Janelle Monáe’s emotional picture “Dirty Computer” tells the story of a soulless totalitarian society that forcibly strips it’s so called “dirty” members of society of their freedom, individuality, or anything else that makes them unique. Monáe’s character, Jane 57821, attempts to break free from this society and it’s repressive, homophobic beliefs by asserting her individuality, which makes her the enemy of this regime.
Monáe creates this story by using futurism and dystopian sci-fi conventions that reflect a possible future society, and by doing so she also speaks to the present about the state of contemporary black life, feminism and queerness. Monáes lyrics are in many ways applicable to the present, as evident in the political statements made in the song “Screwed”, and the messages about contemporary racism and feminism in “Crazy, Classic Life” and “Django Jane”. By framing such politically relevant lyricism with the theme of escaping the clutches of a repressive society, Monáe is alluding to the necessity for a cultural shift that promotes individuality, pride, and love in order to overcome many of today’s issues that stem from recent political developments, such as increased racial tension, sexism, and homophobia. Moreover, she is toying with the idea of this futuristic repressive society to send us a message about our contemporary life. In one sense, she perceives this future as a science-fictionalized version of what is happening today, and in another sense she is also suggesting that the future is yet to come; that our contemporary state of life can be improved by a cultural shift that promotes love, unity and individuality.
However by looking through both of these lenses simultaneously, we are able to see Monáes discontent with the current order of society and how certain groups may be frequently marginalized due to the tensions of our political climate. The recognition of such issues may well have been a goal in the production of this album, and we can only hope the cultural shift it is trying to insinuate thus follows.
In 2017, R&B singer Solána Rowe, better known as SZA, released her first full length studio album titled “Ctrl”, released three years following the debut of her first EP titled “Z”. The overall concept of “Ctrl” has to do with SZA’s stage in life, where she is trying to balance relationships as well as honesty with herself as a young woman. With SZA being a woman of color, her humbled and honest lyrics on many of the tracks resonated with her audience, especially with other women of color. Tracks such as “Supermodel”, “The Weekend” and “20 Something” feature her most sincere lyrics concerning love, hooking up, and asserting control within these relationships. Similarly, the theme of control, as evident by the title, is present in many of the other album tracks. For example, in the song “Broken Clocks” SZA talks about the struggles of having multiple 9-5 jobs, the effect they have on her relationships, and how to “keep up with the grind” with a positive attitude. This theme of a woman of color asserting her control not only within her relationships, but within herself and in other areas of her life, was deeply felt and envisaged by women of color. This audience found these tracks to be almost anthemic and cumulative of the difficulties they often face as women of color, struggling for some sort of “control” and clarity in today’s unpredictably polarized society.
Continue reading “Blog Post Week 4: Afrofuturistic Themes in SZA’s “Ctrl””
One of my favorite parts of this course is the interactivity and collaboration that is encouraged in our class discussions, as well as within these blog posts. These interactive environments allow us to easily share ideas with one another and be creative in doing so, which greatly enhances the learning process and understanding of the material. Additionally, by design this collaborative approach exposes us to perspectives other than our own, which can not only help to deepen our understanding of a given topic, but can also help to deepen our understanding of each other. I feel that this skill is very useful and can be applicable to many different contexts.
I also found some of the ideas in the Snead article to be very intriguing. Specifically, the quote that we discussed in class, “transformation is culture’s response to it’s own apprehension of repetition”, was very interesting to me. I feel that what Snead is trying to say is that while most would like to deny it, repetition of the past is inevitable in certain domains of culture. The reasons for this phenomena lie within the necessity for people to have recognizablility, and the fact that culture is not a reservoir of “inexhaustible novelty”. I find this most interesting because I see a clear application to racism today, in that the racism that certain minorities experience is not novel, but rather a “transformation” of the past. Many people like to think that we have overcome racism, considering the extreme progress that has been made since the segregation era, for example. Yet it is this very perception that feeds into the institutional racism that is still present today, and ignorance of this is frequently referred to as “color-blindness”. Those who have a “color-blindness” perspective claim that in this modern age, we have progressed so far that race does not affect one’s life chances, ability to climb the social ladder, or vulnerability to negative circumstances. This however blatantly ignores the institutional racism and inequality that is very much present in terms of unequal distribution of resources for minority communities, higher incarceration rates for African Americans, among others. Thus, while we may feel that on a social level we have overcome racism, we have only “transformed” racism into a masked, less apparent form that diminishes the potential for minority groups.
In Melvin Tolson’s poem Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, a moment stood out to me that made me think about the meaning of Afro-futurism, or what could be. This moment can be represented by the quote “The iron nerve of lame and halt and blind, Liberia and not Liberia, A moment of the conscience of mankind!”. From this quote, I feel that the author could be talking about how the country of Liberia is a “moment of the conscience of mankind” in that the oppression of African natives has been forever ingrained into the consciousness of man, Continue reading “Tolson’s “Libretto for the Republic of Liberia””