“Black Talk and Pop Culture, by Leslie Savan is an essay taken from her 2005 book, “Slam Dunks and No Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics and Like, Whatever”. It describes how the Black language has integrated itself into mainstream culture. One might be surprised on the African-American origins of certain commonly used words and phrases. The essay has many examples and details about how the Black language infiltrated pop culture over the years and how it has finally been widely accepted.
The author managed to state many truths, but I felt the article was too long for her purpose. While some of references were helpful in making her point, they became redundant, too drawn out and at times, irrelevant. It’s not too challenging for writers to instill a realization about the impact of Black language and Rap music. Her initial examples were interesting, but later I found myself skimming the text and having to go back and read properly.
The explanation on how pop language renews our culture and how the popularity of Rap has been adopted as some notion of “fighting the power”, I found laughable. The experience I have with language, be it Black language, catch phrases or corporate-speak is usually an attempt to assimilate and impress, not to rebel. Other times, her essay was redeemed by simply stating how the language has shaped culture through the sensibilities of various genres of music. She was able to express how the Black language and culture was considered in years past while avoiding an overt racial impression.
The more interesting part of the essay was how the Black language was extracted and disseminated for commercial purposes. It was the second read that I associated this content with my own interest in subject matter such as womb-to-the-grave marketing and pacification through consumerism. Considering the price of a BMW, a bottle of Sprite or a life-saving drug and how much of that price is due to the cost of market analysts, focus groups and advertising agencies, the essay unintentionally drew me in closer for paragraphs sixteen through twenty-one.
Even though Savan’s purpose wasn’t to perk me up with this subject matter, I found some vindication in how I view such things. Even though the essay is longer than the attention spans of many readers, it does achieve something. The “something” is not easy for this writer to articulate in an elegant style meant for an English Composition paper, so I will have to spell it out. My suggestions are varied, but what this piece brought to mind was our love for the underdog and the need for many of us to actively participate in the culture of individualism. Language is a tool for this. It made me consider that words and phrases, like all elements of pop culture, have their own shelf life. Finally, the essay made me come to the conclusion that the African-American culture has used language, among other attributes to express its beauty and its character. Through its art and soul, the language has helped Black culture break through and achieve a level of validation. The acceptance with the mass marketers proves this.
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