Police Brutality in Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Pick a quote or a scene from the movie that you think encapsulates the social commentary of this movie. Explain your selection.

The scene I chose to analyze occurs around 46 minutes into the movie, and is a portrayal of harassment of African Americans in Los Angeles by police officers during the late 1980s. In the scene, the members of N.W.A. are standing outside a recording studio in Torrance, CA, consoling Dr. Dre, whose girlfriend has just left him, when four police officers show up. The officers immediately start questioning the rappers’ presence on the street, assuming they are “gangbangers” and refusing to believe that they are actually there working. Even after their white manager, Jerry Heller, steps outside to try and tell the officers that they are artists working for him, the cops continue to harass the men, holding and patting them down.

The social commentary of this movie is about the extremely unfair treatment of blacks in the ghettos of LA by police, who have been known to arrest and beat African Americans on the streets for not committing any crimes or disturbing any peace. Throughout the movie, there are scenes showing this police brutality from the perspective of civilians in the streets. While this scene portrays a milder and quickly resolved altercation, some of the spoken lines, such as “you heard what your master said, get inside, boy,” spoken by the one black cop in the scene, showcase the unnecessarily racist attitude of police, even within their own race.

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Black representation in MTV’s “The Real World”

6125Group 2: Do you agree or disagree with Mark P. Orbe’s argument about how black men are portrayed in The Real World? Consider this quote from Orbe’s article: “None of the major players associated with the show (creators, producers, casting directors, assistants, and so on) are African American” (p. 12). How can this affect the representation of black (male) character son the show?

In the article “Constructions of reality on MTV’s “the real world”: An analysis of the restrictive coding of black masculinity,” author Mark P. Orbe argues that “the mediated images of Black masculinity on “The Real World” represent a powerful source of influence because they, in fact, are presented not as mediated images, but as real-life images captured on camera” (42). I very much agree with his argument. The images and situations that arise in television and movies generally depict African Americans, men specifically, in a certain way – inherently angry, physically threatening, and sexually aggressive. (36) This happens because “one of the major players associated with the show (creators, producers, casting directors, assistants, and so on) are African American” (42), which means that black characters, real or otherwise, are viewed through a mainly white lens. Therefore, the representations of black characters are stereotypical versions that have traditionally been portrayed to an intended white audience. This is extremely harmful in “reality” TV shows, such as MTV’s “The Real World.” Because the cast members are supposedly average, everyday people and not fictional characters, their behavior towards African American men only affirms these harmful stereotypes.

“So, in addition to the negative characterizations of African American men in countless films and various genres of television programming, viewers now can draw from additional “real world” examples in legitimizing their discomfort around Black men. Instead of using the real life experiences of young African American men to advance viewers understanding of the complex diversity within this large, heterogeneous group, this popular series merely cultivates the perpetuation of existing stereotypes” (44).

Black men in reality TV, as well as other television shows or movies, are often shown intimidating white women, who then require the protection of white men. Although a certain individual may not be violent or sexually aggressive, their portrayal through media outlets suggest otherwise. As Orbe puts it, “Regardless of these personal characteristics… a similar sign is invoked: Black men represent a threat (especially to European American women)” (39). Because the people (mostly men) in charge of creating and casting these shows are not African American, they can’t seem to imagine an African American person who deviates from these stereotypes. “Instead of using the real life experiences of young African American men to advance viewers understanding of the complex diversity within this large, heterogeneous group, this popular series merely cultivates the perpetuation of existing stereotypes” (44). There needs to be more comprehensive, as well as positive, portrayals of African Americans in media, otherwise racism will continue to be inherently perpetuated in our society.

MTV the Real World.jpg

 

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. MTV.com 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.

Citations:

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

Picture 1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real_World:_San_Diego

Do you agree or disagree with Mark P. Orbe’s argument about how black men are portrayed in The Real World ?

I had never seen The Real World before and was famillar with the premise until this weeks’ reading. So I decided to watch the most recent episode, Season 30 episode 12: roses and wine. However, the most recent season is The Real World Skeletons which from my understanding has the added premise of bringing in cast members’ exes or past trials for the sake of drama. In just one episode I could easily define the stereotype character; there was the tomboy, the girl next door, the jersey boy, the bisexual girl, the naive southern belle, the trailer trash, and of course the angry black guy.  I thought it was a little surprising how obviously stereotyped the cast was and when I read Orbe’s article I realized this is a constant theme through out the seasons. After reading I also realized how much racial stereotyping I had not initially noticed.

In this particular episode the “skeleton” focused on a minor love triangle between three white cast members and the drama related with that. Despite the episode not being about Jason’s (the black guy) skeletons he becomes an active character. Jason has a daughter during the season and discusses how he resents his father for leaving him as a child. I found this was a really cheap perpetuation of a stereotype but was delighted when they showed that Jason was making a big effort to break this cycle and be there for his kid. I hoped that maybe the modern seasons were going to deviate somewhat from stereotyping him as violent because they showed him as a very nurturing father.

However, at the end of the episode Jason has a violent emotional explosion  when one of the white male costars complains about how nobody understands his hard upbringing. Exactly like Orbe described most outbursts from black males, “Most often, this comes from instances when the African American male cast members strive to educate the others on ‘what its like to be a Black man in America.'” (Orbe, 36). Jason was extremely offended by his white costar’s complaints about a difficult childhood and proceeded to lash out at him. The argument was completely unrelated to the drama of the episode and Jason had no idea how the other costar had actually grown up. He just immediately assumed that this white guy did not understand adversity.

So I think Orbe’s argument is correct, cast members are stereotyped and the black male follows the pattern of being the racially driven menace. It only took one episode for me to see this.

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Taken for Granted: Henna Tattoos

In her article Cannibal Culture (1996), Deborah Roots criticizes the power to nitpick or salvage only parts of cultures for the sake of exchange in a capitalist economy, stating that “culture itself becomes a commodity” (Roots 73), rendering the appropriation/interest of art to be displaced from real ceremonial, social, and political contexts. Beyonce’s performance in Coldplay’s music video Hymn for the Weekend display just that: she stars in traditional Indian wedding apparel, complete with the henna tattoos on her hands, Mangalsutra (black beads worn on the bride’s face or neck), Chudiyaan (golden bangles), and Maang Tikka (bridal veil) (Olivia), all while singing, dancing, and looking at the camera in a seductive fashion. For the sake of this blog post, only hennas will be discussed, yet the overt absorption and sexualization of religious symbols and jewelry by a musical icon only advertises these ceremonial pieces as mindless fashion rather than meaningful components of sacred marriage.

The idea of exoticism drives the motivation of dominant cultures to attempt to embrace the authenticity of spirituality and meaning; pertaining to profit and fashion, the Muslim, Pakistani, and Indian culture has been objectified by this desire to express an exotic aesthetic through henna, or Mehndi, tattoos. Mehndi and henna have been placed in American culture for the sake of fashion and seduction, just as body tattoos that have been derived from tribal and foreign cultures have historically been misconstrued to become sexual, impure, or unclean. However, because these tattoos are “exotic,” the henna tattoos end up evoking “a use [of] objects to construct a conceptual line of escape out of Western culture into a titillating, yet manageable other” (Roots 78). The attraction to henna tattoos comes from several different desires to salvage certain acculturated values:

The first value that American culture has tried to salvage is the intricacy of design that is found in henna. Traditionally, the art process takes a day to few days to design and imprint on the bride’s hands and feet, with small symbols and patterns decorating her skin. The style is unique to the Middle-eastern and Southeast Asian culture. In a capitalist economy like America’s, these designs are mimicked and imprinted on people who want to decorate their skin with something beautiful, now using nontraditional white, gold, silver, and glow-in-the-dark ink. Designs have even been changed to meet the market need to decorate, so people intricately or simply draw small animals and symbols on their wrists, shoulders, and in scandalous places. The second value is the conservative need to retain “pure” skin (NPR). Tattoos and body markings have historically been taboos in American society and especially in the workplace, discouraging the need to desire tattoos of any sort (NPR). However, because of mainstream media and celebrities, tattoos have slowly become more and more acceptable, but not by much. Hennas, on the other hand, are made from various crushed herbs and peppers that stain the skin and remain dark for two to four weeks, and removes itself naturally–it’s a temporary tattoo. Since it’s temporary, people are able to emulate the authenticity of Indian culture without seeking its meaning or dedicating themselves to learning about the Indian customs and traditions that come with henna tattoos. Within two to three weeks, people who wear henna just for the look can return back to normalcy with ease.

Growing up in Fremont, CA, I have had the privilege of learning more about Indian culture due to the largely Indian and Asian demographic. Cultural weeks in high school consisted of foods, dances, and more celebratory activities that explored the exoticism of other cultures. When it came to receiving henna tattoos, however, I also fell victim to receiving designs I paid no real attention to. I tend to go on rants regarding the sacredness of Polynesian and Pacific Islander tattoos because I continue to study and respect the symbolism and stories that fall behind every design; but when it came to a tattoo I knew I would not have to keep, I became a hypocrite and ended up offending my Indian friends with mindless $20 designs of waves and animals in Mehndi ink. I had the privilege of taking advantage of a culture I tried to appreciate.

Even with the attempt to celebrate a beautiful tradition from the Indian culture, American capitalism comes along and takes something wonderful for granted.

Avatar the last airbender

Acculturated Henna Tattoos

Sources:

“Beyonce Henna Design.” Kelly Caroline, http://www.kellycaroline.com/2016/02/beyonce_henna_design/.

“Indian Wedding Mehndi Manish and Neha Anantara Riverside Bangkok.” Thailand Best Wedding Photographer Cinematographer Pre-Wedding Koro Studio | Bangkok Hua Hin Phuket Samui Ayutthaya Chiang Mai Krabi Phi Phi Pattaya Lanta Sukhothai, 4 Apr. 2015, http://www.korostudio.com/indianwedding/indian-wedding-mehndi-manish-and-neha.html.

“Tattoos Still Taboo?” NPR, NPR, 22 May 2013, http://www.npr.org/2013/05/22/186023466/tattoos-still-taboo.

Olivia, Aarti. “11 of the Most Culturally Appropriated Indian Accessories, and What they Really Mean.” Wear Your Voice, 23 Dec. 2016, wearyourvoicemag.com/more/culture/11-culturally-appropriated-indian-accessories.

Reaching for the Middle Class

Group 2: Ch. 2 &6

While I was reading these two chapters in the book “Celebrity Culture and the American Dream,” by Karen Sternheimer, I found the idea of “celebrity” at the beginning of the film industry and today’s to be shockingly similar. The main difference was that movie stars in the early 1900’s were meant to embody the middle class, rather than the untouchable elite where they stand today. The idea that hard work and determination can bring anyone financial stability in a time of imbalance between social classes brought hope to those who needed it. When movies first gained popularity, they were looked down on by the upper class. There was a significant stigma surrounding the film industry regarding the types of people who both worked with and enjoyed watching movies. Movie stars were portrayed as everyday, normal people, with happy families and modest homes. This image was created with a definitive purpose: to educate the lower class on what to strive for. Not only did these images portray broader goals, they also claimed that “looking the part” would get you where you wanted to go.

Due to the capitalistic nature of American society, simply selling ideas alone  is not profitable. In order to foster a desire in a certain market, advertisements had to link those ideals to a product. As Sternheimer remarks on page 47: “Just as ads for learning a new craft at home implied that people could rise through their own effort, ads suggested that beauty products were vital tools in the self-improvement kit to become middle class.” In other words, simply reaching the middle class does not make someone middle class unless they can perform as the middle class. More importantly, these kinds of advertisements were marketed to the lower class as a way to artificially embody the higher standards expected from the middle class.

 

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HACK #2 Dan Curtis’ DRACULA

In Dan Curtis’ Dracula (1974), there are a few stark differences in the ways that males and females are portrayed on screen. First I want to focus on the eyes. Most of the men in the movie have an intense gaze, their eyes squinted and brows furrowed, as if they are concentrating hard. This can be seen both on Dracula’s face, played by Jack Palance, when he is angry or advancing on his victim, and on the two main “vampire-slayers,” Dr. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) and Arthur (Simon Ward) when they are scheming and fighting their enemy. This is in contrast to the soft, almost dazed and confused looks of the women in the movie. For example, when Arthur and Van Helsing discover Arthur’s fiancée, Lucy (Fiona Lewis) after she had been attacked by the vampire, she has this far-off and empty stare, completely under his spell. Which brings me to my next topic, the control which Dracula exhibits over the women he “conquers.”

Linda Williams describes the genre of horror film as evoking “sadomasochistic thrills” in the viewer, stemming from the passive-at-first female characters being tortured by their monster, and then finding some power and flipping the roles of attacker and attacked (7). In the case of Dracula, I argue that because the women seem to get pleasure from being dominated by the vampire, submit to him and never find any empowerment, and eventually are killed by a stake through the heart, the pleasure that viewers find in watching the film is purely sadistic. The women in this movie are victims through to the end. After all, it’s the masculine Van Helsing who eventually slays Dracula, and all his vampire wives (pictured above), along the way. One defining action showcasing Dracula’s control over the women caught my eye: a strong emphasis on the neck. It’s well-known that vampires in films have always gone for the neck of their pale, beautiful, and dazed female victims. The neck is a highly sensitive area on the body, and is often captured in a sensual way. In this film, we see Dracula biting and sucking on the neck of Lucy, and she seems to enjoy the sensation quite a lot, closing her eyes, moaning and seeming to melt in his grip. Aside from the biting, Dracula asserts his dominance by just holding the women tightly around the neck, presumably choking them so they will submit to him.

 

Source: youtube.com

Finally, as for the pictures I chose, the first is of a painting of Dracula, as Vlad Tepe, a noble human warrior, and a pretty lady (presumably Lucy, in a previous life) standing idly next to him, admiring his manliness. The second exemplifies his vampire wives, who seem to be dressed in the same pajamas they were wearing when he captured them and made them his slaves, bare feet and all, just as Lucy was, showing the vulnerability of the female characters. Their clothes are light and airy, breasts and cleavage accentuated, whereas the men throughout the movie are dressed well, with thick coats and pants in dark colors, always covered and in high esteem.

Image sources: screenshots from the film, as viewed on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Source: Williams, Linda. “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess”