In Tongues Re-Tied, artist and videographer Marlon Riggs brings up a theory that “the general aim of white Americans [is] to refashion the Negro face after their own, and failing that, to make the black face ‘blank.'” I find this idea interesting and incredibly true.

For another class, I’m working on a project involving canonization and the hegemonic politics behind it. In other words, I’m engaging with critical authors regarding how different narratives become a part of the popular discussion of literature. For instance, there’s a heavy debate as to whether black, queer, and female voices should replace white straight cis-male voices in the popularly accepted canon for education purposes, or whether each organization’s interests would be better served by establishing their own critical traditions and adding it on to academia as a separate field group.

As with all great questions, the truth is probably somewhere in between; Herman Melville shouldn’t be entirely thrown out in favor of gay authors (though there’s a great argument to be made for homosocial actions and understanding in Moby Dick, Billy Budd, Bartleby, Benito Cereno, etc.), but neither should Frederick Douglass or the diaries of Alice James be relegated to the corners away from popular attention.

Riggs would probably land more on the side of creating separate canons (given that his end goal is “uncompromising articulation of an autonomously defined self and social identity”), but he is also broadcasting on public television. Like it or not, this makes Riggs a participant in the mainstream. By adapting a counterculture for mass consumption, even if the public is not ready, Riggs is still moving towards making black faces not blank, but normal. He is working towards an inverse of Baldwin’s ideas, for better or worse.

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One response »

  1. […] I won’t be the last, but Tongues Untied was not at all what I was expecting. When I wrote my previous post, I was looking for a dry, PBS style documentary with smooth voice-over and light muzak in the […]

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