Rapping For Equality – “Fight The Power”

Hegemony can be described as the ideological dominant social group or class within society. Gwyn Williams explains hegemony as “an order in which a certain way of life and thought is dominant, in which one concept of reality is diffused throughout society, in all its institutional and private manifestations, informing with its spirit all tastes, morality, customs, religious and political principles, and all social relations, particularly in their intellectual and moral connotations” (Femia 1975).

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Gramsci explains further that, “hegemony is the spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group” (Crehan 2002: 102). In other words, hegemony is the most accepted and mainstream values, customs, etc. that are accepted as normal within society. In addition, these ideas are rarely challenged, making them more dominant. According to Gramsci, elites try to manufacture consent to their policies by promoting specific values and messages in the media favourable to their interests. As seen in many lectures throughout this semester, popular culture tends to be biased toward the wealthy, straight, able-bodied, white, males.

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Rap music is historically known as a form of counter-hegemony. Rap music originated mainly out of young, inner city, working class and poor black males. Professor Tolmie states, “hip hop started in the New York City streets specifically the Bronx in the 1970’s” (March 18, 2014). Rap music can be considered critical and challenging of the traditional institutions. It should be understood as a mass mediated criticism of the dominant ideology of racism within the Western power structure. Much of rap music rejects dominant ideological assumptions. Tolmie explains rap music as an “anti-establishment outlet for those speaking ‘to’ and ‘for’ disempowered and disenfranchised urban youth” (March 18, 2014). Public Enemy is one example that is critical of the white power structure and its portrayal of the Western system as fair and meritocratic.

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Jack Moore analyzes Public Enemy’s song “Fight the Power” and states,

While the song was hardly rap’s first assault on the establishment, it was a particularly explosive one. After witnessing their track get trashed by the music industry machinery, the group relocated their countercultural manifesto to the streets. Bootlegged live recordings of the track surfaced in metropolitan areas, and Public Enemy performed nearly nonstop throughout the boroughs of New York City to relay their militant message. Although the track was kept off the air because of its foul language and inflammatory political themes, record sales shot through the roof. “Fight the Power” became an anthem of urban black discontent, for better or worse (189).

ImageThe music video starts off by demonstrating ‘The March on Washington’ in 1963. It was a civil rights demonstration by several groups to fight for racial equality. The “demands of the marcher were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority” (Ross 2007).

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The introduction to the song paves the way. The whole song discusses racism that still occurs within society. It provokes another revolution to fight against racism instead of passively consenting. Each verse says something special. In verse one they rap,

Got to give us what we want

Gotta give us what we need

Our freedom of speech is freedom or death

Freedom or death relates back to the suffrage movement. Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech declaring the women suffrage movement determination to fight to the death. In other words, it signifies fighting until they receive equal rights such as freedom of speech, or until they die. Either way, they will not stop fighting.

In verse two they rap,

To revolutionize make a change nothing’s strange

People, people we are the same

No we’re not the same

Cause we don’t know the game

What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless

The idea of the game here, is the fixed rules established by those in power to keep the black and white, rich and poor, abled and disabled, etc. separated. In addition, they are saying that instead of passively consenting to the power by stating everything is fine, black citizens must acknowledge racism and take strides to eliminate it themselves.

In verse three they rap,

Don’t worry be happy

Was a number one jam

Damn if I say it you can slap me right here

This message mocks Bobby McFerrin’s massive 1988 hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” They do so because they do not feel it acknowledge the state of the world, such as the inequalities that black citizens receive. The dominant structures that are in place make it easier for a certain kind of individual (white, straight, ablebodied, male) to be happy and a lot harder for other individuals such as black citizens to be happy. Ultimately it ignores cultural and social inequalities.

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However, rap music today can be depicted as sending the wrong message. Much of rap music in contemporary society is considered misogynistic. This is extremely unfortunate that such a powerful counter-hegemonic structure has transformed into supporting the dominant.

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Though, this may bring out another type of counter-hegemonic in the future. Hopefully, people will return to the message of Public Enemy, and “fight the power.” Although rap music can be viewed as changed, many people still admire Public Enemy for bringing awareness and creating entertaining music. They used popular culture and entertainment to create awareness and change structural problems within society. Although issues of racism still exist, hopefully new forms of resistance will learn from Public Enemy and eventually minimize and eliminate structural inequality altogether.

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Chuck D., founder of Public Enemy says, “my job is to write shocking lyrics that will wake people up” (189).

References

Crehan, Kate. 2002. Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology. Berkely and Los Angeles,California: University of California Press.

FEMIA, & Femia, (1975). Hegemony and consciousness in the thought of Antonio Gramsci. Political Studies, 23(1), 29.

Moore, Jake. “Doin’ It Right.” Retrieved April 13, 2014 (http://www.nyu.edu/cas/ewp/mooresad10.pdf).

Ross, Schmuel. 2007. “Civil Rights March on Washington.” Infoplease. Retrieved April 13, 2014 (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/marchonwashington.html).

 

Barbie and Ken: Beauty Norms

In 2008, Ponds, a brand that sells beauty and health care products started advertising its new product ‘Pond’s White Beauty.’ The ad explains that by using the moisturizing product, ones skin colour will gradually become whiter. The ad promotes this new product through an ingredient named lycopene. Lycopene is “a powerful antioxidant commonly found in red fruits and vegetables that gives your skin a rosy white glow” (Pond’s 2013).ponds

Like most beauty products commercials, the male gaze is used. The male gaze reflects the way that male power is brought to bear on women through the disciplining of the female body. Essentially, men look and women are looked at – and so it behooves women to be what men want to look at, since that gives them some modicum of power in a male-dominated world.

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However, this ad demonstrates that gender does not dictate the only form of gaze, but race as well.

First the ad begins with an Indian man breaking up with his Indian girlfriend. The woman is heartbroken.

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It then skips to three years later where the woman discovers her ex-boyfriend is now engaged to another woman. Again, the woman looks heartbroken. Then, the man and his fiancé appear while the woman is walking pass them.

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The man notices his ex-girlfriend and they both turn around and make eye contact. However, that is short lived and the man continues to walk away with his fiancé.

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Then the ad starts to promote the product. It says, “For the first time, with lycopene, new ponds white beauty gives you a radiant pinkish white glow – pale white or pinkish white. You choose” (Pond’s 2008). After this it shows the women walking passed each other and highlights the difference in skin tones. The fiancé has visibly whiter skin than the ex-girlfriend. As a result this ad is portraying the idea that darker skin tone is less appealing than white. Essentially, “if your epidermis isn’t white enough, the man of your dreams will never love you” (Hill 2009).

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Mire illustrates, “in 2009, the high-end skin whitening market share for Pacific Asia was estimated to be worth US$18 billion” (2012: 273), with India being “one of the world’s largest skin-lightening markets, with an estimated 60-65% of women using some form of skin-lightening product” (Franklin 2013: 9).

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This is one episode out of five. Basically, as she becomes whiter, her ex-boyfriend decides he loves her again. Skin whitening products have become extremely popular globally. This idea of white skin being superior to dark skin dates back to colonization. Adae-Amoakoh states, “after centuries of imperial rule, Caucasian features and white skin have been established as the hallmarks of beauty and status” (2012). Franklin believes “supporting women in altering their natural phenotypes to conform to a Eurocentric beauty standard only validates the racism and colorism behind the beauty standard itself” (2013: 23).This desire for women to be whiter demonstrates white privilege. Individuals who are white receive more institutional benefits than those of colour. Hence, “in India, lighter skin reflects a position in the presitgous upper caste, while darker skin means you’re part of the poor or lower caste” (Abdullah).

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As a result, fair complexion is considered an important beauty standard. PEARLEX during 1942 inforomed its Indian consumers:

Beauty’s first requisite since time immemorial has been a fair complexion. Formerly it was nature which decided on face-appeal of different people but now fortunately science steps in and a pearly-white skin may be easily attained by any-one who uses PEARLEX (Franklin 2013: 23).

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Foucault’s idea of biopower can also help understand why woman chose to engage in these skin-whitening practices. Foucault analyzes power and disciplinary practices. He suggests, the diffuse nature of power makes it difficult to resist, and instead disciplinary practices get internalized in the form of self-surveillance. Corporations like Ponds are using cultural themes to create a resemblance between the products and their dark-skinned female consumers. Ponds ad for white beauty focuses on the fear of not being loved. This fear is real within Indian women. In India, “a woman without a husband is ‘nothing, since a woman’s social identity comes from having a husband” (Franklin 2013: 33). Thus, women engage in these beauty practices such as skin whitening.

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Note how the man is judging the woman’s skin colour in the ad; however, the man’s skin colour is not judged at all. Sociologist Evelyn Nakano Glenn explains,

women’s worth is judged heavily on the basis of appearance. For example, men who have wealth, education and other forms of human capital are considered “good catches,” while women who are physically attractive may be considered desirable despite the lack of other capital (Franklin 2013: 19)

In this case, one’s male privilege is more important than their race. However, men still do engage in skin whitening practices.

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In addition to racism, many skin-whitening products have many health concerns. The appeal of being white unfortunately outweighs the health risks. Women and men, knowing the health risks, still engage in these practices.

It would be the hope that by the 21st century, the idea of white being desirable and colour being undesirable would have faded. However, this is not the case. Women and men are willing to put their health at risk in order to look whiter. It is disheartening that this still occurs, and that the world is still not accepting of differences.

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References

Abdullah, Teah. “Skin Lightening, Racial Identity & Beauty Standards: Stop the Madness1” Retrieved March 28, 2014 (http://feminspire.com/skin-lightening-racial-identity-and-societal-beauty-standards-stop-the-madness/).

Adae-Amoakoh. 2012. “Skin Whitening is a Self-Denying Legacy of Colonialism.” Retrieved March 28, 2014 (http://thinkafricapress.com/culture/skin-whitening-light-and-fair).

Franklin, Imani. 2013. “Living in a Barbie World: Skin Bleaching and the Preference for Fair Skin in India, Nigeria, and Thailand.” Senior Honors Thesis, Stanford University. 

Hill, Mark. 2009. “8 Racist Ads You Won’t Believe Are From The Last Few Years.” Retrieved March 28, 2014http://www.cracked.com/article/182_8-racist-ads-you-wont-believe-are-from-last-few-years/).

Mire, Amina. 2012. “The Scientification of Skin Whitening and the Entrepreneurial University-Linked Corporate Scientific Officer.” Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education 12(3): 272-291.

Pond’s. 2013. “Pinkish White Glow Lightening Facial Foam: Cleansing.” Retrieved March 28, 2014 (http://www.ponds.com.ph/Products/Detail/White-Beauty-Pinkish-White-Glow-Lightening-Facial-Foam-40.aspx).

John Apple Jack – Sexually Progressive and Racially Ignorant

John Apple Jack (2013) directed by Monkia Mitchell is a type of romantic comedy that features two gay men. Boy meets boy, boy forgets about boy, boy pines for boy. Fast forward twenty years later when boy finally sees what’s been in front of him this entire time but now the other boy needs major convincing. This is the simple formula for the cliché romantic comedies; however, this time it involves a homosexual relationship. John (Chris McNally) is a wealthy, promiscuous, white man who runs his family restaurant. He has lived an extremely extravagant life with top of the line foods, drinks, cars, and men. However, after hearing of his sister’s engagement to his childhood crush, Jack (Kent S. Leung), John decides to confess to his family that he is attracted to men, although they were already aware. John hopes that Jack will see this confession as an act of commitment to him. His father shortly after hearing the news cuts John off from family money and leaves him with no place to stay.

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Jack is a cook at John’s restaurant and is ready to create his own restaurant and family. Growing up he had always hoped that John would acknowledge him, fall in love and live happily ever after; however, after many years of being ignored, tension heated between the two. During one of their arguments, Jack throws an apple at John’s head to quiet him. Nevertheless, when John becomes homeless, it does not take him very long to find his way to Jack’s place. They spend the night together and realize that they are soul mates. This did not last very long, and Jack realized that John was not a 100 percent committed and he decided to marry his sister after all. John refused to let this happen and interrupted the wedding by throwing an apple at Jack’s head. Jack and John end up together and open their own restaurant entitled ‘John Apple Jack’.

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For obvious reasons, the movie does an excellent job of portraying a relationship between two men. However, like most movies it also has its downfalls. When John admitted to being attracted to men, most of his family did not even flinch. It was a nonissue. As well, Jack’s mother considered it a nonissue and just wanted her son to be happy. Although this does happen for many people and is the hope for the future, it does not demonstrate the hardships that many gay men/women go through. Gay oppression still exists and John Apple Jack tends to ignore this.

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The demonstration of Jack’s family was also extremely progressive. Many films produce the stereotypical Asian family by creating a patriarchal structure where the father makes all the decisions while the mother remains silent. There is typically a one-way communication where the adults speak to the children, and the children do not speak back. In addition, shame and guilt are used to control and train children. They emphasize loyalty and honour to the family and avoidance of shame and embarrassment to the family. The mothers typically use less nurturance and more verbal and physical punishment than White mothers who meet emotional needs of children. However, in John Apple Jack, this is not displayed. Jack does not have a father figure in his life because he was actually a product of in vitro (a progressive reproductive technology). The mother shows caring attributes throughout the entire movie and makes it known to her son that homosexuality is not shameful or embarrassing to her and should not be to him. It is actually John’s White mother who has an issue with his sexuality, but in the end accepts it.

Before John commits to Jack he has a variety of sexual encounters with other men. John hires a stereotypical Asian ESL boy toy. Although this role created many comical moments, it is offensive. This role is viewed as feminine, passive and submissive towards John (a White male). Therefore highlighting racial power dynamics. It mimics the colonized and colonizer relationship. Although Asian men are typically depicted as asexual within Western film, when they are viewed as sexual, they are “presented as wanting to be sexually subordinated and violated by a more dominant, stereotypical white male” (Kendall and Funk 2003: 106). As a result, gay Asian men are not seen as physically attractive but more appealing because of their submissiveness. In addition, Jack was also hired by John, which can be viewed as problematic.

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In addition, cultural appropriation was a major theme within the film. John gives Jack the idea of Westernized Asian cuisine for his new restaurant. John is using traditional food of a marginalized culture (Asian) because it is viewed as profitable. This is harmful “because it is an extension of centuries of racism, genocide, and oppression” (Zinelibrary 2011: 5). It “treats all aspects of marginalized cultures (also known as targets of oppression) as free for the taking” (Zinelibrary 2011: 5). This is extremely problematic, and John Apple Jack reinforced this way of thinking.

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John Apple Jack was an important movie in acknowledging different kinds of relationships such as between two gay men. However, it demonstrates the problematic factor that the LGBT community tends to ignore race.

Before going to the Reelout festival my understanding of queer films was very minimal. Throughout my four years at Queen’s University I have come to realize that the culture is extremely White, heterosexual, middle to upper class focused. The fact that these festivals still exist and they are not displayed in popular culture depicts homosexuality as different and the minority. It would be amazing to get to a point where these films are not viewed as progressive because it is about a gay relationship but viewed as standard, like heterosexual relationships.

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Mitchell, Monika. (Director). (2013). John Apple Jack [Film].

Kendall, Christopher N. and Rus Ervin Funk. 2003. “Gay Male Pornography’s ‘Actors’: When ‘Fantasy’ Isn’t.” In Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress. New York: The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.

“Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation.” 2011. Zinelibrary. Retrieved February 26, 2014 (http://zinelibrary.info/files/culturalappropriationread.pdf).