- Post-Soul Satire: Black Identity after Civil Rights ed. by Derek C. Maus and James J. Donahue
The twenty-one essays that follow coeditor Derek C. Maus’s fine introduction to this tome demonstrate that, while post-soul may be a contentious epithet, the book Post-Soul Satire is a scholarly treasure trove for those interested in the outcropping of satirical African American writing, visual art, music, film, and television that appeared in the twenty-five years following the publication of novelist Trey Ellis’s much discussed article “The New Black Aesthetic” in the Winter 1989 issue of Callaloo. Maus, along with fellow essayists, calls attention both to satire’s outward-looking projections—barbs “directed at political institutions, social practices, and cultural discourses that arise outside of the [African American] community and constrain, denigrate, or otherwise harm it in some way” (xiv)—as well as the increasing tendency by African American satirists to focus their attention inward, toward the black community.
The essays are arranged in four clusters so that individual pieces not only stand on their own but are allowed to exist in conversation with one another. The first cluster treats satirical impulses to be found in recent African American visual art; Aaron McGruder’s syndicated newspaper strip (and later animated television series) The Boondocks; the work of hip-hop emcees Mighty Casey and Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) as well as the group Littler Brother; and three “family-friendly” comic films—Louis C.K.’s self-reflexive Pootie Tang (2001), Lance Rivera’s The Perfect Holiday (2007), and Erik White’s Lottery Ticket (2010)—which “satirize and dare to challenge the supercapitalist value system that permeates what is generally and generically known as ‘black entertainment’” (57-58). Each of the five essays in the cluster is informative but, at least for me, Derek Conrad Murray’s “Post-Black Art and the Resurrection of African American Satire” has the greatest depth, along with an impressive sweep that includes analyses of such boundary-challenging artists as Betye Saar, Kara Walker, Michael Ray Charles, Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, and Glenn Ligon.
Next is a fiction cluster, led off by Gillian Johns, who offers a sophisticated reading of Percival Everett’s erasure in the context of Roland Barthes’ S/Z. Johns calls our attention to the psychological and authorial fragility of Everett’s protagonist, Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, by way of pointing out that Everett is in effect satirizing satire in erasure through his implicit demand for a “critical” reading praxis. Two essays [End Page 220] on Touré follow. In the first, Bertram Ashe reads the three “Black Widow” stories in The Portable Promised Land (2002) against Touré’s subsequent tome Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? (2011). The stories, Ashe argues, clearly suggest that “there are ‘borders,’ there is traditional, familiar black behavior,” even as these tales imply “that blacks who possess a [post-soul aesthetic] retain their blackness when they transgress those black boundaries” (104). Conversely, Touré contends in Who’s Afraid that such borders do not exist. Thus, his satirical fiction provides a level of insight that his more polemical commentary on blackness in Who’s Afraid lacks. Linda Furgerson Selzer then reads Touré’s social satire in the 2009 novel Soul City through the lens of the author’s cultural criticism and finds richness in the fictional text’s “dual satiric design,” which demonstrates “the importance of shared [cultural] meanings to the creation of communal and personal identity” while at the same time exposing “the limitations such preexisting meanings impose” on musical and other artists (122).
ZZ Packer’s short story “Brownies” serves Brandon Manning as a place from which to analyze the importance of community in contemporary African American satire. According to Manning, the use of black feminist narratology in the Packer story (and elsewhere) helps “to underscore some of the salient differences in the ways male and female authors have traditionally engaged their readers’ solidarity” (126). Gender differently informs Cameron Leader-Picone’s discussion of “specific scenes of [black...