PopCornucopia is all about free associative pop culture tidbits as they strike my fancy, just like kernels of corn exploding into fullness at a random and unpredictable pace. And of course, the cornucopia is the horn of plenty.
Monday, June 29, 2009
The blasian chronicles of hip hop forge onward
I have a running inside joke with my friend Mana where we ask each other, "Why is Jadakiss as hard as it gets?" at random times. Essentially, it's a commentary on the sore lack of badassery in the world, and our sadness that Jada is its self-purported pinnacle. Whatevs, it works on so many other wonderful inside jokey levels.
Despite our lamentations, Jadakiss is unstoppable:
Damn, he's harder than we thought, Mana. And he's takin' us AZN's and our rice rockets with him.
Dear blur, please just come to the Netherlands when I'm there, okay? Don't go to the U.S. if I haven't seen you there! It will seriously break my heart. And my tears will fall like those Ghanaian tomatoes, Damon:
Ah, Noisettes, my new favorite band of the moment. Their frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa (that's her during their performance at Glasto above) is an ultra-ferocious blend of Kathleen Hanna, Bjork, and Lily Allen in her incomparable vocal delivery. I am rocking out to their last album What's the time, Mr. Wolf? and I can't wait for the release of their latest Wild Young Hearts in August. Their dancefloor hit single "Don't Upset the Rhythm" is already shaking the bootysphere in their native England.
Memo to Noisettes: Let's also get the timing right, please. Whether it's Amsterdam or S.F. be there when I'm there. Alright.
Numero tres: The Tong, his bandmates and their ever-lovable antics:
So, some of you know I work for a certain jazz organization. We recently had a kickoff party for the jazz festival that starts next weekend. You should check it out!
From my stint with this org, I have given some thought to the meaning of jazz for young people. The jazz camps for which I am mostly devoting my time at work are carrying on an appreciation for the arts (and specifically jazz) that is magical to watch when the kids are abuzz with activity during the week. And the artists sharing their craft is always nice to see too.
When you are spending whole days bleeding your eyes out in front of a computer to help make such a program happen, or talking on the phone with parents who wax poetic about their child's love for the great American art form, one can lose sight/be hyperaware of the fact that in the general populace's eyes jazz ain't all that for most of the kiddies these days. This article reminded me that there is a supposed pending crisis for jazz, and it was also interesting in light of how the Obamas are continually pimped in the media as the messiahs of cool.
There are plenty of examples which cite the presence of jazz in hip hop--and yours truly has pointed this out at least once. This bodes well for the reassertion of its relevance. I certainly believe jazz offers a huge amount of value and great potential in staying relevant and accessible. But I think the article could have raised some deeper questions about jazz and its status as one of the truly great "American" art forms whose audiences are larger often outside of America (like, why is that when I said I was traveling to Slovenia that jazz musicians were the only people I talked to who had been there? The audience is strong enough there that it's worth the trip, and perhaps there aren't enough gigs close to home? OMG there's a jazz camp in Slovenia too? Looks like some serious competition!). What is the significance of a White House endorsement and showcasing of jazz in entwining the genre anew as a symbol of American-ness? I'm probably just not reading the stuff about this or talking to people about it enough, I have to admit, so I'm probably missing out on the answer to this question, but oh well.
Further, it does not talk about the institutionalization of jazz training, which certainly affects its image as a popular art form. For practitioners, the artists themselves, the meaning of jazz and their sustainability as artists (in a recession no less) are some larger questions also at stake. Representations of the glory days when jazz musicians were considered pioneers, iconoclasts, the rebels of society, those responsible for the gestation, birth, and development of cool, are a far cry from the increasing scourge of smooth jazz perjoratives, labelling as easy-listening for the boomer set or the sole purview of intellectual snobs and would-be sophisticates (thoughts generated by attending a session of this conference workshop in Slovenia!). These competing representations that I note as a casual observer show that temporally, we are at a musical crossroads with jazz.
Alright, enough of that pondering. I have to go back to work in the morning.
The Preamble When I was 8, I went with my family to the Chinatown YMCA boys camp. My dad was the music director that summer and we joined him up at Camp Kern. During the craft time with other staff family kids, I made a pet rock named Dottie. I don't recall what inspired this, but my imagination went to this absurd place, where I somehow devised a character in Dottie who like to be nestled in two particular staff members' hair, Kevin and Hubert. Often I would bring Dottie with me around the camp grounds and if I encountered either of Dottie's favorite follicular playgrounds, I requested that they oblige her. And these kind men both allowed me to put this grubby painted rock in their head's forestry for a few minutes. In fact, sometime after the camp was over, Kevin mailed me the remnants of his latest trip to the barber in a ziplock bag for Dottie's pleasure. It still confounds logic that a grown man (whose next piece of mail to our family was his wedding invitation with a bird motif) would indulge a weirdo child's imaginative liberties such as a pet rock whose favorite thing to do was revel in a tufts of hair. But Kevin Wong, you hold a special place in my heart for this wonderfully odd indulgence.
Like all childhood things, we tend to grow out of it. But ever since then, I have occasionally exhibited signs of an interest in hair and the many meanings around it. My 8th grade science project with Cindy Umanzor, a research survey and evaluation of hair restoration techniques (primarily for male pattern baldness), is one such example. Now, I emerge as a more adult, more sophisticated me, trying to be less cockamamie and more analytical. Indeed, hair is very a important part of style and identity. As it is a symbol of defiance, a statement of personality, a source of woe and shame, a commodity, a thing of beauty and pleasure, and an endless source of tactile titillation.
Strand #1: If you can't take the heat get out the kitchen
A recent episode of Tyra tackled black women's (and girls') hair in surprisingly decent way. Part one here:
There were moments where I was almost going to shed a tear seeing how conventional Eurocentric beauty standards are ingrained in girls so deeply and at such a young age. Check out PostBourgie for some commentary on the episode.
In Spike Lee's movie Malcolm X, the opening and throughout show how hair is a metaphor for the progression of eponymous character's politicization. You can watch the opening scene after the credits (Or the whole film) and see how hair is woven into the narrative:
Lee also takes on the hair issue for women in School Daze, in a very notable filmic dance battle:
In such case you can see how the processing of hair is a highly commodified practice that reflects privilege and wealth, but it also reflects a certain hierarchy of intra- and inter-raciaized beauty.
There's a scene from Clueless about weaves (it starts at about 3:30) and another about shaving your head.It starts with Dee's scream at about 3:25. Speaking of hair. WTF did Brittany Murphy do to her hair? Seriously, when she went blonde she went beyond recognition. Anyway, it is no surprise watching this and considering the other stuff above, how hair becomes a major bone of contention for the main black characters in the movie.
Of course, Oprah.com gives us a detailed account of how to straighten your hair. But is this any surprise when Oprah is a constant combatant when it comes to her own body image and beauty?
Moreover, who could forget the Barbershop/Beautyshop movies? A site revolving around hair becoming the centerpiece of multiple story arcs signals how much energy is expended on coiffure and cosmetics. That energy also creates a camaraderie, contention, and community. Actually in the first Barbershop (I have to admit it's the only one I've seen) some of the characters commit a crime against South Asian convenience store owners. I had to mention it because you know I am always interested in Afro-Asian interrelationships.
Strand #2: Chow Mane and Curry Combs In a not too graceful segue, this brings me to the concept of Asian hair, which has taken on vastly different meanings from black hair. Yet somehow, since they are both "ethnic" hair they get lumped together by the UK Cosmo-esque website Handbag.com, in this style inspiration feature.
According to Marie Claire, Asian hair needs its own special how-to guide. But in looking through the slideshow I fail to see how the tips are so particular to some ambiguous notion of Asian hair. Any styling experts want to come correct and school me?
In his book The Accidental Asian, Eric Liu laments the plight of Asian male hair as wiry. Of course, I'd like to explore issues of gender a bit more, but I realized whenever the blogging becomes expansive it tends to get messy and the post never gets published. In the interest of expediency let's forge ahead. Maybe you gentle readers, can contribute more to the discussion on this point.
Whoa, check out this website called IndianRapunzels. It is devoted to Indian hair.
Note the way that the Go Fug Yourself Ladies became obsessed with Freida Pinto's hair in 3/4 posts on her. Here and here. Granted, the go fug yourself gals covet many a woman's hair and skin. However, their covetousness is all the more compelling in the context of Indian hair as it is trafficked and sold for other women's consumption.
Strand #3:A Hair's breadth between real and fake Beauty, as it is seen in nature and artifice, functions in much the same way that race does as a fine balance between essentialist ideas and the performative qualities of race (e.g. racial impersonation, passing). Our hair says both everything and nothing about who we are.
Nothing shows that better than a few more pop culture examples (i.e. I've amassed so many that I'm too exhausted to do more analysis):
For some more serious reading, check out Kobena Mercer's essay "Black Hair/Style Politics" in Black British Culture and Society.
Thanks Anoop Desai , for this one. Could you get any cooler? It's like we had a Vulcan mind meld and you knew I was going to blog about this stuff. Score one for the twitterverse (though I'm still not sold).
While I don't know if he's Sikh, Anoop brings up some thoughts about South Asian male hair. I remember very clearly a dated PBS show called Many Voices that I used to really like watching. It deals with diversity issues from a Canadian perspective. Each of the episodes was really well made for that time, if my memory serves me right--though it's been about 15 years since I've watched it. There was one episode that dealt with Sikh hair and the social ostracization that one adolescent boy faced at a local pool. This gives you a pretty good idea of the content (skip down to page 37), but I have not been able to find the video. At around age of 10 this was probably my first exposure to anything related to Sikhs. But not a bad start, I think.
Representations of hair play a role in how Asian-ness and blackness are reiterated, how we style ourselves, and view the way our hair is connected/or not connected to certain essentialized notions about the properties of the keratin growth that springs forth from our noggins. More systematically, it's a classificatory device. And a cartography of beauty and colonization of aesthetics.
Again, Shalini Vahedra, a presumably South Asian American woman. "India--these are my peeps." She goes on a beauty tour with The View ladies.
Vahedra also has a line called Global Goddess Beauty products purveying cosmetic tourism. And here, set to Indian sounding music, Shalmi talks about her experience of visiting family in Kenya and coveting the women's skin.
Or let's take a look at the covetousness of the Pussycat Dolls, who are ready to "dominate India":
And let's not even get started on other bodily hair trimming and removal.
Okay, maybe just this one example, which is alternately horrifying and hilarious:
Finally, here's Kimora Lee Simmons' emotional moment when her eldest daughter's hair gets blown out for the first time. Because really, hair can mean that much to people, even a a consumerist mogul like KLS:
P.S. I have not cut my hair for a whole year. What does that say about me? It says that I am too low on funds to pay for a good haircut so I've just decided to let it keep growing. And growing. And growing. Yet, it doesn't look half bad. If it did, I'd have gone back to the salon a long time ago, I think.