Values Across the Atlantic

The main theme that stuck out to me during my time in this course was the process of transatlantic movement and how it affected Black and Irish communities. Particularly, I enjoyed learning about how it changed the values and mindsets of these groups. It all started with Paul Gilroy writing about the idea of American exceptionalism. He explained that the world typically views blackness through the lens of Black Americans rather than understanding the nuances of the overarching Black community, which includes people from the Caribbean, Africa, and Latin America. This was significant to me because it emphasized just how complex the Black community when you take into account all of the different cultures are in it. All of these groups have values that are distinct from one another. Additionally, it made me realize how bad Western countries are at ‘classifying’ people since they usually have such blanket terms to describe communities, regardless of how diverse it is. A similar sentiment is expressed in the Irish community when O’Connell disowned Irish Americans and asserted that they were not truly Irish because their noble hearts would never support such a cruel act as slavery. This, coupled with Irish Americans ‘becoming white’, further pushed me to acknowledge the importance of transatlanticism and its impact. A change will happen to a group of people as they adjust to different places, whether it be through varying mindsets or something as simple as new types of food. The main message here is that it is nearly impossible to be completely unaffected once they interact with other people and alter their entire lifestyle. All in all, this class helped me come to the conclusion that it is a lot harder to define a community than I initially thought and I should be cognizant of that when studying race relations.

American Exceptionalism in The Commitments

The Commitments was very intriguing, particularly because of the implications it has on the transatlantic. In my opinion, it emphasized the strong sense of American exceptionalism that was present in Ireland. One notable aspect is how the band members constantly compare themselves to Black American soul musicians, like James Brown and Sam Cooke, and view them as their standard. This is significant with the appropriate context. During the 80s and 90s, not only were there influential Black European musicians that could have been mentioned, but there were White European musical icons like David Bowie, The Beatles, and Elton John. Despite all of this, the Irish band seemed to only gain inspiration from Black American musicians. At times this even extended to parts of White America, as shown by the numerous references to Elvis Presley. Some may argue that the constant reference to Americans reflects the popularity of American soul music and the influence of American culture on the global music industry. However, I believe that The Commitments are a perfect example of what it means to view the world through a lens of American exceptionalism. Furthermore, within the American exceptionalism in The Commitments, there was also an interesting question about cultural appropriation and authenticity. For example, the band members are all White Irish people whose goal was to imitate the styles of Black American soul musicians. It could be argued that this is a form of cultural appropriation since they are taking aspects of another culture and using them for their own gain. On the other hand, it can also be contended that the band is simply appreciating Black American soul music and it is not derogatory. All in all, The Commitments reiterates the idea of American exceptionalism since the band routinely compared themselves to their American counterparts.

Catcalling in Mules and Men

Men at the mill making comments about Tookie Allen’s tight dress was very intriguing to me (91). Although they implied that she is inappropriate for wearing it, their comments also illustrate the infatuation with a Black woman’s body. This is reflective of a larger theme of objectification of Black women, wherein they are seen as objects of sexual pleasure or adornment rather than as individuals. For centuries, Black women were deemed as exotic and exoticized, which often led to the dehumanization of the Black female body. It also highlights the hypocrisy that Black people encountered in the past; although Black people were regularly degraded and considered ugly creatures, the same men at the mill were making comments about her curves with admiration. Additionally, Cliff Ulmer stating, “If you can’t show me nothin’ better than data, don’t bring de mess up,” insinuates that he has looked at so many beautiful Black women that he is not impressed at this point. This quote highlights the idea that many Black women have been objectified to the point that they are no longer seen as individuals, but rather as objects to be admired. Relating back to my last point, Black women were clearly hypersexualized although they were treated as less than human. This raised an interesting question: Did White men not realize the hypocrisy in their treatment of Black people? Black people were sought after, whether it be because they found Black women’s physical appearance or Black men’s physical capabilities. Overall, both quotes demonstrate the objectification of Black women, with the first highlighting the infatuation with a Black woman’s body. This emphasizes the dehumanization that Black women have been subjected to. They were often looked at as objects to be admired and objectified, exposing the hypocrisy that Black people dealt with in American society at that time.

The Playboy of the Western World Reaction

The movie “The Playboy of the Western World” provides a glimpse into the social norms, customs, and beliefs of the early 1900s. One of the main social implications presented in the film is the stereotypes of women. For example, Pegeen was initially put off by Christy’s confession of killing his father. However, she began to compliment him on how such a fine gentleman he was, and promised he would find peace being in her spare room. She repeatedly said this and urged him to stay. She was oddly attracted to how ‘masculine’ Christy was and figured he would be a strong protector since he went as far as to kill his own father to end his bad treatment. I believe this is an unfair stereotype because it suggests that women are largely emotional and use little to no logic. She almost immediately looked past his alleged actions and thought of him as an ideal man regardless of his terrifying actions. The film also explores themes of violence in Irish culture. The villagers are initially horrified by Christy’s confession, but they soon become fascinated by his story and view him as a hero for standing up to his father. This point is significant because the villagers’ speech, behavior, and attitudes toward sin and morality were greatly shaped by a deep devotion to Catholicism. This is interesting because it appears that the glorification of violence is so great that it ultimately trumps their religious values, which makes Irish people seem like they admire aggression. Finally, the film highlights the importance of community in Irish culture. The villagers in the film are portrayed as a close-knit group who look out for one another, despite their differences and disagreements. This sense of community is emphasized by the way the villagers rally around Christy, showing the importance of social bonds and connections in Irish society. All in all, this movie provides a fascinating glimpse into Irish culture in the 1900s.

3 responses to “The Playboy of the Western World Reaction”

  1. mbrenn

    I like how you tie religion into questions of authority and the notion that glorified violence is considered more important than religious values. The villagers’ defiance of religion can also be seen in Shawn as a figure whose actions are constantly defined by religion due to a fixation on what Father Reilly would think. The fact that Christy is used as a foil to Shawn, a figure who has committed a sin yet is universally embraced, suggests the villagers are curious about an existence beyond religion. It is ironic too that the villagers mock Shawn yet religion repeatedly impacts their beliefs and behaviour too. Michael admires Christy for murdering Old Mahon yet chastises Christy for not giving Old Mahon a respected burial. Religion is presented as a belief system that one can pick and choose certain elements of, which is interesting given the riots that are sparked following the performance of The Playboy of the Western World.

  2. motoole

    I agree that this play is a very interesting glimpse into Irish culture and life in the early 1900s. I was most taken by the fact that all the women in the play were obsessed with Christy because of the fact that he killed his father, and how this made him the perfect picture of masculinity. Religion is also frequently mentioned, which shows the importance of Catholicism in Ireland.

  3. cpracht

    I really liked that you pointed out gender role stereotypes in the movie. I think that, in addition to moments of blatant gender norms, the movie contains instances of satire and making fun of those stereotypes. For example, Pegeen’s father gave her the rope with which to tie up Christy at the end of the film because he was too scared to confront him, even though we might assume that that would be his job because as a man he is “strong” and “masculine.” I think that this really shows how the directors were conscious of the gender roles at this time in Ireland, and they incorporate that consciousness into the film through satire.

The Power of Creating Your Own Story

I found Alien/Nation In Dahomey very interesting because it set the foundation for Black people to have control over telling their own stories, something that has just become a major topic in recent years. During the early 20th century, Black people usually were only represented in theatre through minstrelsy, which was a hugely dehumanizing depiction of Black people and racial stereotypes. However, this was one of the first major musicals to feature an all-black cast that actually showed them having power, intelligence, and the ability to rise up against their European oppressors. For example, the musical’s African imagery competes with conventional representations of an ‘uncivilized’ frontier and threatens to revise how the continent is traditionally thought to be: hopeless and idiotic. An interesting point about this is that the musical did not exclusively focus on African Americans and their legacy in America. Instead, it implemented more of a Pan-African message and urged Black people to unite, as shown by the musical playing several songs that emphasize the notions of romance, wealth, inheritance, and genealogical reclamation. Another example of this is the musical’s assertion that all ‘dahkeys’ are linked to a royal line and aim to live extravagantly in their ancestral castle (265). This is significant because it highlights the immense cultural diversity of Africa and the importance of Black history before slavery. Also, it showed that the British Empire was not invincible, and its authority could be challenged. Ultimately, knowing their history and coming together as one led to them gaining the confidence to overcome their colonial empires, fading into a new era of black self-rule. All in all, the show not only reinforced the beautiful and creative artistic capabilities Black people possess, but also highlighted the importance of recognizing the humanity and dignity of Black people by showing they are more powerful than what society tells them they are.

Gulliver’s Difficult Decision to Return Home

In my opinion, Gulliver’s decision to return home to England showed his commitment not only for Blefuscu, but Lilliput as well. Once the emperor of Lilliput had sent an envoy to the court of Blefuscu demanding his return to Lilliput to be punished as a traitor, the monarch knew he had a tough decision to make. Even so, he decided to offer his protection to Gulliver if he stayed in his service, mainly because he felt indebted to Gulliver because he did a great job at maintaining the peace between the two nations. However, Gulliver made up his mind to venture out on the ocean. This is significant because the monarch certainly would have gave his all to assist him, as evidenced by sending hundreds of workers to prepare his boat and the royal family personally seeing him off. Regardless, he still took the riskier route. Additionally, Gulliver explained that he begged to be excused from the nation and told the emperor that he was resolved to venture once again. Although some would argue that Gulliver mostly viewed this as an opportunity to get back to England and rejoin his family, I think there was more to it than that. Firstly, there is no guarantee that he would make it back to England even with the boat. Secondly, I believe he mainly chose to leave Blefuscu because he genuinely cared about the two kingdoms and wanted to see them flourish. This emphasizes that he did not want to be the cause of a conflict between two powerful empires.

Irish Immigrants Becoming ‘White’

The concept of ‘becoming white’ is an intriguing one. The idea is that Irish immigrants in America were able to gain access to certain privileges and rights by distancing themselves from their Irish heritage and assimilating into the dominant culture. Clearly, America began to reject its thinking that Whiteness was exclusively a person whose family left England to escape religious persecution. Hence, it became more open to allowing other people to be ‘one of them.’ I think there is a very important message in this process: in the American sense, White is European, and Black is African. In other words, the idea of Whiteness is applicable to any individual that has European descent, regardless of ethnicity, language, or culture. Considering that this was even a possibility, I believe the integration of Irish people into the White community reiterates the idea that Europeans are superior to Africans or African descendants. Additionally, I think allowing Irish people to become white was a way to undermine the growing population of Black people in the 19th century in the United States to ensure that their political power was reduced, essentially emphasizing the belief that there is ‘strength in numbers.’ This allowed white Americans to maintain power and privilege over non-white people by creating a hierarchical system. In other words, although there was the inclusion of Irish people into higher society, this cemented that Black people would continue to be at the bottom of the social pyramid. Thus, allowing Irish immigrants to ‘become white’ had the effect of marginalizing and oppressing Black people, while simultaneously maintaining existing power structures.

Moon and the Mars

The North’s utilization of former slaves as a means of gaining an advantage over the South during the Civil War was a reluctant but necessary decision. The North initially hesitated to arm former slaves, but it ultimately recognized the potential of their participation and thus saw it as a crucial factor in winning the war. One substantial factor that contributed to the North’s determination to enlist black people in the Civil War was their incentive to fight. As the quote states, “Black people have the strongest incentive towards action”, indicating that they were more likely to fight for the Union if they believed it would benefit them in the long run (305). The promise of liberation and the potential for reparations were powerful motivators for former slaves to join the Union forces. Reasonably so, most slaves were incredibly optimistic about their future. However, Theodora brought up a very interesting idea that most Black people did not think about with the question “How can liberated people survive and thrive if there’s no provision for reparation of the damage inflicted? (305)” This provides a more complex, critical view of the long-term implications of abolishing slavery rather than only a short-term one. I would argue that this is significant because it still applies to Black people today, granted it is within a different context. For example, the government commonly offers money to combat problems such as racial disparities in wealth accumulation by offering grants to small businesses or colleges. While this is certainly helpful, I believe teaching students about the importance of personal finance is vital since money can only be used for so long before it is gone. Money is the short-term solution, and changing behavior is the long-term solution.