Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Artificial White Man is a collection of essays, written over a period of several years, in which Stanley Crouch explores the portrayal of color, class, and gender in fiction, music, sports, and film. The nine essays of the collection are connected by the theme of “blues,” a word included in the title of each, although Crouch does not define precisely what “blues” means. The book, whose subtitle is Essays on Authenticity, also lacks an explicit definition of the latter term. Instead, Crouch scatters hints as to his concept of authenticity throughout the essays. By reading them, one may gather that authenticity is opposed to making the unreal appear real. It entails rejecting the artificial divisions slipped into social and national life by commercial and political interests. It is the opposite of the shadow world reflected in the media and technology. It is also opposed to seeking “street credentials” and “hoodlum authenticity.” Crouch announces early in the book that he intends to “spank” those who claim to pursue authenticity while promoting different versions of a counterfeit. Indeed, the book “spanks” many and “celebrates” some.

In the first essay, “Baby Boy Blues,” Crouch attacks what he calls the “new minstrelsy,” contemporary media images of African American youth that merely rehash the “bullying, hedonistic buffoons” portrayed in D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915). The purpose of the new minstrelsy is “blaxploitation,” the commercial exploitation of sensationalistic racial stereotypes by the purveyors of popular culture. Crouch stridently condemns much popular culture for reinforcing artificial distinctions that separate people and impeding people’s ability to recognize their common humanity. He also heaps praise on...

(The entire section is 744 words.)