An Ice Cream Truck Song From 1916 Is Incredibly Racist

Image: "People posing in front of a Dreyer's Ice Cream truck." simpleinsomnia, flickr (CC_BY_2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Image: “People posing in front of a Dreyer’s Ice Cream truck.” simpleinsomnia, flickr (CC_BY_2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In my opinion, popular culture (as in everyday culture) is often a good indicator of a cultural mainstream at a given time. Therefore, if we look at a seemingly banal or innocent artifacts, that may give us clues about the zeitgeist of a period. Theodore R. Johnson, III over at NPR thought so, too, and examined the origins of a famous ice cream truck song going back to the minstrel shows of the nineteenth century (go and read the article, it is great!). And he found a 1916 record by a Harry C. Browne, courtesy of Columbia records, that contains lyrics like this (warning: incredibly racist):

Browne: “You niggers quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!”

Black men (incredulously): “Ice Cream?!?”

Browne: “Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: WATERMELON!!”

Almost a century later, such open forms of racism are quite shocking and thankfully would be unacceptable in mainstream advertising. That is not to say that popular culture today is free of racism. But I would argue that these days, for the most part, racism manifests itself in subtler forms. I am not talking about the realm of politics. There, as a regular observer, I note a lot of dogwhistling, especially since 2008 and the election of Barack Obama for POTUS. But that discussion is for another time.

 

Interesting: Stop Comparing the #NSA to #1984 (and…

Interesting: Stop Comparing the #NSA to #1984 (and Start Comparing It to #PhilipKDick) | The Atlantic #surveillance ow.ly/vD2Xa

Zero Dark Thirty: CIA Propaganda Piece

Zero Dark Thirty: CIA Propaganda Piece

Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 movie Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, is in some ways a CIA propaganda piece, according to a report from Gawker.

Based on declassified memos from the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs, which is the agency’s propaganda operation, the major revelation is that the CIA directly pressured director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to take out scenes that would portray the CIA in a bad light.

And so Bigelow and Boal did.

What are the contents/scenes taken out that the CIA objected to?

  • Participation of CIA operatives in the torture (I am not buying the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation’) of detainees in the opening scene
  • Intimidation of detainees with dogs
  • A drunk CIA officer firing an AK-47 rifle into the air at a drunken rooftop party in Islamabad
  • The CIA analyzing videotaped interrogations of tortured detainees

Apart from the CIA’s influence revealed through the memo, the movie falsely suggests in its opening scene that it was torture that ultimately led to the revelation of Bin Laden’s location. This powerful image created by a product of popular culture retroactively works to legitimize the practice of torture in the public mind.

Read and see more:

CIA requested Zero Dark Thirty rewrites, memo reveals.” (Ben Child, Guardian, 2013/05/07)

Newly Declassified Memo Shows CIA Shaped “Zero Dark Thirty”‘s Narrative.” (Adrian Chen, Gawker, 2013/05/06)

[Video] “Zero Dark Irresponsible – Killing Bin Laden With Blinders On.” (TheLipTV, 2013/11/26) – FIlm critic Peter Rainer criticizes Zero Dark Thirty for not contextualizing the torture scenes of the movie in the ‘Global War on Terrorism.’ In particular, he notes the absence of any mention of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as responsible for America’s torture policies.

Torture and the hunt for Bin Laden

Torture May Have Slowed Hunt For Bin Laden, Not Hastened It.” (Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 2011/05/06) – A study by the National Defense Intelligence College found that “rapport-based” interrogation works best, even with hard-boiled detainees.

Talk Radio Host Calls For Nationalist Party With Charismatic Leader

American talk radio is a phenomenon of its own with no comparison in the German media landscape. This is likely due to less strict broadcasting regulations on the US side of the Atlantic, especially since the fall of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987, a much broader definition of freedom of speech in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in general, and the comparatively longer distances traveled in cars in the US. All of the above factors into the popularity of AM talk radio, especially political talk formats.

For the past decades, American talk radio has predominantly been the domain of angry white male conservative populist agitators, among them figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who have made a fortune feeding their audiences’ fears of American decline, multiculturalism, and the whole palette of issues subsumed under the term culture wars. A key trope of most far-right talk radio hosts has always been the claim of defending ‘freedom,’ a term so vague in the arsenal of political rhetoric that it can easily be loaded up with the most illiberal ideas, not in the meaning of liberal as in political ideology, but as in the theoretical political concept.

Case in point: Recently, conservative talk radio host Michael Savage has called for a new “nationalist party” with a “charismatic leader.” Talking about the decline in popularity of the Tea Party Movement, the conservative populist movement that had emerged along with the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president, Savage said that “the rudiment” of that new party might be found among their ranks. Savage, who was born to Russian-Jewish parents, used the analogy of a “King David” that was needed to unite the American Right. Savage, who calls President Obama a “quasi-pseudo-crypto Marxist” thinks that the Tea Party Movement was not right-wing enough and that a new party should challenge the Republican party from the right on a platform of “borders, language, and culture.”

If that sounds eerily authoritarian, it’s because it is!

A severe economic crisis. Extreme nationalism. Calls for a charismatic leader. Writing from Berlin, I hear the jackboots stomping in my head.

Read more:

Jewish Wingnut Wants Nationalist Party With Charismatic Leader.” (Ed Brayton, Dispatches From The Culture Wars, 2013/01/10)

Radio host Michael Savage calls for ‘Nationalist’ third party to challenge GOP. “(Geoff Herbert, syracuse.com, 2013/01/07)

Conservative Radio Host: America Needs A New ‘Nationalist Party’ With A ‘Charismatic Leader.’” (Anjali Sareen, Mediaite, 2013/01/06)

Top Conservative Radio Figure Calls For Nationalist Third Party.” (BuzzFeed, 2013/01/06)

Background:

Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” (Umberto Eco, New York Review of Books, 1995/06/22 via The Modern World)

 

Pop Culture Potpourri: The Library of Congress Has A Collection Of Interviews With Rock’n’Roll Legends

Bo Diddley in Prague (Lucerna Bar), 2005. picture by Stefan Reicheneder, used under permission under the GFDL, Cc-by-sa-3.0 licence. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bo_Diddley_Prag_2005_02.jpg
Bo Diddley, one of the Rock’n’Roll legends interviewed for the Joe Smith Collection at the Library of Congress. Original caption: Bo Diddley in Prague (Lucerna Bar) in 2005, picture by Stefan Reicheneder, used by permission under the GFDL, Cc-by-sa-3.0 licence. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bo_Diddley_Prag_2005_02.jpg

While glancing over the Open Culture blog, a resource that I highly recommend, by the way, I once again found a little gem for everyone interested in American popular culture of the twentieth century. The Library of Congress now hosts the digitized audio tapes of Joe Smith, a former record industry executive and DJ who in the late 1980s interviewed many of the then most famous stars of Rock’n’Roll and other genres in American popular music. His collection of interview tapes encompasses “238 hours of interviews over two years.” At the time, excerpts of these were made into his book Off the Record (Warner Books, 1988).

Highlights from these interviews, according to the LoC, include:

  • Bo Diddley talking about his own death
  • Mickey Hart’s revealing story about his father
  • Steven Tyler’s problems with drug addiction
  • Peter Frampton’s short-lived popularity
  • Bob Dylan’s surprising assessment of the turbulent ‘60s
  • David Bowie’s description of Mick Jagger as conservative
  • Paul McCartney’s frank admission of professional superiority
  • Les Paul’s creation of an electric guitar in 1929
  • Motown’s restrictive work environment
  • Herb Jeffries’ and Dave Brubeck’s recollections of working in a racially segregated society

Read more:

Library of Congress Releases Audio Archive of Interviews with Rock ‘n’ Roll Icons.” (Kate Rix, Open Culture, 11/30/2012) – The article also goes into more detail about the musicians interviewed.

American Studies Leipzig Graduate Conference 2012, Day 1 (Keynote Speech)

Last weekend, I attended American Studies Leipzig’s third graduate conference, “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports,” organized by the second year MA students. I have to say that the two days of conference were very pleasurable as a guest. Great organization, nice hosts, interesting speakers, and an impressive location: the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. Not to mention quite a bit of tasty food and beverages, which bring me back to the overall conference topic and what I should do afterwards—sports.

On the first day, the keynote speech was held by Prof. Dr. Dorothee Alfermann of the Institute for Sport Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Leipzig on “American and German Sports from a Socio-Cultural Perspective.”

In her talk, Alfermann traced the development of sports in the US and Germany, and highlighted the very different trajectories in both countries.

While in the US, sports tends to be more about performance, competition, and record orientation, in Germany, sports as a mass phenomenon emphasizes exercise  and recreational activity.

These general differences have a historical roots.

In Germany, for instance, the Turner Movement of the early nineteenth century around Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, underpinned by German nationalism, aimed at training young men for military service, while rejecting the competitive aspect of sports.

Nationalism in sports was not limited to Europe. In the late nineteenth century, Americans tried to forge their national identity in contrast to Europe, which also expressed itself in the development of own national sports, in particular baseball since the 1860s, American football, and basketball.

The organization of sports differs greatly between the US and European countries such as the UK or Germany. While schools and colleges play a central role in the US, European countries have historically organized sports around sports clubs.

One particularity of sports in the US is the combination of physical and intellectual education, embodied in college stipends for student-athletes. Sports becomes a means of getting a higher education, even though many aim for professional athletic careers.

Some similarities do exist about sports in the US and Germany today, Alfermann concluded. Sports contributes to (national) identity and produces heroes. It attracts huge crowds, is a big business, and men’s sports tend to be held in higher regard in the public eye.

More posts to follow soon.

American Studies Leipzig Graduate Conference 2012

Tomorrow I will be going to American Studies Leipzig’s third graduate conference, organized by the second year MA students.

This year’s topic is “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports.”

As the website describes it, the conference

will explore different notions of sports in a forum integrating students and professionals. Since sports touches upon many aspects of life such as politics, media, popular culture, history, and health, it offers a myriad of possible research foci. In fact, American sports and sport lifestyle(s) influence cultures around the world while simultaneously being subject to influences from other cultures as well. The study of sports within an American context is thus not limited to the national level: Sports organizations, sports gear enterprises, and athletes of all possible types operate internationally, making the topic of sports highly relevant on a global scale.

As a ‘veteran’ conference organizer (I was part of the organizing team in 2010), I am of course very excited to see how this year’s MA class manages to pull it all off. I am confident in this year’s organizing team, as the previous conferences went quite well.

I am also curious about the presentations and certain to learn about many aspects of sports that I had not thought about earlier. If I find the time, I will put up some more posts after the weekend.