1. Most of the kitsch was collected by Jan Faulkner, one of the two non-academic talking heads, and the end credits indicate that the collection was a starting point for the tape. Why this black woman collects these items is not addressed.
[2016 addition: Faulkner’s collection was the source for a show at the Berkeley art Center, September-November 1982. A catalogue from the show contains contextual essays: Robbin Henderson, ed., Ethnic Notions: Black Images in the White Mind, Berkeley CA, Berkeley Art Center, 1982]
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2. This is tricky ground, however. Star image can differ significantly from any one particular role, and an actor's career over time must be taken into account with a figure like Foxx, who spent most of his career in black venues and doing blue material and late in life finally became a cross-over figure with the Sanford and Son show. (And is the Cosby Show really any different except in class position of the sitcom dads?). One can easily make the case that Day (best remembered for his appearance in Purple Rain and his music videos with his group The Time) is a self-ironic or postmodern buffoon. Mr. T's star image goes beyond just being the violent sidekick because he is also famous for celebrity public appearances encouraging kids to stay in school.
3. In U.S. culture, Jewish comedians provide an interesting reference point for such an investigation, and Freud's Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious contains copious examples in its discussion of self-protective humor.
4."Black Macho Revisited: Reflections of a Snap! Queen," The Independent: Film and Video Monthly, 14:3 (April 1991), 32-34.
5. Audience reception analysis in general is now an area of considerable controversy with an older model of mass media as indoctrination being challenged by a relativist model which assumes people can and do read mass culture many different ways. The former position tends to be supported by print culture intellectuals, the latter by media culture intellectuals. For an interesting contrast consider James Baldwin's testimony of his childhood movie going experiences in The Devil Finds Work (NY: Dial. 1976), e.g.: "The only actor of the era with whom I identified was Henry Fonda, I was not alone. A black friend of mine, after seeing Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, swore that Fonda had colored blood. You could tell, he said, by the way Fonda walked down the road at the end of the film: white men don't walk like that! and he imitated Fonda's stubborn, patient, wide-legged hike away from the camera." (p. 21).
6. It would be missing the point to fault the tape for not being uniform or theoretically consistent about this idea, which most critical cultural analysis today would discuss under the term "ideology." As a message for a general audience the tape works very well by stating this general concept several times in different ways using different terminology.
7. This folkloric gesture is not explained in other terms, but one black student told me that many African American mothers get their children's attention and scold them by extending an arm and snapping their fingers. The gestural language could be seen as the adaptation of a female gesture to a gay male subcultural expression, a transformation found in other aspects of gay male culture.
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8. That the location is Washington is my deduction, but the story gains more resonance since mostly working class and lower middle class Black people ride the bus in that mostly black city. Thus the performance is one which is open to and for the black community. And its also one that gives lie to the later articulated notion that somehow black gay men don't "belong" to the black community. The political point is important and worth elaborating. While a certain part of the white gay male community can and does choose to live in yuppie dominated gay ghettoes, and while men of color can and do visit such places, by and large they don't live there. For one thing, because of the pervasive economic discrimination against blacks, most don't have as much money, and also they often have specific ties of job, family, friendship, and community involvement in the African American community. For another thing, there's racism in the gay ghetto, just as in the society at large. In a way this produces different patterns of homophohia and discrimination in different communities. Middle class urban/ suburban straight whites can often see out of the closet white gay men as distinctly separate because spatially they live and recreate "elsewhere." In an urban environment where the different communities do abut or overlap, straights may well be not antagonistic when essentially sharing many of the same middle class white urban concerns about having a nice, clean, cafe neighborhood. Homophobia in the white working class or the black community is often more clearly focused on specific individuals who are out in the community and openly articulated in name-calling and derogatory speech. The point being, that if there sometimes seems to be more open and overt homophobia its such communities, it is also the case that there may in fact be more overt interaction with and direct awareness of the "Other."
9. For an analysis of the complex contradictions in Madonna's star image, performance and videos: Ramona Curry, "Madonna — Pastiche or Parody?" Journal of Film and Video, 42:2 (Summer 90), pp. 15-30. [return to page 3]
10. Johnson, "Not in Knots: Tongues Untied is the Black Gay Official Story," GCN, Feb 25-Mar 3,1990, p. 11.
11. Hemphill, "Choice," GCN, May 6-12, 1990, pp. 11, 13.
12. Harper. "Speaking Out about Tongues Untied ": An Interview with Videomaker Marlon Riggs," GCN, May 6-12, 1990, pp. 10-11.13.
l3. Harris, "Cultural Healing: An Interview with Marion Riggs," Afterimage, Mar. 1991, pp. 8-11.
14. Hint, Afterimage, p. 11.
15. The importance of coming out stories in the creation of post-Stonewall gay and lesbian culture in North America is well-known. That this very importance might mark class and race privilege is a more recent insight.
16. Riggs. "Ruminations of a Snap Queen: What Time Is It?!" Outlook: National Lesbian and Gay Quarterly, no. 12 (Spring 91), 12-19.
17. Preston G. Guider, "Read My Lips." BLK: The National Black Lesbian and Gay Newsmagazine, 2:12 (Dec. 90), 27; "Thing Lists," Thing no. 4 (Spring 91), 14.
Tongues Untied is distributed by Frameline, San Francisco, and Ethnic Notions by California Newsreel, San Francisco.
For discussions that helped me clarify my ideas in this article, I like to acknowledge the help of José Arroyo, Gabriel Gomez, John Hess, Craig Kois, Julia Lesage, Rick Maxwell, Grant McKernie, H. D. Motyl, Manji Pendakur, Mark Reid, and Tom Waugh. My interview with Marlon Riggs in November 1989, "Listening to the Heartbeat: An Interview with Marlon Riggs," accompanies this article. Part of the research and writing of this article was supported by fellowships from the University of Oregon Humanities Center and the Northwestern University School of Speech.