Part of my YBR set will be discussion posts for a course I’m taking called Blackness Across Media. Feel free to share your thoughts!
In 2015 we are really at a confusing point in American culture. As Stuart Hall mentions in his piece, “What is the Black in Black Popular Culture?” we are currently (this is debatable) in an era of the global postmodern, where American mass culture has effectively infiltrated most of the world and more importantly other areas of the world have begun to push their own mass culture into the West. When (South) Korean music artist PSY has the most viewed YouTube video of all time (Oppa Gangnam Style), it’s clear that we are still in the era that Hall speaks of and exactly as he describes, we, as Americans, still only get a taste of the exotic. We might have more access to it then ever before, but there are limits to what will broadcast and disseminated by the media and advertisers/corporate entities. In the case of PSY, we don’t really get PSY. We aren’t meant to understand him and most of us are unable to even feign awareness of the nuances in the work he makes. Personally, I only know enough to know I know next to nothing about PSY or what Gangnam style is really about.
So what does PSY have to do with Black culture? For the purpose of this piece, the PSY phenomenon illustrates my issue with globalization and mass communications as the two factors that have had profound effects on Black culture in America. According to Hortense Spillers, Black culture is inherently critical of the larger American culture because its very existence is due to the separation of Black people from white people. But the question is when a culture of resistance in a global sense becomes part of the culture it is resisting, how does its significance change? In a global sense, PSY resists the standards of appearance and language, but is commodified as a funny and quirky exception to the rule and really loses its ability to effectively resist. For Black music culture, when jazz is jazz and no longer considered a “Black music”, when rock is “Elvised”, and when rap music is, in many ways, incorporated into pop music, does the distinction matter? Is Jimi Hendrix considered Black rock? Or can his blackness been folded into his person and he be considered Classic Rock? Blackness is without a doubt a factor in America, but once larger diverse audiences adopt cultural products forged from blackness into their own cultures and identities, is blackness still an important distinction to make?
I’d like to say that there is something that is lost when these products aren’t looked at through a lens that reflects their blackness, but the minority perspective is the one most easily erased from the social fabric. If everyone else considers a song like Mississippi rapper Big KRIT’s “Rotation” to be an insignificant stream of conscious song about a joyride then does it matter if a few people understand the significance of having one’s own vehicle in Black culture? As the lines blur more and more (pun not intended) Black peoples should continue to hold on to the understandings and nuances their blackness, or other sections of their identity, afford them when interpreting culture, even if that blackness becomes a marginal aspect of the cultural products as they are presented.
Thanks for reading,