«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
Another interesting aspect of Menace is that the viewer gets to witness the effect that inner city life has on the next generation of young black males, through Ronnie’s son, Anthony. Ronnie is a single mother trying to teach her son appropriate values, despite living among men who define masculinity through toughness and violence.
Five-year-old Anthony demonstrates his astuteness when he tells Caine he can whip his ass playing a video boxing game. He is scolded by his mother and praised by Caine. Caine sees the toughness as a way of survival in the hood, while Ronnie sees it as way to juvenile detention or even to the grave. Caine also makes the mistake of showing Anthony how to hold a gun, pull the trigger, and the correct foul language to use while doing so. To Caine, it is an innocent act but to Ronnie it’s a linguistic introduction to drive-bys. Through this simple incident, he has desensitized Anthony to the deadly power of guns, just like much of the media has done today. This desensitization makes even children non-hesitant about pulling the trigger of a gun.
How many times have you heard of a kid accidentally shooting one of his peers?
Caine pays a high price for his show of masculinity during one the most common encounters between black men: relationships. Ronnie and Caine become close as they spend time together, close enough for Caine to consider her his girl. During a party Ronnie is hosting, one of Caine’s friends, Chauncy, in a drunken state inappropriately grabs her and tries to kiss her. This is something Caine is not going to tolerate in front of his “boys” or his girl, so he pistol whips his friend.
Meanwhile Deena informs Caine that she’s pregnant. Immediately, he denies the baby is his and hangs up on her. Here other prescriptions for masculinity may are revealed. Caine’s masculinity does not allow him to be there for Nina because he will be viewed as weak and dominated by so called “female problems”; like Hood characters, he only thinks of women as “bitches.” The use of the word bitch (a sign of black males’ evaluation of women as weak and powerlessness, according to Bogle) and other foul language in hood film is authentic in reflecting the reality of the urban environment. Yet, Singleton and other film makers seem unwilling to challenge this perspective (345).
The pistol whipped friend’s masculinity blinds him to fact that he is at fault for the incident, but compels him to send the video tape of Caine and O-dog to the police. And finally, Deena’s cousin’s concept of masculinity forces him to avenge the wrong that Caine has committed upon his sister and the beating Caine gave him during an earlier confrontation. While Caine and other friends are helping Ronnie move, Deena’s cousin and his crew do a drive by. Caine manages to cover Anthony with his body to prevent harm, but Caine is not spared. This act proves that Caine does care whether he lives or dies, but it is realized too late.
All of the violence in these films occur because of the black males’ need to maintain their masculinity and is an accurate reflection of black male youth today. This sense of male honor seems senseless on the surface but when one considers the process of socialization and internalization in the ghetto, it becomes clear that this the only thing the black men have to fight for. The question is what does/did these images do to the American psyche? To probe the effects of the hood films, one must ascertain who the viewing audience is. During my viewing of these films, sixteen to twenty-five year old males, mostly black, made up the viewing audience. I would also posit that the same group rented the movies after they were released from theaters. The audience is important because both films posit that, in addition to entertainment, they are trying to show the lived reality for some black males. I argue that instead, these films reaffirm for black males living in these conditions that their behavior is appropriate, and confirms for the few whites who may have seen the movies that black males are dangerous and not to be trusted. The people who need to watch the films are blacks and others who do not live in these environments and that play important roles in shaping the community in order to bring about social change and access.
Singleton posits that despite the violence and behavior of black males depicted in the film, there were positive role models found in Furious, a father trying to raise a respectable, successful black man in the hood and Trey his son who grows up against the backdrop of urban violence. Now, at the age of 29, I understand these roles, but as a teenager viewing these films, the most memorable scenes for me were the ones featuring intimidating language, the gruesome coldblooded murder scenes, and the “infusion of hip hop/rap aesthetics and sensibility” (Bogle 347). My friends and I remember that Ricky got slaughtered, not that Trey made it out. This film taught black males my age at the time how to handle situations in a negative way, when it should have taught us how to walk away, how to stay alive.
Even if this meant changing the reality of the film, it would have introduced alternative behavior for dealing with situations that could lead to senseless violence.
One doesn’t have to wonder why senseless violence broke out at the theaters across the country during the showing of early Hood films. Many news critics stressed that rather than promoting violence, Hood was an eloquent plea for such violence to end (Bogle 344).
However, I agree with other critics who asserted that Hood raised the expectation of violence among its impressionable youth audience, especially with the advertising trailer that included almost every instance of gunplay in the film, “rather than emphasize its antiviolence message or the father-son relationship at the films moral center” (Guerrero 182). However, those pleas that the former critics mention are superficial. Most young black males don’t remember the foreword or afterword in Hood or Menace, but they do remember how the characters maintained their masculinity at all cost, regardless of how
aspirations, frustrations, and violent outburst adds complexity and occasional contradiction to Singleton’s antiviolence message because Hood “draws its dramatic visual force from the filmer’s insider depiction of gang culture, leaving the character Trey to totally shoulder the burden of the film’s moral plea” ( Guerrero 184). A strong plea would have a been a community coming together at the end of film with some plan of action to confront the issues facing black males in their community, but in reality, Hood ended with hopelessness with Douhboy’s profound statement: They don’t know, they don’t show, or they don’t care what’s going on in the hood. This did not provide hope or a positive model for me and other young black males who watched this film. I do agree with Guerrero, however, when he argues that Hood does show how “homeboys are rewarded or punished by the end of the film for choices and paths consonant with, or in conflict with, dominant values” (186). But black males who do live this life see such punishment as a part of life; such a conclusion does not suggest or offer to black males elbow room to construct an alternate reality or masculine identity.
The other reality is that Hollywood is willing to invest millions of dollars into hood films because the theme of “violence by blacks against blacks, a filmic representation of a real dynamic” (Brigham 28), appeals to young black males and their followers, and such films have low production costs, and the potential for high profits. Hood costs about 6 million dollars to produce but sold almost 60 million dollars worth of tickets (Pacheco 25). Other merchandise and video rentals generates even more revenue. So in short, “art, social criticism and justice do not enter into the capitalist equation which determines whether films made by African Americans are ever released” (93). When this fact is taken into context with the history of black representation on and off the screen, the old adage “same script different cast” becomes apparent where black actors and film makers find themselves trapped within the context of Hollywood economics (Guerrero 164).
The producers, Allen and Albert Hughes, raise some important issues that relate to Black Aesthetics that must be addressed. The Black Aesthetics Movement positioned art not only as a creative artistic process but a production that was connected to and functioned as some moral concept for black Americans. The Hughes brothers argue that the film is a creative project based on potential real life events, but it in no way seeks to make political or social statements on behalf of African-Americans. However when one considers Wallace’s powerful notion of spectragraphia, we know that such visual art work does have powerful affects on the psyche. I posit that these films increased black masculine decimation, particularly for younger black males. However, Guerrero suggests that “rather than think of hood films as the cause “of theater violence [and other influences], we
contradictions, injustices and failed policies are mediated and as the artist’s examination of and dire warning about, a society in which African Americans are, in terms of statistics, worse off today than before the civil rights movements…. “The blame, he continues, resides in the social order in its totality, not the cinematic vehicle that delivers the news” (190). As a black male academic, I agree but how many black males one can assume comes away with such an analysis after watching such films? If they could, they would not be dealing with some of the complex problems they are facing today. Guerrero’s comments are well grounded academic interpretations, but he is not privy to the black male mass. Black artists should always be allowed to artistic freedom but because of black peoples’ history of continuous struggle in this country; filmmakers should try to use a black aesthetic that is empowering. Would it have been too much to ask of Singleton to show some type of community response to the tragic events?
Also, the continuous breakdown of black family core structures, decreasing parental involvement, and mainstreaming marketing of hiphop has made the world a very confusing environment for black males trying to construct their masculinity. There are positive films that have debuted showing successful well educated black males dealing with problems like love and romance, but they have extreme thematics from Hood films because they offer a fantasy environment that is very different from the lives of the males represented in Hood films. Young black males need to see a character surviving in the hood without the use of violence or intimidating language. Trey in Hood comes close, but he just seems like a tag along character. We never see him actually surviving. He has a job working at the mall but he is never showed working there; this fact is just mentioned by other characters.
With capitalism driving the market place on creativity, hip-hop music, film, and clothing have become very profitable; black parents must take a more intimate approach to raising black men by monitoring their construction of masculinity.
It is this commercialization and perpetuation of the prescriptions of masculinity that have black males locked in a defeating gaze that they imagine as real and positive. In chapter two, I mentioned how during early films blacks were represented in black face by white men who made a mockery of the humanity of black men by playing roles that presented them as mindless thieves. Then, the brute image emerged as this over sexualized beast that lusted after white women, but this was something the black males could use to alter the mindless gaze;
it too was detrimental but more empowering. As one looks at the literature of the black male, we see the adoption of the brute image early on in the trickster figure and bad man tales, which are filled with foul language and overt sexual images; It was an image that was born in Europe after Europeans first set eyes on some African men who supposedly possessed huge sexual organs; this stereotype was strengthened by scientific propaganda. Thus brute strength and sexuality are the two things that black men could always count on to define their masculinity. These permeated black male culture. As a result, a gaze was created that black males viewed as empowering and some whites viewed as defining most black males.
This duality has always existed. But now this gaze has moved beyond a cultural image to an imagined image, one that is used to make a profit. The cultural image is one that continues to adjust itself based on the changes in society, while an imagined image is only
interested in instant gratification. Lacan explains:
the object on which depends the phantasy from which the subject is suspended in an essential vacillation is the gaze.
The subject tries to adapt himself and becomes that punctiform object, that point of vanishing being with which the subject confuses his own failure. (83) Here I position Lacan to speak to how media images, and images in general, take control of the black male gaze and disrupts it so that the image that is produced is believed to come from his on conscious.
Thus, the gaze is most powerful when it is internalized. In essence, the construction of black masculinity has become dependent on popular cultural images; therefore, most black males don’t see themselves consciously as trying to attain a masculine design; rather, they view it as a visual performance that allows them to exhibit the current popular black male pose; even more frightening, some don’t even see the need or seriousness to alter their masculine behavior because the imagined gaze has totally masked the cultural gaze. Thus black males have “the illusion of the consciousness of seeing oneself see oneself in which [a more empowering] gaze is elided” (83). To prevent the suppression of the more empowering gaze, black cultural must decenter the field of perception that control current constructions of black masculinity, which of course goes far beyond hood films.