REVIEWS

Gangsta Rap Posse #2


Texas Governor Rick Perry’s private hunting ground used to be called Niggerhead. But don’t worry! His father, or maybe he himself, or certainly somebody anyway, had the name obscured. Eventually. Accounts differ as to when — could’ve been when they first bought the place, could’ve been in the mid-fucking-’90s — but the important thing is that he got around to it at some point, right? Plus we have the assurances of many local white people that no harm was intended: “It’s just a name. Like … vertical blinds.” Thank goodness that’s settled!

Because the news media has decided that the only racism that counts is the overt, movie-villain kind—systemic obstacles to racial equality in America, like systemic obstacles to any public good in the Greatest Country in the World, no longer exist—Niggerhead briefly became a bigger impediment to Rick Perry’s public image and presidential aspirations than, you know, virtually everything he’s ever done and said as a candidate for and holder of public office. But beyond its dubious evidentiary value to the long-settled question of whether or not Perry is a piece of shit, the name’s sudden entrance into the national conversation led to some interesting discussions of equally open, oblivious racism. As the political blogger Adam Serwer pointed out, for example, ever stop to think about the Washington Redskins? But in reading Gangsta Rap Posse #2, the latest in Benjamin Marra’s Traditional Comics line of self-published pulp, I thought of another egregious instance of bigotry hiding in plain sight, or at least in a plain brown paper bag: interracial porn.

Porn involving interracial participants is one thing –  a fine thing, a normal thing, a who-even-cares thing. “Interracial porn,” a genre predicated on the grotesque notion that something about it is “forbidden,” is something else entirely. I’m (obviously, I hope!) not saying that there’s anything wrong with sex on film that happens to involve a white person and a black person. I’m saying that shouldn’t matter — or if it does, it shouldn’t matter more than whether you like girls with short hair or guys with chest hair or whatever. I don’t begrudge people their “types,” or their aesthetic and sexual fetishes. I mean, I like pale brunettes, while if you could somehow harness the masturbatory energy that the Tumblr blogging platform has collectively channeled to redheads you could put Big Oil out of business. But something tells me the pornographic subgenre of white women having sex with black men has very little to do with the visually pleasing contrast of their skin tones. “White dicks, black chicks” is a niche; “Black dicks, white chicks” is a cottage industry. In large part these videos draw heat from the idea that a white woman and a black man together is not just taboo, which in 2011 is a rotten enough idea to contemplate, but somehow dirty, even degrading for the white woman. When you have sex with a black guy, you’re super-extra-slutty, for some reason. In his song “Hell of a Life,” Kanye West (the voice of a generation if that concept is to have any meaning whatsoever) raps about wooing a porn star who’s concerned her salary will drop if “she ever fuck a black guy, or do anal, or do a gangbang — it’s kinda crazy that’s all considered the same thing.” Indeed it is! And this is before we get to either the racial epithets openly slung around in some of these flicks, or to the stereotypes they perpetuate about the monstrous nature of black male sexuality, or those stereotypes’ central position in the defend-our-wives-and-children mythology of slavery, the Civil War, the Lost Cause, Jim Crow, and on and on and on.

Gangsta Rap Posse is best described as an Elseworlds tale in which NWA actually were a bunch of drug-dealing, ho-pimping, Uzi-toting mass murderers. In this issue they blow up an LAPD tank with a stinger missile, execute dozens of skinheads and Klansmen at a white-power hardcore concert, and murder Bootsy Collins and George Clinton following a dispute over sample royalties. But they also fuck a lot of white women, in a way that universally breaks down the women’s preexisting personalities or decorum and reduces them to mindless sex addicts, used hard and soon to be discarded. “I can’t believe we’ve spent the last week holed up in this house on a bender of hardcore fucking and hardcore drugs with the world’s most notorious rap group, Gangsta Rap Posse!!” enthuses one big-haired, bikini-clad blonde to another, who responds, “It’s, like, a dream come true!!” A couple of panels later they’re shot to death in the crossfire of a gun battle with the LAPD, eliciting a dismissive “Later, bitches!!” from the fleeing GRP as their screaming, bullet-ridden bodies twitch in the air. Later the four-man group doubles up on a pair of Nazi punk groupies, converting them from the antagonistic racism to … well, whatever it is, it’s not antagonistic anymore: “I pretend I don’t, but all I really want is that big black cock!!” “I never want white dick ever again!” These women are subsequently chloroformed and sold by the GRP into sex slavery in Chechnya. Still later they take the wives of their record label’s corporate chiefs into the rest room at a party, where they penetrate one orally and vaginally, while the other is given oral sex from behind as she snorts a line of cocaine off one Posse member’s erection. Meanwhile, the Mayor of Los Angeles plots to have the group assassinated for gangbanging his wife. “I can’t satisfy her,” he confesses to the George Clinton stand-in. “All she wants are those big black cocks…” He hates them for it, but he also self-loathingly loves masturbating to the video the GRP shot of the event. They burst in as he cums to the video and murder him while his pants are still down.

Marra is running headlong into possibly the most problematic intersection of race and gender and sex that exists. He’s doing it with all the po-faced 1980s black-and-white-boom gusto with which he’s done everything else in his comics career: the knowingly crude and stiff and figurework, the absurdist bullet-spewing violence, an obviously digital thin and unvarying line that has completely eliminated shading and reveals nothing other than the desire to get images down as quickly as possible. This time around he’s added explicitly pornographic depictions of the sex act itself — mouths stuffed with veiny erections as far as the eye can see. And as was the case with the GRP #1, the lack of any overt racial caricature in the depiction of the Posse or the other African-American characters only makes it harder to get a handle on: Neither a collection of visual stereotypes nor an obvious parody thereof, they’re just four dudes (to the extent that anyone Marra draws looks like just dudes) running around reacting with cathartic violence to vile racists … in a way that brings their most vile racist nightmares to life.

My best guess is that, as with Craig Thompson’s Habibi and Orientalism, Marra is using Gangsta Rap Posse to treat the criminal, sexual, and revenge fantasies of West Coast gangsta rap as genre fiction. But he’s doing the same with racist reactions to that fiction. He’s made them both into one big cobbled-together Frankensteinian genre fiction, in fact. It’s like some weird cubist interpretation of racism, showing it from all angles at once. The book’s final three images are all violent tableaux: The Gangsta Rap Posse stands as one as they execute the kneeling, bare-assed mayor with a shot to the head; dicks in full view, they simultaneously urinate on the mangled, entrail-leaking corpse of the George Clinton figure; guns in hand and arms slung around one another, they smile for the camera in front of a lynched Klansman hanging from a tree, as a white woman in lingerie lounges seductively while pressing herself against one of their legs. Liberation, oppression, and fetishization all rolled into one. Black dicks, white chicks, nightsticks, racist hicks. Gaze into the abyss.

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15 Responses to Gangsta Rap Posse #2

  1. Corey Bean says:

    Excellent, excellent review. It’s always seemed to me the the appeal of gangsta rap to white kids is kind of what’s depicted in GRP: blacks as bizarre cartoon entertainment. And while the early gangsta rappers may have been serious or in on the joke, a lot of the guys that hopped on the bandwagon after were a bunch of sad punch lines. That attitude is what shaped rap music into the weird beast it is today. White kids (on the whole) still prefer blacks as goofballs & clowns so Gucci Mane sells tons more than, say, J-Live, & Eminem gets to be a “serious” artist.

  2. LWV says:

    It took me a couple of minutes to correctly visualize “oral sex from behind”, but when it finally clicked for me it was a genuine Professor Layton moment.

    It was *much* less complex than my brain tried to make it.

  3. Nick Gazin says:

    I wouldn’t say interracial porn is inherently racist. People do like the characters of the porn actors to some extent but the first thing they’re usually interested in is what they look like and how that fits with their own tastes. I myself dig redhead porn. Some people fetishize the idea that black people are sexually powerful. Some people fetishize everything. I got a redheads thing also. If you’re a black guy and you’re attracted white ladies you probably would like a black guy nailing a white girl in a porno. Or if you’re a white lady who is attracted to black dudes, same thing. I don’t care what color the lady is but I want the dong in the video to be the same color as my dong because I’m fantasizing about having sex. and when I see a dark dong it pulls me out of the fantasy because I can’t pretend my dick is dark. Actually the less of the dude you can see the better. I think that the idea of black guys as a fetish is probably turning more into “being attracted to black guys because you like their looks” as society’s attitudes evolve.

    Gucci Mane is one of my favorite guys in rap but he’s not a good rapper. Everyone I know loves him but no one I know thinks he’s a great rapper. He’s insane. Lots of things that aren’t made by geniuses are great. The Ramones were great but not technically good.

    What I find kind of offensive is when I see a roomful of people put on Trapped in the Closet. I can’t tell if R. Kelly is retarded but I do feel like people are laughing at him, not with him. Being in a room with a bunch of young white kids who put on that DVD and then point out the jokes to each other always makes me feel irritated.

    I think you might be investing too much into thinking about the racial aspects of Gangsta Rap Posse. This isn’t about all black people or even all rappers. This is specifically about what a middle school aged boy would imagine that the lives of NWA would be like. The sentiment behind this comic is basically one that an angry but naive kid would have. Gangsta Rap Posse do whatever they want just like NWA would seem to you when you were young. Scary, all powerful beings who get away with awful crimes.

    Also, Ben’s coming from inside the rap world to a large extent. He’s not just some lame white guy making fun of rap with some corny “Yo I’m Ben Marra and I’m here to say, I like mocking other races and interracial porn-og-raphay.”

  4. Corey Bean says:

    I don’t think Mr. Collins is suggesting that Ben Marra is mocking black people. GRP is a bit more complex than that & I think he sums it up brilliantly when he say: “It’s like some weird cubist interpretation of racism, showing it from all angles at once.” And if that is at all Ben Marra’s intent, then he is an amazing talent. I think it would be tough to discuss GRP without talking about race- just look at that cover!

    Your point about “a middle aged school boy” is something I agree with & is kind of what I was getting at. The difference is I think most white fans have had that view of black music for decades, even beyond their school days. I don’t think it’s done with racist intent; all of this country’s history with race has just created such an environment. It’s more of a “They’re different & weird & funny! Look at them dance!” Viewing blacks as some kind of “amusing other” is still disrespectful. I’m not suggesting that a white fan can’t just enjoy black music for music, but I’m sure you’ll agree the average, popular music listener doesn’t think too hard about how or why they might come to like something.

    By singling out Gucci, I wasn’t passing judgement on his music at all. My point is that is the kind of black artist that seems to be preferred by white audiences. The clowns seem to have the most success. You make a good point about “Trapped in the Closet”. I would even say things like the Chapelle Show hit big for the very same reason: you could laugh at race jokes & retell them & not “be racist”. I think the trouble is that most music & comedy produced by blacks is viewed that way by many whites.

    It’s not a thing that will change tomorrow to be sure. But it would be neat if someone could read GRP & think a bit about how they feel about it & why.

  5. Nick Gazin says:

    I think you can tell racist jokes and not be racist. Jokes are jokes. Some people would say that there’s no smoke without fire but that fire doesn’t necessarily spell out,”The guy who’s telling this doesn’t respect other races.”

    I’m not as into Chapelle as I am into Chris Rock but I think these comedians are important. What they did wasn’t just make racist jokes that were okay to enjoy, they furthered the big national conversation on race that America has been having for the past century. It’s hard for white comedians to get away with talking about race because they come off as creeps.

    Ralph Bakshi’s movie Coon Skin is a great movie that got protested to death by a young Al Sharpton. Spike Lee has talked about how great and important that movie was but that it probably had to be made by a black person in order to be accepted.

    I don’t see Gucci as a black clown although he does some bizarre stuff. His music genuinely speaks to me and I relate to the feeling of the music. It’s a brutal world and Gucci and Waka Flocka sing brutal raps. I lot of the best punk bands had some pretty goofy members. I love the Misfits but think they’re all a bunch of goofy guys.

    About the race stuff, I sure saw a lot of photos of klansmen and skinheads as a kid but never saw them in real life. I don’t know if Ben did but I would guess not. His comics aren’t based at all on real life. They’re all steeped in kid’s fantasies.

    It’s true that a lot of people don’t think about the media they absorb but that’s not really the artist’s responsibility.

  6. Not sure where this is coming from, but to be clear, I don’t think Marra is making fun of black people and didn’t say I did.

  7. Ian Harker says:

    If you remove everything that makes pron socially irresponsible from pron it becomes a sexual instruction video that Rick Steves hocks on PBS. It’s by nature the cesspool of our society, but that’s where evolution occurs most rapidly, in the sewer. It’s where the truth lives unperturbed. Ben’s work is an extension of that, but he takes it even further. He shows us a sort of social-surrealism. Real horrorshow. Throws it all in a blender and gets us to drink it.

    “It’s cause i’m naughty by nature, not cause I hate ya”

  8. Nick Gazin says:

    I think it’s okay to use reviews to talk about your own thoughts and musings but to me it feels like you’re saying that the main focus of this comic is racial issues instead of the naive way that a child perceives the world.

  9. Corey Bean says:

    Nick, I don’t think the comic can be looked at (at least by an American) without stirring up some kind of thought about race. I don’t think we live in that “post-racial” of a society. Again, at least from this review, it sounds like the book is a more interesting conversation starter than mandatory diversity training at your job, or some guy at a bar “testing” his tasteless jokes with you.

  10. Nick Gazin says:

    COREY:

    I guess I don’t get the big deal. It’s so absurd that I can’t imagine anyone except for school marms getting bothered by it. A Klansman has a hole the size of a watermelon in his torso AND he’s flying backwards through a window. It’s like an exploitation movie where the story is just a vehicle to deliver us some graphic sex and ridiculous violence.

  11. Patrick Hambrecht says:

    Dear Mr. Collins,

    Enjoyed your review, but was left with a few unanswered questions:

    Do you like this comic?

    Do you think it’s a good comic?

    Is it entertaining?

    Do you recommend other people read it?

  12. Corey Bean says:

    Gangsta rap was an amusement park ride version of “life in the ghetto”. I think its audience, mainly white kids, found it fascinating & exotic. This comic seems in part like an illustrated portrayal of what that listening experience must have been like & that’s what makes it interesting to me. It’s not a “big deal” it’s just what appeals to me about this comic.

  13. Nick Gazin says:

    Gangsta rap was hugely successful and the audience for anything that’s a national craze in America is going to usually be mostly white people since America has been mostly white people for most of the past few centuries. Gangsta rap may have had a white audience but that doesn’t mean that other races weren’t listening to it as well.

    Some gangsta rap was cartoonish and some was supposedy an accurate reflection of what the rappers were witnessing and experiencing. But people say that art is a heightened form of life and also that art is a lie that tells the truth. These songs aren’t news reports, they’re about feelings and other people related to the humor and brutality of the world as it was described in a lot gangsta music. Implying that it was some sort of minstrel show or that the people who listen to it don’t actually relate to the performers is kinda shitty.

  14. antony says:

    Kudos on the J-Live name drop. Braggin’ Writes still kills it.

  15. As a black kid growing up in Maine (the whitest state in the nation) when Gangsta Rap was hot, I absolutely agree. In fact, I used to say that Gangsta Rap was the 90′s equivalent of 80′s Heavy Metal – pure escapist fantasy; an urban Dungeons & Dragons, essentially. White kids trapped in dull suburban lives of privilege (or poverty) dreaming of a life of street action; taking what you want, when you want, existing in opposition to the law and dispatching your enemies with screaming hot lead. And their institutionally racist parents hated it.

    While I haven’t read Gangsta Rap Posse, your review leads me to believe this is the angle that Marra is coming at the material – a white teenager’s unintentionally racist fantasy of his favorite rap group doing a bunch of Hawd Azz Shit. Unfortunately, while Robert Crumb gets to deal with his racist feelings in his work generally unscathed (and he should – this is why art exists), I bet Marra will find himself having to spell it out for some angry folks who can’t see the subtext.

    Isn’t most porn made for divorced white guys?

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