Book Reviews

By Belvey-Jennings, Regina | Transformations, March 31, 1995 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews

Belvey-Jennings, Regina, Transformations

Book Reviews

hooks, bell. Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge, 1994. Paperback. 260 pages. $15.95.

Sherman, Charlotte Watson, ed. Sisterfire: Black Womanist Fiction and Poetry. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Paperback. 378 pages. $12.

Outlaw Culture by bell hooks and Sisterfire (edited by Charlotte Watson Sherman) document the diversity of thought among women of African descent. Both are vital reading for academics interested in contemporary black women writers. Outlaw Culture is a book of essays, Sisterfire, an anthology of poetry and fiction, hooks, the intellectual, feminist critic, offers challenging critiques which explore how usherers of American culture superimpose patriarchy in the media, the academy, and society. Interrogating high and low culture, hooks demonstrates through essays and two interviews how the media manipulates icons in order to attenuate or to dismiss political struggle for equality. Her essay on the transformation of superstar Madonna from feminist to voyeur stands as scrupulous scholarship. Most of hooks' essays develop the gaping problem that occurs when cultural mythoforms divorce from political struggle.

Charlotte Watson Sherman, editor of Sisterfire, reached for variety among black female writers with perspectives that demonstrate the broad range of literary and ideological voices of the "womanist" community. Her anthology, composed of poetry, vignettes, short stories, and book chapters, explores stages of womanhood and sisterhood unique to black women. Sisters from diverse economic backgrounds, lifestyles, and interests commingle in this anthology where Sherman prefaces each chapter with sparse commentary either explaining or introducing the chapter theme. The chapters follow the stages of womanhood. The themes include mother/daughter relationships, female friendship, women's health issues, drugs and violence against women, love: heterosexual and homosexual, female sensuality and female aging.

Being mixed literary events, Outlaw Culture and Sisterfire appeal to academe and laity. Outlaw Culture provides bold intellectual query of dominant images in American culture, forcing one to take pause and review cultural icons as deceptively racist, patriarchal and misogynist, bell hooks bridges diverse elements, knocking down stark dichotomies that form and perpetuate American ideology. In her essay "Gangsta Culture - Sexism and Misogyny" for example, she bridges distinctions between the film, Menace II Society starring rapper, Ice Cube, and Jane Campion's award-winning film, The Piano.

Despite its reinforcement of stereotypes about white women, Jane Campion's film received glowing reviews and numerous awards. Exposing the double standard given to white privileged females, hooks demonstrates that Menace II Society, which in a similar way reinforces stereotypes - this time about black males and about the economically disadvantaged - was not received as warmly. Such bridging spotlights how we accept or reject cultural forms. hooks' point: both violence and female degradation feature prominently under patriarchal authority. Her evidence is in the history of America and the repetitive production of American glory. Urging a revisiting of history, for example, she interrogates the media's penchant against gangsta rap. The media objects to the explicit violence in gangsta rap while it repeatedly ignores the accepted violence in the conquest and cxtermination of Native Americans. According to hooks, the cinematic murder of Native Americans and the glorified violence in white gangster movies both escape any evaluation of influence on contemporary youth. hooks makes connections between history and culture that disturb what Lani Guinier calls the "don't see; don't say" attitude and stance.

For the rappers who ostensibly offend, she continues to fault the dominant culture. Take Snoop Doggy Dog for instance. His pornographic album cover, Doggystyle, depicts a black woman as dog being violated from behind, yet hooks argues that such imagery comes directly from those in power: "I do not think simply about the sexism and misogyny of young black men, I think about the sexist and misogynist politics of the powerful white adult men and women (and folks of color) who helped produce and market this album" (118). …

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