Category Archives: Final Projects

Andy Warhol: Deeply Superficial

FARHAD TEHRANI 

ANDY WARHOL DEEPLY SUPERFICIAL 

” I’d prefer to remain a mystery. I never like to give my background and, anyway, I make it all different all the time I’m asked. It’s not just that it’s part of my image not to tell everything, It’s just that I forget what I said the day before and I have to make it all up over and over again. I don’t think I have an image, anyway, favorable or unfavorable.” Andy Warhol

Reading through Andy’s life made me curious about his bewildering character, his deep superficiality, libidinous desire for fame and wealth, and why he was so obsessed to see his goals through the medium of painting. An unfortunate boy coming from an immigrant working class family who desperately seeking a promising future with all the insuperable barriers confronting him. Reading his past no one would have believed that someday that pale, pimply, poor creature would become the godfather of pop art movement in the early 1960s.

In the pursuit of his happiness, Andy Warhol found himself exactly on the right place where he could see his dreams come true. Just like Vienna which was the city of dreams for musicians in 18th and 19th century New York was the home of breakthrough creativity in the commercial arts industry.

It didn’t take too much for him to realize how to come up with something which hadn’t been done before. In doing so, he had recourse to his blotted line technique and silkscreen printing to establish his stature. Blotted line was a technique he discovered in his college days and latter on become his trade mark. One of his close friends Ted Carey commenting on how he discovered blotted line technique by accident. ” One day he was doing a drawing , and he just for some reason, blotted it, and he saw, when he took the blot off, this interesting line. And he thought that this would be an interesting technique.”

 

Andy had a flair for appropriating ideas from his close friends and cunningly turn it into his own credit. Its a funny analogy, but somehow he was like Robbin hood who used to rub the rich to feed the poor while Andy used to rub his friend from brilliant ideas to feed his own work. Ted Carey accounts on how Andy appropriated the idea of Dollar Bills form one of Ted’s friend Muriel. ” it was  during the late 1950s when Andy was striving to be recognized as a pop artist and desperately searching for ideas for appropriate subjects. I was with my friend Muriel who was financially desperate. And we went to see Andy. And so Andy said I’ve go to do something that really will have a lot of impact that will be different enough form Lichtenstein and Rosenquist, that will be very personal, that  won’t look like i’m doing exactly what they’re doing. And he said I don’t know what to do. So he said Muriel you’ve got fabulous ideas. Can’t you give me an idea? And, so Muriel said Yes, But she said its going to cost you money. So Andy said How much? So she said Fifty Dollar. She said, Get your checkbook and write me a check for fifty dollars. And Andy ran and got his checkbook and wrote out the check. He said all right give me a fabulous idea. And so Muriel said What do you like more than anything else in the world? So Andy said I don’t know. What? So she said Money. The thing that means more to you and that you like more than anything else in the world is money. You should paint pictures of money. And so Andy said Oh that’s wonderful. And she said you’ve got to find something that’s recognizable to almost everybody. Something you see everyday that everybody would recognize. Something like a can of Campbell’s Soup. So Andy said Oh that sounds fabulous.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a commercial artist Andy knew how to hit his target, like an alchemist he exhausted every material at his hand to create something unprecedented, something which captures every audience  and drive them mad , he was the author of an open ended story, made his readers to think and never giving them any philosophical description, leaving them by themselves to make the choice.

Andy was consciously aware of the society he was living with it, he intuitively knew where he need to point his finger at. He was always alert to new trends and social patterns, he constantly read magazines, newspapers, movie stars biographies and the gossip columns in the tabloids. Among his works on famous people the Golden Marilyn is the most striking one in which he brought back to life once again Marilyn Monroe’s glamour and beauty along with her mournful tragedy. And why he molded her picture into gold color, was he trying to signify that the gold color is the symbol of human idolatry (like the Golden Calf from Exodus Narrative) of ephemeral things or he just discover it accidentally like his blotted line technique. The answer is shrouded in mystery, no body knows for sure what was going on in Andy’s mind when he was making The Gold Marilyn since he would never shed light on his paintings.

Apart from Gold Marilyn implications, its fascinating to know how he got the inspiration and reshaped it in to his own advantage. First of all, the gold violates the sanctity of the monochrome field as established by such depressive practitioners as Ad Reinhardt. Further, Yves Klein, the French avant-gardist, had already performed this violation. His all gold paintings appeared in 1960, so Warhol broke the unwritten agreement by which an artist is granted sole rights to his innovation. Next, he has violated the nonobjective severity of monochrome with embedding a figurative image in it.

The Gold Marilyn

Yves Klein

 

 

 

 

Ad Reinhardt

Throughout his career Andy hes been harshly criticized and condemned as unfeeling , superficial, an artist who has built his career from the exploitation of other’s images and other people. Fredric Jameson a distinguished American literary critic compares Andy Warhol Diamond Dust Shoes with Vincent Van Gogh well known painting the Peasant Shoes in his book Postmodernism or the culture logic of late capitalism through which he posits that Andy Warhol’s work is in fact turns centrally around commodification, a new kind of flatness or depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality in the most literal sense. He also mention in his book that stars like Marilyn Monroe in Warhol human subjects are themselves commodified and transformed into their own images.

Thierry de Duve in his famous essay Andy Warhol or the machine perfected writes that Warhol desire to be famous is the desire to be nothing, nothing of the human, the interior, the profound, it is to want to be nothing but image, surface, a mirror for the fantasies and a magnet for the desires of other, an absolute narcissism. 

Andy Warhol Diamond Dust Shoes

 

Va Gogh Peasant Shoes

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

In spite of all the criticisms throwing at him, he would never actually take any further step to justify himself, he even never claimed any particular importance of any of his works. ” if you want to know all about Andy Warhol just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there i am. There is nothing behind it.” His modest assertion suggested there were no ulterior meaning, no hidden depth , no hint of anything that would indicate more significance. He repudiated the notion of artistic invention by copying grocery labels and cartons, thereby undermining some traditional notions about what constitutes originality in art. He negated the uniqueness of art objects by manufacturing identical paintings and sculptures in quantity. He even called his studio a Factory implying that he was primarily concerned with mass production and commerce and the business of making money. ” when Picasso died i read in a magazine that he had made four thousand masterpieces in his lifetime and i thought ‘Gee i would do that in a day’ You see. The way i do them with my technique, i really thought i could do four thousand in a day. And they would all be masterpieces because they’d all be the same.” Andy Warhol

the question remains: why he was posing himself as superficial, an unfeeling machine, copier, money minded, homosexual, a deadpan. Was he really mean it or feign it? Was there any hidden intentions deep down in his heart? As i mentioned earlier he is literally surrounded by all kinds of different comments and attributions about his life and art, yet nobody knows for sure  what was under the guise of Andy Warhol. His idiosyncratic is an unsolved riddle. But like other people who all commented on his life and work i would like to bring up my own point of view about him. Martin Irvine one of my distinguished professors in graduate school in Georgetown University which taught me a lot in his class once told me that “build up your own repertoire, get inside it and live with it, it doesn’t matter if the whole history of western thought is based on it,  its like learning how to learn” .

To me Andy Warhol is no less than the greatest artists of our time, he was the real prophet who wanted to mirror our everyday banality, superficiality, greediness, deepthlessness, fetishism with ephemeral objects. He was struggling to focus the light of art on all that ordinary life tries to obscure. Andy Warhol was an artist who was not embarrassed to face us with reality, his mission was to trumpet the truth through the medium of art ( Kennedy’s assassination, Electric Chair, race riot, Disaster series, Most wanted men). It reminds me of Baudrillard famous quote ” Welcome to the desert of the real” which i think Andy Warhol was the one who would accompany us to the desert of the real and showing us in details what is really happening behind the unreal glamour and the beauty of our world (Monroe’s tragic death).  Andy never liked to beat around the bush, he explicitly would say i need someone to jerk off in front of my camera and i like to see his face when he is coming or his famous blow job movie which indicates that he was not afraid of the hateful eyes of others looking at him and scolding him for being such a jerk.

In short, I think Andy’s resolute and unshakable faith in what he was doing eventually paved the way to his success. He profoundly knew that humans are trapped in the circle of repetition and unconsciously participating to its repetition. Repetition is the only elixir which possesses a magical power, a power through which constantly keep humans under false consciousness. Whats Repetition do is to continuously feeding its victims with strong sleeping pills to knock them out and to keep them under impotency. Comparing with Plato’s allegory of the cave repetition is something that keep the puppets and their shadows in motion, never allowing its audience to look over their shoulders and to see that the pictures are a dissimulation of reality. Finally, i would like to say that Andy Warhol was someone who once again tried to remind us through his artifact that we are living in a bondage, a bondage that repeats itself unremittingly in order to subjugate us.

” i like boring things, i like things to be exactly the same over and over again, i don’t want it to be essentially the same i want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same exact thing the more meaning goes away and the better and emptier you feel” Andy Warhol

Riot Race

Electric Chair

Woks Cited

  • Fredric, Jameson. Postmodernism or the cultural logic of late capitalism. 4th ed. USA: Duke university press, 1991. Print
  • Jean, Baudrillard. Selected Writings. 2nd ed. California: Stanford University press, 2001. print
  • Victor, Bockris. Warhol the biography. 2nd ed. USA: Da Capo press, 2003. print
  • Colin Maccabe, Mark Francis, and Peter Wollen, eds. Who is Andy Warhol?. London: St Edmundsbury press,  1977. Print
  • Patricks, Smith. Warhol Conversations about the artist. 2nd ed. London: UML research press. 19988. print
  • Peter, Kattenberg. Andy Warhol Priest “the last supper in small, medium, and large”. Brill: Koninklijke Brill Nv, 2001. Print
  • Steven, M.L Aroson. The philosophy of Andy Warhol. USA: A Harvest book. Print
  • Annette, Michelson. Andy Warhol. London: Massachusetts institution of Technology, 2001. Print
  • Ratcliff, Carter. Andy Warhol. New York: Cross River press, 1983. print
  • Thierry de, Duve. Andy Warhol or the Machine Perfected. Trans. Rosalind, Krauss. MIT press, 1989. 


Latin Music and Rock ‘n’ Roll Remix: 1960s – 1970s

Eric Cruet

“All forms of culture are continually in the process of hybridity. But for me the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which the third emerges, rather hybridity to me is the “third space” which enables other positions to emerge […] the process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognizable, an area of negotiation of meaning and representation.”

Hommi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994, 211)

Introduction

I grew up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, known as the birthplace of two Latin music subgenres:  la Bomba y Plena.  

These are percussion driven, dancing rhythms reflecting the Afro-Caribbean heritage of this half country, half US commonwealth island.  During my childhood, my hometown was a key distribution point for the petrochemical refining business, and executives, managers, and workers from the US, Caribbean, South America, and Europe settled in the area.  I had the privilege of attending schools taught in both English and Spanish languages.  I was also exposed to a variety of cultures.  I had Spanish, American, and European friends.  I listened to Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, Light Classical, and Rock music.  Studied the literature of William Faulkner, Edmond Rostand, Julio Cortazar and Miguel Cervantes.   But my hybrid upbringing although academically and culturally enriching, has always been a source of tensions and anxieties having to do with feelings of being in and out of social context.

Later in life, my early multi-cultural experiences proved invaluable as I traveled to far away places for business and pleasure.  From the Portuguese Azores, Canadian Newfoundland and Moroccan Casablanca, to Italian Sardinia, Austrian Salzburg and Sicilian Siracusa, I realized that regardless of how different cultures can be, the “third space” (Bahka. 1994)) created by their inter-section is “the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space–that carries the burden of the meaning of culture.[…]  And by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of ourselves.” 

The study takes a brief look at the cultural world that comprises “La Musica Latina” from a cross-cultural perspective, by using hybridity to examine the “third pace” created by its intersection with Rock n’ Roll during the 1960s – 1970s.  This will include issues of transformation, dislocation, and mediation that characterize structures, productions, and performances within their political, cultural, and historical frames of meaning.

The methodology for this project is also hybrid.  We will touch upon several of the “high” traditions of hybridity theory; post-colonialism, remix, hybridity, and network theory.  The primary goal is simple: to reveal patterns, the not so apparent, to identify networks and their nodal interconnections, and establish power structures and agencies within those networks.

 

Hybridity and identity

 

In 1970, Carlos Santana recorded the monster hit “Oye Como Va!” hitting #13 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart.  While rock fans in the US and around the world grooved to the killer tune, little did they know that the song was originally composed by the Puerto Rican mambo and salsa bandleader/percussionist Tito Puente back in 1963.  A veteran of New York’s epic Latin music boom in the 40s and 50s, Puente borrowed the memorable riff of “Oye Como Va! from the beginning bars of a previous arrangement titled “Chanchullo”, composed by the Afro-Cuban bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez; of the Buena Vista Social Club fame.

This is hybridity in action; Puente created the song as another Spanish Caribbean mambo in his repertoire; but its stylistic ethnomusicology was grounded in Africa and Cuba, the composer born in New York, a muti-ethnic US metropolis, and influenced by an array of musical genres.  Carlos Santana, unlike Puente, was an immigrant, born in Mexico and raised in Tijuana.  He relocated to San Francisco with his parents when he was an adolescent.  In his remix of the song, Santana distilled Puente’s Spanish Caribbean musicality through his hybrid brand of US rock, which he had mastered not in the US but in his Mexican homeland, where young people had embraced rock since the 1950s. [3]

In 2000, National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered named “Oye Como Va!” one of the 100 most important American songs of the 20th century, based on its profound influence on musical developments in the US [4].  How ironic that an immigrant Mexican rocker, is pioneering the subgenre of Latin rock, and introducing the U.S.-born Puente’s Afro Cuban dance music to mainstream U.S. rock audiences.  What stands out is a major characteristic of US Latino musical practices: rather than being tied to musical elements specific of national groups, Latino music making has always involved remixing musical, geographic, racial, and ethnic boundaries. The resulting mezcolanza1[1] has been a dazzling array of musical practices–of which many are not usually associated as Latino–each with its own intricate ethnomusicology and each giving voice to the multipolar traits that characterize the Latino experience in the US.


[1] Mezcolanza – Spanish slang: a confused multitude of things

 

Following are videos of the compositions referenced in the previous paragraphs:

 him(Song begins after 2:00 min ET (Elapsed Time)

http://youtu.be/DkuPCCe-ggI

If we pay close attention to the mix of musical styles and inflections embedded in the previously provided sample versions of “Oye Como Va!” you can hear the turbulent political, social and cultural rumblings that typified the 60s and 70s. But more importantly, you can still hear their echoes resonating in the extraordinary assortment of blended sounds and styles–from Latin freestyle to hip-hop to reggaetoncreated by US-born Latinos in subsequent decades.

More recent waves of immigrants have continued to enrich the Latino musical mosaic of the United States. They have contributed additional Latin American music styles such as bachata, banda, corrido, and vallenato.  They  have hybridized, remixed, and mediated themselves, their identities, and their musical practices, and during the process, added significant contributions to the “global village”.  These styles produced and consumed in the US manifest the hybrid nature of Latin culture’s “third space” in their oscillation between their original Latin American roots, their US diasporas, the US mainstream, and global cultures.

Latin Music, post-colonialism, and the politics of race

The existence of a well known, predominant mixed-race category in Spanish America – and its lack thereof in the United States -underlines the deep cultural differences between the ways Spanish and English-speaking Americans have identified themselves.  Latino Americanos recognize themselves and their cultures as products of the region’s rich cultural and racial blending.  Conversely, in the United States, racial and cultural identities have historically been created and portrayed in binary terms–black or white.  Fortunately, binary thinking about race is currently undergoing a period of change.  Recent proposed changes in immigration laws and a growing population of high profile multiracial people, including US President Barrack Obama, are examples of how the US is beginning to embrace racial hybridity.  Nevertheless, the steady stream of newspaper articles and television segments asking the question “is Obama black?” during the 2008 election season demonstrates the depth of discomfort generated by these new challenges to historical paradigms of racial identity.

In historical terms, taking for granted that race and cultural mixture has shaped US Latino musical practice has been controversial.  In the past, for most of the global community, the idea of racial merging and the resulting third space with both its certainties and doubts have a history of generating inherent anxieties about boundaries, power, class, sexuality, and the body.  The mix of Amerindian and African blood was considered the main source of inferiority for people of Latin American descent.  To British eyes during colonial times, even the Spanish were believed to be similarly afflicted with genetic inferiority, causing them to be predisposed to treachery, violence and other vices, such as indolence, irrationality, and sexual promiscuity.  This was reflected in their barbaric treatment of the natives in the territories of the Spanish Kingdom.

 

Genetic studies have demonstrated beyond a doubt that no races are “pure” and that racial mixture is universal. This universality does not mean it should be considered a neutral phenomenon lacking local significance or that it is disconnected from structural hierarchies. On the contrary, in terms of the quality of life of people throughout the Americas, mixed race peoples have historically had fewer rights and privileges than Continental Americans and Europeans although they consistently enjoyed higher status than unmixed Amerindians and Africans. These hierarchies of race and power have manifested themselves in the way Latin American popular musics have been produced, consumed, and valued in Latin America as well as the United States.

One of the terms used in Latin America for individuals of mixed descent is “mestizo”.  Technically it is used to describe people and culture of mixed European and native ancestry.  Generally, the related term “mestizaje” has commonly been used to refer the process of cultural mixing that accompanied biological mixing. But in practice what the term “mestizaje” really signifies is the resulting European/native hybridity.

Blood was considered the main source of inferiority for people of Latin American descent.  To British eyes during colonial times, even the Spanish or believe to be similarly afflicted with genetic inferiority, causing them to be predisposed to treachery, violence and other vices, such as indolence, irrationality, and sexual promiscuity.

The above concepts are important in order to frame our thinking about the complexities of US Latino identities and cultures, and to also illustrate some of the problems faced when used in the context of Latin music.  As an example, identifying the origins of African derived drumming rhythms does not have the same implication as trying to identify the origins of an individual’s hue of skin – particularly if the musician is white or light skinned.  The contributions of African derived aesthetics to Latino music, particularly merengue and salsa, among others, have been widely recognized.  The conclusion here is that the hue of a musician’s skin should not be tied to his proficiency, contribution, or mastery of a specific musical genre.

The more valid concern, however, is that the concept of mestizaje is being exploited to use the realities of racial mixture to deny racism and its structural manifestations.  Some race theorists, in particular Ian Haney Lopez [5], has argued that celebrations of Latinos’ mestizaje ushering in a post racial society, where color does not matter, is a double edged sword because it justifies efforts to break down race sensitive policies that persevere long standing social inequalities.

In closing, the constant musical remixing that has always characterized Latin music practices is precisely hybrid because they are perceived as expressing the harmonious (literally and figuratively) outcome of racial and cultural blending.  In addition, the individual components (musics of unambiguously African and native origins) would have never had the same access to and success within the popular music marketplace as their more audibly hybrid counterparts.

West Coast vs. East Coast

Cultural Nationalism and Latino Engagement with Rock and Roll

When Tito Puente wrote his now anthemic song “Oye Como Va!” in 1963, the United States was poised on the brink of profound social and cultural upheavals. In the seven short years between when this original recording and Carlos Santana’s 1970 rock version, would profoundly alter the context, nature, and meaning of Latino musical practices.

In the early 1960s, thousands of economically displaced Puerto Ricans including Puente’s family, arrived in New York in search of opportunity–just as the city was beginning to lose its manufacturing base. This led to the condemnation of many of the new arrivals and their mainland born children to lives of chronic unemployment, poverty, and racial discrimination. Increasingly negative images of Puerto Ricans and their culture began appearing in the media, such as John Frankenheimer’s 1961 film The Young Savages and the 1961 film West Side Story.  From this perspective, most of the Latin American music production out of New York City on receptive ears in the local Puerto Rican community, whereas the rest of the nation was turning its back on the mambos and cha-chas they once used to dance away the night at the Tropicana, now preferring rock and roll.  On the other side of the Americas, the anticipated economic restructuring was beginning to set in motion a series of events that would bring in millions of Mexicans searching for better lives into the United States.  Among these was Carlos Santana’s family.

Keep in mind however that in the early 1960s the Vietnam War had not yet mobilized the country’s youth to rebel against authority. The 2nd wave of the feminist movement was just getting underway and psychedelic drugs an alternate visions of how society could be restructured which is beginning to touch the imagination of young people around the globe. More importantly, the civil rights movement was challenging racist structures, although the seeds of the race and ethnicity movements by Puerto Rican and Chicanos of the 70s had not yet surfaced.

Because of their mixed racial ancestries, both Mexican-Americans and New York Puerto Ricans was subjected to racial discrimination, and they often resided in segregated neighborhoods in close proximity to African Americans.  Your, however as always bit more spatially concentrated but Los Angeles, with its characteristic metropolitan sprawl; the result Puerto Ricans, particularly in Spanish Harlem in the South Bronx, lived at work in close physical proximity to African Americans that did Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, where barrios have been comparatively more removed from African American neighborhoods. It is well known the biggest concentration of Mexican Angelinos reside in East Los Angeles.

Delving into the relationships between Chicanos and New York Puerto Ricans, that their respective musical developments in each other’s homelands as they relate to rock ‘n roll, both Mexico and the island of Puerto Rico had active rock ‘n roll scenes as early as the 1950s. Initially rock ‘n roll was associated with non-rebellious working-class youths there were light skin upper-class young people was assigned to participate in its modernity was perceived by nationalists as reflections of the colonization mentality. In Mexico however, Rock ‘n’ Roll was indigenized when a local rock scene developed encompassing elements of the US rock environment.  This was one sided, as US rockers did not incorporate any elements of the emerging Mexican rock into their genre.

In Puerto Rico, in contrast rock ‘n roll–irrespective of the ethnicity of the interpreters–continued to be perceived as an intrusive and unwelcome product of US imperialism, against which salsa became a symbolic antidote.  This was basically a “Fuck me-Fuck you” attitude- a counter culture backlash from the social discrimination and ill reception that they received during their migration.  Puerto Rico’s attachment with salsa as a symbol of authenticity and nationalism, and rock ‘n roll as a sign of US cultural imperialism, it is not surprising the musical elements from genre were not received enthusiastically from the working class and intensely nationalistic New York Puerto Rican community.  Chicano nationalists could look at the Mexican Rock scene with pride.  Carlos Santana, whose career as a rocker began in Tijuana, was a product of that scene.

West Coast

Mexican Americans, Latin Music and Rock ‘n’ Roll

As previously mentioned, and an expanding body of research continues to affirm, African American musicians were most influential on their Mexican American colleagues.  Both shared the experience of racial and economic injustices and the resulting segregation and marginalization in the urban landscape.  Back then, African Americans were familiar with Mexican American culture, and reflected it in some of their music.  In the 1960s The Penguins recorded a song called Hey Señorita, remixing musical elements from both African and Mexican riffs to the delight of mixed crowds.  Then, in the 1970s the group War recorded Lowrider, paying homage to the customized cars closely associated with Mexican Angelinos.

Rock ‘n’ Roll produced by Mexican Americans from the 1960s to the 1970s was unusually successful because of its style variations.  Those who attained national hits include; Trini Lopez (Texas born but discovered when performing in L.A.), Yaqui, Malo, and of course, Ritchie Valens La Bamba, based on a traditional Veracruzan folk song

Trini Lopez (1963)

Yaqui (Original Composition 1973)

Malo – Short Intro Clip

Malo (Original Composition 1974)

Another product of the scene was Ritchie Valens.

Ritchie Valens “La Bamba”

Later in the 70s, The Chicago movement, like any other movement, began to be stimulated by cultural nationalism and identity politics.  To a lesser degree, it was also influenced by more nuanced views of ethnic identities generated by alternative Latino lifestyles (queer, feminist, and other).  These contested monolithic ideas redefined what it meant to be Chicano. Chicano punk rockers such as The Plugz and The Brat reflected the desire to criticize the status quo.  Other groups, like the The Illegals, would only sing Spanish lyrics, at the same time rejecting the nationalism and other symbolism consistent with their language choice in their cover art.

 

 

For New York Puerto Ricans, although a strong adherence to tradition may have deterred these musicians from venturing into the more lucrative rock arena in the 1960s and 1970s, it undeniably help the community maintain its cultural coherence and integrity in years when it was under intense social and economic pressures. It is important to acknowledge and understand that maintaining a strong sense of ethnic identity is not necessarily dependent on any particular mode of engagement with US mainstream musical practice. Communities and individuals was decided for themselves when and where it is appropriate to participate and when and where it makes more sense to withdraw and resist.

In summary, Mexican-Americans musicians from Los Angeles have a rich, colorful history of hybridization with Rock ‘n’ Roll and, by association, with US pop music. Although some of their musical productions have been bilingual and even fewer have been entirely in Spanish, most of them have been in English. From the 60s – 70s Mexican-American rockers have encountered barriers mainly created by the disinterest of the mainstream music industry. Artistic recognition and economic success have eluded most of them, but enough of them have achieved amazing success to be considered co-participants in the development of US Rock ‘n’ Roll.

East Coast

NYC: The Sun of Latin Music

As a background, as far back as the 1950s, Puerto Rican musicians in New York had always engaged with U.S. popular music.  However, their engagement occurred more often with their African American counterparts than with the mainstream oriented Tin Pan Alley music [6].  Young PR teens were listening avidly to Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as to their parents’ Spanish Caribbean tunes.  But as the next two decades evolve, their enthusiasm waned.  With the exception of the short-lived Boogaloo and two golden musicians, Jose Feliciano and Tony Orlando, New York Puerto Rican musicians’ commitment to American music genres, including Pop, was lukewarm at best. 

Victims of racial discrimination, and sharing living accommodations with African Americans in the projects of N.Y. City, brought NY Puerto Ricans and African Americans closer socially, culturally and physically.  In addition, many of these Puerto Rican had African American ancestry, so the interactions between the groups facilitated the assimilation of the ancestral culture as opposed to the dominant white mainstream.  Nevertheless, these relations were not without problems, and NY Puerto Ricans have resisted the degradation of their cultural heritage when misidentified as Afro-Americans, a confusion not experienced by Mexican Americans, who were usually identified as mestizos.

During this era, New York was the country’s premier immigrant city and the center of the nation’s recording industry.  As such, it was the magnet for musical talent from the Caribbean and Latin America.  An accumulation of African American and whites from throughout the continental US had already been taking place, making it the ideal “third space” for musical experimentation and creativity.  So NY-based Puerto Rican musicians were living the dream of being embedded within a dynamic, music scene, solidly grounded in Spanish Caribbean styles, but with access to other music genres; jazz, funk, soul, swing.  Being in close proximity to the record industry offered the professional advantages of being able to obtain steady work recording music in the Spanish Caribbean styles.

In the 1960s some of New York’s more established Latino musicians attempted to revitalize the Spanish Caribbean music of the 50s with new energy by infusing it with R&B inflections, and scores of flute and violin.  Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and Ray Barreto were the emerging stars of this period.  The musical subgenres of pachanga and charanga where characteristic at the beginning of the period, but later, guajira and guaguanco became predominant.  These were the new styles that would predominate and contribute to the Salsa explosion.

The emergence of Salsa was tied to the rise of Puerto Rican cultural nationalism and deeply rooted in Spanish Caribbean Musical traditions.  Its intense symbolic importance was directly proportional to the appalling social conditions that Puerto Ricans and African Americans lived under in New York City.  In addition, changes in immigration policies in the mid 60s opened up doors to hundreds of thousands of new immigrants globally.  The “white flight’ to the suburbs drained city budgets at the same time demand for public services was rising, contributing to the decay of New York’s once vital Puerto Rican neighborhoods.  A series of counter movements, social, cultural, political, inspired by the black and Chicano civil rights movements, brought together PR militant cultural nationalists, seeking to defend their communities by protesting the city’s neglect and promoting a sense of community empowerment.  Using their own cultural resources as a source of strength and pride, Salsa rose as the battle cry, and the lullaby of the Puerto Rican community, angry at their deplorable state of existence, and tired of the constant oscillation between who they were, and who they could be.

Salsa can be deconstructed as an assortment of contemporary musical styles; R & B, jazz, and various Latin American and Caribbean genres, but at its heart is a remixed form of the celebrated Afro-Cuban-Spanish musical elements that had flourished in NYC in the 40s and 50s.  The emergence of salseros, from Willie Colon through Tipica 73 to Larry Harlow, all shared the aggressive, dynamic energy and stinging lyrics that reflected their struggles growing up in New York’s barrios.

Rather than present the reader with multiple video clips covering the music described above, the clip below is a PBS documentary covering the “Salsa Revolution”:

http://video.pbs.org/video/1293757593

Another look (In Spanish, with an awesome soundtrack!):

 

References:

  1. Bhabha, H. K. (1994). The location of culture. Routledge.
  2. Foucault, M. (1966). Les mots et les choses.
  3. Hernandez, D. P. (2010). Oye Como Va!: Hybridity and Identity in Latino Popular Music. Temple University Press. 
  4. Lipsitz, G. (1994). Dangerous crossroads. D. Diederichsen (Ed.). London: Verso.
  5. Flores, J. (2000). From bomba to hip-hop: Puerto Rican culture and Latino identity. Columbia University Press.
  6. Lopez, I. H. (2003). White Latinos. Harv. Latino L. Rev., 6, 1.
  7. Loza, S. J. (1999). Tito Puente and the making of Latin music. University of Illinois Press.

 

“The fact that in the US most musical styles were at one time associated with a particular race left little space for those Latinos like myself, confortable with “bridging the gap”, living in that “third space”, not wanting to choose on aesthetic or identity over another.”

EC

 

Spirituality and Style

By Deborah Reichmann

Historical circumstances of Diaspora and legal landlessness in Europe resulted in many European Jews taking on the jobs of peddlers, bankers or tailors. Professions that could be uprooted at a moment’s notice and transplanted without too much trouble were the hallmark of a wandering people. To a great extent, these livelihoods carved out from oppression became traditional within Jewish culture and their influence can be seen in modern American life.

That said, having Jews in the clothing and apparel industry does not per se create a religious nexus within that industry. Nonetheless, the intersection of Judaism and fashion does bear examination.  The very forces that had created niche professions for Jews in Europe brought them to American shores at a time where those particular proficiencies were highly marketable.[1] The early 20th century resulted in a clothing industry highly influenced by Jewish immigrants; this influence is not merely seen in the preponderance of Jewish workers, but in their inherent world view made from generations of immigrants. A world view that stressed adaptation, innovation and persistence.[2]

Within two generations, the clothing and apparel industry became less Jewish as sons and daughters sought out different careers and opportunities than their parents, but clothing and fashion remain a window into understanding contemporary Jewish life.  Pierre Bourdieu mapped out a method for understanding the process and impact of cultural production a scheme that works well in parsing out the component parts of fashion in general, and in particular the subset that constitutes Jewish religious fashion. Once, the scheme and its ‘moving parts’ are identified, Roland Barthes’ “Fashion System” semiotics provide insights into the deeper meanings of Jewish fashion and the stories that it tells.

Judaism and Clothing

Judaism regulates dress, but in a far different and less explicit way than it does, say, food or other social behavior. Biblically, there are few explicit regulations on clothing. The verse that relates the most closely is Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord your God” (JPS translation), and the second one often referred to is in Numbers 5:18 that refers to the high priest removing a woman’s head covering (aka veil), ergo implying that a woman should have her head covered. The Deuteronomy passage has been interpreted by most rabbis to mean that women and men should not attempt to gain entrance into the other’s society via subterfuge, and not as an all out restriction on clothing. Today, only the most observant Jewish women will not wear pants so as to ensure that this stricture does not get inadvertently broken. 

These two biblical passages and a host of rabbinic lore and interpretation throughout the last two thousand years have resulted in a code of dress based on Tzniut, modesty. That code is itself predicated on three kinds of directives:

  • the law of Moses – those edicts mentioned in the bible,
  • the law of the Jews – those directives based on Jewish tradition, and
  • the custom of the place – those guidelines influenced by the local (aka secular) community.

The practical upshot of these rules is that men and women dress in clothing that is not sexually suggestive, they wear garments that cover their torsos to the clavicle, arms to the elbow and legs to the knee. Some more religious sects take the strictures even further, and extend the lengths, avoid bright colors and any body conforming clothing. At first glance, these fashions seem to bear little or no resemblance to mainstream fashion, but in essence they are no different.

 Image from Polyvore at tznius.com


Image from http://www.vogue.com/magazine/

Bourdieu – Cultural Production 

At the outset, it is clear that Bourdieu does not base his theory of cultural production on aesthetic values, instead his concern is with the underlying causation of cultural products. That is to say, cultural artifacts are measured by symbolic, attributed values, values assigned their place in a competitive social hierarchy.[3] Cultural products relate directly to social stratification, and each cultural production field has its own set of rules to differentiate itself and propagate its interests.[4] Further, Bourdieu links cultural production to economic stratification with an inverse relation to an artifact’s functionality, inasmuch as the higher the aesthetic value, the lower the functional value of the object.[5]

The relation of an object’s symbolic value, then, translates into social capital and therefore, “art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfil a social function of legitimating social differences.”[6] Bourdieu also introduces a factor of ‘disinterestedness, ’ as a mark of artistic autonomy and the mark of a cultural artifact’s ‘purity.’[7] The higher the autonomous value of an object, the higher it’s luxury value and therefore it’s social capital.

Cultural production and consumption, under Bourdieu’s scheme create, “patterns of perception in order to generate successful patterns of legitimation . . . In order to consume, we need to be able to classify.”[8] The process of legitimation can not exist outside of a given field since it is competition within the field that generates the hierarchical differences among cultural products. The judges for this competition are, themselves, competitors who have aggregated enough ‘capital’ to award esteem upon others. For our purposes, the essence of Bourdieu’s analysis is that identifiable culture is not based on abstract principles, but that it is valued by the ‘dominant players’ to promote their respective agendas. 

There is an inherent inconsistency with the model because it counters commonly held principles of economic decision making. A successful artist is one who does not create in order to sell (disiniterest), however, once recognized by the dominant players in the field, that artist’s work will demand a high price. Bourdieu tackles this inconsistency by structuring the field of cultural production along a spectrum of two opposite sets of values: autonomous and heteronomous.[9] The autonomous side of the field is fueled by ‘classic’ artistic ideals such as imagination, truth-telling, and creative expression, and the target audience are the dominant players, those who share in the field’s specialized knowledge and confer their regard upon that basis. The heteronomous section is produced for mass consumption, based on the rules and codes established by the dominant players, but whose symbolic capital is diluted by mass recognition.

Fashion follows the same rules as Art in Bourdieu’s analysis of cultural production, even though clothing is functional, it is generated by similar mechanisms and similar actors.[10] For example, at the autonomous extreme, designers of haute couture actually do make “one off” pieces that bear little to no resemblance to common street wear, but whose monetary and status value are very high.

Judaism and Fashion in Bourdieu’s model 

As Bourdieu notes in the introduction to Distinction:

There is no way out of the game of culture, and one’s only chance of objectifying the true nature of the game is to objectify as fully as possible the very operations which one is obliged to use in order to achieve that objectification.[11]

Adding Jewish cultural norms to the more generalized norms of American culture does not change the game, but adds a dimension of complexity. The players, those that recognize that fashion connotes status and generates social capital are faced with adapting the norms as set forth by the fashion industry/interpretive community alongside the norms set forth by their religious communities.

 

When a player within both of these systems has enough individual capital to be among the dominant players, then the hybrid fashion becomes an exercise in creativity.

(See, Tobi Rubenstein Schneier

New York Post Article

As we can see from this real life example, social capital and cultural production are not easily teased out to exist in only one field. Tobi Rubenstein Schneier, was already a member of the fashion interpretive community when she gained social capital by marrying a locally well-known individual. She combined her capital to where now she is in a position to elevate particulars of the fashion production field. Because her personal bent is also toward the religious, there too she wields influence.

For everyone else, the adaptation of maximizing fashion based social capital within a religious overlay comes from understanding how, where and when cultural production influences their social structure. To illuminate this arena, we turn to Roland Barthes.

Roland Barthes

According to Bourdieu, Fashion is a field for and of cultural production, with no value outside that which it assigns itself and is recognized by the society in which it sits. For Roland Barthes, fashion is also an abstract notion, but instead of conceiving it as field per se, it is a system of signs and signifiers that interrelate, but do not necessarily correlate to a specific thing, rather to the idea of a thing (how to look/be/act fashionably). 

Barthes examines fashion by looking at how it is conveyed and received. That is, by its language. A garment in and of itself carries, at best, its functional value, but “it is not the object but the name that creates desire; it is not the dream but the meaning that sells.”[12] Fashion language (differentiated from speaking about fashion) creates a system whereby by indicating what is acceptable, all else is implicitly not acceptable.[13] (See http://www.vogue.com/guides/)

In this write up of Fall fashion we are told it is a season of duality, of opposites attracting etc. etc. The text goes on and names various garments, but in truth they could each be swapped out for others, the decision to award social capital to certain stylistic elements was made by the interpretive society of fashion (the dominant players), and each signifier only indicates what is intended to be signified, at this time.

Fashion can be defined only by itself, for Fashion is merely a garment and the Fashion garment is never anything but what Fashion decides it is; thus, from signifiers to signified, a purely reflexive process is established, in the course of which the signified is emptied, as it were, of all content, without, however, losing anything of its power to designate: this process constitutes the garment as a signifier of something which is yet nothing other than this very constitution. [14] 

And yet, we are left wondering about a garment’s own determining factors. Instinctively, we may say that the language of fashion does refer to specific things (i.e., garments), and even if, “An article of clothing may seem to be ‘meaningless’ in itself; so we must then, more than ever, get at its social and global function, and above all its history; and because the manner in which vestimentary values are presented (forms, colours [sic], tailoring, etc.) can very well depend on an internal history of the system.”[15] Finally, Barthes acknowledges that garments have signifiers outside the Fashion System. 

A garment’s determinants include not only its supported and prescribed function as told by the cultural production side, but its status and provenance as interpreted by society. All garments “speak,” but what they say is entirely subjective to the “listener.” A person may see history in a garment, a particular fabric or pattern can have additional meanings (e.g., national colors, flag motifs). But, the decision as to whether or not a specific object is fashionable, that is has social capital, is made by the ‘dominant players’. In this scheme, then is it realistically possible for religion and fashion to blend? If the Fashion dominant players insist that hemlines must be above the knee, how can an observant Jewish woman engage in the Fashion game?

Jewish Fashion

The supposition that Fashion is uniform is flawed. Even among the dominant players, or rather especially among the dominant players, dissent can be found. How else can they promote one designer over another? While certain trends can be identified, the closer one gets to the autonomous end of the fashion spectrum the greater the variation from the mean, the heteronomous mass market. This is both definitional and logical. Equally important is the concept that social status varies among different social strata and communities. Thus, there is a separate hierarchy that only applies to observant Jewish communities, a fashion code that the members of that community are conversant in, and whose signifiers connote other than that of mainstream Fashion.

Key to Fashion/Religion Venn DIagram

Fashion

  • Identity – emerges out of fashion choice along the autonomous/heteronomous spectrum
  • Status – social capital is measured by adherence to a specified fashion code

Religion

  • Identity – emerges out of family and social constraints in combination with adherence to religious code
  • Status – indicated by observance of specified social norms

Religious Fashion

  • Identity and Status combine across cultural systems. Depending on the variables unique to each, an individual’s social capital can either rise or fall, and it is not necessary that the social capital be  the same across both spheres.

In fact, Jewish fashion understands the language of fashion and uses Barthesian logic to highlight the aspects of current fashion that are allowed, and to play down the aspects that do not jibe with their world view. Jewish fashion stores and writers are allowing, “the source of meaning to be attached quite precisely to a small, finite element (represented by a single word), whose action is diffused through a complex structure.”[16]The Jewish Chronicle Online opened a 2011 article with these words: 

They may not often grace the pages of Vogue, but strictly Orthodox women regularly reinterpret celebrity and catwalk fashion – with a modest twist, according to research by the London College of Fashion.[17] 

Jewish fashion magazines exist, and sell their story. It isn’t the mainstream story

http://infashionmagazine.com/category/fashion/

It isn’t the mainstream story, but it nonetheless conveys meaning and social status. The worlds of cultural production and religious cultural production ultimately follow the same rules and use the same semiotic symbols—in combination, we can find a hybrid sub-culture where, just as in the mainstream, “Fashion is stripped of content, but not of meaning.”[18]

 


[1]  Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2008). 144

[2]  Jonathan D. Sarna, “The Cult of Synthesis in American Jewish Culture,” Jewish Social Studies (Indiana University Press) 5, no. 1/2 (1999): 52-79. 72.

[3]  David Swartz, Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). 6

[4]  Simon Susen, “Bourdieu and Adorno on the Transformation of Culture in Modern Society: Towards a Critical Theory of Cultural Production,” in The Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu: Critical Essays, 438 (London: Anthem Press, 2011). 176

[5]  Jen Webb, Understanding Bourdieu (London: SAGE Publications, 2002). 148

[6] Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984). 7.

[7] Bourdieu Distinction. 254.

[8]  Susen, 183.

[9] Webb, 159-160.

[10] “While objects may have another function or another identity as commodities, when they move into the world of Culture their economic value is applied differently from objects in the mainstream commodity world. They circulate under a different order of logic and exchange from that of ‘everyday’ goods, because they are no use principally as signs of distinction, social division and privilege.” Webb, 163.

[11] Bourdieu, 12.

[12]  Roland Barthes, The Fashion System (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). xii.

[13] “In Fashion, we are dealing with classes of exclusions, whereas language always tends to propose classes of inclusions.” Barthes, The Fashion System 101.

[14] Id. 287

[15]  Roland Barthes, The Language of Fashion (Oxford: Berg, 2006). 14

[16] Barthes The Fashion System. 119.

[17]  Jessica Elgot, Vogue does strictly Orthodox fashion, June 23, 2011, http://www.thejc.com/news/world-news/50696/vogue-does-strictly-orthodox-fashion (accessed May 2, 2013).

[18] Barthes, The Fashion System. 288.