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Africa in the American Imagination

Africa in the American Imagination: Popular Culture, Radicalized Identities, and African Visual Culture

Carol Magee
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Africa in the American Imagination
    Book Description:

    In the American world, the presence of African culture is sometimes fully embodied and sometimes leaves only a trace.Africa in the American Imagination: Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Cultureexplores this presence, examining Mattel's world of Barbie, the 1996Sports Illustratedswimsuit issue, and Disney World, each of which repackages African visual culture for consumers. Because these cultural icons permeate American life, they represent the broader U.S. culture and its relationship to African culture. This study integrates approaches from art history and visual culture studies with those from culture, race, and popular culture studies to analyze this interchange. Two major threads weave throughout. One analyzes how the presentation of African visual culture in these popular culture forms conceptualizes Africa for the American public. The other investigates the way the uses of African visual culture focuses America's own self-awareness, particularly around black and white racialized identities.

    In exploring the multiple meanings that "Africa" has in American popular culture,Africa in the American Imaginationargues that these cultural products embody multiple perspectives and speak to various sociopolitical contexts: the Cold War, Civil Rights, and contemporary eras of the United States; the apartheid and postapartheid eras of South Africa; the colonial and postcolonial eras of Ghana; and the European era of African colonization.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-153-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1. Introduction Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Culture
    (pp. 3-28)

    “I am African” declares the full-page, black-and-white advertisements featuring David Bowie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gisele Bündchen, Lucy Liu, Liv Tyler, Alicia Keys, or any one of nine other celebrities from the worlds of film, music, and fashion. Despite this declaration, the majority of viewers know that most of these individuals are not African in any commonsense understanding of what being “African” means: they were not born on the continent, have not established citizenship in an African nation, and do not live there now.¹ But the designers of this campaign want to stress that,genetically, we are all from Africa; human life...

  5. 2. Race-ing Fantasy The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in South Africa
    (pp. 29-58)

    Valeria Mazza—a white woman—and Tyra Banks—a black woman—appear back to back in leopard-print bikinis on the cover of the 1996Sports Illustrated(SI) swimsuit issue (Figure 2.1). They are framed against a blurred background of sand, water, and sky, and the bright yellow letters of theSIlogo are half hidden behind their heads. To the left of Mazza is the white text that announces the year’s theme, “South African Adventure,” and the names of the two cover models. At first glance the South African locale seems merely the background for this year’s photographic shoot. Shot...

  6. 3. “It’s Sort of Like National Geographic Meets Sports Illustrated”
    (pp. 59-94)

    Every year the editors ofSports Illustrated(SI) load models and photographers onto planes and set off for tropical locales with gorgeous beaches and sparkling waters to produce the much anticipated swimsuit issue. The swimsuit issues are therefore framed by travel: the travel of the models to the sites, the “armchair” travel evoked in reading the magazine, and, in this particular instance, my own travel to investigate the 1996 issue. Although these moments of travel are temporally unrelated, they have in common the discourses, spectacles, and commodifications of tourist culture. To elucidate this, I focus on two images in the...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. 4. Fashioning Identities Kente, Nostalgia, and the World of Barbie
    (pp. 95-114)

    Mattel’s Princess of South Africa (2003) is dressed as Martha Nomvula was dressed in theSports Illustrated(SI) photograph with Kathy Ireland. Meticulously researched, this Barbie’s costuming pays homage to Ndebele culture. In keeping with Ndebele styles and traditions, this Barbie’s hair is short-cropped; she is dressed in colorful, plastic bands (representing the beaded bands Ndebele women wear) around the head, neck, and wrists; yellow plastic to evoke brass bands around the legs and neck; and a multicolor, striped Middleburg blanket around her shoulders (these latter two indicate she is married). LikeSIbefore it, Mattel chose Ndebele culture to...

  9. 5. It’s a Small, White World
    (pp. 115-138)

    In the preceding chapter, I discussed Mattel’s “Dolls of the World” as embodying nostalgic longing for Cold War–era American life, whereby the ability to collect the world in the guise of Barbie allows metaphoric and symbolic control of that world. In this chapter, I engage with the ways a similar occurrence is evident in the world of Disney, focusing on the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks near Orlando, Florida. As with Mattel, the idea of Africa plays a part in this construction. One encounters “Africa” in many places in the Walt Disney World Resort: at Disney’s Animal Kingdom...

  10. 6. Africa in Florida Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
    (pp. 139-172)

    The “its a small world” ride presents Africans as just one of many peoples who are juxtaposed with one another. The Walt Disney World Resort’s Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (DAKL), in contrast, focuses solely on Africa and Africans. More specifically, it presents Africa south of the Sahara, a geographic divide that distinguishes between Arab Africa to the north and black Africa to the south.¹ I first became aware of the lodge’s existence when browsing through a copy ofAAA Worldthat had circulated via post to homes across America. A photograph of a giraffe, covering half a page, caught my...

  11. 7. Refrain Africa in the American Imagination
    (pp. 173-180)

    Throughout this book I have explored the ways that Disney, Mattel, andSports Illustrated(SI) (three major American popular culture icons) incorporate African visual culture into their own culture products (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge [DAKL] and the “it’s a small world” ride, the “Dolls of the World” Barbie collection, and the 1996SIswimsuit issue), repackaging and re-presenting this visual culture to American consumers. I have, in general, been arguing that the meanings generated by the appearance of African visual culture in American popular culture speak to the complexities of social relations—in particular, drawing attention to the juncture of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 181-226)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-252)
  14. Index
    (pp. 253-263)