Author: esteiner624

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The Art of Surviving and Thriving: Strategically Embracing Social Change

This image is a word cloud featuring the most popular words and phrases that are associated with social change.

This image is a word cloud featuring the most popular words and phrases that are associated with social change.

Social change is often inevitable; however, attitudes toward social change are more fluid. The ability to survive and thrive in a chaotic new world relies on open-mindedness and the foresight to understand the implications of change. This is illustrated through the development of firearms, Christian missionaries, and the Korean alphabet.

 OVERVIEW

 Concerns about drastic social change and its resulting chaos in the world are issues found at the core of the novel Taiko, by Eiji Yoshikawa, and the Korean television drama Tree with Deep Roots. These changes create much unrest and anxiety among the characters of these texts and, in their minds, the state of the future is cast in serious doubt. Some of these social changes are deliberate, such as King Sejong’s creation of the Korean alphabet in Tree with Deep Roots, and other changes, such as the introduction of firearms into Japan or the infiltration of Christian missionaries in Taiko, are unavoidable realities. Whether intentional or inevitable societal alterations, these changes necessitate adaptation and an open mind. Although there will always be opposition to social change, the characters who achieve and endure in Taiko and Tree with Deep Roots are the ones who willingly embrace the changes of the times, and those who resist are gradually extinguished.

 INTRODUCTION OF FIREARMS INTO JAPAN

Japanese soldiers firing tanegashima (matchlocks), using ropes to maintain proper firing elevation

Japanese soldiers firing tanegashima (matchlocks), using ropes to maintain proper firing elevation.

Although Taiko, a novel by Eiji Yoshikawa, is set in feudal Japan, many technological advancements and societal changes occur in this world of war and chaos. Oda Nobunaga’s success as a military leader is largely due to his utilization of significant changes in weaponry and military strategy. In Book 5 of Taiko, the mountainous Kai warriors are defeated by Nobunaga’s army on the basis of inferior weaponry and a failure to understand how war tactics have changed since automatic weapons. The Portuguese revolutionized warfare with the introduction of firearms in Japan, and thus, the traditional style of fighting could no longer win on the battlefield. Historical analysis of this development explains that, “As a result of the adoption of firearms, close combat was largely replaced by long-range fighting” (Brown, 244). Nobunaga understands this, but Kai, “protected by its mountains, ravines, and rivers, was cut off from the center of things and isolated from foreign influences” (Yoshikawa, 436). The Kai are proud of their province and put all of their confidence in the fierce bravery of their troops. They assume that since they have not been defeated in the past, defeat will not be theirs in the future. For the opposing Oda forces, however, “Nobunaga had planned a fully scientific strategy using modern tactics and weapons” (Yoshikawa, 436).

When the Oda and Kai forces clash on the battlefield, the Kai emerge as clearly superior in hand-to-hand samurai combat. This boosts the fighting spirits of the Kai; Takeda Katsuyori and his generals subsequently order the Kai army to advance and destroy the Oda. As the Kai forces march onward, Nobunaga signals to his soldiers hidden on Mount Chausu, and suddenly, “the earth shook at the volleys of gunfire. The mountain split open and the clouds were shredded… The horses and men of the Kai army fell like mosquitoes into piles of corpses” (Yoshikawa, 437). This scene highlights that, although the Kai are superior warriors, their skills and brute strength cannot compete with a shower of bullets, and thus, they suffer great casualties and complete defeat at the hands of Nobunaga.

In a later chapter in Book 5, Nobunaga receives a letter indicating an old-fashioned formal challenge to battle from Uesugi Kenshin, lord of Echigo. Nobunaga laughs when he reads this note because the gesture makes Kenshin look archaic. Nobunaga thinks, “How sad for Kenshin that he wasn’t born during the colorful olden days when they wore scarlet-braided armor with gold plates. I wonder what he thinks of Azuchi, with its mixture of Japanese, Southern Barbarian, and Chinese styles?” (Yoshikawa, 452). While reflecting on these recent social changes, Nobunaga sees old traditions and modes of thinking as obsolete, saying, “All of the changes in weaponry and strategy in the last decade have brought us into a new world. How could anyone say the art of war hasn’t changed too?” (Yoshikawa, 452). Nobunaga’s perspective argues that if traditional warfare has no actual benefits in the current times, then holding on to those customs is useless. Yoshikawa reminds readers that, “Civilization moves on like a horse at full gallop” (Yoshikawa, 436).  Historical analysis indicates that these “new long-range weapons provided the more capable and foresighted barons with an important means of extending their military power, and therefore, facilitated the establishment, by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, of Japan’s first strong, central government” (Brown, 253). Successful survival in a changing and disorderly world can only occur when people adjust to these inevitable social changes. Refusal to adapt, much like the Kai or Uesugi Kenshin, results in an abrupt end to one’s history.

 CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN FEUDAL JAPAN

Christian missionaries in feudal Japan preaching to the Japanese people.

Christian missionaries in feudal Japan preaching to the Japanese people.

Taiko features Christian missionaries surfacing periodically throughout the text. The infiltration of the Christian faith into Japan highlights important commentary on social change. Christianity is a Western religion, so it is not neutral; it is connected to Western culture. In Book 4 of Taiko, Nobunaga visits a Christian school and states that he is very pleased with Western technology, medicine, and weaponry coming to Japan. He is not, however, satisfied with certain aspects of Westernization, stating, “There were two things that his digestion absolutely rejected: Christianity and Christian education. But if these two things had not been allowed to the missionaries, they would not have come with their weapons, medicines, and other wonders” (Yoshikawa, 331). Nobunaga is in favor of Westernization as long as it serves a valuable purpose to him (technological advancements, medicine, etc.). He is tolerant of the Christian schools for the present, but he plans on closely watching over the missionaries.

Nobunaga’s doubts about Christianity illustrate some of the complexities of adapting to social change. Nobunaga strategically adapts to the social change brought by the Christian missionaries. The technology, medicine, and weaponry are easy for him to digest; they benefit him and give him power. Embracing these aspects of Western culture is not as complicated as the religious doctrine that accompanies these advancements. Nobunaga is skeptical of the philosophy and accompanying modes of thinking that are sneakily working their way into the country too. Nobunaga is not in awe of this religion and cannot even appreciate its value system. Nobunaga can understand the societal implications of technological advancements brought by Westernization; the implications of the Christian faith are less clear, so Nobunaga is waiting to see the direction it will take and whether or not that is a social change worthy of adaptation.

Nobunaga does eventually recognize the work of the Christian missionaries. In Book Seven of Taiko we see the growing spread of Christianity throughout Japan. Oda Nobunaga, as the ruler of Japan, has accepted the work of the Christian missionaries, and he has publicly recognized their work in spreading their religion; he even invites them to dine with him at his banquets. However, he has also forced Buddhist monks “to their knees” using extreme force and violence, risking permanent disdain from his people. The text reads, “the Buddhist monks raised a hue and cry about which of them Nobunaga considered to be the foreigners—the Christians or themselves” (Yoshikawa, 646). Nobunaga willingly turns his back on Buddhism, a religion cherished by his people for centuries. This action communicates Nobunaga’s important attitudes toward tradition. Nobunaga isn’t turning his back on Japan; he realizes that Christianity in Japan is now inevitable so it’s a matter of ruling the country and helping the nation advance into the modern world. In order to help lead his people, Nobunaga has to adjust as the world changes. It’s important to keep in mind that Buddhism itself is not native to Japan; it was also a foreign doctrine that required adaptation many years prior.

 KING SEJONG AND THE CREATION OF THE KOREAN ALPHABET

The 28 letters of the Korean alphabet, as developed by King Sejong, in the television series Tree with Deep Roots.

The 28 letters of the Korean alphabet, as developed by King Sejong, in the television series Tree with Deep Roots.

The creation and development of the Korean alphabet by the ruler of Korea, King Sejong, in the Korean television drama Tree with Deep Roots does more than promise the equal opportunity of literacy for all Korean citizens; it establishes a source of nationalistic pride and unity for the country through its accessibility and sound. It is a revolutionary idea; King Sejong wants to construct a language that will be easy for his people to learn—even those who labor all day on fields and farms. Throughout many episodes of Tree with Deep Roots, the Korean alphabet is described as “easy enough for a fool to learn in a day and a wise man to learn in half of a day.” It is this accessible feature of the language that is ultimately what wins over the character Kang Chae Yun when he discovers Hangul; he is incredibly intrigued by the alphabet’s 28 letters (as opposed to thousands of symbols like the Chinese language) and, although he was a staunch opponent of King Sejong’s actions and methodologies, he comes to see the value and power in creating a literate society. He eventually respects King Sejong’s efforts and understands that the king truly does care for the well-being of his people.

In Tree with Deep Roots, King Sejong’s alphabet will (eventually) teach Koreans of all social statuses how to read and write, but ultimately Hangul has a more symbolic, nationalistic meaning. The language will serve as a way to empower the common people and establish a distinct language and voice for Korea. Understanding the implications of this revolutionary new alphabet is important when considering social change in Joseon. Many characters are opposed to King Sejong’s alphabet because they view it as a threat to the nation-state and insist that it violates Confucianism, an ideology that has become entwined with the identity of the country. One notable character who repeatedly opposes King Sejong’s work in Tree with Deep Roots is the leader of Hidden Root, Jung Gi Joon (the identity Ga-Ri-On the simple-minded butcher is his cover). Jung Gi Joon does everything in his power to stop the publishing of this new alphabet. In Episode 19 of the show, Jung Gi Joon meets with King Sejong and tells him, “It [the alphabet] goes against Confucianism. The praise of China in Joseon is only a realistic way of survival” (5:20). He elaborates further in Episode 20, explaining that literacy for all will throw off the balance of Korean society; the existing social status will be in turmoil. He says, “But your writing system is trying to destroy that controlled system” (11:57).

In the quotations mentioned above, Jung Gi Joon represents obstinacy in face of social change, particularly when this change brings many benefits for Korean society, including literacy, national pride, and societal survival. The common people will actually have a way to voice their opinions to their king, which better ensures that their issues will actually be properly addressed. Throughout the series, people die because of their inability to read. This is seen at the beginning of the series when the character Dam incorrectly pretends to know the meaning of a royal letter, and as a result, the King’s father-in-law and his household are killed. Jung Gi Joon fails to see how the Korean alphabet will actually advance the people of Korea; he is content with a stagnant Joseon. He cannot envision the ways that Joseon will be better because of this social change. King Sejong tries to explain this to Jung Gi Joon when he proposes that literacy won’t shatter Confucianism in Korea; it could actually bring Koreans closer to Confucian ethics and ideals since they will be able to learn the codes for themselves and better understand the meaning of these codes. King Sejong eventually does successfully implement his alphabet, and historically speaking, “King Sejong’s reign has been considered the most glorious period not only of the Joseon dynasty, but in all of Korean history” (Jongmyung 136).

 CONCLUSION

This image depicts a road sign indicating "CHANGE AHEAD."

This image depicts a road sign indicating “CHANGE AHEAD.”

Social change elicits a variety of responses from people, good and bad. Some individuals immediately rise to adapt to these changes and cast off tradition without a second thought; others cling to the ideals of tradition and worry that social change will result in societal collapse. Many of these changes are simply inevitable; they require adjustment if one wants survival and societal advancement. Social change, however, is continuous and fluid; as soon as society adjusts and settles, there is typically a new development to be addressed.

Works Cited:

Brown, Delmer M. “The Impact of Firearms on Japanese Warfare, 1543-98.” Far Eastern Quarterly. 7.3 (1948): 236-253. Print.

Jongmyung, Kim. “King Sejong’s Buddhist Faith and the Invention of the Korean Alphabet: A Historical Perspective.” Korea Journal. 47.3 (2007): 134-159. Print.

“Tanegashima (Japanese matchlock).” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 16 Feb 2014. Web. 11 Mar 2014.

Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon. Dir. Jang Tae-yoo. Seoul Broadcasting System, 2011.

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. Trans. William Scott Wilson. New York: Kodansha USA, 2012. Print.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tree with Deep Roots

Establishing a Nationalistic Identity in Tree with Deep Roots: The Korean Alphabet

The 28 letters of the Korean alphabet, as developed by King Sejong, in the television series Tree with Deep Roots.

The 28 letters of the Korean alphabet (Hangul), as developed by King Sejong, in the television series Tree with Deep Roots. Photo taken from Episode 15.

The creation and development of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong in the Korean television drama Tree with Deep Roots does more than promise the equal opportunity of literacy for all Korean citizens; it establishes a source of nationalistic pride and unity for the country through its accessibility and sound.

In the television drama Tree with Deep Roots, the ruler of Korea, King Sejong, wants to construct a language that will be easy for his people to learn—even those who labor all days on fields and farms. In Episode 13 of the series, King Sejong explains, “I plan to make letters, easy letters…for anyone to learn” (29:14). This alphabet has become his life’s mission and language accessibility is at the heart of his motivations. He wants to “put the principles of nature in it [the alphabet],” which is why conducts a throat dissection in Episode 11; by learning the anatomy of the throat and how sounds are produced, King Sejong can more accurately construct letters that actually look the way that they sound. This simple yet brilliant connection between the form of the written letter and its actual sound is what makes the language so easy to learn.

This element of accessibility in Sejong’s language described above is what makes the alphabet into a nationalistic symbol. Although almost anyone can simply make up a language, serious time and research are necessary to develop an easy-to-learn language rooted in phonetics that can be painlessly taught to the thousands of people. Throughout many episodes of Tree with Deep Roots, the Korean alphabet is described as “easy enough for a fool to learn in a day and a wise man to learn in half of a day.” It is this accessible feature of the language that is ultimately what wins over Kang Chae Yun when he discovers Hangul; he is incredibly intrigued by the alphabet’s 28 letters (as opposed to thousands of symbols like the Chinese language) and, although he was a staunch opponent of King Sejong’s actions and methodologies, he comes to see the value and power in creating a literate society. He eventually respects King Sejong’s efforts and understands that the king truly does care for the well-being of his people.

Not only is King Sejong’s alphabet easily accessible to anyone who wishes to learn it, but also it is described as a unique replication of Korean sounds—not Chinese, not Japanese, but a distinct Korean voice. In Episode 15 of Tree with Deep Roots Hangul is described as a distinctly nationalistic language when So Yi, a former slave who helped developed the alphabet with King Sejong, explains to Kang Chae Yun, “As long as you know these 28 letters, our name that cannot be written with Chinese characters… All the swearing words that you’re good at… Local dialects… Our heart, sound of wind, sound of birds… It [Hangul] can contain all the sounds in the world” (30:29).

In Tree with Deep Roots, King Sejong’s alphabet will (eventually) teach Koreans of all social statuses how to read and write, however Hangul ultimately has a more symbolic, nationalistic meaning. The language serves as a way to empower the common people and establish a distinct language and voice for Korea.

Works Cited:

Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon. Dir. Jang Tae-yoo. Seoul Broadcasting System, 2011.

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The Art of War: Embracing Social Change

Japanese soldiers firing tanegashima (matchlocks), using ropes to maintain proper firing elevation.

Japanese soldiers firing tanegashima (matchlocks), using ropes to maintain proper firing elevation.

Although Taiko, a novel by Eiji Yoshikawa, is set in feudal Japan, many technological advancements and societal changes occur in this world of war and chaos. Oda Nobunaga’s success as a military leader is largely due to his espousal of significant changes in weaponry and military strategy.

In Book 5 of Taiko, the mountainous Kai warriors are defeated by Nobunaga’s army based on inferior weaponry and a failure to understand how war tactics have changed. The Portuguese revolutionized warfare with the introduction of firearms in Japan, and thus, the traditional style of fighting was no longer viable on the battlefield. Nobunaga understands this, but Kai, “protected by its mountains, ravines, and rivers, was cut off from the center of things and isolated from foreign influences” (Yoshikawa, 436). The Kai are proud of their province and put all of their confidence in the fierce bravery of their troops. They assume that since they have not been defeated in the past, defeat will not be theirs in the future. For the opposing Oda forces, however, “Nobunaga had planned a fully scientific strategy using modern tactics and weapons” (Yoshikawa, 436).

Nobunaga’s modern military strategy and weaponry prove to be the effective course of action in battle with the Kai warriors. When the Oda and Kai forces clash on the battlefield, the Kai initially emerge as the victors. They are clearly superior in hand-to-hand samurai combat (traditional fighting style), which invigorates the fighting spirits of the Kai warriors. Boosted by this sense of superiority, the leader of the Kai province, Takeda Katsuyori, and his generals subsequently order the Kai army to advance and destroy the Oda. As the Kai forces march onward, Nobunaga then deploys his hidden military strategy and signals to his soldiers hidden on Mount Chausu, and suddenly, “the earth shook at the volleys of gunfire. The mountain split open and the clouds were shredded… The horses and men of the Kai army fell like mosquitoes into piles of corpses” (Yoshikawa, 437). Nobunaga perfectly planned this and gave the Kai warriors the confidence to march directly into a firing squad. This scene highlights that, although the Kai are superior warriors in the traditional sense, their skills and brute strength cannot compete with a strategic shower of bullets.

Throughout the novel, not only are traditional styles of fighting replaced, but also, the procedures for enemy engagement in battle must be left behind in this vastly changing world. In Book 5, Nobunaga receives a letter indicating an old-fashioned formal challenge to battle from Uesugi Kenshin, lord of Echigo. Nobunaga laughs when he reads this note because Kenshin’s gesture makes him look archaic. Nobunaga thinks, “How sad for Kenshin that he wasn’t born during the colorful olden days when they wore scarlet-braided armor with gold plates. I wonder what he thinks of Azuchi, with its mixture of Japanese, Southern Barbarian, and Chinese styles?” (Yoshikawa, 452). While reflecting on these recent social changes, Nobunaga sees old traditions and modes of thinking as pointless, saying, “All of the changes in weaponry and strategy in the last decade have brought us into a new world. How could anyone say the art of war hasn’t changed too? I can’t help laughing at the fact that his [Kenshin’s] outdated thinking is inferior to that of my artisans and craftsmen” (Yoshikawa, 452). Nobunaga’s perspective argues that if traditional warfare has no actual benefits in the current times, then holding on to those customs is futile.

Yoshikawa reminds readers that, “Civilization moves on like a horse at full gallop” (Yoshikawa, 436).  Successful survival in a changing and disorderly world can only occur when people embrace these social changes. Refusal to adapt, much like the Kai or Uesugi Kenshin, results in an abrupt end to one’s history.

Works Cited:

“Tanegashima (Japanese matchlock).” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 16 Feb 2014. Web. 11 Mar 2014.

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. Trans. William Scott Wilson. New York: Kodansha USA, 2012. Print.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

blackness_performance

Blackness as a Performance: Afro-Modernism, the Black Arts Movement, and the Post-Soul Aesthetic

This image taken from BET.com's article "Is Jazz the New Nigger?" (June, 2008) demonstrates blackness as a performance. Stereotypes and narrow definitions of blackness often control black male identity.

This image taken from BET.com’s article “Is Jazz the New Nigger?” (June, 2008) demonstrates how blackness can be a performance. Stereotypes and narrow definitions of blackness often control black male identity, which is seen through literary works of Afro-Modernism, the Black Arts Movement, and the Post-Soul Aesthetic.

Blackness is a fluid and complex identity, yet American society constructs black male identity through stereotypes and narrow definitions of blackness. Black men must navigate this prepackaged identity in a “performance” of blackness, which has evolved through the literary periods of Afro-Modernism, the Black Arts Movement, and the Post-Soul Aesthetic.

During the Afro-Modern period, the performance of blackness was largely an unconscious act, which is perfectly embodied by the protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Afro-Modernism centers on feelings of dysphoria and displacement brought on by changes in science, technology, and industrialization within society; it is a struggle for identity in the midst of becoming an automaton. On addition to this, the Afro-Modern period must also deal with the historical realities of slavery and racism in the United States.

The protagonist of Invisible Man is naïve and inexperienced with the ways of the world. The novel begins with the protagonist reflecting on his experiences, explaining that he is invisible to others:

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you sometimes see in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me. (Ellison, 3)

The nameless narrator feels helpless because his identity is beyond his control; people never see his true self because they are absorbed in their own perceptions of his blackness. To white characters (and even some black characters) the protagonist is perceived as a caricature of blackness. Without realizing it, the protagonist is participating in a performance of blackness. This performance typically results in the protagonist being exploited for others’ purposes; they use him as a puppet for their own means. He is the object, never the doer, in these various situations throughout the novel.

During the course of the novel, the protagonist is haunted by historically important memorabilia; these items reflect the racist realities for African Americans in the early 20th century:

This early Americana Negro coin bank demonstrates features racist, exaggerated features of African Americans.

This early Americana Negro coin bank demonstrates features racist, exaggerated features of African Americans.

Then near the door I saw something which I’d never noticed there before: the cast-iron figure of a very black, red-lipped and wide-mouthed Negro, whose white eyes stared up at me from the floor, his face an enormous grin, his single large black hand held palm up before his chest. It was a bank, a piece of early Americana, the kind of bank which, if a coin is placed in the hand and a lever pressed upon the back, will raise its arm and flip the coin into the grinning mouth. (Ellison, 319)

This early Americana coin bank is a racist caricature of African Americans. The protagonist of Invisible Man senses the racist nature of the bank and he inadvertently smashes it to pieces. He then tries to get dispose of the bank, but to no avail. He puts the broken pieces in his briefcase and tries to drop them into a trashcan on the street, but the owner of the trashcan forces him to remove the package. Then, he attempts to leave the package in a pile of snow at a stoplight. The protagonist feels immensely relieved until a man catches up with him a few blocks later and tries to return the package to him. The protagonist simply cannot get rid of this thing.

This "Dancing Sambo" doll is found in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

This “Dancing Sambo” doll is found in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

This “Dancing Sambo” doll makes an appearance in Invisible Man when the protagonist spots Brother Todd Clifton peddling these dolls on the street. Upon seeing the crowd around Clifton, the protagonist looks at what is being sold and thinks, “I’d seen nothing like it before. A grinning doll of orange-and-black tissue paper with thin flat cardboard disks forming its head and feet and which some mysterious mechanism was causing to move up and down in a loose-jointed, shoulder-shaking, infuriatingly sensuous motion, a dance that was completely detached from the black, mask-like face” (Ellison, 431). The Sambo doll troubles the protagonist; he cannot figure out what makes it dance. Frustrated, he says to the doll:

Go on, entertain me. You entertained the crowd. I turned it around. One face grinned as broadly as the other. It had grinned back at Clifton as it grinned forward at the crowd, and their entertainment had been his death. It still grinned when I played the fool and spat upon it, and it still grinned when Clifton ignored me. Then I saw a fine black thread and pulled it from the frilled paper. There was a loop tied in the end. I slipped it over my finger and stood stretching it taut. And this time it danced. Clifton had been making it dance all the time and the black thread had been invisible (Ellison, 446).

The invisible black thread is indicative of the white characters of Invisible Man, particularly the Brotherhood who have used the protagonist for their own purposes. They have been controlling him and making him perform without his knowledge. The protagonist eventually realizes both his invisibility and how the Brotherhood exploited him: “I could see it now, see it clearly and in growing magnitude… The committee had planned it. And I had helped, had been a tool. A tool just at the very moment I had thought myself free” (Ellison, 553).

The Negro coin bank and “Dancing Sambo” doll are significant for the protagonist’s black identity.  He cannot escape the fact that objects such as these exist in the world and that they will affect his existence as a black man in American society. The protagonist looks up to the white characters of the novel such as Mr. Norton and wants to please these men; he wants to be the ideal black man—polite, respectable, educated, and most importantly, a man who “knows his place” (i.e. his racial inferiority). In reality, the white characters see him as a stereotype—a mindless, groveling entertainer, much like the Negro bank and Sambo doll.

The literary successor of the Afro-Modern period is the Black Arts Movement. The Black Arts Movement was the sister to the Black Power Movement. The BAM valued blackness; it emphasized racial pride. The protagonist Dan Freeman in Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door is proud of his blackness, but he still must navigate stereotypes about black individuals. Freeman, unlike Ellison’s protagonist in Invisible Man, is well aware of the stereotypes he’ll encounter; his performance is polished and deliberate.

Below is the trailer of the film adaptation of The Spook Who Sat by the Door. It gives a great sense of the tone of Spook and outlines Freeman’s character well:

To “whitey,” Freeman is the ideal black man—a prime example of success for his people. Freeman thinks, “It was not difficult to conform to the image whites desired, since they did most of the work. They saw in most Negroes exactly what they most wanted to see; one need only impressionistically support the stereotype. Whites were fools” (Greenlee, 32).

A brilliant example of the calculated race relations between Freeman and “Whitey” occurs when Freeman is meeting with the Senator who was responsible for the integration of the CIA. He says to Freeman, “Tell me, Mr. Freeman, do you like working for the agency?” The senator had found that calling Negroes “Mr.” often had a magical effect on the relationship,” to which Freeman replies, “Yes, sir.” Freeman used “sir” with whites as often as possible. He found that it had a magical effect on the relationship” (Greenlee, 45).  This interaction demonstrates how both Freeman and the senator are attempting to manipulate the other through their navigation of stereotypes. If this interaction had been with the senator and the protagonist of Invisible Man, the protagonist would have been flattered to be addressed as “Mr.” Freeman, however, knows better.

The video below features the entire film adaptation of Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door:

The scene from 20 minutes and 11 seconds to 21 minutes and 36 seconds shows the CIA’s thoroughness in ensuring that Freeman is a “good” and “safe” black man to have in the agency—a radical of any kind is unacceptable. Freeman though, has a pristine cover and keeps his black nationalist identity to himself. Freeman restrains himself in the presence of whites; a great example of this is his interaction with the senator from 28 minutes and 4 seconds to 28 minutes and 52 seconds. The senator tells Freeman that he is a “credit to his race” and makes insulting statements about black people being natural-born athletes. The senator is quick to comment that black people are still primitive though—“there is a cultural gap.” Freeman responds to all of this with a smile and a “yes, sir,” despite Freeman’s true thoughts on the condescension of this white man.

Freeman then moves back to Chicago to be a social worker. He plans to “reach out” to a local gang, the Cobras. He is really recruiting them as a guerilla army against “whitey.” The scene begins at 34 minutes and 57 seconds to 35 minutes and 57 seconds; Freeman assaults the Cobras and asks them, “Do you really want to mess with whitey? I can show you how.” This Freeman in this scene is in direct contrast with the earlier Freeman in the scene with the Senator. Freeman is performing his model blackness perfectly; whites trust him. Yet his true self emerges in his relationship with the Cobras. Eventually, Freeman trains the Cobras to become trained killers on the streets of Chicago; their skills are highlighted at hour, 31 minutes, and 39 seconds to 1 hour, 32 minutes, and 35 seconds.

The climactic ending of the film at 1 hour, 35 minutes, and 26 seconds shows Officer Dawson’s surprise at Freeman being behind the guerilla warfare. He says to Freeman, “Cool Dan Freeman, the South Side playboy, nothing on your mind except chicks, clothes, good whiskey and sports cars. A beautiful cover, now that I think about it” (Greenlee, 241). Freeman understands how the world operates and he uses it to his advantage; he knows how to play the game.

Following the Black Arts Movement, blackness as a performance becomes even more convoluted and complicated with the Post-Soul Aesthetic. While Afro-Modernism and the Black Arts Movement focus on black male characters who, for the most part, emulate white masculinity in hopes of being accepted by American society, the Post-Aesthetic, specifically Paul Beatty in The White Boy Shuffle, shows the fluidity of blackness and acknowledges how the performance of blackness has become more complex.

Beatty explores this performance of black masculinity through his characterization of Nicholas Scoby. Scoby embodies the ideal black masculinity: he is a basketball star. After playing a few games with Scoby, Beatty’s protagonist, Gunnar, explains why Scoby is held in high regard on the court: “He never missed. I mean never” (95). Scoby’s perfection of black masculinity is illustrated through his perfection on the basketball court–a stereotypical domain for black males. This perfection, however, becomes burdensome to Scoby and it begins to consume him:

“It’s not fair. I wasn’t born to make them happy. What I look like, motherfucking Charlie Chaplin?” Scoby’s eyes reddened and he started to sniffle. I could see that he was cracking under the pressure. Watching his hands shake, I realized that sometimes the worst thing a nigger can do is perform well. Because then there is no turning back… American society reels you back into the fold. “Tote that barge, shoot that basketball, lift that bale, nigger ain’t you ever heard of Dred Scott?” (Beatty 119)

When his fame becomes too much for him, Scoby rejects basketball and seeks other outlets for his identity. He listens to jazz music constantly and is particularly drawn to the music of Sarah Vaughan:

Scoby’s interest in jazz is about destroying stereotypical ideas about his masculinity. Vaughan’s music is sensually feminine, emotional, and contemplative–everything that stereotypical black masculinity is not. When Gunnar asks why Sarah Vaughan is so special, Scoby says, “Sarah’s not one those tragic niggers white folks like so much. Sarah’s a nigger’s nigger, she be black coffee. Not no mocha peppermint kissy-kissy butter rum do-you-have-any-heroin caffé latté” (Beatty, 194). To Scoby, Sarah Vaughan is the real deal; she is not pretending to be anything or anybody else. Her identity is pure because it is authentic and this is what Scoby desires because he feels trapped within the stereotypes of black masculinity.

Coupled with his fanaticism for Vaughan is his devotion to Japanese love-suicide plays, specifically The Love Suicides at Sonezaki by Chikamatsu Monzaemon: 

Scoby is drawn to the freedom that death gives. Japanese love-suicide plays indict society for the act of suicide, not the individuals committing the act, which is the opposite of Western thought on suicide. Because of this, Scoby’s suicide should be read in the same way. As Gunnar reads the love-suicide play to Scoby, he observes, “Whenever the sake dealer and the loyal courtesan cross the bridge and start looking for a place to kill themselves, Nicholas weeps with the star-crossed lovers. “I know what it feels like to live in a world where you can’t live your dreams. I’d rather die too. Why won’t they leave us alone? They fuck up your dream. They fuck up your dream” (Beatty 194).  American society is too constrictive about identity and forces black men into prepackaged identities and Scoby hates this. For Scoby, death is the only way to escape these stereotypes.

“I’m beginning to see the sheer casual genius of Chikamatsu writing for the puppet theater. If I blur my eyes I can see the black strings attached to my joints and stretching up to the skies… Nicholas sees the strings, but he spends all his time looking for a pair of scissors. Every now and then the puppet-master hands him a pair of wooden scissors—Sarah Vaughan, an open jump shot—and Scoby thinks he’s free, thinks he’s clipped his strings. The slack string is just a slack string” (Beatty, 194).

Blackness is a performance that matters. The progression and evolution of this performance adapts and changes with each new literary period: the performance found in Afro-Modern texts demonstrates that the performance was, on the whole, unconsciously done. In the Black Arts Movement, blackness is overtly valued, but stereotypes are still present and must be navigated; individuals must outwardly perform a particular kind of blackness to whites. The Post-Soul Aesthetic shows the fluidity of blackness and the detrimental pressure of the performance of black masculinity. Stereotypes and narrow definitions of blackness will continue to impact black men no matter what the time period; the performance will go on.

Works Cited:

Beatty, Paul. The White Boy Shuffle. New York: Picador, 1996. Print.

“Black Americana Dancing Sambo Magic Trick.” Ruby Lane. RubyLane.com, n. d. Web. 14 May. 2013.<http://www.rubylane.com/item/370999-5565/Black-Americana-Dancing-Sambo-Magic&gt;.

CrazyDeeDee. :Vintage Negro Mechanical Cast Iron Bank.” Etsy. Etsy.com, n. d. Web. 14 May. 2013. <http://www.etsy.com/listing/127059381/vintage-negro-mechanical-cast-iron-bank?ref=market&gt;.

Dixon, Ivan, dir. The Spook Who Sat by the Door – Trailer. United Artists, 1973. Film. 14 May 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsH8Y5wpDSs&gt;.

Dixon, Ivan, dir. The Spook Who Sat by the Door. United Artists, 1973. Film. 14 May 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BynXfREPG8&gt;.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, Inc., 1952. Print.

Greenlee, Sam. The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1969. Print.

“Is Jazz the New Nigger?” BET. BET.com, 04 Jun 2008. Web. 14 May 2013. <http://blogs.bet.com/betj/underdog/is-jazz-the-new-ngger/&gt;.

Masumura, Yasuzo, dir. The Love Suicides at Sonezaki. Kimura Productions, 1978. Film. 14 May 2013.
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_a21dE09Jk&gt;.

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Rodney King

Rodney King: Symbol of Police Brutality and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots

Photo taken during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

A National Guardsman stands by during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The graffitied wall in the background shows support for Rodney King.

The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were triggered by the acquittals of police officers in the Rodney King verdict. King became a symbol of police brutality and unified Los Angeles in violent protest of the verdict.

The above image was captured in 1992 at the Los Angeles riots. The image features a White National Guardsman standing alert and armed. The Guardsman is wearing combat boots, a camouflaged uniform, a watch, and protective helmet; he is also carrying an M16 rifle. The man is gazing at something in the distance, presumably the ongoing rioting. The Guardsman is standing on a sidewalk comprised of square concrete slabs. A small patch of overgrown, brownish-green grass is seen directly behind the Guardsman. The sidewalk is dirty and littered with various trash, including a Nike advertisement.

Behind the Guardsman, a discolored beige wall has been spray-painted black with various graffiti. The most prominent graffiti in the photo reads, “This is for Rodney King,” and below that, “We love you my brother.” The remaining graffiti is a conglomeration of scratch-outs and various messages. In the right-hand corner of the image, the graffitied wall reads, “X·Peace,” and “Police 187.” More graffiti can be seen above the National Guardsman’s head on the left side of the wall in the photo, but it is illegible.

This image is filled with historical and cultural significance. The graffiti memorializes the LA community’s support for Rodney King. In March of 1991, King was severely beaten by the LAPD, which was videotaped by a nearby resident. The LA community was all too familiar with police brutality, corruption, and racism within the LAPD. By videotaping the event, Rodney King was transformed into a symbol of police brutality. No longer was this issue an invisible one—there was proof and the racism was visible. Four of the police officers involved were charged with excessive force and assault with a deadly weapon. In April of 1992, a verdict was reached: three of the four police officers were acquitted of all charges. Los Angeles was outraged by the verdict and was not going to tolerate this injustice. Rioting commenced.

The graffiti in the above image indicates the community’s support of Rodney King. The acquittal of the officers made the Black community feel worthless. In Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle, the Rodney King verdict and resulting LA riots are documented and experienced by Beatty’s protagonist, Gunnar Kaufman. Upon hearing the verdict, Gunnar reflects, “Let go? The officers had to be guilty of something… I never felt so worthless in my life… Sitting on the couch watching the announcer gloat, my pacifist Negro chrysalis peeled away, and a glistening anger began to test its wings… I wanted to taste immediate vindication.” (Beatty, 130-132). After the verdict, the community utilized violence as an outlet for the pain and unfairness of the situation; Rodney King unified the Black community and became its rallying point in violent protest.

The above image documents the reality of the LA riots in 1992; “This is for Rodney King / We love you my brother,” highlight the sentiments of the rioting—the community reached its limit for tolerating the inequality of the law and the LAPD, and King was its unifying symbol.

Source:  

Chan, Bryan. The 1992 Los Angeles riots. 1992. Photograph. Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles. Web. 30 Apr 2013. <http://framework.latimes.com/2012/04

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