Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The War Against Black Intellectualism and Hip Hop

I recently read a paper titled "The cultural war against Black Intellectualism: Fighting for and dying over knowledge, dope, and hip hop in pursuit of Black liberation". It is a dissertation by Todd Boyd, University of Southern California, which discusses many aspects of the black liberation struggle for human rights, including black intellectual thought and activism. Boyd argues that "American institutionalized racism and the system's aggressive resistance to Black liberation have historically targeted Black intellectual thought on several fronts including: legislation forbidding the literacy of Blacks, faulty scientific research regarding Black intelligence, federal programs to squelch Black resistance, and grossly stereotypical media depictions of Black people."He goes on to address how the Black Power Movement during the 1960's promoted the growth of black intellectualism and subsequently Hip Hop.

This is a fascinating situation for many reasons but I am particularly interested in the role Hip Hop plays as a form of black intellectualism in impoverished neighborhoods. It is interesting to imagine that Hip Hop has become a type of alternative education for adolescents and teenagers that cannot go to school. Undoubtedly, being a successful rapper requires a high degree of entrepreneurship, intelligence, and creativity, therefore, it is presumable that the driven inner city residents without access to education might turn to Hip Hop.

This also seems to correlate with the skewed proportion of black rappers to other ethnic groups. This is due to the origins of Hip Hop in primarily black neighborhoods, associated with DJ Red Alert, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, etc., but there is also the economic opportunity aspect that needs to be taken into account. For example, if the theory that post-Black Power Movement intellectualism has endorsed Hip Hop in poor urban environments, then it is also just as likely that impoverished, uneducated blacks would rely on Hip Hop not only as a form of entertainment, but as a livelihood as well.

What are your thoughts on the role of Hip Hop and education in the urban poor?

The Concept of "The Journey" and "Making It" in Hip Hop

Recently, I have been listening to Logic's new mixtape, "Young Sinatra: Undeniable", more than I would like to admit. Besides his smooth tone and excellent wordplay, his goal of becoming famous is the most prevalent theme and intrigues me as a listener. I have listened to a good amount of Hip Hop artists in my life but I have never heard one rapper discuss a single topic or goal so frequently. His passion for making a name for himself in the Hip Hop realm is contagious and other people have expressed the same sentiments after listening to the mixtape. What about the journey from the street to stardom do we, as the listeners, find so interesting?

One might argue that the journey towards success is a relatable goal that people aspire towards (in whichever way they define success) and, therefore, like to see success in other people. This essentially means that people want to see Logic achieve his goals simply for the reason that he made the sacrifices and did it. But there are other aspects to the concept of the journey that influences listenership.

I would argue that people equally enjoy failure and success (maybe failure more in some cases). Logic does not only get listeners because they enjoy hearing about how famous he wants to be, they also listen because they know that there is that significant chance of failure. Logic, the character, strives towards a goal that only a handful of rappers actually achieve and fans like the risk and confidence that the songs in "Young Sinatra: Undeniable" exhibit. It is too simple to believe that listeners are solely rooting for Logic's success in the mainstream music industry, and my thoughts are that fans like to see the risks he takes and the potential for failure. In essence, it's like watching a stunt man trying to set a world record by jumping over forty buses on a motorcycle. If he makes it, everyone cheers and goes crazy because they just experienced history; if he does not make it, people see a gory crash that, at some level, they are just as excited to witness.

What are your thoughts on the concept of 'the  journey" and "making it" in Hip Hop.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Feminine Mystique and Reality

Throughout the class, we have has learned about female superheroes and how they deal with violence to get a better picture how gender fits into how world. From learning about how Wonder Women's bracelets are actually symbols of male oppression to how Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverts gender expectations again and again and again, there is always more to know about gender that one doesn't instantly pick up. On this blog, a multitude of women's issues have been brought up and addressed really well by everyone who has blogged here. I can say that, as a guy, I have left this class and blog more enlightened about how gender plays a role in society.

This last blog is about the usefulness of what we have learned in this class. If we can't use it to make a difference in society, we have at least used it be more intelligent about the world around us. The world isn't "perfect"and may never be perfect. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't always tried to perfect it. The female superheroes that we have learned about always tried to make the Earth a better place, even at great cost to themselves. In doing so, they proved to be equals of their male counterparts and became symbols of bridging the gender gap. Usually. As this article shows, superheroines can also be used to show how men see women as objects of pleasure. It at first shocks me how men subject women to overtly sexual positions, especially superheroines. However, I feel that it should be notes that these are works of fiction, which should say something very strongly. If women could get oppressed in a work of fiction, they can definitely get oppressed in reality. The superheroines stories should should serve as mirrors of real women's struggles.

One of the most important works of the feminist movement, while also being one of the most important works of the 20th century, The Feminine Mystique called the unhappiness of housewives in the 1950's and 1960's  "the problem that has no name." She then writes about how women want more than just to fill gender roles men have set up for them. One of those roles being objectified sexually. Betty Friedan, the author of the book, argues that women need more that just sex to find fulfillment in life, which was a very radical stance coming out of the very conservative 1950's. She is what I would call a real life super heroine because she was a mouthpiece to women's frustrations  when it could have come at a great professional cost to herself. It was the book that sparked the second wave of feminism into the very tumultuous 1960's.

We still have a long way to go in gender equality, but we shouldn't forget how far we have come. Before, women weren't allow to have jobs without their husbands permission. Now, they can run for the most position on Earth and almost get it, too. Is that impressive? I would think so. I would like to close with a video:

Women in the Sciences

I went to a high school where the main focus of the education in the sciences was the main focus of the teaching there. Sure, they taught more than just math and science, but the main aspect was on sciences. When my class graduated last year, about half want to major in some sort of science in college, me being one of them. Of course, my class doesn't really reflect the general population of the country at all. In 2006, the OECD (Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development) found that 15% of students in the US major in some type of science in college. While I don't believe that everyone has to major in any sort of science in science, I believe that more people do need to major in it if we want to move forward as a society. Especially women.

An article published by the Times in 2010 looks at why women are still underrepresented in the field of science. The part that really surprised me was when the article mentioned that girls would under perform on a math test when it mentioned to them that they would do poorly. "Contrast sensitivity ability" as it was called, doesn't truly exist in the real world but does have real world consequences. Namely, it would get girls to do worse in the math and sciences compared to men when there was no real reason to other than a clear bias against them. As Alex mentioned in a earlier blog, Larry Summers was under fire for suggested that men do better  with jobs that require higher intelligence compared to women. It wasn't so much that he didn't have data to support him. It was more that his comment (and comments like his), could have a really negative effect in society.

 Have females only been kept down when it comes in math and science because men don't think that females are as smart as them? Not really. There are certainly other factors in play, like gender roles. Some women don't want to be scientists because they want to spend more time with their families, and that is totally fine. Others don't feel like being a scientist is totally right for them. And that is perfectly fine, too. However, what isn't fine is Harvard having its first tenured female in 375 years, even with the strides that women have in made in math and science. What isn't fine is girls feeling that having a career in the sciences is not for them when the only thing that is keeping them out is unintentional, yet harmful, discrimination against them.

Maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture here, but there is a problem that is very apparent. When women feel undervalued unnecessarily, it becomes society's problem. My sister said she wants to be a dentist when she grows up (12 right now). It wouldn't be fair for her to prove herself more in the scientific community just because she's a girl. No girl should, for that matter.


Alright guys, so I know we talked about Kreayshawn awhile ago, but since I need another blog post I thought it would be cool if I wrote about her (since she’s something from gender performance that I took away from this class). Here’s some close reading info that I’ve done:

In order to make a statement about denouncing gender performance and gender roles, Kreayshawn creates an assertive, non-conforming, (way she dresses in her music video), and raunchy (at times) female persona (as we referred to it in class a “sister with attitude” persona). However, because she is constantly making references to separate herself as a woman (rather than just a person in general), she may actually be conforming to another role in retaliation to the stereotypical female gender role. There are some distinct elements of gender performance going on in this song, all of which Kreayshawn deliberately creates to 1. separate herself from her assumed highly feminine audience and 2. to hopefully poke enough fun at highly feminine women to increase her number of followers.

Separating herself from “materialistic women”; goes with her trying to be gangster- cutting down the stereotypes of her own gender in her chorus (mentioning designer labels that generally appeal to women, “so posh, nails fierce with the gold gloss”); she’s proud to be a woman, but not in the way that conventional women act. In the line: “Bitch you ain’t no Barbie, I see you work at Arby’s”, she could be telling women that they don’t have to appeal to gender expectations; they don’t have to pretend to be something they’re not; but she ends up just creating more of a divide between herself and women that play into their gender role.
Kreayshwan also compares herself to royalty; she sets boundaries for women similarly to queen latifah’s song; “majesty”, in which she separates herself from her audience through braggadocio techniques, but ironically may end up putting herself on that materialistic level.

Atypical feminine acts from the persona of Kreayshawn include: drug dealing, having a “raspy throat”, “shitting in your litter”, “smoking swisher blunts”, and driving around with stolen plates. Kreayshawn is testing the boundaries of gender performance in this way but she also puts herself in this own category, still allowing the normative female performance boundaries to remain. In the line: “I got the swag and it’s pumpin’ out my ovaries”, the narrator says that swag is not strictly male-gender related, though it is often used by male artists in their created personas she put’s this line in at the end to reinforce that swag can be just as easily a female characteristic.
With lines like: “The type of bitch that make you wish that you ain’t never met her”, “Plus I’m my own boss”, there’s a sense of contempt between the narrator and her inferior third person “character” (women who are subordinate to her).

Another facet of Kreayshawn that is important to denote, is that she creates not a sex based or even romantic based female character which is unique considering those are the two main types of motives or methods that are popular in women’s music; Kreayshawn is definitely a zany character, and she pushes the boundaries of gender performance that she creates. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Hammer Is My Penis

I thought I'd go out with a bang in my last blog post and discuss the portrayal of penises in pop culture. The penis: the symbol of male power, virility, and just the overall representation of manliness. In the following clip from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, two rivals discuss Penny, a girl that they both have their eyes on. Captain Hammer, on the left, relentlessly teases his nemesis Dr. Horrible about his plans with Penny.

If you haven't seen Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, you're missing out. Especially if you liked Buffy, you should definitely experience another creation by Joss Whedon. This scene displays stereotypical gender roles in such a great way. Captain Hammer is the stereotypical male: over-confident and cocky, taking home the girls and bragging about it. His muscle-shirt shows off his body, and he's attractive and he knows it. Dr. Horrible is the less manly one, taking crap from Captain Hammer and standing by while the girl of his dreams gets taken home by his arch nemesis. Penny is treated as simply an object to win, or a toy to play with. Captain Hammer tells Dr. Horrible, "I'm gonna give Penny the night of her life, just because you want her. And I get what you want." It's as if Penny is just an object, something for Captain Hammer to win over Dr. Horrible. And of course, my favorite part, where Captain Hammer articulates just what the hammer actually is... proving his manliness and power over both genders.

Now, as much as I love Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, I'm not sure it does much for gender equality. It definitely makes fun of Captain Hammer, and in a sense the stereotypical male, but the only other alternative is the sad specimen of a man at this moment that is Dr. Horrible. He can't even muster up the courage to tell Penny how he feels, and just lets her be taken away. In addition, Penny doesn't do anything to strengthen the female gender here. She seems perfectly content to be used by Captain Hammer, and oblivious of everything else going on. Overall, Captain Hammer seems like he has the upper hand in this situation, proving that the Hammer prevails once more. In addition, the ending of the tragicomedy doesn't exactly give a great view of either gender. If you haven't watched it, you should! Does the whole thing support one gender over the other, or does it actually support neither? If it's neutral, does that mean it shows equality for the genders? What do you think the creator accomplishes by making fun of male virility? I would argue that it actually still shows some sort of obsession with the power of the penis, and, while making fun of it, still supports its dominance in society.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Double Entendre or is it Triple Entendre, or is it...? ("Dumb it Down" By Lupe Fiasco)

How great of a lyricist is Lupe? I know that these blog posts have to be essay-like but I wanted to take some time to address this. He is brilliant; if you dissect the lyrics you are left absolutely dumb-founded. He manages to use the wildest word-play yet keeps it comprehensible and most importantly, meaningful. He has the reputation for being an outstanding lyricist, both socially-conscious enough to appeal to the "underground" crowd, and mainstream enough to appeal to those wishing for a track to bump to. However, as of late many consider him to be too sophisticated. Many cant understand his lyrics and it is different from what they are used to. This song is a response to these critics: those that believe he must simplify his lyrics to appeal to the mainstream. Will he? You better believe he won't dumb it down.

To analyze the lyrics and show how Lupe is combating these critics I will close read a section of verse 1:

"I'm fearless, now hear this, I'm earless
And I'm peerless, which means I'm eyeless
Which means I'm tearless which means my iris
Resides where my ears is, which means I'm blinded"

-Lupe Fiasco, "Dumb it Down"

He first says that he is fearless. Fearless of the media and of possible outrage against some of his lyrics. Whether or not what he says is controversial does not matter to him. Then he demands attention and for people to listen to his lyrics, but says that he is "earless"-- again, it doesn't matter what people say about his lyrics as long as it means what he wants it to mean. He is deaf to the negative criticisms of him by the media. He then uses a double entendre: "I'm peerless". It could be saying that he does not "peer", which is similar to the verb "to see" OR that he has no peers (no one else is on his level lyrically). Him saying that he cannot "peer" is elucidated later when he says "I'm eyeless" which plays into an interesting word-play which all accumulates into him being "blinded" by the music he listens to. Also, he says that he is "tearless" which also can have dual meaning: he doesn't have eyes so he cannot cry and he is so superior to other rappers no one can "tear" him or achieve anything close to him in terms of lyricism. "[His] iris resides where [his ears is]", which I interpreted like this: basically, the mainstream music he sees everyday isn't worth his listening. The lyrics these rappers spit don't matter to him or to anything. All he needs to do is see these rappers and the way they boast about their wealth and the materialistic culture that has become hip-hop today and from that he can come to the conclusion that they don't even come close to him lyrically. To summarize, he says he doesn't have the "ears" for both these critics and the mainstream rappers. He doesn't have eyes because instead of listening to the music, he hears by seeing (he doesn't need to listen to the lyrics because he already understands how irrelevant they are).

Using these senses and creating a witty wordplay also is itself a brilliant attack on the critics who want him to dumb down his music to sell more money. By elevating and complicating his lyrics further to respond to them, he has created the perfect response. To him, the people that appreciate his lyrics and take the time to understand them will buy his album. That is all that matters to him.