Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Looting Thought

While doing some research for a Katrina-related piece, I went back to the video for Juvenile's "Get Ya Hustle On." Much was made of the way it depicted three kids in Bush, Cheney and Nagin masks playing in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, but the image that caught me was that of an SUV with polished rims being pulled by three horses. Juvenile's rapping in front of another SUV, this one rolled on its side, while a limo is incapacitated with its back wheels of the ground as the storm surge blasted it on to a pile of junk.

On one hand, Juvenile brought a dose of realism to the video world, depicting the trashed trappings of the good life as seen in Puffy and Jay-Z videos. The horse-drawn SUV also drew attention to how deeply and successfully Cribs and other lifestyles of the rich and famous shows had taught people - particularly young African-American Males - what they needed to live the good life. SUV? Check, even if it doesn't run, and that's what we saw in the televised post-Katrina looting. Big screen to play Madden on? Check, even if there's no power. Serious basketball shoes? Check, even if you can't wear them when you're ass-deep in water. The water has to go down some time.

All of the finger-wagging at the time seemed incredibly hypocritical - sell the hell of the idea that these are things you should want, then act surprised when people with limited means take advantage of diminished security to get them. MTV's From G's to Gents includes a participant who has a pimped out car, but he has spent so much money on it that he's forced to live in it.

Again, we can tsk-tsk about priorities and values all we want, but that's being dishonest. When consumption has become such a crucial cultural signifier, we can't be surprised that those who are the most vulnerable choose to create the appearance that they're not by acquiring products outside their price range, whether by impoverishing themselves - From G's - or taking advantage of a disaster. At the same time, Juvenile's horse-drawn Escalade (I think) highlights the reality of those acquisitions.

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