One balmy spring evening I am honored to give the Diana Vreeland Lecture at the Institute of Cultural Significance in San Francisco. Here is a chance, I think, to discuss a new kind of socially oriented African-American feature movie. Yet I’m surprised, on arrival, to find my talk billed as “The New Voodoo,” and a vending booth in the lobby selling T-shirts with names and slogans, blown-up photos of bygone movie stars, fashion and rock magazines, Elvis souvenirs, Madonna-style religious lingerie, combat-boot sneakers, and a battery of weaponlike jewelry. I note that the people buying this equipment, despite their garish makeup, appear to be well-dressed members of the professional classes.
My lecture analyzes four recent pictures as a revival of American naturalism, in the tradition of the novelist Theodore Dreiser, who saw the class struggle operating through overwhelming drives for sex, money, and power, with an individual who attempts to rise in status do...
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