Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Table Dancing and Implication

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            “Every week, these two Alabama porch monkeys are gonna make us laugh, they’re gonna make us cry, they’re gonna make us feel good to be Americans,”[1] Thomas Dunwitty says to Pierre Delacroix, creator of Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. The statement is hyperbolically ignorant of contemporary American socio-racial stratification, the discussion and commentary of which are the most prominent aspect of Lee’s film. Dunwitty does not acknowledge the show’s prospective actors Womack and Manray any further than motioning his hand in their direction while saying “these two Alabama porch monkeys.” When he states “Alabama porch monkeys,” the audience understands his reference to the fictional protagonists of Mantan (as they are the subject of the conversation), but his dismissive mannerisms towards the men confuse who the phrase is directed towards. It’s the participation in the current American ideology that encourages the audience to believe his statement “must have been a slip-up,” unintentionally referring to the men themselves rather than Delacroix’s characters. Dunwitty’s infatuation with, and flamboyant pronouncement of participation in black culture persuades the audience to accept his motions as “inferential” rather than “overt”[2] racism.

            Stuart Hall defines inferential racism as, “apparently naturalized representations of events and situations …which have racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions…. enable[ing] racist statements to be formulated without…awareness [of] the racist predicates on which the statements are grounded.(Hall, 162)”  Dunwitty’s statement is ignorant to the “premises and propositions” that remain “inscribed” in the phrase “porch monkey,” enabling him to formulate racist statements “without…awareness” of his racism. Or so the viewer wants to assume. But soon after, he says to Manray, “Now lemme ask you a question Mantan, how do you feel about performing in just a little blackface?[my italics]” His statement of “Mantan” is understated by the rapidity that he speaks, and the following controversial suggestion to use blackface for effect, which becomes the main topic of conversation. The unawareness behind Dunwitty’s  “blackface” notion reinforces his ignorance of the “premises and propositions” of racial terminology and culture, but his misstatement of Manray’s name further confuses what his implications are, and what internal connections he’s made. Was it an accident?

            The confusion is only intensified when he addresses Womack without hesitation as “Sleep’n’Eat.” The name is intrinsically insulting as a manifestation of Jim Crow stereotypes, but is directly offensive towards Womack as it bears no phonetic resemblance to his real name, nearly nullifying the excuse of “accidental” misspeaking.[3] Though learning their names at the beginning of the meeting, Dunwitty does not refer to them as such for the remainder of their interaction, but stays unable to understand the insolence of his statements or even acknowledge when he’s misspoken. He’s internally connected Womack and Manray with their slave names. Does this imply a desire to own them? And if so, how does the contemporary desire compare with the slave-time desire? The scene ends with Dunwitty pushing everything off his desk and asking Manray to dance for him, pushing the question of “ contemporary slavery” to the forefront.

            The interaction shows a cycle that starts inferential and becomes overt racism, the two comingling towards the end as Dunwitty increasingly blurs the lines between which is being presented. While portrayed in a blunt fashion, Bamboozled raises the same inquiries as Hall, questioning at what point inferential becomes overt, and how the transition is mediated.

 
 


[1] I’m not going to address his statement “they’re gonna make us feel good to be Americans.” There is ample analyzation to be done which I cannot fit into this assignment.

[2] overt racism: when open …coverage is given to arguments, positions and spokespersons who are in the business of elaborating an openly racist argument. (Hall, 162)

[3] “nearly” used because all actions cannot be accounted for

 

This commercial glamorizes the lowest quality of alcohol through the use of Snoop Dogg’s popular face, encouraging the continued consumption of malt liquor, very similar to how The BOMB is advertised in Bamboozled. The advertising emphasizes nostalgia, family, friendship and the grandeur of life in general all being strengthened by malt liquor.
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One thought on “Table Dancing and Implication

  1. Excellent analysis of the various speech acts in the film, Nick — and it’s frightening how similar that Snoop Dogg commercial is to the one for BOMB. It’s a fine line, as you point out, between inferential and overt.

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