Thursday, April 16, 2009

Visual Rhetoric

A friend posted this photo on his FaceSpace account with the following caption:

These are actual Police Photos...too funny.

Just think about this for a second: Did you ever see anyone arrested wearing a Bush T-shirt, or for you older guys, an Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, or even Nixon, or Bob Dole shirt.

There MUST be a message here, but I can't quite grasp it, or maybe I am afraid to.

Why doesn't he just come right out and say it: Thank god the police are Republicans who know that black people are dangerous.

Don't be afraid buddy. Be happy they're on your side.

UPDATE: And doesn't it seem unlikely that those are all actual mugshots? Can't these digs at Obama and Democrats and minorities ever involve more than copying and pasting someone else's joke?


The Ridger, FCD said...

Hardly any of them look like real mug shots. No height markers, for one thing. Happy faces.

What desperation some people are feeling.

Casey said...

I have a suspicious-sounding theory that I've considered presenting in my classes: maybe you can condemn it for me, or surprise me and say "go for it."

The theory goes that "blackness" is at least as much a cultural distinction as it is based on skin color (the same goes for "whiteness," of course). So what we really have is a dialectical struggle for culture in America: a majority culture of whiteness, and a sizeable minority culture of blackness.

Now, before thinking of the consequences of your reaction to this, as fast as you can, create a list of things that might define "white culture" -- mine might look like this:

1) Pleated khakis
2) Golf
3) Starbucks
4) Bed & Breakfasts
5) Toyota Priuses

Or whatever. But it's much more... sensitive to describe "black culture." You could argue that that's because it's a pluralistic thing, but I think that's not playing fair. You could make the argument for "white culture" too.

So what if -- just what the hell if -- black culture has five other defining features:

1) rap
2) ... and so on, with racist-sounding examples

What does black culture value? What does white culture value?

When I look back at the Roman period I see that Romans were committed to abiding by Roman law, whereas some of the Roman subjects (namely Jews, especially the Essenes) were apparently very consciously disobeying Roman laws? A minority group, disobeying (intentionally) a majority culture's laws.

But in that case, we can look with an objective eye: so we sympathize with Jesus, or with John the Baptist, in their efforts to escape the monolithic force of Roman culture.

What if one feature of black culture is just like that feature of ancient Jewish culture: intentionally shrugging before white/majority American laws?

I'll tell you what: if that is a part of contemporary black culture in America, in my opinion, that would awesome. And it's that judgment that allows me to write all of this without worrying that I'll be perceived as racist.

Casey said...

[Two days later, crickets chirping]: So... bad idea, I guess?

fenhopper said...

i think that subversiveness has probably been a big part of the arguments that we hear from professors west and dyson isn't it? isn't that part of the 'embrace who you are' argument? and part of why wayne brady is actually white? (or 'act'-ually white for some of those rhetoricians out there)

coming up with a list for white and black culture has been done of course. white people walk like this. black people walk like this. the latter list is of course going to sound like racism because of the sensitivity of imposition.

so white people are like the nicolas cage character in con-air. because of the power -- not of majority but because of institutional seating -- white people's jokes should be registered as weapons.

stupid movie.

Casey said...

I agree when it comes to jokes: but what about white people's intellectual criticism? Still weaponry?

I'd be okay if the consensus was just, "yes, still weaponry," but that would make teaching race critically almost impossible.

"Institutional seeing." I like that phrase. Very teachable, especially alongside ethical thinking.

Justin said...

I'm not sure, not seeing the original context on the photo, I can't be certain what the intention was.

It could be even more offensive than supposed; with many of the photos very obviously not being mugshots, the implication might be that some party somewhere thinks any picture of someone with an Obama shirt on looks like a criminal.

(As far as the photographic compositions, they look like driver's license photos to me, though not all usable ones.)

[Also noticing how subversion can mean a portion of a set, in which case "cultural subversion" could merely be a description of part of a larger cultural set, and not necessarily one of conflict.]