Love and Theft

Love and Theft : Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

4.05 (190 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

For over two centuries, America has celebrated the very black culture it attempts to control and repress, and nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in the strange practice of blackface performance. Born of extreme racial and class conflicts, the blackface minstrel show sometimes served to usefully intensify these conflicts. Based on the appropriation of black dialect, music, and dance, minstrelsy at once applauded and lampooned black culture, ironically contributing to a "blackening of America." Drawing on recent research in cultural studies and social history, Eric Lott examines the role of the blackface minstrel show in the political struggles of the years leading up to the Civil War. Reading minstrel music, lyrics, jokes, burlesque skits, and illustrations in tandem with working-class racial ideologies and the sex/gender system, Love and Theft argues that blackface minstrelsy both embodied and disrupted the racial tendencies of its largely white, male, working-class audiences. Underwritten by envy as well as repulsion, sympathetic identification as well as fear - a dialectic of "love and theft" - the minstrel show continually transgressed the color line even as it enabled the formation of a self-consciously white working class. Lott exposes minstrelsy as a signifier for multiple breaches: the rift between high and low cultures, the commodification of the dispossessed by the empowered, the attraction mixed with guilt of whites caught in the act of cultural thievery.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 323 pages
  • 154.94 x 220.98 x 22.86mm | 453.59g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones, bibliography
  • 0195078322
  • 9780195078329

Review quote

"Terrifically smart and unexpectedly timely."--New York Times"One of the most stimulating and nuanced accounts of 19th-century blackface minstrelsy."--Boston Phoenix"Original and erudite....A clever, disciplined, and resourceful reading of the commonplace: a pioneering study."--Kirkus Reviews"Love and Theft is an original and absolutely brilliant contribution to understanding the politics of cultural production. Lott makes an incisive, provocative, and stunning analysis of the complex and contradictory ways in which minstrelsy embodied and acted out the class, racial, and sexual politics of its historical moment. As readers we come to understand for the first time how blackface performance imagined and addressed a national community and we realize the extent to which we still live with this legacy. An enthralling and important book."--Hazel Carby, Yale University"This spectacular book, a history of blackface from the bottom up, offers a gripping, original interpretation of the first and most popular form of nineteenth-century entertainment. Placing minstrelsy at the center of class, race, and political relations, and seeing blackface as a contaminated form of interracial desire, Love and Theft will stimulate vigorous debate. To dissent from portions of the argument in no way diminishes the subtlety and importance of Eric Lott's achievement."--Michael Rogin, University of California, Berkeley **** do not cut ****Announcing an important new series: RACE AND AMERICAN CULTURE General Editors: Arnold Rampersad, Princeton University and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, University of Texas, Austin Examining aspects of the interplay between the idea of race and the phenomenon of American culture in its many forms, the books in this series will contribute significantly to our understanding of the complex place of race and racism in American history and American society as a whole. Exploring a wide spectrum of the factors involving race, the series will not be limited to any particular ethnic group. Although it will regularly publish books in African-American literature and culture, it will also feature studies of Chicano, Native American, and Asian-American culture, as well as how issues of race shape and are shaped by the cultural mainstream.show more

Review Text

To this original and erudite study, Lott (American Studies/University of Virginia) brings a mass of obscure information and a multidisciplinary approach, interpreting the meaning of black-face minstrelsy to the white working classes who invented and performed it. The appropriation of black music, dance, humor, and narratives for commercial entertainment, says Lott, expressed the deep racial conflicts suffered by the white working classes, especially in the North in the decades before the Civil War. Their parodies reflected their admiration and contempt, their envy and fear, their remoteness and - as the economy changed - their impending identification with the dispossessed, whom they represented as absurd. In their imitation of blacks, and in the cross-dressing that minstrelsy required, whites males gained control over the alien and the threatening (especially black sexuality) and changed the way they experienced themselves as men. Lott's study ranges through folklore, history, sociology, politics, economics, psychoanalysis, theater history, popular music, even film theory, but it's based clearly on contemporary and technical studies of race, gender, and class: The "stars" of minstrelsy, Lott says, "inaugurated an American tradition of class abdication through gendered cross-racial immersion." In the course of his analysis, Lott places Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the music of Stephen Foster in new and interesting perspective, and reveals the significance of an art form, a ritual, that has fallen into neglect after a period of universal popularity. A clever, disciplined, and resourceful reading of the commonplace: a pioneering study that, though somewhat academic, will no doubt influence more popular studies. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

190 ratings
4.05 out of 5 stars
5 37% (70)
4 37% (71)
3 22% (42)
2 2% (3)
1 2% (4)
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