Was Luke Cage a Meta-Human Prostitute? U.S. Academic Discusses Images of Black Masculinity in Pop Culture
If you had super strength and a steel hide would you chase a European super-villain around the world for under five hundred Barbados dollars? With such powers at your fingertips, why be a mercenary operating like a junkie looking for a quick fix?
While this was not said at the Roy Marshall Lecture Theatre No 2 the other night, it was questions like these which zipped through Bajan Reporter’s mind faster than a speeding bullet because of Dr. Jonathan Gayles‘ utterly captivating lecture, “Fascination and Fear: American Popular Culture and the Black Masculine Fetish,” the address was hosted by the U.S. Embassy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, in partnership with UWI’s Faculty of Humanities, as part of the Embassy’s Black History Month activities taking place throughout the month of February.
The lecture drew a lively and engaged crowd for Dr. Gayles’ critical look at the depictions of black men in various media, he saw black males posed instead of posing when their white counterparts or creators considered these myths as threatening to the then Status Quo of a pale majority.
Dr Gayles’ journey visited many black portrayals from white writers in the 40′s (such as a Captain America black sidekick known as Whitewash and even scripted on occasion by Stan Lee, when Bajan Reporter researched this area, at no point has Stan Lee explained why he did it or expressed regret for such a travesty), 50′s, 60′s & especially the 70′s where he took a scathing look at a hero he adored as a child…
Luke Cage – Hero For Hire (the character which inspired Nicholas Coppola to adopt the same surname before he started his Hollywood career) who ignored how a Robot rebellion in Latveria was brewing because its ruler Viktor Von Doom stiffed him his fee in New York? So Cage tries to steal the Fantastic Four’s Fantasticar to head Europe-wards, for the princely sum of, wait for it… $200 USD?
Luke Cage was critiqued by Dr Gayles for using “Crud,” as an expletive through many of his turbulent and semi-bound episodes. However, Dr Gayles would recall that many heroes of any hue in that era could barely get away with yelling “Aw, Spit!” or “Holy Christmas!” far less, the daring “For Crying Out Loud!” due to the Comics Code of Authority, which was in turn a legacy from “Seduction Of The Innocent” of the McCarthy era??
The professor’s findings also led to examining the rarer dignified portrayal of black men as academics when personified on a good few occasions by Sidney Poitier.
Dr. Gayles, graduate of Morehouse College and a professor in African American Studies at Georgia State University and the director of the film “White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in American Comic Book,” noted that “images of black men as threatening abound in the United States.”
He embellished that point with clips of films ranging from the controversial 1915 polemic “Birth of a Nation” to the Rocky movies of the 1970′s and 80′s.
The GSU academic told his mostly young audience of his surprise while visiting St Leonard’s Boys how he saw an eerie parallel with our young Bajan males who like their American counterparts, only seek to be either rappers or athletes instead of Entrepreneurs, Inventors or Academics.
The professor also saw modern versions of Gus from “Birth Of A Nation,” in current movies like Hancock with Will Smith - where a Superman level hero is drunk and foulmouthed – and only keeps his power by staying away from white women; Bloodsport is a Jean Claude Van Damme martial arts hit film where black men are either breaking coconuts bare-handed or getting knocked out of the ring in the first round; while Michael Jai White in “Universal Soldier” is punished for kidnapping the General’s daughter by getting frozen by Jean Claude Van Damme’s character…
Interestingly enough, when Bajan Reporter asked if Dr Gayles saw Django Unchained and what was his take on it? The Morehouse grad admitted he only saw it once, but his initial view indicated many Black myths from Hollywood were shattered, although he would have like Kerry Washington‘s role to be less passive than it seemed to be. He also felt Spike Lee was far too harsh in his assessment especially if he did not take the time to review the Oscar nominated film’s full story…
Dr. Gayles said he is a great supporter of independent artists working on positive images and heroes that could be considered role models in comic books now. “We have a right to a broader range of representation.” he said.