“Bamboozled”

I’d like to discuss the keywords culture and popular in regard to Spike Lee’s movie “Bamboozled.” For those of you who have not seen this movie, it is a film about a black show-writer who is trying to please his white boss and have a show of his aired-on TV. The white boss shot down a lot of the black writer’s ideas until he sarcastically suggests that he will write a minstrel-type show, where characters wear black face and put on a dancing and singing show that humiliates African American and Black culture. Even though the black show writer blurts this idea out in anger because his boss won’t accept any of his non-racist and non-diminishing ideas, the boss loves it and this is where the keywords culture and popular come in. “Bamboozled” came to my mind when we were discussing in lecture “Picture’s and Stories from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’” and “Little Eva, The Flower of the South” and when Professor Fielder brought up The Duncan Sisters as a representation of Eva and Topsy, where one is idealized and one is a caricature-like wearing black face. Both “Picture’s and Stories from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’” and “Bamboozled” focus on the keywords “culture” and “popular” in a way that shows that when society considers something along the lines of popular, it can diminish one’s culture, which unfortunately seems to happen more times than not in popular media.

According to Cassidy’s essay, popular can be a “positive attribute, indicating a subject that was a favorite, acceptable, and pleasing to numerous people. A quote within the movie from the black show-writer “I plan to write a show so offensive and racist that it’ll prove that the network only wants to see black buffoons on air,” shows the contrasting positive and negative attributes to the keyword popular, where the positive is that many people will enjoy this show and the negative is this popular item is lacking in quality and not an accurate depiction of African American Culture, it is downright racist. The part of society that is watching this “New Millennium Minstrel Show” and thinks it is an enjoyable show are implying that they view the diminishing racial humor, in other words racism, in this TV show as acceptable and allow it to become more popular on TV and within society.

Minstrel shows were first popular in the early 19th to early 20th centuries and were written by white people to highlight racial stereotypes by making actors wear blackface and red lipstick to emphasize black facial features. These actors would then over-emphasize their facial expressions and body movements. This popular entertainment for white people was very hurtful and humiliating for African Americans and their culture.

Within “Bamboozled” and portrait of The Duncan Sisters, there is a character that wears black face to point out the caricaturized version of a particular group, in Bamboozled, poor black men and for The Duncan Sisters, black girlhood. This popular phenomenon is used to show the difference between the idealized version of the white character and the black caricature. It is sad that this was a popular concept because white people enjoyed viewing the difference between white actors and actors in black face.  

From talking about the Topsy-Turvy dolls, the relationship between Eva and Topsy, the idea of The Duncan Sisters, and in thinking of the movie “Bamboozeld,” it is dishearten to see how white people in these cases, make a play on African American culture and identity to create a popular media for personal benefits. Both positive and negative depictions of the keyword popular are at play here and it shows how adults are incorporating this racist culture into children’s early development. According to Flynn’s essay on culture, childen do not inherit culture or ideas of culture, instead culture is cultivated through the child’s experience and how parents might teach them. Children’s literature, in this case the Topsy-Turvy doll, creates a cultural construct that could stick with the child as they grow into an adult. Depending on the result of the child growing up with these culture constructs, items that were popular as they were a child may sway them to agree or disagree with these items as they become educated adults.   

4 thoughts on ““Bamboozled””

  1. Hi Alexis,
    I really liked the connections you made between keyword essays and stories that we have read and the movie “Bamboozled”. Particularly, I agree with what you said at the end of your post that, what Topsy-Turvy doll or whatever dolls that children encounter actually form a culture construct and this will accompany them till an adult. When becoming educated adults, they will agree or disagree with what those dolls “taught” them. With the increasingly easy accessibility of any kind of social media, we could not control what becomes “popular” and being showcased to our children. Things that is popular can one day create a culture construct and we hope that will be constructive to the development of our children and the society.

  2. I really agree with what you said here. It is totally disheartening to look back at these “popular” events and come to see how people were actually benefitting off of these racial depictions. You bring up a good point when you talk about how children’s culture is cultivated through a child’s experiences and how they are taught. This really should make parents, educators, and other influential figures and/or media platforms question the intent of what they are revealing or portraying to young kids being that it could have a lasting impact.

  3. I really enjoyed your analysis and all the keywords you tied into it, Alexis! I agree with many of the points you brought up and the possible evolution that could take place between childhood and adulthood as one gains a deeper understanding of race, racism, white supremacy, and the history of minstrel shows and black face. I think this ties in with idea Professor Fielder has discussed of nostalgia with items, memories, and texts that were once a toy of childhood play and whimsy and now, looking back on them, are clearly filled with racist stereotypes and hateful/offensive messaging.

  4. This clearly racist movie is interesting in how something so racist can still exisit and be prevalent in today’s society. It is interesting how this movie also continues the racist stereotype of angry black men, and how it is portrayed in the workforce.

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