

I wrote this in 2004….

Irony’s always ironic.

America pumps it’s market driven interests throughout the globe only to naively ask, “Why do people hate us?” and then answer their own question with “because we’re free”. Now I now one true fact about my life – IT AIN’T FREE.

Art ain’t free. It’s very expensive when working within the capitalist model. Working outside that model? Here in the US that’s called underground. To be an underground artist takes work and perserverance and either rich parents or a job that’ll pay a living wage. Not that it can’t be done- but we’re talking about models here. Sure the underground model can work. It builds prestige, a market base and respect among comrades. The most important product of this work is the integrity the artists feels about the art s/he’s creating. The integrity of the work, the spirituality of the creative process, perhaps even the illumination of truths are indeed rewards in themselves to the artist. But will it support you? Probably not. And I’m sure there is somebody this has worked for but I’m talking about large monetary scale support. But how much money does one really need? Does the truth sound better or ring truer when delivered in a Bentley?

Underground is what it is because it’s outside the radar of populust consumptionist culture. Any hip-hop created outside the states is underground in the US. Any art aimed at communities of color that isn’t commercially marketed is called underground. Once the underground moves into the light of success it loses the edge- some argue the truthfulness- of it’s alleged pre capitalist roots. Finding diasporic artistic movements and contributions is an effort to Americans. To find out about different (read as non American) forms of artistic revolutions takes effort. It takes time and desire to experience something else. Why when bred in a culture that tells you that you are what everyone else on the planet either wants to be or destroy, would you look outside to find other modes of artistic expression? MTV et al barely show non mass produced music and images from within the US. When you’re told that art is either an imitation or a negation of what you believe to be art, why would you not believe that your expressions (and for a lot- not all- of this generation of “urban” youth it’s hip hop) can’t be translated into a global struggle against oppression?

Why can’t we Americans get up off of that? Because it’s a “Lovely Day” when the Gap tells us to all look alike like most proletarian/ elite models. We see through the unitarianism of our systems, not specifically governmental, but the transnational bent of American corporations the need to create a consistent market base for their products. Products! It’s sad to think that James Baldwin, Fela Kuti, Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone, etc could be thought of as product. But when looking at the current cultural landscape of mass produced “artistic” endeavors… you have to wonder if you would even have heard of them today. When we make an effort to move through cultural differences it’s apparent that colored artists all over the world living in “decolonized” war zones are moving in a similar rhythm.

True power comes from controlling one’s own destiny. Money is not (always) the answer to that problem. Changes in policy, educational curriculum, early cultural and media studies education are some of the steps to freeing the minds of youth of color to see the links they are in the struggle for the global destruction of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Moving past methods of control and searching for ways to find truth and integrity globally through art could be the key to bridging power structures leading to the bonding of the links to personal freedom.