Group 1: What is Grunge? Sonic Youth and the Artists Cindy Sherman and Sue Williams

Everyone: What is grunge? Select one video from the search-terms on the syllabus and reflect on what is being performed. Are there any similarities to Kurt Cobain (if you selected someone other than Nirvana)? Additionally, tell us why you think this type of musical performance was popular? 

Group 1: After reading about Cindy Sherman and Sue William’s work do you see any similarities to the work of Kurt Cobain? Refer to both the video and the work of Sherman and Williams. Additionally, how would you categorize this art? Reflect on our semester investigating different cultures…are there any correlations to other artistic expressions?

Grunge fuses elements of punk rock and with heavy metal usually with various vocals that are harsh or appear lazy.  Grunge musicians often demonstrated a look representative with apathy and disdain for a lot of what the world had to offer.  I searched the band Sonic Youth which was a popular grunge band in the 80s/90s which had various similarities to Kurt Cobain.  Specifically the song “Bull in the Heather” had similar sounds to various Kurt Cobain songs.  The droning on of the vocals and the rough guitar in the background showcase a different style of music from the main stream pop.

After reading about Cindy Sherman and Sue William’s work I do see several similarities to Kurt Cobain and how their work criticizes various aspects of society.  It was interesting to hear about Sherman’s Bus Riders photography which showed the individuals waiting in line for the bus, but the black riders were all given blackface to appear the same color.  She was attempting to use visual irony by contrasting these passengers with that of the white individuals to show how even in today’s age companies still mistreat people based off race.  Just as Kurt Cobain used his lyrics to talk about his dissatisfaction with parts of society so did she in her visual art.

Also, Sue William’s pieces showcase this various out side of the main stream often using feminist ideals in her art.  She completed a piece titled “Are you pro porn or anti-porn?” demonstrated how women in pornographic films are being treated as objects for the desire of violent men.  She relates this to young men viewing this film internalizing this issue and deciding that it is okay to treat women this way, even if it is acting.  Kurt Cobain also used his music platform to point out other issues in society such as drug abuse and suicide.

I would categorize this art as a type of performance/social activism art as it is using various mediums to explore negative aspects of society.  I think this is very similar to the punk music and culture that went against the mainstream societal norms, because it was causing pain by out-casting individuals.  These punk rockers shunned mainstream culture and created their own outlet for expression by including all the “rejects” of mainstream society to create their own culture.



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Group 1: NIN and the Industrial Music Scene

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Group 1: Woods described electronic music and experimentation as the two elemental influencing aspects which comprised the identity of industrial music (38). By comparing Nine Inch Nails’ earlier work with their later albums, how do you see these influences manifest throughout their musical career? Do you think that NIN can be categorized as industrial, considering their use of catchy hooks and the mainstream fame they achieved over time?

Industrial music has a very unique following from fans outside of the mainstream as most artists and those who listen to this genre form a subculture outside the popular hits of the day.  it is not in the popular mainstream and according to Woods, “Industrial music exists in a nebulous realm to those who concern themselves with thinking about it. As a genre of music that has never pervaded the charts of popular music, industrial is often overlooked by scholars and casual listeners alike” (Woods, 1).  Nine Inch Nails started in this niche realm and became respected as industrial artists within the industrial scene.

In their earlier albums, listeners can expect to see certain techniques and styles can be found throughout Nine Inch Nails’ catalog.  The Nine Inch Nails songs such as “Wish”, and “The Day the World Went Away” exhibit terraced dynamics, which is a characteristic of electronic industrial music (Woods, 39).  The lead singer, Trent Reznor’s singing follows a similar pattern, frequently moving from whispers to screams.  He also has used software to alter his voice in several songs which is common in the industrial music scene.   Therefore, when experiencing their albums, listeners can see this change from older to more recent songs by noticing the use of more traditional instruments to electronic/synthesizer sounds common in various aspects of industrial music experimentation.

Although Nine Inch Nails grew in mainstream popular culture, I believe they should still be considered industrial music due to their roots and influences as a band, despite evolving/changing their sound.  Woods discusses how electronic music and experimentalism are major aspects of industrial music which Nine Inch Nails still continue to do despite their use of catchy hooks and mainstream framing (Woods, 24).  This shows that even through the evolution of their music, they still have various major aspects of industrial music stemming from their work, which I believe qualifies them to still be in the scene, even with their growing popularity throughout the 2000s.


Article: Woods, Bret, Industrial Music for Industrial People. The History and Development of an Underground Genre. (Florida State University Library, 2007).

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Group 1. Langston Hughes declared that Harlem was in vogue and the Negro was in vogue (Lawrence, 3) after viewing the popular spectacles of the balls being enjoyed by both blacks and whites in the 1920s. After watching Paris is Burning (1990) does his observation resonate with you? What particular part of the spectacle was fascinating/shocking/exciting to you? Additionally, do you see this as “popular culture” from a 21st-century context? Utilize Lawrence’s Queering of the Dance Floor to support your answer.

After viewing the Paris is Burning Documentary and reading the course documents on this subject, it was clear that the ballroom spectacles were very popular in this group.  I agree with Langston Hughes quote because so many of the black men and women involved in these events were influencing and influenced by popular culture.  The balls featured expensive, custom, and flashy clothes which allowed the individuals performing to express their individuality and showcase their style.  Hughes elaborates on this being popular and many individuals coming from outside the culture to marvel/wonder what was all going on.   People look past race and were able to celebrate in harmony and include people of all types.

While watching the interesting documentary “Paris is Burning” (1990), I was amazed has to how into the competition people got.  Individuals performing were staying up long hours to practice moves and make their elaborate costumes to perform well in various categories.  I thought the categories were interesting because some of them were kind of shocking, such as the “realness” one were they tried to look as straight as possible.  It was impressive how many of these men were very entertaining and took the competition to a new level.

I see this has having elements of pop-culture, but it was a very exclusive subculture that only a minority of individuals were apart of.  However, in the book, “Queering of the Dance Floor” it is shown that many of these balls took elements from the mainstream and made it their own (Lawrence 220).  Also, the mainstream still did not like these occurrences much as they were often looked down upon by society, and even New York State Law prohibiting male on male dancing (Lawrence 232).


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Article:  Paris is Burning (1990), Queering of the Dance Floor

Group 1: Major Scene in “Straight Outta Compton”



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Group 1: Pick a quote or a scene from the movie that you think encapsulates the social commentary of this movie.  Explain your Selection.

One scene that I felt demonstrated clear social commentary on issues such as police brutality and racial injustice, was when the government told N.W.A not to perform specific songs.  During a 1989 concert tour, the FBI demands that N.W.A stop performing “F tha Police” because it encouraged violence against law enforcement. Police in Detroit forbid them from performing the song, and a riot breaks out when they perform it anyway.  This scene from the film truly tries to capture the tensions between African-American communities and local police departments.  It is important to note that this movie had a specific goal to showcase the historical component of race relations during the 1990s and decided to include this scene as a climax of these tensions.

N.W.A was a very controversial group at the time and it is important that the film demonstrate their obvious politically charged lyrics.  The rap group purposely used their lyrics to tell their stories of racism, police brutality, and other injustices in order to expand this into a wider audience (McCann).  The movie specifically showed the group defying the government’s request to not perform the song, which leads to a major riot in the city of Detroit.

I strongly believe this scene encapsulates the social commentary of the film, because it demonstrates that N.W.A will not back down when they truly believe in a cause.  They felt mistreated by authorities and wanted to play their music which they felt they had a first amendment right to play.  To them, this was another instance of the system being unjust towards them due to their race and controversial nature of the music (McCann).  Overall, this scene shows they are not afraid to take on deeper issues with harshness as well in order to improve the lives of themselves and others from their communities.  The movie does a good job in portraying this strict social commentary from the rap group during this climatic scene, as well as throughout the entire film.


Article: “Contesting the Mark of Criminality: Race, Place, and the Prerogative of Violence in N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton”, Bryan J. McCann

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Hack 5: N.W.A and Racial Tensions with the Police, Song: “F*** the Police”

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“F*** the Police” MP4 Link:

in the song, “F*** the Police”, by N.W.A, they clearly had no problem discussing and rapping about the major racial inequalities and police brutality occurring in the city of Los Angeles during the 1980s/1990s.  Many black individuals were constantly being harassed by the LAPD and thrown in jail during the “War on Drugs” era.  During this rough time, the LAPD had a systemic racist problem, with cops using racial profiling and treating black people harder and with less respect than white people.  N.W.A used their platform to boost the black power movement by clearly going against societal norms and harshly speaking out against these issues of race and police brutality (Pough, 284).  Hip hop and Rap had major political potential for starting civil movements and creating change within this horrific culture of racism, due to the many listeners it reached (Pough, 284).  One example of this in the song is the verse:

F*** the police! Comin’ straight from the underground
A young n**** got it bad ‘cause I’m brown
And not the other color, so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority

Ice Cube is clearly anger that he is brutally mistreated by police just because of his skin color and where he is from.  Stating that just because the police have a the authority to take a life, does not mean they can do so at will, especially with race in mind.  Ice Cube is referencing the racial profiling and discrimination which reached an all time high in the late-80s after the emergence of crack in 1986 (ACLU, 2016).

Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product
Thinkin’ every n**** is sellin’ narcotics

By Straight Out of Compton’s release in 1988, there were 762,718 yearly arrests for drug possession, nearly twice as many as the 400,000 in 1981 (ACLU, 2016).  This discrimination also manifested itself in 1986’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which made arrests for crack cocaine possession 100x worse than an arrest for powder cocaine, despite the two drugs being identical on a molecular level (ACLU, 2016.  These lyrics express the fact that black individuals were often targeted more so than white individuals for using drugs that are essential very similar.  The rules of the judicial system, which was enforced by the LAPD, were created unfairly against minorities which N.W.A demonstrates by stating cops believe all black people are selling/doing drugs.

Overall, this song expresses an intense anger towards racist cops and the judicial system that drastically disenfranchised black people.  N.W.A’s politically charged lyrics allow for a new platform in Hip Hop that influence many young people in these communities to stand up for social justice issues.


Article:  “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential in Hip Hop”, Gwendolyn Pough


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Group 1: Presentation of the ‘Real World’ Cast (San Diego Season 2004)

Group 1: Refer to the episode you watched of The Real World. What comments do you have about the ways in which each character is presented? Is there anything you notice about the cast as a whole? Feel free to mention an example from the episode you watched.

Before this class, I had never heard of the MTV show “The Real World”, so I decided to watch an episode from Season 14 which was filmed in San Diego, CA in 2004.  I watched episode 1 of this season and was quickly introduced to a wide variety of personalities from the eight individuals who lived in the house.  In regards to how they were presented, the shows editors definitely made an effort to pick very different personalities.  Each character is presented in a very broad generalized way, so as to appeal to a majority of audiences watching the show.  The entire cast as a whole was hand selected to be the most polarized and set to clash at times due to their opposite living styles/personalities.  Also, each character had a stereotypical bio in my opinion which also allowed more individuals identify with them on screen.  For example, a bio for one character reads, “Jamie is a second-generation Korean-American woman raised by traditional parents in San Francisco. She works two jobs to pay her tuition, but also enjoys partying.” (The Real World, 2004).  Or another which reads, “Brad is an Italian-American from Chicago who has just graduated from Lewis University with an accounting degree. He enjoys extreme sports and motorcycles. describes him as a “hunky, fun-loving daredevil.” (The Real World, 2004).  Clearly, these are two individuals who have fairly stereotypical youth upbringings and are used to appeal to younger audiences watching them.

The creators of the show also put them in various situations which would encourage conversations on controversial topics.  Many of the outings are at bars or clubs with excessive drinking which exacerbates tensions between the house members.   It is interesting to see that many of the cast members bring up various topics: sexuality, race, religion, and more.  I think eventually living in a house together these topics come up, but producers opted for lots of alcohol and tense situations to garner more intense fighting.  This again achieved more audience views and better ratings for the show, so these scenarios were brought up as much as possible.   However, in only 30 minutes per episode viewers do not get an overall picture of what each individual is truly like.  Also, editors have a tremendous amount of power to only include certain footage of an individual to shape the audience perception of them to their liking.


Article: The Real World: San Diego (2004). MTV. Film.

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Group 1: The Definition of Punk?

Members of rock band The Sex Pistols onstage in a concert. From left to right, singer Johnny Rotten and electric guitarist Steve Jones.

Group 1: Kvaran talks about the arguments over who was considered “punk”. After reading what do you think a good definition of “punk” is? Is it constantly changing? Is it a strict definition? Similarly, what are your thoughts on the definition of “punk rock”?

In her book, Kvaran makes a great assertion the various arguments on what makes someone “punk” and the overall definition of punk, and that is there is no definition.  It is constantly changing and is truly tough to define as it means so many different things of so many individuals.  After reading this article, I think that an attempt at defining the concept of punk is any individual or social group that goes against mainstream societal culture in an original way (Kvaran, 16).  It is important to note that a major part of what makes someone punk is their desire to be free from societal pressures of mainstream culture.  They are able to start their own counter-culture movements in order to find a place they feel accepted.  Many of these individuals feel outcast by the mainstream and seek to be different for truly authentic reasons of societal sentiment.  However, many others try to be trendy and blend into the punk subculture because it is the cool thing to do, but this is not a true definition of a punk.   According to Kvaran, This issue of authenticity is important in the punk subculture, as the term “poser” is applied to those who associate with punk and adopt its “stylistic attributes but are deemed not to share or understand the underlying values and philosophy” (45).

Similarly, punk rock also has varying definitions based on what the music means for a specific individual.  According to Kurt Cobain, lead member of the band Nirvana, he defines it as, “Punk is musical freedom. It’s saying, doing and playing what you want. In Webster’s terms, ‘nirvana’ means freedom from pain, suffering and the external world, and that’s pretty close to my definition of Punk Rock.”  (48).  Punk rock lyrics are typically frank and confrontational; compared to the lyrics of other popular music genres, they frequently comment on social and political issues (Kvaran, 55).  Overall, I feel that punk rock is more easily defined as a music style, due to its distinct sound, but can be loosely interpreted by punks who will make it their own.


Article:  Gendered Underground: Men, Women, and American Punk Rock, 1965 – 1995 by Kara Margaret Kvaran

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