do the right thing
In this age of mechanical reproduction mass consumption, the marketing tool of the “gimmick” has proliferated with varying degrees of success. Perhaps out of any of the venues in the entertainment industry, it is in the music world that one witnesses the exaggerated ebbs and flows of a talent that achieves success then demise through a gimmick. Case in point, Avril Lavigne and her rocker style neck tie atop wifebeater. While it is unclear to me if audiences grew tiresome of the tie or Avril chose to hang up her tie to be a Ford model, in either case the gimmick brought her two, maybe three if you want to include “Happy Ending,” hit singles.
By nature, gimmicks provide temporary means to attract attention. Just like KFC disposable wetnaps, they are meant to be used as much as possible, only to be thrown away seconds later. What started as a conversation about my lip gloss that was poppin’ turned into a discussion of the Jabbawookeez’s win on Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew.
The mixed group of Filipino, Vietnamese, and Chinese boys from San Diego performed to the top in front of JC Chasez, Lil Mama, judge from So You Think You Can Dance, and America with their synchronized moves and most importantly, their masked personas. Time and again, the members of the crew would be asked about their gimmick of featureless white masks. Each time, a member would state that wearing the masks is a means to erase individual identity and place focus on the movements of the bodies of the group. While admirable for the group to create a successful gimmick with the good intention to place focus on their dance, one begs to question the implications of white-faced Asian boys winning over non-masked Asian co-ed dance group. It also begs to question how ready Americans really are to see such faces on and how much praise America’s Best Dance Crew should be given for their diversity and their positive spotlight on the Asian American community.
In adopting the polar opposite of blackface, the Jabbawockeez used whiteface as a mechanism to attract a wider variety of viewers and voters. The dance crew certainly erased all individual identity as they intended to do. However, more so than allowing their dance moves to pop out, their white, featureless faces allowed the group to erase the facial features of race and to be less threatening to the general public, subsequently gaining enough votes to win the competition. While one can only guess how conscious the members of the Jabbawockeez were in adoption of the blank masks, I think it’s quite telling that it is only after the declaration of their win did their masks come off.
Jabbawockeez’ last performance as winners to Kanye West’s “Stronger”: