Yes! So much of the dialogue about the South is tethered to our notion of a past, some past, somebody’s past, but you are right—hip hop is always about the creation of a counter-narrative- a story that might be invisible to some, unimaginable to others, or perhaps not even born yet.
The writing of these counter-multiple narratives of the South (and elsewhere) is happening now, as we speak. It goes “on and on.” Hip hop artists may not have always been fully aware of their power to create on-the-spot narratives of experiences and places that are constantly being redefined and re-imagined, but those aware of this power expand our concept of hip hop culture and of our own space in time.
Michele’s post, and the insightful comments from Regina and Akil, lead me to think about marginalization and restriction in Southern space. It seems difficult to imagine the South as a space without de-facto segregation, political/economic marginalization and structural oppression. Whether in fictional narratives like Hustle and Flow or Monster’s Ball, or in everyday black life in the South, the fractures and rifts mentioned above are pervasive. Thus, the cinematic pathologies Michele refers to emerge from a lineage of stereotypical tropes in popular culture, but they also reflect the real prejudices of a worldview that sees black masculinity as inherently pathological. Such deeply internalized bigotry allows for the contemporary national media conversation about a “post-racial” America. And, as everyone has said here, intersectionality makes this even more heart-wrenching; gender and race equal double-jeopardy.
Yet, as Michele just posted above, new forms of life spring from the wreckage of the old. There is hope, and the “Old South” doesn’t get to have the last word, even if change seems frustratingly slow at times.
Both Regina and Akil hit on some of the ‘unspeakable’ anxieties that Hustle and Flow and Memphis hip hop/blues culture try to articulate. The notion of the ‘some type a way’ feeling that many of us were left with is very real. I wonder how can we name what we are feeling—whether it is the gender anxieties that the film reproduces or the creative and social alienation that both the women and DJay feel? What might we call this?
Whatever it is, it seems to me that it is an outcome of the ways in which the pain, as a memory and an experience, is literally embedded in the objects, culture, and the landscape itself.
For instance, if you check out Regina’s page: http://www.redclayscholar.com/ there is an image of Regina sitting on an old railroad track covered with weeds flanked by a someone’s old couch. This image for me performs a similar function. All of the feelings, the spectral hauntings of past pain that was grounded in the South comes through in this image.
Yet the image also captures how we are both alienated by space and pain, but also how our creative and cultural genius blossoms out of this same haunted and sacred space. Hip hop (and blues culture) both create space for these encounters of alienation, brutality and genius. Whether they happen at Regina’s crossroads on an isolated railroad track, in a strip club, or in a run-down, souped up car— these spaces ground the objects around us and the places we inhabit with a sense of meaning and sometimes with a sense of beauty.
Hustle and Flow has always left me feeling some type a way as well. I think with you naming the restrictions placed on women and access to economies of creativity and performance as subjects names that feeling.
I could not help but connect your last section where you discuss Memphis as a site that haunts us and reminds us of unresolved social and emotional rifts but have also inspired many a blues and hip hop record with Elvis and Sam Phillips. In many respects Craig Brewer the film’s writer and the shifts in the script from a white protagonist to a black one played, by Terrance Howard registers how race functions in interesting ways in southern musical production.
I love the question of visualizing a southern hip hop aesthetic. Hustle and Flow left me feeling some type of way, like I was missing out on something that only folks from Memphis could understand.
The overlap of the Blues and Hip Hop narrative in this film was very evident. It makes me think about how blurry lines of the past and present are in southern cultural expression. You can’t have a “present” without a heavy presence of the past.
Your reference to Monster’s Ball made me think about how the south is still marginalized even within its own space. What type of hip hop influence was signified by Diddy’s brief (and strained) appearance early in the film as compared to DJay or even 3 6 Mafia’s embodiment of a recognizable southern hip hop aesthetic to a nonsouthern/mainstream audience?
Thanks for the comment Regina. I tire of the same narratives too. What has been irking me as of late is not so much that black women can’t be sexy without someone calling us “hoes” and “ratchets” and such, but that our current moment seems to JUST be about black feminism (and general mainstream feminism) JUST as an expression of a very limited form of black female sexuality. I mean, can we get some diversity up in here? “Hip-hop feminism” as espoused by Nicki (which one can argue is more like “gangsta rap” feminism only) and “Beyoncé” feminism (which although complicated reminds me so much of Olivia Pope) seems to be all we get these days. I remember back in the day we had a fuller spectrum of what black female sex power looked like: we had Lil Kim AND Queen Latifah; we had Da Brat AND Left Eye; we had Salt-n-Pepa AND Roxanne; hell Remy Ma, Bahamadia, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and on and on and on. Now? FOOEY! Badu and folk like Janelle Monae don’t get the shine like Nicki, Bey, Olivia, real housewives, etc. Why not? Hell i don’t know, but I am tired. Can we get something other than this http://youtu.be/LDZX4ooRsWs and this http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/08/25/beyonce_vma_performance_w...?
I enjoyed this post.
As I read I continuously turned over in my head discussions about black women’s pleasure politics and empowerment in pop culture. While discussions of black women’s sexualities and identities remain somewhat archaic - I tire of the narratives that leave black women as victims or as sexual deviants - the question remains how sexual prowess and pleasure for black women can change the direction of the pendulum for black women’s sexual economies in pop culture?
I loved Key and Peele in the first season. It pushed the envelope in useful and meaningful ways as a pop culture scholar - especially the “Luther” skits which are hilarious and a jarring wake up call of the respectability and power politics you reference in your post.
I agree that they follow in the trajectory of Pryor and Chappelle but I wonder about the crossover effect Haggins talks about in Laughing Mad. Now that Key and Peele have “made it” or “crossed over” I recognize a shift in the focus of their skits. I’m not quite sure what this means yet but I’m wondering if the direct commentary will make their humor less complicated and water down the impact they have on satire and humor as a tool of social critique.
I find it really interesting that on so many levels this clips does so much of the ideological work you have thoroughly excavated and explicated. It explodes with teachable moments like the ones you describe and further complicates our relationships to the significations these images circulate, giving us opportunities to contextualize how we as media scholars understand the myriad ways we navigate these images that students are not fully privvy to at the start of a course. What an interesting clip!
Thanks for this comment Nina; yes, the sense of context that gets communicated as challenge/street cred in the Bring it On clip and as communitas/celebration in the Get on the Bus sequence is all but lost on the folks in The Office. But The Office is so intentially self deprecating, while Bring it On — in this sequence and others, attempts to sell us an ostensibly “authentic” insider aesthetic, as performed through the bodies of Solange Knowles and her black and brown ladies’ crew. Consider the “krumping” scene below, (also from Bring It) where Hayden P. is again posed as the watching and learning audience, even as the film attempts to capitalize on the krumping dance style popularized by African American teenagers from Watts in the 2005 documentary Rize—a film which bears its own complex relationship to the circulation of culture.