changing the world, one ass-shake at a time

September 1, 2006

There’s an interesting take on the role of hip-hop in the world, specifically in the Islamic world, in today’s salon, in an article called Beyoncé Knowles, Freedom Fighter. Thaddeus Russell draws parallels between the Cold War and the current war in Iraq to illustrate a telling point:

Joseph Stalin and his commissars called it an “amoral infection” in the minds of Soviet youth. It was “American primitivism,” “capitalist cultural imperialism” and “bourgeois cosmopolitanism.” But it was really African-American culture. It was the same infection that today is spreading underneath the police, the laws and the censors of Islamic regimes.

I took a fantastic American history class with Professor Russell in college, probably the most interesting lecture I took in four years – he’s all about social history and pop culture. He was one of the hottest professors (for always teaching a fascinating class and for being pretty attractive). The buzz was always Thad this and Thad that. I’m getting away from myself…so the article is definitely an interesting read. I don’t want to dispute the validity of his theories/claims, I’m more interested in my own contrasting views about “open” sexuality in hip-hop, especially in this context.

1. Where does my dichotomy of freedom vs. sexism, or third wave feminism vs. second wave feminism, respectively, fit into this discussion? In other words, where does sexual freedom (for some) end and sexual oppression/sexism begin? Can it be both at the same time?
2. What of secular Western assumptions of religious non-Westerners (‘primitive’ notions about sexuality) that are clearly based on some reality (as stereotypes always are) but are problematic nonetheless?
3. Finally, where do we draw all of those boundaries in an (American) world where we are barraged with hundreds of images of sex and sexuality all day long? So you get a better sense of where these thoughts are coming from, here’s another excerpt:

Islamism is facing an even graver challenge in Indonesia, with a special assist from Beyoncé Knowles. In 2003, a 24-year-old singer from East Java named Inul Daratista unleashed a sexual revolution simply by rotating her lower body onstage in such a way as to cause millions of men to worship her and millions of women to emulate her. Inul’s dance style, which she calls “drilling,” is indistinguishable from a move that has been ubiquitous in hip-hop clubs and videos for years, and which Beyoncé recently brought to the mainstream, called “booty popping.”… The singer-dancer, whose name means “the girl with breasts,” dresses much like her pop counterparts in the Middle East, but she also has diamonds embedded in her teeth, a fashion statement made famous by American rappers.

There’s this funny assumption that my enemy’s enemy is always my friend. Lately I feel like this is especially untrue, and here is a perfect example. Though I admittedly snicker with the rest of the smartass Americans about the ‘fascist’ rulings of Islamic leaders, I also don’t consider near-naked women (often women of color) flaunting their asses as particularly symbolic of a free society. Frankly, I don’t know that I find it particularly helpful for professors of American history to be interpreting the Islamic world’s (particularly its leaders’) reactions to American hip-hop and its influences. I’d rather think about what this might say about American culture.

Russell’s high points are when he relays Cold War history and Soviet reactions to American jazz music:

Though they avoided the explicit racism of their capitalist rivals, Communist authorities clearly understood the source of the corruption. A Bulgarian newspaper called young rockers “arrogant monkeys, dropped into our midst as if from a foreign zoo.” Soviet cultural magazines referred to jazz and rock as “mud music” produced by an “ape culture.” East German Communists more frankly dismissed it as “Negermusik.” But the youth in those countries apparently took the association with African-Americans as a compliment. The first rock band in Poland, formed in 1958, was originally named Rhythm and Blues and subsequently changed its name to the Reds and Blacks.

OK…so I just threw out a bunch of open-ended questions and ended with some more quotes. Sue me. Not a great post. The article was interesting, but it left me wanting a lot more than just a story of “then and now.” I think I’m just bored of the daily political opinions, they are so completely dry. At least Russell got me thinking about how all of these things (pop culture, women’s bodies, globalization, to name just a few) are connected and it’s up to us to offer up all these interpretations of how.


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