Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Review of Philippe Bourgois's Book Introduction: "In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio"


Philippe Burgois describe his experiences with a cool eye of discernment. The story, his personal narratives, of his fieldwork in Spanish Harlem gives the reader a "raw" look at life in the "barrio" within New York.

His "barrio" experiences of "life on the streets" illustrates the subversion of a hegemonic society but also show the "cooption" and "inversion" (Stallybrass & White) [1] by keeping the underbelly of society obfuscated in darkness.
Bourgois's states, "Ironically, mainstream society through fashion, music, film, and television eventually recuperates and commercializes many of these oppositional street styles, recycling them as pop culture."
In other words, the hegemonic culture sends contradictory messages of tolerance and acceptance, while showing disdain, disapproval, and "calculated" intolerance.

Calculated in the sense that, one hand says, "Undesirables are lazy and loathsome members of society that suckle at teat of the "normative" [2] members of culture, while on the other those very same "normative" members are emulating those "undesirables" with flowery glorification because of a perceived "rebellious attitude" and right of passage individualism.

In fact, this glorification, if you will, is admired for its aiding in the "redeployment" American mythos and ethos. The right to dissent is basic for Americans, which is in part why the "underground economy" is tolerated. This dissension into the illegality is somewhat celebrated due to this country's participation in one of its first revolutionary acts (think Boston Tea Party).

Nonetheless, this tolerated dissent recapitulates stereotype and racism perceptions of ethnicity and of minorities. Some examples of this are the "blaxploitation" films of the 1970's, and any movie which Italian-Americans are depicted as gangsters illustrates the redeployment negative imagery of racial and ethic clich├ęd ideals.

Furthermore, the trap of this glorification also leaves those within the community (meaning the barrio) feeling powerless—and ultimately living in fear and subjugated by political correctness of the “nannyist’s” overstatement of the "plight of the community." Negativity sells a lot better (from a consumption point-of-view) than someone doing well and being a role model for his or her peers.

Adapt this "consumption" glorification of negative imagery, in the model of Anthony Wallace's cycle of revitalization [3] in the form of ritual. I refer to this as DVND. Essentially defined as the displacement, validation, narration, (re)deployment of the message, which is subject to denial or acceptance by the individual (micro) or culture (macro) scale.

In this case, in the context of Bourgois's Introduction, and the implication cultural beliefs implied and explicit, in the models forms of Wallace's cycle of revitalization, or form of DVND, the culture of individualism to separate ourselves (in the moment) is interestingly enough what binds us together. In that, the weakest perceived link can be considered the strongest.

Burgois opening remarks in his introduction foretells his rationality of why the glorification of the negative and celebrated imagery of the "underground economy"—and representation of American poverty has afforded a "cognitive dissonance" within the core of hegemonic culture "values."

Bourgois's need, our need, to justify, not only this perspective of "cognitive dissonance" but also out accountability to "settle for the convenient" as a way to relegate or actualize to the extremists proclamations of political correctness. However, as anthropologists it is our duty, our responsibility to report the data as presented (gathered), not "couch it" in "sensitive" or sanitized political correctness airing, but put it in its proper context. This is what Philippe Bourgois tries to establish in the introduction of his narrative text—albeit a bit too apologetic.

Nevertheless, so far his, Bourgois's, anthropological study of the "underground economy" of American poverty in the barrio is spotlighting the flaw of western-American culture that being of duplicitous instigators of subjugation of its own weakest member of society—the ghetto'ed poor.

[1] Peter Stallybrass and Allon White discourse is abridge in the introduction of "The Politics and Poetics of Transgression" from the, "A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion by Michael Lambek pp 275-287. They impart how the government and other establishments with corporate interests "co-opt" and "invert" the masses and popular culture to essentially mollify the masses in order to stay in power.

[2] I am using "normative" as a short-hand to express as mundane and ordinary, what one might be considered the normal and average person or world.

[3] One of the first models I thought of, was Anthony F. C. Wallace's book on Religion: An Anthropological View, and his discourse of how it insinuates itself. I uses Wallace's model as way to illustrates America way of disconnect and responsibility of how we "co-opt and invert" the rebellious citizenry. See pages 157-166.

3 comments:

Diego said...

Plan B was approved today, I would like everyone's opinion on it and how you think it will affect society, go to http://conservative-majority.blogspot.com and leave your comments.

EuroYank said...

The strength of Fascist America has always been two fold: give the people the allusion of freedom;free speech etc, while at the same time taking away all the liberty and constituional rights. When you end up in prison, or on the streets, or unemployed, or a victim of a Katrina, or a contracted mercenary to foreign wars you have no voice, and you disappear in the mist. Yes, dumm the people down, "let them eat cake!"

Publius said...

"The strength of Fascist America..."

A phrase like that could only come from someone that knows nothing of EITHER fascism OR America!

But, we are used to such stupidity from the parrots on the extreme left.