Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (Race and American Culture)
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 usefully intensified them. 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.
Lott's Love and Theft--- Brilliant and Informative
By A Customer - December 10, 1998
Eric Lott provide us with an incisive analysis of a long ignored and conflicted history of the American Minstrel Traditon. Readers will be impressed with Lott's deft handling of history and critical theory, crafting persuasive and cogent arguments that reveal the ambivalence of a tradition that cloaked racial antagonisms and sexual insecurities. Lott, an English professor at the University of Virginia, did his graduate work at Columbia University and this book is an extension of his dissertation. Non-academics may find Lott's prose somewhat dense but this should not hamper anyone from gleaning Lott's clear message: the American Minstrel Tradition represented a contradictory and problematic art form that granted Whites a forum through which to articulate their "admiration" of Blackness while appropriating it for political ends. A must read!!!!! A major contribution to critical race studies scholarship. 5 stars!!!!Matthew Abraham (Dept. of English-- Purdue... read more
By Mark Levine "leevyne" - June 27, 2012
An unquestionably serious study of an undeniably significant manifestation of race in the 18th century, with ramifications a century later, but a very dense and overly academic text makes this tough going. Somehere in here is an argument that minstrelsy was far from the purely racist phenomenon that many would take it to be then and now, but it often seems as if Lott makes the case for its ambiguity by citing such abundant and seemingly contradictory documentation and opinion--- everything from Walt Whitman to the Frankfurt school, and with (as some readers point out) a great deal of Freudian babble--- that one might conclude that a minstrel show, after all an unsophisticated form of mass entertainment6--- might be about just about anything. And, though I have read a good deal on related subjects and on the period, I was lost in Lott's case for the interconnectness of minstrelsy with working-class politics before the Civil War. Sean Wilentz's book on the subject was complex enough... read more
By d mac - January 16, 2012
The subject of the book is fascinating, and the author is clearly very knowledgeable. My one complaint is that the writing style is at times impenetrable, seemingly on purpose, as if the author is hinting at things he does not want to say in plain English. But the book is well worth the effort.
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