I wrote this a month after beginning Tell Me a Story which is on hiatus until August 2013.
I’ve been saying for ages that NBC was trying to go out of business. I began thinking that when they murdered Heroes for no good reason other than lack of vision and greed. Then 30 Rock ended and I realized it was the only show I watched on NBC, which used to be my favorite network. The peacock is dead.
Baby Boy, like Menace discusses the nihilist worldview of young black men, only it speaks more to the sexual obsessions of the men who feel they have no control over their lives. Jody is introduced to the audience as an adult embryo in the womb. His life is that of a child with the ability to spread his seed throughout the neighborhood. Upon returning from a brief incarceration, he returns to his childhood room with nothing to do but have sex, live off of his two ‘baby mammas’ and his own mother. His maternal dependency is replicated within his two sexual relationships. He expects these women to provide for him and when they do not he accuses them of not caring for him. His mother is portrayed as young mother trying to still have a life after raising her son to adulthood. She insists that he grow up, but it is obvious he hasn’t been given the skill set to do so. Like Caine at the end of Menace, Jody wants to do something, but does not know how or what and is not given any guidance. Jody’s identity is his sexuality — like Caine and Sweetback before him. When confronted by Yvette, his main ‘baby momma’, about the reality of his cheating, unproductive economic situation and his life in general, he flees and begins a new sexual relationship. He ultimately does not complete his new sexual transaction, but the compulsion to gain a sense of power through sexual means shows his immature emotional development. For hooks, “Equating manhood with fucking, many black men saw status and economic success as synonymous with endless sexual conquest” (Cool 71). Jody seems to solve his problems through his ability to sexually satisfy young women. The young men in these films are moving through life with no sense of a non-sexualized self. Even attempting emotional equality, communicative intimacy or reciprocal vulnerability is outside of their frame of reference. Lack of emotional maturity cannot be seen as simply a symptom of the hip-hop generations’ youth. When looking for contemporary models of behavior, Spike Lee (with his proliferation of black visual images) is poignant because despite his sexism, as an older member of the hip-hop generation, his view on manhood is highly regarded. When applied to representations of older black men the hip-hop generationers could emulate, the same behaviors exist even in the absence of financial and social woes.Source: charityathomas.blogspot.com
In films such as Menace II Society and Baby Boy, black male sexuality is defined by and for young men through peer interactions and emulations. There are adult males present in these films but the peer-oriented nature of the male fraternization is poignant. “Women are discussed as less valuable than drugs and money, including endless references to Black women as ‘bitches,’ ‘hos,’ and “skeezers.’ Furthermore, abusive and violent language is used indiscriminately to describe all women, including those with whom the leading characters were most intimate” (Kitwana 130). These films show a cross section of class representations yet at base black male sexuality is still closely linked to a nihilistic thug mentality. The nihilism of the male characters in terms of love, which has more to do with sex than any emotional vulnerability, is representative in their relationships with women.
In Menace II Society, the relationship between Caine and Ronnie is the only space Caine receives any loving care. Caine’s life is one of violence and a general disregard for human life. Only in his relationship with Ronnie does he find a safe harbor where he can open himself up emotionally and attempt to lovingly care for someone else. Nelson George writes, “Without sucking her teeth or flaunting a ‘ghetto’ accent, [actress Jada] Pinkett’s Ronnie shows the growth of an urban woman child from gangster moll to suddenly mature mother. As a homegirl free of clichés Pinkett gives Menace a feminine souls and offers Caine salvation, both romantically and with her dream of them building a life…” (204). While Ronnie’s love and affections offer Caine a place to explore his own vulnerabilities. (It is important to note George’s prescribed idea of black female behavior. Being without “homegirl clichés” defines her as mature.)
Street life leaves no room for vulnerabilities and Ronnie’s love cannot erase Caine’s past. Despite all of the murder he has both borne witness to and participated in, it is his creation of life that ultimately leads to his own murder. Caine’s sexuality was not like Sweetback in that Sweetback’s “ability to perform skillfully require[d] the discipline of a soldier intent upon killing the enemy; such a performance cannot be interpreted as primitive lust nor a reflection of emotional desire” (Reid 77). Caine’s primitive existence is based only on desire. All things and people become material to satisfy his lust. When a young woman he casually had sex with calls him crying, telling him she’s pregnant; he dismisses her after questioning the paternity of the child because he has no regard for anything outside of his desires. She was a receptacle of his desire and is now the potential mother of his unborn child.
Kitwana observes that “[a]lthough the stigma has retreated, the expressions ‘baby momma’ and ‘baby daddy’ point to the antagonism brewing between young Black men and women who make these dubious social connections” (116). The “baby mama/ daddy” situation agitates the already precarious relationship between black men and women. Unwed parenthood is not hip-hop generation specific, its lack of stigma is. For Caine, the price of this “dubious social connection” is death, as violence ultimately was the answer for an ill-fated sexual encounter. He was not afforded the opportunity to live with the consequences of his actions, unlike Jody in Baby Boy.
Sexuality was also a source of shame because of the importance whites gave it: the slightest hint of sexual impropriety could get one killed. The reality of black men’s lives is often the antithesis of emotional equality, reciprocal vulnerability, and communicative intimacy. When the thug mentality is about street survival, the fundamentals of a loving human relationship are outside of the parameters of survival, leaving one open to cracks in the armor of invincibility of the street. To care too much for anyone, even one’s self, makes one vulnerable.
Drug dealing, pimping and unbridled individualism, as portrayed in the Blaxploitation classic Superfly also came to define the black male dominated film boom of the 1990’s. The visual representations of black manhood in Superfly encapsulate the general mood of most of the Blaxploitation films. The story of Youngblood Priest, a drug dealer and pimp, who wants to get out of the game, contains one of the sexiest love scenes between blacks on film. Priest and Georgia, strategically covered in bubbles in the bath set to Curtis Mayfield’s sensual and revolutionary soundtrack is a beautiful scene amidst a misogynistic, unloving, counterrevolutionary film. Donald Bogle in Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in American Film observes in that Superfly’s sex scene “like the sex scenes in other black films…frequently was more graphic and lingering than any such scene in white movies of the time and looked as if it had been inserted simply to play on the legend of blacks’ high-powered sexuality. While the movies assiduously sought to avoid the stereotype of the asexual tom, they fell, interestingly enough, into the trap of presenting the wildly sexual man” (240). It was gratuitous in that it did nothing to drive the plot or give any insight into the characters. Sex was a transaction to Priest because he was after all, a pimp. Despite his tenderness with his “main lady,” it did not stand in the way of his plan to flood his community with enough drugs to finance his freedom or cheating on Georgia.
The stereotype of the nihilistic drug dealing thug in films such as Menace II Society and Baby Boy that dominated the visual landscape of the early 1990’s continues through today, now mostly in music videos. With Blaxploitation’s renaissance in the early 1990’s, the hip-hop generation was reintroduced to these images when their reality closely paralleled those represented in those films. “The Hughes brothers gave us horrific displays of Black-on-Black youth violence at a time when young violent criminals were being labeled ‘super-predators’ and experts lamented the rise of youth crime, predicting a 20-25 percent increase in the youth population by 2006” (Kitwana 127). It was when America’s essential underground drug economy was being glorified and demonized simultaneously. The drug boom of the 1980’s created a new brand of drug dealer that was young and black, with nothing to lose. This model of behavior is the dominant thematic model for many of today’s music videos. Young men, who were then the problem of the day on the nightly news, are now marketing fodder in popular entertainment.Source: charityathomas.blogspot.com