Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mandingo: Langston Hughes's Poster Child for Blacksploitation -Analysis 8

In Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” discusses the misinterpretation of African Americans in the arts. Accordingly, African Americans have been perceived a certain way, and therefore, have images that remain stagnant in the culture of American Arts. Langston Hughes writes, “He is never taught to see that beauty. He is taught rather not to see it, or if he does, to be ashamed of it when it is not according to Caucasian patterns.”  In this quote Hughes is referring to the creation of the arts. So often have African Americans been shunned from the exploration of creativity—mostly due to the inequalities still present from slavery.
Mandingo, a 1970s film, clearly illustrates Hughes’s theory behind the detrimental African American image. Mandingo is a slave, sold into the hands of an unfair white owner. However, Mandingo’s sole responsibility was to sexually satisfy the white female owner. this corresponds to the negative stereotype that all African Americans are overtly and overly sexual—when, in reality, sexual endeavors were forced upon the disadvantaged slaves. In this trailer, we can see that the African American female slave is objectified and perused for a sexual favor by a white man. Yet, she seems whole heartedly willing—which, as Hughes’s would clarify, is a misrepresentation.
Therefore, I move to say that Hughes’s observation is not only found in the Negro artist, but also in the artist’s Negro subject. It is through art where our fundamental understanding of something comes from. Therefore, in theory, we see Mandigo and we automatically assume that most slaves must have participated this way—since art easily creates an over generalization problem. Ultimately, I think Hughes claims that through our art and the discriminations felt by most Negro artists, it is important to stray from the acceptable norm. Mostly, because if we take movies like Mandigo as truth, then the entire race is defined by a falsity. In the end, as Hughes puts it, art must be “sincere” and not done for the monetary outcome.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reflection/Analysis #7

Our presentation was for Feminist theory. For our presentation I compiled the slideshow and gathered the media for the semiotic analysis. During the discussion, I focused on Foucault and his theories behind subversions to restrictive sexual culture. I explained that in Foucault’s theory, both church and science restrict the development of sexual nature—and, therefore, a deviant culture is created, like, prostitution.
In addition to talking about Foucault’s theory, I created a classroom activity where our classmates were asked to view six or so examples of popular culture and apply a feminist theory to them. I chose Madonna’s “Open Your Heart,” Prodigy’s “Smack my Bitch Up,” and a couple of religious based advertisements. These videos opened up quite a discussion, as many of my peers viewed these clips and images differently; however, most of the interpretations were made with a strong foundation of feminist theory.
I chose Madonna’s video because it showcased the “closeted sexuality of children” as discussed by Foucault. Also, the way that Madonna is portrayed in the video showcased the “study of sexuality” that Foucault discussed. The Prodigy video was intended to display Judith Butler’s performative gender roles. In the video, there is a first person perspective detailing a night out on the town. Despite the lascivious and masculine nature of the activities performed by the narrator, the audience, at the end, is made aware that the first person narrator is a female. I chose this because it truly and clearly demonstrated the assumed gender roles that the audience is comfortable with until the end.
Overall, our presentation went well and the discussion I wanted to create was successful.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"The Real World"—A Real Panopticon (Analysis 5)

            Foucault described and re-illustrated Bentham’s Panopticon, by saying that the idea of the Panopticon creates “identities.” According to Foucault’s interpretation of the Panopticon, citizens of society create their roles based on a primal need to satisfy those roles in society.
            Even though there are not many current examples of the Panopticon in today’s society, there are a couple examples of the Panopticon prison; however, the theory behind Foucault’s observation is most importantly discussed in the creation of “Big Brother.” According to Foucault, Big Brother replaces the idea of the guards in the tower in the Bentham model.  In Foucault’s theory we are shaped by the presence of the “moral” and “judging” un-seen-eye.
            The real and most prevalent version of the Panopticon is the reality t.v. show. On most reality t.v. shows there is an understanding that there will be a camera monitoring the actions made. And like Foucault described, each person on the show has their role.
            On MTV the show “The Real World” best displays the roles in a consistently surveillance   environment. Most of the time there are a set of typical roles: the macho guy, the wimp, the overly emotional girl, the moral one, the homosexual one, and the overtly sexual. This is like the scenario he described with the leper colonies. The only difference is, well aside from the fact that the cast of the “Real World” won’t have leprosy, that the power play is between sexual relationships and, therefore, is not about survival. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Marxism (Analysis 4): Thomas More—A Man with One Hat and an Interesting Political Idea

          Thomas More, a very religious and deviant Englishman, wrote and published his text Utopia in 1516. In More’s text, the narrator describes a paradise where society is both classless and “equal.” This text was taken as fiction, and yet, it has been said that this text influenced Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. In More’s novel, there is a basic physical labor value for the citizens of Utopia; no lower/middle/upper class struggles; religion was determinable through personal views—yet, religion was necessary.
            In Utopia, the narrator describes going on a long sea-voyage, upon which he landed on an island that was completely different than the country of his origin—which was England. On this island, the narrator noted that the citizens of this island all lived in similar housing types, and all wore the same demur clothing. He could not ascertain who was of upper-class and who was not. In Marxist terminology: the proletariat or the Bourgeoisie.  Each person who lived in Utopia had to produce and work for society. Most, in not all of the work, was physical—and there were only a handful of people at the upper echelons who “supervised.”  Citizens of Utopia could and were available to move around the city if there should be a need for their labor in another sector of the island.

            When it came to class, valuables such as, gold and diamonds, were used as tools and shackles for prisoners. This eliminated the availability for one to assert themselves as part of an upper-class. However, this addition of this section may have been a direct result of More’s dissatisfaction with the English royalty. It has been recorded that More wore a hair shirt every as a way of flagellation. The royalty of England had overwhelmed the hierarchical image. And, in that respect, Marx’s view of a classless society is greatly similar. Marx refuted the presence of a definable “upper” class, creating an irrefutable hierarchy. Instead, labor would determine one’s standing; however, everyone was important.
            Religion was the one major difference between More’s text and Marx’s manifesto. In Marx’s text, religion is a distraction, a cover for the “unhappiness” that is inevitable in people. More, a strict catholic, believed religion to be an important pillar in oneself. It was for standing up for his religious beliefs that lead to his death as an act of treason. In Marx’s text, there is an inherent distance put between society and religion. He states, “man creates religion, religion does not create man.” Throughout the better part of the history of the world, religion created the man. Religion controlled man and his productive labor, relgion was the basis for everything. And, I think that Marx puts a barrier between religion and society, because certain restraints are then lifted. Man is forced to create his own logic and increase his mental labor, as opposed to following the word of illusion. 
            Ultimately, Marx and More have many political views that are common. Both believed that class destructed the homogenization of society; however, they both differed on the value of religion. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Psychoanalytical look at South Park: Analysis 3

Lacan details the being and the having properties of having a phallus. Lacan furthered the study of the mental emphasis we put on having a phallus—a study that was begun by Sigmund Freud. According to Freud, it was the shock of the mother not having a phallus that created incredible stress in the you boy. And, it was the lack of having a phallus that created much envy and animosity in women. Ultimately, the main psychological struggle in life is based in either fear of losing the phallus, or envy of never having one at all. Unlike Lacan, Freud infers that once the boy or girl recognizes the presence (or lack thereof) of the phallus, then ensues a mental conflict within the child.
With the arising complications of the phallus, Freud details the Oedipal and Elektra complexes. These mental conflicts are based on the mother-son relationship illustrated in Oedipus Rex. Of course, in the text, Oedipus is completely unaware of the fact that the queen he has married is his mother and the king he has killed was his father. Nevertheless, the story creates a tale of which the son is confronted and tested by another man for the heart of the desired woman. When growing up, especially during the phallus stage, the father becomes the threat to the bond created by the boy and the mother. To combat that, the boy considers, as Oedipus did, to off the father. But in fear that the boy may not succeed he will not act on his impulse to kick the father out of the family picture. Instead, the boy fears the backlash of his actions—castration by the father—and deals with the conflict and enters latency.
The phallus plays a huge role in the psychology of the human—whether it be with envy or fear of castration. And since the phallus plays on the mind in such a way, it ends up being the central focus of our thoughts, as Lacan describes.

The phallus plays a huge role in the psychology of the human—whether it be with envy or fear of castration. And since the phallus plays on the mind in such a way, it ends up being the central focus of our thoughts, as Lacan describes.
With that said, South Park plays on our concentration on the phallus in almost every show. In one show in particular, “Eek! It’s a Penis,” the conflicts surrounding the phallus is truly showcased. In this episode, Mr. Garrison, post-transgender surgery, struggles with her decision of becoming with a woman. She realizes the power that the phallus has in society and decides to have a penis grown in a laboratory for a reverse sex change surgery. This is a cartoon version of Lacan’s having and being concept for the phallus. Since the phallus is seen as the power symbol, women can be seen as being the phallus as opposed to having it. In this sense, Mr. Garrison struggles with identifying and differentiating the having and the being;  since, for Lacan, having the phallus isn’t everything—having the phallus is more of a mental characteristic rather than a physical one. 

Freud, Sigmund. Fetishism. Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2001.  
Lacan, Jacques. Significance of the Phallus. Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2001.
South Park. “Eek! It’s a Penis.” Season 12, 2008. 

Communism--A Classless Party?

Marx’s Communist Manifesto details a society where societal well being prevails over the work week and production.  In the Marxist society there are only two groups of people—the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. The Bourgeoisie is the “upper class,” and the Proletariat is the “working class.” The difference between the Marxist society and our current society is the recognition or desire for a middle class. In American society there the acceptance of a “middle class,” even though the existence of the middle class is not exactly distinct.  In the Marxist society, the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat differ mostly in the way they participate in labor. In the Communist system, the value of the worker is based on physical and mental labor. And ultimately, as Marx illustrates, the happier the worker the better production will be.
Communism, as described by Marx, is only applicable in industrial nations, where there would be a need for both physical and mental labor. Yet, the mental and physical labor would depend on the social class of the worker. In theory, the Bourgeoisie would use more mental labor and the Proletariat would use more physical labor. In this basic distinction is where the class separation would still remain—despite the efforts to create a classless society. And, in addition to this “invisible class distinction”  there will be a dispute over wages. Marx claims that wages should depend on need. However, it’s an inherent need of the human psyche is for higher gain that makes Marxism difficult to apply to society. Disregarding, of course, the vacation time Marx describes—where he explains that a well rested worker is a more productive worker, even if they have to swear that they will be available for the company twenty-four hours a day. Maybe in the end, Communism isn’t really a party. 
Marx, Karl. A Communist Manifesto. Norton Anthology. 2001. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Offing the Author

            Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” suggests that for a genuine criticism of a specific work, the reader must separate the work from its origin. Since the work then is completely separated from the time, place, and mind-set of the writer, the work then becomes a fluid piece—a piece that is not limited by time and space. Therefore, Barthes suggests, that to be an effective writer is to distance oneself from the assumed notions or correlations based on a collective consciousness. And then it is assumed then that the reader will not take into consideration the underlying social patters/stigmas that may have influences the piece. If the work does its job correctly, then it should be able to stand alone.

            I agree with the idea that a work of art should not rely on a “collective consciousness” or collective understanding. Yet, at the same time, I am a fan of New Historicism, which directly refutes Barthes’ argument. In New Historicism, the reader can use research to investigate what may have provoked the author’s direction in the piece. According to Barthes’, the piece is not completed until it is experienced by the reader. Without the reader, there is no real reason to write. It is with the reader that the real sub-text and meaning are reveal through the reading—and the destination of the piece cannot be controlled by the writer, because it lies with the reader.
            The most important concept in Barthes’ “Death of the Author” is multi-dimensional space. Even though it is almost impossible to create a completely original piece, writers have to be able to manipulate the elements to create their own take on a specific plot. If the writer is unable to acknowledge the “age old” aspects of a specific story, then they fall prey to a misinterpretation from the reader. The text has to be multi-dimensional in the respect that there has to be more to the story than just the time/context. Barthes explains that this multi-dimensional text must be able to use its words to explain its meaning, and not rely on what the reader can imply into the text. By doing this, the author would have created a solid Barthenian piece (yes, that is a made up word).
            Another way Barthes suggests to “kill off the author” is to create characters that are completely ambiguous. By having characters that are, as they were in Greek tragedies, completely free of an exact meaning, then the reader can become an integral part of the work. If a writer should push their agenda by having the character reveal the intent of the text, then the writer is committing a criminal act against the reader. Barthes infers that characters in a text should be free of messy archetypes, which would engage the reader with the analytic aspect of literature.
            In short, according to Barthes, literature (or any art for that matter) should not have all of the answers laid out for the reader. Reading a text should be an active process where the author does not inflect into the reader what the purpose of the text is. Since, it is with the reader that the meaning of the text resides. 

Work Cited
Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author."