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Cultural Moves

Cultural Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation

Herman S. Gray
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 257
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Moves
    Book Description:

    Herman Gray takes a sweeping look at black popular culture over the past decade to explore culture's role in the push for black political power and social recognition. In a series of linked essays, he finds that black artists, scholars, musicians, and others have been instrumental in reconfiguring social and cultural life in the United States and he provocatively asks how black culture can now move beyond a preoccupation with inclusion and representation. Gray considers how Wynton Marsalis and his creation of a jazz canon at Lincoln Center acted to establish cultural visibility and legitimacy for jazz. Other essays address such topics as the work of the controversial artist Kara Walker; the relentless struggles for representation on network television when those networks are no longer the primary site of black or any other identity; and how black musicians such as Steve Coleman and George Lewis are using new technology to shape and extend black musical traditions and cultural identities.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93787-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Herman Gray
  4. Introduction: Strategies, Tactics, Moves
    (pp. 1-10)

    In Norman Lear’s hit television show from the 1970s,All in the Family, there is a memorable moment when Edith—wife of the show’s lead character, Archie Bunker—quips that blacks certainly have “come a long way, on television.” Edith, and Norman Lear, may have been prescient. Twenty years later, in another televisual moment, Regina, the black woman who works as the maid of a prominent Southern family, a leading character in the dramatic seriesI’ll Fly Away, talks intensely with one of the family’s sons about his apparent inability to see her. After the boy has apologized to Regina...

  5. PART I Strategies

    • CHAPTER 1 The New Conditions of Black Cultural Production
      (pp. 13-31)

      At the start of the twenty-first century, it is clear that black intellectuals, filmmakers, musicians, choreographers, playwrights, and novelists are profoundly shaping the imagination of American culture. What may distinguish this moment is the recognition by the cultural dominant of the sheer influence and pervasiveness of black presence in mainstream American culture. In the language of Raymond Williams, this recognition and influence approach the rudiments of an institutional formation.¹ The institutionalization of black cultural production, especially the reach of its cultural influence, is taking place in a post–civil rights period of global corporate consolidation. Even as American culture travels...

    • CHAPTER 2 Jazz Tradition, Institutional Formation, and Cultural Practice
      (pp. 32-51)

      In 1991, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City inaugurated its jazz program and installed its first artistic director, trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis. This historic move, carried out by a major American cultural institution, signaled the emergence of a new period of visibility and legitimacy for jazz in the national culture. Lincoln Center’s decision provides a reference point for exploring the operation of cultural politics—issues of aesthetics, race, and institutional formation—within a dominant cultural organization.¹ Moreover, it is an opportunity for reflecting on the sometimes tenuous and misunderstood relationship between the sociology of culture and...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Jazz Left
      (pp. 52-74)

      At the level of cultural and aesthetic politics, the jazz left offers a distinctly different, but no less legitimate, oppositional critique about the place of jazz and black creative music in the national culture.¹ I deliberately contrast with the canon makers this distinct project and the cultural politics that it enacts.

      By arguing for the viability of an alternative (and at times related) set of practices and narrative accounts of the music in the most expansive and dynamic sense, I don’t want to suggest that such competing projects can be reduced to simple binary formulations of good and bad practices...

  6. PART II Tactics

    • CHAPTER 4 Where Have All the Black Shows Gone?
      (pp. 77-88)

      Much about American network television changed between 1992, when I completedWatching Race, which ended with the close of the 1992 television season, and 1997, when I looked at the new season for an update on black progress.¹ At the end of the 1992 season I was disappointed with the cancellation of several favorite programs, but I remained hopeful about the prospect of black representations on American network television. In subsequent seasons, black-oriented shows likeThe Cosby ShowandA Different Worldmoved from premier network schedules to the lucrative orbit of reruns and syndication. Although a shift from a...

    • CHAPTER 5 Television and the Politics of Difference
      (pp. 89-113)

      The debate over diversity in American network television is, I contend, the expression of a much longer struggle over the production of a national imaginary and the role of commercial television in the construction of that imaginary.¹ As it concerns governing and order, the integrative function of television is central to this process, as are underlying assumptions about culture and representation. Thus the periodic crisis in television over racial representation is less about the network’s loss of markets and audience shares than about governance and order. The focus of this chapter is the history of this struggle, the cultural logic...

    • CHAPTER 6 Different Dreams, Dreams of Difference
      (pp. 114-119)

      InThe Mask of Art: Breaking the Aesthetic Contract, film scholar Clyde Taylor examines the multiple positions, strategies, and effects of Western aesthetics on peoples of color throughout the world.¹ Taylor’s focus is on “palace discourse,” those systems of thought and habit of mind emanating from the crystal palaces of Western power/knowledge (of which aesthetics is merely one).² Taylor’s immediate aim in this book is both deconstructive and reconstructive. It is a project of cultural criticism and reconstructive possibility. Taylor’s critical investigation makes visible different discursive strategies used by “the palace” to construct and sustain advantage. But he also examines...

    • CHAPTER 7 Cultural Politics as Outrage(ous)
      (pp. 120-130)

      In a chapter fromWatching Racecalled “Irreverence, Sideshows, and Spectacles,” I grappled with the issue of stereotypes, irreverence, spectacle, and parody in network television representations of blacks.¹ I argued that the Fox programIn Living Colorproduced mixed results in terms of cultural politics. I took this position in large part because the black poor (particularly women) on the show were almost always the butt of jokes. At the same time,In Living Colorperiodically offered trenchant and unflinching criticism of American racism. Through strategies of engagement that included humor, parody, and a mocking tone, the show served as...

  7. PART III Moves

    • CHAPTER 8 Is (Cyber) Space the Place?
      (pp. 133-147)

      Can black cultural production function as a critical counterknowledge? In the new information order and with the emerging new communications technology, what are the conditions of possibility for the production of such knowledge? In the next chapter, I argue that in the information society, music plays a pivotal role in the production of critical counterknowledge. In this chapter I aim to work through popular conversations and sentiments about the new information technologies as they bear on issues of blackness, difference, and identity. I consider the political salience of identity and representation under conditions that Stuart Hall and Cornel West over...

    • CHAPTER 9 Music, Identity, and New Technology
      (pp. 148-184)

      Herman “Sonny” Blunt, born in Birmingham, Alabama, adopted the name Sun Ra to signal that he was not of this (earthly) world. For Sun Ra “space was the place” of unlimited human possibility—love, respect, equality, and creativity.¹ The stifling environment of life in the United States, particularly for an African American artist, aroused in Sun Ra the desire to seek a life defined by a different cosmic order, one organized first and foremost in harmony with the grand order of the universe. Sun Ra realized this vision through his compositions (he was a witty and prolific composer), his teachings...

    • Conclusion: Cultural Moves
      (pp. 185-194)

      I’d like to end where I began: by reconsidering the distance between Edith Bunker’s declaration, inAll in the Family, of black progress on television, Regina’s demand, inI’ll Fly Away, for recognition, and the notable influence of black cultural practices on America’s (and increasingly the world’s) commercial image culture. When they do appear, televisual images of blackness seem to work overtime to shore up the representation of contemporary American society as racially and culturally diverse. The contemporary arrival to whichAll in the Family’s Edith Bunker refers, and the visibility and recognition thatI’ll Fly Away’s Regina eventually achieves,...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 195-224)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-240)
  10. Index
    (pp. 241-249)