Popular culture is often a poor record of history. It can be highly misleading to look back at films from the 1930s or TV from the 50s for an accurate portrayal of how life truly was. And at the same time, we cant help but interpret actual history about our society from these very things. Popular culture is a product of its time, so it does reflect the sensibilities of the producers. If we follow what Kidd said in chapter onethe producers create images based upon what they think the audience expects. And therefore popular culture records what are the anticipated expectations of the masses, but those expectations are constructed within the confines of their historical moments.
For instance, I Love Lucy certainly does not represent a typical married couple. Some aspects of the show are the way they are because producers feared the public would have a moral outrage, hence the married couple doesnt sleep in the same bed. (Kidd talks about this in a later chapter). Other things are simpler: Ricky is singer and band leader and is a star is NYC. He sings Cuban music. His band is dressed in those flashy Latin shirts that no one has worn since 1956 because the producers assume that what the public expects the band to look like. These were shirts similar to Hawaiian shirts in their loudness, where as they could have worn dark suits like many other bands did at the time.
What popular culture does is record a history of the representations of various people and their groupings. When we look at images of African-Americans in older films and TV, we are not looking at how people were, we are looking at how people were represented and often how the dominant folks viewed those people. That representation is based on what the producers think the audience expects, so cues for how to understand things will seep in.
This actually helps to reinforce and even create stereotypes. One of the very racist topics people have associated with African-Americans has been that people of color love fried chicken and watermelon. Why? Why do we have this association? Because it was in the 1915 racist movie called birth of a nation which also exposed many in the USA to the KKK. There is no other reason for the fried chicken and watermelon stereotype. It appeared in a movie and it became, what we might call in 2020, a meme.
So I want us to look at some of this works beyond the obvious. Ive really had to think on what is appropriate for us to watch. Do we just want to see some old racist sh*t from the 40s and 50s? I feel it is likely that we have people of color in class who would say NO. No we do not.even if some may say sure.
I want to avoid the Lenny Bruce effect. Lenny Bruce was one of the most ground breaking comics in the history of stand up comedy. Lenny Bruce was popular in the 1950s and early 1960s, so he was a bit older than Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce are probably the two most influential comedians of all time.
Lenny Bruce was arrested a few times for saying swear words in his comedy routines. He was on trial and his trials in the early 60s became trials about freedom of speech. The joke that got Lenny Bruce arrested was roughly: A school teacher lost his job the other day. Because he was homosexual. They arrested him and fired him and put him on trial. And in the trial, it was revealed that he was an excellent teacher. Ths was a shame because its hard to get really good teachers. And not only that, not one kid ever came home and said today we had 50 minutes of math and 10 minutes of c*ck sucking
ON trial, Bruce noticed that all the people testifying against him: the cops, women brought in to discuss morals, etc..they all enjoyed the freedom to say c*ck sucking on the witness stand and started saying it at every opportunity.
(Side Note: This is the problem with trying to say the N word as detached and as clinically as we possibly can. If I, professor and white man, say something like Both Richard Pryor and Dave Chapelle use the word N a lot. But after his trip to Africa, Pryor said there was no such things as Ns and he was never going to use the word anymore.and I said the actual word instead of N, which would be trying to treat the word as an object detached form its multiple meaningsit invites other to use the word in a detached manner as well. And next thing you know, everyone feels ok to say it and maybe someone who uses it for its awful meaning starts saying it and it would just get weird. Plus at that point weve forgotten the other reason not to use the word. That is it is hateful word that only exists to diminish others.)
So with videos of the past that we see as racistI dont want people to laugh at them for the wrong reason. It is educational to look at the really racist stuff. We dont want to pretend it doesnt exist. But we need to be careful not to romanticize it. Or turn it into what might be better called, racism porn. So what Ive done is selected some videos that arent being hateful outright. THe Spike Lee movie. “Bamboozled” is also a great film exploring the notion of the black folks in film
The Assignment: (and do remember this is about race!)
What sorts of racial tropes are being shown in these different groups of videos? What stereotypes are being reinforced? How would you describe the racism? (you dont need to answer each of those questions directly one by one)
Can you think of an example of a trope about your group? If you are white, whats a trope for a non-white group? White folks fill the tropes of general story telling. The trope is not because the character is white. An example of a trope would be Muslim characters on tv shows that are terrorists. Asians being good at meth is a stereotype. DO NOT WRITE ABOUT “MAGICAL NEGROS” or “MUSLIM AS TERROSISTS”
I dont expect more than 2 or 3 pages for this. due friday the 30th.
Try not to confuse a stereotype with a trope. A trope is like a kind of character that frequently appears, like black women as mammys. A stereotype is usually an isolated thing: eating fried chicken is a stereotype.
The Little Rascals/Our GangIts in black and white so you probably never saw any of these. They have at some points over the last 20 years or so been shown on AMC or TMC on cable. These were a series of film shorts that they would play in theaters before the main movie. There was no TV when these began, and some are so old that they are silent movies. But theres a bunch made in the 1930s and 40s that got re edited and put on TV for little kids to watch. I was born in 1967 and these were on TV when I was a kid. I cant remember precisely when they stopped. I want to say they went off the air around 1978, but thats also the year I turned 11 and at that age I may have had no interest in the show anymore. By 1978 I certainly would have protested watching something in black&white. Some episodes are legitimately funny. None of these clips is long
BUCKWHEAT IN THE SPOOK HOUSE
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Stymie and Spanky
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Spanky and Cotton
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You dont need to write about these. Eddie Murphy created a Sat Night Live version of Buckwheat.
Masked Singer – SNL (2019)
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Buckwheat Buys the Farm – SNL (1983)
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II) The Marx BrothersThe Marx Brothers were Jews at a time when being Jewish was an oppressed state of being. Mostly their movies lack any characters of color. This is from their 6th, and most say last great, film called A Day at the Races. They made around 10 or 12 in total.
Who Dat Man? Why It’s Gabriel! (A Day at the Races)
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III) Carmen JonesI watched this Thursday oct 22 after not seeing it for over 20 years. I didnt stare at the screen that closely. I counted 3 super stars in that cast, there may be more. Do you see any? This was a made for TV movie in 1955.
carmen jones 1
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IV) I SpyWho was the first black actor cast in a role that wasnt written with characters skin color making any difference (they probably envisioned a white guy, but went with the black actor)? Watch. Some of you likely know the answer already. And this is a scene from the show.
1965-66 Television Season 50th Anniversary Tribute: I Spy
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V) Mocking TropesComedians Kee and Peele mocking the magical negro trope, (2015?)
Magical Negro Fight – Key & Peele
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VI) Eddie Murphy White Like MeIf you have never seen this, it is worth watching. This was amazingly funny when it aired because the public hadnt seen white folks mocked in quite this manner before. (1984)
White Like Me – SNL
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VII) Dave ChapelleI feel obligated to include Chapelle. I know some folks dont like him, find him either unfunny or hypocritical or both. This is considered one of his greatest sketches ever.
Clayton Bigsby, the Worlds Only Black White Supremacist – Chappelles Show
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I know theres a lot of video here…..but be sure to watch this last one. Its a 3 minute montage of blackface and other racist representations from sokie lee’s Bamboozled
Blackface Montage from Spike Lee’s Bamboozled
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