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Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (2006)

Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (2006)

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4.18 of 5 Votes: 1
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0415389585 (ISBN13: 9780415389587)

About book Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (2006)

I really didn’t expect this book to be nearly as clear or readable as it turned out to be. The more I think about that, the more it seems to me to be a real indictment of general academic writing – particularly progressive writing that is seeking to provide tools for some kind of liberation of the oppressed. By making what is said utterly incomprehensible to those most in need of those words we are doing them a double disservice. Denying them access even to the puny amount of hope our ideas might offer them.But it is not just that this book is clear that is its only virtue. It also provides useful ideas and reminders that we live in a society that is dominated by a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and that this system can only exist by reproducing itself and making ‘normal’ what ought never to be conceived as normal. This book is a working through of many of the issues that confront oppressed groups in our society, it is based on the idea that those who are to speak in the name of others must constantly beware that their life-experiences and prejudices are not standing in the way of what they are trying to do. As she says: “Those of us who speak, write, and act in ways other than from privileged class locations must self-interrogate constantly so that we do not unwittingly become complicit in maintaining existing exploitative and oppressive structures. None of us should be ashamed to speak about our class power, or lack of it. ” Page 179This isn’t a book, really, but rather a series of essays. I guess that means it could be worth just dipped into – although, I think I would recommend reading this from beginning to end, as there does feel like there is a developing argument to these pieces and a logic to their ordering.I’m doing my PhD on how images of particular groups of students (as represented in school marketing materials) might say something about which students are seen as ‘belonging’ at school and which are seen as not. A lot of what I’m trying to do is to look at the role of stereotypes and stereotype formation in photographic images and how these impact on how students are likely to identify with those stereotypes (positive and negative).As she says, ““Malcolm X admonished black folks: ‘Never accept images that have been created for you by someone else. It is always better to form the habit of learning how to see things for yourself: then you are in a better position to judge for yourself’”. Page 181She talks about how images of blacks are often constructed to deprave them of agency. I have recently reviewed a remarkable book called Seeing through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography which documented how civil rights images of powerless blacks were used to frame how whites in the Northern States of the US saw the civil rights movement. She makes it clear that little has changed:"In Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, Richard Dyer describes the way in which Hollywood manipulates the black image with the intent to render it powerless.‘The basic strategy of these discourses might be termed deactivation. Black people’s qualities could be praised to the skies, but they must not be shown to be effective qualities active in the world. Even we portrayed at their most vivid and vibrant, they must not be shown to do anything, except perhaps to be destructive in a random sort of way.’” Page 189And a lot of this book is about precisely that. Not just about how women and Blacks and the poor are represented in US culture, but also the impact this has on how they are then ‘seen’ and how they see themselves. This is the terrifying aspect of this book – and one that has made me realise I’ve been going far too gently in my thesis. The recurring thought throughout this book (and now I’m not even sure if this is even mentioned in the actual text) was the experiments by Kenneth and Marnie Clarke with black children and their preference for white dolls. If you don’t know of this you can read about it here: - note also that these experiments were repeated in 2006 with exactly the same results. If that doesn’t make you weep, you have no soul.As hooks says right at the start of the book: “Significantly, only ‘white’ –skinned females could be imagined as innocent, virtuous, transcendent.” Page 21Or: “As any white racist / sexist stereotypes in mass media representations teach us, scratch the surface of any black woman’s sexuality and you find a ‘ho—someone who is sexually available, apparently indiscriminate, who is incapable of commitment, someone who is likely to seduce and betray.” Page 65What is most interesting about this book is that she doesn’t try to say that capitalism is the problem or the patriarchy is the problem or that white supremacy is the problem – they are all the problem and an interrelated network that is used to justify and undermine struggles for equity and justice, often by promising favours to one group of oppressed in the form of oppression of other groups of oppressed. She gives various examples, but particularly of middle class ‘feminist’ writers (Paglia, Wolf and Roiphe) who are keen to seek ‘liberation’ for white middle class women (that is, economic equality with white middle class men) but that are utterly uninterested or aggressively opposed to extending this to any other kind of liberation for black or working class women. “Paglia and her followers make feminism most palatable when they strip it of any radical political agenda that would include a critique of sexism and a call to dismantle patriarchy, repackaging it so that it is finally only about gender equality with men of their class in the public sphere.” Page 100“These same strategies were used by Wolf when she appeared on the Charlie Rose talk show to discuss date rape. Appearing on a panel with women and white men, she seemed to find it easier to aggressively interrupt the black woman speaker while patiently listening to the words of white male speakers. A critical examination of this video would be a useful way to illustrate the practice of ‘power feminism’.” Page 111And she asks of Roiphe the devastating question: “No interviews with Roiphe that I have read ask the author if she has critically interrogated the reason her work has received so much attention, or if she sees any connection between that attention and the antifeminist backlash.” Page 125Since reading Said’s Orientalism, I am a bit obsessed with the whole notion of essentialism – and it is really nice to read someone who is equally obsessed. “I wonder about this need to trash black women writers and critical thinkers who have been among those who have worked hardest to challenge the assertion that the word ‘woman’ can be used when it is the specific experience of white females that is being talked about, who have argued that race and class must be considered when we develop feminist thought and theory.” Page 126This is made clear later in the book when she writes:“Years ago certain ideas were prevalent in the feminist movement, such as ‘Women would be liberated if they worked’. And I was thinking, ‘Gee, every black woman I’ve ever known has worked (outside the home), but this hasn’t necessarily meant liberation’. Obviously, this started me posing questions: ‘What women are we talking about when we talk about ‘women’?” Page 274Feminists are often constructed as being fun-police – constructed as being opposed to sex and sexuality. But hooks has many interesting things to say about sex and eroticism. I found this particularly interesting:“The eroticization of sex as degradation, especially dick-sucking, and the equation of that chosen ‘degradation’ with pleasure is merely an unimaginative reworking of stale patriarchal, pornographic fantasies that do not become more exciting or liberatory if women are the agents of their projection and realisation. Most of the women quoted in Esquire display a lack of sexual imagination, since they primarily conceive of sexual agency only by inverting the patriarchal standpoint and claiming it as their own.” Page 94And this: “Concurrently, when heterosexual women are no longer attracted to macho men, the message sent to men would at least be consistent and clear. That would be a major intervention in the overall effort to transform rape culture.” Page 133There is a fantastic analysis of gangsta rap – particularly focused on its misogyny and violence. I’m going to just quote large parts of what she has to say on this:“Defining the turf, Staples writes, ‘For those who haven’t caught up, gangster rap is that wildly successful music in which all women are ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ and young men kill each other for sport.’ No mention of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy in this piece. Not a word about the cultural context that would need to exist for young males to be socialised to think differently about gender. No word about feminism. Staples unwittingly assumes that black males are writing their lyrics off in the ‘jungle,’ far away from the impact of mainstream socialization and desire. At no point does he interrogate why it is huge audiences, especially young white male consumers, are so turned on by this music.” Page 136“Rather than seeing it (gangsta rap) as a subversion or disruption of the norm, we would need to see it as an embodiment of the norm.” Page 137“These are the audiences who feel such a desperate need for gangsta rap. It is much easier to attack gangsta rap than to confront the culture that produces that need.” Page 143And this discussion of gangsta rap reminded me of Robert Hughes’s discussion of the gulags, and the worst of the convict prisons in early Australia. How he pointed out that these extremes were necessary for the entire system to work. They were extremes, but without those extremes hanging over the heads of all convicts the system itself would have been unsustainable. It is easy for certain groups in our society to say that the patriarchy exists because of genetic predispositions in males that exclude the possibility of female power – but once you start seeing the celebration of rape culture throughout our society (not just in gangsta rap) you also see how people are held in place. How, as Bourdieu says, you learn to not want what you cannot have.There is a kind of double-speak that affects our culture. Where what is opposite of the truth is presented as obviously true. The rich and the white are presented as endlessly pure and generous – the poor as grasping and ugly. In a meritocracy the good rise to the top, while the poor are poor for very good reasons.“Indeed, many films and television shows portray the ruling class as generous, eager to share, as unattached to their wealth in their interactions with folks who are not materially privileged. These images contrast with the opportunistic avaricious longings of the poor. … Poverty, in their minds and in our society as a whole, is seen as synonymous with depravity, lack and worthlessness.” Page 197The second-last chapter is a long interview and I think this is possibly the best part of the whole book. I’m not going to quote very much of it, but it is such a lovely thing – almost like free-form thinking – skating and gliding over so many interesting topics – the kind of conversations you might dream of having, but that never seem to actually happen in real life.Look at this for some of the topics mentioned:“’Privacy’ in this country is usually just a euphemism for extreme loneliness, alienation, and fragmentation.” Page 265“I struggle a great deal with the phone, because I think the telephone is very dangerous to our lives in that it gives us such an illusory sense that we are connecting. I always think about those telephone commercials (‘reach out and touch someone!’) and that becomes such false reality—even in my own life I have to remind myself that talking to someone on the phone is not the same as having a conversation where you see them and smell them.” 271“In fact, if people weren’t seduced by certain forms of addition, they might rebel! They might be depressed, they might start saying, ‘Why should any of us work ten hours a day? Why shouldn’t we share jobs and work four hours a day and be able to spend more quality time for ourselves and our families?” Page 272“Also, many people have shown the ways in which our state and our government are linked to the bringing in of masses of drugs to pacify people—starting with drugs like aspirin which make people feel like ‘you shouldn’t have any pain in your life’ and that ‘pain means you’re not living a successful life’. And I think this is particularly hard to take. Black people and the black community have really been hurt by buying into the notion ‘If I’m in pain, I must be a miserable person’, rather than, ‘Pain can be a fruitful place of transformation.’” Page 273“I’m really into the deinstitutionalization of learning and of experience.” Page 275But the book ends with what I think is a great truth: “In part, we learn to love by giving service.” Page 297This is a remarkable book. Like I said, it is an easy read while still being a challenging read. But the challenge is in the power of the ideas, rather than in the language. I didn’t agree with everything she has to say, she says stuff about Fritjof Capra that annoys me, but then, she is attracted to Buddhism and so while I can see that that makes sense, it is still not an excuse. I much prefer Pythagoras’s Trousers as a feminist critique of big-dick physics.I will be reading more bell hooks.

Gotta love bell hooks. Gotta love Routledge. This is a collection of her essays, some previously published in Black Looks, Art Matters and some others that escape me. Overall, a diverse and exceptional selection in terms of topics she addresses and her range of critical acrobatics. The overarching theme here, if there is just one, is that by and large, there is no satisfactory representation of outlaw cultures. Images of feminist, black and/or queer transgressive movement, more than not, provide an un-revolutionary, and as a result inaccurate, account of otherwise revolutionary movement. hooks wants to give us a broad toolbox for unthinking many of these images. She can remind us here that often these unsavory representations are often just photocopies of the last unsavory representation. It is up to us to play "Where is Waldo?" with our media and hooks provides some great tools for doing that here.She does this in many ways. She discusses what she views as often misogynist representations of the female gender depicted in drag queen performances. She discusses some of the problematic interracial and queered relations between characters of popular films such as The Crying Game, Mal;colm X and The Bodyguard.As an example, one favorite essay is "Altars of sacrifice: re-membering Basquiat. She seems to be the highest profile writer getting the word out about Basquiat other than the art critics who publish in less accessible and more white mainstream publications like the NY Times or Artforum. As some have tried to insist and as hooks reminds us: no, Basquiat was not a naive, 'primitivist' victim-painter whose work was merely derivative of the American Abstract Expressionists and the European Primitivists. The racism of the Manhattan gallery, white-club critics would have liked us to believe that his work is derivative but hooks provides insight otherwise, both in snipits of previous Basquiat critics who were more right on and her own psychoanalytical and political dimensions that she provides the Basquiat interpretation.Another area of knowledge that she contributes with regards to un-raveling crappy representations in the public sphere is the masculinist image of Malcolm X that has been largely constructed by Spike Lee's film. She shows how very revisionist and, not surprisingly, misogynist, Lee's account is. For instance, hooks points out that Malcolm X's radical awakening can be attributed to his sister, who introduced him to socialist ideas, as opposed to the fictional fellow prisoner character in th film, whom Lee fabricated in order that X's radicalization be seen as patrilineal. It should have been called Spike X but I digress.

Do You like book Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (2006)?

Fantastic. Bell Hooks vocalizes ideas that have been swirling around my head for the past few years in an eloquent yet understandable way. I found something worthy in each chapter, but her commentary on the following - bourgeoisie notion of privacy, "love ethic", addiction as a cover up for the inability to be alone with one's self, liberal individualism vs communalism - were topics that stuck out to me and that I'm still wrestling with. Many books are mentioned by Hooks in this work, which I am interested in looking into for additional reading. Overall this is definitely a book one should read again and again with a highlighter and pen. Also I'm glad she ends talking about the transformative power of love. I always need to be reminded.

This is a powerful book. It illuminates the depth and breadth of racism at its intersection with sexism, as perpetuated by contemporary media in many forms. bell hooks does not shy away from holding individuals and institutions accountable for their actions. She shows injustice to the reader in ways that most of us have probably not seen it before, while constructing a thorough argument for why it is essential to view injustice in these ways in order to take action against it. You might consider reading some of hooks's other writing before picking up this one. I felt like I was able to engage more effectively with this book as a result of my having read many of her other books and therefore already being familiar with her perspective and approach. So, try All About Love: New Visions, or Feminism is for Everybody, or Rock My Soul first...and then come back to this one. That said, I absolutely, completely, highly recommend this book; it is an essential piece of reading for people of any race or gender who care about justice.
—Danni Green

This is my first book by bell hooks. It's funny, it dives into all this pop culture stuff from when I was busy dropping out of high school to live a life of a scummy street-punk. So in some ways, it picks up where I left off. bell hooks is amazingly articulate and I love reading this. The essay on censorship from the right and the left is particularly good, pressing us to encourage and welcome dissent and to beware of the tendency to censor or self-censor in the interest of maintaining harmony or saving face.

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