«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
An older gentleman informs Furious that it’s the drugs and crime that have driven the property value down. Then the debate begins on who brought drugs into the black community. Importantly Furious leaves them to think about who benefits from black on black crime.
Unlike Trey, Doughboy and Ricky live with their single mother, who invests her hopes and dreams in Ricky while giving up on Doughboy.
At a very young age, he sees his life against the backdrop of a crimeridden city. Doughboy has no one to set rules or boundaries for him, so he makes his own. Ricky has a love for football that keeps him focused. Trey watches Doughboy and another one of his friends get taken off to Juvenile Detention. However both Hood and Menace fail to show a process of evolution in the lives of these three young men during their preteen years, which would have allowed us to recognize early on the consequences of prescribed masculinity. The novels more extended narratives, however, can do this. After Doughboy’s arrest, we skip over years, picking up with a coming home party for him when he and his friends are in their late teens, when meeting the prescriptions for masculinity may become deadly.
One of the first prescriptions recognized in the film is the use of verbal intimidation. Simultaneously this verbal play serves as a code among home boys for bonding, but at anytime it can lead to violence against each other. Most of this verbal exchange is known as playing the dozens. Playing the dozens game exemplifies the expressive life style, especially for young black males. “This game prepares them for the socioeconomic problems they may face later and facilitates their search for masculinity, pride, status, social competence, and
environment focuses attention on the performer in both conversational and ceremonial context. According to Abrahams in Talking Black, there are a number of features of Black performance which facilitate this
First, and most important, is the expectation of verbal play in any encounter, play that goes farther and is much more intense than its nearest Euro-American equivalents. This may be expressed directly, through sounding, or indirectly, in signifying. Sounding commonly occurs in some form of a ritual insult contest, like playing the dozens or capping (West Indian rhyming; more conversationally, it is found as woofing (West Indian giving fatigue) (19).
Another verbal technique is “loud talking.” A person is loud when he says something of someone just loud enough for that person to hear, but indirectly, so he cannot properly respond or through indirection by making reference to a person or group not present, in order to start trouble between someone present and the ones who are not (19).
An example of this technique is the famous toast “The Signifying Monkey.” Adherence to masculinity and toughness is often displayed through ritualistic storytelling and accounts of such successfully managing conflict or tight situations (Majors and Billson 92). Abrahams explains
this expressive style and its importance to black males:
These expressions of stylin’ are played primarily to other males—it is with them that one establishes one’s masculinity. Peer-grouping, then, is most often monosexual at this stage and, to a certain degree, remains so throughout life. Friendship is usually more important than any other relationship, with the occasional exception of the mother-child relationship. Peer-grouping is also more important to boys than it is to girls, because boys are permitted more time out of the home, and they learn quite early in their lives that the ability to endure often stands or falls on how many friends one has on whom one can rely both emotionally and financially. For a male, the ability to endure and to maintain a reputation depends on how extensive are the friendship network he is able to establish and maintain (26) It is often in learning to talk shit, to effectively play with words by talking that talk, that the black male’s street image will be most firmly established. However, the most important contribution of the dozen games may be as a coping mechanism to help teach black adolescent males how to control their feelings. “Learning how to keep cool, monitor tempers, anger, frustration, pent-up aggression, and other anxieties is crucial in the black world” (Majors and Billsion 101).
However, I argue that a visual media depiction of black male aggression has desensitized black males into using violence when one party looses the verbal game.
Midway through the film, Trey is turning out to be a respectable young man who understands that there is more to life than South Central. His mother has finished her masters and wants Trey to return to live with her. The film is to be commended for showing a single black mother striving for a better life and for showing that black parents who are separated can raise a child together, but for the most part Singleton objectifies women as bitches and whores.
Ricky is right on schedule in accomplishing his dreams of receiving an athletic scholarship. The scene with the recruiting agents shows
academics, when the recruiter asks Ricky what he wants to major in, and informs him how important this is if he gets hurt. But this scene also implies that becoming a pro athlete is the only way to get out of the hood. Meanwhile, Doughboy is in and out of prison and seems to accept that such a routine defines his life; he just lies around and drinks. However the deadly prescriptions of maintaining one’s ground changes all their lives forever.
The life changing incident occurs during a night out on the strip on Crenshaw. Ricky is bumped by a guy name Ferris walking down the street; he feels insulted because Ferris fails to say excuse me; each of them tries to hold his ground through verbal intimidation because of the audience that surrounds them. Doughboy pulls his gun and breaks up the dispute for Ferris. His action tips the balance and makes Ferris look like a punk, in Ferris’s eyes, in front of his crew. Ferris makes it back to his car, pulls a machine gun from his trunk and shoots in the air to disburse the crowd, trying to regain some ground, but it is still not enough.
This incident, along with police brutality that occurs after the strip incident, persuades Trey to tell his mother he is moving back with her, and he demands that Ricky also leave as soon as possible. Like Caine and his Cousin in Menace, driving back from this incident Ricky and Trey are pulled over by the cops for no apparent reason. Singleton makes a profound statement through the black cop who assumes that Trey and all black men his age are gangsters that need to be eliminated. Here Singleton shows how people make assumptions without getting all the facts, and in cases where young black men do represent all that they fear, they often see the finished product and not the ingredients that produce what some may call America’s worst nightmare. Singleton also shows through the cop that prejudice resides in some blacks also. “But by situating hatred of blacks in the character of an African-American cop, he illustrates the institutional embeddness of racism in social institutions and roles, and also classism (Curry and Allison 28).
The nightmare for the three protagonists in Hood unfolds while Ricky is on his way back from the store in one of the most powerful gruesome scenes in hood film history. Ferris and his friends spot Ricky and Trey returning from the store. Meanwhile Doughboy, senses something is wrong after seeing Ferris’s car circle the neighborhood.
Trey and Ricky split up; while Ricky is distracted with a lottery ticket he hears Trey call out to him that Ferris is behind him. Ricky runs only a short piece before the bullets of a double barrel shot gun rips through his legs and chest. Doughboy takes his dead brother home to a mother, who sees all her dreams vanish before her eyes. She blames Doughboy, as she always did. For the first time, Trey feels angry enough to kill. His father tries to make him realize that a gun won’t heal his pain or bring his friend back, but nevertheless Trey plans to participate in the retaliation with Doughboy. But on the way to the confrontation with Ferris, he demands to get out. Because of those discussions with his father, Trey knows that violence is not the answer, and Doughboy in his silence knows that Trey has too much going for him to take part in the revenge. The perpetrators are found at a fast food joint and are gunned down with a machine gun by Doughboy and his friends; for complete satisfaction Doughboy finishes off the now crawling wounded victims with final shots to the chest. These events
reputation that has little value in the white masculine design.
While Hood focuses on the lived social reality of urban life, Menace II Society echoes the senseless violence black males heap on one another. Charles Dutton’s message concerning black male aggression is one of the few positive sound bites at the beginning of Menace II Society. Despite the fact that filmmakers try to show how the maintenance of masculinity causes senseless violence, it’s the depiction of this violence and the macho appeal of supposedly unsympathetic characters that have proved most damaging for young male audiences. This hood film and others inadvertently glamorized the life of black youth in dangerous neighborhoods and ironically have fueled young black male aggression that is already burning out of control.
Menace begins with a gruesome scene in which O-Dog violently kills two store owners because one of them says he feels sorry for his mother because of the behavior displayed by the young man. The language is as violent as the crime. Caine, O-Dog’s friend, innocently watches O kill the owners, but this innocence soon fades as his life merges with the inner city.
First off, Menace shows the effects of family life and community on masculinity. Caine watches his father sell drugs and his mother abuse them. One of the most shaping incidents in young Caine’s life is watching his father, Tat, shoot a man in cold blood. Tat and some of his friends are playing cards, drinking and doing drugs when Tat asks one of his friends for the money he is owed. The friend responds with verbal intimidation because he does not want to be inferiorized in front of his “boys.“ Tat for the same reason pulls a gun on his friend to hold his ground in his own house. The friend responds, “I will pay your monkey ass when I feel like it. You better suck my dick.” This response is a threat to Tat’s masculinity in front of his home boys, his wife, and his son. With no hesitation, Tat protects his masculinity by emptying his gun into the chest of his friends. Little Caine stands paralyzed in the doorway as the body falls to the floor. It is at this moment that Caine is taught that one must maintain his masculinity at all cost.
Caine’s life after the incident is very similar to that of the protagonists in Manchild, Holler, and in poor black society itself. These visual images reinforce for black males that violence is necessary to hold one’s ground. Like so many black males whose opportunities are limited because they are immersed in limited place and space, Caine sells drugs to earn a living but more importantly to participate in the materialistic world that helps create his masculinity, better know as bling bling. With his drug money, he purchases a 5.0 Mustang from a chop shop and car jacks some rims from one of his acquaintances.
Later, Caine becomes a victim when some of his peers car jack him and his cousin Harrel. Harrel tries to persuade Caine to get out of the car but he attempts to hold his ground, refusing to give the car up and by slowly pulling a gun from the seat, despite the fact several guns are aimed at him. As a result, Harrel is shot several times, once in the head. He dies on the scene. Caine is also covered in wounds but still lives.
Prescriptions for masculinity dictate that Caine and Harrel’s friends must retaliate to restore masculine order among their group. With Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” ironically playing on the stereo, Caine, O-Dog, and the rest of the posse set out to find the perpetrators.
Caine is originally concerned about kids and the elderly, which shows he does have a conscience; unlike O-Dog, he has at this point never taken a life. But in a gruesome attack, Caine and his friends shoot their enemies to death in front of a fast food place. Caine’s reflection of the incident is very similar to McCall’s experience. He feels the same power when he takes a life and “he knew he could do it again if he had to.” Another way the characters maintain masculinity, particular O-Dog, is by showing the tape he took from the robbery. This process is known as “boasting.” He boasts to his boys about killing the store owners; they shower him with high fives and other props. Caine
describes O-Dog as America’s worst nightmare: young, black, and don’t give a fuck. This is the concept the police had when they pulled Caine and his friend over because they were young, black and in a car
hospitalized because of the beating he receives from police. It’s incidents like these with white social institutions that prevent black males from overcoming compulsive masculinity.
Menace does, however, have points of intervention. Caine’s grandfather tries to instill in him and O-Dog values about life and why God put them here. But O-Dog reminds the grandfather where he lives and what he wakes up to everyday. “Do you care whether you live or die,” Caine’s grandfather asks him? Profoundly, Caine says he doesn’t know. Like many males, life is a day to day struggle; one never has time to think about tomorrow, especially when you live in a community that has no foundation.
After the murders, Caine is reflective about life but the scars from his wounds soon become badges of masculinity. Another intervener, Mr. Butler, one of his friend’s fathers tries to offer Caine a way out by persuading him to come to Kansas for a new beginning, a way to survive for the long-term. Ronnie also sees potential in Caine and wants him to accompany her to Atlanta. Caine refuses at first by telling Ronnie that nothing will change if the environment in Atlanta is the same as the one in Watts. And of course, there is much truth to this statement.