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a bit too long entry on bell hooks

Popular culture, as opposed to elitism of academic analysis, offers rich and accessible field for interpretation of various representations and images. Popular culture allows to analyze images and ideas in terms of difference and otherness, such as race, class, and gender.
bell hooks does not suggest that there is a simple and direct correlation between representations and social reality, but calls to be attentive how certain images and ideas might normalize certain unacceptable behaviors and actions, such as violence against women or racism. Hollywood or media in general, has an enormous power “to alter people’s perceptions.? For example film “Braveheart? caused enormous sympathies and deep emotions with colonized people, but bell hooks calls attention to who is represented (white European male) and why and how these representations instead of challenging reproduce white male privilege.

Similarly, just because there are women or Black people on the screen does not mean that there is a fairness in representation, Black people and women in the media industry are just as able to reproduce and reinforce ideology of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy as white men (bell hooks gives examples of Madonna and hip-hop). Ethics and morality are constantly undermined in the name of profits.
bell hooks calls to pay careful attention to what on the surface might appear as transgression, while in reality it might be a mere reinscription of conservative values (e.g. “Kids? in terms of race and gender). People are seduced by transgression as a value in itself, without failing to notice how transgression can be a simple commodity which does not challenge status quo in any serious ways.
In her discussion about rap music bell hooks compares it to colonialism – rap becomes a site of exploitation and exoticism for the largely white suburban audiences. The records that portray more misogyny, sexism, and violence sell more. There cannot be discussion about authenticity in (popular) rap music because it does not exist in the marginal location anymore – it is clearly a part of larger cultural production under capitalism, where profit is a driving force. It is understandable that people want to produce records strategically in order to make money, but bell hooks calls for examination of those choices, as well as impact they have on the audiences.

Terms:
Motivated representations: images in the popular culture are not random – they are not simply outcomes of imagination and creativity but serve certain political ends. For example, representations of “good? or “bad? film characters are often racialized or certain representations of women used serving backlash against feminism. These practices – “conscious manipulations? – reproduce existing power structure.
White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy – term to make sense of life in the US. Various interlocking elements of institutional structural power that allow to analyze one’s identity and place in the hierarchy.
Enlightened Witness – “being an ‘enlightened witness’ means becoming critically vigilant about the world we live in.? This can be achieved through critical thinking and greater literacy, not censorship.
Constructed Narrative – representations are never just accurate documentation of reality, but are made with particular goals in mind, reflecting creators’ interests and ideas (for example documentaries, or you can think of news in the same way).
Color Coding – although there are a lot of Black female representations in videos, they are almost exclusively portrayed as overly sexualized. bell hooks calls attention to skin tone which is typically lighter and straight hair. This implies that there is certain adherence to whiteness as superiority.
Commodified Blackness - Blackness represents transgression (dangerous, exotic, sexualized etc). It is consumed as a commodity, keeping safe distance, not engaging in meaningful ways, not showing genuine social and cultural interest.

I think bell hooks has a lot to offer, but not in terms of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers/analysis, but in stressing the importance of critical thinking and engagement beyond the surface of representations. Films or whatever other media is seen and interpreted by different people differently and there can never be simply one way of analyzing (we still can try, I guess.) Although I admire her analysis, I think in some ways she falls in the same trap as psychoanalytic feminist theory – which might sound “right? theoretically, but it does not go into anything concrete, for example, how real people interpret it, what they think about, in what ways it touches/influences them etc. I think it is important to analyze not only ideological constructions that operate in films/other media, but also locations of viewers (or producers) for that matter. So for example (I think I read/heard this somewhere) sometimes assumption is made that media influences poor, less educated, and so on people in more significant ways then the ones who are more educated and can consume the “worst? media and stay untouched by it. I would be interested in finding more about it, but I think such assumptions are deeply troubling. bell hooks would argue that all we need is more mass based literacy in order to counter influence of ‘bad’ media. I agree, but I think we also need to examine who and why judges which media is wrong in the first and for whom it is safe to consume and for whom it is not.
I also think that bell hooks is not very attentive to whatever can be found positive in the media. Although overall I agree that media is just a big spectacle-money-making-capitalist-machine, I think we still need to look at ways it empowers certain people, through role models, ideas, transgressions, possibilities etc.

Comments

I think you make a very important point. Although, I also respect bell hooks' analysis and I found it to be very informative, I think that every person can come to different conclusions. Everyone is influenced by their surroundings, therefore people living in different places and in different situations all over the US and world are going to analyze each film and image differently. Bell hooks’ analysis is a good start for people to get into the frame of mind to critically analyze mass media, but it needs to be understood that everyone might come to very different, yet still acceptable, conclusions.

I think you make a very important point. Although, I also respect bell hooks' analysis and I found it to be very informative, I think that every person can come to different conclusions. Everyone is influenced by their surroundings, therefore people living in different places and in different situations all over the US and world are going to analyze each film and image differently. Bell hooks’ analysis is a good start for people to get into the frame of mind to critically analyze mass media, it needs to be understood that everyone might come to very different, yet still acceptable, conclusions.

I did not think of this when i watched her movie! I kind of just assumed that what she was saying was correct. Why does she get to say what is right and what is wrong about media and popular culture? Although i do think that what she is saying is true in some aspects but I think she takes it over the top when she makes it seems like its everywhere! This is a really good and different way of looking at the media and representation of race, gender and the white supremicist

Arnoldas, I think you have to be more specific in you critique that she does not interrogate how people are influence by media (regardless of class, race, etc which you allude to). I think in many instances she explicitly asks this question. For example when examining the case of OJ Simpson she says that we (as in all people herself included) we asked constantly to see OJ Simpson's story as somehow more important than the story of domestic violence. She then says that as a culture we are asked to identify with violent men as potentially our hero's (the clip goes on show women at a battered women's shelter where women are cheering the verdict of innocence for OJ). She then goes on to describe her attempt to place her analysis (of forcing the analysis of domestic violence over the racial or circus-like politics) on mainstream television (a show like Good Morning America) and is shut down. One might argue the choice to show a predominately black inner city is potentially problematic but none-the-less is a reflection of so-called “everyday people's reactions to pop-culture?.

Another constant marker of “real people's reaction? is that hooks constantly references “everybody told me ... “I loved this film (Kids)?, or “this film is about black people and it's for black people? (Waiting to Exhale), she references how black people in increasing number are starting to see Spike Lee as a failure, or that many people understand rappers to be markers of black male sexuality (as opposed to the product to profit) etc. This is beyond the general idea that most of bell hooks comments are in relation to popularly held beliefs. I am also not convinced that hooks is overly concerned with “negative media? as much as deconstructing any media. So for instance in looking at Spike Lee's film “Girl 6? was not an indictment of “bad media? but the opposite- an attempt to deconstruct the scene in order to more fully understand the implications of Spike Lee's message (once again reinforcing the importance of critically watching film regardless whether one agrees or disagrees (sees it as good or bad). But kudos. Very impressive, comprehensive entry. cheers!

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