Looking back at negrophilia in 1920’s Paris makes me slightly sick. This so called “love” and “adoration” of black culture seems no less mocking than when upper class Parisians would go slumming just for the fun of it. They may be enjoying this new phenomena, they are treating black culture as a whole as a sub-par, low class spectacle for them to watch comfortably from their positions on top of society. The need for Parisians to treat this modern American culture as a primitive, nascent, and savage movement stems from their insecurity with where they find themselves on the cultural hierarchy after WWI. Jeffry Jackson said it quite well when he wrote, “the criticisms of the Americanness of jazz were an attack on the modern, post World War One world and the kinds of economic as well as cultural changes that France was undergoing.” (101) French critics saw this influx of jazz and American culture as a threat to the high society and refined state of French culture that has taken so long to develop. These critics made specific tropes about the new music making it always tie back into savage and unrefined qualities. This way, it was pitted against high society and could never be its equal. Andre Levinson’s article on negro dance is a great example of this tactic. He decides that the best way to analyze this new style of dancing is to compare it to the well established and world renowned ballet tradition of France. He undercuts all of the history and development of the negro dance into it only depicting the sadness stemming history of black slaves in America and the savagery of Africa. Levinson obliterates any hope of finding value in negro dance by tearing the validity of the history behind the dance away. In fact the only reason Levinson seems to be stooping down, as he might see it, to the level of negro dance instead of brushing it off completely is because its popular. In his words, “It is therefore high time that we should look a little more closely into the subject of negro dance…” (70). By the end of the article, after spouting out the regular tropes of savagery, primitive qualities, overall unrefined movements, and many backhanded compliments to Josephine Baker, he does acknowledge that negro dancing is improving in his eyes. He states, “Florence Mills, for instance, is developing towards an almost precious elegance.” (75) Even here he pulls the possibility away for the dancing to meet his standard by putting in “almost” to keep that little distance from his sacred traditional ballet, but it’s a step in the right direction (no pun intended).
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