violence and film and blues

Reading Gussow’s book about racial violence in southern America, I wonder why I keep coming back to violence. My honours thesis discussed female violence in film, and this book really is about violence in blues music. Both are about violence from the perspective of the disempowered; one discussing women, one black men and women in America.
I’m not comfortable with this stuff – I don’t like stories about violence, I don’t like watching it in film. But both seem linked to hopelessness. Violence for the women in the films I discussed was a last resort or an act of desperation. In the blues songs I’m reading about now, violence is either to be borne or to be perpetrated in revenge or rage or desperation. Both are domestic or carried out in ordinary, everyday spaces.
In my honours thesis I was interested in what happened to female characters when their acts of violence were institutionalised or sanctioned by institutions in the role of assassin. In these blues songs, we are continually reminded that white men were perpetrators of violence which was ignored by the state or unofficially condoned – or at least ignored. These acts of violence contrast clearly with the violence of waged war. I’m interested in the way some types of violence are sanctioned by the community and some not. And who gets to enact this ‘sanctioned’ violence. You know, of course, that class and gender and race are at work here.
One of the other elements of these representations of violence is the role of fantasy, or imagined violence. In the blues song, it might be an imagined retribution for a lover’s deceit, or for a lynching. Music allows the playing out of ideas or fantasies, and the public performance of this music encourages an attentive, participatory audience. It is not enough simply to imagine; it is necessary that the imagined violence be laid out and commented upon by the broader community.

One Reply to “violence and film and blues”

  1. I’ve always wanted to write something (probably just a blog post) about some of the songs in BB King’s back catalogue, but I’ve never had the critical apparatus to deal with it. Take this, from “Don’t Answer The Door”:
    You might feel a little sick, baby,
    And you know you’re home all alone,
    I don’t want the doctor at my house, baby,
    You just suffer, suffer, suffer till i get home.
    ’cause i don’t want a soul, baby,
    Hangin’ around my house when i’m not at home.
    And I can’t bring myself to paste the lyrics from “Paying The Cost To The Boss”, but you probably get the idea.
    I’ve always rationalised it by reminding myself that people (whether individuals or ethnic minorities) who are brutalised, tend to become brutal. But I love BB, and these songs make me really uncomfortable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.