Thursday, March 19, 2009

Expanding the Definition of Cool

Shaft is an interesting movie, not one of my favorites, but interesting. I’m sure that Shaft appeals to certain audiences as cool. He was one of the first “badass” black protagonists in a movie. However, from my perspective Shaft was too cliché. Besides the fact that he is Black, he doesn’t have any unique, defining characteristics. It makes me wonder, is the only allure to Shaft is the fact that he’s an African American protagonist? If John Shaft were white, would the film be what it is today? I appreciate the film for breaking barriers that were present to the race at the time. At the same time, Shaft wasn’t making any overt, respectable points besides that Black men can play vigilante, Testosterone-driven, gangster types too.

Another part of the movie that caught my attention was the recognition, as we’ve seen in earlier movies, of a gay man. This time, unlike in The Public Enemy, the fact isn’t just hinted at, it’s stated. Gays even as late as the seventies, and still sometimes today, play roles of comic relief. What was the point of that character besides to acknowledge that there were gays? Or was the point to demean Caucasians, since being gay was seen as negative at the time and the gay man is white in a movie where race plays such a major role?

While looking at the movie critically for examples of cool, I thought about how narrow our study of cool has been when in the grand scheme of things there is such a wide range of cool. Do most people think that cool is only found in manly, dissident, men? Where do women come in? The indifferent men of the past have dominated cool for a long time, but by the seventies, are they still the main source of cool?

If cool is based solely in this manly archetype, I will lose a lot of respect for cool because this persona is a lame façade. No one really lives the lives of the men we’ve seen in these movies. Also, if most of the cool men we’ve examined have their characters dissected, it’s evident that the reasons for their behavior are much less cool. Many of them are emotionless to protect a broken heart, and, therefore, miss a huge portion of life because they are hiding. The men who seem to be so tough are normally just taking the offensive so they don’t get stuck on the defensive. Overall, I would like to expand the definition of cool away from these masculine caricatures.


  1. Good critique of the overt masculinity that is in Shaft. How might you suggest that we move cool away from these caricatures though?

  2. As I'm sure you know, a huge step toward equality is the recognition that one population can do everything another population can do. It's very important that Shaft can be a badass detective, considering that the traditional role for black people in film up until the 70s was to be a supporting character.

    What effect do you think film has on the advancement of equality? Do different types of film, like Blaxploitation, do more to reinforce stereotypes? Do we suffer because of these films and their idea of entertainment?