Skip to main content
eScholarship
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Black Voices, German Rebels: Acts of Masculinity in Postwar Popular Culture

  • Author(s): Layne, Priscilla Dionne
  • Advisor(s): Göktürk, Deniz
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines practices of embodying Black popular culture in Germany. My analysis is based on close readings of texts from a variety of media including novels, films and musical theater from West and East Germany of the 1950s to the reunified Germany of the 1990s. Black popular culture, particularly popular music, has appealed to Germans since the 19th century, when the Fisk Jubilee singers toured Europe. In most of my analyses, music plays a prominent role as a gateway to Black popular culture. Stuart Hall defines Black popular culture as a product of the African Diaspora, therefore it is produced in a space populated by people who are linked to many different geographic locales. Nevertheless, in the texts I examine, the African American contribution to this culture is given precedent. This preference for African American culture is based on an articulation of factors, including the large presence of African American GIs in occupied postwar Germany and German stereotypes that designate African Americans as both primitive and modern, oppressed victims yet also producers of incredibly different, liberating styles.

My study begins in the postwar era, because as opposed to the monologue about Black popular culture typical of high modernism, the generations of Germans coming of age or born after the war were more interested in a dialogue with African Americans. Particularly, after the war, Black men were favored as the bearers of Black popular culture. In each of the texts I examine, German males who have been made subordinate to hegemonic German masculinity find not only comfort in, but a means of resistance to their subordination through mimicking Black popular culture and Black masculinity. These rebellious German men often position themselves in opposition to their grandfathers and fathers who are viewed as representing a masculinity that depends on domination over minorities. Thus, mimicking Black popular culture is often an attempt to resolve postwar guilt over the Holocaust.

In each chapter, I carefully consider the unique historical context of the text, keeping in mind how the hegemonic culture against which the actors rebel changes over time. I use Gramscian hegemony as a theoretical framework informed by R.W. Connell's notion of hegemonic masculinity. The first four chapters focus on fictional German rebels from Günter Grass's novel Die Blechtrommel (1959) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film Whity (1970) to Michael Schorr's film Schultze Gets the Blues (2003). The fifth chapter reverses the gaze in an examination of how German expectations of an essential Black subject come into conflict with the experience of African Americans in Germany in Paul Beatty's novel Slumberland (2008) and Stew's musical Passing Strange (2009). The final chapter engages the works of Turkish German author Feridun Zaimoglu to examine how in the 1990s, migrant youth sought a more powerful position in the German mainstream through the "cool" social capital they could gain from adopting Black cultural aesthetics.

My dissertation demonstrates that while white Germans have long engaged in assuming the voice of the Black Other to express their feelings of alterity, those who are Othered by their skin color or their parents' foreign citizenship are rarely allowed the right to have multiple identities or allowed the luxury of removing the mask of difference. My approach to German studies purposefully looks beyond the nation's borders to consider foreign influence in Germany. Within German studies, my dissertation contributes to a better understanding of the construction of Black popular culture in German history, the construction of German identity, Vergangenheitsbewältigung and the study of German counterculture. Furthermore, my project resonates with scholars interested in trauma studies, gender studies, queer studies, diaspora studies and postmodernism.

Main Content
Current View