Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2003 / 9 Kislev, 5764

Stanley Crouch

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Pop culture's new low: Slut chic | In the ongoing degradation of American culture by popular entertainment, two of the groups that are most important to purifying our sense of morality and justice - black Americans and American women - have been sold a terrible bill of goods. They have come to believe, far too often, that self-degradation is the purest form of liberty.

This was proven at the recent MTV Video Music Awards show and in the slut-chic fashions and groupie ethos that have overwhelmed young American females.

As for black Americans, the minstrel update of the moment is 50 Cent, whose material celebrates pimping and whose claim to "authenticity" is based largely in street knowledge that culminated in his having been shot nine times (which may say more about the poor marksmanship of his foes than the substance of his experience).

On the female side, we see young women who have been misled by the freelance whore's persona of Madonna taking up their own version of the minstrel show.

Rather than celebrating hateful ethnic stereotypes, as black gangster rappers do, far too many female pop stars seem to be taking their direction from porn stars and porn films, both of which cater to male fantasies.

So we have the grandest of ironies, which is that black Americans and American women - two groups that were essential in bringing this nation much closer to the ideals of its social contract - have left the campaign against ethnic and sexual images and become satisfied with the narrow dimensions of thug and slut stereotypes.

While we have heard much discussion of the problems that attend black people buying into the street knowledge conception of "authenticity," the slut-chic problem is not at all new. But it seems to have become even more blatant than ever. Given the number of exposed bellybuttons, we could call this the Navel Generation of American women.

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When Madonna began rising to prominence nearly 20 years ago, one man wrote of having arrived in a town in the late afternoon. On the ride to his hotel, he assumed he had entered the most highly populated red-light district he had ever seen.

The truth was that junior and high school girls in Madonna garb had just gotten out of class and were walking home!

All this has arrived in a very circuitous way. As a nation, we have long fought against privilege based on class, color, sex or religion, and we have achieved very high marks along the way. But by the Nixon era, many had become disillusioned by American society - a distrust of the government that had been building since the McCarthy days.

Rising out of a twisted reading of the rhetoric of ethnic celebration and women's liberation, the black thug evolved into a hero because he went against what were dismissed as white middle-class values. And the prostitute was projected as the liberated woman because she was willing to strut her stuff against all conventions and follow her glands wherever they led her.

The challenge that lies before us is not to go back to the worst repressions and racism of the 1950s, but to discover a vital way to help our young reject minstrelsy, whether it arrives from the world of racism or the world of pornography.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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