Sunday, May 08, 2005

5/8 Hearing Black Film at 30,000 Feet

I'm in Irvine. I was born in California and everytime I'm back this way, I'm amazed that I feel physically connected to the terrain out here.

On another note, the film on the airplane today was Coach Carter. Hence today's title -- 5/8 Watching Black Film at 30,000 Feet (with apologies to Tony Hoagland). I hadn't seen the film so I watched it. Listening from my headphones, for the most part I felt like I was alone, but as it was ending I realized I'd never heard the word nigger so many times in a crowd of white people. For the record, most of the time Coach Carter was teaching his team not to say the word, but as the film was ending, I wondered what the rest of the plane thought about this, since I was one of maybe 4 black people on the plane. And then I thought about how interesting it was that the film for this flight was a black one. In the last few moments of the movie, I felt that the most striking thing was the sound of soul music. Do you remember that part of Amiri Baraka's article "The Changing Same (R&B and The New Black Music)" where he imagines what a different country America would be if they played James Brown in the banks? The first time I read the article I wondered: Would America really be different? Plato seemed to think so. But now I think America's coming to face black music -- even specifically James Brown's music -- in its public spaces doesn't change it, not in the important ways, anyway. Would love to know what others think about this.


Blogger John K said...

Mendi, such great questions. Given how frequently James Brown (and other black artists) are played, I'd have to beg to differ with Baraka, though I imagine if we were hearing artists whose work hadn't been partially assimilated or commodified, or wasn't in some way assimilable, it might be different. I'm thinking of Anthony Braxton, or Victoria Spivey, or Drexciya. Maybe folks would start screaming and shaking and thinking and shop less--couldn't have that! Better to hear "I Feel Good!" as we stroll, zombielike, through the fluorescent groves of Target and the Über-store, Wal-Mart. Adorno is turning over in his grave, but I'm not so sure about Plato (especially given the current administration).

In terms of the film with a Black protagonist and subject matter playing, I agree that can be a bit surprising, and not only just in the US. When Curtis and I were in DR, we saw "Scary Movie" on the bus heading north from Santo Domingo to Samaná. That movie has an integrated cast, but the ethic and humor are definitely flavored by the Wayans brothers' Black perspectives, and watching the film, and seeing the Spanish subtitles, on a bus full of Black people whose construction of Blackness was different, but whose identification, at least as I could tell based on their clothing, self-presentation, etc., with Black American culture was strong, was both fascinating and jarring. "Nigger" pops up in that film quite a bit too!

2:14 AM, May 09, 2005  
Blogger Treasure said...

I really hate that John had to jump on Target like that. So sad, really.

But seriously, I think ANY KRS ONE played in a conservative venue would fuck people up.

Can you imagine a lyrics from "Free Mumia" being played in a government office?


11:35 PM, May 11, 2005  
Blogger John K said...

Treasure, I like the KRS One suggestion! But people might get riled up, you know. LOL

12:10 AM, May 12, 2005  
Blogger Mendi O. said...

Love what both of you are thinking about here, but one of the things I thought was so interesting about the Baraka argument is that he's not talking about lyrics. He's talking about sound. Now, the fact that James Brown is so often played now may mean that it isn't radical for him to be played in a bank, but part of what I've been thinking is that perhaps any so sound could become that familiar

2:34 AM, May 12, 2005  
Blogger Tim'm said...

so mendi. you posted to my blog. how's keith? you pose an interesting question. it's interesting how a film can "interpellate" niggaz, right? I don't know many films that don't racially "interpellate" (one's choosing or not to watch the flight-feature is "read" in a variety of ways, i suppose, that get racialized)
i miss ya'll. in DC now. when you coming to visit? have me up there to read, speak, perform?


11:18 AM, May 12, 2005  
Blogger John K said...

Mendi, I definitely hear you re: sound/music vs. lyrics. I wonder, though, is all music--and more broadly noise--assimilable? What about black noise? I mean, those Braxton pieces on "For Alto"? Or Drexciya speeded up? Can disruptive afrosonicity be so easily internalized? And it's not just afrosonicity--Arnold Schoenberg's music STILL makes white critics freak out. Like, what if some of LaNa's shrieks or amped, recombinant versions of some of the tracks from "Sour Thunder" were featured as the soundtrack in JP Morgan Chase branches? Would that ever happen? (I hope so.)

4:26 PM, May 12, 2005  
Blogger Christina Springer said...

I don’t know much about anything. But I spend a lot of time observing a creature who I am supposed to be turning into a human being - somehow.

I present an idea that any sound can become assimilated into the psyche once it is defined in some manner. For example, we left our semi-bucolic Pittsburgh life for a flat next to the police station in Dalston, England. For a period of - perhaps - 72 hours, my son would ask, “What’s that?” Once I defined it. It ceased to be part of his aural awareness. This is strengthened by his total unawareness of the phone as a small infant. The phone would ring. If I was busy, I ignored it. Therefore, since it lacked a value - it didn’t register.

Which brings me to a question I have been pondering for years. And, that is the nature of rhythmic tonal declarations of sound and their modern impact on the internal landscape of the modern consumer. Because - given that rap is a word-chant form which is backed by rhythms known to affect transcendent states of is hip-hop a tool of disintegrating or building society? How is verbal reclamation actually deconstructing?

Okay - word-picture before conclusion of the aforementioned musings.... In a very exclusive Florida (read georgia suburb) retreat where my parents had a place, I was buying gas. Up to the pump jumps a Benz shaking every german bolt loose with the rap pounding the sound system. I hear something like, “Kill the niggas, kill the niggas..” I stop to look around. Out hops what my father always called a “preppy Fascist.” And he’s jamming along. Nodding his head to the beat. I can only imagine the beat in his head. When I catch his eye, he has the decency to look sheepish.

Because - it’s all just art. Isn’t it?

1:55 PM, May 18, 2005  
Anonymous ReggieH said...

I'll check out Coach Carter on DVD, in part because it is the work of black director Thomas Carter, whose films, while mainstream, usually make an attempt at showing a more realistic and varied view of black folk than most other Hollywood fare. Even 'Save the Last Dance' (ballet loving white girl with jazz-head father moves to Chicago 'hood and learns to love hip-hop/club dancing) had some interesting features to it, and the film was not a stereotype-fest or laff-a-minute coon show. He also directed "Swing Kids" about the early years of Nazi Germany and it's attack on 'degenerate music' (in this case black and jewish -- Benny Goodman -- US jazz). I see him making an attempt at creating spaces for more rounded portraits of African-Americans (and their/our influence with the Swing Kids film) in the sheeps clothing of a 'mainstream' movie.

5:15 PM, May 23, 2005  

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