Sprawling examination of how American society has responded to multiculturalism and demographic diversity.
Chang (Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation, 2005), the executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford, focuses on visual artists and political dreamers in narrating how once-marginalized communities responded to the civil rights movement and then to the white backlash promoted by Richard Nixon and Republican strategist Lee Atwater. Amid violence and generational strife, cultural happenings, such as the Black Arts movement of the late 1960s, and innovators like African-American cartoonist Morrie Turner fomented “a grand yearning, a mass becoming, an end to the monoculture, the true arrival of a post-segregated nation.” Corporations quickly co-opted this outsider aesthetic, a process famously embodied in the early ’70s by Coca-Cola. Chang discusses important yet forgotten nodes in the developing dichotomy of multiculturalism versus “culture war,” as when conservatives began attacking the National Endowment for the Arts during the ’80s: “Defunding public culture proved good Republican politics.” Yet simultaneously, Jesse Jackson “incepted into the mainstream the prophetic images of the rainbow” in his attempts to make the Democratic Party more inclusive. The triumph of “political correctness” seemed evident in the fierce controversies over the Whitney Biennials of the ’90s, while Benetton’s successful “Colors” ad campaign and magazine showed that “capitalism had at long last embraced its future in identity and diversity.” As the Clinton years approached their end, “everything and nothing was multicultural,” contrasting with the triumphalism and xenophobia that followed 9/11. Chang ends with a jaundiced portrait of the “hope” accompanying Barack Obama’s presidency, smothered by conservative resentment and a massive economic crisis. The author adeptly synthesizes other scholars’ research and has an eye for precise details, though he also relies on a labored fusion of academic sociology and urban buzzwords—e.g., “In this era of fragmentation and unrest, it was time for [Coca-Cola]…to reassert some alpha swag.”
An intriguing attempt at cutting through the dissonance of a series of changing cultural milieus.