Friday, 31 October 2014

Contemporary Icons - Beyoncé


Cashmore, Ellis. “Buying Beyoncé”, Celebrity Studies, 1: 2, 135-150.

Beyoncé exists in a “living description of a culture in which race is a remnant of history, and limitless consumer choice has become a substitute for equality” according to Cashmore. This article demonstrates the presence of Beyoncé as an African American celebrity widely accepted by a universal audience that has “risen in a post-9/11 era”. However, the article detects that the global singer, actress, entrepreneur, mother, and wife has never identified herself as African American. This questions whether racial divisions are disregarded in the music industry in modern society and how the icon herself stated, “I’m universal… no one’s paying attention to what race I am. I’ve kind of proven myself. I’m past that.”

     Cashmore focuses on the idea of Beyoncé and her life as a ‘narrative’. There is no doubt that ‘Queen Bee’ herself is presented as a desirable woman in one of the largest agents of socialisation; the media, who has created her own empire of fame, wealth, success, products and endorsements despite any restraints on the colour of her skin. Cashmore argues that the apparent reason for this is due to her silence on issues involving race and African American history to simply avoid controversy, reinforcing this idea that her “life is like a narrative” so she is a ‘safe’ celebrity for an audience to relate to. However in 2009, Beyoncé performed a cover of Etta James’ ‘At Last’, during the inaugural ‘Neighborhood Ball’ for President Barack Obama and his first lady Michelle Obama, celebrating history as the first black president of the United States. This significant moment in history shows the contrast between Beyoncé singing this song as the title suggests ‘At Last’ the population have ignored racial order by electing a black president, compared with the original version sung by Etta James in 1961 at a time where there was evident segregation. The lyrics in the song ‘I found a dream’ also signifies Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech delivered in 1963, calling for an end to racism in the United States. Therefore, these associations show how subtle Beyoncé’s influence is, upon how race is depicted in the industry and her life, yet she does it in a way that glorifies her name, career and overall presence as a female African American icon.

     The article also discusses the physical misrepresentation of Beyoncé in the media. In recent advertisements for magazine covers, endorsements and album covers, the colour of her skin was altered, revealing a lighter and paler hue that showed radical changes to her appearance. This created a significant debate of how her image as a global star, ignores her background and her identity as African American, indicating how perhaps she is a ‘brand’; an object of desire, encouraging the consumer into purchasing the product, based on the physicality of herself, or according to large corporations, possibly just her skin colour. Ultimately, Beyoncé is one of the most established artists of this generation and continues to dominate in her career and personal life without attaining scandalous headlines, perhaps suggesting why her life has a evolved in to a grand tale of extreme success. Yet the argument from Cashmore’s article remains: “Beyoncé’s narrative has no theme of black history… only a wish fulfilment fantasy that portrays the hard-earned success of a black woman in a culture largely purged of its historical iniquities.” Therefore does Beyoncé as an iconic celebrity suppress her identity as an African American or is that irrelevant in contemporary culture?

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Contempary Icons - Will Smith

Contemporary 'icons'
Willard Christopher Smith Jr

How one man built a global movie-magnet machine (2007)
By Rebecca Winters Keegan

Although mainly written as a time timed success story of Will Smith, this article , does raise questions about the contemporary  representation of American Americans thought famous black icons. filled with dates and statistics, it is easy to understand from this article to rapid success rate  of Will Smith. As a man who has travelled the world, earned large sums of money and raised a family, while continuing a highly pressured, publicized and scrutinized career.

The question of 'identity' is a recurring subject on the topic of African-Americanism, from abolition to the civil rights era, the establishment of group identity was being developed. What makes up an person/groups identity and how or who is to represent this groups identity to others. forms of voicing and representing African Americans is ever more frequent , through Television, film, music and politics key individuals are created as 'icons' of that community. However, as with any group there are those who vary in class, education and social standing. Through these demographics are a fruitful source for film makers to recreate stories and with films such as 'Boyz in the Hood' (1991) and "Menace II Society" (1993. representing the dark, dangerous of urban gangland violence. this represented a mainly negative appearance of living and social conditions of African Americans at that time. However, with creation of "The Fresh prince of Bel-Air". Starring Will Smith as the Fresh Prince, this  took away this image of the Ghetto life and placed a character from the suburbs into a his families Hollywood mansion.. This was a new type of representation for African Americans, showed a comparison between a young, black, immature, urban street teen and  that of a well educated, rich black middle-class  Family. With controversial issues of race, money, education, sex and politics infused with comedy, music and dancing.

"From his father, who worked seven days a week running a refrigerator company, Smith inherited his work ethic. From his mother, a school-board employee, he derived the notion that "education is the elixir for all problems,"
This section of the article, reviles that the impact of having working class parents instilled a number of ethic views that remained with smith during his career. Establishment of a strong work ethic is regarded as a key American ideal. However when concerning the work ethic ideals of African-Americans, it has been show in the past that they were not considered part of this ideal collective. " at school when it came to the section on Negro History  'it was exactly one paragraph long' and told how the 'slaves....were lazy and dumb and shiftless (Malcolm X 1985 -Campbell and Kean page  92) then the high levels of unemployment of African-Americans in the 1960's. For a individual such as Will Smith, to encompass these beliefs about work and education is a representation of progressive black attitude and identity   

The focus on his work  is a key section at the bottom of the article; how he is not only an actor but works to achieve greater personal recognition   "He has built his global audience systematically: with each film, Smith introduces himself to a new people, often piggybacking on a local event that will attract worldwide attention." buy establishing a fan base in a number of countries, he is able to institute a mechanism that maintains his continued recognition for his work as well as high financial income. This

Through his acting Will Smith has portrayed a variety of different characters, both real and fictitious of different eras in different professions such as a struggling black single father (pursuit of happyness 2006), to Alcoholic superhero, (Hancock 2008) or a member of law enforcement (Bad Boys,1991) or Muhammad Ali (Ali 2001) by representing this variety of characters, he identifies some of the key individuals and groups that make up the growing sections of African-Americans. Although I could be argued that , while portraying these characters, Will Smith is alienated from the day-to-day goings on of average African-Americans, who don't live in Californian mansions, or are worth $200 million (2012) this aspects could lead to marginal alienation with fans. However, as and 'icon' he is someone to aspire to an appreciate for many people.

Monday, 27 October 2014

12 Years A Slave...

Firstly, I'm not a huge fan of this film. It ran for 2 hours and 14 minutes, I think it could of been an hour shorter if they cut half of the close up's on his face. I get it, you're oppressed.
Aside from that, it was quite an interesting take on slavery. As we know, 12 Years a Slave was based on the life of Solomon Northup, he was a free man, earning a living as a violinist in upstate New York. That is of course, until he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. When we think of slavery, we (or me, at least) don't always consider those in this situation, the ones who were kidnapped. It is very often about those who were taken from Africa or born into it. This film gives an insight into those who had a taste of freedom only to then have it taken from them and the relationship between black and white people in different states. I  mean I knew the south were a (tad) racist but to actually travel to different states to kidnap them? That's a whole other level of messed up, I don't think you can use the economy as an excuse for that. That is legitimate human hunting.
Solomon was kidnapped under the guise of a job, he was drugged and kidnapped, when he woke up, he was a slave. The master who had his papers renamed him "Platt" after a runaway slave from Georgia. He was then sold to William Ford in Louisiana. He started off in a nearly comfortable position, he wasn't beat by his master, was able to play violin, Ford even made him a violin. After reading interviews on the 'Federal Writers Project', I realise that "comfy" places like this, are more common than usually depicted. However, Ford's carpenter - Tibeat, had other ideas about Solomon. The Tibeats had it out for Solomon and Ford had to sell him on just to protect him. Before Solomon left he tried to explain that he was in fact a free man but Ford's response - "I cannot hear this...I have a debt to pay", shows he has more concern for his finances than Solomon's life and this is the 'quality'?
Solomon was then sold to Edwin Epps. Epps was the complete opposite to Ford in that he was a sadist and a rapist (to name but a few). Whippings were commonplace with him and he used the bible as an excuse for this, (super religious  racist white guy in Louisiana? who've thought..?) It's on this plantation that we get a more in depth look at slave life. We see how they live as slave families, in little houses on the plantation. There is even a moving scene with a funeral, how they were allowed to say goodbye to one another, in this particularly moving scene (which of course ends on Solomon's tearful face) the slaves lay one man to rest and walk off singing "Roll Jordan, Roll". Music, being another part of slave life. Under Epps, the violent and racist master, Solomon quickly learned his place and played 'sambo' so as not to attract attention, he had to pretend he wasn't educated and even destroyed his violin.    
On this plantation Solomon met 'Patsey'. Patsey picked cotton well and Epps was clearly attracted to her so obviously he raped her, I mean he paid for her so why not right? Another example of how depraved Epps was, he whipped her too. His wife knew he had an attraction to Patsey so she seized every opportunity to humiliate her, further broadening the slaves fight for survival. Patsey eventually asked Solomon to help kill herself, the brutal life she had, had killed her will to live. Solomon couldn't do it.
 Luckily for Solomon, his salvation came in the form of Canadian labourer, Bass. (Slavery was abolished in Canada in 1833) Bass expressed his disdain/discomfort over the way Epps treated his slaves. Solomon seized his opportunity and got Bass to risk his life carrying a message back to New York. Solomon's friends came to find him with the Sheriff. They had to leave quickly because they were in danger, Epps was losing it. Solomon and Patsey embraced then, he was gone. There was nothing he or his friends could do to free the other slaves. I am curious as to what happened to Patsey, she seemed to have a worse time than he. We see Solomon get back to his family and all that had changed when he was gone. A bittersweet ending, he's free but he missed so much.
This film showed slavery from three (at least) different sides, two of which aren't usually considered, those being slaves in 'comfortable' work and the lives of kidnapped slaves, it also shows the brutality of some plantations and, close ups aside, it was nearly educational.

12 Years A Slave

Film Review

 Steve McQueen's '12 Years A Slave' is based on the incredible true story of Solomon Northup and his fight for freedom and survival in Pre-Civil War United States.  The films undeniably realistic portrayal of slavery through the eyes of a man not born a slave, but as a free man takes viewers down the tortuous path of America's shameful and inhumane past. The hauntingly beautiful Louisiana landscape is the backdrop to brutality, which in my opinion only adds to the authenticity of the movie.

The fact that McQueen an Englishman not an American sought to depict Solomon's plight in such a way that conveyed the complex emotions of regular human beings is fascinating. Many films in which slavery is conveyed, have always  dumbed down their characters to one simple idea, who is bad and who is good. in '12 Years A Slave' the boundaries between the two have been seamlessly blurred, through John Ridley's screenplay and through many of the widely unknown actors who convey the complexity of human emotion throughout the film. Cumberpatch's portrayal of the kindly Ford, Solomon's first master highlights this perfectly. Although Ford praises and encourages Solomon and even goes as far as protecting him, when Solomon tells him the truth of his kidnapping, Ford in unwilling to listen, stating only that the only thing that matters is the debt he owes. It is characters like this that authenticate this film, in real life the boundaries between right and wrong, moral and immoral are not always clearly defined, this characterisation of Ford makes his character all the more real.

The film is deeply emotional, with scenes of lynching, whipping set against scenes of community, hope and bravery. Probably the most notorious scene from the film is the scene in which Lupita N'yongo's 'Patsey' is brutally beaten and Solomon is forced to be complicit in her punishment,  remarkably over a bar of soap. However it is this scene that in my opinion although the most brutal, is the most dignified of all of Patsey's scenes. Towards the end of her beating McQueen, does something so subtle with the camera that makes me wonder if it was even intentional in the first place, he includes Patsey's hand which although are bound, they still are still clinging onto the soap, a sort of symbol of her rights, if you will a subtle fight back. Its simple and subtle scenes like these that make '12 Years A Slave' the masterpiece that it is.

In comparison to a lot of films through history that have shown the brutality of slavery '12 Years A Slave' is by far the most authentic and remarkably unbiased depiction of this. Unlike Taratino's 'Django Unchained' which is a stylised version in which the subject of a slave's revenge is explored and eventually leads to cathartic bloodbath at the end of film, which in a way provides the viewer with a sense of justice having been dealt. '12 Years A Slave' has no such "happy" ending, instead Solomon returns to his no fully grown family, which although does show some form of justice being dealt, the ending credits reveal that in fact the real Solomon Northup was never able to fully bring his captors to full justice, which in my opinion is an authentic piece of history that leaves the viewer with an overwhelming sense of emotion.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

12 Years a Slave

12 years a Slave
Film Review

“the most vivid and authentic portrayal of American slavery ever captured on screen.”(Henry Louis Jr.)

John Ridley's screenplay adaption of Solomon Northrup's account (published 1853) of his life in slavery is regarded as on of the best visual portrayals of one of Americas taboo topics. Unlike other recent films about or surrounding the subject  of slavery, such as Tarantinos Django Unchained (2013). 12 years a slave shows the undergoing's individuals had to deal with in US slave states. from a first hand view,the tale solely tracks the beginning of Solomon's incarceration to his eventual release from bondage. With a variety of different filming styles and the easy to follow screen sequence Steve McQueen's graphic and emotionally compromising film gives those who view it a taste of slavery with great authenticity.

With an aim to create an easy to follow but emotionally impacting film, McQueen's delivery of the storylin, continually keeps the viewer aware of the journey of Solomon Northrup from his position of freedom and prosperity in Saratoge, New York through his  enslavement in Washington D.C. and throughout his different placement upon his arrival in the southern  states. Although consistent in his placement of Solomon, in most of the scenes McQueen , maintains a steady incorporation of other key individuals. This large cast of additional characters would in many other features potentially confuse the story line however with short but concise scenes of dialogue and action, the viewer is able to gain a clear idea of  'who' the character is, their role/significance to the story line and to some degree a feel for the personality of that character. Whether admiration, appreciation, empathy or cruelty, is presented the use of different emotions to help expose the clandestine lifestyles slaves had to deal with in order to survive. an example of this is the accounts of Solomon when describing how he had to withhold the knowledge of his ability to read and write from his master so as to not be singled out. 

The use of somewhat unknown actors to play protagonists such as Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) or key characters as Solomon's wife (Quvenzhane Wallis)
those watching can gain a more authentic feeling from the film. With a limited ability to see them as professional actors, their representation of real slaves is more believable. This mirage is somewhat spoiled in my opinion with the entrance of veteran actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Micheal Fassbender and Brad Pitt. playing massively difference characters each with a varied attitude and view slavery, somehow prevent a truer presentation of such impacting individuals. The scenes in which Solomon (newly purchased under the coerced sue-denim of 'Plat'), is sold along with Patsey to Master William Ford (Cumberbatch) is a dark portrayal of the slave markets, then to see a well established actor,  better know as a London detective or a sci-fi villain and voicing  a deep southern accent  creates a skepticism in the viewers mind , Fassbender's sadistic Master Edwin Epps and Pitts nomadic, abolitionist Canadian personas are equally as authentically distant.

Slave culture is an important factor in the development of Solomon's journey. Generically understood events that occurred in the slave era such as whippings, lynchings, rape and muzzeling are presented often and graphically. as well as other less know restriction of tagging when off plantation, loaning to other plantations and  being subject to oppressive songs like 'Run Nigga Run!' (sung by Master Fords employee Tibbets) .. However, 12 years a slave does also show the forms in which slaves kept dealing with their position of bondage. Finding motivation from work gang songs in cotton picking and cutting cane (similarly presenting of modern day Ghetto 'Soul choir' themes), finding unity  in time  of sadness, revels a unknown side to life as a slave. Single frames of isolated scenery also emphasizes the isolation of the characters themselves 

12 years slave- a composition of modern British film making with variety and style portraying a US 19th century slave it is difficult to conclude on. I see it such a piece of reconstructed history that is "...forcing audiences to confront the dehumanising brutality of slavery, something few other filmmakers have been prepared to address." (Geoffrey MacNab- the Independent)

Friday, 24 October 2014

Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a Slave is a film that portrays a complete sense of authenticity that grips the viewer and takes them on Solomon's journey with him, as if it was actually him that had written, directed and acted in the film to show people life through his eyes. This could be a feature made real by the screen-writer, who worked directly from his memoirs, or could be the work of the brilliant director. America may be quite hesitant to admit that it was the work of the director that made it so worth watching, mainly because he was English rather than American. The fact that an Englishman has somehow managed to capture the essence of slavery in 19th Century America in a more dramatic and relatable way seems to say quite a lot about American film in general.

It shows a sense of incompetence amongst American film directors, a factor that could be put down to the way Hollywood and American film seems to be more centred on what will sell and make money rather than what will accurately portray true events. This could be further explored through the comparison between Django Unchained and Twelve Years a Slave. There is a general acknowledgement that Django Unchained is more 'entertaining', which could be considered quite an oblique way of thinking. It was the stereotypical Hollywood film that was directed by a white person on a topic that they had tried to make entertaining by showing slave masters as receiving their comeuppance. It could be considered a flimsy attempt at condemning slavery, but how can that truly be showed unless you actually look into the reality of everything in a film without humour? It's almost offensive to attempt to find the humour in such a serious topic. 
Django Unchained is known as a revenge-fantasy. For good to prosper it requires the complete masculinity of the protagonist to rise up and fight against one or two 'bad guys' in a climatic final scene. In Twelve Years a Slave that's not the case at all. It becomes all the more real through the questions that are left unanswered, despite history already being written. We don't know what becomes of Patsey or the other slaves on the plantations that we've met along the way, nor does Solomon. The unknown and unfinished ending that simply shows one slave making it out only acts to raise more questions about the hundreds still trapped; there's no simple cut ending. Even by comparing the films' posters it is quite evident that Django Unchained is more concerned with the masculinity and strength of the character overcoming the 'bad guys', seen by the protagonist's size on the poster, whereas Twelve Years a Slave shows a frightened Solomon trying to run from what has been thrown upon him, it creates a real sense of desperation and fear which makes the film seem all the more dramatic and real.
"An insult or slight, real or imaginary, becomes the justification for “retaliation” in the form of destroying a government or an entire country along with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of its people. It seems pretty easy to sell that idea to us Americans – maybe because the revenge-fantasy scenario is woven deeply into American culture –  and it’s only in retrospect that we wonder how Iraq or Vietnam ever happened."
Jay Livingston wrote a blog post of Django Unchained Vs. Twelve Years a Slave, the above quotation is taken from it, and discusses how Django Unchained is an idea that was easy to sell to Americans, supporting my earlier point of it being the stereotypical Hollywood film that was made to entertain rather than inform its audience.

There's a raw power in Twelve Years a Slave that leaves the viewer almost awestruck and speechless, despite some reviews of the film criticising the fact that it is not as gritty as the original memoirs written by Solomon Northup. But this doesn't make it any less difficult to watch and there's no way to stop yourself from becoming slightly immersed in the story of the man. Even though there is a raw power, the film doesn't seem to focus on anyone in the film, there's a multitude of characters and no real focus on any of them, despite the whole film being based on Solomon Northup's memoirs.

The abundance of famous and familiar faces used in the film, from Benedict Cumberbatch to Brad Pitt, takes away from the 'realness' of the story. If you combine this with the number of characters, it seems to add an unnecessary complexity to the already emotionally troubling film. This makes it all the more difficult to understand and fully engage with the message to the audience, one of sheer honesty from Steve McQueen, the film's director. His style promotes honesty as he doesn't seem to lead the viewers to side with any of the characters portrayed, he leaves it completely up to them in his delivery of the story. There is a sense of trust left with the audience for them to be intelligent enough to understand the small expressions and actions as well as the speech, shown in the many close-up shots of the actors and actresses, rather than relying on being spoon-fed the plot line and morals they are meant to be taking away from it. 

Therefore, despite the complete 'realness' and authenticity of the film, there is a sense of unnecessary complexity to it that confuses audiences which leaves half of them emotionally distraught and the others completely unaffected - choosing to prefer the typical Hollywood portrayal over the informative, real one.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Federal Writers Project

Upon reading this narrative, the first thing I noticed was the level of literacy "I'se 96 y'ars ole...". `Narcissus was born in Tennessee so it's likely the interviewer is reiterating her accent but also how poorly spoken she was, which was common amongst slaves. I would ask whether she was deliberately seeming 'Sambo' but the rest of the interview goes to say otherwise. 
Narcissus was "bawn into slavery", worked from a young age, raised in the house til "I wuz big 'nuff ter wuk out in de fiels wid de uthers", I can assume this was around five or six years old. "My missus taught me to sew, weave en spin", typical of many female slaves... and southern females of the time. "Mah mammy died when I wuz three y'ars ole". This is what changed my perception of her "slavery", throughout her interview she speaks about her masters with respect, is this because she had no mother/family to teach her otherwise? It seems she was raised as a slave and appreciated her upbringing but, it wasn't a harsh life "mah white folks sho gib me en de uther slaves plenty gud things ter eat, clothes good 'nuff fer anybody...we went ter parties en urther places, en watelse could I'se wan'?" This seems almost like family treatment over slave treatment. I'm especially surprised by this because she's in the South. Later on she refers to her masters as "the quality" when recounting how her and "all us Niggers run ter de cellar en hid" from Yankee soldiers at the property and again from the Ku Klux Klan. Whether she is referring to them as the "quality" because they are white and she has been raised to believe they are the superior race or because they aren't as harsh as other plantation owners is  open for interpretation. I'm inclined to believe it's the latter although I am a tad conflicted on that. I will come back to this.
The worse "whuppin" she ever received was for lying, her "Missus" said "she don' keer 'bout de two aigs, but dat she was gwine ter whup me fer tellin' a lie". This is clearly instilling standard white morals into an "inferior" race. This goes against what I (thought) I knew about slavery. Narcissus even mentioned that she deserved that "whuppin" and said she never stole from her Masters, there seems to be a mutual respect here, almost like family...  Even after freedom, all the other slaves left the plantation but she "stayed dare a long time" before moving on to other house jobs. Narcissus quite evidently has had a more sheltered slaved life than others but, it's quite clear that she knows her place and her identity. I found her view on inter racial marriages fascinating "I don't b'leeve in Niggers en whites ma'rrin...I'se b'leeves eberone should ma'ree in dare culor. I think de young people oh terday es dogs en sluts". She hasn't really explained why she thinks this, I thought this was a predominantly white ideology, not wanting to mix with what they thought at the time was an 'inferior' race, so this could mean that Narcissus has been raised with a white ideology, it could also imply (amongst other things) that fundamentally, slaves didn't want to mix with their enslavers. Ergo my earlier confliction. Whilst I found this brief two page interview fascinating, it completely contradicts the view of slavery that I previously had and poses several more questions. Why did all of the other slaves leave, did Narcissus have a preferential upbringing? Did her masters choose to raise over enslave? 

Federal Writers' Project

Clara C. Young
Mississippi Narratives, Volume XI
Page 169

Clara C. Young's account of both her childhood and adult life as both a house slave and working in the fields is very intriguing. In the narrative she states that she cannot recall the year in which she was born but knows that her surname Conley came from ‘da old marster dat owned dem’, this i found interesting  . Her and the rest of her siblings lived with their parents until the ‘ chullum drew dey parts’  and she was sold onto a new master at seventeen years old.  Clara does not say how she felt about being separated from her family and leaving the home in which she was raised. Young then goes on to describe her life at her new masters house, and how ‘Dey had a nigger woman teach all de house darkies how’ to read a’ write’ this part of Clara’s story surprised me as based on what she says contrary to popular belief there were some slaves who were given some form of education, albeit extremely basic.
 The way in which Clara explains the way in which she was 'given' to her masters son ' dey gave me to 'maree Andrew'. He car'ied me an' da rest out to Texas' implies that Clara did viewed her masters as paternal figures, the act of  being 'car'ied' and the use of such a benevolent term could imply this. She uses the term later on when she describes her new master Matthew Ewing purchasing  her and other slaves to them be 'car'ied' to his plantation in Aberdeen, Mississippi.
At the start of the interview Clara's account depicts her masters as being kind and  'thoughtful' this does continue in the rest of the interview the only person she seem to think ill of is the overseer er on the Ewing's plantation. The overseer is conveyed as being threatening and cruel as he even 'whipped wimen an' all'.
One of the most interesting parts of the interview by far, is when Clara tells the writer that her time spent with the other slaves was 'de mos fun we had'. Many of us having been raised with the idea that being slave meant you couldn't have fun, because your movement and access to things was restricted. However, Clara's depiction of her time spent with slaves from other plantations 'dey wud start sing'n and shout'n' and being joyous gatherings in which many of the slaves took comfort from the distraction of religion.
The final part of the interview is by far, from my point of view the most bizarre,as Clara's expresses her dislike for the 'Yankees'. She talks about how many of the slaves didn't know and couldn't comprehend the good freedom would bring them. She even mentions the slaves mocking the Yankees through song
'Old Mister Yankee, think he so grand,
 wid his blue coat tail, dragg'n on de ground. 
I stayed on wid Ol' marster afta' de surrender, wid de res'

Clara then goes on to say that she prefers the way her life was during slavery then what it is now with 'old age pension' saying that' If dem Yankees had lef' us lone we'd been a lot happier'. She even suggest that one of her grandchildren would have been 'de Missuses very smartes gal'. Overall, Clara C.Young's narrative of her life during slavery depicts her life as although being rough and harsh at times, she was genuinely happy being a slave, which goes against the popular belief that all of slaves during that time wanted to run away and hated their masters.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Federal Writers' Project

Charlie Moses (Ex-slave)
WPA Slave Narrative Project, Mississippi Narratives, Volume 9
Brookhaven, Mississippi

Charlie Moses, an 84 year old man from Brookhaven, Mississippi, was born into slavery in Marion county (also Mississippi) and from the earliest age he remembers was forced to work on a plantation for a man by the name of Jim Rankin, who Mr Moses calls "mean an' cruel". From this interview Mr Moses explains how his father was bought by Rankin as a young man in Mississippi, and his mother also bought by Rankin and brought over to Marion county from South Carolina in which she was forced to leave her family behind.

It's clear to anyone reading this interview that Jim Rankin was about as cruel a man as you could be, working his slaves to the limit of what was humanly possible and sometimes more, giving no regard to their lives as they were solely a property used for work and nothing else. Moses describes his lack of humanity in this statement, "the way us niggers were treated was awful. Marster would beat, knock, kick, kill. He done ever'thing he could 'cept eat us. We was worked to death. We worked all sunday, all day, all night. He whipped us 'til some jus' lay down to die". 

Although cruelty was all but a normality in the slavery of the south, this plantation owner seems to go above even the cruelty of most others, as if the barbaric treatment of his slaves gave him great pleasure and that this brutality was more to satisfy sadistic urges of this man rather than produce great results in the fields. Moses explains that it was not just the slaves who were afraid of this man, as "His family were as scared o' him as we was. They lived all their lives under his whip. No Sir! No Sir! There warnt no meaner man in the world than old man Jim Rankin". 

Reading this interview really showed just how evil and depraved some of these plantation and slave owners actually were, and after having looked at the idea of slaves being almost as "livestock", to see how this man treated other people he saw as equals, his own family no less, you can only imagine how he behaved around people he considered to be "sub-human". Moses tells of how they would regularly be shown as second favourite to Rankin's hounds, "We didn' git nothin' to eat then 'til we come home in the evenin'. After he left we'd pick up pieces of the grub the dogs left an' eat 'em. Hongry- Hongry, we was so Hongry!". It is these type of accounts that highlight the true status of these African Slaves, people on which the wrath of evil men like Rankin fell on a daily basis with no chance of escape or retribution, and really show that slavery was not a necessity in the building of America, but a way for violent white men to abuse and profit from these helpless human beings whilst under the protection of the law. 

Federal Writers' Project

James Goings (Ex-Slave) 
Volume X - Missouri 
Page 120

"'en we wuz all living pretty good.. plenty to eat, an clothes enuf. Dey wuzn't no scool out dere, an' I didden know nothin' 'bout reedin' ' bout writin." -  

This was an unexpected view to come across so early in the account of a slave living at the time of American Civil War.  With dwindling resources, in a  disputed border state in the (then seen) western frontier where agriculture was the main industry, that a slave could view his situation of bondage as " pretty good.. plenty to eat..". However, his understanding that his situation could be worse, i.e. if he lived in the deep south is unsepcified. 

The beginning of the interview was did provide some historic context to his situation as a slave . James Goings describes in the first paragraph of the interview, Who his mother was, "Teresa Cannon wuz my mammy. She belonged to old Dr,Cannon, of Jackson, when i was born." showing he was born like many others into slavery, and his father "Tom Goings wuz my daddy ; he lived on a near-by plantation"  it begs the question; why did this female slave receive the owners Surname specifically and His father who was from another plantation came to be his father , were they deliberately forced to conceive a slave child for some reason? 

Also, James also describes how he and his mother. are traded between owners, Dr. Cannon then Mrs Dunn (Female slave owner" '"Den Massa Lige Hill got us from her". 

The role of James on Lid Hill's estate which consisted of " bout twenty slaves on de place" near WhiteWater, is described by him as " I jes' done 'chores' carrin in de wood 'en water en' such like" showing that slaves where required to do heavy manual labour even at such a young age. James's  record was taken in the late 1930's and he claims to " I wuz 'bout ten year old wen de war wuz over..". That would make him 71 or more years old. So he would have been required to do physically demanding 'chores' at the age of ten years or younger.

The rest of James Goings account, surprised me greatly. Many other slave narratives, describe the  tale of the horrific field work,  punishments and the slaves living conditions. However, James's account focuses mainly on the effects of the civil war on his area of Missouri. Historical accounts of the civil war are mainly  from soldiers of the time, army associates and there are large amounts of records about the main battles fought in the central eastern states e.g. Virginia. However, the conflict in western border states such Missouri and Kentucky, was informal and badly recorded . So to gain a first person insight of the fighting and the results of the conflict by a slave was very unexpected. " 

James recollection of armed conflict in the area was simple, vague and short, but also deeply meaning full and unlike other civil war accounts  "There wuz a battle over at White Water, I didden see it , but i heard de shooting and seed some o'de wounded men"  as well as the fighting he also describes  how confederate soldiers came to the estate and commandeered/looted supplies from corn and  live stock, showing that the war was localized and affected the domestic workings of those civilians caught in the middle of it, slave and owner alike.

 the event of the confederate looters at first gave me an impression that James's master would be of a negative opinion of the confederate cause. However,  "Den word came dat de' Yankees (union men) wuz comin'. 'Old George (maybe another slave) was sent to take de horses to de woods'en hide 'em...." This shows how James master did not wish  for his horses to be takes by pro-union forces. Master Lige Hills allegiance is primarily down to him being a slave owner and would rather the pro-slavery Confederate cause prevail. 

The graphic description of the outcomes of confederate and union conflict is very daunting especially when described by a illiterate, uneducated slave, a man of limited or no agenda, recalling the events years later just from memory. "De Dead wuz laying all long de road an' dey stayed dere, too. In dem days it wuzn't nuthin' to fin' a dead man in de woods".  

His account of the war in Missouri continues describing the effect it had on the local population. "We often saw sojers on de roads, but dey didden bother us much, but de bushwhackers (informal pro-confederate militias) de' wuz bad." 
and how neighbors (Bill Noeman and his step-mother) of the estate came to the estate after suffering a raid by Bushwhackers 
"She had a print dress 'en sunbonnet, 'en dat wuz all she had left in de world." Why would James (a slave) , describe the situation of a local white women (probally a owner of slaves herself) in a manner that instills sympathy in the reader, and why he insights no opinion on the situation of the women other than comment on how their property was destroyed. 

James Goings account is one of complexity. his recollections of time as a slave child are simple but present a graphic insight into life as a slave living during the civil war. presenting memories of conflict and death with no bias to which sides actions could be deem as right or wrong. 

Federal Writers' Project

Dr John  W. Fields, ex-slave of Civil War period (77-80)

Dr John W. Fields was born into slavery, however when his mother's master died he and all of his siblings were split up amongst other slave owners in order to settle the estate, a usual occurrence in the world of slavery. "Three disinterested persons" were chosen to come to the estate and the names of a few different heirs were written on pieces of paper that were then "passed among [the] slaves" in a "hat" which could be considered quite an infantile and unsophisticated way to choose where these people would go. There seems to be no system at all, as if these people were completely meaningless and almost irrelevant, which makes the term "disinterested" much more apt. I feel it shows the pure insignificance of the 'slaves' to the people that weren't like them, despite the fact they were all human, the 'slaves' were treated as cattle and simply split up and sent to new plantations when their master died. At the age of six, Dr Fields found himself working on a new plantation about 115 miles away from his mother and original plantation home. In a modern day situation, a boy at the age of six could not be expected to handle the hard labour of a 'slave', nor could he be expected to be separated from his mother by such a distance. So why was it so acceptable back then?

In Dr Field's account, he goes on to mention that "in most of us colored folks was the great desire to read and write" and that they therefore "took advantage of every opportunity to educate [them]selves". It seems that these people, these 'slaves', were not given the same opportunities as everyone else, which is ironic in terms of the original promise that America gave to the people of the world. The promise of a new start, your own piece of land and absolute equality. How could there ever be equality in a country where other men, women and children were treated as though they weren't even human?

Dr John W. Fields, Aged 89.

"Our ignorance was the greatest hold the South had on us. We knew we could run away, but what then?"

They were almost sheltered, as if this was the only way of living for them, which must have been easier over time when slaves were born into this life - they would have known nothing else. They wouldn't have even known of the freedom this great country once promised. Their "ignorance" was most likely down to the slave masters keeping them confined and constricted within the boundaries of the plantations. These men, women and children had no way of refusing their status, they would be punished for doing such things. They had no choice but to accept that this was how things were for them. It presents white people to be holding all of the power, but who put them on a pedestal? It raises the question of who, disregarding the colour of their skin, thought that treating other human beings as slaves would be an acceptable thing to do? What did these people do to deserve the way they were treated? 

"But what then?" Exactly the question that would've kept them doing as they were told and in order. What could they do? They wouldn't know anything outside of the plantations, they wouldn't know where the next town was, they wouldn't know if they'd be accepted outside or thrown straight back to work, or worse. These people could have fought back and revolted or run away but, in Dr Fields' words, "what then?" 


Thursday, 9 October 2014


Alaska is a state located in the northern extremity of North America, it is the largest state by area ( over twice the size of Texas), the 4th less populous and the least densely populated out of the all the states and at least half of Alaska's 731,449 population live in the metropolitan area of Anchorage.

People tend to usually forget that Alaska is a part of the United States, mainly because it is so far removed from the rest of the States that Alaskans refer to everyone in the contiguous states as being apart of the 'Lower 48'.People from Alaska generally don't mind dissociating themselves from the rest of America, as they believe their way of life to be very different from the rest of the contiguous states. one of the differences they believe they have is the Permanent Fund Divadend, which is check a resident of Alaska receives after living there for more than a year, in essence people are literally paid to continue living in Alaska.

This doesn't mean that Alaska isn't a popular place for people to move to from other regions in the space of 14 years the amount of people who have migrated to Alaska is about 100,000, this is all due to various historical events that have taken in Alaska since the 1950's, such as the Pipeline construction in the 1970's and the Oil boom in the late 1980's. In fact more people move to Alaska from regions with warmer climates such as Florida, California and Texas than any other states in the US.

Like most of America, the most popular language is English, However, there are a range of varying languages spoken in Alaska such as Siberian, Yupik and Central Alaskan. One of Alaska's most famous features would have to be its climate, most people either American or not picture Alaska as mainly being covered in snow all year round which is generally true as as the area of Juneau is the only region in Alaska where the average daytime high temperature is above freezing.

Alaska has few road connections compared to the rest of the U.S. The state's road system covers a relatively small area of the state, linking the central population centres and the the principal route out of the state through Canada. The state capital, Juneau, is not accessible by road, only a car ferry.



It's become evident that more people move to Texas rather than out of it which means people must have something to move for, be it employment or the enticing Southern charm that it offers, as there is over 110,000 more people moving to the state than leaving in 2011 alone. This could be considered quite surprising as 2011 was when Texas was hit by some of the most extreme weather and was said to have had it the worst in that year. It was hit by eight of the national billion dollar disasters, which is the most of any state in the U.S. The most common disasters were due to the extremely hot weather of Texas, including extreme heat and wildfires, which had left them in almost a year long drought. Another surprising factor is that, when these statistics were taken, unemployment had risen and been at a constant high for about a year, only to begin to drop in the following years, which is when it would be expected to have a higher proportion of people moving into the state.

The heat of Texas is always the first thing to come to mind, along with the sheer size and vastness of the state. With such a large and hot state to live in, it's filled with ranches and it's safe to say that there aren't many things that are close together. This leaves the residents to drive around in their 'massive pick-up trucks' with 'Don't Mess with Texas' signs on them which, according to one American blogger, is entirely stereotypical of them.

The people of the state are also apparently known for being racist. In a list on one Texan's blog, she listed everything that she has noticed in her day to day life, it is mentioned that most Texans have 'racist grandparents' and 'hate immigrants', despite a large quantity of their country's people being the descendants of immigrants. In fact, unless they are direct descendants of Native Americans, their heritage is almost certainly that of some immigrants. In fact, as seen on Claire's post last week, a majority of Texans identify themselves as being Mexican or German, with only a third identifying themselves as American or African American.




The State of Illinois is located in the mid-west US. A one of the main industrial hubs of North America, during the 19th and 20th century's Illinois State and especially cities such as Chicago known as 'The Windy City' on the edge of Lake Michigan began to expand. Seen by it inhabitants as "microcosm of America" with a blend small towns to large densely populated urban metropolis.
With a lot of natural resources throughout the state such as coal, timber as well as large areas of good agricultural farm land Illinois has a good industrial to agricultural balance, referred to as the 'Corn state; or 'Garden of the West' Illinois is viewed to be a continually industrious area of the country.

The geography of the Illinois allowed it to become a trade center, its central location linked to surrounding states by the Mississippi river, allowing trade to flow south and import/export north to the Great Lakes then the Atlantic, It additionally has the largest concentration of water, land and air transportation facilities of any other place. Chicago, although not the state capital, is one of the most famous cities in the US, with 9.5 million inhabitants, and with it own cultural identity including world famous Broadway and Jazz scene (result of the 'Great migration') Illinois, industry caused and influx of immigrants from Europe and from with in the US. Irish, eastern Europeans and African-Americans amongst others form the key demographics of Illinois's population. unlike most of the US states, the settlement of Illinois did not originally spread east to west , French-Canadian settlers moved from the north-east and then settlers from the south up the Ohio river settled in Illinois. Now with 12.8 million people from a range of different races  and religions and with such a variety of vocation, Illinois is very much seen as a Microcosm of America.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

"American" Ancestry

Out of all the maps I looked at this one by far interested me the most. This is a map of the United States by county and state, identifying the largest ancestry groups in 2000.  To my surprise the largest was German and after doing some digging I found that at one time (prior to WW2) German was seriously being considered as a primary language instead of or in addition to English. The Midwest also has some smaller pockets of predominantly Norwegian, Dutch, and Finnish ancestry.  However, as was the case with many later immigrant groups from Europe, people tried to assimilate and fit in, and often times rejected their native languages in favour of English so as not to appear any more foreign than they had to, and so that they would not be considered outsiders.  Often immigrants would purposely not teach their children the language of their homeland, preferring the children to only speak English. I find the counties (mainly in the south-eastern states) identified as having “American” ancestry to be thought-provoking.  Americans did come from somewhere else, except the Native American Indians (who also came from somewhere else, but a very long time ago).  Does this mean that the self-identified “Americans” don’t know where their ancestors came from?  Or does it mean that they feel they have been in America for so long that they are entitled to say their ancestry is all “American”?  

However,  if you combine all the British groups (English, Irish, Scots, Scots-Irish, Welsh) and the people who ARE of that heritage who should have checked that off instead of “American,” British would be the largest ancestry group.  I think this is intriguing as this could mean that many Americans don’t really know where their ancestors are from or don't even care where their ancestors are from because they only identify themselves as being simply "American".

Proud(?) America Demographic

With thanks to the geographers of the University of Kansas, the minds behind the maps. This is one of seven maps, I'm sure you can guess what the other six were for.
So, Superbia America? I guess not. This map, at first glance shows that Americans aren't as proud/patriotic as they let on, the red represents sin and the blue, distinctively less sinful. It's almost a fifty fifty sin/innocence portrayal here but, after the "controversy" of the Coca Cola advert (and various patriotic instances throughout America's history) I'm genuinely surprised - shouldn't the whole map be one continuous shade of blood red??
I delved a little deeper, how can pride even be calculated like this? To understand that I had to look at the research involved in the other six maps; Luxuria (lust), was calculated by the number of reported STI's in each state. (Not really something that springs to mind when I think of lust...) Gula (gluttony), via the amount of fast food restaurants in each state. Avantia (greed) was the average income of each state compared with the number of residents living in poverty. Acedia (sloth), a comparison of money spent on arts, recreation and entertainment with the employment rate. Invidia (Envy) is simply a representation of the robbery, larceny and grand theft auto statistics. Ira (wrath) is quite darkly, murder and other violent crime statistics. Superbia (pride), supposedly the sin of all sins, (depending on who you ask...) is an average of the above six sins. When I looked at it like that, I realise it's all a bit subjective, you can't possibly calculate the level of 'sin' on those statistics, surely they aren't direct cause and effects? For instance what if all of the violent crimes in one state were actually committed by one person? Or the amount of STI's reported were the kind you could catch off a toilet seat? As for greed, just because there are plenty of people living under the poverty line isn't to say  that those earning a fair wage are greedy, I think that's more political than they have let on. Perhaps pride should have been calculated via a simple count of how many flags on display per state? Or how many people wash their cars on the weekend?

I am still intrigued by these maps, it's fascinating to view America in this context however, as you can see, there are a lot of flaws in the research and something as subjective as sin, can't possibly be calculated so mathematically?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Languages Spoken in America

The US Census Bureau released an interactive map that showed the official results of a survey on the languages, other than English, that were spoken in America as first languages in 2011. The report allows us to come to the conclusion that Spanish and Chinese are amongst the most widely spoken languages and that most of the nation is able to speak English, however also has an option to let us see who speaks a different language and speaks English less than 'very well'. To be more specific, 58% of US residents aged 5 and over can speak English 'very well', which leaves 42% unable to do so.

The map, from 2011, demonstrates the absolute diversity in America by showing the wide array of languages spoken there with the map containing fifteen different languages that are used by the citizens of America, other than English. 

By tracking the concentration of other languages spoken we can see that California has the highest percentage of people that speak another language at home, with 44%, and that West Virginia has the lowest, with 2%. This could be down to the fact that California is the third largest state in the USA and is the most populous, with one out of eight people that live in the USA living there, whereas West Virginia is the 41st largest area and the 38th most populous of the 50 United States. This allows for much more diversity in somewhere like California. It could be linked to the California Gold Rush that started in 1848 as it led to dramatic social and demographic change with large scale immigration both from abroad and the U.S., which could still be affecting the population in the modern day.

The Midwest tended to have lower concentrations of different languages spoken, with the exception of Illinois. It could be argued that this statistic has something to do with the fact that a majority of the states in the Midwest are located, at least partly, within the Great Plains region of the country which is known for extensive ranching and agriculture, and therefore aren't so densely populated.

Unfortunately, there was no way to combine this into one picture, so I shall demonstrate the use of the map below by showing the Spanish speakers below, with 12.9% of the U.S speaking it as their primary language, and insert a link to the official map page.

1 dot = 100 people

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Drug Over Dose in the USA Demographic

I chose to research how American states compared to each other in regard to number of deaths from drug overdoes. The number varied been states as well over a period of time. The increase going from 4 per 100,000 (1999) to 12 per 10,000 (2009) and the number . I originally believed this would result in a large number of overdoes from users of illegal 'street' narcotics. However, 60% of those who died in 2010 were believed to be from prescription pain killers, making me question how the availability of prescription painkillers in each state correlates to OD deaths, (New York and Texas, have very strict laws , requiring ID and other documents, compared to Florida which does not) and what why numbers are higher in certain states such as Florida,, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky  (which have some of the highest average number of elderly peoples, just an observation)  
This lead me to look at the comparison and correlation between the number of medical painkillers sold in each state to the overall number of OD deaths.
This web page gives a comparison over a 10 year period