Unspoken messages and gangsta music's reflection of reality
The part of the reading that struck me the most this week was from Brummet's chapter on gangsta rap. In Brummet's words, "Gangsta makes constant claims to present the truth about African-Americans." It "both expresses and naturalizes a racist ideology." It "perpetuates false,racist assumptions at the same time it assures us that the assumptions are real." In class today, we talked about the three false claims that gangsta music makes about African-American culture, portraying it as violent, sexually obsessive, and materialistic.
Now what strikes me the most was how gangsta music does this. Brummet makes the point that more African-Americans work respectable jobs than sell drugs and more phone each other with good wishes than are calling each other "bitch" and "ho". Therefore "what is absent in images may be as important as what is present, and you will never find those positive realities in gangsta". I think Brummet makes a really good point here. If gangsta were to be an accurate reflection of the African-American culture as it claims to be then it would need to show more of these positive images which Brummet mentions, the African-American people who aren't acting, talking, or dressing as is shown in the gangsta music videos that we see.
I find that this type of analysis is really important in any discussion of pop culture. We can learn so much about the hegemony and marginalized groups or about the taken-for-granted assumptions society buys into not based on what is said or shown, but by what is not said or by what is not shown. The Bechdel test is the best example I can think of. The Bechdel test calls attention to the active presence of women in film by asking three questions:
1.) Does the film feature at least two women or girls?
2.) Do those two or more female characters ever talk to each other?
3.) Do they talk to each other about anything other than a man?
What is interesting is that only about half of all films can pass it. The natural question that this leads to for me is what kind of messages does this send to people? What believes are women internalizing about themselves or are men internalizing about women?
Since this is not a critique from the feminist perspective I will not answer these questions. However, my point is that what is not said here actually says a lot more about how society views women than what is said. The same goes for the way gangsta rap portrays African-American culture while claiming that it's "keepin it real".
Now I heard some people in class say today that for the artist it is real and that they're not trying to perpetuate these stereotypes about African-Americans. But as I say pretty much every week, I believe that for the most part any study of messages in pop culture should be focused on the possible messages that people are receiving and how that is shaping their worldview. For example If I am a white person who grows up in a community where I never see any black people (which being from Draper, UT isn't too far from the truth) and the only black people I ever see are the ones on BET then my perception of African-Americans will clearly be very skewed. Now some have still tried to defend these artists saying that it is the viewers responsibility to figure out what reality is for themselves. I completely agree, but I think that in a study of pop culture of messages this point is less relevant. The main point in studying pop culture messages is and always should be to point out what the possible messages are that are being sent and received.
The main point that I want to stress though is that to understand how a pop culture artifact could be affecting us we need to be able to point out what is not being said. or what realities or aspects of reality are not being represented.
Can you guys think of any other examples? In any music genre from country to rock can you think of something that is not said, but which may be important for us to have a clear picture of reality? What are some unspoken messages in some of the music you listen to?