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The Violence of Stereotypes: Spike Lee's Bamboozled

I want to frame my discussion of Spike Lee's performance of racial stereotypes in the controversial film Bamboozled by reminding you of the way in which Roland Barthes defines the term in his fictionalized autobiography. Reflecting on the fatality of holding onto rather than recognizing the repression effects of sexual stereotypes in relation to Balzac's novella "Sarasine", Barthes asks "how many subjects are repressed, refracted, blinded as to their true sexuality, because they are unwilling to let go of a stereotype," only to add a declaration I find resonant for any discussion of the tropic exchange between body and sign: "The stereotype is that emplacement of discourse where the body is missing, where one is sure the body is not." (90). I invoke this definition by Barthes as the frame for my own thoughts for two reasons. Firstly, he posits that the subject might become cognizant of his or her "true sexuality," which, for my own purpose, I would want to translate into 'true racial identity,' i.e. abnegating stereotypes. For my reading of Bamboozled at stake will be a troubling of this claim, precisely because the film seems to evoke a situation in which 'keeping it real' in relation to racial identity emerges as coterminous with being unwilling to let go of a stereotype; indeed in the world Spike Lee presents to us the real of racial identity, performed explicitly in and for a public domain, uncannily converges with the stereotype. Secondly, Barthes declares that stereotyping has to do with an absence of the body, when the body is missing, and what I will be interested in is tracing how bodies become invisible precisely when they perform stereotypes, which is to say precisely because the subjective factor comes to be occluded. The question I would, furthermore, want to pose to Barthes claim is whether the body was ever really present, whether it ever was in any real alliance with the image repertoire used to represent it, especially when it comes to the vexed and troubled cultural codifications and figurations of the Afro-American subject.

My thesis in what follows is, thus, the following: With Judith Butler's discussion of identity performance (and again I am recoding gender trouble into something one might call race trouble) as a question of reciting previous cultural codes that inevitably define any particular subject, I will want to claim that Spike Lee presents us with a conundrum. We can't not recite a racial stereotype because it is your history, and you need to remember it so as not to fall prey to uncanny repetitions. But you can't simply re-cite racial stereotypes, because this refiguration – even if it is intended as social satire – adds to the very visual culture you seek to subvert and dismantle. At the end of the film, Sloane insists on teaching Pierre Delacroix a history lessen. All the Afro-American performers involved in the monstrous refiguration of the minstrel show he, together with his Jewish boss Dunwitty had staged on T.V., have either left or died, and Sloan is alone in confronting Pierre. She enters the office where he has been watching the slaughter on T.V. with a gun in her hand, claiming that the violence that has come of his dangerous game with stereotypes had, in part, to do with the fact that he never listens to her. She insists on finally playing to him the tape, containing clips of the history of black face in American visual culture, yet can get him to watch only after she has accidentally (the perhaps unconsciously intended) shot him. As he is lying on his back on the floor of his office, having realized his own blindness to his 'real' racial identity, but paying with his death for this recognition, he offers us two quotes to help us make sense of this final death, even while Spike Lee is clear that they don't really offer us any clean solution to the conundrum subtending his own satire. The first is from Baldwin: "People pay for the lives they have decided to lead," which is to say they pay for the blindness towards the truth of their symbolic position within the world. The second quote is from his father, a stand-up comedian, who left Hollywood so as not to have to give in to the racial stereotypes perpetrated there, yet for whom – as indeed for no one in Spike Lee's bamboozled world – there is no real happiness and no real escape from undignified definitions of the racial self one necessarily must accept as an Afro-American citizen: "Always keep them laughing." You may be laughing at racial stereotypes (which is the script the father performs in his shows) or you may be laughing with the racial stereotypes (which is the script the son produces), but in both cases the black body is the source of entertainment, and an entertainment that works by virtue of clearly distinguishing between us (the performers) and them (the audience). It is never a 'real' body, always a spectacle, even while laugher, as we well know, is also a form of ridicule, indeed of violence, because to laugh at or with implies a break in empathy and intersubjective understanding. We laugh because we want to ward off the proximity of the other, because we want to distance ourselves from the other, or – in the case of the performer or writer – because we want to distance ourselves from ourselves. Pierre's assistant Sloan, as I will be arguing, stands in for a different, what I want to call ethical position. Because, in contrast to Pierre Delacroix, she is perfectly willing to abandon stereotypes of racial identity, even while she is the one to insist that one must constantly look at and confront one's history of racial stereotyping so as not to forget the real consequences it has had on Afro-American lives.

However, as I present my thoughts on Bamboozled, I want you to play through the following Gedankenspiel. What if we reset the story Spike Lee has to tell into the German-speaking world, and recast the Afro-American players as Jews. Aren't they the arch-entertainers of the white European world – the comedy directors (Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch), the violinists, pianists, composers (Stern, Heiffitz, Barenboim), the satirists (Krauss, Broder, Biller). Don't we all want to claim Klesmer Music as our own, so much so that there are all-goi Klezmer Bands in Germany, in which all the musicians speak only jiddisch to each other. And haven't we invested highly in what some critical tongues call Holocaust-Business, or Holocaust Kitsch, to the degree that many involved in the debate around Holocaust memorial sites keep digging up that bit of Jewish blood that might let them claim 'let's keep it real?' Admittedly I am invoking a pathos gesture – the rhetoric of self-conscious exaggeration – but couldn't it be that what horrifies Europeans to such a degree about the real violence in the Isreal-Palistine conflict is simply that in this particular arena stereotypes of the Jew as the entertainer, who will let himself be exiled playing his fiddle, or slaughtered to the soundtrack of Klesmer music simply do not hold. Did Sarramago perhaps compare Ramallah to Auschwitz because he wanted us to get back into what is far more easy to deal with when it comes to real political antagonisms, namely the familiar world of stereotypes? And couldn't one perhaps say that part and parcel with recognizing racial stereotypes is the ethical imperative of preserving a taboo? To make clear what I mean – and this would be the position Sloan represents – it may well mean that to be cognizant of, indeed to confront the history of racial stereotyping informing all visual representations of Afro-American bodies as well as Jewish bodies – also means to insist that certain re-citations must not be performed, atleast not in a manner that opens up an ambiguous play between ironic distance and identification. Let me also remind you – so as to make the analogy I am proposing to you as a Gedankenspielclear. Frank Schirmacher's final sentence in the open letter he wrote to Robert Walser, explaining why he was not going to print his novel in the FAZ reads: "Sie, lieber Herr Walser, haben oft genug gesagt, Sie wollten sich befreit fühlen. Ich glaube heute: Ihre Freiheit ist unsere Niederlage." In our western world, where we believe in the utmost freedom of speech, having recourse to stereotypes, even if one seeks to re-figure them, may mean more than freedom of speech. It may mean relinquishing laws of propriety that lead not only to violence in the real but also to an even firmer reassertion of stereotypes in situations, where ironic distance can no longer come into play, as in the police raid, with which Bamboozled ends.

Let me then return to the connection between laughter and violence I invoked earlier on, and with it – finally – to Spike Lee's film itself. At the beginning of Bamboozled we see our hero at his morning routine. He gets up, brushes his teeth, and then proceeds to foam his head and apply a razor to his hair: A man, reflected in a mirror, black and white. On the sound track we here a song, declaring: "You must never be a misrepresented people." Spike Lee then uses the voice over to offer his definition of the genre he has chosen to present the unsolvable conundrum involving refigurations of racial stereotypes: "Satire – 1. A literary work in which human vice or folly is ridiculed or attacked scornfully. B. The branch of literature that composes such work. 1. Irony – derision or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity." Damon Waynes then looks directly into the camera – and bear in mind that this is a mise-en-scène Hollywood's visual code usually reserves for madmen or monsters, but then of course also for Hitchcock, when in his trailers, he presents red herrings to his audience. With this highly ambiguous gaze aimed directly at us, Delacroix explains that he is a "television writer, one of those people responsible for what you view on your idiot box." And Spike Lee stages the symbolic position of this young television writer, who has assumed a new name so as to appropriate for himself a part of white culture, as though he were the guard in the center of the panopticon, only now he is fully visible. Because as Delacroix continues to explain to us that not enough people are watching the shows he writes, Spike Lee's camera pans along the walls of the room in his apartment in a full 360° angle, as though this introduction – in a narrative and a visual sense – were to be thought of as a panorama shot. Yet, with Althusser's notion of the 180° turn necessary for a subject to accept his symbolic mandate in mind, this stage pan can also be read as a signal of overdetermination. Delacroix isn't simply interpellated as an afro-american subject, but also as a white subject in television America – a black face with a white foam wig. And this overdetermination may also mean a crisis in self-identification. Indeed, with the next scene we see him entering the office of his network, and nobody greets him. This will only change once he has offered to his producer Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport) a monstrous concept for a TV-Show: "Mantan – the New Millenium Minstrel Show," taking place in the cotton fields or rather a water melon patch in the ante-belum south, and reciting all the stereotypes of the coon: the lazy, ignorant, pleasure seeking, dull-witted and unlucky, but also singing and dancing Afro-American.

For my discussion significant, however, isn't simply the monstrosity of the satire, nor the fact, as I will show in greater detail further on, that it backfires. Rather it is worth tarrying with the two scenes Spike Lee includes to show first how Dunwitty pitches his desire to Delacroix that he write a different type of show and then how Delacroix pitches what can only be seen as an overdetermination of this desire. In the first scene Dunwitty performs his appropriation of what he thinks 'blackness' is, and of course, Spike Lee leaves no doubt in our mind that this is a cliche – the hand gestures, the collection of black memorabilia as well as photographs of black celebrities; above all the claim of appropriation itself: "If truth be told I probably know niggers better than you." And – as part of Spike Lee's bitter satiric stance – he is right. If a black man must orient himself on white culture to succeed, then a white man, who is already in a position of cultural privilege, can afford to know black people better, that is if knowing means owning the images. But he 'knows' black people as stereotypes, as images where the body – the real living conditions and with this the consequences of race difference – are missing.

Pitch 1

The point, I would think, is that Dunwitty can be assured in his appropriation of blackness precisely because it is a masquerade he can don and one he can take off again. For him 'nigger' is indeed just a word because it conforms to no lived reality; being called that has no real consequences for him. But of course what also becomes clear in this scene is that, even while he has appropriated blackness as gesture this only works precisely because the stereotypical equation of black with what Stallybrass and White call everything belonging to the lower stratum – class, body intensity, grotesqueness - is fully intake. Dunwitty and Delacroix are not speaking the same language. A story about a dignified, middle class Afro-American family makes no sense to the producer because he has invested in blackness as that site of the exclusion which gives vibrancy to the white norm itself. And he can insist on his position with force because he has appropriated the language and gestures belonging to the excluded, to ghetto culture. Bourgeois afro-american stories are white people with black faces, "too clean and antiseptic" while he, who knows the black faces his black employee doesn't can claim for himself "I'm keeping it real." This bizarre cross-identification – Delacroix performing the oreo-stereotype and Dunwitty that of the black identified white – is the catalyst for the writers own satire. If, as he explains to Sloan the next day, his producer doesn't want a show about dignified black people then give him an excessive example of the racist world view he purports not to entertain: a world where the division between black and white is unequivocally divided along the division between low and high. Spike Lee's satire thus initially works on the basis that the second pitch scene works for Dunwitty precisely because it dismantles for us as viewers the racial prejudices subtending his own philo-blackness. At stake is a resignification of blackness not in the sense of liberating the Afro-American subject from the cultural stereotypes of the past, but simply valorizing these in a positive way – as trend-setting, as regenerative, because provocative. Pierre, claiming to have dug deep into his pain as a negro, presents him with the young men whom he also decides to rename – Manray is now to be called like a previous Minstrel performer Mantan, and his friend is to become a pure stereotype, 'Eat-and-Sleep'. And Dunwitty responds as expected, claiming "this is exactly what I'm looking for."

Pitch 2

Again I want you to notice the over-determination of the mise-en-scène: Dunwitty's appropriation of a stereotypical black language of gesture, of the jargon down to the 'yo,' as well as the fact that he is sitting in front of his portrait gallery of black celebrity. And what I want you also to notice is Sloan's response. She is the only one whose gaze suggests that both men have fallen into a scenario of dangerous fantasy: one an unwitting bafoon, the other playing to his ignorance, their stake two black performers, who are willing to be complicitous. She, however, is positioned by Spike Lee as the figure of reason, if you like as a reality check. And significant for me is the fact that no one is listening to her when she names the obvious: "Have you lost your mind?" In so far as we are witnessing a devil's pact then no one is explicitly in the position of the beguiler and no one is purely beguiled. The situation is far worse: Everyone knows that they are being tricked, indeed wants to be tricked. Everyone knows they aren't innocent, not if you think that black face gives authenticity, that performing an equation of blackness and the low, bodily grotesque is "keeping it real". Indeed the term 'real' in this phrase is precisely the marker of an utter lack of authenticity; of the way mainstream culture has appropriated and defused afro-american ghetto language, turned – as Sacvan Bercovitch would note – dissent into consent.

But what made Bamboozled such a disturbing film when it came out was the fact that it refuses to be one-sided in its attack on misrecognitions in relation to racial self-performances. Delacroix is presented as a black man who has assumed the white masquerade in order to be successful in American T.V. world even while fully aware of what he is doing, and Spike Lee has not only his father comment on his fake white accent but also includes Delacroix own self-biting critique in relation to his willingness to ingratiate himself in front of a white audience so as to be successful. Yet his counterpart is Sloan's brother Julian, who, one of the singers of the Mau Mau band, while following exactly the same logic of self-invention, simply uses a different stereotypical matrix when he also renames himself, namely as Big Black Africa. Again it is Sloan who questions the validity of this resignification of the position open to the Afro-American man, not least of all because her brother defines her 'assimilation' within the very terms of degradation he is seeking to revolt against when he calls her a 'house-nigger'. She is uncannily right in asking 'Who are you revolting against' not simply because she recognizes no actual political struggle, only gestures of subversion. But more importantly because she also recognizes that in both men's attempt at defining their own symbolic interpellation they fail to recognize that they base this on the very codes of interpellation they experience as so undignified, and thus injurious, that they need to refigure them in the first place.

Again and again Spike Lee stages Sloan's horrified gaze as the only corrective in a fatal re-enactment of the ante-bellum myth, where satire goes array because people really believe the cliche they are being shown, initially resist because they have been taught that it is politically incorrect, but ultimately join the laughter, and in so doing distancing themselves from what I would call the proper shame at recognizing one's racial prejudices, enjoying the performance of the stereotype and thus reasserting their prejudice. To allow people to declare 'I'm sick and tired of niggers,' may seem liberating at first, but to return to the Schirmacher quote I began with, this liberation could well be the sign of a cultural capitulation. This is precisely not a subversion but a cruel reassertion of a dominant language of racism. Again, Sloan is also the one who insists on history lessons. She is the one to introduce Delacroix to black collectibles with her gift of the jolly nigger bank after the initial success of their show, explaining, "I love these black collectibles. It reminds me of a time of our history in this country when we were considered inferior, subhuman, and we should never forget". As she is the one to insist that both her producer and her star look at a tape she has compiled of the origin and cultural exchange of black faces in American visual culture, so that they should be more cautious of what an uncritical recitation of injurious stereotypes in fact unleashes when it comes to cultural memory. The corrective, as it is embodied by Sloan is, then, the reassertion of a taboo, based not on denial or ignorance, but rather on propriety. The scandal isn't to undercut political correctness by speaking the obscenity it forbids, but to say 'I wont publicly articulate racist obscenities, not because I am not aware of them, not because I don't share in them, but because I choose to forbid myself this articulation because it is undignified.' The break-down of a taboo based on preserving dignity is tantamount to unleashing jouissance, which as we learn from Lacan, is never far from a violent enjoyment or an enjoyment of violence.

Indeed, while the Mantan Minstrel Show is initially conceived as satire, with Delacroix arguing that you need to see the stereotype – black characters in black face - before you can move a community to change, that you need to offend and upset to produce real subversion, Sloan (Jada Pinkett-Smith) warns her colleges that irony can be misunderstood, which is to say that satire might well become deadly. Indeed one need only recall that historically the violent thrusting of satirical language was often compared to the throwing of spears; which is to say that the verbal attack on a situation, person or condition one felt to be bad or evil could have as a result real destruction. But one must also bear in mind that this definition of satire contains another aspect, which proves significant as the story unfolds. The ridicule, the scornful attack, meant to be symbolically destructive is dependent upon whether the author of the satire and his audience share the same cultural prejudices in the sense that they share the same moral presuppositions, from which the object of the satire, which is denigrated as being a perversion or an abnormality, is clearly demarcated. It is precisely this relation which becomes duplicitous, and thus fatal in Bamboozled for the following reason. Delacroix's satire is aimed at attacking stereotypes of the afro-american body, and thus is meant to destroy these representations, which – as stereotypes – however already represent a symbolic injury, more precisely put a destruction of the dignity of the involved afro-american subjects. What we thus have is symbolic violence (satire) pitted against symbolic violence (stereotyping). At the same time, and therein lies the unsolvable antagonism at stake, and with it the sharpness of Spike Lee's own satire – there are no shared assumptions between the audience and the authors of the Mantan Minstrel Show. Apodictically put, Afro-Americans and Whites have no common denominator when it comes to the racist images of the black face.

The real violence performed in Bamboozled is thus for one based on the misunderstanding subtending the reception of the Mantan-Show, even if it is unclear whether its author Delacroix actually intended this. On the other hand violence results from the fact that the satirical language thus queered in fact produces an obliteration of the boundary between real and symbolic violence; or in the language of psychoanalysis it uncannily allows repressed violence to return as a hallucination in the real. The scenario Spike Lee offers us takes the following course: Against both Delacroix and Sloan's expectations the show not only becomes a success. It also elicits a strange cross-over of identifications. The white audience, once it has overcome its initial sense of taboo, enjoys the Mantan Minstrel Show both as a confirmation of their racist prejudices (we always knew that blacks were coons, and now we are even allowed to laugh about this). At the same time the show satisfies their wish to identify with the culturally Other, especially if this involves a positive valorization of victims and subjugation. Spike Lee makes this point in a multifaceted way. For one, he has Delacroix visit his father Junebug, and listen to one of his routines, in which the latter notes "every one white wants to be black. I hope they start hanging blacks, I'll find out who's black." Only the question of real consequences to one's appropriated symbolic racial designation makes the difference, not the actual designation, not the performative declaration. Spike Lee further includes what I would call one of the most disturbing scenes in the film. During one of the sessions, the predominantly white audience of the Mantan Show are all wearing black faces, thus performatively declaring themselves to be black, and in so doing producing a further turn of the screw of 'lethal' symbolic injuries, residing in this cultural image; a further enactment of the theft of alterity of the afro-american subject, making this subjectivity a missing thing. Spike Lee emphasizes this exchange by repeating the scene, only now – in his preferred gesture of overdetermination – actually having the audience recite the by-line 'I'm in black face and I'm feeling fine. No matter what color, no matter what race. We is all niggers. Niggers is a beautiful thing." The black audience – embodied primarily by Sloan's brother and his rap group the Mau Maos – in turn, literally enact the symbolic injury which is being refigured in Delacroix's satire, and in so doing add to it the dimension of reference, or rather refuse to be ironic readers of this show. The literally stage the symbolic killing inhabiting the stereotype of the black face, by kidnapping Manray (Savion Glover) and forcing him to perform a death dance, which they then perpetrate as a reality T.V. show through all the channels of all the major television networks. By making public this execution they, however, unleash yet another wave of killing. Like them the police refuse to recognize any irony in their reality T.V. version of a black in black face hoofing for an audience. Rather this television show confirms another long-familiar cultural cliche, namely that of afro-american people as the catalyst of urban violence, and the police responds to this with the violence familiar to them as the defenders of the law, even while Spike Lee also gestures toward images of police brutality familiar to us from T.V. Sloan herself, in turn, exchanges the verbal spears satire thrusts for a real weapon, the gun given to her by her brother, and with it she shoots her boss Delacroix, forcing him to finally submit to her history lesson as he lies on the floor dying. And this, too, is a repetition, for it recalls Delacroix's father, lying drunk on the floor of his apartment – precisely the image of paternal identification Delacroix is seeking to flee from all along. Yet what is also significant is that this chain of violence sets in precisely when Manray refuses the symbolic mandate imposed on him by the producer and the writer of the Mantan Minstrel Show, which is to say when he seeks to undo their interpellation by walking out on stage in his street clothes, showing his actual black face, declaring his name to be Manray and calling upon his audience to relinquish the false racial cross-over identification they have been enjoying by asking them to repeat after him: "I am sick and tired of being a nigger." The problem, of course, is that this Brechtian moment – undercutting the enjoyment stereotypes sustain – fits neither into Dunwitty's provocative re-citing of the song and dance in black face, nor does it fit into the dance of death in the real the Mao Mao's have planned in retaliation.

Final scenes of violence

Many read Bamboozled as a satire about late 20th century American television culture, but my argument would be that Spike Lee's critique runs further and deeper, namely to the violence inherent in all acts of identification. On the one hand he presents the self-hatred of his protagonist as a paradigmatic attitude for the afro-american man within a culture which offers to him by way of cultural images of identification only undignified stereotypes, in the manner Judith Butler discusses in her writing on the narcissistic injuring subtending symbolic interpellation: "there is a cost in every identification, the loss of some other set of identifications, the forcible approximation of a norm one never chooses, a norm that chooses us, but which we occupy, reverse, resignify to the extent that the norm fails to determine us completely." (126) But precisely because Spike Lee is interested in moments when such resignification fails, he also insists that a reference to a non-effacable violence inhabits all stereotypes of the black face (in cinematic images as in collectibles), indeed catches up with any game with racial stereotyping in the form of a violent counter-strike, be this, on the one hand, the Mao Mao's reality satire of the Mantan satire, be this, on the other hand, the familiar police violence, which takes from the latter, double-edged satire all moral claims and treats it exclusively as an act of crime. In so doing at stake is a cementing of precisely the boundary between black and white, which brought about the entire wave of violence in the first place. Like the white audience in the television studio, who can claim to be black with impunity, the one white member of the Mau Maus does not get shot, even though he calls out to the policemen "Kill me, I'm black."

I want to suggest that this is a gesture of exclusion and inclusion, which comes to reinstall the hegemonic law about race difference, so duplicitously transgressed in the Mantan Minstrel Show. I myself privilege and foreground this enmeshment of violence and identification in my own discussion, because it is my contention that Spike Lee stages the desire to appropriate the racial other – Dunwitty as the one, who claims to more black than Delacroix because he successfully donned precisely the stereotypical gestures of blackness Delacroix, with his equally artificial accent and posture so radically rejects – as a desire for the Other, whose denigration we are willing to enjoy, even to the point of his extermination. The white audience wears black faces while they laugh at afro-american performers on stage wearing black faces such that idealization entails reducing the Other, in his or her multiplicity, to clichéed gestures. But it also means incorporating the racial Other, in what can only be seen as another gesture entailing symbolic violence. For in one and the same gesture difference is obliterated even while imitation – based on a radical misunderstanding of the other – also means complete appropriation. The performative act – we are all wearing black faces, 'we is all niggers' – and the deployment of a violent law – the police shoot those whose black faces aren't just masks – proves to be no contradiction at all. Indeed, Delacroix's father's satire emerges as more to the point – in a world where everyone wants to be black, hanging will decide who actually is, or rather who will pay for being so. Against the claim the Mau Maus had made in the beginning: being black isn't black. At the same time what the triple execution with which Bamboozled ends also illustrates is the limit of Butler's more utopian notion of appropriation and resignification of cultural norms. Because what becomes visible in the fundamental misunderstanding that a white person could fully appropriate the 'black face' by resignifying it as his appropriate masquerade is the unsolvable antagonism, which can only come to articulate itself as real violence, namely when satire succeeds so well that no one notices it to be satire any more. Or put another way, for those existentially involved – Delacroix and Manray – a happy negotiation of cultural stereotypes that are necessarily injurious to them is only possible in a very limited sense. These afro-american men seem to be faced with a false choice. They need to accept the norm that wounds them – the white gaze at the black body - even while all resignification necessarily ends in a further injury. To satirize a symbolic injury cemented by history only precipitates a further turn of the screw of injuries, because it inevitably entails identifying with these injurious cultural images. In other words, Spike Lee's position claims that it is not possible for the afro-american subject to invent him- or herself independent of this undignified visual tradition; one must recognize this as one's history and one's legacy and appropriate it. But this appropriation can not be one aimed at obliterating or striking through the violence implicitly refered to and thus contained by the stereotype, which is to say it can never be just ironic.

Against the motion presented by several critics that Bamboozled is at best to be seen as a confused, and inherently not coherent film, I would maintain that its strength resides precisely in the fact that Spike Lee insisted on presenting this unsolvable antagonism, and doing so by casting Sloan's response – her belief in history lessons but also her unintended killing – as an ethical gesture. Indeed I am prone to argue that, like Antigone, Sloan consciously transgresses a moral code – thou shalt not kill – so as to enforce her pedagogic imperative. She doesn't kill Delacroix in retaliation, but rather so as to educate him. By forcing him - and implicitly us as well - to look at the visual image repertoire he had wanted to treat merely satirically, without thinking through the consequences of the rhetoric of violence that have been contained in these images for more than a century, she consciously assumes the position of the impasse between violence and self-fashioning as the only point of exit from the conundrum: One must recognize structural violence as being an unencompassable part of identity formation, and as such precisely not a free floating mode of re-signification. Sloan, who was excluded from the male bond connecting Delacroix, Dunwitty and Mantan, and who refused to have any part in her brothers group of rappers, represents the law of sobriety against their mutually dependant hallucinatory scenarios. This is law of disillusionment but also viability which declares that there can be no escape from the injury any symbolic interpellation contains and sustains. One can neither pretend that racial stereotypes don't concern one, and thus cultivate ignorance about history, nor can one deny to stereotypes the referential power of consequences, by merely making them the object of satire. To attack folly, vice, or stupidity is in all cases – thus Spike Lee's unremitting message – a violent game and a game with violence in which no one is innocent.


© Elisabeth Bronfen 2002