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Ghetto Fabulous: Inner City Car Culture, the Law, and Authenticity

Abstract

The Falcon Boys Car Club in East Oakland, comprised mostly of African American males and some Latinos, began fixing up late model Ford Falcons in the early '70s as a way to create a new identity for the members. Most of the members were ex-gang members, and had jobs in auto shops. Never considered desirable, old Falcons and Falcon parts were easy to come by, and allowed the members of the subculture to fix them up and exhibit flamboyant style as they would cruise in newly painted and accessorized Falcons for their immediate neighbors and acquaintances. This reclaiming and repurposing of otherwise disregarded detritus of consumer culture interrogates how different classes value and exhibit style, wealth, as well as mechanical expertise, especially in inner-city neighborhoods. Yet the Falcon Boys remain unknown and undocumented in the larger car culture or in most popular histories of the Bay Area. In 2005 Oakland filmmaker Brian Lilla followed around the best-known members of the Falcon Boys, producing a documentary that won awards in festivals. The film, "Ghetto Fabulous," is the most authentic and to date the only self-produced document of this subculture, yet is not available to the general public. The distribution of the film is controlled and limited by members of the Club themselves, who wish to carefully regulate who knows about them and how. In the last 20 years, mass media reporting on urban car culture has been focused and co-opted by illegal and dangerous sideshows that have drawn unwanted attention on the original members, and rather than be misunderstood or imitated, the Club not only has resisted further attempts to distribute the film, but to have anyone else add to this "official record." Instead access to the group's members, and copies of the footage from the film, is granted only to an inner circle of acquaintances. This limiting and controlled access to the archival record of their history and members authenticates the sparse evidence of their existence and preserves the hometown, face-to-face aspect of their public exhibition of cars and showmanship.

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