March 22, 2019
Questions of Counterhegemony in Free Your Mind by En Vogue
Lawrence Grossberg’s concepts of “articulation” and “conjunctural analysis” as given in Cultural Studies in the Future Tense (2010) suggest a number of theoretical approaches for considering the topoi of counterhegemony as they contextualize through music. Specifically, this paper will construct articulations contiguous to the social spaces of En Vogue’s 1992 song “Free Your Mind,” with special attention to its mediation through the official video. Grossberg’s work will be heavily consulted for the trellis-frame to start the project, while the targeted intertextual media themselves will be sifted through the conceptual lenses of Butler (performative taxonomy and subversion), Gramsci-Lears (“spontaneous philosophy”), and Iser (complication of the ontology of reading). Broadly speaking, since this will be a cultural studies project of articulation, the critical readings of the song’s media will be accompanied and contextualized by parallel readings of intertextual relationships. Therefore, the proposed tentative bibliography contains not only scholarly works on critical readings of music, but also cultural samples such as term papers and ‘click bait’ articles to be read as intertextual material culture. Further intertextual references will extend the conjuncture into cultural texts of economy/industry, education, gossip, and ethnographic samples(interviews, conversations, or posts), 1990s music, and late 1980s television.
Since the song references rebukes of assumptions based on appearance (“I wear tight clothing and high heel shoes…It doesn’t mean that I’m a prostitute,” among others) and issues prescriptive indices (“Before you can read me you gotta learn how to see me / I said Free your mind and the rest will follow / Be colour blind, don’t be so shallow.”), it provokes questions regarding the conjunctural anatomy of social realizations (or lack thereof) of counterhegemony. To what degree does the song’s mediation incite material acts of counterhegemony? In what ways, perhaps instead, does it reflect an already present attitude, and therefore act as a symptom of already present acts of subverting reactionary prejudices of racism and sexism? How do the contradictions inherent in the discourses and mediation of the song undermine any counterhegemonic pedagogy, if at all?
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En Vogue. “Free your Mind.” YouTube, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7iQbBbMAFE
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