Ah, resistance–you definitively elusive devil, you! While we managed to sketch out the cultural battlefield in Hall, we still haven’t made a relief map of complicity *and* resistance by the dominated or oppressed classes. Nor have we figured out why “popular culture” is so contested a thing. (Interestingly, the next conservative turn of co-opting radical/resistant culture doesn’t elude us–good that it’s the subject of our next meeting!) I’d like you all to review Hall’s comments about resistance and come to class with one example you think brings this concept to life.
Our primary reading for Tuesday is a piece of cultural satire rather than criticism or theory: Tom Wolfe’s canny anecdote for New York Magazine called “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” (which was later published with a companion piece, “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.”
We’ll pair it with a short text, “Hip-Hop & Hipsterism: Notes on a Philosophy of Us & Them,” which comes from the book What was the hipster?, put out very recently by the hipster periodical n+1. We’ll sample from this collection of symposia and short responses later on in the semester, when we go toe-to-toe with the well-heeled white hipster with whom we at Mac are well-acquainted!
As you read both works, think about how they animate concepts we’ve already discussed, especially Hall’s ideas of complicity and resistance by the dominated classes, and implantation and co-optation by the dominating ones. I have a hunch you’ll recognize your own reality in these works, and hope that makes you more finely attuned to these postwar/postmodern/late-capitalist dynamics, while also making for a fun read!
Erica will lead us from the mean streets of militant activism to the refined drawing rooms of New York’s cultural elite, as Lenny Bernstein and his intimate circle convert black political radicalism into a chic topic for white cocktail chatter. Bottoms up!
Leonard Bernstein and the elite of the Upper East Side are the epitome of high-brow, poshly, citizens. Every action they take, every outfit they wear, and every party they throw must represent what is currently in style.
The spectacle that the guests of the Party at Lenny’s provide, displays a type of conspicuous consumption of entertainment. The Black Panthers are there not because the high class, New York celebrities truly care about their cause, but because they are what is in style. They are Radical chic. They represent a different race and a different class, giving the wealthy guests of Lenny a feeling of worldly openness that we know is oh so poshly. They also represent an alternative form of high-brow living to the wealthy, white member of society. They represent a new, moral high-brow that Bernstein and his guests are able to feel through association and proximity.
The party at Lenny’s gives the impression of breaking down class distinction but it is all just an illusion. What Lenny and his non-panther guests want is the type of entertainment that will get them written about in the newspapers. They invited the Black Panther for many reasons but to truly support their cause is not one of them. They relish the rebellion of supporting a group so different from themselves, they even enjoy the fact that supporting the party is not tax deductible just because it makes it all the more rebellious. The excitement of doing the unexpected and being in the presence of those who are so different from them, is what draws them to this party.
For tomorrow I would like to discuss whether radical chic is degrading to the movements that it temporarily idealizes. Also is it tasteful to aestheticize a real political movement?