Saturday, September 09, 2006

People and Folks

I've been thinking about gangs recently. This week I encountered this newspaper article about relocation of gang members. Meanwhile, on a political blog about my hometown that I often post comments to, somebody histrionically posted about the supposed infiltration of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin by Latin gangs.

I was in middle school in the early 1990s when gang chic hit. Some of my middle school brethren claimed affiliation with certain gangs, claims which I believed at the time with a credulity typical for somebody of that age. A few years later, our high school banned the wearing of hats in the building largely due to concerns about people wearing them in imitation of gangsters. While many of my classmates had a peculiar affinity for gangsta rap (which I suppose was a peculiarity only in theory, since it was a nationwide trend), I can say today that I have never knowingly met one of the hundreds of thousands of gang members in America. I suspect I am far from unusual. There are hundreds of millions of people (no pun intended) in this country who have never met a gang member. I find it somewhat interesting that we live in a society that on one hand allows for such a high degree of insularity for its relatively privileged, but at the same time constructs a vehicle (i.e. mass media) that perpetuates gang culture into nearly every neighborhood in the country. You would think the bourgeois would try to sweep under the rug reminders of how the other half lives, and in many respects it does. But I guess you could regard the baggy-clothed pimply-faced adolescents listening to Fiddy as agents in the return of their parents' repression.

Of course, there are many other sociological and anthropological explanations about why gang culture fascinates middle class children, most of them too obvious to mention here. What I will mention though, are three random thoughts about gangs and gang culture.

1) I think its interesting that there are number of urban legends about gang initiation rites. Of particular interest to me is the one about the headlight flashing. Of all the ways that people can and have died on the highway, what does it say that there is a persistent fear that one of the ways is through a gang initiation? How many people that have passed on such a cautionary e-mail also make sure to stress that passengers always buckle up?

2) How odd is it that our military is exporting gang graffiti to Iraq?

3) I think I can understand why incredibly intelligent people, such as Larry Hoover, would choose to put their brilliance to the use of constructing massive criminal organizations (intelligence doesn't automatically help one break free from imposed identity constructions). What puzzles me is why every gang that achieves notoriety automatically has a rival (Gangster Disciples vs. Vice Lords, Bloods vs. Crips, Latin Kings vs. Spanish Cobras, etc). The level of discipline and organization within some of those groups is staggering, so what prevents an across the board unity? Why is it necessary, regardless of ethnicity, for gangs to automatically have rivals from the same ethnic group? "Others" are thought to be created as a way to define oneself, but when you can already define oneself in relation to other race and class groups, why create "others" within your race and class? One possible answer-- strange as it may seem, gangs don't really want to succeed. Programmed to believe in their social and economic inferiority, gang members subconsciously create dueling organizations as checks against themselves.


Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

"I've been thinking about gangs recently."

Why? Did a particular incident spur this on?

7:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:15 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Sandwhich, if you go back and read the rest of the paragraph you will see the answer :-)

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course she doesn't read the whole thing, like me.

1:11 PM  

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