An often stimulating survey of how blacks have been portrayed in popular culture. Many chapters here are reworked from...


CERAMIC UNCLES AND CELLULOID MAMMIES: Black Images and Their Influence on Culture

An often stimulating survey of how blacks have been portrayed in popular culture. Many chapters here are reworked from academic articles, so the book lacks some narrative flow. Still, Turner (African-American and African Studies/Univ. of California, Davis; I Heard it Through the Grapevine, 1993) has much to say about the one-dimensional and often hostile ways in which blacks have been represented in American culture. ""Contemptible collectibles,"" as she dubs certain types of dolls and children's toys, spread demeaning images of black children as ""plucky pickaninnies"" and of black women as sexless, dependent, smiling ""mammies."" Turner notes trenchantly the irony that the popular Aunt Jemima image was launched at the 1893 Columbia Exposition, while real black women, such as journalist Ida B. Wells, protested the exposition's disregard of blacks. When Turner moves from material culture to books, the screen, and television, she faces a greater challenge. In a troubling analysis of TV sitcoms, she suggests that black male teens are rarely allowed to be simultaneously street smart and school smart and that assimilated characters are more likely to be portrayed as intelligent (e.g., Corey, on the late '60s series ""Julia""). She tartly notes that nostalgic films like The Big Chill rely on black music but don't let black characters enter their idyllic narratives. In a few cases, as in her previous book, Turner veers toward conspiracy theory: Is the media's ostensibly humorous linking of Michael Jackson and Jesse Jackson (as in a headline calling Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign ""A Thriller"") an expression of hostility toward a black politician or something less evil? And her treatment of screen images of Africa, while appropriately critical, is truncated. The book's main flaw, however, is its lack of discussion of the new wave of black filmmakers, the explosion of rap, and the appropriation of black culture by the advertising industry. Worthy, especially in the classroom, but neither groundbreaking nor definitive.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994