Perspectives of Black Popular Culture

Perspectives of Black Popular Culture

Perspectives of Black Popular Culture

Perspectives of Black Popular Culture

Synopsis

While blacks have made perhaps their most obvious and substantial contributions to Western popular culture through music and dance, they have developed a rich popular culture in a number of other areas, including the visual arts, mass media, health practices, recreation, and literature. Glimpsed through any medium, black popular culture is the DNA that runs throughout the various kinds of black-and American-artistic achievement and shared experience, helping to identify, explain, and retain Africanisms and the essential blackness that emanate from the everyday lives of black people.

Excerpt

The normal distinction between popular and high culture is based largely on how esoteric the art, skill, or concept is that characterizes and reflects a given people at a given time. In Western high culture, the knowledge and "consumption" of classical and traditional music, literature, painting, and drama, for instance, are enjoyed by a relatively exclusive minority of the people. There is also some claim that the defining and categorizing strictures applied by society along with the degree of sophistication of the art forms and habits in high culture, often acquired through formal training, further set it apart from Western popular culture. More important is the fact that the access to high culture is rather limited. Like its associate, etiquette, high culture has an aura of exclusiveness guarded by the rigorous dogma of correctness—sometimes tacit but often blatant; sometimes authentic but often artificial in its strictness. For example, the dress code and general decorum of the more genteel sports of tennis and golf are but more overt and visible manifestations of the same kinds of distancing strictures used in other aspects of high culture. The descendants of the ribald pit dwellers who adorned the Elizabethan stage have long since lost touch with the receding—or ascending—art form, forsaking it for more hospitable and more contemporary forms. Popular Culture, on the other hand, is broadly and affectionately embraced by common people because it is produced, reflected, and consumed by them in the course of their everyday lives.

Black popular culture in America holds a peculiar status in that, unlike Western popular culture in general, it has no counterpart in Black high culture. In other words, Black culture is to a great extent Black popular culture, for there is no identifiable Black culture that can not be or is not readily embraced by the wide spectrum of Black society. Black culture is popular culture partly because it continually looks toward the roots of the common Black experience and draws from those roots for its creativity. Black artists continue to create new modes that replace older ones which in their decadent stages are abandoned and drift slowly away as they are customarily usurped and then adopted by the larger American community. Jazz, swing, and even more recently rock music, for example, have gone this route.

In America this particular kind of decadence creates a curious dialectic where the creators reject their own creations once the creators' identification is weakened or blurred by Americanization or assimilation. The dynamics of this particular dialectic contain an insidious irony in that an unequivocal self-identification is made essential precisely because of the special and . . .

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