Friday, June 17, 2011

The Minstrel Show or I've Seen This Before?

I only have a surface understanding of the minstrel show. In the late 1960s and 1970s I was raised during a time of black power, affirmation and determination.

I knew about vaudeville. I knew about white performers in black face. It was a history I could read then walk away. It was gone. There were other things to learn about.

So I thought.

Some of you have no idea of what I am talking about. This is a clip with Slim Williams, performing in black face make-up, his mayoral political stump speech: (2017 update - guess ole Slim took it down. Plunking down a corking photo instead.)

Have I Lost My Flipping Mind?


I have been getting mighty steamed up by the constant flow of stupidity, mendacity and flat out hate on hate political expression. It is politics mixed with sexism, racism and the damn near avocation of gender repression in order to fix the economy.

Why I am seeing this inane fear based rhetoric again and again? Something familiar but cloaked in time.

I think I can show that there are contemporary 2011 examples of this old theatrical art form. Or hate speech. Institutionalized power plays at being powerless in a safe fantasy world. Stage craft.

Call it whatever you feel comfortable with but understand that genesis of the minstrel show was based on observation and exaggeration of Africans and African Americans.

It is a theatrical form of bondage and domination where the oppressor gets to play at being a smart happy submissive. Not that I know anything about bondage and domination except for that workshop I sat in on a few years ago by accident.

Very informative. Honest, it really was a good workshop about power and control issues. There is an element of that in the structure of the minstrel show.

I want to look at modern political and entertainment videos that communicate power and control messages. Before I can do that I need to share the reason for doing these posts and the structure of minstrel performances.

This is a difficult exploration. This can be painful and not the ways you might think. My goal is to point out the performance style that is being applied to contemporary videos and by political operatives.

You might not want to come down this path for dozens of really good reasons. That is okay. I guess I'm trying to give a blanket trigger alert but it is impossible.

One more thing. This is not about white people bashing. There are black folks and other types of minstrel shows masked as advertisements and music videos. I saw a young black woman in a wig bathed in infrared light who performed a sexual jig with her amplified white lips.

A straight up minstrel performance. She isn't the only modern performer doing 21st century race based American minstrel performances.

Research Starting Points:

There is a web site that I've been hanging around for a few days. Ken Padgett's where I've been reading about the origin and history of these types of performances. There is also a YouTube channel that has scenes from a 1951 film called "Yes, Sir Mr. Bones" that showcased some of the white and black performers.

I have been researching other sources as well from a theatrical and sociological perspective. In the next post, Minstrel 101.

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