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Let Nas Down

Back in high school, one of my best friends on the football team was a white guy named Jack Jones. Jack and his family are, in all measurable terms, the perfect American family. Jack’s dad played football at Cornell, where he met Jack’s mom. He is now an electrical engineer in Portsmouth. Jack’s mom teaches at our high school as the chair of the music department where she often brings the family golden lab, Roscoe. Of his two siblings, the oldest is a football player at Lafayette College and the younger sister is a track star at Harvard. They live in a beautiful house with an American flag on the front porch, that they built in the suburbs of town.

The one feature that doesn’t quite fit the archetype of a perfect white family is Jack and his love of rap music. Whether it in be the locker room before football practices, in the library writing papers, or in the dining hall in between classes, Jack would be listening and often singing out loud to rappers like Ace Hood, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross. As his best friend, and a person who also listens to rap, I would sing along with him, providing the backdrop for our friendship. Due to our tight bond, I have often wondered if we would have been as close a set of friends if we had not both shared a love for this subgenre of rap. The next inquiry that thought led to is, why is Jack such a fan of those rappers?

To answer that question, we must first take a deeper look into the rappers of which he is so fond. For example, I’d like to examine Ace Hood, one of the artist we would listen to the most. One of his most popular songs, Hustle Hard, was played everyday before practice. The hook is, “Same old shit / just a different day / Out here tryna get it / each and every way / Momma need a house / Baby need some shoes / Times are getting hard / Guess what I’mma do / Hustle hustle, hustle hustle, hustle hustle, hard”. Most evident in the song is the hard times that Ace Hood had to go through while growing up before he became successful in the rap game. Throughout the song, there are also references of selling drugs, gun violence and theft. This rings true in other songs we liked to play such as Blowing Money Fast by Rick Ross and Put On by Jeezy.

The evident connection between the three songs, beyond their upbeat tempo and bass heavy beats, is their categorization into “gangsta rap”, a classification most commonly thought to be made popular in the late 80’s by groups like NWA and record labels like Death Row Records. The songs these were characterized by the same signature features as those we listened to in the locker room, hard trap beats, upbeat tempos, violence, often against police in the community, and heterosexual sex. This led to a strong reaction by the general population, both in support and against. Songs that symbolized the gangsta rap ideas like Fuck the Police were able to go double platinum, but at the same time, were not even allowed to be sold in certain stores, in fear of the police not coming to protect the establishment. This, music, thought to be antithetical to the very ideals that Jack and his family represent, is exactly what Jack loves because it both perpetuate his whiteness, while also verifying his masculinity.

To prove gangsta rap acts to perpetuate Jack’s whiteness, we must first understand what it means to be white, at least within the boundaries of Western culture. To be white, of the many connotations, most prominently means to be beyond the body, both spiritually and mentally. We can see this most evidently in the Queen of England, as the very definition of being a white anglo-saxon person. As the leader of the Church of England, she acts as God’s representative on Earth. She is above the people spiritually and only relatively recently in the monarchy has a King or Queen even attempted to relate with the common people, considering them a tier below. This ideal of being mentally and spiritually above others is not as easily seen out of context, but in comparison with other races, it is quite evident.

Another example of the perpetuation of what it means to be white is the use of religion in colonization of the world by European countries. In contrast to the native religions of the people that originally inhabited that land, Pope Alexander VI proclaimed “There is one God who rules in the Heavens above, and one Emperor who reigns upon earth,” Both the Catholic Church, and those European countries that fell within its reach, found their religion to be superior to that of any of the colonized territories. So much so that missionaries came with the intent to educate the people of the one true God. These missionary trips resulted in loss of the native religion and culture and arguably more pertinent, the native people’s claim on the land.

As a result of this idea of white superiority in the mental and spiritual arena, being white also implies an inferiority in matters of the body. This conclusion can again most evidently be seen in contrast to other races. A study by Northwestern psychologist compiled studies of white perception of white and black people. When shown a face of a black person or a white person, white people were more 27% less likely to be chosen to have supernatural powers such as “Which person “has supernatural strength that makes them capable of lifting up a tank?’” Taken completely out of context, a white person is thought to be less capable of supernatural physical feats, yet in instances of mental competence as compared to black Americans, white people are just as often thought to have the clear edge. Another example, and maybe more obvious, is that white men are thought to have smaller penises than black people. Both of these facts, being weaker and having smaller penises acts as way of demasculinizing those who are white.

Because whiteness has now been explained, we can return to gangsta rap and see how it perpetuates whiteness while also allowing white men to perform an exaggerated form of masculinity. As we saw earlier, we know that gangsta rap is defined by its performer, whether true or not, giving off the image of being a gangster. This is especially helpful in perpetuating whiteness because it allows white men to compare their lives, and therefore their whiteness against the rapper’s life. More likely than not, the experiences of selling drugs, being against the norms of society, and generally living a life of danger is not what the vast majority of the people listening to gangsta rap are living their lives. By being able to contrast their own way of life to what the rappers are living, and seeing that their lives are nothing like what they are hearing, they can become more confident in their whiteness.

At the same time, they can use gangsta rap to assert their masculinity. Again we imagine the gangster life as being violent, having women flaunting over you, and doing this all while maintaining the cool persona. This is in direct opposition to the lack of physical superiority that whiteness implies. By listening to the experiences rapped about in the songs, listeners are able to live vicariously through the rapper. Singing along to lyrics like “I just hit the mall / You just swipe the card / I’m with a couple latin broads / I just do menage” in Hustle Hard allows listener to feel, if only for a moment, like they are able to have the ability to support a reckless spending habit which opposes the idea that the listener is inferior in ability to do their job. It also gives them the chance to imagine they engage in threesomes with latina women, which combats the idea that white men are incapable sexually. In both a purely physical and sexual sense, being able to immerse oneself in gangster rap allows white men to step out of the confines that whiteness has placed on them and experience a bolder sense of masculinity.

In retaliation, some might say that it isn’t the fact that it is gangsta rap that makes these songs attractive to white viewers. In preparation of this argument, I offer J Cole’s Let Nas Down. He says “And I was strikin’ out for months, 9th inning, feelin’ fear / Jeter under pressure, made the biggest hit of my career / But at first, that wasn’t clear, niggas had no idea / Dion called me when it dropped, sounded sad but sincere / Told me Nas heard your single and he hate that shit / Said, “You the one, yo, why you make that shit?” / I can’t believe I let Nas down” The whole basis of the song is that, Mr. Nice Watch, the song that made him famous, was only good because it did the things expected of gangsta rap, flaunt money and women. It also implies that song was a clear change from the material that he was making before, material free from the claws of industry standards. Nas saw this as a disappointment, seeing that Cole had essentially sold out. In writing this song, J Cole indirectly admits in Let Nas Down that he and others in the music industry understand how to cater to a white male audience, and gangster rap is the way to do it, even if it doesn’t result in the best music.

Whether or not it is true that the music industry caters to its audience to create a persona of blackness that white men can compare themselves to, and masculinity they can internalize, it is evident that gangsta rap is enjoyed by white men like Jack across the country. Furthermore, the concepts of comparing masculinity and race are not exclusive to white men, as I enjoyed the music in a similar way. But in examining cases such as Jack, we can examine the group being most catered to, white men, and therefore have a greater understanding of how our music is being made.


This essay was written in the style of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

An earlier draft of this essay was edited by Moises Mendoza.




  1. Boucher, Geoff. “Rapper Ice Cube talks about the 20th anniversary of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12-8-17.
  2. Dyer, Richard. “The matter of whiteness.” White privilege: Essential readings on the other side of racism (2008): 9-14.
  3. F.W. Hodge, ed. (1917). “Proceedings of the Nineteenth International Congress of the Americanist.” 1. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago. p. 508.
  4. Waytz, Adam, Kelly Marie Hoffman, and Sophie Trawalter. “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perceptions of Blacks.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 6, no. 3 (2014): 352-59. doi:10.1177/1948550614553642.

Supernatural: Kinda Racist

The media’s representation of black men is anything but flattering: news covering black men continually depicts them as dangerous and out-of-control. Even as victims, their positions are often painted as suspicious to the point of being hostile against others. Police officers take part in this dominant view on black men with their perpetual confrontational encounters, which in this modern day almost inevitably leads to fatal endings. Due to the black working-class tradition of young, black boys escaping early boyhood into black masculinity, society’s understanding deems them as threats. This understanding elaborates the way a stereotypical leash restricts young black men who do not categorize into the white, bourgeois population. The benefit of the doubt given to those who do not share their melanin, but not themselves—a translation of the doubt placed on their characters due to their dissimilar skin tones—explains the scenarios that deem these young black boys as threats because of how their background has already forced them to understand and experience, and therefore become a part of, the adult world. Adult black men who are characterized as holding this predisposition to violence are rarely detached from this position in both the media and the culture industry. In general, black men are made compatible with violence in the minds of people. An experiment was conducted in order to analyze whether an individual’s race would determine the variation in effects of exposure to violent media information. Notably, “for Black defendants, participants exposed to violent information made attributions of his behavior that were more dispositional than those exposed to nonviolent information” (Johnson et al). While the media depicts these clichés and general beliefs rather vividly, cultural products often possess blatant undertones that remain unacknowledged. Supernatural, an American fantasy horror television series created in 2005, has obscure racially-biased aspects with its rare representations of black men within the show. Two of the relatively recurrent black characters that appear in the series—before and around season four—embody the stereotypically aggressive identity given to black men in the media. The stories of both Gordon Walker, a former vampire hunter, and Uriel, an angel, in the show can be analyzed to understand how the attached meanings to their biological features transfer to media.

Gordon Walker, at the age of eighteen, became a vampire hunter when a vampire broke into his home and abducted his sister. At eighteen, instead of going off to college or joining the workforce, he went to go fight supernatural beings. Every kid’s dream, right? After running away from home, Walker eventually tracked down the vampire who kidnapped his sister and killed him. His sister, who had also turned into a vampire, was also killed by him. From then on, Walker remained a hunter, ruthlessly slaughtering every vampire he encountered, an idealistic lifestyle for someone filled with a desire of vengeance, who’s had his sister and life ripped away from him by blood-sucking creatures. Eventually, he encountered Dean and Sam, the two protagonists of the show; Dean and Sam Winchester are hunters who find and kill—or exorcise—any supernatural threats. Walker and the Winchester brothers quickly come into conflict when their disparate mindsets clash. Walker’s eagerness to brutally murder and torture vampires, who have extricated themselves from drinking human blood, repulses the brothers, leading to his fight with Dean. Dean wins, ties him up, and leaves him alone for someone else to find him.

Walker, as the only relevant black man in Supernatural so far, overshadows his traumatic experience with vampires as the leading factor in his belligerent temperament. Perhaps the brothers’ encounter with Walker would have ended there, but a few weeks after their previous meeting, in the process of exorcising a demon, Walker learns of Sam’s identity as a psychic soldier meant to fight on the demon’s side of an upcoming war. For someone who has not watched the show, Walker’s actions would probable seem justifiable; Walker vows to kill off all of the psychics, starting with Sam. The problem is that Walker stops at nothing to achieve his goals. His chauvinistic desire for justice and annihilation of evil forces, stemming from his first vampire murders, dulled his sense of right and wrong. His reputation preceded him for being an individual who brings harm to himself and those around him. This reputation and Walker’s combative nature simply lead back to society’s own conceptions of black men. Walker’s own reasons for his temperament and society’s reasons are paralleled to delineate black men in a negative light. Sam succeeds in surviving his encounter with Walker as he utilizes one of the most well-known oppositions to black men—the police. The police arrive and place Walker under arrest, which leave him as a ticking time bomb.

Walker reappears once again in season three, persuading another hunter to break him out of prison. Ironically, during his hunt for Sam, he is captured and turned into a vampire. His fellow hunter, who had vowed to help, tried to kill him once Walker told him of his transformation. Unsurprisingly, with his newfound strength, Walker kills him instead and continues to hunt Sam. He uses a young girl as bait, turning her into a vampire as well. In the end, Sam arrives and decapitates him during their fight. Finally, Sam has gotten rid of the murderous, obsessive black man. Walker’s death symbolized the biased struggle between black men and white men. From his back-story to his deranged state at the time of his death, the only significant black man in the series thus far died as his existence put others in peril. Slowly, he became more monstrous as his obsession overcame him, kidnapping a young girl and turning her into a vampire—similar to what happened to his sister. He became what he hated and eventually had to be killed.

As a representative tragic black American story, Walker’s storyline parallels similar situations outside of supernatural fiction; police officers, as certain representatives of society, view black men fearfully and as menaces. Thus, when prison fails to achieve its purpose, death is the next option, an option that sometimes even supersedes prison.

With Supernatural’s portrayal of Walker, they have, knowingly or unknowingly, presented a bias against black men, a situation that proceeds with their depiction of Uriel, an angel. Uriel, who first appeared in season four, is introduced as a “specialist,” an angel who does the dirty work and murders innocents if necessary. As Sam and Dean fail to kill a dangerous witch, Uriel is brought in to exterminate the entire town in order to ensure her death. Uriel is Supernatural’s second important black character, but instead of acting as an agent of benevolence, his identity as an angel is a guise to his true destructive nature and capabilities. His insistence and disregard of human lives demonstrates his true character. The show, instead of breaking their previous bias, render Uriel as another example of a black man’s threatening nature.

Uriel appeared consistently in the show throughout the fourth season. He comes into repeated conflict with the Winchester brothers as he shows disdain for humans. Eventually, the brothers meet Anna, who they figure is out is an angel who escaped her duties from heaven. When Uriel and Castiel, a compassionate and humanitarian angel, find her, they attempt to kill her. The contrast between the two angels in this scene is shown when Uriel displays a greater passion to kill, while Castiel presents a greater reluctance in killing her. From Walker to Uriel, Supernatural has created a disharmonious impression between black men and white men, whether it be in their temperaments or in their actions. Later, Castiel suspects Uriel of the angel killings that had been occurring since the angels’ first appearance. As Castiel suspected, Uriel was killing the other angels who failed to cooperate with his wishes; he was gathering more for Lucifer, who he believed to care more about the angels’ well-being than their Father, who favored humanity above them. While Uriel tries to persuade Castiel to join him, Castiel refuses in disgust of Uriel and attacks him. Their fight eventually results in Uriel’s victory, but when he was about to kill Castiel, Anna appeared and stabbed him in the neck from behind.

The second major black character in Supernatural suffered a similar fate; both Walker and Uriel thus represent the show’s biased relationship with black men.

In the way that Lord of the Rings, another visible proponent of racial undertones, possessed an entirely white group of male protagonists, Supernatural follows suit, purging both Walker and Uriel—two black men whose roles suggested humane and honorable champions of mankind—from the cast. The hunter who saved lives, but turned into a vampire and cold-blooded killer, and the angel who was meant to protect humanity, but instead sided with Lucifer in an attempt to bring upon the apocalypse, were made into sick antagonists, perpetuating the notion of black aggression and malevolence. Their transformation into fiendish characters as a result of their storylines also reshapes them into becoming a part of the horror that Supernatural boasts. The fear of black violence stems from the antebellum period, where popular antislavery narrative suggested violent retaliation against white Americans—a main reason as to why this type of racial bias would occur in an American show (Roth). However, it was through those narratives that black men could retaliate against the oppressive atmosphere of slavery. Now, the fear of black violence remains and only suggests a greater horror, an indicator of how accurately placed Walker and Uriel were in a fantasy horror series such as Supernatural.

Although Supernatural was created after Lord of the Rings, an important factor to note when discussing racial undertones in cultural products due to the majority difference of ideals in time periods, the indiscrete biased methods of representation of black men are similar. In their conceptions of race and the black man’s persona, their obnoxious representation of what a black man is, what he does, and how he should be dealt with is repugnant. Their solution to this misperceived natural savagery would be their subsequent death. As a fervent fan of Supernatural, remaining indifferent to what can be easily recognizable as racially prejudiced within the first four seasons of the show is unreasonable. It is within these undertones that cultural products’ representation of black men is comparable to the media’s representation of black men to the extent of being worse, as it chronicles their descent into evil based on the pigmentation of their skin.



An earlier draft of this essay was read by: Francesca D’Arista.

I have written this essay in the style of Greg Tate.



Johnson, James D., et al. “Race, Media, and Violence: Differential Racial Effects of Exposure to

Violent News Stories.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology, vol. 19, no. 1, 1997, pp. 81–90.

Roth, Sarah N. “‘How a Slave Was Made a Man’: Negotiating Black Violence and Masculinity

in Antebellum Slave Narratives.” Slavery &Amp; Abolition, vol. 28, no. 2, 2007, pp. 255–275.

It’s (Anti-)Capital, Charlie Brown!

Are there really any holdouts?  Surely all of us—at least all of us above and below certain ages, and from a certain kind of America and possessed of a laptop or television or grammar-school-aged child—have a soft spot for Charlie Brown.  Maybe we are of the “We Love You Charlie Brown!” tribe,[1] or maybe some slightly less exuberant cohort, but especially in December, we feel that tug of attachment.  On the face of it, our fond feelings for Charlie Brown smack of a kind of cultural conservatism, that yearning for the America-that-never-was that washes across this great land as reliably as faux snow returns to the streets of Tampa year after year.[2]  Still, when you think about what the little bald kid and his spindly tree and his Scripture-spouting friend might actually stand for, you might just stop right in the middle of Target’s giant television department and scratch your head at the evidently subversive quality of the narrative of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

But you’d be wrong.  The really subversive quality of A Charlie Brown Christmas is that it invites you to consume an anti-materialistic vision of true Christmas, all the while standing  at the pinnacle of a quintessentially capitalist brand.

Think about it.

“Christmas,” a made for television special bankrolled by Coca Cola, elevates an explicitly anti-materialistic, anti-capitalistic (anti)hero in Charlie Brown who rides his rebellion against commercialism not only to (fleeting) social acceptance[3] but also spiritual illumination.  Charlie’s evident virtue, the rightness of his beliefs and actions, is thrown into relief by the evidently avaricious character of his companions and the warped and garish Christmas celebrations that surround him. Even as a child, you notice that Charlie’s sister Sally has crossed some kind of boundary when her Christmas wish list veers into a demand for hard currency: “Make it easy on yourself [Santa]: just send money.”  And we scoff at Charlie and his friends’ obsession with Christmas cards, and wince at the Christmas tree lot filled with pink and red aluminum trees and equipped with waving spotlights.  Charlie, on the other hand, intuits the emptiness of the Christmas practices that surround him and rebels, first by associating himself with a play about the biblical story of Christmas and then with a grand gesture of empathy and generosity.

Charlie’s journey in A Charlie Brown Christmas shares attributes with other Peanuts staples; Charlie is the underdog, yearning for peer acceptance and fraught with anxieties.  He is, as Umberto Eco describes him, a character whose alienation has become an abyss, yet one whose sensitivities are “Shakespearean:” Charlie Brown may not know what he knows, but he knows what he feels. At the beginning of the special, while the rest of the gang are headed toward a pond for skating, he pauses with Linus at the wall, a primary locale for soul-searching dialogues throughout the Peanuts genre[4] and wonders if it’s his fault that he is alienated by the Christmas commercialism that surrounds him:

I think there must be something wrong with me.  I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess.  I might be getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy.  I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.

Importantly, this moment works in two ways, not just illuminating the troubled psyche of our yellow-shirted friend but also sending him down a rabbit hole that will end in a Christmas critique.[5]  Indeed, A Charlie Brown Christmas is essentially a quest, a journey that Charlie Brown rather haphazardly undertakes to reconcile his expectations about Christmas with his responses to it.  From the wall, Charlie Brown is flung across the iced pond to the feet of the Peanuts most solidly establishment figure, Lucy.  Purveyor of lemonade-stand psychiatric advice[6], Lucy hastens the process of Charlie’s self-discovery by encouraging him to take on the role of director for the town’s nativity play, a move she (mistakenly) believes will co-opt him.  But in the end, Lucy’s wish that Charlie Brown assimilate her view of Christmas backfires.

What we remember most is the tree.  Despite Lucy’s attempt to redeem Charlie by bringing him into the values of a contemporary Christmas, one in which the nativity play becomes a backdrop for “pretty girls” and jazz, Charlie is unmalleable, unable to give himself over the party atmosphere, but as yet unable to explain to himself the “why” of his unease.  So Lucy casts him off the set—with Linus, who is already ahead of Charlie in understanding what is amiss, recognizing that Christmas has become both “too commercial” and “too dangerous”—and sends him off to get a tree that will create the “proper” Christmas spirit.  This quality, no surprise, is seen rather differently by those who have drunk the Kool-Aid of a sparkly Christmas present and those who have not.  We all remember that Lucy wants a giant, big, shiny aluminum tree—Charlie doesn’t know what he wants until he sees it.

The quest for the tree is fever dreamlike, epic.  Charlie, Christlike, navigates the Sodom and Gomorrah of light polluting tree lots and redeems a little Lazarus tree[7].  Ok, technically it was Linus who elevated the tree, who made it beautiful by swaddling it in his blanket, covering it with ornaments from Snoopy’s dog house, quoting Luke, and humming “Hark! The Herald Angel Sing.”  But the moment is transcendent for Charlie Brown and for the viewer.  The narration included in the original script makes the revelatory nature of the moment clear: “At last, the season seemed 100 times brighter. And for Charlie Brown, it was truly the merriest Christmas ever”[8].

To read A Charlie Brown Christmas as a text-in-isolation, what some have called a sacred reading and Eco sees as an experience of childhood innocence, is to open the possibility of seeing Charlie as a an honest broker of anti-capitalist ideology.  If Lucy, as Eco argues, is society’s representative, “treacherous, self-confident, an entrepreneur with assured profits, ready to peddle a security that is completely bogus but of unquestioned effect,” then Charlie’s (and Linus’s) triumph in the Christmas special is freighted with meaning.  Brought together not by (modern) things but by an overarching spiritual truth, the Peanuts end their Christmas special in solidarity against commercialism and consumerism.  And lest there be any doubt that this is a feel-good moment, in which the audience is expected to partake, the special closes with the whole Peanuts gang loo-looing their way through Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  Be honest, you can hear it if you shut your eyes and think about it.

That’s a powerful moment, capable of stopping full-throated last-minute shoppers in their tracks or quelling the sibling squabbling at the foot of the tree.  But what does it mean?  What does it mean for us to have an aha, I-so-get-the-real-meaning-of-Christmas moment, while watching an advertiser-paid-for Christmas special viewed against the backdrop of our own Christmas excesses?  Thomas Frank, of course, would argue that Charlie Brown and the Peanuts and Charles Shultz are no more than stooges for capitalism.  In “Dark Age: Why Johnny Can’t dissent,” Frank demonstrates the ways in which the media and entertainment industries[9] incorporate anti-capitalist sentiments into their programming and advertisements:

Now we are sold cars by an army of earringed, dreadlocked, goateed, tattooed, and guitar-bearing rebels rather than the lab-coated authority figures of the past.[10]

Frank argues that, “for all our radical soda pops” and “alternative lifestyles,” consumers allow corporations to govern our tastes and expression—in the end, the “countercultural idea” became “capitalist orthodoxy,” and the consumer became a complicit party in that transformation. In Frank’s reading the Peanuts cannot achieve dissent—Charlie Brown cannot be truly rebellious—because they are encapsulated in a vehicle designed for selling.  To sell Coke, to sell Peanuts paraphernalia, a television channel, insurance.  Seen in this light the anti-consumerist, pro-Christian ideals of A Charlie Brown Christmas are simply another advertising strategy, designed to give a desirable moment of feel-good old-fashioned Christmas as tonic to the buying.

Frank’s argument does not presume an aware consumer and, indeed, suggests that our complicitness in the culture industry is largely unconscious and that that might make it easier for us to ignore contradictions between certain of our desires (to be rebellious, for example) and to consume.  Others, like Stephen Lind, argue that when audiences confront cultural fixtures like the Peanuts, they are able to keep a “sacred” reading in mind while undertaking a secular one. While a “secular reading,” in Lind’s view, would read A Charlie Brown Christmas through the lense of the enormous material success of the Peanuts franchise, such a reading could co-exist with one that appreciated “sacred” elements, like the appreciation of justice, generosity, and anti-consumerism:

While Schulz was certainly trying to sell strips that would sell papers, he has also indicated that there is occasionally something more lurking behind the beagle … his statements speaks towards a desire for Schulz to have his cake and eat it too … desiring to maintain the pop culture success of his strip while holding onto the ability to occasionally interject a thought of sacred value[11].

So who is right?  Eco, who sees the value in an innocent reading of the Peanuts?  Frank, who suggests that it is impossible to stand outside of capitalist culture and thus impossible for any pop cultural vehicle to have truly radical stand?  Or Lind, who seems to suggest we can have our innocent encounter with A Charlie Brown Christmas and our secular reading too?

Taken as a standalone work, A Charlie Brown Christmas does seem to evoke the ‘innocent’ interpretation offered by Eco.  The special constitutes a spiritual journey, both for Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts, but also for the viewer—compelled to grapple with the same questions of fading traditionalism and alienation in the face of commercialism.  If it feels cathartic to the viewer, can it not be so?  In the end, Frank fails to appreciate the ability of the viewer to find a spark of true criticism within a co-opted object—just as Charlie Brown was able to find solace in a lot filled with horrendous aluminum trees.



[1] If Google is a barometer of pop cultural devotion, there are more than 50,000 sites devoted to the theme of “We Love You Charlie Brown,” with thousands on Pinterest alone.

[2] Happy customers book “snow blows” for the holiday season, events that dump dozens of tons of finely shaved ice in winter-brown backyards.  The locals, apparently, don’t quite know what to make of it all: “They’re just excited.  They don’t know what to do. It’s like watching a baby zebra learn to walk…” (

[3] Umberto Eco took up Charlie Brown’s insecurities and salvation in a June 1985 New York Review of Books Essay (

[4] The wall is a recurring fixture and locale of the Peanuts strips, where Charlie, Linus, Lucy, and the others mull over their old-soul problems.  It’s the local pub of the Peanuts world.

[5] A paradoxical critique, when we think about the relationship between the Peanuts empire and Christmas: games, dolls, the gigantic Snoopy that graces the annual Macy’s parade.

[6] Before she’ll share, she asks Charlie Brown for a nickel (how about, Like Sally, Lucy has her eye on the money): “Boy, I love the beautiful sound of cold, hard, cash, that beautiful, beautiful sound. Nickels, nickels, nickels. That beautiful sound of plunking nickels.”

[7] Yes, yes.  A conflation of Old and New Testaments.  But if Christ had encountered Sodom and Gomorrah it would have worked out like this.

[8] The full script can be found here (

[9] Read, the culture industry

[10] It’s the difference between being sold a Volkswagen because it will help you get your family from home to work, and being sold a Mustang because everyone is telling you to buy a VW—but in the end what you’re really being sold is a second hand Maserati.

[11] Steven J. Lind, author of A Charlie Brown Religion has probed these ideas in a number of places including in this 2008 essay on sacred and secular readings of the Peanuts (


Works Cited

Eco, Umberto.  “On ‘Krazy Cat’ and ‘Peanuts.’” The New York Review of Books 13 June 1985. <>

Frank, Thomas. Dark Age: Why Johnny Can’t Dissent <>.

Lind, Steven J. “Reading Peanuts: The Secular and the Sacred.” Interdisciplinary Comic Studies 4.2 (2008). <>

Schultz, Charles. A Charlie Brown Christmas (manuscript)


An earlier draft of this essay was read by Joey Fox.
I have written this essay in the style of David Foster Wallace.

White Chicks: Stay in yo lane

I’m not black. I’m not any minority for that matter. I can’t begin to explain the personal repercussions of the dominant culture effects on my culture, because I’m a member of the dominant culture. That is not to say I don’t understand that these problems exist, but I believe it would be insensitive to attempt to explain these feelings which I cannot relate to.

The fact of the matter is: racial stereotypes exist, and with the current state of society, they are not going anywhere. It’s a matter of nurture over nature. People of a specific culture aren’t born with some pre-disposition to participate in it; the color of their skin has no genetic impact on what their ears’ will find pleasurable to further dictate what genre of music they will prefer. Rather, they are raised with society telling them how their race should behave, and many oblige.        `

It becomes a slippery slope. As all aspects of culture become attributed by society to specific racial cultures, there are only so many options an individual has. They can do one of three things: they can participate in the culture prescribed to them by their race, they can attempt to lend themselves to another minority’s culture which can often be seen as problematic, or they can forgo their individuality and participate in the dominant culture. All would seem to be rather caging.

As individuals choose to play into these racial stereotypes, consciously or not, they submit themselves to being held captive to the lower-class that minorities are reserved to within the social structure. As specific races are reduced to a rank below the majority race, the culture that coincides stereotypically with that race in turn becomes indicative of a lower rank in society as well. I of course do not condone this, but a simple stroll through the media can prove that it occurs.

But what if one were capable of participating in that culture without being recognized as a member of it? Can these lines then just be blurred, or can individuals choose to jump back and forth at will like some game of hop scotch? At what point would that cease?

It becomes increasingly more and more problematic. Yet it occurs.

It can be seen with culturally inappropriate Halloween costumes. The majority culture temporarily donning themselves with a costume that for other cultures, is just who they are. It becomes an attempt for the majority to find an exception for which they are exempt from being chastised for cultural appropriation, though it is never okay. I recall a former basketball teammate from back in sixth grade. She was a white girl from a wealthy suburban neighborhood. It is well-documented in culture that basketball and hip-hop have a close partnership. But this individual chose to take that to an extreme, attempting to act “hood” and “gangster” to the extent of even dubbing herself an “inside-out oreo” despite living in the suburbs of San Diego, and in all physical appearance, being of an entirely white genetic makeup. These behaviors did not continue as others acknowledged the issues associated with the situation, but the question still becomes: why? It goes beyond why individuals feel they should be allowed to do, which I think can be chalked up to privileged individuals who are unaccustomed to being told “no.” But why would an individual choose to do this? What are they trying to escape from in their culture? For an individual who is a member of the dominant culture, and then given this privilege simply for being a member of that, what is the individual attempting to escape from?

Take White Chicks for example: a movie in which the entire premise is emphasizing these racial stereotypes for satirical purposes, specifically those associated with the majority culture, as the main characters, two black male cops, Kevin and Marcus, go undercover as two “white chicks” from the Beverley Hills, Tiffany and Brittany, wearing complete costumes to entirely physically resemble these women.

The main characters would have not had to go undercover were it not that Brittany and Tiffany were involved in a slight car accident, resulting in some minor scratches on their faces. Physically, they are still in great health, yet they are so unafraid of presenting themselves to the public eye looking anything less than perfect that this entirely holds them back from enjoying what they have dubbed “the last important weekend of the social season.” One of the twins even ventures to tote this event as “like the worst day of [her] life.”

And this is just the beginning of the examples showing the importance of such events, and the importance of their physical beauty, as they seek self-worth within popularity and fame. This is what they see to be the “perceived constraints of whiteness.” This obsession with their appearance, accompanied by a lack of intelligence, becomes not only the highlighting features of these characters, but the center-point of their entire beings.

Similar to their extreme focus on physical appearance, this lack of intelligence is taken to an extreme, as a New York Times review notes that, “If it’s possible to libel spoiled, empty-headed socialites, the Wayans have done it: nobody could be this stupid” (Kehr.) This is further demonstrated when the posse of three girls is trying on outfits, and one of the girls takes on a particularly self-deprecating manner towards how her weight appears in these outfits. She comments about herself whilst looking in the mirror, “Hi I’m Cellulite Sally, look at my huge bedonkey. Now who could have said that? Yeah, it’s Tina the talking tummy. I can’t even wear a short skirt… and a top without looking like a fat pig… Somebody throw Shamu back in the ocean!”


As White Chicks takes these character’s obsessions with their looks to an extreme, it does so in a satirical manner, highlighting and poking fun at what these white women would consider to be their burden as popular, privileged members of society. They acknowledge that the media and the other class members have certain expectations in place for how they should look and behave, and they see that as their struggle, which may seem stressful from their narrow-minded perspective presented in the movie, but realistically is quite minimal in the grand scheme of things.

Examples of this shallow asphyxiation to looks and material things are riddled throughout reality television and all mass media. The Kardashians have made themselves a franchise based off that. While instances of it may go unnoticed, it occurs frequently enough to not be considered incredibly noteworthy. However, White Chicks did receive some praise from the likes of Shannon Luders-Manuel, who explained how White Chicks succeeds by “challenging racial stereotypes… through satirization of those very stereotypes” (Luders-Manuel.)


The most important scene in the movie, though, occurs when the girls are all in the car, singing along to the radio station. The next song comes on, a rap song, and forgetting their covers Kevin and Marcus get super hyped up while rapping along and, whilst shouting out the lyrics, blurt out the n-word without even thinking about it. The three white girls are shocked by this action though, and cannot believe that they would use such language or behave in such a manner, as they are pretending to be Tiffany and Brittany in this moment. In attempt to cover for themselves, they retort that it’s okay because “nobody’s around,” as if white people saying the n-word were like a tree falling in the forest: it’s not a problem if black people aren’t around to be offended. Despite the incredibly misguided logic in this statement, the other girls are more than ready to believe it, and follow in line. When the scene ends, the girls are all dancing and shouting the lyrics at the top of their lungs, as if they’ve just been waiting their whole lives for someone to invite them into black culture and tell them that it’s okay to behave that way. Yet as these actions take place in private, without the watchful eye of the media, it allows them to jump across the boundary with no repercussions; they don’t even have to face being associated with the minority race, and are able to continue on knowing that they will never have to relinquish their privilege, despite partaking briefly.

This perfectly exemplifies how White Americans are prone to consuming blackness. However, it must be noted that this only occurs when it is seen as convenient or beneficial to the individuals. When rappers are celebrating their blackness, suddenly individuals try to consume those aspects of blackness so that they can participate. In these cases, the white individuals are just afraid of feeling left out, because clearly privilege isn’t enough to keep an individual satisfied. I feel it is safe to say though that you likely won’t find a white individual attempting to consume blackness when in the presence of law enforcement. It won’t benefit the white individuals in any way, so they’ll make the choice not to consume it. But that ability, in itself, is the whole problem; that choice. Black individuals don’t have that choice. They look black, so they will be perceived as belonging to that black culture until proven otherwise, and even still, any newcomer will continue to make that same assumption. As it connects to an arbitrary physical trait of skin color, it makes it impossible for the choice to be made to entirely disassociate oneself from their racial culture, no matter how much effort is put into it, because until the structure of our current society fundamentally changes, these races and cultures will still be associated together, and race is inescapable.

There are aspects of these cultures outside my own that I appreciate greatly. Not because they are dubbed “ethnic,” as would be value enough to some, but because there is indeed significant merit to many aspects of other cultures. Asserting that white culture is the dominant culture is rather not me ceding that it is actually the better culture, but rather it is just a remark on the fact that it is the culture intertwined with the group in power. I could then choose to readily consume these other cultures; it is entirely possible. I mean, what if nobody’s around? And, if I did, and began to blur that line, where would the line come which could not be smudged? As one line begins to blur, everything begins to fall apart. Showing respect and appreciation for a culture outside your own has a quite markedly different impact than attempting to adopt and consume outside cultures. And I intend not to cross that barrier.










Works Cited

Kehr, Dave. “FILM REVIEW; F.B.I. Agents in Drag Enjoy Wild Hamptons Weekend.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 June 2004.

Luders-Manuel, Shannon. “Humor and Race in ‘Dear White People’ and ‘White Chicks.’” JSTOR Daily, 3 Mar. 2017.

“White Chicks Script – Dialogue Transcript.” White Chicks Script – Transcript from the Screenplay and/or Wayans Brothers Movie.


A prior version was read by Margaret Meehan

Written in the style of Chuck Klosterman.

A Game of Race

When it comes to the current state of the young adult fiction publishing world—a topic, granted, that does not occupy a significant position in the everyday thoughts of the average person—nothing has played a bigger role than the Harry Potter series, without which almost no one would be concerned with the genre. JK Rowling’s astronomical commercial success signaled to other writers that YA fiction promised the most eminence and wealth. As a result, the genre includes many more authors and novels worthy of critical attention than it did in the BHP[1] era. The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins, comes along as another iteration of the so-called Harry Potter Effect, but is a more direct descendent of the Twilight saga, which is on the “adult” end of “young adult.” The commercial success of the series is hardly surprising given its components: a post-apocalyptic United States called Panem, a strong female protagonist, and an annual festivity—known as the Hunger Games—in which two dozen teenage “tributes” fight to the death on national television. Any of those three aspects could be a springboard for critical analysis, but I am going to focus on the first one and what it means for racial issues in the series.

The Hunger Games has elicited contrasting responses on the issue of race. A writer for The Atlantic says that the it, like others of the science-fictions genre, pushes racial issues to the back burner,[2] and a response to that article in Christianity Today contends that The Hunger Games does in fact bring up issues issues.[3] I am going to argue that these statements are both true. The series, in a feat that is both amazing and horrifying, recreates a segregated United States, but passes it off as a post-racial society that appears utopian in its lack of racial issues. How does it do this, you ask? Very carefully.

Ursula Le Guin famously said that science fiction is “not predictive; it is descriptive,” and The Hunger Games is verifiably descriptive in most instances. Collins herself has said that the inspiration for the novel came when she was watching news coverage of the war in the Middle East[4] and that the harsh, authoritarian government is a more extreme representation of George Bush’s failure to respond to the needs of American citizens.[5] The novel also recognizes income inequality of the time and magnifies it so that the rich—the citizens of the Capitol—are legally superior in that they are not required to volunteer to enter the Games.

However, the descriptive nature of the novel abruptly stops at the issue of race, minimizing racial issues through its narrative focus. The story follows (in first-person) Katniss, a teenager from District 12—former Appalachia. The district is socioeconomically divided between the coal miners from “the Seam” and the merchants in the town. Katniss, being a part of the former group, is very poor and, though we hear very little about the conditions of other districts, we are told District 12 is definitively the poorest and probably the most oppressed.[6] In dystopian fiction, the things that are, for lack of a better term, bad are the objects of the author’s concern. As one writer puts it, by making the white Appalachian workers the lowest class, the novel is “essentially saying, “Things could get so bad that people who look like Liam Hemsworth are now at the bottom, too!””[7]

Based on Katniss’s understanding of the districts, it is explained that District 11—located in the South and in charge of food production—is slightly better off than District 12, at least in terms of nutrition. This difference is important with regard to the novel’s characterization as dystopian: a world where Mississippi is not the poorest state is a utopia from that state’s perspective. The novel’s utopian treatment of the South goes beyond economic issues. Although District 11 is shown to be primarily black, it is implied, again through Katniss’s understanding, that the district faces less harsh rule by the Peacekeepers[8] than does Katniss’s district. Even though District 11 appears to be the only one with any black citizens, race never figures prominently in the politics of of Panem.[9] As evidence, Katniss seems almost “colorblind,” describing Rue, the female tribute from District 11, as looking exactly like her younger sister other than having “dark brown skin and eyes,”[10] details that would halt such a comparison today. Collins is clearly imagining a post-racial society and has for that reason had to edit—remove the racial issues from—real world events as she fictionalizes them. It’s hard to imagine that, in an authoritarian society based on the imperialist and discriminatory tendendcies of George Bush, whose inadequate response to hurricane Katrina led Kayne West to declare “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” racism could have magically vanished. In crafting a dystopian criticism of the woes of a mid-2000 America, Collins left racial issues out of consideration, sending the message that those issues are not important.

With dystopian class relations and utopian race relations, the focus is the plight of the poor whites. As Mary C. Burke and Maura Kelly write, “the dominant narrative of The Hunger Games tells us that class and nation are the central axes of power and oppression.”[11] If we accept this series, being a critique of the Bush presidency, as having at least a slight liberal slant, then the emphasis on class complies with the liberal tendency to reduce “class to inequality in order to deflect attention from racial disparities,” as Touré F. Reed writes in Jacobin.[12] Despite her poverty, Katniss’s privilege—being white—means she is never responsible for her actions. After Rue dies in the Games, Katniss raises three fingers, a symbol of rebellion, to the cameras, prompting the viewers of the Games in District 11 to do the same and then break out into a riot.[13] The Peacekeepers respond with riot shields, clubs, and high-powered hoses in a crackdown that strongly resembles Bloody Sunday. Similarly, in the sequel, Catching Fire, Katniss gives a speech about Rue in District 11 and the residents put up the three-finger sign, leading to one of them being shot on the spot by the Peacekeepers. In both cases, Katniss is the heroic figure and the District 11 residents—the ones who bring her ideas of rebellion to fruition—receive the brutal retaliation of the government. Later, Katniss’s own district is nuked out of existence, but the attack happens outside the narrative focus and seems to spare most people that Katniss knows. Yet the novel (or film) does not criticize the disparity in treatment but instead seems to say that no matter which side you are on, the whites will be the leaders and the blacks will bear the physical burden. The narrative focus indicates a conscious choice to show the destruction of black bodies but merely mention the same fate for whites. These decisions indicate that racism is very much present, but on a representational level.

It is at this point that I should stop and address the contradiction that The Hunger Games both is and isn’t about race. Race, being a product of society and culture, is often riddled with contradictions, as Richard Dyer notes in “The Matter of Whiteness.”[14] In The Hunger Games, the plot pushes the idea of a post-racial society while the minute details—likely to be skipped or forgotten by the YA target audience—reveal that the society is actually closer to a more racially segregated past. In the words of Burke and Kelly, “there is contrast between what The Hunger Games tells us about inequality and what it shows us.”[15] During the Games, Rue tells Katniss that the District 11 citizens are all forced to work on the farms for the harvest and are whipped for resisting or stealing the food. Katniss realizes that perhaps there are benefits to being the poorest district, since the Capitol ignores most of what goes on in District 12. What she has stumbled onto is white privilege: she may be poor, but her skin color gets here more freedom than Rue gets. This important detail, however, receives almost no attention in the book and is completely left out of the film.

The film adaptations commit even more strongly to racial differences than the do the novels. In an interview, Collins said that she envisioned the world of the novels as having experienced ethnic mixing over hundreds of years, making the average person’s skin “olive” colored.[16] In writing a novel, she was inherently free from the burden of describing every member of a crowd, a burden that the film, on the other hand, must meet. And even though Collins helped to adapt the screenplay, the film uses white actors for nearly every scene outside of District 11. In a strong evocation of slavery, scenes of District 11 in Catching Fire shows black workers hunched over crops in the fields, under the gaze of Peacekeepers who patrol the area. Many viewers criticized the use of a white actress, Jennifer Lawrence, in the role of Katniss, a choice that ignored her “olive” complexion. Whitewashing—making nonwhite characters white with casting—is very common in the film industry as a supposed means to improve commercial success. As Sonya C. Brown writes, any attempt in the novel to lessen racial divisions is undone by a “casting call that deferred to an apparent preference for a white/Caucasian heroine in an era of racial and ethic division.”[17] This film adaptation, then, is a good metric of the prevailing racial attitudes in the country.

The casting of Rue also generated a strong backlash, but for the exact opposite reasons. Many readers apparently missed the part about Rue having dark skin and released a storm of profane, angry social media posts when they saw her played by an African-American actress in the trailer.[18] As one writer points out, these reactions indicate that certainly do not live in a post-racial society despite proclamations of such after the 2008 election.[19] But the reactions also indicate that Collins managed to convince her readers—or at least the less observant ones—of the fictional post-racial society she fabricated.

The film, however, is obviously confused about and conscious of its racial image. On the film poster, Katniss appears much darker in skin tone than the pale Lawrence who plays her, and the District 12 residents appear dark by contrast when seen alongside Capitol workers who are all either dressed in white or powdered to near-literal whiteness. In this sense, the people with whom we are meant to identify are victims of the phenomenon Dyer has observed in which whiteness is an unachievable perfection.[20] The Hunger Games, alas, demonstrates the messiness of cultural representations of race, delivering conflicting messages at various levels of analysis. And from the series, we learn the novels and films can hide racial messages, with the effect that, through our emotional investment, we fantasize about a world we don’t actually want.

[1] Before Harry Potter.

[2] Imran Siddiquee, “The Topics Dystopian Films Won’t Touch,” The Atlantic, November 19, 2014, accessed December 12, 2017.

[3] Alissa Wilkinson, “Why ‘The Hunger Games’ Is About Racism,” Christianity Today, November 24, 2014, accessed December 12, 2017.

[4] She was also watching reality TV, which, combined with the war coverage, created the Survivor-esque nature of the Games. That these two elements fused so easily is perhaps a cause for concern.

[5] “Team ‘Hunger Games’ talks: Author Suzanne Collins and director Gary Ross on their allegiance to each other, and their actors,” interview by Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly, April 7, 2011.

[6] Reinforcing the narrative of the relative levels of poverty and freedom is the numbering system of the districts. In a novel meant for younger readers, hearing that District 1 is the wealthiest and that 12 is the last number since District 13 was wiped out creates a straightforward ranking.

[7] Siddiquee, “The Topics Dystopian Films Won’t Touch,”

[8] The Peacekeepers are the agents of oppression and order for the Capitol. The name may indeed be a jab at the UN.

[9] But, as I will later examine, racial issues linger but are kept away from the plot and more importantly, critical commentary.

[10] Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (New York: Scholastic, 2008), 45.

[11] Mary C. Burke and Maura Kelly, “The Visibility and Invisibility of Class, Race, Gender, and Sexuality in The Hunger Games,” in Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Post-Apocalyptic TV and Film (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), 60.

[12] Touré F. Reed, “Why Liberals Separate Race from Class,” Jacobin, August 22, 2015, accessed December 12, 2017.

[13] In the novel, these events in District 11, obviously beyond Katniss’s knowledge at the time, are only vaguely hinted at once she leaves the Games. The film then, which otherwise stays very true to the novel, takes some liberties in showing this conflict.

[14] Richard Dyer, “The Matter of Whiteness,” in White: Essays on Race and Culture (New York: Routledge, 1997).

[15] Burke and Kelly, “Class, Race, Gender, and Sexuality in The Hunger Games.”

[16] “Team ‘Hunger Games’ talks,” interview by Karen Valby.

[17] Sonya C. Brown, “The Hunger Games, Race and Social Class in Obama’s America,” in Movies in the Age of Obama: The Era of Post-Racial and Neo-racial Cinema (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015).

[18] The casting of Thresh, the other tribute from District 11, generated far less controversy, possibly because readers picked up on the stereotypical black descriptions— “giant” and “ox”—that Collins uses

[19] Ellen E. Moore and Catherine Coleman, “Starving for Diversity: Ideological Implications of Race Representations inThe Hunger Games,” The Journal of Popular Culture 48, no. 5 (October 19, 2015).

[20] Dyer, “The Matter of Whiteness.”

ESKETIT: A Cultural Analysis of Lil Pump

First, I must apologize for making you read the following excerpt – do skip over most of it – but it, and its like, are the subject of this essay:

100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose.

This curious bit of vernacular is the first verse of the song “D Rose,” which was written by the rapper Lil Pump. Now, these lyrics may appear to be just an odd jumble of 3 phrases, repeated dozens of times. But they happen to be a very popular jumble of 3 phrases. In less than a year, almost 50 million people have listened to “D Rose” on Spotify, and the official music video is dangerously close to 100 million views on Youtube. And “D Rose” isn’t even Lil Pump’s most popular song. In fact, “D Rose” is only the fourth or fifth most popular track on Lil Pump’s self-titled debut album.

For some more perspective, I recently attended a bat mitzvah. At the after party, tweens gleefully danced and sung along to the usual pop hits by Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. But what excited them more than anything was the song “Gucci Gang” by Lil Pump. Images of what has been dubbed the “trap life,” i.e. selling drugs, carrying guns, fucking hoes etc. were instantly adopted by dozens of 12-year-old Jewish kids. In particular, I was surprised to see these children pretend to rip lines off of their index fingers in response to the lyric “my bitch love do cocaine.” Thus, it would seem that the popularity of Lil Pump is amazingly widespread, reaching even the most unexpected audiences. So how on Earth did all of this occur? What led to the rise of Lil Pump? Well, unlike Lil Pump’s music itself, the answer is complex. Among other factors, rebellion, mindlessness, and race all play into the equation, creating a web of representations and conformity.

Before we can begin to investigate what’s behind Lil Pump, here’s some background: Lil Pump, who’s real name is Gazzy Garcia, is a 17-year-old from Miami. He was expelled from high school for fighting, and turned to rapping. Uploading his songs to the music platform SoundCloud, Lil Pump became an underground sensation as his tracks got millions of listens. Eventually in the summer of 2017, he signed a record deal with Warner Bros. Records and Tha Lights Global, all of this before his 17th birthday. His most popular song “Gucci Gang” was ranked 3rd on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at its peak and currently, in December 2017, has over 198 million listens on Spotify and just shy of 269 million views of its official music video on Youtube.

We also need to agree that Lil Pump’s music – to put it bluntly – is uninventive and doesn’t amount to much (this may be taken as subjective, so I’ll try to objectively prove this). Not only are his songs short (the tracks in his first album average around 2:00 minutes in length), but they are extremely repetitive as well. A quick analysis (using an online unique word count calculator) shows that “D Rose” has just 60 unique words out of a total of 353, while “Gucci Gang” similarly has 106 unique words out of 361. This comes out to be 17% and 29% unique verbiage respectively. In Lil Pump’s first album as a whole, in the average song there are 61 unique words out of 431 total words, amounting to 14% uniqueness. Compare this to iconic rap songs like “If I Ruled the World” by Nas which has 43% unique words, or “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls at 48% unique. All of these numbers go to demonstrate that Lil Pump is not inventive by any measure. And it’s not just his lyrics: the beats he raps over are just your run-of-the-mill trap beat; there is no innovation. Furthermore, Lil Pump’s style is copycat. Rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti already had pioneered the simplistic and repetitive style that Lil Pump has bandwagoned, with the only change being that Lil Pump has taken the trap genre to a whole new level of mindlessness. Lil Pump amounts to a “Xanned-out teenager who doesn’t tell us anything interesting about himself or his world (Kuppermann).”

Assuming that Lil Pump’s music is not itself groundbreaking, interesting, etc. it still begs the question as to why so many millions of people listen to it. The short answer is that people listen because it’s cool, because it’s hip; more importantly, people listen because it’s rebellious. With this in mind, over 20 years ago, a cultural critic named Thomas Frank predicted the rise of someone like Lil Pump. In an essay titled “Dark Age,” Frank highlights how the culture industry seeks out the “avant-garde” and digs around for underground talent in order to continually find new products and artists to bring into the mainstream fold. This action gives the consumer the impression that they are buying something organic and fresh, not some factory-made industrial gizmo. Frank details this process further in his book The Conquest of Cool, calling it a cycle of “hip consumerism” that the culture industry uses. In particular he highlights how the hip culture of the young is turned around and used in corporate advertising. Almost to a point this describes the Lil Pump phenomenon: he started out as an underground SoundCloud rapper, and after gaining attention signed with Warner Bros. Records – a culture industry mainstay. Thus, the culture industry advertises Lil Pump as hip, cool, and rebellious. Frank goes on to answer why people want the avant-garde in the first place, and consequently how the culture industry takes advantage of this. He points out that ever since the 1950’s, America has developed a countercultural and rebellious ideal. In other words, people have an urge to resist conformity, a desire to question and break rules. They feel the need to push away the “social prescriptions” that society puts on them. And of course, the culture industry happily adopts this feeling in their promotion of products. Turn on the TV and an ad will convince you how cool you’ll be if you buy that new car, how original you’ll be if you drink that soda. It is this urge to rebel that describes Lil Pump’s appeal.

The music video of “Gucci Gang” gives us a good window into how Lil Pump’s rebellious images are consumed by viewers (not the music). First, I have to point out that I’ve watched the video a handful of times to write this essay, and each time I watch, the music grows on me; it really does seem hip and cool, and the music is so simplistic and catchy that it creeps into my mind, coaxing me to like it – to accept it and convert to it. Anyways, the video opens with Lil Pump arriving at “Gucci Gang High” in a sports car. This has a double meaning because he’s arriving at a high school, but he’s also smoking a blunt, so he himself is high. There are images of beautiful women and more fancy Range Rovers and Porsches. It then shows Lil Pump walking past lockers, accompanied by a tiger (instantly upping the coolness factor), holding huge bags of weed. There are also scenes of his classmates dancing, having fun and drinking “lean” (a drink made with codeine). An older white woman – obviously out of place – brings out the lean, and even takes some time to chug down a cup herself. She is made to look like a grandmother, and the association of a grandma bringing out cookies is played upon: instead of a tray of cookies, grandma brings out a tray of narcotic drinks. This might be the most telling scene, because it indicates that everyone should take part in hanging with and listening to Lil Pump, even old ladies who we would assume spend their time crocheting and petting cats, not partying with high schoolers. Furthermore, this normalizes the rebellious ideal of the trap life to white Americans, and, in general, to people that would never conceive of taking part in those types of actions. Cementing the rebellion even more, the classmates start a food fight, and then Lil Pump smashes a pie into the face of someone who appears to be a teacher or school administrator in front of two gorgeous women gleefully looking on. Again, this implies that partaking in breaking the rules is awesome and that rebelling against authority transforms you into a cool kid. But as we learned from Thomas Frank, this is a ploy made by the culture industry. You may think you’re being countercultural by listening to Lil Pump, but in reality you’re playing right into the hands of the corporate machine.

Now, a few other aspects of Lil Pump that influence his appeal are his race and appearance. The two important items here are his rainbow-colored dreadlocks and racial ambiguity. Because Lil Pump is unoriginal in his music, he must utilize something else to be memorable. His dreads do just that: they allow him to stand out where he otherwise would not. This couples with his status as an underground SoundCloud rapper to create the facade that he’s a new and fresh artist. Moving forward, at first glance Lil Pump seems like he could be part African American. He has the dreads. And the trap genre is almost exclusively black, with major artists like Gucci Mane, Migos, Lil Uzi Vert, and ASAP Ferg. But given his real last name Garcia, he is more likely Hispanic. Really then, his race is multi-faceted. And I would go on to assert that this has allowed him to connect with a wider audience. Lighter skinned viewers might identify more with Lil Pump than other black trap artists, so this heightened association with Lil Pump brings more racial groups into the fold. (I also would like to point out that these interpretations are not the only possibilities; they do appear to be the most poignant and telling however.)

The stardom attained by Lil Pump creates a whole host of cultural problems. Since Lil Pump’s work is under the large umbrella of hip-hop and rap, his music has the effect of trivializing the greater genre from an artform of expression to a senseless commodity. And because of Lil Pump’s popularity, his music becomes representative of the entire genre in front of its mainstream audience. Therefore, the average person is likely to hear Lil Pump, and they might come to believe that this mindlessness is indicative of hip-hop. Thus, hip-hop culture is diminished. In exactly the same way, the hood/inner-city culture is also trivialized and commodified in Lil Pump’s music. The culture is negatively appropriated in the first place by Lil Pump and then is appropriated millions of times over by his listeners who consume the culture as a novel commodity. Fallacious images of the inner-city are then obtained by people who don’t know the realities of poverty. Therefore the hood culture is not only appropriated but also grossly misrepresented. This of course culminates with privileged, white 12-year-olds pretending to snort cocaine.

One more implication of Lil Pump’s rise is the fact that his initial fame on SoundCloud was completely organic. Without the culture industry, Lil Pump’s first few releases garnered millions of listens. Now this could be a sign of poor education in this country; a sign that people are not able to discern good music, art, and culture. But also, this could mean that Americans have been conditioned by the culture industry to find new forms of mindless entertainment for them. The culture industry’s past work of pumping out remedial pop culture may well have created a mechanism whereby regular people seek out mindless entertainment. If this is the case, American culture is most certainly in distress.

Good culture teaches us something about our humanity, or about our circumstance. It may point out something about society – good or bad. It may also extol a virtue, or perhaps it could be just simply beautiful and unique. Lil Pump does none of these things, so therefore, Lil Pump (and “artists” like him) creates bad culture. But alas, Lil Pump does create a culture. It is a culture of indifference – indifference to, well, everything. His purposeless rapping creates extreme disinterest towards important social and political issues, and more generally creates disinterest towards anything that may be helpful, righteous, or good for humanity.

Works Cited

Frank, Thomas C. The Conquest of Cool. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997.

Frank, Thomas C. “Dark Age.” The Baffler, Dec. 1994,

Kuppermann, Jacob. “‘Lil Pump’ is Not Worth Your Time.” University Wire Oct 18 2017. ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2017.


Eat Pray Love: The Ultimate Marketing Tactic


Here’s the thing, I’m not the biggest movie person.


In fact, I could spend weeks on end without sitting down for 2 or 3 hours to watch a movie. In fact, some people (my family) would go as far as to say that I’m not a movie person at all. Growing up, they continuously forced me to watch movies with them, watching me reluctantly stay, complain or look at my phone, waiting for what seems like an endless, predictable, and frankly, stupid movie to end.

Now, don’t take this to mean that I never watch movies or don’t appreciate any movie at all. I do. In fact, I find it pretty convenient to have movies available when you are trying to burn time for hours on end such as during a vacation. This scenario occurred this past summer as my family traveled to Rome and Greece. On the long flight from New York to Rome, I think I set a record for the most movies I have ever watched continuously, with a whopping—drumroll please — 3. I’d like to believe that I selected a diverse selection of movies from the ones the airline offered. One movie in particular, Eat Pray Love, caught my eye because I was convinced that the movie took place in Rome.

Little did I know that I had signed up for a movie that was a combination of a chick flick, a travel log and a mindfulness/spiritual journey. The story is simple: a 31 year old woman named Liz Gilbert appears to have the perfect life as a successful journalist living in New York city with a husband and a great group of friends. However, she finds herself continuously depressed by the state of her marriage and feels that she lacks energy and happiness in her life. Thus, after a divorce, a rebound romance and much deliberation, she decides to spend a year traveling in Italy, India and Indonesia. Here’s the goal; explore pleasure in Italy, devotion in India and find balance in Indonesia.  The movie follows Liz through what seems to be a perfect journey along which she realizes that she has always been her biggest problem all along, changing and making friends along the way and falling for the man who she is bound to marry. I found this movie to be a nice light film to watch as I realized I was unable to sleep despite my countless attempts to avoid jet lag. Little did I know that this movie had blown up in the early 2000s, based on a book written by Liz Gilbert herself.

In an attempt to assess the Eat Pray Love phenomenon, let’s examine what started it all, the novel itself. Part of the reason why it was successful was because it belonged to the trendy “self-help” genre that had started gaining popularity around this time (Sanders & Mouyis). Obviously, I was a little late to the trend, considering I was around 10 years old when this occurred. But even now it is not hard to look around the bookstore and find an abundance of books on wellness and mindfulness reminding us that even in the hardest of times we can still find fulfillment.

Now back to Eat Pray Love, this book fits perfectly into the self-help genre as Gilbert clearly expresses her goal of finding some sort of enlightenment through this spiritual journey. While this goal sounds fine and dandy, according to Sanders and Mouyis, it “moves women away from political, economic and emotional agency by promoting materialism and dependency masked as empowerment, with evangelical zeal.” So, yes, Liz was feeling pretty down about her life, but what did she do in order to try and fix it? Did she go to a therapist to get marriage counseling or talk about her depression? No. She decided to abandon her job, her family and marriage to travel around the world for a year to become “whole” again (Sanders & Mouyis). This mentality, to be blunt, is damaging not only because it screams financial privilege as an unrealistic option for many women in the US, but because it also stems from a dark ideology: misogyny.  The idea here, according to writers Mouyis and Sanders, is that women are “deeply flawed” and need to devote themselves to fixing themselves otherwise they will lead miserable lives. How can they solve this imminent problem? The answer is simple: contribute to the tourism industry through capitalist consumption of foreign cultures. In an Indian ashram, Liz consumes spirituality and in Bali she consumes traditional healing skills and advice.

This is where Eat Pray Love begins revealing its true colors, though it was there all along when looking at Liz’s relationship with the people of color of the movie.  Now, I’m not accusing Liz of being a racist but in examining her relationships with others, we see that the sole purpose of the characters seems to be to serve Liz. To being with Liz becomes absorbed in the idea of following a Guru Ashram through her ex-boyfriend, a devout follower of the Guru.  This obsession, however, is trivial as she confesses to her best friend that this mediation is the same for her as the time when she immersed herself into her kitchen renovation in an attempt to become the perfect wife and cope with her chaotic life.  This devotion to the Guru is a type of distraction denoting the superficiality of her spiritual journey as it becomes more of a way for her to escape her problems in the East rather than the West.

What I find particularly fascinating is that out of all the people in India, she forms the most authentic friendship with an elder white man who becomes her true guru, teaching her to surrender to her thoughts and love the world. The only other person she forms a friendship with is with 17 year old Tulsi who is engrossed with Liz’s life despite struggling with her own life as she is forced to have arranged marriage. In many of the scenes, she tries to convince Liz of the many positive aspects of her life, almost serving to console Liz’s anguish all while highlighting her ridiculousness. Nothing is done to try and stop the wedding and what’s worse Liz can’t help but think about her own wedding during Tulsi’s wedding.

Finally, Liz arrives at her final destination, Bali, where she reunites with the healer and advisor Ketut. During Liz’s first visit, Ketut consoles Liz by telling her how lucky she is and that she will see him again. The second time around he does not recognize Liz, making her angry and upset. In this moment Liz is furious because he has always catered to her and she forgets the in-authenticity of her experience and the fact that there are probably many blonde American tourists visiting Ketut and asking about their love lives. Regardless, he continues helping her, further accentuating Liz’s sense of entitlement that he should cater to her. Moreover, the movie lacks any information on Ketut’s personal life, fetizshizing his personhood as one that does not exist beyond his powers and counsel.

Julia Roberts as “Elizabeth Gilbert” and Hadi Subiyanto as “Ketut Liyer” in Columbia Pictures’ EAT, PRAY, LOVE.

It was at this moment that I realized something. Throughout this essay I have investigated Liz’s experience traveling in India and Indonesia but what about Italy, the only western country she visited? I had one question that irked me, why did Liz travel to find spirituality and spend her entire time in Rome eating pasta? Why is she only drawn to Eastern spirituality?  Professor Justine Toh responds, suggesting that religion (specifically Western religion) is viewed as “institutional, rule-bound, uptight and stifling”, while Eastern philosophies are “more intuitive, less concerned with laying down the law than with giving you a set of principles to take or leave at will.” Thus it is only through this exotic journey to the East that Liz can selfishly and self-indulgently find her own happiness without western restrictions. In fact, she uses her encounters with foreign cultures to learn more about herself, not as much to learn about others.  This is problematic for so many reasons but also, and let’s not forget, incredibly appealing for western women.

The question then is, could western women get away with focusing solely on themselves and their happiness in a society that so strongly emphasizes women putting their needs secondary to others? Liz does not think so, in fact, her experimentations with Eastern ideologies grant her the opportunity to dismiss this aspect of Western culture. But there are plenty of problems with this, while she rejects her own culture, she willingly appropriates another without considering the effect she is having on the people around her. It is important to recognize that Liz hasn’t fully committed herself to Eastern ideology and is hypocritically exemplifying and perpetuating one of the most toxic and damaging western ideologies, consumerism. In truth, Liz’s quest to find herself stems from consumerism ideologies itself as it teaches us from an early age to engross ourselves with what Toh calls “individual happiness and fulfilment”.

I know I’ve identified some pretty horrid stuff out of what seemed like a rom-com novel turned into a movie, but just wait there’s more. I had previously talked about the novel/movie’s success but I never talked about what that itself had resulted in. Liz Gilbert, the new guru to white women, came up with a line of Eat Pray Love products that allowed her to profit off of the Eastern spirituality that is itself opposed to people profiting off others in that matter (Williams, 4). Here, white people are taking deeply scared spiritual ideologies and using it for their own profit ( Ibid, 3). , In fact, tour companies are utilizing the success of this book to promote spiritual vacationing through what scholar Ruth Williams calls “authentic encounters with native populations”. An example of this marketing is traveling to the Ganges ghats in Varanasi, India, in order to ‘‘feel the beating heart of the Hindu universe’’ supporting western consumption of authentic interactions with local culture as type of product (Williams, 10).  Sanip Roy critiques this form of tourism as a “new colonialism” that grants white people the opportunity to “discover themselves in brown places” by utilizing native populations and their culture (Roy).  Essentially this new lifestyle utilizes eastern culture and people as spiritual guides to “facilitate the self-realisation of the white woman”. (Toh)

While I find this to be unsurprising, especially considering the current state of our marketing culture that so selfishly promotes consumption as the key to happiness, I wonder, what does this truly mean for women’s empowerment?  Is the most effective way to empower women to find their balance and listen to their own needs? I most certainly hope not, as it not only puts working class women at a disadvantage but also exploits hundreds of years of rich Eastern culture. There must be a solution. But, the prominent issue here is how these women got to the crisis in the first place. The ideologies that our society promotes are hurting women and with that the way they interact with those around them all over the world but also nationally. Liz would consistently lament her inability to love back her best friend as much as her best friend loved her. I believe something must change for everyone’s sake.


This essay imitates the style of Chuck Klosterman

This is not a first draft and was looked over by Ian Pultz-Earle and Jessie Hem.



Sanders, Joshunda, and Ana Mouyis. “Eat, Pray, Spend: Priv-Lit And The New, Enlightened American Dream.” Bitch Media, 2010,

Toh, Justine. “Eastern Philosophy And Western Indulgence –ABC Religion & Ethics.” Abc.Net.Au, 2010,

Williams, Ruth. “Eat, Pray, Love: Producing The Female Neoliberal Spiritual Subject.” The Journal Of Popular Culture, vol 47, no. 3, 2011, pp. 613-633. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2011.00870.x.

Roy, Sandip. ‘‘The new colonialism of ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’’’ Salon. Salon, 13 Aug. 2010. Web. 22 Oct. 2010.

Julia Roberts as “Elizabeth Gilbert” and Hadi Subiyanto as “Ketut Liyer” in Columbia Pictures’ EAT, PRAY, LOVE.

Why There’s a Barstool on the Dance Floor

For centuries, young people, especially students, have gotten drunk and done obscene things. In the name of carnival, they rebelled against prevailing societal norms; they pursued their whims. Today, on the surface, it’s very much the same—except people record it. In fact, with the rise of social media, students not only record their crazy debauchery, but also submit those recordings to highly-curated pages with millions of followers. Precisely choosing which few videos deserve to be seen each day, Instagram pages like TotalFratMove and BarstoolSports project images of elite carnival, and subvert the form into a facet of consumer culture which inevitably feeds the capitalist machine. These pages promote the lifestyle of particularly rebellious frat boys, accomplishing the monetization of elite carnival. Students now attempt to outdo each other in the most outlandish, which has paradoxically become the convention. Barstool benefits. 

The Barstool Logo

One might wonder what qualifies young people getting drunk as elite carnival. The salient point is that Barstool and the like upload (mostly) videos of students at four-year colleges with the means to throw massive parties in large venues, participate in traditional nonchalance towards cost, and pay the dues associated with all of that. Obviously, only a minority of young people can lay claim to that ability. One user posted on the TotalFratMove website, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase ‘You’re an asshole’ I wouldn’t be any richer. I’m too frat and too rich to give a sh*t about nickels. TFM” (Shontell).

Barstool and TotalFratMove love to sexualize because it’s an easy way to entertain their followers, most of whom are in the eighteen to twenty-four year-old male range. In “Smokeshow of the Day,” Barstool consistently posts pictures of a tan, (almost always) white, scantily-clad woman, heaping praise upon the college or sorority who lays claim to her. Sexuality is also shown through the hijinks of partiers. In what has become a common occurrence, spontaneous heterosexual touching and lust is filmed. A distinctive feature is that couples almost never know they’re being filmed, and so their interaction can be deemed original. Pictures and videos of this variety not only provide easy content for the curators, but also fuel a desire, especially for males, to get so drunk that they get as caught up in public sexuality as the people in the videos.

A “Smokeshow”

@maraweinstein from @barstoolarizona #barstoolsmokeshows

A post shared by Barstool Smokeshows (@barstoolsmokeshows) on

For those who want even more physicality, Barstool provides—with fights. Anything from a classic one-on-one stand-down to group violence fits the bill. One caption reads, “This UF [University of Florida] dad came to Parents Weekend to drink some beer and kick some ass” (TotalFratMove). The association seems to be that with alcohol, anything can happen—and that’s okay. In similar videos, students’ rebellious tendencies are accentuated when they become antagonistic with authority figures. Despite the reactions of the authority, the videos all have a care-free air, yet students annoy the cops to the maximum legal extent. Such videos function as highlights of rebellion.

An example of people rebelling against the cops for the sake of the video

Do it for the gram (@justinturizo)

A post shared by TFM (@totalfratmove) on

The debauchery continues. In one video uploaded to TotalFratMove, a male punches a TV until, to the delight of the audience, he splits the glass open. Cheered on by the crowd, he destroys what seems to be his own property. As Randall Collins asserts, “Material destruction at a wild party…is generally destroying one’s own property” (Collins, 253); in doing so, these students are ”conspicuously flaunting an insouciant disregard for costs, conventions, and serious purposes” (Collins, 255). After destroying the TV, his hand is revealed to the camera with a huge gash overflowing with blood. The young man’s response is to stand around showing his battle wounds to the cameras and screaming “Fuck you!” Quite clearly, TotalFratMove wants followers to disseminate the choice to completely ignore normal conventions in the context of parties. Yet, even the destruction of property—once a carnivalesque refutation of materialism—has become a calculated formulation itself: On Barstool, one of the most common tropes is a guy jumping onto and breaking a table, the more dangerous the jump and more expensive the table, the better.

The destruction of the TV

Why do you people hate televisions so much? @dochios

A post shared by TFM (@totalfratmove) on

Before expounding upon the formulaic nature of Barstool’s curation, I would be remiss not to mention how crowds actually get partygoers to do the craziest, most entertaining things. In the 1700s at Oxford, for example, young men performed their wildest deeds in front of an audience with similar status (Collins, 255), comparable to today’s college party which contains people of similar class all going to the same school. The same essay goes on to assert, “it is where there is ongoing situational stratification, the sheer momentary attention-gaining of a noisy display of uninhibited fun, that carousing becomes destructive” (255). Testing that claim against the above video yields similarities. The crowd has gathered around the one man; the center of the crowd is the most important area, while the fringes are simply onlookers. Multiple phone cameras record the young man in anticipation. Not wanting to let them down, he provides entertainment, and the cheers only get louder once his bloody hand is seen.

Barstool carefully decides to show its follower various themes. In many uploads, people smash beer cans against their heads and drink the ensuing explosion. After seeing a few of beer-induced concussions, one can easily surmise their purpose: show viewers that nothing is worth as much as a good time, which is, of course, determined by the crowd’s reaction. Similarly, other videos, celebrations of what’s called “Wu-tanging,” display college kids swallowing the butts of cigarettes with the aid of alcohol. In perhaps the most widespread variation, students make “luges,” ramps into which beer is poured and then drank, with the most obscene possible objects. For “luge” videos, it really runs the gamut, from dead fish to used athletic cups. Returning to the TV-punching video provides some insight into what this repetition actually means. The simple fact that most people in the crowd have their phone’s cameras poised begs a question. Why? Why do they want to record the act? Each person wants to be able to say, ‘I was there. Look here, I have proof on my phone.’ Each student wants to be the one who shows the others what happened. The ultimate goal becomes being the person who made it onto Barstool, not only for the person performing crazy acts, but also for those recording. If one looks to the vast amount of content created in the college party sphere each day, and sees the lengths to which students go to make Barstool or TotalFratMove, it would be impossible to say these media apparatuses have no power.

An example of beer head-smashing

Marry me.

A post shared by TFM (@totalfratmove) on

Thus, an interesting paradox appears. There exists a counter-intuitive incentive. Yes, partygoers want to engage in spontaneous carousing—where they can be rebellious and not care about societal norms—but they also want to make it into Barstool, and therefore must reconcile themselves to the successful formulations. Instagram pages can then affect the content of the elite carnival, and actually steer it towards what will make the most money.

The curation of videos to create certain incentives and affect elite carnival allows Barstool to advertise very effectively because, as a demographic, it doesn’t get much better than young, wealthy students. As Kenneth Tucker puts it, “Modern advertising retains the carnival ideas of excess and abundance, alongside the notion that selves can be transformed through the purchasing of goods…These elements are no longer necessarily critical of capitalism, as they are promoted by the entertainment orientation of the mass media and rebellion has become part of the marketing machine.” (Tucker, 108-9). Indeed, advertisers approach Barstool-like pages all the time. On TotalFratMove, there is an ad for going on the spring break of a lifetime, full of the same excess that the rest of the page contains. There are also ads for boxing matches with motto, “Are you man enough?” and other Instagram pages with fratty appeal. Most often, the pages advertise their own clothing, which typically has a rebellious and satirical slant. Embroidery includes “Merry Christmas, Bitch,” “Legalize Cocaine,” and “Ginger Jesus.” The uniting factor is that each ad feeds on the over-the-top theme of the entire page.

A quintessential ad

🏈All Football Ugly Sweaters are 20% off today. Swipe ➡️ to find your teams. Check link in bio for more🏈

A post shared by Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) on

The profound idea is not that Barstool sells clothing, but that it sells a lifestyle. In the world of TotalFratMove, throwing up due to intoxication is not a bad thing; it’s the price one pays for having a good time. And nothing matters more than having a good time—which the crowd determines, influenced by Barstool. In one chapter of his book, “The End of the American Avant Garde,” Stuart Hobbes argues that the avant garde has become commodified, “reduced to a lifestyle” (Hobbs, 168) by the media, which favors sensationalism over serious ideas and creates pseudo-events, “manufactured occurrences presented in the media for self-serving motives” (Hobbs, 150). Barstool and alike pages, by similar means, are accomplishing something comparable, except they are not only commodifying a lifestyle, but creating that lifestyle in the process. If Barstool were to have its way, all the events of the elite carnival would be formulaic pseudo-events, created for the prescribed purpose of making it onto Barstool. That’s why the only time you’ll see someone in class in one of these videos, they’re either drinking or display their dislike for the lecture.

Some might argue that Barstool and TotalFratMove are simply collections of depravity that young people enjoy watching. Yet, when one considers the highly-curated characteristic of these pages, the themes become especially important. And it is plain to see that the motifs point towards a certain lifestyle that incidentally serves the economic interest of the pages themselves. Clearly, there is a deliberate formulation to control elite carnival. So, the next time you’re drunk at a college party and some person decides to go insane, think about why everyone’s got their phone out—it’s not just to tell their friends.

An earlier draft of this essay was read by Sam Gilman.

I have written this essay in the style of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Works Cited

Collins, Randall. “Violence as Fun and Entertainment.” Violence: a Micro-Sociological Theory, Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 242–281. JSTOR,

Hobbs, Stuart D. “Consumer Culture Commodification.” The End of the American Avant Garde, NYU Press, 1997, pp. 139–168. JSTOR,

Shontell, Alyson. “Meet The Genius Frat Dudes Who Turned Bro Humor Into A Multimillion-Dollar Media Empire.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 Mar. 2014,

TotalFratMove. “Dad hits Student.” Instagram, October 8. 2017,

Tucker, Kenneth H. “The World Is a Stage and Life Is a Carnival: The Rise of the Aesthetic Sphere and Popular Culture.” Workers of the World, Enjoy!: Aesthetic Politics from Revolutionary Syndicalism to the Global Justice Movement, Temple University Press, 2012, pp. 91–120. JSTOR,

(The Lack of) Race in La La Land


I’ll be honest: the first time I watched La La Land, I didn’t think about race at all. Not one bit. I was too engrossed in the plot of the film, in the conflict between ambition and love that drives the story. I was too distracted by the splendid patterns of colors dancing across the screen. I was too focused on the music and dancing for my mind to wander off and think about how Damian Chazelle chose to represent race and racial issues. I was so distracted from race that it seems Chazelle may have done it on purpose—that he purposefully chose to have the viewer focus on things other than race, that he chose to leave to race out of the film. On the surface, La La Land ignores issues of race—not once are racial issues explicitly spoken of or brought up in any way. At a time when more and more films have racial issues at the forefront, Chazelle put racial issues in the backseat and shone a spotlight on other aspects of modern life.

Or did he?


Due to historical notions of race, we often see race as an immutable trait each person possesses. I am white, for example, because I have (relatively) white skin. That I’m white, we often think, is a fact rooted in biology—rooted in my DNA. As Audrey and Brian Smedley argue, however, this is not the case. Race science, they claim, is bullshit. Rather than being biological, race is “…a folk idea, a culturally invented conception about human differences.” (Smedley). Our conceptions of race, they argue, are based not on scientific notions of the biological difference between two races, but on cultural understandings of the differences between people who look different. If this is the case, then we must be learning about these racial distinctions from our culture. Films (and books, music, etc.) must teach us about how we should understand race and racial differences. So even though La La Land appears to try so hard to ignore issues of race, maybe it is actually telling us something about those issues. Maybe its apparent ignorance is the message it is trying to send. Maybe I didn’t notice race in the film because it didn’t want me to.

Upon closer examination of the film, there is one specific area where race should play a significant role but doesn’t: Ryan Gosling and John Legend’s relationship with jazz as an art form. Gosling, a white man, wants to save jazz in its traditional form. “It’s dying,” he says, but “not on my watch.” On the other end of the spectrum sits Legend, who wants to push jazz forward and mix it with other kinds of music. “How are you going to save jazz if no one is listening?” he asks Gosling. “Jazz is dying because of people like you… You’re holding on to the past, while jazz is about the future.” What’s bizarre about this dichotomy is that the white man wants to preserve jazz (and all of its black roots), while the black man wants to push it forward. Usually we would suspect it to be the other way around. Greg Tate, a prominent black writer, noted that whites “…have always tried to erase the Black presence from whatever Black thing They took a shine too,” including jazz (Tate, 2-3). Usually, we would expect Gosling, not Legend, to want to push jazz forward (and thus erase the “Black presence” from it). La La Land flips the conventional racial script on its head—the white man is playing the black man’s role and vice versa. It undoes our usual racial conventions and produces an entirely new racial world as if to brag about how easy it was to do that.

While the battle between Gosling and Legend is the most prominent racial arena on the screen, race does appear in other parts of the film as well. The reason that we don’t notice it (or at least that I didn’t notice it) is because there is no racial struggle, no barrier to people of different races. In shot after shot after shot, we see whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and people of every other race coexisting in perfect harmony. Chazelle makes it apparent from the very beginning that different races can coexist—the opening number features people from every race dancing together atop unmoving cars on an L.A. highway. Later on the racial mixing continues at the Hollywood parties and at the jazz clubs—Chazelle even throws a mixed-race couple in for good measure (Gosling’s white sister has a black fiancé). Chazelle is not oblivious to the reality of modern life and the de facto segregation that exists in it; he actively chooses to show a world in which it doesn’t exist. Films can influence our perceptions of race, and Chazelle uses that to demonstrate to us that race really shouldn’t matter. La La Land removes (or flips, as in the case of Gosling and Legend) all of the usual racial barriers and differences, and I didn’t even notice, because I was too distracted by the rest of the film. Racial expectations can be changed because they are cultural, not biological, and the film expects us and wants us to subconsciously realize that. When you don’t think about race, as I didn’t, you realize that it shouldn’t matter.

There is one scene in the film that stands out for its purposeful removal of race. As Gosling and his love interest Emma Stone dance in the stars of a planetarium, they fade into silhouettes. However, “the bodies spinning obviously don’t belong to Gosling and Stone” (Decker). We can see that their identities get erased when they start dancing. We don’t know if they are black or white—they are silhouettes. Moreover, to Chazelle it shouldn’t matter what race they are, because race is just a cultural construct, one that can be undone, just as it was visually with two people fading into silhouettes on a screen. La La Land chooses to show race as unimportant because it wants viewers to realize that it is unimportant in the traditional sense. It doesn’t matter what race you are, or what race I am. Race is a set of ideas that we have created and that we can destroy. The film wants us to do just that. It uses the fact that race is cultural—the fact that our perceptions of race are shaped by culture—to show us that race is cultural and can thus be changed.


Even though I didn’t see race the first time I watched it, other (more attentive) viewers did. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign forced viewers to grapple with notions of race in a way they hadn’t previously, and thus La La Land received some attention for the seemingly small matters of race that did show up in the film. One common theme running through many of the criticisms can be summarized by the headline of the review in LA Weekly. La La Land Is a Propaganda Film,” the headline claims, because Chazelle completely ignored the dimensions of race he should have focused on; he showed a world where the problems of marginalized nonwhite people are negated and white people are given advantages they do not deserve. The film was “a throwback to the 1950s without acknowledgment of how terrible the 1950s were for marginalized communities” (Wolfe). The issue I take with this view is that it operates on the understanding that Chazelle is “blind to the political power of film” (Wolfe), and is thus almost accidentally producing this world. Film criticism, though, generally rests on the assumption that filmmakers do know what they are doing—the whole purpose of analyzing films is to determine what the filmmakers want us to glean from them. If we are going to give Chazelle the benefit of the doubt (as we habitually do to every filmmaker) and assume that he knew the power of film, this leads us to the conclusion that he was purposefully showing us that race shouldn’t matter, because race is cultural. He’s not blind to the problems of marginalized communities, nor is he living in a post-racial fantasy land—he’s using the power of film to show that it is possible for us to fix those problems and reach that post-racial fantasy land should we forget our cultural notions of race. The racial world in La La Land is not a reflection of the real world, but a reflection of what Chazelle thinks the world can be.

All of this is not to say that La La Land is not racially problematic. It is.

Even though race shouldn’t matter, it still does, and it will for the foreseeable future. Audrey and Brian Smedley, the same writers who argued that race is cultural, still think it is important to address it: “although the term race is not useful as a biological construct, policymakers cannot avoid the fact that social race remains a significant predictor of which groups have greater access to societal goods and resources and which groups face barriers—both historically and in the contemporary context—to full inclusion.” (Smedley & Smedley). La La Land makes the mistake of assuming that just because race is cultural it doesn’t matter. It equates shouldn’t (as in race shouldn’t matter) with doesn’t (as in race doesn’t matter). Race is cultural and it does still matter, because we have assumed that it matters for so long that we have put roadblocks into society for nonwhite people. We can’t just forget our cultural notions of race to make racial divisions go away—it’s too late for that.

I’ll be honest again: I really enjoyed La La Land the first time I saw it, and I still do, even given its problematic racial conclusions. Just because films influence our racial understandings in a negative way does not mean they are inherently bad films. I can like La La Land and still comprehend that it has problems. If you liked La La Land too, that’s fine—you just need to be cognizant of how it is trying to get you to think about race and aware of whether you want to agree with it or not. You need to think this way with all films, because whether you realize it or not, they are influencing your perceptions of race, and those perceptions matter.


An earlier draft of this essay was read by Keith Penney.

I have written this essay in the style of Chuck Klosterman.


Works Cited

Decker, Todd. “Musical Fakery in ‘La La Land’: Ryan Gosling, Fred Astaire and Why Performance Still Matters.” The Center for the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis, 21 Feb. 2017, Accessed 11 Dec. 2017.

La La Land. Directed by Damien Chapelle, Summit Entertainment, 2016.

Smedley, Audrey, and Brian D. Smelly. “Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on the Social Construction of Race.” American Psychologist, vol. 60, no. 1, Jan. 2005. APA PsycNET. Accessed 11 Dec. 2017.

Tate, Greg, editor. Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture. Broadway Books, 2003.

Wolfe, April. “La La Land Is a Propaganda Film.” LA Weekly [Los Angeles], 23 Feb. 2017, Accessed 11 Dec. 2017.

I Wanna be Like You: Racial Coding in Disney’s The Jungle Book

     The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or as you’ve heard UNESCO, released a series of essays in response to leftover Nazi Racism, along with other more PG forms of biological racism. UNESCO published these essays with help from big names like Claude Levi-Strauss and Morris Ginsberg in 1950 and intended to distribute them across the United Nations. The main point of the essays went like this, “The biological fact of race and the myth of “race” should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes “race” is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth”(The Race Question). The problem they directly addressed is gone. We (hopefully) aren’t swayed too much by Nazi propaganda or signs saying “No Colored Allowed” as they really don’t exist anymore, at least where people reading this article would reside. What fucks things up now is culture. Culture and entertainment are the new ways in which the world creates and displays racial ideas. Races are assigned characteristics, stereotypes and more sinister tags through their portrayals in movies, TV and radio. But it’s not minstrel shows and blatant racism either. It’s the unnoticeable, subtle ways that non-white characters are shown in superficially harmless media. And likely to your dismay, Disney movies are an absolute case study on the subtle depictions that give people the hostile ideas about race that are currently tearing our country apart. Disney’s The Jungle Book, although widely loved as a benign children’s movie, harbors shockingly sinister depictions of race.

I didn’t notice any of this as a child. And outside of some hyper-astute worldview you may have had as a nine year old, neither did you. Disney does this by avoiding the question of race altogether in any obvious way. They rarely show non-white characters in their films, and when they do, most everyone is of the same race to avoid the issue on the surface. Mulan doesn’t feature a single white character. In Moana they are all ancient Polynesian islanders. The Princess and the Frog only features black characters apart from a few animals and minor white characters, and basically every other movie is as white as Frosty the Snowman’s midsection. But, a major way that Disney depicts race is through animals and inanimate objects. It’s much harder to point out race as race if they are Hyenas rather than blacks or Latinos (Didn’t catch that in The Lion King?). Especially in The Jungle Book, animals depict different races and contribute to the social understanding of race.

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Specifically, the most obvious depiction of race in The Jungle Book comes with the monkeys. The monkeys enter the plot swinging through the Indian forest in search of Mowgli, the man cub. They swoop down from the canopy to kidnap Mowgli and take him back to their home in the ancient ruins. Before we even get to their actions, the first issue is their actual depiction. These monkeys are plainly coded as black characters in an extremely harmful way. Baloo, the man-cub’s adorable pseudo-father, fights the monkeys and shouts at them, “Why you flat-nosed, little-eyed, flaky creeps!”(The Jungle Book). He doesn’t say you scoundrels, you rascals, you evil people, he points out their physical features to shame them. Baloo is a brown bear, a species native to the North American forest and not the film’s Indian jungle, with a booming american voice, so obviously he goes on the whiter side of the animals. He points out their flat noses, one of the most distinctive, stereotypically African facial features. Baloo also calls them “Flea Picking” and “Mangy” during the same chase. Further, their voices are forced into a gravelly, exaggerated register. The lines, voiced by all white actors, strike the same tone as minstrel show actors performing in blackface for white audiences in the Jim Crow era. The white actors voicing these monkeys went out of their way to voice these characters as black. And not just black people, black fools. They laugh wildly at everything and can barely hold themselves back with swings of hysterics at whatever they do. They were intentionally portrayed and voiced to paint black people as foolish, dirty criminals.

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Further, depicting black people as monkeys and Orangutans has sinister intent on its own. The relation between black people and primates in culture goes back to evil forms of biological racism that assert black people are closer to monkey than man. Brett Mizelle writes, “This recurring linkage between blacks and apes was used to reinforce Euro-American supremacy and ultimately to justify slavery”(Man Cannot Behold). This fucked up idea is one we would like to fully separate ourselves from in today’s reality, but it obviously still lingers in cultural artifacts we would have deemed harmless and intended for children. Disney furthers this by forming the connection between African and ape in the most straightforward way possible. Black people are monkeys and therefore are to be seen as far from human.

The subhuman notion of black people continues throughout the film with the beloved song I Want to be Like You. The song was an absolute earworm, using classic Disney songwriting to make every viewer sing along. And, chances are if you have seen the film, you could sing the song right now given the instrumental. This melody is sung by King Louie of the apes, a character intended by Disney to be famous trumpeter Louis Armstrong but was instead played by white singer Louis Prima (Cutting Cultural Thicket). This tune is all about how King Louie wants to be like Mowgli. Louie serenades the man-cub with lyrics like “I wanna be a man, mancub, and stroll right into town, and be just like the other men I’m tired of monkeyin’ around”(The Jungle Book). King Louie dominates Mowgli in the jungle world. Louie is jungle royalty and physically overpowers Mowgli at his will, but still longs to walk like him and talk like him. Louie should be happy about his position in the jungle but instead wants to become ‘civilized’ like Mowgli. And Mowgli, although not a white person, represents a certain degree of whiteness as the most civilized and attached to human life, while also sporting an American accent that sounds much more like Ralphie from A Christmas Story than an Indian villager. The notion of ‘civilization’ has been long associated with white people and whiteness. People (not good people) would state that white people have civilization where black people do not. Disney is apparently all in with this sentiment as it has made its only black characters strive to be ‘civilized’. More on that notion, King Louie and the other monkeys ask Mowgli for the secret to “man’s red fire”. Fire is the most basic form of civilization, as you could likely call upon images from past media you’ve seen of cavemen huddling around a spark, elated having discovered fire. Disney intentionally makes the black characters search for civilization to reiterate the racist notion that whites are more civilized than blacks.

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Another racial depiction in the film that went largely unnoticed was the villain in the movie. The evil Indian tiger sparks the initial conflict in the film by threatening to kill Mowgli, who was currently residing happily with his wolf family. The menacing antagonist threatens Mowgli because as Bagheera states, “He hates man. And Shere Khan is not going to allow you to grow up to become a man”(The Jungle Book). He hates man. And man, in this case, is white people. A conclusion not too wildly made as he fears their guns, a hunting technique not used by Indian natives but by white colonizers. Shere Khan, as a name, also draws attention. Although the name literally means ‘tiger king’ in Persian and Punjabi, ‘Khan’ calls upon certain associations. Khan refers to Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan or any mongol leader that strikes fear into the hearts of viewers. Further on that point, Shere Khan has slanted, yellow-colored eyes, pushing him further towards an asian association. The villain is an anti-white mongol lord, roaming the forest on a hunt for the only human character. Shere Khan is the king of the jungle and everyone knows it. The wolfpack fears him, the bear and panther run from him and even the brigade of elephants is struck with fear at his mere mention. The only things that scare Shere Khan are guns and fire, both associated with civilization and man. So the most badass character in the movie is non-white. But he is still afraid of, and eventually defeated by, the products of whiteness.

Additionally, the ending of the film seems off to many. The ending features Mowgli leaving his beloved jungle home and Baloo, after being seduced in the most PG, Disney way possible by an Indian girl he spotted by the waterside. She sings a song while refilling her water vase and Mowgli simply can’t take his eyes off her. He eventually follows her into the “man village” where the viewer assumes he is to live from now on. In many ways, this ending felt wrong, at least to me. The happy ending I expected had Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera dancing off into the forest arm in arm singing The Bare Necessities while the screen fades off to black. I mean they fought the whole movie to keep Mowgli in the jungle, so why would the ending feature Mowgli leaving? Why would Disney depart from such a happy, sensical ending in favor of an odd, seemingly pointless conclusion? Simple. The ending they chose keeps the races in line. Mowgli, although spending the whole movie with the beasts of the jungle, is not an animal. Disney says here that after everything’s said and done, you are to stay with people like yourself. Even though Mowgli owes his life to the animals, he can’t actually be with them. They are nothing more than a vessel to get him back to his people. So Disney’s assertion is this: Stay with your own kind.

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To make matters worse, the medium of animation itself makes these sentiments even more distinct. Animation came into serious consideration as a kind of cinema around the 30’s and 40’s, shifting from a non popular form of visual trickery to a widely loved cinema medium. Yes, the visuals were highly appealing to viewers, but what the producers and directors loved was the control they had over the product. Sidin Ishak actually states that the defining feature of the genre is its intentionality (Understanding Culture Animation). Ishak’s proposal adds weight to the propositions presented in Disney’s The Jungle Book as it tells us that the creators did everything with intent. In animation, there is no ‘going off script’, there are no accidental images. Every scene was created by hand, by animators with absolute control over the world they depict. Everything we see in Disney films is completely intentional, nothing is coincidental.

Altogether, a film like this is immensely dangerous for society. Something nearly everyone loved having the capability to instill highly fucked up notions of race is a thought that few want to confront. This film catches viewers at their most malleable, impressionable stages between the ages of 3-12. Young viewers may not have serious conceptions of race yet as they watch films like this and they also lack the capability to point out racially charged dialogue or imagery. But the subconscious connections this film forces on viewers certainly work to change that and force feed Disney brand racial tropes to American youth.

An earlier draft of this essay was read by Tyler Scott

I have written this essay in the style of Chuck Klosterman