Bell hooks | Critical Review by D. Soyini Madison

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Bell hooks.
This section contains 648 words
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Critical Review by D. Soyini Madison

SOURCE: "Seeing is Believing," in The New York Times Book Review, February 28, 1993, p. 23.

Madison is an American writer. In the following review, she discusses hooks's attempt to delineate the "connections between race, representation, and domination" in the media in Black Looks: Race and Representation.

How we are represented by others shapes how we represent ourselves, what is real to us and the worlds we imagine; and images and representations are a formidable cultural force. An urban street gang logo, a painting, a flag, Rodney King, Malcolm X or Anita Hill—each can become a sacred icon, a taboo and something worth fighting for.

For victims of what Bell Hooks calls "white supremacist culture"—and for those who 'resist it—representation becomes more provocative and complex. Precisely because representation is so important a force in self-identification, particularly for people of color, Black Looks: Race and Representation, the sixth book of essays by Bell Hooks (the pseudonym of a feminist and cultural critic who teaches at Oberlin College), is an important work.

In 12 essays, she lays out the connections between race, representation and domination in literature, popular music, television, advertising, historical narrative and film. Forcefully stating that controlling the images of a people is central to dominating them, she moves her argument forward in two ways: through a discussion of the pain these representations can cause people of color seeking to create a sense of self, and through her stress on the need for progressive thinkers to intervene to combat the destructive consequences of that pain.

"If we, black people, have learned to cherish hateful images of ourselves," Bell Hooks asks, "then what process of looking allows us to counter the seduction of images that threatens to dehumanize and colonize?" Her answer: "Clearly, it is that way of seeing which makes possible an integrity of being that can subvert the power of the colonizing image. It is only as we collectively change the way we look at ourselves and the world that we can change how we are seen."

Engaging her readers in a discussion of the power of "looking," she argues that recognizing the influence of domination is the first step to change. Bell Hooks contends that sexism and racism overlie the way we see, and she holds up an oppositional gaze as a counter, declaring that one must look a certain way in order to resist. Deploying a range of selected contemporary images, Bell Hooks helps the readers do precisely that, with a critical, oppositional and interventionist gaze.

Her most striking illuminations come in her essays on the Clarence Thomas hearings, the documentary film Paris Is Burning, and Madonna. In her analysis of Judge Thomas's cry that he was being subjected to a "high-tech lynching," she forcefully asserts that Anita Hill needed a more developed strategy, one that went beyond "daring to name publicly that she had been sexually harassed" to explicitly challenging the system that made the Thomas choice inevitable. Her discussion of Paris Is Burning, a documentary about black and Hispanic cross-dressers, raises important questions about the way black life can be appropriated as spectacle and turned into a commodity. In her critique of Madonna, she extends this argument, contending that even as Madonna, mocks the idea of "'natural' white girl beauty," she strives to embody it. Seen through Ms. Hooks's oppositional eye, the black characters in the Madonna video "Like a Prayer" are no different from the early Hollywood images of singing black slaves in the plantation movies or the Shirley Temple films, where "Bojangles was trotted out to dance with Miss Shirley and spice up her act. Audiences were not supposed to be enamored of Bojangles, they were supposed to see just what a special little old white girl Shirley really was."

The 12 essays are uneven in their analytical complexity and originality of thought, but such nuggets overall provide insight into race, representation and dominance.

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This section contains 648 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by D. Soyini Madison
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