Mutilated, dying or dead, black men have a role to play in the psychic life of culture. From consumer dreams to media fantasies, from sensual intimacy to outpourings of murderous violence, there is a persistant imagining of what black men must be; a demand that black men perform a script - become interchangeable with the uncanny, deeply unsettling projections of culture. This study explores the legacy of that demand on the image of black men, its distorting, and necessarily violent, effects on how black men have learned to see themselves and one another. The author draws upon popular culture, black cultural theory, and the language of psychoanalysis to explore how black men have found themselves paralysed by such images, unable to escape their deathly internment. What is revealed is a vicious pantomime of unvarying reification and compulsive fascination, of whites taking a look at themselves through images of black desolation, of blacks intimately dispossed by that selfsame looking. What emerges is a disturbing picture of how black and white identities have become distorted, imagistic equivalents of one another - a projected screen where phobias and fantasies meet.
David Marriott is Lecturer in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz