Leeds Railway Station is located right in the heart of central Leeds and surrounded by a flourishing, upmarket retail and leisure district filled with shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. I plan to look at the station and its surrounding area using Lefebvre’s Spatial Triad.
In practice the space provides a very important function in allowing travel in and out of Leeds, however, I think the environment surrounding the station, and to some extent the station itself during its remodelling in 2002, is likely to have been designed and developed to fulfil a secondary role of pulling money into the city’s economy by funnelling new visitors directly into this area of Leeds.
From the moment you exit the station you are funnelled towards either the Queen hotel and City Square; a grand, central European plaza-style space with upmarket restaurants and shopping centres surrounding it, or the Corn Exchange and the main shopping district, which includes the Victorian Quarter and an array of well-known upmarket brand-named shops. Such a position can often seem coincidental, however, the rental prices of the properties in this area reflects the high demand to be located in such proximity to the regular flow of new visitors. In this sense, I think the representation of space has been effective because the station not only serves its primary function as a gateway into the centre of Leeds, it helps to influence new visitors to spend money both inside the station, which has a line of food and retail options inside, and out.
The representational spatial ideas; the ideals, imagination, theory and visions surrounding Leeds Station, seem to be to present Leeds in the most attractive light to new visitors. It is a space which saw 21.98m passengers in 2010 and therefore every visitor will view and experience the space in a different way, from a child that imagines Harry Potter on every platform due to the cultural influence the books have had on the perception of stations in general to an elderly person whose memories of the building in an earlier era outweigh the new image of the space.
Hip-Hop has become synonymous with homophobia and hyper-masculinity, the latter of which manifests itself in overtly masculine posturing for music videos, album artwork and magazine articles, which are then distributed throughout mainstream media and perpetuate the image of black males as tough, dominant, aggressive and emotionless. I would maintain that this hegemonic idea of black masculinity, although it seems empowering on the surface, is in fact damaging at an individual and cultural level within the wider black community as well as specifically the black Hip-Hop community; not to mention the harmful effect it has on the already slow process of gaining acceptance for the homosexual community within mainstream culture.
It could be argued that the ‘gangterisation’ of Hip-Hop music (e.g artists such as N.W.A whose attitude and approach to their music was much more aggressive and told a grittier, and perhaps arguably more ‘real’ story, than previous incarnations) is to blame for the hyper-masculinisation of black males in Hip-Hop, however, in his book Hip-Hop America (1998) Nelson George argues that “the values that underpin so much Hip-Hop - materialism, brand consciousness, gun iconography and anti-intellectualism - are very much a part of the larger American culture”. This suggests that rather than creating a morally damaging image of black masculinity, gangsta rap has merely capitalised on the success of the image in mainstream culture. Byron Hurt provides a great example of America’s pre-existing hegemonic idea of masculinity in his documentary, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, using a video clip from a speech by Arnold Schwarzenegger (as governor for California) telling “those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy” not to be “economic girlie men’”. He also references the violence and hyper-masculinity portrayed in video games and Hollywood films (as far back as black & white Westerns) to confirm the notion that American society has historically celebrated the tough, “Marlboro Man” image of masculinity. Bakari Kitwana (in Saddik, 2003, p. 115) confirms this theory, stating that “‘gangsta rap’ is just one manifestation of the culture of violence that saturates American society as a whole”.
Hurt asked a group of young black MC’s free-styling outside a Hip-Hop event why each time he has young kids ‘spit’ (perform a rhyme) for the camera, they always talk about “gun play, killing other men, being tough and invulnerable, feminising other men and putting fear into another mans heart”. One of the MC’s stepped forward to argue that he could (and implied that he would prefer to) perform verses like:
“I coulda been a doctor, or I coulda been a pops,
I wonder what woulda happened had I woulda been a cop,
Would I help the block? Protect the good from the bad?
Or just be killin’ niggas ‘cuz the power of my badge…
But they don’t wont to hear that right now”
The problem seems to be that the major record labels that mainstream rappers such as 50 Cent and Lil Wayne are signed to (run by predominantly white, middle class males) are pushing this style of violent, misogynistic and intellectually-lacking Hip-Hop as a profitable commodity and in doing so are perpetuating the notion that the only way to be a “black man… is to be hard, to denigrate women, to denigrate homosexuals, to denigrate each other [and] to kill each other” (Kevin Powell in Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, 2006). They have created a scenario where you have to live up to their notion of a black rapper in order to have a chance at a career in Hip-Hop, which has led to a generation of young MC’s emulating this style, despite whatever issues they may want to put across themselves, in order to get a record a deal.
This leads on to a theory presented by Saddik (2003) in her essay Rap’s Unruly Body: The Postmodern Performance of Black Male Identity on the American Stage. Much like Erving Goffman’s (1959) theory of dramaturgical perspective - the theory that we change our masks (the way we portray ourselves) according to the stage (the specific context) we find ourselves in - in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Saddik suggests that Hip-Hop (and gangsta rap in particular) is a post modern performance rather than a realistic portrayal of life as a black male in America. The problem with this theory is that for those that don’t see through the mask for whatever reason - be it age or lack of understanding - this image becomes the reality of who they feel they have to be. It seems irresponsible to justify an issue as damaging as the perpetuation of homophobic & warped-masculine ideals as just a performance.
There are interesting parallels between the homogenisation of mainstream Hip-Hop music and the theory in Adorno’s essay, On Popular Music (1941), that Popular Music (e.g mainstream Hip-Hop), as opposed to ‘Serious Music’ (he was referring to Classical music), has been standardised so that all songs use the same subjects and rules. As a result of this no intellectual effort is required on the part of the listener because it is “pre-digested” (something we have essentially heard before in other songs), which creates apathy - popular music “maim[s] the consciousness of those exposed to it”. In the case of mainstream Hip-Hop, the standardisation and mass production of songs that celebrate anti-intellectualism ensures that nothing but the hegemonic idea of masculinity is portrayed, which further ingrains the negative idea of black masculinity perpetuated by such songs. This idea that those in charge of the proliferation of mainstream music are, as suggested by Kitwana (in Saddik, 2003, p.113), maintaining the historic discourse of white domination through the promotion and commodification of “distorted images of black identity” is both interesting and worrying.
I agree with Saddik that there is an element of post modern performance within Hip-Hop music, however, there is also undeniable evidence in the form of documentaries (e.g Style Wars, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s), books and historic discourse to suggest that the environment from which Hip-Hop culture emerged was a hostile one and, as a result, the need to appear tough in order to survive became part of the culture of Hip-Hop. Foucault talks about the influence institutions have on the construction of identity and the way we begin to occupy a subject position relating to our social environment. This can be seen in the way Hip-Hop artists have created their hyper-masculine identities through the lens of their environment, which have then been capitalised on by record companies and has arguably contributed to the violent power structures that constructed their identities by perpetuating the hyper-masculine image.
A study conducted by Ford for her essay, Doing Fake Masculinity, Being Real Men (2011), using a range of black, male college students (from a variety of classes, religions, sexual orientations and year groups) looked at (among other things) their views on what black masculinity is and how the hegemonic view of black masculinity presented in Hip-Hop music affects their identity. It showed that despite “these men’s ability to analytically deconstruct the thug image” they still “engage in it”, which “shows how entrenched the image has become”. One student referred to it as “default” or something to fall back on as a “safe” way to portray yourself in order to authenticate your masculinity as a black male. In Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality (Carbado, 1999) a quote from Marlon T. Riggs introduces an interesting link between masculinity and sexuality. Speaking in reference to the portrayal of black gay men in the media he says “because of my sexuality I cannot be black. A strong, proud, ‘Afrocentric’ black man is resolutely heterosexual, not even bisexual. Hence, I remain a Negro. …I cannot be a black gay man because by the tenets of black macho, black gay is a triple negation”. The idea that he is viewed by the black community as a Negro (a term used to dehumanise slaves throughout history) rather than a man because he is gay brings in to question where the homophobic attitude that is “rampant” in black American culture comes from?
According to Dawson (in Ward, 2005, p. 494) “97% of black people in the USA claim some religious affiliation”. This suggests that black churches hold a huge influence over their communities and therefore it is easy to imagine theologically-driven homophobia playing a key role in the homophobic conditioning of religious followers. According to a bisexual student in Ford’s study his church has taught him that his sexuality is a “sign of weakness” and a “sin” and he prays that he will one day change. Along with most of the other students, he says he feels pressure to look and act masculine so he is not a “disgrace to the race”. Douglas (in Ward, 2005, p. 495) claims that, despite a concerted effort by biblical scholars to clarify and contextualise the meanings behind some of the most homophobic passages in the bible, “Scripture is often the cornerstone of homophobia in the black community” and goes on to explain how “black people’s use of the bible to condemn homosexuality is understandable in their historic experience, as enslaved blacks sought refuge and found freedom in the literalness of Scripture”. Crichlow (in Ward, 2005, p. 495) draws another link between homophobia and slavery, emphasising the notion of “race survival consciousness”. As an enslaved people there was an urgency to preserve their race and culture, which relied on heterosexuality for procreation and led to an understanding of homosexuality as “weakness” in the struggle against white domination. Conversely, black masculinity has been constructed in hyper-masculine terms. Lemelle and Belle (in Ward, 2005, p. 498) found that “among black men, regular church attendance was significantly associated with more homophobic attitudes towards gay males”. Riggs suggests that stigmatisation of gay men in the black community is the result of a “desperate need for a convenient Other… to blame for the the chronic identity crisis afflicting the black male psyche”. Othering is present in many aspects of mainstream Hip-Hop music as a device to further strengthen the hyper-masculine image.
Ironically, in Hurt’s Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, Gay rapper Tim’m West of the gay rap group Deep Dickollective suggests a further complexity in understanding the relationship between homosexuality and hyper-masculinity in Hip-Hop culture by pointing out that there is a lot of homo-eroticism in Hip-Hop imagery. He uses the example of LL Cool J’s video for Paradise in which he is shown soaked in water, with his shirt off and licking his lips as well as numerous other rappers like 50 Cent who are regularly photographed without their tops on for promotional material. It is no doubt an attempt to portray a hyper-masculine, muscly image of themselves, however, it adds an interesting dynamic that it is seen as eye candy for the very people many rappers write so aggressively about.
As a fan of Hip-Hop music I am discouraged by the continuing complacency towards homophobia in commercial Hip-Hop but I am also pleased to see positive artists such as Atmosphere, P.O.S and Brother Ali who are promoting a change in attitudes towards both issues with lines such as “I don’t say faggot cuz I don’t think it’s right, I know my boy struggled with that for over half his life”. The source of the issues of hyper-masculinity and homophobia in Hip-Hop music are clearly complex and deeply ingrained in Hip-Hop as well as the black community and American culture as a whole and will require serious acknowledgements from the music, film & television industries, churches and government because if Foucault is right and our identity is subject to such institutions then there won’t be any change until these institutions change.
1. I have used the terms Hip-Hop and Rap to refer to Hip-Hop/Rap music in general, however, Rap is widely understood to mean the music side of Hip-Hop culture specifically, whereas Hip-Hop refers to the culture as a whole including graffiti and break dancing etc.
Adorno, T.W (1941) On Popular Music. Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, Vol. 9, p.17-48
Carbardo, D. W (1999) Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality New York, New York University Press
Ford, K. A (2011) Doing Fake Masculinity, Being Real Men. Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 34, p. 38-62
George, N (1998) Hip-Hop America New York, Penguin Books
Goffman, E (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life New York, Doubleday
Gray, H (1995) Black Masculinity and Visual Culture. Callaloo, Vol. 18, p. 401-405
Hurt, B (2006) Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes Arlington, PBS
Saddik, A. J. (2003) Rap’s Unruly Body: The Postmodern Performance of Black Male Identity on the American stage. The Drama Review, Vol. 47, p. 110-127
Ward, E. G. (2005) Homophobia, Hypermasculinity and the US Black Church. Culture, Health & Sexuality, Vol. 7, p. 493-504
The City in Modernism:
George Simmel (German Sociologist)
Louis Sullivan (Architect 1856-1924)
Fordism: Coined by Antonio Gramsci in Americanism and Fordism
Post Modern City
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Lowenthal, Horkheimer
‘The Ancient Craft of the Beautiful’
How has new technology changed art?
To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproduction
The Cult of the Beautiful
Mechanical reproduction changes the reaction to the masses towards art. The reactionary attitude to toward a Picasso painting changes to a progressive reaction to a Chaplin movie. The progressive reaction is characterised by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert.
Opposite to Adorno’s belief that mass production creates apathy - Benjamin suggests we’re not just manipulated; we have the ability to create our own views
Homophobia, Masculinity & Othering in Hip-Hop Music
This article from The Independent is an example of the middle-class readership ‘othering’ low-income and working-class households.
The subject of the article is ‘pay-day’ loan companies, which are essentially loan-sharks, that offer loans to just about anyone but charge a phenomenal rate of interest so borrowers can end up being in huge amounts of debt for a relatively small loan.
I think this is a good example of othering because, while I do feel it is important that these businesses are shown for what they are and are subsequently far more regulated, the majority of readers of The Independent are likely to be wealthy enough and in secure enough jobs to not need the services of these companies. Therefore, the man featured in the article who ‘spiralled into debt’ because of his high-interest repayments is the ‘other’ because he is removed from and different to the readers.
The images, saturated in red for emphasis, are of websites, shop fronts and adverts belonging to the loan companies, which themselves are generally aimed at the working-class and naive young adults who are deemed to be more likely to need a quick fix for money problems. For instance, many of the adverts on TV show characters from the North (a stereotypically poorer area of the country) and narrated in a simple, ‘matey’ way to appeal to their target audience.
Memling, H (1485) ‘Vanity’, http://www.friendsofart.net/static/images/art1/hans-memling-vanity.jpg
Titian (1538) ‘Venus of Urbino’, http://www.arts-crafts-hobbiesanddiy.com/venus%20of%20urbino.jpg
Unwerth, E (2011) ‘Rosie Huntington- Whiteley’, GQ Magazine, http://cdni.condenast.co.uk/642x390/o_r/rhwhiteley8_gq_27may10_evunwerth_b.jpg
‘according to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome - men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’ (Berger 1972, 45, 47)
I think this contemporary image illustrates Berger’s statement concerning “the male gaze” clearly. The inclusion of the video camera, similar to the use of a mirror in Memling’s ‘Vanity’ to imply the subject is vain, suggests she is acting provocatively for the camera (and subsequently for the men who will then watch the video) and is therefore to blame for being sexually objectified.
Despite posing for an audience (the video camera), her closed eyes suggest she is unaware of the second audience (the photographer) and don’t meet the gaze of the audience. Foucault’s see/being seen dyad is therefore broken, allowing for objectification without being objectified in return.
There is also another interesting parallel between this picture and Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’, which both suggest the subject exists only to satisfy their husband (or sexual partner) respectively. They lay waiting in sexually provocative poses with no distraction.
At first the glamour industry’s depiction of women in comparison to nudes in classical art seemed odd and a little off-the-mark, however, it is interesting to consider the similarities despite the obvious differences in circumstance; the subject is being paid to pose for the image and the image is aimed at a male audience for sexual interest while representing a false reality.
Also, I can’t help feeling the phrase ‘mens mag’ only serves to perpetuate the attitude that “this is what men are supposed to look at and therefore you should too”.
A modern take on Venus of Urbino:
What is culture?
Who decides what culture is and is not?
Popular culture is:
Inferior or Residual Culture
Art has been validated by the discourses “experts” have created.
Matthew Arnold - Culture & Anarchy
Leavism - F.R Leavis + Q.D Leavis (Mass Civilisation & Minority Culture)
Frankfurt School - Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Lowenthal, Benjamin
Products of the “culture industry”
Both seen as ways to escape working class but only ‘taxes hope’ and creates apathy.
Adorno - ‘On Popular Music’
DANCING TO THE RHYTHMS OF YOUR OWN OPPRESSION
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (1963-2002)
Cultural & civilisation tradition emerges from & represents anxieties about social and cultural expression. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and social authority.
The government’s proposal of mandatory Identification cards, which contain personal details, biometric measurements such as fingerprints and will be required in order to travel, work and even access the NHS will allow the government to conduct “meticulous and ever more analytical observation” and surveillance of its citizens. In the same way Bentham’s design was back-lit to allow constant scrutiny of the subject, the ID card will illuminate our behaviour and allow analysis and scrutiny of the citizen.
The individual will be “replaced with a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised” and because it is “permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action”, it means the mere idea that we are being surveilled and judged is enough to make us “self-regulate” our behaviour.
The “guardian” (in this case any government department) - with help from mainstream media - has made it clear what the implications of an identity card are, which plays into the idea that the subject (the citizen) “is seen, but does not see; he is the object of information” and will consciously adhere to the social expectations of behaviour in order to avoid punishment (also well documented by mainstream media) at the hands of the surveillor.
Foucault said of the Panopticon mechanism that “power should be visible and unverifiable”, which is certainly true in the case of identity cards because we know it is possible for us to be watched and monitored at anytime but have no idea when or what additional information may be gathered about us and stored in a database for the rest of our lives.