Whitman College welcomes the second guest educator in the Rhetoric Studies Visiting Educator Series, Dr. Bryan J. McCann of Louisiana State University. Public talk and discussion: 4:30-5:30pm. Meet and greet reception in Hunter Conservatory foyer: 5:30-6:00pm.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, America waged a “war on crime.” While elected officials of both major parties fought to prove their “tough-on-crime” credentials, news media and other cultural outlets inundated citizens with discourses that encouraged them to fear criminalized threats and support extremely punitive state measures to purportedly reduce crime. The resulting changes in federal and state policies led to an incarceration explosion that has made the United States the leading jailer of its adult population. Few scholars have accounted for the ways those most directly impacted by crime control resisted such spectacular regimes of surveillance, fear, and containment. This omission comes in spite of the fact that virtually every generation has included vernacular practices that troubled prevailing rhetorics of criminality. This public presentation, drawing from a larger book project, turns to the emergence of gangsta rap in the late 1980s and early 1990s to illuminate resistant cultural production during the war on crime. McCann argues that a reading of gangsta rap’s lyrics, music, and attendant cultural discourses within the socio-historical matrix of the war on crime reveals a wholly more complex era in American politics than previous investigations provide. Specifically, the intervention of gangsta rap into the politics of law and order during this period reconstituted the very parameters thereof, highlighting the deeply contingent character of the mark of criminality in the production of racialized and criminalized subjects. Second, because gangsta rap was itself deeply fraught with the conditioning influences of musical commerce, patriarchy, and homophobia, this project advances a more nuanced consideration of what it means to partake in political resistance in contemporary public culture. Lastly, it is McCann’s belief that more firmly understanding the complexities associated with rhetoric, culture, and crime can inform the kinds of community activism needed to end our nation’s unrivaled dependence on mass incarceration.