Among these readings I was impressed with Hall’s considerations of identity “as a ‘production’ which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.” (Hall 234). By highlighting the multiple ways in which difference matters (both unifying and challenging) Hall seeks to place identity within its originary context as a source of connection and meaning, but also simultaneously always undergoing transformation. I’d like to pair this consideration of identity as both placed and in flux with Harrell’s description of orature which, via the work of writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Harrell describes as consisting of the twin aspects of “the embodied aspects of its performance, and the fact of a commitment to a set of shared values in processes of cultural production” (6). Harrell is seeking here to describe orature as an expression of a world view, but I’d like to highlight ways in which “the embodied aspects of its performance” might be paired with Hall’s transformative characteristics which are always in process. The very act of giving-voice-to offers the opportunity to affect and alter (or perhaps inevitably will alter) what is said, while also offering the opportunity of repeating or replicating what already existed. “Meaning,” Hall claims, “continues to unfold, so to speak, beyond the arbitrary closure that makes it, at any moment, possible” (240). We might say then that the meaning within any utterance goes beyond the utterance. “It [Meaning] is always either over- or underdetermined… There is always something ‘left over’”(Hall 240). And while Harrell emphasis in his description of orature ways in which orature “takes on particular importance in the African diasporic context because crucial bodies of knowledge, for example ontologies of ancestry, of deep cultural and religious significance in many diverse African cultures, have traditionally been transmitted orally” (5), there is also in this a tacit acknowledgement of the ways in which such orature is altered in its diasporic contexts.
With all that being said, I’d like to turn to Majah Hype, a Brooklyn based comedian whose youtube videos, mostly starring himself in various guises and disguises, pokes fun at, but also in other ways honors, his Caribbean heritage. Furthermore his Caribbean personalities feel very contemporary. For instance in one the Rastafarian character Di Rass attempts to get bike insurance from Geico. At the beginning of the clip Di Rass is singing a modified version of “Rude” by (angsty) (white) (pop) “Canadian reggae fusion band Magic!”(from Wikipedia, I’ve included their youtube video). Di Rass here is reappropriating an appropriation, and in the process presenting his own identity as acting within a particular cultural environment- one which is contemporary with Geico lizard commercials, pop music reggae, and a Geico employee with musical aspirations. Here “the embodied aspects of its [Di Rass’s] performance” though still reflect “a commitment to a set of shared values” (Harrell 6)- Di Rass is evincing values (and modes of speaking) shared with a community, perhaps even a community he is largely absent from. I realize, of course, that Di Rass is a trope and perhaps one which is not without its own shortcomings. That being said, I think Majah Hype’s motivations in his various characters are in earnest, and we could similarly consider and address Majah Hype’s work more broadly as an example of the sort of orature which Harrell claims represent “ontologies of ancestry, of deep cultural and religious significance in many diverse African cultures, have traditionally been transmitted orally” (5), except here perhaps we are witness more overtly to ontologies (an awkward and perhaps imprecise term) of the Caribbean rather than Africa. And while such representations may not be religiously significant, I would say that judging by the youtube comments, they remain culturally significant.
To Maxine- In response to your skepticism that we can consider Majah Hype as an example of Harrell’s orature because we’re “leaning very heavily on a text that can’t bear the weight of it”- In a sense I feel that I’m reading Majah Hype against the grain. I think it would be too easy to dismiss a youtube skit as irrelevant. Orature, via Harrell, occurs all the time and in many different guises. If we consider “performance” + “a commitment to shared values” during process of cultural production, then we can arrive at a broad understanding of the ways in which culture reproduces, repeats, and alters. The critical or uncritical function of such orature is a different matter.
As such I think there’s no difference between “low cultural artifact” and “highly produced cultural” in spreading “crucial bodies of knowledge.” Perhaps, if anything, “low cultural artifacts” (bedroom productions- which sounds much more risqué than I mean. Let’s consider the youtube skit with little production costs) have the possibility of being more significant because there are less layers of mediation between intent and outcome. The highly produced artifact is going to be influenced by lots of voices and original intent may be lost. The “low cultural artifact” may better speak towards the needs of small community (for instance a diasporic community in Boise, Idaho) than the highly produced, and prohibitively expensive artifact.
To Chy- I think you raise lots of productive questions. I’d like to respond in particular to your claim that “the burden of representation is placed on the mis/under-represented group. This group cannot simply create; they must explain and qualify. If they refuse, they’re perhaps unthinking or frivolous or unnecessary.” I agree and I think some of the readings from this week (the Queer Caribbean) support this, such as “Who writes the history determines the agenda” (Chang np), and “For the majority of us, the practice of single-focus politics is essentially always impossible, given that virtually none of us on this planet occupies a single-focus existence. (Glave Intro 7). The mis/under-represented group always have to defend their choices, as unfair as this burden is. Single-focus politics is able to exist only because such politics expulse negative characteristics onto the other (as described by Fanon). This only emphasizes the need for productions which can circulate among small communities, productions which can speak in a certain language and which do not have to be defended- the rise of a dialect, the rise of the mimeographed pamphlet (such as displayed in the Jamaica Gay Freedom Movement Archive) and the rise of the Youtube skit.
Responses are certainly welcome.
1. “Good” for whom? What does “good” mean? Good is a subjective evaluation. One person sees this short and says, “This is good.” Another person sees the same thing and says, “This is not good.” Neither is incorrect. These are opinions.
2. “Low cultural artifacts” have perhaps a different (not better) significance than things we attribute high value to. Think about the activities you participate in to “unwind” or relax. They have tremendous value to you–perhaps they even allow you to complete the work you regard as more valuable or rigorous.
3. I also think we tend to separate things that produce pleasure from things that perhaps perplex / challenge us (some academic or “rigorous” work–although sometimes the thing that challenges us also pleasures us). The question is, why do we do that? Just because something produces pleasure (laughter, for instance) does that mean that it is somehow less important or valuable? That evaluation is troubling.
4. I believe we are perhaps looking to Lexo TV to do things it was not created to do. It’s true that a viewer’s interpretation of a text can and does diverge from a creator’s intention (if they have a specific intention) in many instances, and that’s okay too. If you look at Lexo TV skits and think about the interplay of race, capitalism, and globalization, that’s not wrong. But if someone else looks at it and just laughs, that’s not wrong either. I suppose what I am saying is that the expectations that we have for creative works to “do something” needs to be tempered by the recognition that different things evoke different feelings in different people.
5. Finally, as I said in a different post, the burden of representation is placed on the mis/under-represented group. This group cannot simply create; they must explain and qualify. If they refuse, they’re perhaps unthinking or frivolous or unnecessary.
I’d like to venture that a laugh, a release of joy, is never unnecessary. It actually may be very important in addressing those “realities” Jeff mentions in his post.
Returning to this post after last week’s class discussion, Aaron, I want to connect your reading of Majah Hype/the Di Rass character with some of the issues of production, reception, and (for lack of a better word) “digital-ness” that we talked about in class. I’m particularly interested in responding to and complicating Jeff’s questions about whether or not the Lexo TV shorts are “good” (meaning, perhaps, “significant,” among other possibilities) — and, correspondingly, whether they “have to be good” because they “need to be significant” (a loose paraphrase).
I have to admit that my immediate response to your suggestion that “we could similarly consider and address Majah Hype’s work more broadly as an example of the sort of orature which Harrell claims represent ‘ontologies of ancestry, of deep cultural and religious significance in many diverse African cultures, have traditionally been transmitted orally’ (5)” is skepticism. We’re so quick to be critical of digital scholars for making the digital (or the possibilities of the digital) “too significant” or imbued with too much meaning or portent, and I feel kind of like comparing YouTube skits to “ontologies of ancestry” feels like it’s doing the same thing — leaning very heavily on a text that can’t bear the weight of it, because perhaps it was never meant to.
Which is where I diverge with Jeff as well, I think. Hopefully I’m not misrepresenting his words, but I think that he argued that the creators of texts, when they’re “acting within a particular cultural environment” that may not be widely-represented, are responsible for producing content of a certain quality. (The digital, of course, removes some of what we think of as “gatekeepers” for content production — editors, production companies, and so on — but replaces them with access to/availability of technology.) This also seems to be a leaning-on-the-text, perhaps from a less ontological and more cultural perspective.
Maybe I’m wrong (and being an academic elitist!) in dividing YouTube skits from [insert whatever widely-recognized form of cultural production you like], and we should be treating [YouTube skits, or whatever digital “low cultural artifact” you like] with as much seriousness/significance as you suggest. I’d love to hear more if you feel like responding to this comment.