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October 1994


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J Roberson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 26 Oct 1994 00:46:37 -0600
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>As you imply, "race" is an imprecise, perhaps obsolete, term.  But from my
>perspective, race is not just skin color. I don't profess to have all the
>answers, but definitely biology, geography and culture all historically
>contribute to our current conceptions of race.
OK, but how similar ddo you have to get? To continue my previous example,
an Australian aborigine is more biologically similar to a black American
living in Nebraska, but their cultures are castly different (though not as
different as a city boy ;) Their cultures are different, too. I would argue
that anyone - regardless of race - who has not had their culture preserved
through time has less connection to said culture than is often claimed -
unless introduced to the culture of their long-gone ancestors, both a black
child who claims the heritage of the Zulu nation and a white child who has
Ukrainian ancestors are so far removed that it's almost irrelevant -
especially if both gro up in the same suburban culture in modern America.
Furthermore, race is not culture, nor is it defined by culture (except in
America, where blacks *had* to group themselves by skin color since they
were being repressed by it. Before and even during the European
enslavement, black people were fighting and killing each other because they
were in different tribes and cultures. Taken far enough, black children who
claim an African heritage may discover that they should be killing each
other because they are descended from opposing tribes. The same is true of
white people - Germans and French animosity is humorous now but for a long
time was quite serious. White people have no need to be one big group; why
should blacks, or any other minority, except for the fact that they are
oppressed as a group.
It seems to me that one solution is to have minorities succeed as social
constructs, rather than as based on race. Why be a black boxer? Be a boxer?
Why be a good black lawyer? Be a lawyer. It's not a matter of ignoring your
skin color - it's a matter of putting in in perspective and making it
simply a part of you.
By that token I think the character of Marcellus is "raceless". He was a
gangster. He was also a black man - but that's a different hat.
If I may digress into another example in a similar field. . .out of respect
I will not name a name, but there is a female musician who was once male.
Now, one would think that she would write songs about gender and sexuality,
but she doesn't - her songs are pretty "normal". She is a transsexual, but
she is also a muscian. And whle one may affect the other, they are two
seperate identities. Likewise, Marcellus is both a black man and mob boss -
but to call him a black mob boss is to blur those identities and confuse
the issue.
>And that's your perspective. I, on the other hand, have been keenly aware
>of the "racial significance" of black people (or lack thereof) and African
>American cultural references and racial slurs in each of QT's films.
But what makes this vocabulary distinctly black (or African America, as
some prefer)? Sure, there are some things that will be discussed
differently - hair for one ;) but most of the dialogue I recall from the
movie was pretty "raceless", for lack of a better term.
>I know "Pulp" is fiction, but if Marcellus were a living person, I'm sure
>he'd consider himself a black man. I'm a black man. And despite the other
He probably would. But all I'm saying is that his role as a black man is
distinct from his role of husband, gang boss, and lover. They may affect
each other, but the roles are different - and through most of the movie I
didn't see him as a black man so much as a mob boss.
>features of my personality by which others may know me, I'd be offended if
>people who knew me, in person, refused to think of me as a black man.
Maybe that's just another difference between us - I'd rather be defined by
my ideas than my flesh. Sex, race, etc are pretty superfluous and just get
in the way sometimes - though they do provide for interesting situations
that inspire discussion.
>And here's where "racial significance" comes to the fore in your post. Do
>you mean to say that mob bosses are without race, but blacks in comparable
>situations are hoodlums made good? Why it easier for you attach "black"
>to "hoodlum" than to "boss?"
Here I misrepresented my idea. In older movies, gangs were white kids, and
later hispanics - but the images we see on our TV is of black gangsters.
Confusing, nicht wahr? Mob Bosses are without race, as are hoodlums - but
the mixed messages we get are white bosses and black gangsters, when in
fact they're all the same thing: criminals. I don't see much difference
between tommygun-toting bootleggers and modern drug runners - but the old
guys are represented as white and the new ones are shown on TV as black.
>What QT intended is beside the point. He continues to make films rife
>with racial epithets and African American cultural references (right down
ANd this bugs you?
>to the $5 milkshakes). I'm intrigued by how willing people are to discuss
>some qualities of his movies (e.g., violence, storytelling style) yet shy
>away from, and even deny, the numerous racial/cultural aspects.
Well, I'm not shy, Lock. . .stock, and barrel (sorry, the Shakespear
cultural reference was too good to pass up ;)
"I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather
a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new [person], how can the new
clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in
your old clothes." - paraphrase of Thoreau.
J Roberson [log in to unmask] [log in to unmask]