Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 12, 2006

Danny Hoch

Filed under: african-american,comedy,Film — louisproyect @ 6:30 pm

At first blush, Danny Hoch–a New York Jew–seems to be the American Ali G. In the 1999 feature film “Whiteboyz”, which he co-wrote with Marc Levin, he plays a rural Iowan who dreams of being a gangsta rapper. A year later, “Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop” appeared. Based on past Hoch performances on stage and television, he once again portrays a Black rapper wannabe as well as a number of other characters drawn from the streets of New York and rural poverty-stricken areas like the one depicted in “Whiteboyz”.

However, Hoch is no clown. His main interest is not in making people laugh (although he can be very funny), but in making them think about race and class, the fault-lines of American society exposed by Hurricane Katrina. He is in the performance art tradition of Eric Bogosian and John Leguizamo, two other New Yorkers who have portrayed down-and-out characters on stage. And like these two, he is constantly being tempted by Hollywood to go mainstream. And unlike them, he has had the inner resources to resist such temptations.

A scene from “Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop” illustrates this struggle to maintain his integrity as well as reflecting his sensitivity to racial oppression. On view at youtube.com and other venues, it shows how Hoch decided to challenge racism on the Seinfeld show, even if it jeopardized his chances of “making it.” After the Michael Richards outburst, the clip began to draw a lot of attention on the Internet. I first became aware of it after Doug Henwood–always alert to the vicissitudes of our age–forwarded a link to his LBO mailing list subscribers.

On the strength of his HBO appearances, Hoch was flown out to Hollywood to appear on a Seinfeld episode as “Ramon”, a Latino locker-room attendant who becomes obsessed with Seinfeld and keeps trying to hang out with him. After Hoch challenges the racist premises of the plot once too often, Seinfeld and his producers send him packing.

In another clash with entertainment industry big-shots, Hoch portrays M.C. Enuff, a Black rapper who is a guest on a fictionalized version of the Letterman show. Demonstrating both an affinity with hardcore’s frequent anti-establishment ethos and simultaneously his disgust with its misogyny and materialism, the Enuff character is played by Hoch as a bundle of contradictions. He simultaneously wants to kiss and bite the hand that feeds him.

Hoch plays Flip in “Whiteboyz,” a film that is based on an expanded version of a character he played in “Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop.” He lives in a fantasy world of drug-dealing, shootings and rapping that is totally at odds with the native culture of his white, Corn Belt town. Khalid, his one Black friend is bemused by his fantasies, especially since he is far wealthier and college bound. The plot revolves around Flip’s abortive attempts to turn his fantasies into reality, culminating in a trip to a Chicago ghetto to buy a load of cocaine from a vicious dealer. The film is obviously an attempt to exploit Hoch’s HBO reputation, but like most products coming out of Hollywood loses something in the process. It is still worth watching.

While the Hoch white rapper conveys images of Ali G and Eminem, I believe that the cultural roots lie deeper. In a very real sense, Hoch’s obsession with Black culture is a throwback to the 1950s when the beat generation was looking for any kind of escape from mainstream corporate America, even if it was in the culture of the most oppressed sector of the population. It is obvious that Hoch’s engagement with this identity has a sharper edge than those reflected in earlier forays into Blackness since it is also a critique of the lust for fame and material success found almost universally among aspiring rappers. It is a ploy basically to utilize the status of Outsider to gain access to the Inside. As M.C. Enuff puts it to Letterman, once you have spent a vacation on a Caribbean island, who wants to go back to the hood.

In “On the Road,” as Sal Paradise (a central character based on author Jack Kerouac) walks through a Black neighborhood, he finds himself “wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough. . . . I wished I were . . . anything but what I was so drearily, a ‘white man’ disillusioned.” Later on, he says “All my life I’d had white ambitions,” and finds himself “wishing I could exchange worlds with the . . . Negroes of America.”

In 1957, Norman Mailer wrote an article titled “The White Negro” for Dissent Magazine, a journal edited by Irving Howe, a former Trotskyist. Mailer himself had demonstrated some familiarity with Trotskyist politics based on the evidence of “Deer Park,” a novel that like much of Mailer I find unreadable. His nonfiction I have always found more compelling, even when I am not convinced by his ideas. I do remember reading “The White Negro” in 1960, just around the same time I read Kerouac’s “On the Road.” While I never found myself wanting to imitate Blacks, I agreed with Kerouac and Mailer that their world appeared more authentic.

Perhaps the fascination Black culture, especially rap music, has for white youths is not that different than what I saw in the early 1960s: an escape from alienation, phoniness and conformity.

NY Times, October 10, 1999

Straining to Live Black

By Danny Hoch

I WAS born in 1970, and was lucky enough to be growing up in New York City during hip-hop’s childhood. Although I was reared in a nominally Jewish single-parent household in Queens, I grew up writing graffiti on trains, b-boying (breakdancing) and rapping.

I say this not to prove how ”down” I am, but to point out that in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, before white mainstream America discovered that hip-hop was interesting (marketable), everyone in my neighborhood from grade school to high school was consumed with hip-hop culture, no matter what color they were or which language they spoke at home.

But when New York City police officers caught us writing graffiti or doing drugs, they arrested my black and Latino friends and told me and the young Indian and Russian thugs who were my friends to go home. Eventually, I was arrested, too. And while calling my mother from the station house, the arresting officer, who was Latino, asked me and my Italian-American friend why we didn’t leave this stuff to the blacks and Latinos — using more colorful language, of course. A 13-year-old in New York City, I found the distinctions he was making incomprehensible.

One might perceive this cross-cultural confusion as New York-specific, but now it can easily be found everywhere. In the film ”Whiteboys,” which opened on Friday, I play an Iowa teen-ager named Flip, who, like most of the world, gets all his images of African-Americans from television. Flip, who calls himself ”Flip-Dogg,” is unhappy because he’s white and lives in the rural Midwest rather than in the ”exciting” ghettos he sees on MTV.

Flip, whose family is on food stamps, looks at his favorite rap videos and sees black teen-agers in $1,000 suits living what seems to be the good life: reveling in the projects alongside their Mercedes-Benzes, surrounded by bikini-clad women, drinking champagne and toting briefcases full of cash. He sees material power in the hands of a population that wields virtually no political, corporate or media power at all in America. When he looks at white people on television, they all seem to be ruling-class, status-quo bores.

Then he looks in the mirror and wonders, ”Where do I fit?”

Read full article above

Danny Hoch website

 

3 Comments »

  1. I was happy in foreign parts to hear about Danny Hock’s exciting work. But I want to believe that “Hock’s obsession with Black culture” is deep and serious and not “a throwback to the 1950’s when the beat generation was looking for any kind of escape,” etc. Neither Ginsberg nor Kerouac, to stay with them, wrote anything significant about Blacks or their way of life. (For both of them, Mexicans would do in a pinch.) They simply puffed up “otherness” with adolescent yearning. It was the other side of the coin of racism. Instead of hating the “other”, they loved him for the traits they imagined he possessed and they couldn’t find at home. (It’s noteworthy that they made much of jazz after the larger Black community had turned its back on the music.) Hock might be surprised to learn that other 1950’s rebellious kids, gentiles, found their authenticity in big city Jews. I’ve met Middle Class French youth who identified with Algerians for the same dubious reasons. Renegades from the British upper class have a tradition of taking a Gaelic name and sidling up to the IRA. These charades have more to do with family power struggles than a search for something genuine. They’re a perverse kind of “Orientalism” and insult the group they romanticize by reducing it to a half-dozen characteristics, naturally excluding alienation, phoniness and conformity. To read Kerouac rhapsodizing on “the Negro night” turns my stomach. I suspect that Mailer’s word spinning on “The White Negro” was, like a lot of his posing, a joke even to himself.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — December 12, 2006 @ 11:44 pm

  2. There’s a holiday Eminem take-off here — you guys might like it:

    Comment by J.V. — December 13, 2006 @ 3:08 pm

  3. […] seems that Danny Hoch has had a few run-ins with Hollywood and the industry in general, even going so far as getting readings for the Seinfeld show and […]

    Pingback by Steinski Version Excursion | HOTASBALLS — June 23, 2011 @ 3:27 pm


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