Rhetorical Regeneration and the Politics of Identity
Chapter 3. The Vital Gangsta and Postmodern Blackface
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THE VITAL GANGSTA AND POSTMODERN BLACKFACE
In The Price of Whiteness, Eric Goldstein notes that Jewish assimilation failed to resolve persistent tensions of identity, “for the more Jews became securely integrated in white society, the more their impulses for distinctiveness emerged” (4–5). This cultural and intercultural tension reflects the broader evolution from modern to postmodern. Modernity’s dapper Jewish gangster has given way to postmodernity’s dogged Jewish gangsta. Whether White or Black, the gangster/gangsta uses performance both gendered and raced to respond to exigencies of successful assimilation. Though they may not hold much resemblance with each other on the surface, I suggest that the White-seeking gangster and the Black-seeking gangsta mark complementary responses to the same points of rupture in Jewish public culture. This chapter examines one example of the tough Jewish gangsta to reveal potential for the vital. The vital gangsta offers greater productive possibilities for rhetorical regeneration than his tough gangster predecessor.
As he appraises himself in the bathroom mirror one morning, Vincent (Vincent Cassel) rehearses Travis Bickle’s (Robert De Niro) signature line from the 1976 American film Taxi Driver: “You talkin’ to me?”1 Slowly and methodically, he pantomimes shooting a gun into his reflection while contorting his face into exaggerated menacing expressions. ← 71 | 72 → This Jew (“the name’s Vinz, not Vincent,” asserts one of his friends) seizes upon the symbolic power of Black gangsta culture to complicate “White” and “Black” renditions of toughness, which results in...
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