Afro & Aura

When you google the search terms *african* *american* and  *cute* (with no quotes, of course) the first hits you get are associated with hairstyles. After that there are some hits for baby names.  This is a fascinating topic to me and I believe it begs a chapter in my dissertation. Among the biggest vlog topics on YouTube these days is that of one African American woman or another who has embarked on a “natural hair journey” or is otherwise describing some new miracle product that has finally knocked her kinky curls into place.

Hell, I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to picking up a few hair tips in my own quest for cuteness through watching YouTube.

Though I can’t help but notice that the YouTube natural hair community already has several of its own clichés like, “Hey Guys! It’s me and blah, blah, blah. My hair is blah, blah, blah. And it won’t ever blah, blah, blah no matter how much I try to blah, blah, blah. Bye Guys!” I even saw an upload titled  “My 27 Piece Weave Journey”! (For those of you who are black girl hair challenged, a 27 piece is a short weave like the one NeNe from the Real Housewives of Atlanta wears.) For realers. Very comical.

For me, this issue makes me think of Terry Eagleton‘s book, Walter Benjamin: Or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism, especially in the section where he highlights the late 60s – early 70s Black Power slogan, “Black is Beautiful” and discusses how this term is immanently rhetorical because of the way it calls attention to the falsity of Western beauty standards. Therefore, this verifiably questionable discursive utterance is deployed for the purpose of diametrically opposing and dislodging the Kantian assumption about the exclusivity of whiteness as ideal beauty.

Of course the period immediately following the civil rights movement, also known as the Black Power era, was the heyday of the afro and, for me, relates very closely to Benjamin’s notion of the hazy, blurry fluffiness of aura as an halo effect.  But then the afro and the (black) people who used to wear them have mostly gone out of style. Now we are told that “gay is the new black.” Or “green (politics) is the new black” and recently, I even saw a t-shirt that read “broke is the new black.” (Hasn’t it always been?)

Cute is governed by the canons of style (and delivery — as in the case of product packaging). So the racial rhetoric of cuteness is thus problematized, as it constantly moves African Americans in and out of style. As it stands, an entire category of humanity occasionally becomes vogue and then passé… and then vogue and then passé and vogue and passé and so on.

In Film Form: Essays in Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein blonde hair is implicated as the gold standard of photography and cinema culture, quite literally.  The golden, yellow hair of the Hollywood starlet is a fundamental pathos of the halo lighting effect used to imply desirability and is employed in almost all Hollywood films. As far as film culture goes, what we have seen little of is afro as aura. Well at least not until this public plural space of YouTube where black women are illuminating their own identities in the digital sphere. Stay tuned.

February 13, 2011. African Americans, beauty, cute, fashion, film, gender, hair, style, YouTube. Leave a comment.

Here Comes BarbieB!tch!

It’s really not a surprise that cuteness is the preferred design characteristic of super-commodity merchandise and is therefore the chief brand aesthetic of multinational mega-corporations like the Disney media empire and the Mattel toy company.  The predominance of soft rounded plastics makes it so.  Known for their pop culture icons, Mickey and Barbie, you’d be hard pressed to come up with examples of more successful and durable branding.

And along comes cute hip-hopper, Nicki Minaj fashioning herself as a Japanese street Barbie. Her name both rhymes and alliterates with Mickey’s. I think she’s brilliant.

Toys can have different characteristics and don’t always have to be cute, per se.  Toys can be quaint like wooden blocks or like cloth teddy bears or Raggedy Ann & Andie. Different kinds of toys definitely have different auras. What I’m talking about in terms of Minaj is a plastic aurality, bereft of all sentimental value, simultaneously stripped and sealed.  Not only does Minaj perform the strip/tease, but she does so through offering herself up as a sealed object — almost hermetically so.  And in true hip-hop tradition, she’s the first to brag about how airtight her entourage is.

Her über lavish lamé and latex costuming makes her seem impossible to undress. Just go ahead and try and get her out of her clothes. She’s tightly corseted, though nothing like a genteel Victorian.  She’s walking around literally sheathed in rubber, her gear is like… well, like a condom.  Her stylized plasticity seems to be almost hygienically engineered. The overly shellacked make-up and wigs seal the deal. (Get it? seal the deal? like sealed… oh never mind.)  It seems like whatever they try to hurl, spit, or squirt at her, it just instantly wipes off.  All antibacterial and whatnot.

Yep. Nicki Minaj is pretty much awesome.

January 7, 2011. Tags: , , , , , . Barbie, cute, Disney, dolls, fashion, gender, harajuku, hip-hop, Mickey Mouse, Nicki Minaj, sex & sexuality, toys. 1 comment.

kitschy kitschy yaa yaa yaa

I snapped this jpg at  the antique store in Pendleton, SC — not more than 3 miles from campus. These cast iron coin banks cost  $35.00 each. I’m not sure when or where they were made.

Check out the gestures. The nourishing Negress (as Barthes would call her) looks like she’s ready to pitch an epic niggerbitchfit based on the way she’s got her hands on her hips. And the male one — well, I guess he had better have his hat in his hands.

For some reason, this arrangement of these three objects reminds me of “Trueblood and his women” in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Throwbacks of the most grotesque design, they are. (I’m talking about the Truebloods AND the figurines, by the way.) The genius of the Trueblood scene is the way Ellison writes Truebloods’ intricate testimonial as a thing that functions for commodified exchange. It’s brilliant where Trueblood says, “But what I don’t understand is how I done the worse thing a man can do in his own family and ‘stead of things gittin’ bad, they got better” (68). In uniting a critique of Freudian oedipal desire and Marxian material analysis, Ellison depicts the notion of a/cute monopoly. These incestuous circumstances of “keeping it in the family” is taken to extremes and allows Trueblood to capitalize on the sentiments held by Norton, the wealthy white donor to the invisible man‘s college.

These themes connect very closely to the daddy-mommy-me trinity as described in Anti-Oedipus.

December 20, 2010. cute, gender, gesture, kitsch, literature. Leave a comment.

daddy-mommy-me

The image to the left is by Gordon Parks, called “Black Children with White Doll.”

The title of this post is “daddy-mommy-me” and is a quote taken from the introduction to Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and is related to my cute theory of race. The baby subject feels loyalty to the primary [racialized] nuclear unit in a libidinal economy of desire. The cuteness of “daddy-mommy-me” is abject sentimentality in the most profound and fundamental sense. (This is something I’m not going to tease out in a few paragraphs — it’s Deleuze for crying out loud, people!) I have a year and a half before I have to trace this economy of family cuteness more fully.

Of course, there’s this lovely piece by Japanese theorist, Akira Asada “Infantile Capitalism and Japan’s Postmodernism: A Fairy Tale” that really has fun with notions of cute economy, infantile capitalism — to be specific,  and is all Deleuzianed out with wild proclamations about software & play v. hardware & hardwork. Very fun.

And then today I played around with I-Ching to focus on the question of a fruitful 2011. After six coin tosses, I built the 37th hexagram or ䷤ The Family (the family, in this case is according to the standards of traditional Chinese gender and birth order norms).  This notion of family, of course, operates from a particular logic of oikonomos quite different from the context of Western cultural site of oedipal exchange, but I believe there is a similarity. The Wilhelm and Baynes translation I use talks about the “family is society in embryo… the native soil on which performance of moral duty is made easy through natural affection… within in a small circle of moral practice… later widened to include human relationships in general” (144).  Hmmmm. Now I’m not saying I’ll be citing or actively using the I-Ching in my diss (though I’m fascinated by Gregory Ulmer’s ideas about the system’s flash logic as an ancient hypertext), but it’s certainly possible for me to appreciate this reminder of my social situation while also objecting to the basis of it on philosophical grounds. The oracular reading connects quite verisimilitudinally to this subject of “cute” in my dissertation, though. Or it just might be that I’m seeing “cute” everywhere because I’m so immersed in my topic. Either way, it can’t be too bad of a thing; I’ll need all the imaginative energy I can muster these next 18 months. (For realers.)

The line in the first place is 9 and changes 37 to the 53rd hexagram or ䷴Development/Gradual Progress. The image of 53 involves the gradual progression of a sapling on the side of a mountain.  Influence and weight develops over time. Need I say more?

I think this is an auspicious reading for a/cute growth

December 19, 2010. Tags: . cute, dolls, family, gender, I-Ching, Japan & Japanese, toys. 1 comment.

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