This essay reads rap group N.W.A.'s 1998 album Straight Outta Compton as a parodic enactment of the racialized discourses of law and order during the late 1980s, or what I am calling the mark of criminality. Its release constituted a watershed moment in black popular culture that coincided with the devastating consequences of surveillance, containment, and spectacular scapegoating associated with Reagan-era crime control policies and rhetoric. I argue that the album and its reception by the law enforcement community of the late 1980s functioned as a confrontation over the meanings of race, place, and crime in the twentieth century. In addition to revealing the contingent meanings of criminality in popular and political culture, the legacy of Straight Outta Compton provides insights into the role of criminality in processes of social transformation.
From Oh's abstract:
The Rush Hour films disrupt the interracial buddy cop formula largely by erasing whites from the films. Despite the unconventional casting, the franchise has achieved "mainstream" popularity, which I argue is at least partly because the films construct Carter and Lee in an oppositional binary as a multiracial "odd couple," converting Carter and Lee, the two lead detectives played by Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, into physical embodiments of blackness and yellowness, fencing in the perimeters of whiteness. Thus, whiteness is able to remain protected and undetected in the normative center. Like a physical fence, however, the boundaries are semi-permeable, creating narrative openings to challenge whiteness. Therefore, the Rush Hour franchise protects white normality but leaves it somewhat vulnerable at the margins.
Both articles are available at the journal website or on EBSCO.
-- Nick J. Sciullo