Subculture in America pt. 2

When taking the time to consider the film Absolute Beginners and its depiction of the Notting Hill riots as a kind of rock opera compared to the novel’s depiction of a darker, more somber toned version of events, we see the conflict of image vs. word. Consider MacInnes’ descriptions: “Quite decent, respectable people they seemed, too: white-collar workers and their wives, I expect, who’d probably been out to do their shopping. Well, they saw the lads get in the Spades’ car, and drive it against a concrete lamp-standard, and climb back in their handy little delivery vans, and drive away” (246). The crowds of white collar workers, quite civilized, escalating racial violence. “Then came another incident–and soon, as you’ll understand, I began to lose count a little, and, as time went on, lose count a bit of what time was, as well” (247). The narrator’s loss of time seems to be a loss of existential identity in the temporal landscape–but it is not silly. The crowd is searching for violence. For a subject to exact violence upon.

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“Well they weren’t disappointed long. Because out of the Metropolitan Railway station–the dear old London Transport, we all think so safe and reliable–came a bunch of passengers, and among them was a Spade” (247). The subject to be brutalized. “A boy of my own age, I’d say, carrying a holdall and a brown paper parcel–a serious-looking kiddy with a pair of glasses, and one of those rather sad, drab suits that some Spades wear, particularly students, in order to show the English people that we musn’t think they’re savages in grass skirts and bones stuck in their hair” (247). What is to be made of the image of this poor victim, so much in contrast to the vibrant silliness of the film’s West Side Story-ish portrayal of the Notting Hill riots?

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I remember an American movie from 1979–The Warriors–a film based on Sol Yurik’s dark novel about gang warfare. The film became a greatly exaggerated version of the book, a musical or fantasy, if you will, as the director felt no one would allow him to make a direct adapation. Hollywood lore posits violence and rioting broke out in response to the film despite its fantastic tone. Fear of glorifying gang violence on the bigscreen became a talking point in the media even though the Warriors depicted gangs of mimes on roller skates, rednecks in overalls, and a weirdo who wore beer bottles on his fingers. This fantastical version of gang warfare in New York sparked fear and debate about how violence should be depicted on screen.

Whether or not this ultimately affected the 1986 adapation of MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners is certainly worth debating, but the spectacle of seeing rioting, the imagery of gang warfare displayed as an actual dance number, allows us to wonder.

America’s subcultures in the late 70s and 80s were marked by fear and violence. Gangs prowling the urban America. To show the reality of this on the bigscreen would be to glorify it–or so people believed.

 

Works Cited

MacInnes, Colin. Absolute Beginners. Allison and Busby, 1980.

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Adah’s Connection to Mother Nature in Second Class Citizen–Meghan

Surprise! I’m going to talk about nature and apply a little bit of ecofeminism.

While reading Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, a specific passage stood out to me about Adah’s relationship to Mother Nature:

She wished the Presence was still with her to give her a clue but it seemed to have deserted her when she landed in England. Was the Presence her instinct? It had been very active in Nigeria. Was that because in Nigeria she was nearer to Mother Nature? She only wished somebody would tell her where she had gone wrong. (55)

There are a quite a few interesting things going on in this passage.

Thinking back to our discussion about “what is civilization” and “what it means to be civilized” in class on Thursday, I think it is very significant that Adah’s “Presence” leaves her upon her arrival to England. If Adah’s Presence is indeed her instinct, the idea of civilization and the departure of instinct is really interesting. A quick Google definition of “instinct” says “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” Thus, instinct is associated with the animal kingdom rather than humanity. This could then imply that Adah has animalistic qualities/instincts that are not common among the “civilized” person. However, once Adah arrives in England, her instinct leaves her because she enters a civilized sphere in which her instinct is looked down upon. I think this is especially interesting because Adah is a women and the men in the novel are never described as having instincts (they are only described with physical animalistic qualities). Women are often associated with emotions and instinct. This might be a stretch, but perhaps this could mean that civilization or being civilized takes away from a woman’s identity as a woman. If a woman is stripped of her instinct and nature, she is no longer a complete version of herself.

Could this mean that the more “civilized” a person becomes, the further the person gets away from their natural instincts? It seems as though civilization makes instinct an unacceptable characteristic. Since civilization implies education, command of language, common law,etc., it appears as though instinct would not be considered an important part of such civilization. In order to be civilized, a person must be able to participate in society by abiding by the rules and maintaining socially acceptable behavior. This problematizes instinct because instinct is natural inclinations to behave in specific ways.

This reading of civilization and instinct supports the idea of England being civilized and Nigeria being uncivilized. If Nigeria is the place where Adah feels most comfortable being her whole self (instinct and all), than this implies that Nigeria is uncivilized. The use of Mother Nature in this passage is interesting because she can be present in one place and absent in another. Typically, Mother Nature is used as a general term to refer to nature and natural elements, which can be found everywhere. However, Mother Nature’s absence in England could imply there is nothing natural about England–perhaps because of industrialization and the “civilized” elements present in the novel.

The last sentence in this passage indicates that there is a problem with leaving Mother Nature. Adah wishes someone “would tell her where she had gone wrong.” It is interesting that she wishes someone, no specific person, would tell her what was wrong. Perhaps, the “someone” she is referring to is her Presence or Mother Nature. However, since both of these entities have left her upon her arrival into civilization, they cannot communicate to her that it was actually wrong to leave Nigeria and distance herself from her nature.

Overall, I think Adah has a connection to nature that becomes conflicted when she is required to act outside of her nature as second class citizen and as a woman being oppressed. Speaking of oppression, I think her instinct leaving her in England may also have to do with the fact that Francis obtains a more oppressive control over her in England. Not only does Adah feel disconnected from her nature, but Francis feels more controlling in civilization. As I said previously, women are more connected to nature because they act on emotions and instinct. In addition, men are closer to “civilization” because they are closer to “logic” and “rationality” (I’m not saying I necessarily agree with these things–men can be pretty silly and impulsive–but these are common conceptions among ecofeminist scholarship). Thus, because Adah is away from her natural environment and Francis is thriving in his new environment, he oppresses Adah through emotional and physical abuse. These are things that he would not have attempted to do in Nigeria because in Nigeria (being closer to Mother Nature) Adah had a “home field advantage.” By oppressing Adah, Francis is also oppressing Mother Nature because Adah is representative of nature.

Though there are many “brands” of ecofeminism, here is a cool video that presents many fundamental aspects of ecofeminism well: