Here Lies Eli; Being Judged Nov 19, 2012 0:54:51 GMT -5
Post by Ludwig Von Koopa on Nov 19, 2012 0:54:51 GMT -5
Here Lies Eli; Being Judged
Being seen by over four million people makes one a spectacle. That spectacle can't look back on you, and is obligated to act based upon what those millions of people think they want if they would like to continue being a spectacle. A discussion of spectacle and surveillance occurs in Michel Foucault's 1975 book Discipline and Punish, with specific mention to panoptic forces creating hegemony in a society. Meanwhile, People's Champion: Behind the Battle is a documentary about Eli Porter's and Envy's famous Iron Mic battle that became a Youtube sensation. The documentary itself is a very close reading of a video that is less than five minutes long, deeply analyzing every moment and every character, with their lives before and after the famous Iron Mic battle that took place in Chamblee Charter High School in the Fall of 2003. It was directed by Walker Warren and Trent Babbington and came out in two parts: The first in 2011 and the second in 2012. Part One focuses on the Iron Mic video and all the characters in it, while Part Two focuses on Eli Porter's life after the video and his medical problems, which include kidney dialysis, a crippled leg, and an ailing heart — and social struggles, including millions only knowing him for the spectacle and not the person, and the belief that he is retarded. Since his Iron Mic battle, Eli has been countering the hegemony in society as the People's Champion — he represents a movement for people to become true individuals outside of what the panopticon considers to be upright disciplined people, even if he is singled out to be abnormal as a result.
Foucault believes in a panoptic structure of society that has created hegemony. Panopticism can be described as an authority figure (anyone can act as one) exerting the power of (possible) surveillance on a group of people with the end result of making those people feel paranoid about being watched, and thus self-disciplined to behave in the way that the authority figure wants. It’s built upon an asymmetric power dynamic. Foucault feels that society builds individuals from the ground up and shapes their belief systems (Foucault 301). To best fit the needs of society, individuals must be disciplined. Foucault believes that for a successful society to engage in the panopticon, those who engage in counterlaw must be stopped — they are nomadic forces that must be "dissipated" for they have "unpredictable ways" that society can't handle if everyone is built with the same moral and disciplinary code (Foucault 303). That's the basis of establishing hegemony. Those that act out and against the expected way are to be disciplined and reintegrated to be well-behaved. Foucault discussed binary division, the concept that people are branded in only two ways, essentially boiling to normal/acceptable and abnormal/unacceptable. Discipline is meant to bring those that are abnormal to normal status, and individuals are marked as one of the two (Foucault 285). The panoptic power is supposed to work automatically on the basis that as long as one has the possibility of being watched, they will engage in self-discipline. Therefore, Foucault believes panopticism to be quite efficient and overpowering, believing it would work wonders in hospitals, prisons, and of particular interest, schools.
Being a charter school, Eli Porter's alma mater Chamblee Charter High School implemented a value system that culturally institutionalized that everyone had to be well-behaved and proper. The core values of the Chamblee Charter High School include "self-control and self-discipline" (Johnson). This is expressed in a variety of ways. For instance, one of the disciplinary forces that the school bureaucracy was trying to impose was a dress code, which was to have one's shirt tucked in. No one had their shirt tucked during the Iron Mic challenge, except for Eli, who had a bizarre half-tuck style. The rabble of rebellious rappers may not be model students, but since Iron Mic host Marv-O did talk of rules in Eli's performance, it was expected that some level of civility was to be followed. In Chamblee's Iron Mic challenges, the rules included that the rappers made no references to sex, violence, or drugs, presumably to enforce the discipline of the school. Although the rules say one cannot rap about those things, Marv-O, despite being the face of Iron Mic as the host, was "probably tripping" during the battle, in his own words in the documentary. One of the crew members who filmed it was “high as shit.” There is a discrepancy between the panoptic self-discipline that Chamblee wants, and the reality that that is not going to happen. Still, Eli goes further than everyone else in his battle not only against Envy, but against hegemony and self-discipline as encouraged by the institution.
John White, the school-employed broadcasting director, monitored everything as it happened in the Iron Mic challenge. One cannot see him, hear him, or even know of him when the original YouTube video is watched, but he watched the entire scene as it happened and forced the battle to pause when Eli used the n-word. Asymmetrical in power, one cannot go against John White. He forced instant discipline, and once Eli was disciplined and reprimanded with silence, he was allowed to be integrated back into the battle. Eli screwed up again by using the f-word at the end of his freestyle. For his attempts at counterlaw by swearing twice during his freestyle, Eli was disqualified and was declared the loser of the Iron Mic challenge despite it being almost a consensus now that Eli was the superior participant in the battle against Envy. Eli snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and he was punished for it. That is one of the consequences of going against the hegemonic society.
Not only does the school impose standards of proper behavior among its student body, but, as made evidently clear in the documentary, Eli Porter’s associates in Iron Mic and his current life are all black people. The black community, as noted in the documentary, has its own hegemonic established standards that its members are born into and are expected to conform to. One of those standards is heavy homophobia. The community is expected to be homogeneous in its stance of disapproval against the gay community. Eli encourages this stance by accusing Envy of being gay (and attending gay parades) during his freestyle. In the documentary, Eli implies that Envy's homosexuality was so open that it wasn't even a rumor. Envy wasn't on friendly terms with any of the other characters and disappeared after the Iron Mic challenge, presumably because he had to be removed from the exclusive black community that built up such hegemonic barriers to entry. However, there was also the issue of host Marv-O embracing judge J-Dub during the Iron Mic battle. Several commentators in the documentary spend almost two minutes discussing Marv-O's alleged homosexual activity with J-Dub. Marv-O, J-Dub, and even Eli all deny the allegation that Marv-O is gay, and even bring up that Marv-O has had sex with several girls of different races as evidence that Marv-O is not gay. If Marv-O and J-Dub were gay lovers, then the embracing during the Iron Mic video would make sense, and Marv-O and J-Dub would be ostracized from the black community like Envy was. The fact that Marv-O and J-Dub had to vigorously defend themselves and clear their name shows just how frightening the prospect of going against the hegemonic society can be. It would take a very brave person to lead a charge against it. While Eli himself does not lead a charge against that hegemonic homophobia, he does say "They [gay people] human beings too, if they wanna get married, let them get married." That alone is breaking some ground. It is important to note that Eli is not ostracized from his fellow black people because he fits in with the binary division of the positive 'no homo' over the negative 'homo'. Envy had the negative side of that division, and he was eliminated for it and removed from society.
It's in our culture, built up through years of hegemonic influence as social justice, to take pity on those that are less privileged than us, and to give them special attention that they would not otherwise have only because they are less privileged. Many people assume that Eli is retarded. He is not retarded. In reality, he has severe illnesses such as a diseased kidney. However, due to that assumption, it is hegemonic to believe that Eli is not capable of being a success on his own merit as a rapper. As the documentary explains, a lot of people responded to Eli's performance in a way that ridiculed his mannerisms style. Eli’s public perception is tied to a performance that is now nine years old. He's moved on with his life past high school. He's released albums and gone clubbing to pick up girls, but he's still known by those outside his loyal fan base as the retarded guy in the "worst rap battle ever". However, Eli rises past that, countering society's expectations of what is "normal". For that, he's an inspiration to many who see past society's construct of what a "normal" rapper should look like. Unfortunately, he still has to suffer the consequences of going against the hegemony, because of the actions of those who just work within the binary division of normal and abnormal, singling him out for not being normal.
For about four minutes in Part Two, a very powerful montage of screenshots, audio, and video of the process of the original Eli Porter vs. Envy being uploaded to having millions of views ensues. Throughout the documentary, since the subject matter deals with rappers, a lot of diagetic music occurs. However, one techno track of increasing intensity non-diagetic music is used over the entire montage, as several close-ups of the view count of the video are intertwined with cuts of close-ups people's own video responses and comments that state things like "I'm going with retarded crack addict" when describing what kind of person Eli is, "he went full retard", "Eli is uglier than a motherf[censored]", "you ever wonder why your face look like a whole bumpy carpet", and describing Eli's fame as coming from "his terrible rapping". Once the montage ends, the screen fades into a close-up of Eli's face, and the documentary goes back to an interview. In the interview is seen with Eli's eyes looking sad at all of the hurtful things people said. Eli's Facebook page is filled with people using quotes from his rap battle nine years ago, as seen in the documentary. Eli has a very negative perception of these "fans", who he believes have no lives. He then states he's not retarded and that he graduated with a 3.8 GPA. Later in Part Two, ominously sad music plays immediately with Eli being asked if the money he gets in royalties for MTV putting the Iron Mic video on TV eases the pain of the negativity created by viewers of the Iron Mic battle. Eli says the "hurt feelings still around ... people can be cruel ... the money can help you get some material things, but it can't ease no pain." Eli was singled out and received fame solely because people made fun of him for what he loved to do. The worst part is, is that Eli is actually very good and skilled at rapping. The people trapped in hegemony cannot see that and cannot look past it, and so Eli suffers from negativity and derision for going against the grain.
Eli felt, even eight years after the battle happened, that he would "get in trouble" for saying that his opponent, Envy, was "spittin' a written" during a freestyle battle. During the battle, Envy had a peculiar gaze at Eli, closely watching him. The producers of the documentary haven't been able to locate Envy, but Eli still feels like he may somehow get in trouble for stating what every other commentator sees as obvious: Envy did not freestyle, and came up with and memorized the lyrics to his performance beforehand. The automatic debilitating panoptic force that Envy tried to employ on Eli has stuck with Eli all of this time, although it has worn off to the point where Eli states the truth anyway. More importantly, Envy tries to take the position of asymmetric power in Foucault's figurative watchtower. Since Envy came up with his rap beforehand, every word of his was planned. He explicitly rhymed "cripple" with "cripple" to shock Eli and put Mr. Porter into a state of submission, trying to mentally subdue his opponent by repeatedly bringing up Eli's lifelong difficulties. Envy's goal was for Eli to undergo self-discipline and fall back in line for daring to compete against him. Eli again rises above the panoptic force and engages in counterlaw, immediately shutting down Envy's attempts of power by stating, "I got one question man, tell me who next?!" Eli then ended his rap by stating, "So you step down off the pedestal, I'm the best man, you need to go to the f[censored] dental!" The pedestal that Envy was on would be the same panoptic tower that Envy tried to psyche Eli out from. Eli realized what was going on and countered it, tearing down the force of restrictive discipline, no matter who trying to enforce it.
Part Two of People's Champion ends with a fan declaring that Eli is an inspiration for everyone to essentially look past what society considers to be "normal", and that if you have a dream, you should not be stopped by what anybody says or thinks is normal or what the "rules" are. Go pursue that dream. Eli is then seen as a figure of counterlaw, going against the established hegemonic societal code. Eli himself said it best when he declared, "When I leave this Earth, I want someone to be like, 'Oh, Eli made an impact on me', to the point where they just remember who I is." Eli is a brave figure who "has the nerve to get up there and do that", according to another fan. Eli Porter loves what he does. He didn't ask for the fame, and he does not feel like a celebrity. In the process of millions of people watching his battle with Envy for the wrong reasons, some people were watching for the right reasons. Not only did they encounter some impressive and well-thought rhymes, but they encountered someone who proves they can be 'abnormal' and easily trounce who is 'normal' in a competition where the normal guy, Envy, is who should be expected to win. Envy was so expected to win that the judges — who are arbiters of society, not justice — declared that he won. To those with taste, Eli is the People's Champion who fought for the little guy and fights to this day. If one listens to Eli's albums that he has released now, one notices that it is a cut above the normal rap that is produced by all of the popular rappers today. Eli proves that normal is not the best, and to produce excellence, one has to stand out. Foucault's panoptic discipline system has no effect on Eli. While Foucault wants homogeneous results and discipline of those who fail to conform to standards, Eli proves that the standards aren't good enough, and that the authorities are not the best source for excellence. Eli represents progress and innovation, which panoptic homogeneous standards cannot be by definition.
Foucault, Michel. "Panopticism." 1975. Ways of Reading. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011. 279-315. Print.
Iron Mic: Eli Porter vs. Envy. Prod. Brannon Boyle. Youtube. Google, 27 Nov. 2007. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKKxPtP6XjQ>.
Johnson, Allen. "Home of the Chamblee Bulldogs!!" Chamblee Charter High School. DeKalb County Schools, 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/chambleehs/flash_site/main.html>.
Warren, Walker, and Trent Babbington, dirs. People's Champion Part 1. 2011. Youtube. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aj01QpTs4pY>.
- - -, dirs. People's Champion Part 2. 2012. Youtube. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsbM0qYrlow>.