Hack #5: “It Was a Good Day”

In 1992, rapper, Ice Cube (along with MC Ren, O’Kelly Isley, Rudolph Isley, Ronald Isley, Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, and Chris Jasper) wrote “It Was a Good Day.” The track was released with “The Predator,” a twenty track album. Ice Cube himself states that the inspiration for this song was how his life was going at the time. He had reached a comfortable success and importantly, Ice Cube felt that his mind was at peace.

The very first line of his song goes “Just wakin’ up in the morning, gotta thank God.” Author Gwendolyn Plough makes an important point in her chapter, Sees and Legacies: Tapping the Potential Hip-Hop, when she states “Hip-Hop is a state of mind” (284). What is going on in the current world impacts music produced immensely. Despite what was happening with society (the 1992 LA Riots had occurred earlier that year), Ice Cube felt secure and expressed that in his song. In the third verse, he raps:

Today was like one of those fly dreams

Didn’t even see a berry flashin’ those high beams

No helicopter lookin’ for a murder

He finishes the verse with “Today I didn’t even have to use my AK/ I gotta say, it was a good day.” Ice Cube references the police and knows that a day without conflict is one to celebrate. However, in the outro, he addresses the producer, DJ Pooh, saying “stop this shit!/What the fuck am I thinkin’ about?/Ah.” Ultimately, this shows that a “good day” can only be a dream.


“Ice Cube – It Was a Good Day.” Genius, 17 Nov. 1992, genius.com/Ice-cube-it-was-a-good-day-lyrics.

Pough, Gwendolyn D. Thats the Joint! The Hip Hop Studies Reader. Chapter: Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential in Hip-Hop. Routledge, New York.

 

Hack #4 – “The War Drags On”

In the 1960s, the United States was heavily involved in conflicts in Vietnam. After WWII, there was this (government) mentality to preserve peace and freedom not only in America, but in other countries as well. In 1954, President Eisenhower justified the cause coined the term “domino theory” to describe the sequence of events that may happen if one country falls to communism. If one succumbs, the rest will follow.

The tension between the USSR and the U.S. during the Cold War (which was also during this time period) helped to fuel the U.S.’s belief that they had a duty to fulfill. The singer, Donovan, expresses this duty that “many” soldiers felt in his song “The War Drags On” (1965). He sings in the first verse that the soldier, Dan, who is representative of (drafted) U.S. soldiers, goes to fight for American values such as equality, hope, peace and liberty. According to Britannica, U.S. presence in Vietnam increased from about 16,000 in 1963 to about 23,000 in 1964. This can be thanks to the mandatory draft that took place rather than willing enlistment because many protested U.S. involvement in Vietnam from the beginning.  Donovan’s song is in protest to the Vietnam War and to not only how the Vietnamese were affected, but to the status of soldiers coming home.

In the song’s fourth verse (beginning “Last night poor Dan…), Donovan sings of the PTSD that soldiers return home with. Scarred by screaming, inhumane conditions, and explosions, soldiers experience reoccurring nightmares. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD is still a problem among Vietnam War veterans, even after 40 years. Beyond the mental effects of the war, the physical effects were atrocious due to the extensive use of Agent Orange. Both U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese citizens were exposed, rendering damage that lasts today.

When, as the song title suggests, wars drag on, what was once undying support begins to die. Protests rise up as façades fade.

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U.S. citizens protesting the Vietnam War


Afternote: There is another recording of “The War Drags On” by singer Mick Softley. 

Works Cited:

“Donovan – The War Drags On.” Genius, genius.com/Donovan-the-war-drags-on-lyrics.

Jeffodomblog. “Discussion Leader: Major Problems 11-16 3/04/15.” Teambadass, 5 Mar. 2015, teambadasshist110.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/discussion-leader-major-problems-11-16-30415/.

Spector, Ronald H. “Vietnam War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 11 Jan. 2018, http://www.britannica.com/event/Vietnam-War.

US Department of Veterans Affairs, and Veterans Health Administration. “Public Health.” World War II Exposures – Public Health, 7 May 2015, http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/publications/agent-orange/agent-orange-summer-2015/nvvls.asp.

Hack 3 – Acculturation and Appropriation

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, acculturation is “the cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture.” This can be easily confused with appropriation, which is to take something and make it your own, usually without permission. This is often referring to culture.

One may associate acculturation with assimilation because minority groups will adapt to the lifestyle of the majority group. A key difference between acculturation and assimilation is the willingness of the minority group to adapt as the process is more voluntary. The minority group, although it has changed its way because of the majority group, still retains its own identity, whereas with assimilation, we may think of the destruction or smothering of a culture instead.

A better example of acculturation is when we have minorities establish communities in the city (e.g. Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Little Italy). These cultural home bases for many immigrants and their descendants allow them to stay in touch with their roots while having adapted to American culture.

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Little Tokyo, LA Mural

However, there is a large issue with (cultural) appropriation. Deborah Root, author of Cannibal Culture: Art, Appropriation, and the Commodification of Difference, argues that “Appropriation occurs because cultural difference can be bought and sold in the marketplace” (68). It is not a two-way street for ethnic groups when it comes to cultural appropriation. The one who benefits is the group who takes. Present-day examples of cultural appropriation include celebrities dressing in traditional wear of other cultures or people dressing themselves in a group’s traditional style for music festivals. Katy Perry in her geisha outfit in 2013 is an example of the former.

Coachella Cultural Appropriation  and Katy Perry

The groups from which these people took from do not benefit at all from this. Committing acts of cultural appropriation not only fails the group that the acts belong to, but it fosters more misunderstanding about the culture. Root also writes that “appropriation… is generally possible only in an economic system that is more powerful than the one subject to appropriation” (76). For example, when people use the headdress that is a part of Native American culture (and from a select group of tribes, not all), these acts of appropriation do not occur on the reservation. The groups that are victim o appropriation do not benefit. The economic system that does benefit belongs to the majority culture. While this example does not directly attack the minority group, it fails to bring about an understanding of culture and uses it for costume.


Root, Deborah. Cannibal Culture: Art, Appropriation, & the Commodification of Difference. 1996.

Buster Keaton’s The General (1926)

 

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Joseph Frank Keaton, also known as “Buster” Keaton, helped shape early American cinema in his works with machinery. In the 1926 silent film, The General, which is slightly based on true events, Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a railroad engineer at the time of Civil War. This comedy focuses on redemption as a road for the main character to prove himself as a man. Before a hero, accidental or not, can rise, he must fall. Gray goes through loss at the beginning of the film. First, he feels inferior for being unable to enlist as a Confederate soldier. Then, Annabelle (played by Marion Mack), the woman he loves, believes he is unworthy of being spoken to for not enlisting (although it was a misunderstanding). Lastly, his two loves, the locomotive steam engine, “The General,” and Annabelle, are stolen from him. After working hard to retrieve both Annabelle and his engine back, Gray manages to redeem himself. He feels more complete at the end when he is finally allowed to enlist as a lieutenant because of his heroic efforts to save the Confederate army. Although he is clumsy and outcast by the woman he loves and other members in his town, he displays sheer determination throughout the film. Ultimately, The General expresses that in American culture, masculinity is a trait that must be proven to gain the respect of others.

Although the film is set during the Civil War, I believe the film pokes fun at how men are perceived throughout time. To be a true and fulfilled man in this film (and typically in times of war), you must be able to proudly serve your nation. This could go along with a general theme during the 1920s when this was filmed. According to Celebrity Culture and the American Dream, “Throughout the 1920s, ads chided men for being weaklings, embarrassments to their gender, and disappointments to their wives” (67). So, because he is not able to initially fulfill this stereotype of what a man should be at this time (which was to be a soldier), Johnnie Gray is “Othered” by himself, Annabelle, and her family. This message about masculinity could be understood based on how Johnnie Gray feels about his ordeals even though the genre is comedy.

Perhaps it was also because of this setting that The General did not do so well initially. Although the magazine, Sight & Sound, regards film as number 34 on “50 Greatest Films of All Time” in 2012, it had low attendance and harsh reviews when it was first released. In an era of progression, looking back on the past and celebrating Confederacy in any matter was probably not well received. Potential viewers at the time would certainly include the working class. Based on an analysis from one of History 110’s blog, “inequality was extremely evident between all classes.” Men, women, rich, poor, and people of color, especially African Americans, all had reason to not watch this film. Why would a film set in the Civil War, when the country was divided and slavery was an extreme issue, be something entertaining to watch? It took decades before The General became popular and known as a classic silent film.

The General truly makes its mark on American cinematic history with a historic comedy. Buster Keaton creatively portrays Johnnie Gray, a man who fell from the good graces of the woman he loves and his own mind. His rise to redemption for both himself and others in proving his worth as a man who was at first unable to go to war is reflective of attitudes toward men in the 1920s. Even as a film for pleasure, The General succeeds in being expressive of the times.

Works Cited:

Celebrity Culture: The American Dream. Karen Sternheimer, 2015. New York, NY. Print.

“The 50 Greatest Films of All Time | Sight & Sound.” British Film Institute, http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/50-greatest-films-all-time.

The General. Dir. Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton. Perf. Buster Keaton, Marion Mack and Glen Cavender. United Artists, 1926. Kanopy. Web. 20 July 2018.

Title: The General

Director: Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton

Release Date: 1926

Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender

Producer: United Artists

  • Producer (uncredited): Buster Keaton
  • Executive producer (uncredited): Joseph M. Schenck

Screenwriter: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman

IMDB Page for “The General”

Kanopy Page

 

Hack 2 Film Bodies

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Based on the classic cartoon, the 1994 film, The Flintstones features John Goodman as Fred Flintsone, Elizabeth Perkins as Wilma Flintstone, Rick Moranis as Barney Rubble, and Rosie O’Donnell as Betty Rubble. The two wives, Wilma and Betty, are seen in their iconic Stone Age white and blue dresses. Despite the time, the dresses accentuate their bodies and they accessorize with makeup, extravagant necklaces, and a bow. When comparing the characters on-screen, although Fred or Barney may be talking, my eyes drift toward the female characters because of their eye-catching clothes. As far as actions go, there is a scene in which Fred and Wilma’s mother have a disagreement. As Wilma’s mother leaves, Fred expresses his disdain for her and Wilma quickly becomes the doting housewife, eager to please Fred to make him feel better about the quarrel. It’s these simple actions shown by not only the costumes that Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O’Donnell, but their characters’ attitude that push them into the submissive housewife role.

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Another female character appears midway through the film; Miss Stone, played by Halle Berry, is Fred Flintsone’s secretary. Her appearance is a drastic change from what viewers have seen with Wilma and Betty. Miss Stone wears a bikini style top and a skirt with an exotic cheetah print. Her makeup appears sensual and her attitude in general toward Fred is very flirtatious. Although The Flintstones is a family film, it does not fail to have one of the body genres that Linda Williams discusses in her article, Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess. This scene alone is sexually saturated with the character’s promiscuity. In my opinion, I think that while this scene shows the strain between Fred and Wilma’s marriage (with Miss Stone purposefully acting as a temptation for Fred as she is an antagonist in the film), it did not have to be as exaggerated as it was. Her character poses as a distracting guilty pleasure for both Fred Flintsone in that scene and potential viewers. I do not think that the popularity of the film without this scene would have been affected as much since this is a family film.

Halle Berry’s performance in The Flintstones

Williams, Linda. Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess. Film Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 4

(Summer, 1991), pp. 2-13

The Flintstones. Dir. Brian Levant. Perf. Elizabeth Perkins, Rosie O’Donnell, Halle Berry,

and John Goodman. Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures, 1994. Netflix. Web. 15 July

2018.

HACK #1: The Circus

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With thoughts of the circus “extraordinary” also comes to mind. In the early 20th century, the circus was a popular form of entertainment. Various performers helped to characterize the circus. They may have been known as freaky, exotic, and spectacular. Circuses aimed to capture the attention of more than just their audiences, but the whole world. Compared to mainstream society, circuses were the “others.” According to Encountering the Other, “the Other must seem not only terrible or inferior but also alluring. The Other attracts as well as repels.” The norm in American culture is not defined by men and women wearing extravagant makeup and costumes, having physical abnormalities, or doing mind-blowing performances. Animals not native to the country were also grouped with the circus in the “others” category (as were zoo animals).

Being an “Other” meant that while people were attracted to the performer’s differences, there was also a negative connotation to being part of the “circus” or called a “clown.” These terms or phrases, such as “class clown,” that are used today still reflect the negative and hypocritical attitude toward the circus that has been imbedded into people for decades.

In our present-day culture, one example of a circus element are drag shows. Performers get into drag makeup and costumes and have captivating performances. Views toward drag shows vary as some admire drag queens and kings. Others may look at these entertainers with disdain. Either way, the important connection between drag shows and the circus is how it differs so much from the the majority.

Kornfeld, Eve. Encountering “the Other”: American Intellectuals and Indians in the 1790s. 1995.