bell hooks

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In the documentary, Cultural Criticisms and Transformation, bell hooks offers a critical reading of race, gender and class in popular culture, focusing largely on film and music. hooks suggests a direct connection exists between media representations, harmful stereotypes, structures of white supremacy, and the personal choices we make in our lives when interacting with folks. Reading media critically demands that the viewer actively participates and converses with what they are viewing, as opposed to simply engaging in a passive process of consumption.
The term "enlightened witness" describes a critical witness who is educated and exercises agency. In film, a subject who is infused with culture controls the camera. This is to say their values, assumptions, the way they see the world (i.e. their gaze) is thereby not neutral or 'objective'. According to hooks, the reproduction of racial and gendered stereotypes in popular culture and media is a conscious effort, one done for purposes of wealth accumulation. This rearticulates, and actively reproduces social inequity, misogyny, colonization, and imperialism through implying a natural inherence to white supremacy capitalist patriarchy. Another aspect I read in hook's use of the term "enlightened witness" is the privileged understanding women, queer folk and people of color have of white supremacy and heterosexism, as they are more likely to understand the assumptions and values of dominant culture while also understanding the values of marginalized populations. The "enlightened witness" through actively conversing with popular culture and media can recognize the ways in which white supremacy capitalist patriarchy and heterosexism have become internalized by people of color, women and queer folk.
Critical race and feminist theorizations inform hooks strategies in analyzing popular culture and media. I believe queer theory also borrows from this way of viewing reading both what is explicitly articulated but also what is more implicit (some call this reading against the grain).
Something I would like to interrogate further about this is how this internalization of white supremacy capitalist patriarchy means that people of color, women and queer folk will actively reproduce systems of violence and inequity despite their status as a marginal subject because they are also informed by dominant societies (liberal, white, male and moneyed) beliefs and ideologies. Who is recognized as in a position of "expert"? Whose voices are we most likely to recognize as credible? This is partially a tangent, but it made me think of work folks such as Tim Wise have done attempting to dismantle white supremacy and to divest themselves of white privilege. Tim Wise is recognized as a powerhouse, as an expert within this field, despite the fact that what he knows is borrowed (with and without giving credit) from academics and activists of color.

3 Comments

I'm glad that you bring up the concept of internalization here. I think that it is a key point of Hooks' concept of becoming an enlightened witness. In fact, I think internalization is, in the majority of cases, the difference between spectatorship and enlightened witnessing. Internalization is a great (albeit negative) interaction that one has with pop culture and is one of the main processes that Hooks is telling us to analyze. It is a method of allowing these images that are presented to you to shape you as an individual. It is such a problem in this country that it is often times impossible to separate those thoughts you have formed yourself from those that were implanted in your mind by a film director or record producer. It is, in a sense, widespread acceptance of voluntary mind control.

I'm also really happy you addressed internalization, as well as questioned who the "experts" are. If we look at marginalized populations and expect them to be well-versed in the ways that they are oppressed, what happens when those people reiterate the same harmful message society is bestowing on them in the first place? Though everyone is the master of their own lived experiences, considering who is a credible source for education when it comes to addressing the negative impacts of popular society on marginalized populations is also a really important questions. Someone might look a bell hooks and say that she is an expert on such things, but then we also have to consider accessibility and who is listening to and understanding the nuances of her message.

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This page contains a single entry by Scottie Brat published on January 23, 2012 9:10 AM.

bell hooks' lesson on being an enlightened witness was the previous entry in this blog.

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