2. Parody, Space, and Violence in NWA’s Straight Outta Compton
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2 Parody, Space, and Violence in NWA’s Straight Outta Compton L.A. is probably the most mediated town in America, nearly unviewable save through the fictive scrim of its mythologizers. — Michael Sorkin, “Explaining Los Angeles,” in California Counterpoint: New West Coast Architecture “You must not know where Bop comes from,” said Simple, astonished at my ignorance. “I do not know,” I said. “Where?” “From the police,” said Simple. “What do you mean, from the police?” “From the police beating Negroes’ heads,” said Simple. “Every time a cop hits a Negro with his billy club, that old club says, ‘BOP! BOP! . . . BE-­BOP! . . . MOP! . . . BOP!’” —Langston Hughes, The Best of Simple 1989! —Public Enemy, “Fight the Power” If the 1980 presidential election was, in part, a referendum on the viability of Keynesian economics, the campaign of 1984 was undoubtedly an appraisal of so-­ called Reaganomics. During his first four years in office, Reagan championed and implemented a slew of neoliberal economic policies. For example, during his first year in office, Reagan summarily fired over 11,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization for unlawfully striking. His unprecedented move is still regarded as a climactic moment in the decline of organized labor since the late twentieth century.1 Such actions, coupled with aggressive policies of deregulation and austerity, help explain why Reagan, to this day, remains the quintessential Ameri­ can icon of neoliberalism.2 Democratic candidate Walter Mondale’s campaign aimed to recapture the spirit of the New Deal and Great Society by emphasizing the consequences of Reagan’s tenure for poor and working-­ class ­ people. Arguably, no fig­ ure better 34 / Chapter 2 expressed Mondale’s theme than New York governor Mario Cuomo during his keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. In what is widely regarded as one of the finest orations in Ameri­ can history, Cuomo chastised Reagan for his failure to recognize the struggles of ordinary Ameri­ cans “from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch.” He spoke ominously of a national economic landscape where citizens struggled to pay mortgages , could not afford a college education, and “middle-­ class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.” Mondale aimed to defeat Reagan on the basis of a widening gap between the rich and the poor. The story of America circa 1984, as Cuomo’s speech argued, was a tale of two cities.3 In a staggering repeat of what Walter Fisher described as the triumph of a materialistic rendering of the Ameri­ can dream over a moralistic one in Richard Nixon’s 1972 defeat of George McGovern, Reagan surpassed his Republican predecessor in securing what still stands as the largest number of electoral votes in Ameri­can history.4 Whereas Mondale, like McGovern, asked Ameri­ cans to face the brutality of the world around them, Reagan made no such demands on voters. Rather, as his campaign slogan proclaimed, it was “morning in America.” Noting rising employment rates (in spite of diminishing real wages and union protection ) and home purchases (part of a growing sys­tem of credit that caused so many of today’s economic ills), Reagan told Ameri­ cans they should be proud of their nation and reject McGovern’s and Cuomo’s tales of gloom. Ameri­cans listened.5 The 1988 presidential election served, yet again, as a battle between Reagan’s contribution to the creation of neoliberalism and the liberalism of FDR and LBJ. Embodying this dichotomy were the presidential candidates, Republican vice president George H. W. Bush and Democratic governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis. After securing the Democratic Party nomination, Dukakis was performing well in national polls, of­ten leading Bush by double digits. How­ever, the governor’s campaign sustained an irreparable blow when a conservative po­ liti­ cal action committee aired its “Weekend Passes” ad. The television spot told the story of Willie Horton, an Af­ ri­ can Ameri­ can prisoner released in 1986 on a weekend furlough in Massachusetts while Dukakis was governor.6 The ad used a blue background, white text, and still photographs of Bush, Dukakis, and Horton . After distinguishing Bush’s pro-­ death-­ penalty stance from Dukakis’s opposition to the sanction, the segment reveals an ominous picture of Horton and describes his origi­ nal incarceration for murder. The male narrator—speaking in a deep, stern voice—explains how Horton used his furlough to kidnap a young couple, “stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.” The...


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