LOVE AND THEFT by Eric Lott

LOVE AND THEFT

Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 To this original and erudite study, Lott (American Studies/University of Virginia) brings a mass of obscure information and a multidisciplinary approach, interpreting the meaning of black-face minstrelsy to the white working classes who invented and performed it. The appropriation of black music, dance, humor, and narratives for commercial entertainment, says Lott, expressed the deep racial conflicts suffered by the white working classes, especially in the North in the decades before the Civil War. Their parodies reflected their admiration and contempt, their envy and fear, their remoteness and--as the economy changed--their impending identification with the dispossessed, whom they represented as absurd. In their imitation of blacks, and in the cross-dressing that minstrelsy required, whites males gained control over the alien and the threatening (especially black sexuality) and changed the way they experienced themselves as men. Lott's study ranges through folklore, history, sociology, politics, economics, psychoanalysis, theater history, popular music, even film theory, but it's based clearly on contemporary and technical studies of race, gender, and class: The ``stars'' of minstrelsy, Lott says, ``inaugurated an American tradition of class abdication through gendered cross-racial immersion.'' In the course of his analysis, Lott places Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the music of Stephen Foster in new and interesting perspective, and reveals the significance of an art form, a ritual, that has fallen into neglect after a period of universal popularity. A clever, disciplined, and resourceful reading of the commonplace: a pioneering study that, though somewhat academic, will no doubt influence more popular studies. (Eight halftones, eight line drawings)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-507832-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993