Images of Race, Sexuality and Social Construction
“Two households, both alike in dignity, from ancient grudge break into mutiny” (Romeo and Juliet 1.1.1-3), this line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet refers to social segregation brought on by societal conflict between two groups of people. Through the premise of Romeo and Juliet, Mykki Blanco’s video High school Never Ends, utilizes powerful and controversial images to capture human struggles brought on by race and gender. The setting, time period and characters in the video signify historically compelling symbols which also allude to contemporary problems in the modern world. By focusing on how the video uses images to capture social segregation and discrimination, this paper will aim to illustrate how it is those images are able work together to create a powerful message in regards to race, gender and identity. The first portion of the critique will examine the setting of the video and the historical implications. The second section will examine the theme of race in the video and how it is shown through the central characters. The third portion will examine the characters gender along with their relationship. Finally, the fourth section will examine modernity and how the video speaks on behalf of historical issues that remain visible in the present day.
This work will also reflect on previous debate and reflections regarding sexual minorities, gender identity and historical struggle to encompass reality in the modern world to see how far society has come and how much further it needs to go to abstain from the tragic implications—as are portrayed in the video. Though the music video may appear to be about a love story paralleling Romeo and Juliet, this paper will aim to reveal the nature of the video is about the struggle for freedom and individualism, particularly for racialized and sexual minorities in western societies. By examining the work of Jeannine Bell and Phil Chan, regarding the historical evolution of black minorities, correlating past events and modern tyrannies for sexual minorities as it is shown through the eyes of Mykki Blanco. To connect Shakespeare’s tragic love story to racial and sexual struggles minorities experience, Paul A. Kottman’s idea’s from his paper “Defying the Stars: Tragic love as the struggle for freedom” will be also be examined. Kottman exposes various details in Romeo and Juliet further proving the story was not just a love story but also a quest for self- liberation and individuality from the social and societal norms. Thus, paralleling historical and current relationships between black and white members of societies. Not only will I discuss what the video implies for black sexual minorities today, I will also discuss why freedom and self-realization is important to society as a whole. Although the video may dramatize certain features of society, it possesses a numerous amount of real life struggle human beings are still burdened with in the twenty first century.
Historical Symbolic Images
The historical implications of the video and its setting captures several connotations through many years of racialized segregation. The video takes place in a small rural town in Europe, it has a clear cultural divide between people of black and white ethnicities. Symbolically the video uses Europe the setting which inflicts images associated with World War Two and Nazi Germany. By using war like propaganda the images are able to provoke a sense of empathy towards the two lovers who find themselves at opposite ends of social Oder. By taking this approach the video has many implications regarding the consequences of social construction specific to identity. The video takes place during a time when people are put at odds with one another based of their racial identity, which arguably still exists in the present day. The video takes historical features of racial segregation and reconstructs it using gruesome violent images. The setting of the video inherits a tone, one that give viewers the ability to conjure what they know about historical events like WWII and apply their knowledge to recognize struggles people remain to experience in the modern day. In the video the images are able to unveil how society has evolved and where it has failed particularly pertaining to minorities. It alludes to the idea that although the latter of the world has changed since events like WWII, there is still a long way to go for both racialized and sexualized minorities. In Jeannine Bell’s “Hate Thy Neighbour”, she addresses these issues that are still existent in the modern world. Despite how far society as a whole has progressed a gap remains to exist separating human beings from one another because of their race, culture and heritage (Bell 20).
Drawing off the idea of segregation, race is represented in the video through the primary figures. The contrast between black and white clarifies the distinction between the two groups of people through violence and hate. That of which was comprised before birth and is propelled through their adult lives. In the video Mykki Blanco is a black man with a forbidden love. The physical features of the white males in the video are similar to those associated with white supremacy. They have shaved bald heads. The colour of skin symbolizes they are enemies. While it may be assumed that hatred is one sided, in this case it influxes from both parties involved neither appearing to be subordinate over one another. They both exist within the same community, with the same resources and lifestyles, however they are not the same because the shade of their skin rifts them apart. The lovers are forbidden to be together because of their inherited race. Although race was not the central conflict in Romeo and Juliet, Blanco’s video and the play parallel one another in regards to their social construction. By taking the infamous Shakespeare play and applying it to a more modern couple, the video is able to emphasize how feuds and hate generated from generations can lead to tragic endings, as it is revealed in the final scenes of the video. What is shocking about the ideas and images that are provoked by the video is that racism along with racialized discrimination ceases to exist in the modern world. By evoking feelings towards the separateness human beings experience today the video draws on questions of why it is still the reality. In addition by using race as the distinction between the two groups of people the video utilizes the traditional story of Romeo and Juliet to generate a new meaning regarding conflict as it is shown through the characters skin colour.
Portrayal of Gender and Sexuality
Gender is another component of the video’s images which provokes ideas of segregation. Although the video involves primarily men, gender and sexuality is also used to relay human individualism. The video itself is highly sexualized from the beginning to the end. Symbolically the sex in the video represents the connection between two people and their love for one another. Mykki, the protagonist, is a transgendered woman who grows to have a forbidden love with a white man. Their homosexual relationship brings a more modern take into Shakespeare story. Through gender and sexuality the video speaks on behalf of sexualized minorities and their struggle to be accepted within their societies. Not only are both men penalized for their race, their sexuality in the video leads to tragedy. Like Romeo and Juliet the video ends with the death of both Mykki and his lover however, rather than ending their own lives it is done by a member from the opposite party. Images of sexuality and gender are important components to the video because it defines who the people are in the video and how human beings are influenced by social construction. In conjunction with the modern world and where sexual minorities are placed in the present day Phil Chan, a scholar for human rights, describes that despite the attention sexual minorities have received since the years of the Stonewall Riots they still remain to be unaccepted by other members of society (Chan 22). In consequence what is conjured is homophobic and discriminating perceptions which is shown in the video when a member from Mykki’s community discovers his affair with a white male. Not only is he penalized for his sexuality his race has a large role in both parties position which unfortunately is the reality for many sexually racialized minorities in the current century.
Issues Implicated in the Modern World
As it was introduced in the previous sections what the video speaks on behalf of are issues of human rights. Those of which pertain to human beings ability to achieve civil liberties and fundamental freedoms. Since the events of World War II and the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments have been prompted with a standard. Despite the efforts segregation, racism and discrimination still exist in almost every society with a diverse population. Although the video propels Shakespeare idea of “both alike in mutiny” which refers to both groups having a similar status. The video makes viewers question what it is that makes the two groups so distinct despite having the same social status. Jeannine Bell, refers to this idea in her work “Hate thy Neighbour”. In her article she draws on the notion that even though a person or a family can live on the same street with the same sized house they are still separated by their race (Bell 10). As it is shown in the video through the white and black community, although their conflict is dramatized, this remains to a reality for groups of people across the globe. Rather than being accepting of a person discrimination has the ability to outcast groups of people which in return causes a further rift while also compromising basic civil rights. By incorporating the work of Paul Kottman with Mykki Blanco’s video, the story of Romeo and Juliet is really about the quest for freedom and the acceptance of individuality (Kottman 28).
Overall as Mykki Blanco’s “High School Never Ends”, embodies a gory and modern rendition of the tragic play. It is able to capture tyrannies human beings remain to experience. The images in the video provokes questions and ideas surrounding the contemporary world and its existing societies. Through images reflecting sex, gender and race, they unveil relationships that have exited for generations despite any progresses which have been made. Through Mykki we are able to the pain he feels and his own personal struggle for equality and how he is prevented from having the freedom to choose. Through race the video captures the rifts that are existent within societies drawing on Philip Chan’s notions of struggles for human rights and inclusion. The video embeds history with the modern world and draws on the complications of an inclusive society and the problems that derive from past relationships between groups of people and how tradition has the ability to impede and compromise humanity as a whole. The cultural text of the video reveals without development and the ability to reach a standard of acceptance comments on the preexisting divide minorities’ face in the modern world. Not only does it comment on the conditions of the world it also makes viewers think about what it is that needs to be done to prevent tragic outcomes. Although not every person who identifies as minority resonates with the exact events that take place, the video embodies the individualism and the embedded meaning of a quest for individualism which is shown in through Blanco’s modern depiction of Romeo and Juliet as racialized homosexual star crossed lovers.
Work Cited List
Bell , Jeannine. “Hate Thy Neighbor: Move-In Violence and the Persistence of Racial Segregation in American Housing.” Edited by Michael Maly , American Journal of Sociology, New York University Press, 2015, www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/680515. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.
Blanco, Mykki. High School Never Ends . The Fader , 17 May 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNGR4ciDmTA. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.
Chan, Phil C.w. “Protection of Sexual Minorities since Stonewall: Their Lives, Struggles, Sufferings, Love, and Hope.” The International Journal of Human Rights, vol. 13, no. 2-3, Apr. 2009, pp. 129–141., doi:10.1080/13642980902758093. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.
Kottman, Paul A. “Defying the Stars: Tragic Love as the Struggle for Freedom in Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 63, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1–38. Project Muse , doi:10.1353/shq.2012.0007. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.
Minsker, Evan. “Mykki Blanco Shares ‘High School Never Ends’ Video: Watch.” Mykki Blanco Shares “High School Never Ends” Video: Watch | Pitchfork, Pitch Fork , 17 May 2016, pitchfork.com/news/65523-mykki-blanco-shares-high-school-never-ends-video-watch/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.
Shakespeare, William. “Romeo and Juliet.” Romeo and Juliet: Entire Play, Jeremy Hylton, 1993, shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/full.html. Accessed 10 Apr. 2017.