1920s Parisians did not have a sincere love for African American artists, but rather were crazed by their primitivism. The Parisians did not love them; they were obsessed with them. The word love usually implies a certain level of respect. Parisians in the 1920s were not respectful of the African American artists. They were a spectacle of “Otherness”, so different than anything that had come before that it made the Europeans lean in for a closer look. The Parisians saw them “with a mixture of admiration, envy, and recoil,” (Levinson 69). They were so shocked with what they saw that they were in a craze. If cultural respect and admiration ever came, it was much later.
In “Josephine Baker and La Revue nègre” by Gates, a sort of progression of how Josephine Baker was received is presented as follows: she was first seen as exotic and strange, then as a French star, then as a cultural hero and French citizen. There is no doubt that before she was finally loved and embraced she was gawked at. “It was the folding knees and the cross eyes that helped bring back the choruses for those unforgettable encores,” (critic from Dance magazine). Parisians were intrigued and shocked by their perceptions of her savage, grotesque, and exotic dancing. She wasn’t just seen as an exciting new performer but as “a sinuous idol that enslaves and incites mankind,” (Levinson 74). That kind of language is not used because of love, but because of shock, fascination, and obsession.
As we experience “Other” music today, we need to always act and speak with respect first and foremost. It is okay to talk about how it is different, but never with ignorance, judgment, or dismissal. As we often talk about in class, I think that it is important to be informed, to know what you’re talking about before it comes out of your mouth. As we listen to music that we aren’t familiar with, it would be important to me to ask questions and read and listen to more of it if I want to form an opinion. Initial impressions are influential, but they should not be ruling.