Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern

By Douglas Kellner | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Black voices from Spike Lee to rap

In this chapter, I will use rap music and the films of Spike Lee to provide a diagnostic critique of the situation of African-Americans in the United States today. 1 Black rap artists and filmmakers have used media culture to articulate their visions of contemporary U.S. society and have used media culture to resist the culture of racial oppression in the United States and to articulate their own forms of resistance and oppositional identities. I will accordingly probe the aesthetic strategies and politics of some recent productions by black popular artists to delineate the resources for social critique and political action found in their work.

Indeed, media culture reproduces existing social struggles and discourses, articulating the fears and sufferings of ordinary people, while providing material to produce identities and make sense of the world. When members of oppressed groups gain access to media culture, their representations often articulate alternative visions of society and give voice to more radical perceptions. Yet a diagnostic critique is also interested in the limitations of these works in order to advance the interests of the oppressed in future struggles. 2

Despite the continued oppression of blacks and people of color and growing violence against African-Americans, black culture has produced extremely important works in the last decades in the fields of literature, film, music, theater, and a full range of arts. 3 Cultural expression has always been a way of resisting oppression and articulating experiences of resistance and struggle. Gospel, blues, jazz, rock, and other forms of music have traditionally articulated African-American struggle and resistance. Black literature has also been a rich source of original voices, articulating the vicissitudes of the African-American experience and their culture of resistance. During the past decade, new African-American voices have appeared in the realms of film, hip-hop culture, and rap music, and these black incursions into media culture will be the focus of this chapter.


THE FILMS OF SPIKE LEE

During the 1980s, Hollywood joined Ronald Reagan and his administration in neglecting black issues and concerns. Few serious films during the decade featured blacks who were mostly stereotypically portrayed in comedies, often with black

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