Friday, September 18, 2020

Mary Rizzo's "Come and Be Shocked"

Mary Rizzo is a writer and educator specializing in modern U.S. cultural history, urban studies, public humanities, and digital humanities.

Her book, Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire, examines battles over the image of Baltimore by famous and infamous artists and city agencies trying to woo tourists and residents, showing how culture shapes cities and vice versa.

Rizzo applied the “Page 99 Test” to Come and Be Shocked and reported the following:
Page 99 of Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire focuses on one of my research favorite finds for this book about cultural representations of Baltimore. Chicory magazine was a poetry and arts magazine published from 1966-1983 by the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Funded by the War on Poverty, Chicory published the unedited writing of black working-class and poor residents. As this page suggests, it had multiple audiences. For white liberals, Chicory offered a peak into the ghetto and was intended to channel rioutous impulses into writing during an era of civil unrest. Black authors, however, also used its pages to offer, “counternarratives to sociological theories like the culture of poverty and to urban and human renewal…[and] critique the institutions of the state,” including the police. Chicory, which has been digitized, is as relevant now as it was then as an indicator of debates in the black community.

While I love this chapter on Chicory, readers would get a distorted view of the book from it. They might expect that most of the book is about grassroots cultural production by people of color. While there are other examples, sadly, they were difficult to find. White writers, filmmakers, and other artists dominate the representation of Baltimore, even though it has been a black majority city for decades. Readers are more likely familiar with high-profile representations of the city like John Waters’ movies (including three iterations of Hairspray) and David Simon’s TV shows, Homicide and The Wire. I struggled to find black people representing their city, scouring sources and archives, not because they weren’t making them, but because they were not given the funding and distribution of Waters or Simon. In addition to Chicory, I discuss Baltimore club music, a sexually-explicit dance music pioneered by African American producers and the novel Poor, Black and In Real Trouble by Jerome Dyson Wright, and other examples of urban fiction, an often-disparaged literary genre written by African Americans that tells stories of drug dealers, sex workers, and street life. What these few examples show is not a lack of cultural production by African Americans in Baltimore but how the residential segregation of Baltimore into the “two Baltimores,” as Lawrence Brown and others have said, has shaped cultural representations of the city as well.
Visit Mary Rizzo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue