Friday, July 2, 2021

A Whole Lotta Grindin' Going On

Many people took to Twitter to express outrage over Cardi B's recent performance on the Grammys. 

Rings on Her Fingers (1942) 

Musical acts with explicit sexual content have been creating heated public debates for many decades.  A debate that was especially heated came about in the 1950s with the onset of rock 'n' roll.  

Greg Kot, rock critic of The Chicago Tribune, noted that rock 'n' roll had its roots in "hard-driving rhythm-and-blues and raunchy blues records," which were distinct styles of music that had their origins in black communities.  Black musicians, including Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Little Richard, stood in the forefront of this new musical movement.  Kot wrote that rock 'n' roll "introduced white suburban teenagers to a culture that sounded more exotic, thrilling, and illicit than anything they had ever known."

Christian leaders were quick to condemn rock 'n' roll for being overtly sexual.  It was seen by many critics as a clash of ethnic cultures.  Rock 'n' roll's wild and aggressive arrangements were, in the minds of the fiercest critics, "jungle music."    

Of course, rock 'n' roll also represented a blending of cultures.  Berry had his first big hit with "Maybellene," a song that drew its inspiration from Bob Wills' 1938 Western swing tune "Ida May."  And rockabilly musicians like Carl Perkins, who were influenced by country music and rhythm and blues, helped to pioneer the rock 'n' roll sound before Berry, Diddly or Little Richard came on the scene. 

The music inspired types of dance that were even more controversial.  

African dance became a source of intrigue in films of the 1950s.   We see this in The Reluctant Debutante (1958).  Jane Broadbent (Sandra Dee), a rebellious teenage girl, complains to her stepmother, Sheila (Kay Kendall), that British dancing lacks passion.   

Jane: Well, look at them.  They all dance like they're going for a walk, except that they're walking backwards.  Well, that's not what dancing's for.  I mean when natives dance in Africa, it means something.

Sheila: What does it mean?

Jane: They're making love.

Sheila: Are they?

Jane: Oh, no, I don't mean literally.  It's in the early stages, but they're warming up for it.  Well, that's why they do it.  Otherwise they wouldn't do it.  They'd go out for a walk instead.

Sheila: Oh, but, darling, they're primitive.

Jane: Love is primitive.

The British came up with many lively dances: The Barn Dance, The Country Dance, The Morris Dance and The Square Dance.  More artful dances came out of France and Germany.  The ballet.  The waltz.  The minuet.  These dances have rhythm, form and grace.  It would be dishonest to imply that these dances lack human feeling.  

Jane later meets a young man, jazz drummer David Parkson (John Saxon), who shares her love of African dance.  He says:

[It's] primitive, but beautiful.  The loveliest of all is a sort of wedding dance.  You know, when the chief's daughter's getting married.  It goes on for hours and hours.  The whole tribe joins in at first, until they get exhausted.  Then finally the bride and the bridegroom are left dancing on their own.  It's lovely to watch.  Moonlight shining through the rubber trees, and their bodies swaying to the rhythms, and the movements getting more and more interpretive.  Then the music rising slowly to a climax, and then suddenly it sort of shudders into a silence.  And then he picks her up and kisses her and carries her away to his tent.

In Night Affair (1958), a visitor to a nightclub is appalled by black dancers performing a calypso dance on stage.  He insists to the club manager, "The show is vulgar."  The manager offers a meek response: "The customers find it stimulating."

Later, the dance style is debated by two other characters, police inspector Georges Vallois (Jean Gabin) and a homicide victim's mistress, Lucky Fridel (Nadja Tiller).

Fridel: She doesn't dance with her legs but her heart and soul.
Vallois: That's not what I saw.
Fridel: Do you know what you are?
Vallois: A narrow-minded cop.

 Plain and simple, it was the sexual elements of black music and dance that its critics found disturbing.

The Andy Griffith Show (1966, "The Senior Play")

Did Christians have a reason to be concerned about rock 'n' roll?  It is the objective of Christian society to develop self-restraint among its members and cultivate polite manners between one another.  It is reasonable to argue that abandoning restraint and refinement to aggressive musical rhythms is unhelpful.  

What about what the jazz drummer alleged about the African wedding ritual?  A newlywed couple does better to work towards intimacy and privacy in their sexual relations rather than have a frenzied tribe participate in their foreplay.  But that's me.  I was raised in a culture much different than this one.  

Seinfeld (1991, "The Truth")

The entertainment industry wants us to believe that Cardi B must be respected as a representative of black culture.  But is that true?  Or is this just a cover put forth by the record sellers?

What is black culture?  Do the black people in the Treme section of New Orleans represent black culture?  What about the black people who live in Compton?  Is African culture the same as black culture?  Africa is a big continent.  Many different cultures had room to develop within the continent's nearly 12 million square miles.   Europe produced a wide range of cultures with only a third of the space.   It is widely believed that twerking originated in Côte d’Ivoire, a small country sandwiched between Liberia and Ghana on the West Coast.  At the time, this unique style of dance was known as the mapupka.  What did Ethiopians think of the mapupka?  We don't know.

So, does Cardi B represent black culture?  Maybe Aretha Franklin represents black culture.  Maybe Otis Redding represents black culture.  I don't know.  I imagine that Fats Domino would look at Miss B and grumble, "Ain't that a shame."

I believe that this debate is partly a culture clash.  But I also believe that the culture claims have been exaggerated to bypass censorship arguments and justify sexually explicit entertainment.  Mass media is almost entirely about propaganda these days.  A major objective of the media companies is to elevate this fantastically exaggerated and grossly distorted version of black culture while denouncing European culture.  It is untrue to say that European dances have no more passion than a couple taking a walk.  This is a lie designed to denigrate European culture and to cast Europeans as soulless creatures.  It is a propaganda campaign that has gone on for too long.  

We certainly should have had more respect for those "narrow-minded" ideas like self-restraint and polite manners.  That's how we ended up with this.  This is truly a soulless dance.

Reference source

Greg Kot, "Early style of rock music," Britannica.

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