Critical Analysis Of "Identity Crisis" and "Oppositional Dress"
In Minabrere Ibelema's essay "Identity Crisis", Ibelema suggests that the
mainstream american culture is so powerful that all cultures conform to it.
Ibelema does this by showing how the mass media portrays African Americans in
relation to their cultural identity by using situation comedies as a measuring
tool. Of the episodes Ibelema uses very few of them look at African Americans
cultural identity. However, what they do is briefly address a cultural story
line for one episode, but then revert back to the mainstream anglo programming.
On the otherhand, Elizabeth Wilson says in her essay "Oppositional Dress" that
sub cultures do exist in society and are strong enough to resist assimilation
into the mainstream, and still exist on their own terms. Wilson proves her point
by giving examples of sub cultures that appeared in society, and she shows that
they still thrive today.On example Wilson uses is the hippie culture that
evolved in the 1960's. She points out that hippies can be seen today in some
areas of the United states, proving her point. She also mentions other movements
like the Gay Liberation Movement, the Punk movement, and the Skin Heads, who can
all be seen in some form today. In mainstream american culture some individual
sub cultures do get lost in the mainstream, but are not forgotten, however most
oppositional cultures resist assimilation into the main steam and continue to
define themselves on their own terms.
In Ibelema's essay, he says that the mainstream culture is so strong that
individual cultures assimilate into it. This proposition is not completely
correct. The examples Ibelema uses are derived from situation comedies that are
directed at a cross cultural mainstream audience. His point is that the African
American culture is nonexistent, or assimilated because African American
cultural values are not expressed fully in these sitcoms, thus they are a part
of the assimilation process. Because these sitcoms are directed at a cross
cultural audience the assumption Ibelema uses is false. The African American
culture is not lost in america, its existence is found in the homes of African
Americans throughout america and is passed on through mothers and fathers, and
grand mothers and grand fathers.
An opposing view to this argument is Elizabeth Wilson's essay "Oppositional
Dress". Her belief is that sub cultures exist in the mainstream society, and
they dictate their own existence. Wilson proves her theory by giving example
after example of sub cultures that evolved from the mainstream in both the
United States and Great Britain. These sub cultures usually evolve around young
people that are rebelling against the dress and views of their parents. For
example the Hippie movement of the 1960's started a dress trend that is still
seen across america. They wore bell bottomed pants, flowery shirts, they grew
their hair long, and they supported peace over war. These views were seen as
oppositional to their parents, and thus they became "Hippies" Another example
Wilson gives is that of the Gay Movement. In the 1970's this movement was in
full form. What the Gay Movement started was the idea of a homosexual or lesbian
person publicly declaring themselves as being gay. One of the most outrageous
ways to do this was to dress in "drag", wearing makeup, and a dress. These
homosexuals broke down the door of stereotypical gender roles and took on cross
dressing as a defining tool. Over time the Gay Movement took on another task to
reestablish their masculinity. From this came the "clone look". Clones wore
jeans, distressed leather, heavy boots, and were normally clean shaven with a
styled mustache. The Gay Movement didn't assimilate into the mainstream, it
evolved into its own sub culture that exists today. African americans and other
ethnic minorities also have cultivated their own controversial styles. Their
styles however usually carried with it a message. By the 1940's young blacks
developed a distinctive style of dress called a zoot suit. These suits had
exaggerated padded shoulders, peg top trousers, narrowing ankles, and the were
lavishly draped. The zoot suiters dressed this way to demonstrate against the
war effort. The zoot suiter is a clear example of a symbolic sub culture that
was a statement of ethnic pride, and a refusal to assimilate.
In mainstream american culture, sub cultures are not lost or assimilated
into the mainstream. They are embraced by those who participate in them, and
evolve over time to suit the needs of the sub culture. The sub cultures that
exist in society aren't separate from the mainstream culture, but part of it.
Elizabeth Wilson is correct in her belief that sub cultures resist assimilation,
and seek to clarify their individuality on their own terms.